The bans are in the books and we have a new format. The January 22 and January 23 Challenges were the first major events to take place since the ban of Atog, Bonder’s Ornament, and Prophetic Prism. Affinity won Saturday’s tournament while Cycling Songs took down Sunday. Here is a breakdown of the Top 32:
It is still too early to draw conclusions and realistically the format is likely to change again in a few weeks once Neon Dynasty hits the digital shelves. That being said there are a few nuggets of data worth exploring.
Affinity is alive and well
The goal of the Atog ban was to bring Affinity back to the rest of the pack. While it is only two tournaments, that seems to be the case at least in the early returns. Affinity is still a powerful deck but definitely lost a step. It will be interesting to see which build reigns supreme – already we’ve seen Glaze Fiend and Resculpt make appearances – but don’t skimp on your artifact hate just yet.
Where is Tron?
One of the critiques of the Bonder’s Ornament and Prophetic Prism ban was that it would hurt other decks more than Tron. However, Tron did not put up any result this weekend while Pestilence Control – one of the decks that was considered collateral damage – put up two strong finishes including a finals appearance. I don’t anticipate this being a regular occurrence. Instead once people figure out how to build Tron for the current metagame I fully expect it to make a return. I also anticipate Pestilence to take a decline as people adjust to fight Boros Bully.
Bullying the Metagame
Boros Bully appears to be the early deck to beat. It had a solid weekend and players are still figuring out the optimal composition of the deck. It is possible that as Affinity sees a decline Thraben Inspector can make a return. However if creatures are running rampant having an extra blocker in Lunarch Veteran might be just what the legion ordered.
The Crown in the Room
On Saturday 12 of the Top 32 decks were running the Monarch. On Sunday 16 of the Top 32 decks featured the mechanic. Overall that’s nearly 44% of the Top 32 metagame. Out of the Top 16 decks, 9 were running at least one Monarch enabling creature. While this is not a cause for alarm – the decks were relatively varied in strategy – it is something that should be noted if the trend continues for the next several weeks.
This is compounded by the fact that one of the strategies that can best leverage the Monarch are those built around Spellstutter Sprite. Dimir and Izzet Faeries combined for a dozen Top 32 finishes and went unscathed in the last round of bans. The question that remains is not whether or not these decks will succeed, but rather their win share. The reemergence of Stompy, at least for a moment, gives me hope that the metagame can apply enough pressure to Faeries to keep them in check.
Another weekend and another pair of Challenges are in the books. Saturday held largely true to recent history with an impressive showing by Grixis Affinity while on Sunday it was an affair that showed off the power of Spellstutter Sprite. The meta at large remains largely unchanged, with Affinity still lapping the field, so I wanted to take a few moments to talk about some heartening news (outside of my duties with the Pauper Format Panel).
The first thing I want to talk about is the variety in decks that exist outside of Affinity. In the first eight weeks of Crimson Vow season there were 21 different decks that either made top 8 or accounted for 2% of the Top 32 metagame. This weekend we saw another list make top 8 in Izzet Curve. We are also seeing the evolution of long standing archetypes, like Boros Bully.
Bully has been a format staple for years but the addition of Lunarch Veteran and the move away from Thraben Inspector marks one of the first foundational shifts the deck, or really any popular strategy – has undergone in recent memory. If the format ever settles into a healthier place I will be excited to see these decks choose the correct number of one drops each week, trying to figure out if the life matters more than the card.
The second piece that gives me hope is Challenge attendance. For years the Sunday Challenge would routinely hit seven rounds. In the wake of several formats involving cards that would eventually be banned, it was sometimes a struggle to fire a six round challenge. The past two Sundays saw the return of the lucky number seven round tournaments. Whether this is a bug or a feature of Affinity remains to be seen, but if the totality of the format ever becomes as fun the second tier then I think we are in a good spot. There’s a lot of space to explore in Pauper under the surface, as evidenced by the Leagues. I hope that diversity can make it to the Challenges as well.
Okay who am I kidding. We’re going to talk about the Pauper Format Panel. But first, there were two Challenges this past weekend and we started the third segment of Crimson Vow season. Here’s a breakdown of both Top 32s:
To the surprise of no one, Grixis Affinity continues to rule the roost. Two of the other successful decks – Azorius Familiars and Burn – need their opponents to pack specific interactive pieces to have a chance, and those cards tend to be bad against Affinity. As I’ve said for a while now, unless something changes we are likely going to be living in Affinity’s world for the foreseeable future.
But that’s not interesting. The Pauper Format Panel – a group of players working with Wizards of the Coast to monitor format health and make recommendations – is far more intriguing than me pontificating on what might be the second best deck in Pauper. The article and video from Gavin do a fantastic job of explaining exactly what we are going to do and our task.
I want to reiterate what I said at the end of the video interview: that Pauper has given me so much and I consider it a privilege to try and steward the format into the next era. I know a lot of folks out there have reservations and if I were in their shoes, I’d agree. Pauper is in a rough spot but I honestly believe this group can right the ship.
What does this mean for this blog and my Patreon? My posts here are not going to change much. I am still going to be looking at the Top 32 data from every Challenge and talk about trends. What I won’t be doing anymore is talking about specific cards with regards to bans. I don’t want to mention a card here and then when the announcement rolls around, it’s still legal (or the opposite). I feel very comfortable talking about how Affinity is a dominant strategy and something needs to go, but I won’t speculate here as to what that card might be.
Similarly I am going to rework my Patreon. Currently there is a Patrons only channel in the #MTGPauper Discord and, just like ban talk, I don’t want there to be a perception that those folks have any undue influence. In reality it’s mostly people badgering me for my taste in sports teams. That being said, these changes are going to roll out more slowly as I want to ensure that the folks who have supported me are getting what they expect.
I’m very excited for this next era of Pauper. I genuinely hope that the work we do makes the format more enjoyable and that I see a few of you in the leagues.
After a brief hiatus, I am back to talk about – what else? – Pauper! The second four weeks of Crimson Vow season have wrapped up which gives us another huge set of data to examine. For reference, these images include every deck that either finished with at least one Top 8 or had 2% of the Top 32 metagame.
Here is the chart recording the first four weeks of the season:
And here are the four most recent weeks:
I am going to hold off on a deep dive for the time being, but instead I want to focus on what I see as key points:
Bogles has emerged as the premier Ethereal Armor deck. Heroic made a case for itself in the first four weeks but more or less fell off in the December. Only Affinity, Boros Bully, and Delver had more Top 8s in the past four weeks than the slippery ones.
Dimir Faeries continues to fall. The deck is still fairly popular but access to good artifact removal seems to be pushing Izzet Faeries back up the power rankings.
Delver is still solid. Some folks like to sleep on plain old Delver decks as they do not do anything flashy. Six Top 8 finishes is impressive.
If you want to attack, you better have Rally the Peasants. There’s no other way to say this – attacking without some sort of force multiplier is just a losing proposition these days.
Affinity remains stupid good. Almost 29% of the Top 32. Almost 36% of the Top 8 slots. Five wins in eight challenges. Affinity remains the defining deck of the Pauper Challenge metagame. Heck, across the entire season so far, Affinity has over 40% of all Top 8s alongside 9 wins out of 19 Challenge level events.
Here’s one more chart. This takes into account every deck with at least 2% of the Challenge meta or a Top 8 finish. Decks in the red did not meet the 2% threshold but have a Top 8:
Affinity might be defining the format right now, but both Boros Bully and Delver are top tier strategies with Flicker Tron and Izzet Faeries not that far behind. If not for the sheer volume of Affinity that is seeing play (it has more Top 32 finishes than the next four most populous combined), the metagame would appear to be fairly vibrant,
Like so many other times in Pauper’s history, there’s an amazing metagame taking place outside the dominant strategy. I am hopeful that this year, we can get a metagame that doesn’t have an asterisk.
Another year draws to a close. Just like last the waning weeks of 2020 a specter is lingering over Pauper. The December 18 and December 19 Challenges are telling a similar story to the events from earlier in the season: Affinity is the deck to beat by a wide margin and everything else is fighting for edges.
The following chart pulls information from the past four Pauper Challenges. It features every deck that has at least 3 finishes in the Top 32. While Rakdos Affinity is taking a step back, Grixis Affinity is making moves to reassert its dominance.
What is going on behind Affinity? First, Boros Bully remains a strong contender. We have seen a greater variety in Bully builds and have even seen a return to Kuldotha Rebirth based Boros Decks fueled in part by Voldaren Epicure. After Bully the next best deck appears to be Izzet Faeries, but this is largely buoyed by two strong performances on Sunday. In reality, I would place Delver and Azorius Familiars as a tie for the third best archetype at the current moment.
Delver decks are never a bad choice. The core conceit of Delver of Secrets, Spellstutter Sprite, and Ninja of the Deep Hours represents a powerful foundation. The ability to run the correct suite of counterspells and tempo plays a given metagame means that Delver can consistently adapt to the field of battle. Even with cheap counters it can be hard to constrain Affinity but that does not stop Delver from getting a foot on the rung of the metagame.
After Delver it should be no surprise to long-time Pauper players that Familiars is making waves. The Familiar shell uses Sunscape Familiar to reduce the cost on powerful blue spells and combines cards like Snap with Azorius Chancery to have turns where chaining Mulldrifters is a breeze. While the deck can just out value opponents and win with flying fish the deck originated as a combo with Ghostly Flicker, Archaeomancer, and Sage’s Row Denizen as a kill mechanism. The deck is highly resilient and can catch unsuspecting opponents off guard. Beating Familiars requires either a quick clock or the ability to disrupt an attempt to Snap or Flicker and win on the crack back.
Familiars is a difficult deck to master and is made more problematic by the Magic Online interface, requiring several clicks to make it through the engine. This eats both the clock and patience. The result is that some people shy away from the power due to the learning curve but as dedicated pilots pick it up, the deck emerges as a formidable choice.
Because of these decks making a comeback, I would anticipate seeing a rise in decks using Vines of Vastwood. Vines is a tricky card that can be used to not only protect your creatures from cards like Snap, but can also be used offensively. Using Vines on your opponent’s creature means that only you can target it for the rest of the turn. This effectively turns off Ghostly Flicker and Ephemerate loops out of Familiars. While this alone will not be enough to stop the deck, when coupled with a quick clock it could provide an opportunity for a deck like Stompy to have a solid showing (provided, of course, it can solve that Affinity matchup).
The biggest trends to be continued over this weekend revolved around Boros Bully and Delver. While Rakdos Affinity continues to assert itself as the go-to option for Atog these days, the other two archetypes mentioned had fairly good weekends of their own. Boros Bully continues to put up solid numbers – both the traditional and more token based build – including a Sunday win by former World Champion Javier Dominguez.
The rise of Delver is interesting as well. While the deck has never fully faded away, it has taken a backseat as of late to both Dimir and Izzet Faeries. Currently, Delver is performing slightly better than both of those options. This may be in part due to the mana base, as it is far more consistent than either of the two-color decks. It might also be related to the pressure of a first turn Delver of Secrets, as Affinity does struggle when put on the defense early. Regardless, Delver is back, which could open up a window for Kor Skyfisher based midrange.
I do want to take a minute to talk about the mono white aggressive deck that has come into vogue recently. It is very likely that this deck will supplant Stompy as the traditional aggro deck in Pauper, at least given the current metagame. While it lacks the “go tall” plan of attack that Stompy can employ, it excels at going wide. It can also churn through cards faster than other aggro decks with Thraben Inspector and Search Party Captain.
Looking to next weekend, I would be looking to have a solid game plan to beat Affinity but would focus more energy on Delver and Bully. These two decks look to be making up more and more of the metagame and at this point if you’re playing, you should believe you have a solid matchup against Affinity, or be playing it yourself.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that Affinity is good.
Shocker, I know.
Here is a chart breaking down the macro-archetypes from the first four weeks of Pauper’s Crimson Vow season. While this does not tell the whole story it does give a pretty good image of what is going on:
Affinity is the clear best deck in the format. Recent builds have opted to forego Thoughtcast and Prophetic Prism in favor of Wedding Invitation to provide yet another way to make Atog lethal. Whether it’s Grixis or Rakdos, Affinity is a confirmed monster, with nearly twice the volume and win share of the next best macro archetype. It also has 32 out of 72 recorded Top 8 slots and 4 wins out of 9 tournaments.
Like I said, Affinity is good.
After a significant gap the next best decks are all clustered together. Faeries, Ephemerate/Flicker decks, and Boros all make a clear Tier 1.5 when compared to Affinity’s Tier 0. Boros might be the most impressive of these archetypes. Buoyed by Bully, which has an easier time running Dust to Dust main than most decks, the deck has picked up steam. There’s another version running around which leans harder on small life advantages from cards like Lunarch Veteran and Sacred Cat. This build still is Boros Bully, but takes a slightly different approach in its creature base.
The emergence of Rakdos Affinity and Lunarch Bully are two trends from the past month. The other major trend is the decline of Dimir Faeries and the rise of regular Delver. The latest Delver builds have a more aggressive slant, leaning on Mutagenic Growth and cards like Force Spike to press their advantage. That being said, Delver is still under 5% of the Top 32 metagame and has just over 7.25% of the winner’s share.
So where does the format go from here? There are no new cards hitting the scene for several months so unless a ban is coming down the pike we can expect the metagame to largely resemble this one heading into 2022. Affinity is not going to go quietly and, despite the sideboard and main deck slots we’ve seen dedicated to dismantling the machine, it still succeeds. My advice is to have a good plan of the metal menace or just accept it as a bad matchup and try to beat the other major players.