October 16-17 Pauper Weekend in Review

We are now in the back half of Midnight Hunt season and the meta has, for better or worse, coalesced. Here is the breakdown of the Top 32 finishers in the October 16 and October 17 Challenges:

While Grixis Affinity remains the most popular deck, as mentioned last week the raw volume of Spellstutter Sprite/Ninja of the Deep Hours decks approaches a similar metagame share. But we are starting to see more obvious ill effects of the current state of things. Take, for example, this Top 8 Boros Bully list by The_nayr from Sunday:

Four copies of Dust to Dust main is a metagame call to be sure but it is far from a bad one. Bully already has the tools to throw away dead cards in Faithless Looting, and was the deck that ran maindeck copies of Red Elemental Blast during Fall from Favor’s hey-day. We had already seen decks shift to maindeck copies of Abrade to fight Bonder’s Ornament, this is just a logical extension of that point, albeit with a far more narrow card.

Is this indicative of a problem? Maybe, considering that running Dust to Dust main isn’t even a guaranteed win against Affinity. If decks feel priced into running the card, even if it doesn’t get the job done, then I would say there’s something to be concerned about.

But even then, that does not begin to address all the potential issues present in Pauper at the moment. The fact remains that Spellstutter Sprite decks remain a force in the metagame, one that is much harder to “hate out” with sideboard options. Instead these decks traditionally where help in check by the presence of Stompy.

Ixidor29, Top 4 October 17

Stompy has been popping up again after a decent vacation from the metagame. The deck is capable of presenting numerous threats in short order, and can run an offense that often side-steps Faeries (River Boa, for example). Stompy does have an uphill climb considering the popularity of both Pestilence as a strategy and Fiery Cannonade as a card, and that’s completely ignoring the fact that Affinity can often win before Stompy has a chance. All that being said, if Affinity was returned to a previous power level then perhaps Stompy could emerge as a more natural limit on Faeries power.

This returns to the argument I made before the most recent bans: the Modern Horizons 2 artifact lands are a problem. They remove one of Affinity’s key vulnerabilities and are having a warping effect. The strength of Affinity also means that decks that could normally help to constrain the other dominant strategy are relegated to a lower tier of competitive viability. In the long run, I believe these lands will have to go for the sake of Pauper.

The First Four Weeks of Midnight Hunt

It’s been over a month since the most recent bans and Midnight Hunt has been out on Magic Online for four Challenge cycles. In that time there have been 8 Challenges as well as a Showcase Qualifier, a Super Qualifier, and a regular Qualifier. Given the amount of data at my fingertips, I decided to take a look at the metagame from a macro level. The following chart breaks down the current Pauper metagame into macro-archetypes based on key engines or themes present in a deck. This list excludes the October 9 Qualifier as only 16 decklists were published from that event. Of note – I did not include Cleansing Wildfire as a primary engine as it tends to supplement either an Ephemerate or a Cascade endgame.

Going into this experiment I was wondering exactly how prominent Affinity was in the metagame. While it was clearly a top contender it did not seem as egregious as some previous top decks. What I found out was that Affinity is a clear lap behind the most dominant engine in current Pauper: Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours.

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Affinity is largely Grixis Affinity – the combo-aggro deck that leverages Atog and Disciple of the Vault. Faeries encompasses three macro archetypes (Delver, Dimir Faeries, Izzet Faeries) and two sub-archetypes (Faeries, Izzet Delver). These decks take up nearly 30% of the Top 32 metagame and almost a third of the Winner’s Metagame. More than that, they are the best performing archetype by a decent margin, out-performing their volume by a respectable clip.

Affinity is a clear second here and then there’s a four deck scrum – Ephemerate/Flicker decks include Familiar combo, Tron, and Jeskai Ephemerate; Creature combo includes Elves, Goblin Combo, and WonderWalls; Pestilence is Orzhov and Mono-Black Control while Ethereal Armor encompasses Bogles and Heroic. Out of these only Pestilence is out performing its volume, largely due to a number of strong showings by Pestilence Control, the nearly creatureless “destroy all monsters” build.

Let’s compare the above chart to the micro-archetypes, taking into account all decks that made at least 6 Top 32 appearances (again, excluding the October 9 Qualifier):

This metagame looks slightly more diverse, but still concentrated at the top in Grixis Affinity and Dimir Faeries. These decks are more or less the same with regards to how well they perform and how popular they are. Make no mistake – Pauper is currently in a much better position than it was pre-ban, but problems are lingering underneath the surface.

First, Faeries as a macro-strategy is clearly the best possible thing you can be doing at the moment. No individual card in the Faeries shell jumps out as obscenely powerful outside of the broken blue cantrips. Then again, Mono Blue Faeries has eschewing Ponder and Preordain for Of One Mind and Winged Words in an effort to draw more cards, not better ones.

Looking back at the first chart, we see a trend at the top: lots of blue draw spells. Faeries has access to the aforementioned cantrips but also the “draw two” of Ninja and Sprite, as well as Behold the Multiverse. Affinity lives on the back of Thoughtcast and more recently Deadly Dispute. Ephemerate and Flicker decks love a Mulldrifter more than is reasonable. It makes sense that the best decks in the format have the best two-for-ones.

The question then becomes how do you fight the card flow. Pestilence can do some work as it can undo some amount of accrued cards but only if they are committed to the board. Instead the best options might be things like Monarch and other card draw engines that can keep up.

Now I know what some folks are expecting: that I’m going to call for a ban. Well, not yet. We are weeks away from another set hitting the scene and considering what Midnight Hunt gave Pauper I’m interested to see what Crimson Vow has to offer. That being said, I hope the powers that be are closely monitoring the situation.

All that being said, I am not sure what can be banned that doesn’t fundamentally change the identity of Pauper. For example, banning Ponder, Preordain, Ninja of the Deep Hours or Spellstutter Sprite (TO BE CLEAR: I AM NOT SUGGESTING THESE CARDS SHOULD BE BANNED), that fundamentally changes a core part of the format’s identity, which could do more damage than no bans at all.

It’s certainly a pickle.

October 2-3 Pauper Weekend in Review

Another weekend and another three events in the books. October 2 saw a Challenge and a Super Qualifier while October 3 saw a Challenge. This brings the total number of major events in the Midnight Hunt season to 8, so we finally have a decent number of results from which we can infer trends. Here is the breakdown of the top decks, minimum 5 Top 32 finishes:

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/534021867196121088/895382318255046686/Screen_Shot_2021-10-06_at_2.49.02_PM.png

It is safe to say at this point that Dimir Faeries and Affinity are not only the decks to beat, but they are significantly ahead of the rest of the field. That being said, things are not as dire as they were prior to the ban. Dimir is under 19% of the Top 32 metagame while Grixis Affinity is just over 16%. And neither of them is grossly outperforming their volume – they are merely great decks and not dominant.

For example, Delver decks have had a recent surge but last week the most successful builds eschewing Delver of Secrets entirely and leaned on Faeries. We have also seen a split in Jeskai Ephemerate lists – both with and without the Cleansing Wildfire package. As the metagame continues to evolve in the lead-up to Crimson Vow, I expect we will see a few staple archetypes cement themselves behind the early winners.

Yet no other deck has more than 7% of the Top 32 metagame share. Is this a reason to worry? I’m not so sure. I am absolutely concerned that these two decks are pulling away from the field but I think that a lot of the distance has to deal with the other decks figuring out the best builds for a relatively new metagame.

What would I be looking at for next weekend’s challenges? Between Delver and Dimir Faeries there are plenty of small flying creatures running around so finding the best way to stall their assault can come in handy. Penumbra Spider and Holy Light might have their day in the sun once again. In fact, a Green-White “Haterade” deck with Avacyn’s Pilgrim and access to Dust to Dust could perform well if it could just figure out other midrange matchups.

September 25-26 Pauper Weekend in Review

We are still in the early stages of Midnight Hunt season and Pauper is continuing to adjust to the post-Chatterstorm metagame. The September 25 and September 26 Challenges show that while some things have changed, many more have stayed the same. The following chart displays every deck with at least 3 Top 32 appearances across the five major events thus far:

After five events Dimir Faeries remains the most popular and, arguably, the best deck in the format. It retains somewhat gaudy numbers but is only eight Top 32s ahead of Grixis Affinity (there are two other Affinity decks that have one appearance each). Behind that is a decent gap before another scrum of decks in the 8-15 appearance range. Would things look better if other decks had a larger metagame share? Absolutely. But things are not as dire as they have been.

Take the top two decks. They are clocking in at a combined 36% of the metagame. That is probably too large a share but is lower than any pair of the pre-ban Top 3 by at least 4 percentage points. I anticipate the metagame share will go down over time but I doubt that these two decks will fall too much out of favor.

Dimir Faeries is successful in part because of its card advantage engines. The Ninja of the Deep Hours + Spellstutter Sprite combo is tried and true and since Faeries added the Monarch to the fold, it can keep the cards flowing with ease. Snuff Out provides the best protection possible as it is “free”. Snuff Out has become one of the defining spells of the metagame thanks to its ability to protect the crown at no cost and due to the dearth of aggro.

Why is aggro struggling? Even if it does not see a ton of play, Fiery Cannonade exerts a ton of pressure on the format as it can end a beatdown deck’s entire career (for one game at least). I also think that for so long non-Stompy aggro decks fell into the Bully camp – that is they leaned on Battle Screech and a force multiplier to end the game. In today’s Pauper that means dedicating your fourth turn to making 1/1 flyers. Maybe if the meta shifts back to midrange slogs that will be good enough but right now we seem to be more in the haymaker camp with Monarch and Cascade.

Time will tell, of course. The league results from this week showed that Midnight Hunt has quite a few cards to contribute to Pauper, and that’s before Festival Crasher has made its presence felt. If someone can crack the 8-Kiln Fiend deck, the meta could get rather interesting.

September 18-19 Pauper Weekend in Review

It’s good to be back.

After what feels like far too long, I’m excited to write about Pauper again. And what a great weekend to get started – with two different Challenges and a Showcase Qualifier we can get a good idea of the initial post-ban landscape. For better or worse, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the metagame before Modern Horizons 2 dropped. The following chart includes every archetype that had at least one X-2 finish or better over the course of the three events.

So the best deck on the weekend was the only one of the big three from last season not hit by a ban. That tracks. The Spellstutter Sprite-Ninja of the Deep Hours package is incredibly powerful and accounts for 41 of the 96 Top 32 decks from the weekend. More and more often these decks are backing this combo up with Monarch – even Azure Fleet Admiral showed up in Delver this weekend – and Dimir Faeries looks to set the pace of the format for the first few weekends.

So let’s talk about Snuff Out. Right now, Snuff Out is helping to define the format in that if you want to succeed to you need to play a deck that does not fold to the free removal spell. Taking a look at the other top decks, they all have some counter-play to Snuff Out whether its counter magic or the ability to just not care about a single removal spell. Expect this trend to continue and look for more decks running threats that dodge Snuff Out and answer suites focused on beating Spellstutter Sprite and its ilk.

Some players have already found an answer in Pestilence. Various Pestilence and Crypt Rats decks had respectable performances this weekend (7 wins above X-2 in 5 appearances) and I would expect this to continue for at least one more week. These decks were also well set up to beat Bogles, a deck that performed very well before Midnight Hunt and given their ability to fight both Gladecover Scout and Faerie Seer it makes sense for the deck to see a surge in popularity.

An archetype with not as much success was Gruul based Cascade. There were three such decks across all Top 32s, but they all finished at X-3. These decks are filled with 2-for-1s and tend to matchup well against countermagic. That being said these are midrange decks and if they are built for the wrong metagame can stumble. As such I can see them figuring out better options for next weekend and have a better weekend.

Grixis Affinity and Goblin Combo both had good results and we have yet to see a huge surge of cards from Midnight Hunt make their way into decks. Looking ahead I expect to see more Boros Ephemerate crop up and for someone to put up results with four copies of Festival Crasher in their deck.

What decks do you think are poised to break out next weekend? Can anything dethrone Dimir Faeries?

Innistrad Midnight Hunt Pauper Review – Green

So we have come to the final segment of my Midnight Hunt set review for Pauper. Green brings us…one card of note. That’s one more than Artifacts and Lands! Let’s get to…it?!

Shadowbeast Sighting (MID)

Shadowbeast Sighting bears a passing resemblance to Roar of the Wurm. The difference there is that the flashback on Roar was the enticing part, as pitching it to a Wold Mongrel could get you a 6/6 for 3G. Now getting 8 points of power split over two bodies for 11 mana may not be the best, but the real problem is that these are 4/4 bodies, which is an awkward set of stats in Pauper. Myr Enforcer is a 4/4 so you can trade for mana for…no mana. Or you can trade it for a Galvanic Blast or Flame Slash, or let it get eaten by a Gurmag Angler. I think this might see some play thanks to Archaeomancer loops, but at 4/4 it just misses the mark.

So this one was a little short, so let’s get to my Top 5 cards for Pauper from Midnight Hunt:

5. Eaten Alive

4. Search Party Captain

3. Festival Crasher

2. Consider

1. Ardent Elementalist

Innistrad Midnight Hunt Pauper Review – Red

Red has relatively few Pauper cards worthy of discussion but they are absolutely going to have an impact. Let’s get to it.

Ardent Elementalist (MID)

Archaeomancer is already one of the most important cards in Pauper thanks to its interaction with Ephemerate. Ardent Elementalist takes the Blue card’s ability and staples it to an easier to cast body. Now in Nightscape Familiar decks it can become trivially easy to generate mana with this, some Familiars, some Izzet Boilerworks, and a Snap. And this is to say nothing of how well that deck can make use of Ghostly Flicker.

But that’s not all. We have already started to see some Mardu value decks based around the almost prohibitively expensive Revolutionist. While the body here might be significantly more fragile it is easier to get this on to the board and start generating value. This opens up another angle of deckbuilding, giving spell based control options to base-Boros decks. It also provides Jeskai Ephemerate decks additional redundancy in their engine while being easier to cast. This is probably the most important card for the format in Midnight Hunt.

Electric Revelation (MID)

These cards are always much closer to playable than they look, and the fact that this one is an instant helps quite a bit. It is possible that some Izzet Devious Cover-Up decks will want this, but there are probably just better options in Blue.

Festival Crasher (MID)

So another Kiln Fiend enters the format, only this one has an additional point of toughness. Izzet Blitz and other Kiln Fiend decks are always a threat and providing redundancy makes them that much better. We are approaching a critical mass of cards to make a mono-Red version of the deck a true threat, especially given the amount of card filtering we have seen made available lately. Mark my words – someone is going to be complaining about getting killed by this thing about a week into the set’s release.

Raze the Effigy (MID)

In a format with Bonder’s Ornament and Myr Enforcer, this seems like it can see a ton of play. Remember those mono-Red decks I was talking about a minute ago? How many of them would love a bad Giant Growth/great Shatter split card? Quite a few, to be certain.

Innistrad Midnight Hunt Pauper Review – Black

Since we already examined the value of a token with Decayed yesterday. That’s good because we have a decent number of cards to discuss.

Blood Pact (MID)

Sometimes your Black deck wants more card draw beyond Sign in Blood but you also do not want to consistently tap out when you want to leave up mana for removal. While Succumb to Temptation does exist, Blood Pact has the added utility of being able to deal two points of damage to an opponent. The end result is a card that is more likely to be Sign in Blood number five in the decks that want such an effect. If a base-Black “Flash” style deck comes into vogue I could see this card getting the call.

Crawl from the Cellar (MID)

A lot of the strength of Black in Midnight Hunt is tied to how well it can support Zombie tribal. Crawl from the Cellar is not as strong as Ghoulcaller’s Chant or Cemetery Recruitment, but the ability to get back a creature and bolster an attacker is not nothing. Just like Blood Pact is the fifth Sign in Blood, this is fighting for the spot of the fifth Ghoulcaller’s Chant.

Eaten Alive (MID)

Spark Harvest is playable in a deck with enough cannon fodder and Eaten Alive is more or less a strict upgrade. Between Pulse of Murasa and Reaping the Graves, nothing stays dead in Pauper for long. The ability to exile an offender for a single mana should not be underestimated, even if it does come with an additional cost. This is going to look bad against Spellstutter Sprite, but outside of that it is going to do work, clearing out Stormbound Geist so Chainer’s Edict can get the job done.

A one drop that can turn into a 4/4 deserves a look. The fact that you can activate it at instant speed and turn on your Mortician Beetles does count for something, especially since Aristocrats decks need mana sinks in the mid game. Taken together, Ecstatic Awkener is a lot of work for a bad Myr Enforcer that still loses in combat to Gurmag Angler.

Rotten Reunion (MID)

Three mana to nab two cards out a graveyard and give a deck two pieces of sacrifice fodder is a decent rate. But as I’ve mentioned before I am not very high on the value of Decayed Tokens. Couple that with the fact that these cards always play worse than they look and you have a card that gets outclassed by other, older options.

Siege Zombie (MID)

Zombies and other Aristocrat style decks can often struggle to punch through the final points of damage. Once the board gets gummed up or Fogs and Stonehorn Dignitary come online, the ability to attack no longer matters. Then you have a deck built on putting creatures on the board with few ways to punch through. Siege Zombie might not be the most efficient way to end the game but, just like its namesake, it will eventually get the job done.

Innistrad Midnight Hunt Pauper Review – Blue

It is not easy for new Blue cards to make waves in Pauper. This has less to do with how strong the Blue cards from a given set are and more to do with the potency in older commons. Midnight Hunt concentrates some of the strength in Blue into the Zombie theme, which in turn leans on tokens with “decayed”.

Let’s talk about decayed for a moment. Normally in Pauper, a Zombie Token is a 2/2 with no other abilities attached and as such getting one tends to come with a decent cost attached. Decayed is a new ability that means the creature cannot block and once it attacks it must be sacrificed at the end of combat. So what does this mean in the context of Pauper?

Despite the baseline toughness for defensive creatures being 3 (Augur of Bolas, Kor Skyfisher, Thorn of the Black Rose), a 2/2 tokens is still a decent body on the board. Zombie Tokens have additional utility with cards like Shepherd of Rot and Gempalm Polluter and tend to make excellent sacrifice fodder for Carrion Feeder and Village Rites. However they also do something very important – they can block. In Zombie decks they can absorb blows from opposing aggressive strategies which is vitally important when some of your best cards – Shepherd and Sign in Blood – cost you valuable life points.

So if in an ideal scenario a 2/2 Zombie Token approaches a card worth of value, how much is a Decayed Token worth? To me it’s significantly less than a card. If you’re just making a token to sacrifice it to Carrion Feeder there are better options. In dedicated Zombie decks the type will matter and there it might be closer to a card’s worth of value but even then there are better options.

With that out of the way, let’s get to some Blue cards!

Consider (MID)

Already we have a card that falls victim to Blue’s historic strength. Consider is a fantastic card but how does it match up against Ponder, Preordain, and Thought Scour? Each of them have different utility and Consider is no exception. In decks that have a lot of graveyard redundancy or want a bit more control over the top of the library (think Dimir Delver), consider could get the nod over some other cantrips. The card also might find a home in Izzet Flash decks that lean on Devious Cover-Up and Goblin Wizardry to end the game. And if Izzet Blitz ever makes a comeback this card is quite good at putting Lava Dart into the graveyard.

Falcon Abomination (MID)

I want to like this card. I want it to be good enough. But the upside on this Wind Drake just is not enough to warrant its inclusion anywhere, and I say this as someone who keeps trying to make Sidisi’s Faithful work. Maybe a Dimir style Aristocrats deck pops up once the set hits the digital shelves, but I’m not holding my breath.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Organ Hoarder (MID)

One mana more than Sea Gate Oracle for two more points of power and the ability to get a card deeper. More than that, you are more likely to want cards in your graveyard than on the bottom of your library. There’s a lot to like about Organ Hoarder but it comes with a hefty price tag – four mana. Chances are this one is just one the wrong side of playable but I would not be shocked if it did make an appearance or two.

Shipwreck Sifters (MID)

What gives? In an average use case this is just going to be a 1/2 that loots when you enter the battlefield. There’s are few things that can be done here to make the Sifters grow. The first is something from Strixhaven in Pilgrim of the Ages, but this is perilously slow. The Eidolon cycle from Dissension also wants to be discarded and can keep returning to your hand for free, given the right condition. Finally, there are plenty of original Kamigawa Block cards that can get Spirits back into your hand, from Soulshift to loops involving Hana Kami and Soulless Revival. That being said, this one is more speculative that the others. Will it get there? Probably not, but again that’s par for the course with Blue.

Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Pauper Review – White

Innistrad: Midnight Hunt continues the trend of printing commons with Pauper potential. While it feels like a lifetime ago, Strixhaven injected a ton of interesting options into the format and Midnight Hunt looks to do the same (now that we are out from under the thumb of all those squirrels). Now that I am writing these reviews here I figured I could do things a little differently. I am not going to be discussing every common, but I can give more time to those that are a bit more fringe. Let’s start with White!

Blessed Defiance (MID)

At first glance Blessed Defiance looks like a nifty trick with potential for Heroic. It targets a creature and can give you a huge life swing and, in a pinch, can leave you with a relevant creature if things go sideways. That being said it probably does not do enough. Heroic has better options for gaining life (Seeker of the Way and Lifelink) and other ways to generate tokens to eat Edicts (Cartouche of Solidarity). In builds that are focused on Double Cleave this could see play but even then that might be a big ask.

Cathar Commando (MID)

There’s a lot to like about this Viridian Zealot knock-off. First, it can get in there for three points of damage. Second, it has a relevant creature type for Pauper in Soldier (we see you Gemplam Avenger fans). Third, it has Flash, which means Mystical Teachings can fetch this up. Did you ever expect Tron to run a Blade of the Sixth Pride, because I sure didn’t. This card is fantastic and while it will not change the format, it is almost sure to see play. The low cost and the ability to get around Negate and Dispel will come into play. And let’s not forget that this fits very nicely into everyone’s favorite Little Engine that Could in Tortured Existence.

Celestus Sanctifier (MID)

Let’s set aside whether Day/Night will be a thing outside of this card. On its own, Celestus Sanctifier is a bit behind the curve at a three mana 3/2. The ability to curate the top of your library in White is something we have not seen that much of outside of Scry and Sanctifier’s ability is better than Scry as it can bin Battle Screech or Cenn’s Enlistment. The problem with this is Day/Night, which asks you to alternate casting two spells and then no spells on your turns to reliably trigger the change in the cycle. I am not sure there is enough incentive to have this card be “on” consistently, but that fact that it exists could prove an important piece in some undiscovered deck moving forward.

Homestead Courage (MID)

Now this is a card that Heroic can use. In an average case this is going to be four +1/+1 counters for two mana, no to mention two Prowess triggers. But that’s just the start of what this card can do. We have seen more Arcbound creatures in White as of late and pairing this with Arcbound Mouser and Arcbound Worker, and maybe some of the Proliferate cards that have been printed could be good enough to make a Porcelain Legionnaire deck a true threat in the format. Pairing these cards with Green gets you Travel Preparations and Duskshell Crawler but Red might be better thanks to Galvanic Blast and Foundry Helix.

Lunarch Veteran is not quite good enough to see play in Pauper as there are two cards – Soul’s Attendant and Soul Warden – that can gain you more life. However, given that you get an extra card out of Veteran in Luminous Phantom, and one that plays nicely with the more Aristocrat-bent Soul Sisters – and you have a potent one drop. Lunarch Veteran. has the upside of allowing you to spend mana in the late game as well, something these token strategies can often need when facing down more powerful endgame decks. If I had to pick a card that was for sure going to make a 5-0 League list as a 4-of, it would be this card.

Search Party Captain (MID)

Search Party Captain is great. It is often going to be a 2/2 for 1W that draws you a card on turn three, which puts it slightly ahead of Thraben Inspector. Of course there’s also the opportunity for this to end up as an Isamaru that draws you a card on turn four, leaving you open to cast more spells and add to your board presence. In white decks that want to build out their army the Captain is a fantastic way to keep the cards flowing. At four mana it is much harder to counter with Spellstutter Sprite, especially after being picked up by Kor Skyfisher. I cannot wait to see what this card does.

So that’s White in Midnight Hunt with regards to Pauper. What do you think? Which of these is your favorite and what decks are you eager to build? Do you think I missed on a card? Let me know!