The Problem with the Challenge Metagame
Sunday, January 26th was the first Pauper Showcase of 2020. Format Showcases are replacing Format Playoffs. This means that if a player has enough Qualifier Points, regardless of format on Magic Online, they could conceivably participate in the Pauper Showcase.
And they participate they did.
While there were plenty of format regulars in the running, there were a similar number of names that belonged to non-Pauper die-hards. That’s a good thing for the long term health and growth of the format.
The metagame looks rather similar to that of a regular Challenge with one glaring difference. Flicker Tron under performed against it’s usual placing. While it claimed the lone undefeated spot in the six Swiss rounds, it only had one other deck placing in the Top 16. Now this could be variance but I want to show you all something else.
This is the metagame breakdown from the last major Magic Online tournament that took entrants from a wider pool – the October 26th PTQ. The Top 8 was fairly diverse; the Top 32 was filled with the archetypes that one would expect. Tron was also at the party but didn’t steal the show.
Herein is a potential problem with the Challenge metagame. The Pauper Challenges are at the same time every week and they cater to the Pauper players that can make that time slot work. If in these circles Flicker Tron has a reputation of being the best deck – a ban-worthy deck – then it should follow that people should play the deck. And so people play Tron or a strategy they believe can put up a fight. And the process continues with very little changing from week to week.
Pauper, for whatever reason, is prone to information cascades.
It could be the lack of incentives outside major events. It could be the fact that there is a sentiment the format is forgotten by Wizards. An aside: No it isn’t. Pauper has gotten an immense amount of support – more than it has any right to have received – and remains a vital part of the Magic Online competitive ecosystem. It could just be that Flicker Tron is powerful enough to get free wins.
It may very well be that Flicker Tron in its current iteration is too powerful, that something should be banned. Still, the disconnect between results when format regulars play and when the wider competitive world sets their sights on Pauper give me pause.
At the same time, it could very well be both. Regulars could gravitate to the deck because it really is that good. Non-regulars could get lucky when queued up in Pauper or they could have a skill set that the average Pauper Challenge player lacks. Wizards has all the data and we’ll have to see what they do with it in the future.