I was not optimistic about the potential impact of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in Pauper. After last weekend I was proven rather wrong as already 11 cards from the set have posted a Top 32 Challenge finish or gone 5-0 in the Pauper League. Considering the prevailing popular talking point about new sets is that they have nothing to offer Pauper, this is impressive. This number is bolstered by an update to an old fringe playable deck, which we will get to.
Saturday’s Challenge was more of the same. Flicker Tron took down three spots in the Top 8 and won the tournament. A Dimir Ponza deck made the Top 4 after sneaking into the elimination rounds. How did it win? It got matched up against an until-that-point undefeated Flicker Tron deck.
The wrinkle in the metagame emerged in the form of Cycling Songs. The abundance of one mana cards with Cycling in Ikoria has launched this deck into the competitive sphere. The goal is to fill your graveyard with creatures, cast a bunch of rituals to fuel a Reaping the Graves, get the cyclers back and do it all again to find a kill. Saturday’s version used either Consume Spirit or Haunting Misery as a spout with Drannith Stinger as a back up. Sunday’s Top 8 list went all in on the pinger.
There were three Songs decks reported in Sunday’s Challenge. One in the Top 8 and two in the Top 16. While Flicker Tron split the finals, winning 3 of the 4 Ikoria events to date, the real story was the emergence of Songs and the return of Izzet Blitz. Nivix Cyclops is back and put two players into the Top 8.
The lone Stompy deck in the field won eight matches in a row before falling in the semifinals. That’s impressive in isolation, but considering what is going on in the metagame at large it does not mean much. Instead, last weekend has indicated a fundamental shift in the texture of the Pauper metagame.
Months ago I described the Pauper metagame as one of extremes. At one end there are hyper aggressive linear decks (Affinity, Bogles, Burn) and at the other are decks with Prison style finishes (Familiars, Flicker Tron) that occupy the “control” slot in the meta. In the middle there was a scrum of decks that all played along a transactional axis of Magic – the various Delver and Monarch decks. The past few weeks have shown that while the ends of the spectrum have not changed, the scrum in the middle has seen some upheaval.
Midrange as we have known it in Pauper is dead.
Decks that have been traditionally associated with midrange – specifically the various white based Monarch decks – have all but been pushed out of the metagame. While Boros Bully makes use of Palace Sentinels it is far more aggressive than something like Monarch or the dead horse of Pauper Mono Black Control. These decks simply don’t do enough anymore.
An aside: When a free card every turn isn’t good enough to build a deck around, that may be a sign that something is wrong in the format.
Instead, Delver decks with their Mystic Sanctuary engines have moved into the midrange slot. While they appear to be aggro control builds, these decks now represent the midrange approach to the format. Despite many people bemoaning that Pauper is no longer Legacy Lite, it now resembles Legacy in its metagame composition.
- Hyper aggressive/combo decks at one extreme
- Stack control decks in the middle
- Control decks with lock elements at the other extreme
I am not here to pass judgement on what this means for the health of Pauper. Rather this is an observation that the way the Pauper metagame operates has experienced a fundamental shift. Plan accordingly.