I was all set to write about the most recent Challenges, and I suppose I’ll say a few words about them. But the real story is this announcement:
Yeah. Big news. We’ll get to it in a bit.
July 4th saw Slivers take down the challenge. It beat Boros Monarch and Burn on its way to the finals where it allegedly split with Affinity. The Top 8 featured four Tron decks packing an Ephemerate package.
The next day saw zero Tron decks in the Top 8. Instead, Stompy placed two decks in the Top 8 and won the July 5th Challenge.
Okay, back to the announcement at hand. We know a ban is forthcoming and we also know that both Tron decks (featuring Flicker engines) and Mystic Sanctuary decks (usually in a Delver shell) have been at the top of the format for quite some time. Unlike rotating formats, the only way to create a sea change in Pauper is to engage in some sort of ban. This is because the inertia of existing cards is great and extremely hard to overcome. Both Flicker Tron and Mystic Sanctuary decks create an end game that is incredibly hard to disrupt. Tron is the main offender here.
These days Tron decks can race to their endgame as early as turn four. Stonehorn Dignitary and Ephemerate buys plenty of time and once a Mnemonic Wall comes down it becomes almost impossible to disrupt. If Tron has a backup Ghostly Flicker or Ephemerate in its pocket, even the world’s best safe cracker won’t be able to pick the lock. Tron is also able to run the right answer for any situation due to the nature of its mana engine. Bonder’s Ornamenbt – a card that should be a fringe player in long game decks – has become the centerpiece of Tron thanks to how easy it is to generate the mana needed to draw a card.
Mystic Sanctuary decks are problematic in that they can use either Tragic Lesson or Deprive to create looped game states in the latter stages of a battle. At the same time these cards are constrained by mana in a way Tron is not. That being said, having to play against Forbid and Whispers of the Muse is fairly miserable so it is possible these decks become a target.
Here’s the problem: the Pauper metagame is balanced on a knife point. While Tron is the best deck right now if you pull it entirely something will fill that vacuum. At the same point if you leave Tron alone it will be increasingly hard for something to come along and take it down. If I was going to do anything, I would start by taking a look at the UrzaTron.
That won’t solve Pauper’s problems. Tron is at the apex in part because it is best at blunting the assault of Burning-Tree Emissary aggro decks and going over the top of Monarch strategies. It may be correct to take the lock pieces out of Tron, hitting Ephemerate, Ghostly Flicker, and the likely replacement of Displace.
On balance, I think both UrzaTron and Ephemerate need to go. As long as Tron remains in the format it is going to be able to run any card it wants, regardless of cost. When three lands cast nearly everything in the format regardless of actual mana cost it becomes problematic. At the same time I would take out Ephemerate as it is far too efficient at what it does and invalidates potential counter play.
What about Mystic Sanctuary? I think you need to take a look at the land itself as it creates problems similar to those created by Ephemerate and Mnemonic Wall. Even if it feels like Mystic Sanctuary is second fiddle to Tron the card has been similarly dominant over the past 51 challenges: Tron/Ephemerate decks have 99 Top 8 appearances in 408 Top 8s – around 24.26%; Mystic Sanctuary decks have 103 Top 8 appearances – 25.25%. Tron is more monolithic which helps to explain why it looms larger but make n0 mistake: Mystic Sanctuary is a major player.
If I were to also be proactive, I would take a look at what this means for both the Monarch and Burning-Tree Emissary. Monarch was a problematic mechanic before the advent of Ephemerate and I don’t think enough has changed to make that any less of the case. Similarly, Burning-Tree Emissary aggressive strategies have access to draws that are hard to contain without a reliable turn three sweeper. That being said, I don’t expect these cards to go next Monday.
I don’t have all the data – Wizards does. I anticipate they’ll take a look at the information they have and do what they think will be best for the format moving forward.