The First Four Weeks of Commander Legends

December 12-13 Pauper Weekend in Review

The December 12 and December 13 Challenges close out the first four weeks of Commander Legends season. Won by WonderWalls and Dimir Delver, these two events put a cap on an interesting month of Pauper.

The big story of the last month is Fall from Favor and its massive impact on the Pauper metagame. I’m on the record as saying I think that the Monarch promotes poor play patterns while incentivizing defense to the point that going on the offense is a strategic error. But it goes deeper than that – Fall from Favor has fundamentally changed the way Pauper games play out.

Before we get to that, I want to discuss what I mean about poor play patterns. The Monarch is zero sum – if one player has it the other cannot. This means that keeping the emblem is incredibly important and once online, relatively easy. The Monarch represents one free card every turn and if your opponent is only able to present one new threat per turn then you are coming out ahead (one spell to deal with the threat, one fresh draw). Monarch encourages you to sit back and let the cards roll in while also making it challenging for your opponent to enact their own plan if it involves attacking.

Leading up to Commander Legends you could make the argument that Pauper revolved around Burning-Tree Emissary. Stompy was the so-called clock of the format – its consistent turn four kill gave Pauper a fundamental turn, a focal point around which the game needed to be built. Before Fiery Cannonade decks had to lean on Moment’s Peace and similar effect to survive which in many ways is responsible for how we got to the point we were at the end of Zendikar Rising season. In my opinion the addition of Fall from Favor has changed the fundamental turn – the turn on which and entire game can pivot – to the third turn.

A Fall from Favor on turn three usually will end the game. The avalanche of card advantage can be challenging to overcome and requires significant effort. As a result we have seen a shift the appearance of aggro and also a replacement of the Clock. In my opinion, the metagame looks something like this:

  • WonderWalls (Cascade) is the Clock – It represents a reliable turn four kill that is difficult to disrupt.
  • Boros Bully is Aggro – It’s ability to go wide while also packing its own Monarch engine gives it the tools to beat down.
  • Spellstutter Sprite/Fall from Favor decks are Midrange – These decks can now pack their own Monarch cards and as a result have a far easier time assuming both aggro and control positions.
  • Flicker Tron remains the Control.

The result is a new metagame that is surprisingly diverse and has a healthy appearance:

The first 8 Challenges of Commander Legends Season

I’m going to say that again: this is a diverse and somewhat healthy metagame, at least according to the numbers. There are 14 decks that represent over 2% of the metagame volume (5 appearances) with another two – WonderWalls and Gruul Ramp – that are sitting at 1.97% of metagame volume. Flicker Tron is at it’s lowest volume in quite some time and it has a relatively reasonable delta between actual volume and weighted volume. Fully half of these decks are outperforming their actual volume with another one – Jeskai Affinity – one good result away from doing the same.

So on hand we have a diverse metagame with a decent spread of archetypes, none of which are dominant to the point of being troublesome. On the other hand we have a large number of decks that lean on the Monarch for their success. Around 53% of decks, by volume, lean on the Monarch (this excludes Tron builds) and Monarch decks account for around 57% of weighted metagame volume.

Now these Monarch decks look drastically different – there are the various Delver/Faerie decks, traditional Boros/Orzhov midrange, and even Gruul Ramp which can cascade into the crown. The question remains – is this healthy?

Putting my cards of the proverbial table, I do not know. On the one hand we are seeing diversity of archetypes and not only that, a diversity of successful archetypes. At the same time many of these decks are leaning on the Monarch which as explained earlier, does promote a back and forth. Instead we are seeing decks like WonderWalls which can deal with one free draw since it wants to vomit out four threats on turn four and win the game on the spot.

I’ve been one of the staunchest supporters of bans in Pauper. I believe the Monarch promotes poor game play. But these results are giving me something to think about. I do think that if these trends continue we are going to see an increase in the polarization of the format between the Clock and the Control. I also am concerned about the increasing homogenization of decks as over 50% Monarch is alarming. I still think action needs to be taken.

But what do you think?

Published by Alex Ullman

Alex Ullman has been playing Magic since 1994 (he thinks). Since 2005, he's spent most of his time playing and exploring Pauper. One of his proudest accomplishments was being on the winnings side of the 2009 Community Cup. He makes his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.

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