January 2-3 Pauper Weekend in Review

January 2 and January 3 saw the first two Pauper Challenges of 2021. The combined Top 8s broke down like so:

  • 4 Dimir Faeries
  • 3 Faeries
  • 3 Flicker Tron (1 Win)
  • 3 WonderWalls
  • 2 Izzet Faeries (1 Win)
  • 1 Elves

Before I dive deeper I want to talk a little bit about my threshold for success in these tournaments. While making the Top 32 is an accomplishment, it only goes so far. I am looking for decks that consistently perform well, indicated by Top 16 or better finishes. It just so happens that decks that tend to go X-2 or better tend to finish in the Top 16 (or in a virtual tie for 16th place). A Top 16 finish roughly equates to a Win+ score in my measure, of 1 point. As the ratio of appearances to Win+ drifts towards one, that tells me a deck averages close to a Top 16 finish. As that number goes up past one, it represents a deck that consistently Top 8s.

Let’s look at those same Top 8 archetypes and their Win+:Volume value:

  • Dimir Faeries: 0.88 (24 appearances)
  • Elves: 1 (2)
  • Faeries: 1.33 (6)
  • Flicker Tron: 1.04 (23)
  • Izzet Faeries: 0.66 (38)
  • WonderWalls: 0.71 (17)

Not to take anything away from Elves or Faeries in this discussion, but their numbers simply do not stack up given the number of times they have made the Top 32 list. There are two other decks with more than 10 appearances: Burn (13 appearance, 0.38 ratio) and Stompy (17 appearances, 0.98 ratio).

Why all this talk about success? It is fun to look at the results and point out decks that have spiked results. I love looking for new and fun pieces of tech – like some WonderWalls decks eschewing Mulldrifter entirely – but what it all boils down to is this: Pauper is not in a good place.

More than this, Pauper has been struggling to find stability for years. The largest issue at hand is that long time problem cards are consistently overshadowed by newer problem cards. A few months ago I laid out the suite of cards I believed needed to be banned to try and fix Pauper. That list was:

  • All Monarch cards
  • The Tron Lands
  • Ephemerate
  • Burning-Tree Emissary

Since that time Fiery Cannonade was shifted to common and I now feel safe in keeping Burning-Tree Emissary around. But what about the other “three”? Kick them to the curb.

The Monarch is a broken two-player mechanic. I try to avoid hyperbole, but creating a game piece that cannot be removed and that generates an avalanche of card advantage is just bad for game play. The game becomes about winning second and taking/defending the Monarch first. We saw this with Palace Sentinels/Prismatic Strands, which is barely good enough anymore, and continue to see strategies propped up by the promise of free cards. Now that blue has access to Fall from Favor defending the crown is even easier since blue gets two chances to draw into new counterspells each turn.

Tron is busted. It gives the Tron deck a consistently reliable way to jump the curve and start doing multiple things a turn as soon as turn four. Now that these decks are shifting away from creatures and towards a Mystical Teachings control, things are going to get rougher. Control decks want to hit their land drops and Tron makes those land drops more important. Unlike other decks, Tron does not have to dedicate spell slots to mana advantage – it just has it naturally.

Ephemerate is too good on rate, especially when paired with Archaeomancer or Mnemonic Wall. The result of this engine is a “free” card every turn that can be difficult to disrupt. While not as egregious as the other cards on this list, I still think it warrants a ban at this time due to the fact that it is fairly easy to create a prison game state involving Ephemerate and one of various lock creatures.

I often get asked about what I think the format would look if these bans took place. Here is a highlight list:

  • The various Faeries decks would still exist but would move lean harder on spell based card advantage as opposed to Fall from Favor.
  • Monarch strategies would cease to exist as we know them; MBC would survive but Boros strategies would revert to relying on Kor Skyfisher and Prophetic Prism engines (sometimes called Boros Kitty); these decks likely remain strong thanks to Thraben Inspector.
  • The absence of Tron will open up opportunities for other big mana decks to exist. Whether these are Signet/Mind Stone fueled version of Teachings or ramp decks trying to leverage Growth Spiral remains to be seen.
  • Ephemerate decks would have to survive by just using Ghostly Flicker for their shenanigans.
  • I would expect to see a surge in other engines. Forbidden Alchemy, Tortured Existence, and Bonder’s Ornament could see a boost, not to mention other less popular options.
  • Aggressive decks could see a bump, especially as it relates to metagaming. Depending on what “control” deck is dominant in a given meta, picking the correct aggressive strategy could provide an edge.

What do I want to see in 2021? I want to see a Pauper metagame where you can choose from more than one of 4.5 decks and have it be considered a good idea.

December 18-January 3 Challenges; minimum 4 appearances (~2% volume) or Top 8 finish

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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