The January 16 and January 17 Pauper Challenges were the first major Pauper events to take place after Fall from Favor was banned. With Kaldheim only a few days away normally we would be in a lame duck format. Thanks to a Super PTQ this weekend, that is not the case. Taking place on Magic Online on January 23, the event will aware two slots to the Kaldheim Championship on Arena.
For those of you interested in the breakdown of last weekend, here’s an abbreviated look:
Let’s say you want to play in the PTQ this weekend and you’re starting from almost zero Pauper knowledge. Here, then, is my crash course on the format:
1: Tron is the best deck
The Tron deck in Pauper is nothing like the Tron deck in Modern. Tron is a big mana Mystical Teachings control deck. While it may have access to a prison style endgame using Mnemonic Wall and Ephemerate to loop Dinrova Horror or Stonehorn Dignitary, the current crop of decks eschew this for Mulldrifter beats and repeatedly casting Rolling Thunder. Tron facilitates this in part to a large suite of dual lands and a package of mana fixing artifacts in Prophetic Prism and Bonder’s Ornament. While Expedition Map was recently banned Tron can use Impulse and Crop Rotation to assemble its mana engine and even has access to Pulse of Murasa to get back lands that have gone to the bin.
Tron rarely has to dedicate any resources on its own turn to develop its mana base. Unlike ramp decks from other formats it does not need to do anything beyond play a land each turn. The abundance of cheap interactive spells available means that as long as Tron survives the first few turns unscathed it can do it’s thing. Recently players have taken to running Gruul Ramp which on its face should be able to contain Tron.
Here’s the thing about Pauper Tron: land destruction is bad against the deck. Hand disruption is also pretty bad against the deck. Graveyard hard? You guessed it, pretty bad against the deck. Now if you can do a little bit of everything you can buy yourself some time but that’s a big ask. There are three ways to fight Tron that have proven successful as of late:
- Counterspells: Delver and similar decks that can apply pressure early while countering key spells in the early and midgame can steal wins before Tron comes fully online.
- Monarch: Decks that can stick an early Monarch can sometimes ride the excess of cards to victory. This is harder to do now thanks to Tron’s ability to churn through cards with Bonder’s Ornament.
- Overload: Decks like Elves and WonderWalls can simply do too much in the first three turns of the game and ride that to victory. Elves suffers from a vulnerability to Fiery Cannonade but WonderWalls is the real deal.
If you want to run Tron this weekend I would get practice reps in first. Then I would also look for edges in both the mirror and against WonderWalls. I think cheap removal is going to be very important in the tournament.
2. Don’t sleep on Spellstutter Sprite
The Fall from Favor ban was done in part to rein in blue tempo-aggro decks. Delver, Dimir Faeries, and Izzet Faeries are still strong decks despite losing the aura. These decks can control the pace of play and are the very best Counterspell decks in the metagame. While Delver of Secrets has gone out of fashion as of late, the threat did help to propel two decks to victory this past weekend. Delver style decks are incredibly powerful and run some of the best cantrips ever printed and can draw tons of cards with Ninja of the Deep Hours.
Delver decks have been around long enough that their pinch points are well known. Being able to pick off multiple small flying creatures helps to reduce the efficacy of Spellstutter Sprite while also protecting your life total. Pestilence is a hard answer to these decks but getting it to stick isn’t always easy. Fiery Cannonade and Electrickery are not as powerful since Delver decks can also run Blue Elemental Blast/Hydroblast. These cards are great in part because they answer their red counterparts, which are some of the best sideboard cards in Pauper.
3. The Monarch is still very good
Just because Fall from Favor was banned doesn’t mean the king is dead. Palace Sentinels is back in a big way, helping to put two decks into the Top 8 this weekend. The interaction between Sentinels and Prismatic Strands is format defining at this point and helps the Monarch player keep the cards flowing. These days dedicated Monarch decks need a secondary engine to keep pace. Kor Skyfisher is the name of the game, picking up Prophetic Prism or Omen of the Dead. Boros Bully is an aggressive slant on Monarch and leans on Faithless Looting to keep its card quality high.
The various Spellstutter Sprite decks have not abandoned the Monarch. While mono blue has shifted away both Dimir and Izzet are running one of their four drop options. Azure Fleet Admiral and Crimson Fleet Commodore both dodge Fiery Cannonade but Thorn of the Black Rose dodges all the elemental blasts.
If you are taking the Monarch into this weekend, know when to side it out. You do not want to leave the Monarch in if you are not going to be able to protect and leverage the advantage. In a Monarch mirror you want to be the person who steals the crown, not the one who brings it to the party. Keep this in mind as it may be correct to have access to extra copies of the effect in your sideboard.
4. Don’t sleep on Stompy
Stompy has never gone away. An aggressive green deck that has significant play against the metagame thanks to Savage Swipe and Vines of Vastwood, Stompy was left for dead by some in the wake of Fiery Cannonade. The deck has adjusted and continues to put up solid results. The biggest strike against Stompy this weekend might just be the prevalence of Bogles in PTQs. Bogles has a high success rate in Pauper PTQs due to its ability to just win. Why does this matter? One of the best cards out of Monarch to fight Bogles is Standard Bearer. Flagbearers can absolutely throw a wrench into Bogles’ game plan while also hindering Stompy until a Swipe is found.
That being said Stompy is still a good choice if you want to beat down. You either want to pack extra fight spells or Viridian Longbow in your sideboard. I would also err against Elephant Guide and instead focus on finesse. It is not that Elephant Guide is a bad card rather I think you can get more mileage out of additional instant speed pump in the form of Groundswell or other options.
I wrote about how Bogles tends to do well at Pauper PTQs. The deck is relatively high variance but has just as high a ceiling. The deck is fully capable of winning from nowhere and the addition of Ram Through has given Bogles yet another angle of attack. Abundant Growth and Cave of Temptation provide access to high impact sideboard cards like the aforementioned Elemental Blasts as well as Flaring Pain. That being said Bogles is a known quantity and people are going to come prepared.
This is where Heroic comes in. Heroic is a fringe deck that plays similarly to Bogles. The big difference is that it eschews pure Hexproof for spells like Emerge Unscathed and Karametra’s Blessing. Heroic can also pack Mana Tithe and as long is it draws lands it can function. The biggest downside of Heroic is that it fold rather hard to Prismatic Strands and Moment’s Peace. But if you’re running this style of deck you have to, on some level, hope to dodge. My advice here? Lapse of Certainty could help. And if you’re going to run Heroic, I’d also advise on some number of Sunlance or Journey to Nowhere in the sideboard.
6. What I’d run
I think Tron is the best deck by quite a bit but I also am not practiced enough with it to consider running it. Additionally, I hate the play pattern and would prefer to be active. To that end I would almost certainly play an aggressive slant on a mono-blue Spellstutter Sprite deck. Whether or not it includes Delver of Secrets, I’m less sure, but if I am running Mutagenic Growth and Piracy Charm, chances are I’m also running Delver. And I’m likely running Elusive Spellfist over Augur of Bolas to press the advantage.
So that’s my quick and dirty guide for this weekend. Feel free to tweet at me with questions about the format or hop into the MTGPauper Discord to chat with some of the top minds in the format.