Thoughts from the January 23 Super Qualifier

Commander Legends season is done and my post-Fall from Favor Power Rankings are available here. Rather than do a deep dive on the Super Qualifier, I am going to give some quick hits and snippets of my thoughts on the event.

1. The Pauper Meta vs The Actual Meta

Every time there’s an event larger than a Challenge, the Pauper metagame seems to look drastically different than the one that format regulars experience. I think if you asked any Pauper regular what they were expecting to be out in force on Saturday they would have said Tron. And while Tron did show up, the most popular deck was Gruul Ramp (even if it did perform rather poorly). So what gives?

I think it’s a few things. First, Pauper is a relatively slow moving format when you’re always playing it. That being said when there are real stakes on the line people who usually are just observing the format are going to try to meta against the known field. Here’s how things may have played out:

  1. Tron is the de facto best deck
  2. Ramp is new and has some game against Tron – if enough people run Ramp, it could keep Tron down
  3. Faeries decks have game against Tron while having outs to contain Ramp

If all of this is how things played out it could explain how two Orzhov Pestilence decks found themselves positioned to win the tournament.

2. What’s real? What’s fake?

I think we learned a lot about what decks are actually good and which ones are illusions. A lot of the usual suspects are archetypes you absolutely have to respect. Tron, Dimir Faeries, Izzet Faeries, Stompy, and Orzhov Midrange seem to be making up the new metagame. Decks like WonderWalls have dipped a tad and even old stalwarts like Boros Bully and Boros Monarch seem to be struggling in this new world.

To be clear, when I say real and fake, I do not mean that the “fake” decks are bad, but rather that they lack sustained success at this time.

Let’s use Gruul Ramp as an example. While this deck might be a solid choice I do not think it is real in that it is not a smart pick in an open metagame. Since the deck hit the metagame it has 18 total appearances in the Top 32 (both before and after the Fall from Favor ban) and it has 3 Top 8s. However it is more likely to appear in 17-32 than the Top 16.

In a dynamic metagame that would be fine since there would be a point in the cycle where running Gruul Ramp is the correct call. Pauper is not dynamic in this way as it is non-rotating and it is very difficult to shift the metagame. The result is that Gruul occupies a space where it will absolutely get some people but probably will never be the “right” choice.

3. What next?

I have been thinking a lot about what these results mean in the bigger sense of the format. BluStalker had a great observation in the MTGPauper discord: the Super Qualifier was about playing to the board and decks that did that well saw success. Compare this to a traditional Pauper Challenge, which is all about playing to the stack. What comes next is likely a return to stack based play.

Or rather it would if not for Foretell. Foretell seems very strong in a format where you need to overload counterspell strategies. The ability to put your spells on layaway means you can continue to develop your game plan while potentially forcing your opponent to hinder their board development. The big question of course is how good will this be against Tron.

Honestly? I’m hopeful but not optimistic.

4. What are you talking about?

This was a bit of a ramble, I know. I struggled to write about the qualifier because if history has shown us anything it’s that these events do not matter to the metagame. Come this weekend the same players are going to be playing the same decks and that’s that. The metagame will continue to revolve around Tron for the foreseeable future unless Foretell is light years better than I imagine.

There are going to be blips going forward. Decks will spike results and maybe something powered by the new snow duals will stick. More likely, though, is we are going to regress to the mean of the format.

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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