February 13-14 Pauper Weekend in Review

The February 13 and February 14 Pauper Challenges took place in the shadow of a potential format shake up. A banned and restricted list update was scheduled for February 15. While the update was known to be targeting Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, the assumption was that other formats would also see changes. Given language in the Fall from Favor ban update, it was not outside the realm of possibility that Pauper would also see a shake up.

As we now know that was not the case.

Normally I am the one at the forefront of calling for bans in Pauper. I am on the record as saying I feel that several bans should have already taken place. It therefore shocks me quite a bit to write these next words:

In my opinion, Pauper is the healthiest it has been since the period between the ban of Peregrine Drake and the release of Modern Masters 2017.

More than, this, Pauper looks actively good. Yes there are still problematic strategies and a number of “feel bad” moments (which I promise you I will get to) but there is a relatively large variety of potentially successful archetypes. Let’s take a look at the first six Challenges. This chart takes into account every deck that has at least 4 appearances in the Top 32 or a Top 8 finish.

January 30-February 14 Challenges

Decks in blue are those where their Weighted Volume – that is their share of the winner’s metagame – is higher than that of their actual Volume – their overall percentage of the Top 32 metagame. If we just take into account decks with more than one appearance there are 11 such strategies. Unlike previous seasons, the is no outlier like Flicker Tron which had a positive delta of over 5%. Instead what we see is a large variety of distinct decks that can reliably be found in the Top 16 and knocking on the door of the Top 8.

Another column worth noting is Win+:Volume. When this number exceeds 1 it means the deck is more likely to Top 8 than Top 16. Before the Fall from Favor ban, Commander Legends season had three such decks (where the archetype was at least 2% of the Top 32 metagame). Currently there are no decks that meet the 2% threshold (4 appearances) where this number exceeds 1. Not only is there a variety of options but they are all of a similar power level (as indicated by these results).

Pauper is fine, case closed. Right?

Not so fast. This data set draws upon a fairly small sample size (6 events) and before making any sweeping pronouncements I’d want to see more events. There is also the question of “at what cost?”. Yes, Tron is currently down, but does the format want a top tier land destruction strategy? Pure Monarch strategies are suffering but the Monarch has been adopted into more decks as a way to keep up on cards. Even Bonder’s Ornament has found its way into decks that cannot easily make use of the card as a way to fight opposing copies.

Let’s look at two quotes from the recent banned list update. First, in discussion of Pioneer and the bans of Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer. The key text is highlighted:

Now let’s look at the section on Modern, specifically Tibalt’s Trickery. Again, the key text is highlighted:

These are two key points explicitly called out:

  • Difficulty of meaningful interaction
  • The proliferation of non-games

What is meaningful interaction? In the case of Oops! All Spells, there wasn’t much Pioneer decks could do as the deck could easily win in the first few turns of the game. Compare this to Tron where interaction does matter early but as the game draws on, it matters less and less (which in turn leads to a state of “non-game”). But, importantly, the game did not start in such a state.

Let’s look at Monarch. Can one meaningfully interact with the Monarch? Not really, but again it usually does not come down until turn four at the earliest. And while the Monarch can indeed lead to a state of “non-game”, just like Tron there is game to be played before this point.

At what point does a game become a non-game? At what point does interaction cease to matter? I think it is clear that over the past few months we have seen an overall increase in the power level of successful Pauper strategies and while some decks have been able to adapt others have been lost to the churn of time.

Does this leave Pauper is good place? I am not sure. I do not like the “wait and see” approach as it has burned the format several times in the past. And there is nothing guaranteeing that the problems of a few months ago won’t come back and rear their head in a few weeks. But I am going to draw a two conclusions from the information available:

  • Wizards wants Pauper to be powerful: Tron and Monarch are powerful mechanics and the decks built around them are similarly strong; Spellstutter Sprite is a powerful card. It is safe to assume that there should be powerful options in Pauper.
  • A fundamental turn of Four is acceptable: Very few games of Pauper are effectively over before turn four. This may change with the recent increase in Arbor Elf/Acid-Moss decks but for now, games usually have interplay up to this point. If we ever see that turn skew lower, action is likely (see Fall from Favor).

Pauper is the healthiest it has been in almost five years. Whether or not it is a healthy format in the abstract remains to be seen but if you are interested in playing with powerful commons, now is a great time to test the waters.

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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