I couldn’t bring myself to do a metagame recap for the May 29 and May 30 Pauper Challenges. This has nothing to do with the outcome of those events but rather the looming specter of Modern Horizons 2. The set is poised to turn the metagame on its ear, and the addition of Chatterstorm is only part of the impending sea change.
Before diving deeper, I want to discuss how I view Pauper as it exists in the current moment. It is a format in flux but there are some things that have remained true.
- The format has a fundamental turn of four. While some above average draws can get there on turn three, on average the game will hinge on the fourth turn.
- There is little incentive to win early. Aside from WonderWalls combo and Burn there just is not a ton of pressure applied to the first few turns. The result is that over time we have seen decks shift towards a focus on dominant endgames as opposed to pressing an early advantage. You can see this in various two-color Spellstutter Sprite decks that over time cut Delver of Secrets in an effort to have a better late game.
- Outside of hyperlinear decks and Tron, this has created a format of midrange. Due to the nature of most Pauper engines being ones of pure card economy, the resulting slog can often come down to who has more options. The advent of Cascade decks has changed this somewhat, forcing decks to not only accumulate cards but also to efficiently deploy them.
Modern Horizons 2 is going to change things. We have to start with Chatterstorm (you can read my thoughts here). I believe there is around a 5% chance that this card remains legal for the long term. Before we get to the sliding doors part of this run down, let’s talk about what the latest set is likely to do:
Pauper is going to get faster
Regardless of whether or not Chatterstorm is banned, MH2 is packing a ton of powerful options at the low end of the curve. The Dual Artifact Lands are going to make Affinity and Metalcraft more consistent while also giving more decks access to Galvanic Blast. The new Arcbound creatures and Foundry Helix are going to apply a ton of pressure and help to mitigate removal.
There are plenty of other cards that are going to apply pressure. Glimmer Bairn and Goblin Anarchomancer are begging to be paired with Sprout Swarm. Hell Mongrel and friends might just make Madness viable. Whenever a set like MH2 comes along it provides cards at a better rate than would appear in a Standard set. This alone helps to push the curve of the format lower.
There are three different common creatures that tap to draw a card in Modern Horizons 2. Floodhound is the worst of these, costing three mana to Investigate. The nice part about the good dog is that you can store the clues for later. Gild-Blade Prowler asks that you have discarded a card before you get your draw, but if you have it costs a measly one mana and one life. Between Cycling lands, Retrace, and Tortured Existence, this card is set up to power black midrange decks up quite a bit. Deepwood Denizen might be the most expensive of the bunch, but when paired with Elvish Vanguard this basically costs a single green mana to draw a card.
These are just the card draw engines. Madness and discard decks acquired a ton of tools The +1/+1 counter theme might be strong enough to push a Hardened Scales style deck (we see you Vault Skirge). I don’t think it’s good enough but I definitely want Sinister Starfish to do something.
So we have a format that is pulled in two directions. We have the addition of cheap options that encourage earlier plays while also adding several engines that reward protecting the crown (but not the Monarch). Here’s how I see the format shaking out.
Chatterstorm is Banned
If Chatterstorm is banned in the first few months of its existence I think the format is going to be in a weird spot. Affinity and similar decks likely turn into one of the best things to do early. I don’t think we will see a settled “best build” for a few months.
We are likely to see a ton of Spellstutter Sprite decks as a way to apply control the game with counter magic. White decks probably get a boost thanks to Dust to Dust. People are going to try and make Mono-Black work and chances are it will not succeed thanks in part to how well Affinity matches up with Swamps.
In this world, Tron is likely to emerge as a strong contender. I think the days of Gorilla Shaman acting as a check on Affinity are numbered. Instead we are going to see cards like Ancient Grudge and Shattering Pulse, which can handle multiple non-land artifacts, go up in value.
The format will likely look similar to what currently exists, only with the specter of Atog looming large. Decks that can fight against Fling and win will be set up for success.
Chatterstorm Stays Legal
Here is where things get interesting. I think if Chatterstorm stays legal it is going to force a shift in the way Pauper games are played. Instead of trying to eventually win the game, players are going to have to try an actively win. Again, Affinity style decks are probably one of the early favorites here as they are established in their paths to victory.
Delver of Secrets probably makes a comeback. Access to a quick clock is likely to be vital in racing an army of Squirrels. The fact that Delver decks can also easily pack Echoing Truth and counters make them a solid choice in fighting Storm decks.
Black decks get a boost here. Echoing Decay is a decent card in its own right but can do serious work against an army of tokens. Black decks also can run Crypt Rats which can put a crimp in the plans of those squirrels.
The big losers in this world are Monarch and Tron. Don’t get me wrong, both of these will still be major players. However pushing the format closer to turn 3 to turn 4 makes it harder to justify taking the first three turns to play for a payoff. Tron could likely handle Affinity and other aggressive decks but will have to make concessions in the mana base in order to fight Storm early. Similarly, Monarch decks might find themselves under additional pressure from colorless creatures (Myr Enforcer and Salamyrdar Enforcer), meaning Prismatic Strands might not be good enough.
There’s more, of course. Until the games are actually played and cards are either banned or not banned everything is up in the air. Regardless, the next few weeks are going to be incredibly interesting and exciting.