Pauper’s Problem Periods

Today I woke up to messages about this – Pauper is in such a state that a tournament was set to fire and to fill the seats 11 people joined with decks containing only basic lands and due to a quirk of human behavior one of them won the event.

I’m not going to go over the various problems that exist in Pauper today (I’ve done that enough). Instead I want to respond to this question from SaffronOlive:

My gut reaction is that yes, this is the worst, but that is a recency bias. However I think this is one of the more egregious delays in my memory.

Cloudpost/Temporal Fissure

The utter dominance of these strategies is what led me to start tracking the Pauper metagame in the first place. Cloudpost was Tron before Tron and it was better. The mana engine took up fewer slots and thanks to Glimmerpost it could road block aggro decks simply by playing lands that helped up your mana production. Cloudpost was the best control deck of its day but it also enabled a powerful combo deck using the Cloud of Faeries/Ghostly Flicker engine. Looping Flicker through Cloud and Mnemonic Wall would generate a large Storm count and a similarly large amount of mana. You could then cast a one sided Upheaval with Temporal Fissure and then end the game with with Mulldrifter beats.

Peregrine Drake

I hated what Cloud of Faeries did to Pauper. Not only was it part of dominant combo engines – Fissure Post evolved into Familiar combo, using Cloud to generate mana – but it also created a lockdown play of Delver of Secrets into Cloud of Faeries, leave up Spellstutter Sprite. Cloud of Faeries lasted as a legal card for far too long, but when it was banned it signaled that Wizards was taking the format a bit more seriously.

And then they downshifted Peregrine Drake in Eternal Masters. To be clear, Drake was in the card file before Cloud was banned and a lot of people, myself included, felt that at five mana it would not be as oppressive. We were wrong. At the end of its five month life in the format Izzet Drake was around 75% of the competitive metagame.

Yikes.

This, to me, might be the most egregious, but we’ll get to that later.

Gush

Gush is a broken card, no ifs ands or buts. But despite how broken it was it actually fostered a diversity of Gush decks. And so while I felt that Gush was a significant problem for Pauper (and the metagame bore it out), it was not as reviled as some of these other options since it still allowed for some choice.

Choice is the animus here. Drake was egregious because it removed agency from your ability to select a deck – you had to play Drake, attempt anti-Drake (which did not work), or resolve yourself to losing your entry fee. Gush let you pick your variety of broken blue deck. Cloudpost and Temporal Fissure both came in an era where there were not as many people playing Pauper and there were tons of other choices that had some game (this might have been an illusion born of small sample size in Daily Events as opposed to Leagues, but that’s another post).

So that brings us to today. Squirrel Storm, Affinity, and Dimir Faeries are dominant to the point where they are removing the agency of choice beyond those three. However the nature of Squirrel Storm and Affinity is that the decisions you make may not matter and they simply run you over anyway.

These issues come on the heels of issues with Arcum’s Astrolabe, Fall from Favor, and persistent questions about whether or not Tron and the Monarch should be legal. Is this era any more problematic than the others? It’s definitely on par. But, just like the cycle of Standard with Throne of Eldraine, Pauper players are tired. Worse than that, they see other formats (Standard and Historic) getting attention and wonder how their (admittedly smaller) format continues to be ignored despite clear problems.

Everyone knew Chatterstorm was going to be a problem the day it was revealed. It has been legal for three months and in that time the big three have been ubiquitious:

Image

Pauper appeared to be in a good place before the release of Modern Horizons 2. After Fall from Favor was banned there was a proliferation of interesting decks that could keep pace with Monarch and Tron. We never got a chance to see that format develop.

So is this the worst stretch? No. But considering how many people are playing Pauper these days and the number of eyes on the format, it’s approaching an egregious amount of format neglect.

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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