It’s been over a month since the most recent bans and Midnight Hunt has been out on Magic Online for four Challenge cycles. In that time there have been 8 Challenges as well as a Showcase Qualifier, a Super Qualifier, and a regular Qualifier. Given the amount of data at my fingertips, I decided to take a look at the metagame from a macro level. The following chart breaks down the current Pauper metagame into macro-archetypes based on key engines or themes present in a deck. This list excludes the October 9 Qualifier as only 16 decklists were published from that event. Of note – I did not include Cleansing Wildfire as a primary engine as it tends to supplement either an Ephemerate or a Cascade endgame.
Going into this experiment I was wondering exactly how prominent Affinity was in the metagame. While it was clearly a top contender it did not seem as egregious as some previous top decks. What I found out was that Affinity is a clear lap behind the most dominant engine in current Pauper: Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours.
Affinity is largely Grixis Affinity – the combo-aggro deck that leverages Atog and Disciple of the Vault. Faeries encompasses three macro archetypes (Delver, Dimir Faeries, Izzet Faeries) and two sub-archetypes (Faeries, Izzet Delver). These decks take up nearly 30% of the Top 32 metagame and almost a third of the Winner’s Metagame. More than that, they are the best performing archetype by a decent margin, out-performing their volume by a respectable clip.
Affinity is a clear second here and then there’s a four deck scrum – Ephemerate/Flicker decks include Familiar combo, Tron, and Jeskai Ephemerate; Creature combo includes Elves, Goblin Combo, and WonderWalls; Pestilence is Orzhov and Mono-Black Control while Ethereal Armor encompasses Bogles and Heroic. Out of these only Pestilence is out performing its volume, largely due to a number of strong showings by Pestilence Control, the nearly creatureless “destroy all monsters” build.
Let’s compare the above chart to the micro-archetypes, taking into account all decks that made at least 6 Top 32 appearances (again, excluding the October 9 Qualifier):
This metagame looks slightly more diverse, but still concentrated at the top in Grixis Affinity and Dimir Faeries. These decks are more or less the same with regards to how well they perform and how popular they are. Make no mistake – Pauper is currently in a much better position than it was pre-ban, but problems are lingering underneath the surface.
First, Faeries as a macro-strategy is clearly the best possible thing you can be doing at the moment. No individual card in the Faeries shell jumps out as obscenely powerful outside of the broken blue cantrips. Then again, Mono Blue Faeries has eschewing Ponder and Preordain for Of One Mind and Winged Words in an effort to draw more cards, not better ones.
Looking back at the first chart, we see a trend at the top: lots of blue draw spells. Faeries has access to the aforementioned cantrips but also the “draw two” of Ninja and Sprite, as well as Behold the Multiverse. Affinity lives on the back of Thoughtcast and more recently Deadly Dispute. Ephemerate and Flicker decks love a Mulldrifter more than is reasonable. It makes sense that the best decks in the format have the best two-for-ones.
The question then becomes how do you fight the card flow. Pestilence can do some work as it can undo some amount of accrued cards but only if they are committed to the board. Instead the best options might be things like Monarch and other card draw engines that can keep up.
Now I know what some folks are expecting: that I’m going to call for a ban. Well, not yet. We are weeks away from another set hitting the scene and considering what Midnight Hunt gave Pauper I’m interested to see what Crimson Vow has to offer. That being said, I hope the powers that be are closely monitoring the situation.
All that being said, I am not sure what can be banned that doesn’t fundamentally change the identity of Pauper. For example, banning Ponder, Preordain, Ninja of the Deep Hours or Spellstutter Sprite (TO BE CLEAR: I AM NOT SUGGESTING THESE CARDS SHOULD BE BANNED), that fundamentally changes a core part of the format’s identity, which could do more damage than no bans at all.
It’s certainly a pickle.