This past weekend there were three major Pauper events. In addition to the Saturday and Sunday Challenges, there was also a Championship Qualifier. While the Qualifier won’t be added to my season end spreadsheet (it only posted the Top 16 as opposed to the Top 32), the format trends continued – Affinity accounted for 10 of the 24 Top 8 slots handed out over the weekend. After six Challenges, here is where the Top 32 metagame shakes out (accounting for every archetype with at least 4 appearances):
If you look at Affinity as a whole (there’s one more Jeskai Affinity deck not listed here), the archetype makes up almost 33% of the Top 32 metagame and has taken down 52% of all Top 8s awarded in Crimson Vow season.
I am not going to spend more time talking about how the format needs a ban – I’ve done that enough and frankly I’m tired of repeating myself. Instead I’m going to repeat myself in another way: talking about why this always feels like this is happening in Pauper.
As formats add cards, combos are going to be uncovered. If not for serious limiting elements and lock pieces, formats like Vintage and Legacy would arguably be more dominated by combo decks than they are today. To a degree, non-aggro, non-prison decks in Vintage do have some combo element – we see you Vault-Key and Tinker. In these other non-rotating formats there are important limiting factors. Cards like Trinisphere, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Damping Sphere, Blood Moon, Wasteland, Force of Will – all of these and more help to keep the broken decks in check to some degree. These cards help to bear the weight of an ever additive cardpool that is constraining existing strategies and taxing “unfair” decks.
Pauper has the ever additive cardpool but completely lacks powerful limiting agents. The result is a format that hangs in a tenuous state where adding the wrong suite of cards has the potential to push an “almost good” combo deck into the stratosphere. At this point we all know that any Storm spout is liable to break the format in half. Currently we’re living under the auspices of Atog – a combo deck that existed for years but was held at bay by one of the true broken limiting agents in Gorilla Shaman.
There are two paths to forge with Pauper. The first is to take more action against these combo decks. Given the nature of the cardpool that means more aggressive bans when these combo decks do arise. Please stop asking for more powerful hate bears at common, that’s not going to happen folks. Force of Will isn’t walking through that door and neither is Dryad Millitant, so let’s stop wishful thinking. For what it is worth, I believe this is the correct path to take.
The other is to just have Pauper be a combo format – one where the game is decided on turn two or three. We have already seen what Pauper looks like with combo running roughshod, so maybe the “answer” is to just do that. For what it’s worth, again, I think this would make for a miserable format where the old Vintage axiom would hold sway: The early game is shuffling, the mid-game is the mulligan decision, the late game is turn one.
What should Pauper be? In my opinion it should be a place where people get to play with commons that may have been overlooked at one point and not have to thread the needle of hoping not to die to an over-the-top combo deck. Given that the best tools against combo decks are not viable at common, the answer becomes a more aggressive management of the ban list.