Another year draws to a close. Just like last the waning weeks of 2020 a specter is lingering over Pauper. The December 18 and December 19 Challenges are telling a similar story to the events from earlier in the season: Affinity is the deck to beat by a wide margin and everything else is fighting for edges.
The following chart pulls information from the past four Pauper Challenges. It features every deck that has at least 3 finishes in the Top 32. While Rakdos Affinity is taking a step back, Grixis Affinity is making moves to reassert its dominance.
What is going on behind Affinity? First, Boros Bully remains a strong contender. We have seen a greater variety in Bully builds and have even seen a return to Kuldotha Rebirth based Boros Decks fueled in part by Voldaren Epicure. After Bully the next best deck appears to be Izzet Faeries, but this is largely buoyed by two strong performances on Sunday. In reality, I would place Delver and Azorius Familiars as a tie for the third best archetype at the current moment.
Delver decks are never a bad choice. The core conceit of Delver of Secrets, Spellstutter Sprite, and Ninja of the Deep Hours represents a powerful foundation. The ability to run the correct suite of counterspells and tempo plays a given metagame means that Delver can consistently adapt to the field of battle. Even with cheap counters it can be hard to constrain Affinity but that does not stop Delver from getting a foot on the rung of the metagame.
After Delver it should be no surprise to long-time Pauper players that Familiars is making waves. The Familiar shell uses Sunscape Familiar to reduce the cost on powerful blue spells and combines cards like Snap with Azorius Chancery to have turns where chaining Mulldrifters is a breeze. While the deck can just out value opponents and win with flying fish the deck originated as a combo with Ghostly Flicker, Archaeomancer, and Sage’s Row Denizen as a kill mechanism. The deck is highly resilient and can catch unsuspecting opponents off guard. Beating Familiars requires either a quick clock or the ability to disrupt an attempt to Snap or Flicker and win on the crack back.
Familiars is a difficult deck to master and is made more problematic by the Magic Online interface, requiring several clicks to make it through the engine. This eats both the clock and patience. The result is that some people shy away from the power due to the learning curve but as dedicated pilots pick it up, the deck emerges as a formidable choice.
Because of these decks making a comeback, I would anticipate seeing a rise in decks using Vines of Vastwood. Vines is a tricky card that can be used to not only protect your creatures from cards like Snap, but can also be used offensively. Using Vines on your opponent’s creature means that only you can target it for the rest of the turn. This effectively turns off Ghostly Flicker and Ephemerate loops out of Familiars. While this alone will not be enough to stop the deck, when coupled with a quick clock it could provide an opportunity for a deck like Stompy to have a solid showing (provided, of course, it can solve that Affinity matchup).