One Engine Just Won’t Do

The March 5-6 Pauper Weekend Recap

There were Challenges on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, but the results are now a relic thanks to Monday’s bans that will take Galvanic Relay Storm out of the format and require Affinity to reconfigure itself. The chart below represents every deck that had at least 5 Top 32 finishes or a Top 8 finish in the four weeks of Neon Dynasty season before the bans took effect:

Despite Affinity and Storm getting a ton of the press (and rightfully so), both Bogles and Bully had very strong showings over the past few weeks. But that’s more a footnote in the story rather than the driving narrative. The truth is that Affinity and Storm set the pace for the past four weeks. The hope is that the changes the Pauper Format Panel enacted will help to diversify the top of the metagame.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Pauper Format Panel and had a hand in the decision process.

Watching the discussion in the wake of the format update, a few cards came up more than a few times: Deadly Dispute and the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges. These cards were cited as recent additions to Pauper that are exacerbating underlying issues. The Bridges help to fuel Affinity’s starts while also having play in Cleansing Wildfire shells as card draw and acceleration; Deadly Dispute takes a tried and true method of extracting value in Pauper and kicks it into another level thanks to the residual Treasure.

I believe both of these instances are additive to the format but I want to take some time to discuss Deadly Dispute and its place. Dispute is highlighting something that has been true about Pauper for the past several months (if not years) but has not been called out and that is that if decks want to do battle on the axis of card advantage they now require two engines to do so.

What do I mean by an “engine” here? Roughly speaking, an engine is anything in Magic that converts resources into other resources, often at an advantage. Tron is a mana engine in that it takes three pieces to increase the reasonable output of three lands; Affinity is also a mana engine of sorts. Monarch and Ninja of the Deep Hours are both card advantage engines but a card like Moon-Circuit Hacker is more of a card selection engine.

Let’s take a look at Flicker Tron during the height of its powers. Tron had multiple layered engines, all fueled by the mana provided by Tron. Perhaps the most obvious one was the Ghostly Flicker Engine, which was later replaced with an Ephemerate Engine (itself two separate engines), combined with a Mystical Teachings engine. The result was a deck that once it got online could generate value at a rate that far outpaced most of its contemporaries. And really, it heralded the next era of Pauper deck development, but it would take a few years for the format to catch up.

Deadly Dispute stitches together a few engines that have existed in a way that pushes them to new heights. The Kor Skyfisher engine – that is the one behind nearly every build of Boros for the past decade – leverages cantrip artifacts to eke out extra value and also got a new toy in Experimental Synthesizer. Deadly Dispute pairs this with the already strong Affinity/Metalcraft mana engine by leaving behind a Treasure token, generating the more cards than Glint Hawk and an artifact but also leaving behind spare mana as opposed to a threat. It is not that Deadly Dispute is something entirely unprecedented but rather it is an optimized version of something that has existed in other colors.

Faerie strategies were often the target of ire due to their interwoven engines. Ninja of the Deep Hours could provide a steady flow of cards when coupled with removal but the addition of the Monarch provided these decks with another “free” way to draw cards. Compare this to the Boros Monarch decks which used an older version of the Kor Skyfisher engine to bridge to Monarch.

Then there’s Ephemerate which is a raw card advantage machine with Mulldrifter and a tutor engine (in a fashion) with Mnemonic Wall effects. People often say that Ephemerate is an engine unto itself and that is somewhat true, but it is just more compact than other similar packages and is far more mana efficient. It either self sufficient or layers neatly onto another engine (like Cleansing Wildfire and the Bridges).

So what good is this knowledge? First, it can help inform those who like to brew. If you are looking to try a new midrange or control strategy you need to be prepared to either have your own overlapping engines or have a way to negate at least one of your opponent’s. Similarly if you are trying to go under you need to establish a game plan for fighting against card advantage on multiple axes. This might mean going the route of Boros Bully and adding a way to filter away useless cards (Faithless Looting) or take the Bogles route and add a light touch of selection (Commune with Spirits). Even Slivers has an engine these days in Winding Way/Lead the Stampede.

This may help to explain why Stompy struggles so mightily these days – it is a deck without a secondary engine and no easy way to add one; even Burn gets some selection in Needle Drop and Voldaren Epicure.

A personal aside: this may be why Tortured Existence is always on the outside looking in – in order to run its primary engine it needs a density of cards which leaves precious little room for a supplemental engine to find footing.

What do you think? Is Pauper now a format where two engines aren’t only better than one but are necessary in the current format if you aren’t trying to clock the opponent? What engines are under explored and which ones could make waves in the weeks until Streets of New Capenna?

If you like these kinds of deep dives into the underlying structure of Pauper, please consider supporting me on Patreon. Patreon provides me with the opportunity to dig into more esoteric and Pauper specific discussion. Rewards start at just $1.

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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