Pauper just had its first set of Challenges after the most recent bans and things turned out close to expectations with Dimir Faeries having an excellent weekend (including a win on Saturday) while Grixis Affinity (winning on Sunday), Bogles, and Boros all putting up solid results.
It is far too early to read too much into these results and the next few weeks should be informative with regards to the true metagame composition. Given what we have seen today I would expect Pestilence and Chainer’s Edict based board control to see a small surge in popularity and for Boros to figure out if it should be casting Battle Screech or Kuldotha Rebirth.
Pauper chatter in the past weeks has been dominated by discussions of power creep. The recent slate of releases, to listen to the discourse, are above the curve of what should be acceptable. Many of the cards released recently – the Bridges, Deadly Dispute, and Experimental Synthesizer – are cited as cause for alarm and representative of the recent upward trend in card strength. These cards are strong – do not get me wrong – but much of their power is not only contextual but they are also in line with cards released earlier in the format’s history.
For years Pauper was largely static. While new strategies would emerge they were often just updates or twists on existing archetypes or were decks that finally sprung forth under the weight of too much synergy. It is hard for any common printed today to compete with the likes of Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, Priest of Titania, the Tron lands, and so on and so on. And while new decks have come into being, they do so only after the final piece falls into place – I’m thinking decks like WonderWalls and Goblin Combo here.
Pauper, for years, has been defined by the format’s past rather than its present.
This issue is being exacerbated today thanks to Affinity. If you look at a list of “all time broken mechanics” Affinity for Artifacts is pretty high on that list. Back when Pauper was first given a format filter on Magic Online the archetype was the source of the only banned card in Cranial Plating. Over the years the machine menace was held in check by the fragility of its mana base and the presence of cards like Gorilla Shaman and Ancient Grudge. All of this changed with the indestructible Bridges as now the main way to attack Affinity’s mana changed to Dust to Dust and Revoke Existence.
It’s easy to write but I want to be clear – the Bridges upended over a decade of play patterns. In the relative blink of an eye a deck went from fragile fringe monster to one that is defining the metagame.
Insert into the mix Deadly Dispute – a more or less strict upgrade on Perilous Research (a card which had already seen some play in Affinity) and Experimental Synthesizer, a card that ticks so many Pauper boxes in that it provides both material and card flow. And so Affinity has come out of the shadows and has established itself as one of defining elements of Pauper.
The result is a lot of clamor, and rightfully so. In the span of two years the relatively stable Pauper metagame has been upended by powerful additions. However, prior to Modern Horizons 2 a lot of the power was added to decks that were already powerful. Arcum’s Astrolabe added strength of Monarch and Tron strategies while Mystic Sanctuary was yet another broken blue card. Fall from Favor added muscle to Faeries and Monarch. Even Ephemerate – a single card engine that remains legal – is just an improvement to Ghostly Flicker. And while these cards have all earned some vitriol, it’s drastically different than the hate Affinity is getting these days, and that may be because it has changed the way the format plays out.
Savage Swipe was a card that got a lot of flack when it was printed. Back before Stompy fell off the face of the planet, Savage Swipe was bemoaned as a card that gave the mono green deck a tool that was not already at its disposal and earned a lot of cries of “this is bull s[p]it!”.
Pauper, as a format, is more comfortable when there are incremental (or not-so-incremental) improvements made to established top decks when the general play patterns are still in place. When new cards change the way the game is played on the table (or screen), there is a bit more rabble rousing.
What should Pauper be? Should it be a format of slow, plodding change where certain decks have a historical advantage, or should it be a place where new cards are exciting and can change things? To me there should be a middle ground, where new cards more regularly make waves but maybe not ones of the tidal variety.
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