Here’s a number: 70.83%.
That’s the percentage of Top 8 decks from the Saturday and Sunday Challenges, as well as the Super Qualifier that store their card advantage on the board. These cards can be stored either in of Clue or Treasure Tokens, or in the form of Ichor Wellspring and Experimental Synthesizer. The nature of Card Advantage in Pauper continues to shift from cards in hand to material on the board, and the implications are being felt format wide.
I think it is hard to fully appreciate what this wrinkle in card accumulation means. Mulldrifter has been the gold standard for a Pauper card advantage creature since it was printed. The flying fish not only replaces itself but puts you up a card. Maneuvering cards like Momentary Blink, Undying Evil, Ghostly Flicker, and Ephemerate to get more cards out of Mulldrifter has been part of the format for as long as there has been an official filter on Magic Online. And while Mulldrifter always represented cards, it represented them immediately – that is the cards ended up in your hand right away. While there were ways to store cards on the board – namely with Prophetic Prism – there was work to be done to extract extra value.
The Monarch is an interesting case. It can generate a card almost immediately but then needs to be held for a turn cycle before you gain an advantage. That meant contorting your deck and play pattern to leverage the full advantage of the game piece. The end result was the same – you had to do work and the cards ended up in your hand.
If Mulldrifter was the old standard, Thraben Inspector is likely the new standard bearer of card flow. While not the best at what it does, it is emblematic of how card accumulation works. Now you get an at rate creature or effect and then can store a card in material. Being able to bank a draw in a tangible game piece means that draw is either a new card or can fuel part of an engine.
Let’s examine Voldaren Epicure. The creature itself is fine but it comes with a Blood Token. In Burn this token represents a fresh look at three damage. In other decks it can help turn on Metalcraft or enable Madness, or can be sacrificed to Deadly Dispute or Kuldotha Rebirth. And beyond that it can just be a rummage. Where Mulldrifters were expensive and you had to work to make them cheap, Thraben Inspectors are all cheap and you have less work to do to extract value.
Whereas Mulldrifters need to be countered to stop cards from being drawn, this new crop of cards come down early enough that battling them on the Stack is a fool’s errand. Instead, new angles of attack need to be developed to mitigate the effectiveness of these card batteries.
Take Repeal. It maintains utility against a wide swath of the format but has the upside of being able to remove these tokens from the battlefield while being card neutral for the caster. While this may not always work optimally at the very least it can force the opponent – the holder of material – to disrupt their play patterns. Repealing a Treasure Token likely means you do not get a card but if it removes their Lotus Petal that is a tangible advantage. While Experimental Synthesizer and other artifacts are exempt from this line of play, packing cheap artifact removal – Natural State, for example – can go a long way in disrupting timing; Experimental Synthesizer gets worse when cards are stranded.
All of this is to say that the format needs to think about different ways to fight the card advantage battles in today’s metagame and run answers that can attack the material where cards are stored.
Dare I say it? That the format, right now, is all about tempo?
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