A little push goes a long way, so I want to start by thanking Brian Coval and Phil Gallagher for stumping for me over the weekend. When two people you respect a great deal – as Magic players and as people – give you a shout out, it helps to rekindle a fire.
For the newcomers, welcome! I’ll do a more involved pitch later but before you go read further it would help to familiarize yourself with this post, which details how I go about exploring the Magic Online Top 32 Challenge metagames.
Okay, so first off, Pauper is in a weird spot right now. Ignoring the actual games played the online is different than the one in the physical world. The Initiative cards (and some others from Battle for Baldur’s Gate) are not currently programmed into Magic Online and as such the cards are not factoring into these breakdowns. That’s an issue unto itself as Initiative looks to be really good. Monarch already generates a card of value each turn but Initiative can do more than that thanks to the synergy with Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker. If you blink a Palace Sentinels when you have the Monarch nothing changes; do the same to an Aarakockra Sneak and you venture deeper into the dungeon.
And that’s not all – right now the Baldur’s Gate cards on Magic Online are somewhat difficult to acquire and are in short supply. This means decks lack last week’s winning GateBlade are, well, gated to a portion of the community.
All this being said, this post in concerned with the metagame as it exists on Magic Online. After the July 9 and July 10 Challenges, here is where things stand. The following chart includes every deck that has at least 3 Top 32 appearances over the four challenges since Double Masters 2022 hit MTGO or has at least one Top 8 appearance.
Going into the release of Double Masters 2022, Affinity was the clear best deck in the format. It had some of the best threats, great card draw, and resilience. The deck is still quite good but Monastery Swiftspear has remade the format in her image. Not only are Swiftspear fronted red decks the most popular at the moment, but the Khans of Tarkir downshift has made waves in other decks.
First off, Lunarch Bully is now the most popular version of Boros. This makes sense as it has some great blockers in Lunarch Veteran and Sacred Cat, while also having a decent amount of build in lifegain. Izzet Faeries is the best performing deck early on this season which may have something to do with the fact that it can run Lightning Bolt, Skred, Fire//Ice, and Izzet Charm.
Now none of this means that Affinity cannot rebound and have a fantastic season. The core has not changed and nothing has come along to disrupt its game plan – only to subvert it with speed. And it could just be that this early in a new set’s cycle people are trying new things out and putting down their Bridges for the time being. Early returns indicate that Affinity is still a factor, as is Spellstutter Sprite, with Swiftspear decks taking out a larger chunk of the meta.
So how do you fight this? I think longtime Orzhov-mage HeWhoIsinTheWater has a reasonable approach:
Orzhov Pestilence puts in work against Spellstutter Sprite decks and is not dead to Affinity. It can also use its eponymous enchantment to curtail other aggressive strategies, go over the tog of Moment’s Peace, and limit the damage that Goblin Combo can inflict. It also packs enough lifegain to survive against Monastery Swiftspear but it’s the sideboard copies of Dead Weight that are most attractive there. Swiftspear is dangerous for sure, but the ability to answer it on turn one is huge and can save you quite a few life points. If I were to play this deck I would absolutely be willing to add these to the main.
But what about next week? I would try to run the best Dead Weight deck I could that did not give up too much to Affinity while also potentially going over the top of other midrange decks. If I could get my hands on Arms of Hadar I would try my hand at a base-Golgari ramp deck in the vein of the popular Cascade strategies.
And now for that sales pitch:
If you could take a moment to support my content through Patreon I would greatly appreciate it. Rewards start at $1 and allow me to take the time to dive deep into the issues surrounding Pauper.