Dominaria United previews are about to get underway but for now Pauper is still living in the world of Double Masters 2022. The August 13 and August 14 Challenges, as well as the Showcase Qualifier, were dominated by Affinity. For much of the past year this has been a common refrain and critique of Pauper: despite all the bans, Affinity is still a powerhouse.
This got me thinking about the four macroarchetypes and how they have stacked up against each other over the past seven weeks of the season. So let’s take a look:
Red Decks: Burn, Madness Burn, Red Blitz
July 2-July 24: 26.56% of the T32 Metagame; 28.31% of the Winner’s Metagame
July 30-August 14: 18.75% of the T32 Metagame; 16.94% of the Winner’s Metagame
None of this should be too surprising. In the wake of Monastery Swiftspear’s downshift many players flocked to red spells. In the intervening weeks as the meta has adjusted and shifted, red has taken a pretty significant hit. Red, despite being a powerful strategy, has a natural foil in life gain. While it is not an end all and be all, sufficient life gain present in the metagame can make it far more difficult for these decks to succeed. The abundance of Sacred Cat and Basilisk Gate decks, backed up with Lunarch Veteran, can help to mitigate the damage output.
Boros Decks: Blitz, Bully, Gates, Kuldotha, Synthesizer
July 2-July 24: 8.98% of the T32 Metagame; 7.89% of the Winner’s Metagame
July 30- August 14: 17.42% of the T32 Metagame; 19.19% of the Winner’s Metagame
While correlation is certainly not causation, we can infer that the increase in Boros decks (and the wide release of Baldur’s Gate cards) helped to bolster Boros while suppressing Red Decks. Boros is also a traditional enemy of Faerie decks and as we will see in a little bit these were extremely popular in the first half of the season. The issue with Boros is how diverse the archetype can be with strategies often bending boundaries and bleeding into one another. And yet these decks have enough differences to be distinct.
Faeries: Delver, Dimir Faeries, Faeries, Izzet Faeries
July 2-July 24: 26.95% of the T32 Metagame; 28.31% of the Winner’s Metagame
July 30- August 14: 16.97% of the T32 Metagame; 15.81% of the Winner’s Metagame
Faeries started out incredibly strong and has come back to the pack. None of this is surprising as Faerie decks often wax and wane in strength over the course of a season.
July 2-July 24: 7.81% of the T32 Metagame; 7.89% of the Winner’s Metagame
July 30- August 14: 20.99% of the T32 Metagame; 23.72% of the Winner’s Metagame
That’s a pretty wide disparity. Looking at New Capenna season (April 30-June 26), Affinity had an 18.87% Top 32 metagame share while it had an even 20% of the Winner’s Metagame. So what happened during the first month of this season? Again, correlation is not causation but it appears that a lot of players shifted to Monastery Swiftspear at least initially before returning to the machine. It is also possible that with multiple high profile events taking place more recently (Qualifiers and the like) that people are more eager to try a deck that many consider to be “the best”.
The New Normal?
I am going to admit that sometimes I see format health discourse less as something constructive and more as a desire to return to some old glorious state. For people who have been playing Pauper for some time a lot of staple decks have fallen by the wayside and new metagame monsters – like Affinity – have emerged. As the cardpool grows so to does the overall power level and similarly, decks built on synergies that are common will get more tools – Boros is going to get more value creatures, blue is going to get more cheap spells, Affinity is going to get more Artifacts.
So then what should be the threshold for action? That is far less clear, even to me. You could look at metagame volume and how much a deck wins or you could try to examine play patterns and see whether or not they meet some arbitrary metric of “fun” or “desirable”. Historically cards have ended up on the Pauper ban list if their rate was too good (that is, the actual cost was too low for the output) and stifling the wider metagame.
Looking at the numbers posted above one could make the argument that Affinity has crossed this threshold and when the entire mechanic is based on “rate” then maybe it’s time to look at what makes that rate so attainable if and only if it deserves a ban.
But unlike bans of yore, Affinity isn’t stifling other decks to the point that other major players are being lapped by the archetype. Unless it actually is and then there’s a bigger question knocking down the door:
What is Pauper’s new normal?
Decks like Stompy and Mono Black Control are barely viable these days, overtaken by other strategies that do what they do, but better. Affinity, Boros, Faeries, and Red are all at the top right now and outside of Red decks the others do not have clear and obvious counterplay options. But should the format be reshaped by a bevy of bans or should it adjust to a new, higher power level?
This isn’t a question to be taken lightly as any action could have unintended consequences. I am not of the belief that the format is suffering under a weight of ban debt but rather that over the past two years several cards that may have been offensive in the format’s not too distant past have found their niche. Yet that is only my opinion and I know plenty of folks out there have different ones.
So again, is this the New Normal? And if so is it still fun?
If Affinity is a problem then what else might be lurking underneath? And if Affinity takes a knock. what else has to go to keep the format healthy, vibrant, and evolving?
I want to take a moment to thank all my Patrons – both old and new. I am going to do my level best to keep providing you with the kind of content that brought you here in the first place. If you are interested in supporting my work, rewards for my Patreon start at just $1 and every little bit helps.