Powerful vs Popular

I’ve had the opportunity to jump into a few league runs over the past few days and while my results are not where I’d like them to be (read: I’ve been losing more than winning), I have been learning a lot about the current lay of the land. Late Saturday night I posted the above statement, fully understanding that it would be inflammatory and dare I say it – click bait.

But I stand by it. Which leads to this post brought to you by the Sunday scaries.

If you hang out in the #MTGPauper Discord I manage for any amount of time you will no doubt come across conversation about the current prevalence of both Affinity and Kuldotha Red. The discussion focuses on play patterns, relative strength, and how often these decks seem to come up in both the League and Challenges. While neither of these decks have win rates that exist far outside the realm of “reasonable” they still are the target of ire.

Affinity is a monster of a deck which packs several draw twos, free threats, potent recursion and some serious reach. Kuldotha Red is another beast which leverages low to the ground threats with Monastery Swiftspear and an impressive burn package. The fact that both this decks are good has made them incredibly popular which means the variance one would expect to encounter playing against them is reduced due to sheer volume. In one run I face an Affinity deck three times in a row and even though they stumbled twice, I did not win a match in part because the variance was evenly distributed.

There’s something else at play here. The proliferation of power red “draw” like Experimental Synthesizer and Reckless Impulse has increased the consistency of hitting land drops outside of blue decks. Previously one of blue’s strengths was that it could use Preordain to run a low land count and still make critical drops during the early stages of the game. Experimental Synthesizer gives non-blue decks a chance to hit land drops more regularly giving increased strength to low land count red decks and strategies reliant on specific lands like Basilisk Gate.

I cannot understate this enough: red decks have an increased consistency of hitting key cards.

Something that has come up a lot in discussion is that you can no longer stumble and missing land drops is death. As someone who has played a ton against Delver and other Spellstutter Sprite strategies this is nothing new, but it feels dissonant when it happens against a deck packing a ton of Mountains.

So what can be done? At a player level it is all about being more consistent so that you do not stumble. This might mean running your own sculpting or a more robust mana base so that you can hit your own land drops and not fall behind in that regard.

At a format level, this is a tougher nut to crack. How does one balance for popularity as opposed to power? If a deck is popular and over the line then it is clear but what about when a strategy is above average (we’re talking in the 52-55% win rate, not 60% here)? Does it matter if the deck is popular or fringe in volume? Taking action based on raw volume is a risky path as you’d be playing whack-a-mole.

This is not meant to be a defense of Affinity or Red, and me posting this does not take away from the very real feelings of people who are taking a break from Pauper because they are not enjoying the format. What it is meant to be is insight into my observations and the thoughts currently rattling around in my braincase.

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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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