The First Four Weeks of Phyrexia

The Top 32 metagame for the first 8 Challenges during Phyrexia season on MTGO; minimum 2% metagame volume (~5 appearances)


A quick aside: While I am a member of the Pauper Format Panel, I see my role on this page as one where I talk about the format from the perspective of a player. The suggestions I make here are made with the intent to provide different ways to approach the format that may yield you success. Good? Good.

A second aside on terminology: I use a few different metrics when looking at the Top 32 metagame. The first is just Raw Volume. The second is Win+, which takes the sum of all wins at X-2 or better in the Swiss and assigns a score; Win+ is helpful in measuring a deck’s Swiss round performance. K-Wins takes all of a deck’s wins and subtracts its losses, Top 8 inclusive; this helps to give a measure of overall performance. The final is one I call True Volume, which takes the average of all three volumes (Actual, Win+, K-Win). This number helps to provide the most robust image of a deck’s performance in the metagame.

Someone has a Case of the Mondays

Well, it’s certainly a choice to write this post today given the recent update to the Legacy Banned List. But I am nothing if not someone who makes those choices voluntarily.

So with that out of the way let’s get into the first four weeks of Phyrexia: All Will Be One season. The above chart pulls from the 8 Challenges in this season to date on Magic Online and then further breaks it down to only those lists with a minimum of 5 Top 32 appearances (approximately 2% metagame volume). There are three decks with Top 8 finishes that did not make this cut – CawGate (which also has a challenge win), Goblin Combo, and Tireless Tribe Combo. But looking at the chart we see a fairly clean Tier 1, the hint of a Tier 1.5, followed by a Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Let’s start there. While some of these decks are clearly more popular than others there is a relative diversity of options available in Pauper at the moment. The top two decks are taking up a lot of volume in the Top 32 metagame but unlike Legacy they are not exactly keeping each other in check – much of that is left to other actors in the metagame. Now is it my idealized version of any format where the top tier takes up around 45% of the Winner’s Metagame? No, but when all three of the top decks are separated by less than 3% that is significantly better than two decks running away with the show. This is also marks an improvement over The Brother’s War season where Affinity led the way with a True Volume of 19.36% while Kuldotha Red came in at 13.13% and Dimir Terror clocked in at 12.5%. So far this season the spread is significantly reduced with Affinity (16.25%) only slightly ahead of Red (16.22%) and Dimir (13.87%) far closer than the almost 7% points behind it was last season.

Tier 1.5

4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Snap
4 Faerie Seer
4 Faerie Miscreant
4 Of One Mind
4 Brinebarrow Intruder
18 Snow-Covered Island
4 Counterspell
4 Moon-Circuit Hacker
2 Spell Pierce

3 Relic of Progenitus
2 Steel Sabotage
4 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Dispel
1 Hydroblast
4 Annul
An example of a Top 8 Faeries list

As a long time Pauper player and format observer it has been refreshing to see Faeries – straight up mono-blue Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours – continue to be competitive. The deck has as many Top 8s as Kuldotha Red this season while having a Swiss performance that is comparable to Dimir Terror and Grixis Affinity. While it’s Swiss + Top 8 average looks better than Affinity, it has done that in 9 fewer trips to the elimination rounds. Compared to Red, however, it’s a full 1/5 of a win better in this metric.

Faeries is loaded with cheap and efficient interaction. It also can bring in a number of highly specialized sideboard cards – many of which cost one mana. Some have pointed out that Affinity can have up to 8 “Annul” effects in the sideboard (and the featured build has six), but I think what is far more important to Faeries’ recent run of success is its willingness to go for the most efficient option even if a more expensive option could have improved returns.

Faeries has also benefited from the relative dearth of good Kor Skyfisher decks as of late. Kor Skyfisher usually comes hand in hand with other creatures that are good at blocking which can put the brakes on Faeries’ plan. This may also contribute to why the deck is doing rather well at the moment: none of the big three decks are well set up to block early.

Tier 2 and Tier 3

These decks all fall into a similar bucket, separated by a few percentage points. As the season progresses decks could easily move up or down in these standings. Together these decks make up just over 31% of the Winner’s metagame. I consider Tier 2 to include (in no particular order) Orzhov Ephemerate, Flicker Tron, and Naya Gates. Tier 3, therefore, includes Delver (as a separate entity from Faeries), Izzet Faeries, Gruul Cascade, Selesnya Initiative, WonderWalls, and Azorius Familiars. Breaking this into buckets we have a Tier 3 that includes

  • Ephemerate decks
    • Big Mana (Tron)
    • Fair (Orzhov, Naya Gates)
  • Arbor Elf Ramp
  • Non-Faeries (archetype) Spellstutter Sprite
  • Walls Combo

Taking this into consideration with Tier 1/1.5, there’s actually a diversity of competitive play style available in Pauper.

The Conundrum

Just because there is a diversity in available play style does not mean every archetype is viable, nor does it mean that the format is necessarily enjoyable to everyone. Part of the issue stems from the top. Affinity can drag out games and then easily reload, making hard work for naught while Red can prey on poor draws. These decks being popular can lead to a repetition of these experiences, making for a somewhat dejecting play session. I will say that having run into the red deck three times in a row during one league- that wasn’t fun! If that was my only league experience it would be pretty bad!

Pauper, like many other formats, has gotten faster (for want of a better term). As spells enter the format the ones that break through are going to be the most efficient or powerful options which in turn pushes the onus on acting earlier. As a result strategies that might take more time set up have fallen by the wayside. However outside of traditional Stompy style aggro, most Pauper decks that were viable three years ago have an analogue available today.

Looking Ahead

What would I try to play next week? Affinity just had a very good weekend so it is going to be at the top of everyone’s mind. Faeries also looks like a deck on the rise. I would be looking at a Kor Skyfisher deck as a way to have defense against Faeries while also having access to powerful sideboard options for Affinity and clean removal for Dimir Terror (even if I have to pay the Ward cost).

3 Prismatic Strands
4 Journey to Nowhere
4 Squadron Hawk
3 Guardians' Pledge
4 Battle Screech
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Kor Skyfisher
4 Militia Bugler
2 Idyllic Grange
18 Plains
4 Lunarch Veteran
4 Raffine's Informant
2 Recommission

3 Crimson Acolyte
1 Prismatic Strands
1 Guardian of the Guildpact
4 Dust to Dust
3 Relic of Progenitus
3 Revoke Existence

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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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