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.
Let’s get one story out of the way: after the May 6 and May 7 Pauper Challenges it is fairly clear that Reckless Burn is the more popular stripe of aggressive red deck in the current metagame. It was incredibly popular in both tournaments and ended up with a full 25% of Top 32 slots. In turn this has made it looks worse in some regards as its popularity has ensured a decent number of these decks ended up with a X-3 record. So let’s take another step back and look at the first six events of March of the Machine weekend.
In that span Reckless Red is the second most popular archetype with 24 Top 32 appearances, 6 Top 8s, and 2 wins. It has a pretty solid Win+ ratio of 0.71, meaning it trends towards a Top 16 finish. It’s K-Score average of 1.96 tells a similar story – you can reasonably expect Reckless Red to make the Top 16 and as approximately three out of every 16 Top 8 decks get to the finish line with a X-2 record, you can expect a similar rate of Top 8s out of Reckless Red. The long and short of it is this: if you are aiming for the top tables of the Pauper Challenges you need to be prepared for Reckless Burn.
But it is only the second most popular archetype this season – Faeries comes in first with 25 total appearances thus far. It has a slightly better Win+ ratio (0.84) and K-Win average (2.04). It has six Top 8s as well, but no Challenge wins yet. I want to come back to this datum later, so let’s put a pin in it for now.
So what is going on with Reckless Burn? Like so much of Pauper’s history the current battle is being fought with yesterday’s technology. Take, for example, Suffocating Fumes. This card has absolutely earned its spot in the maindeck as a flexible way to answer hordes of small creatures like those deployed by Faeries or that sprout forward as a result of a Kuldotha Rebirth. But against a deck like Reckless Burn it fails to do anything of note. In certain metagames a card like Suffocating Fumes can absolutely be worth a slot (and to be frank, it probably still is worth a card today) but when key cards in the opposition have three toughness it starts to look silly.
I think it’s important to look at the two Black Gardens lists that performed well this weekend. Both leaned into life gain with Spinning Darkness and Pulse of Murasa, while opting to use Crypt Rats as their sweeper of choice. Crypt Rats has the advantage of scaling and when backed up with enough lifegain it can clear out tokens and Thermo-Alchemists alike. I am not saying we are moving into a stage where Crypt Rats and Pestilence are the panacea for the format but they remain options that have largely been held to the fringes as of late.
Now to pick up the thread I left before about Reckless Red and Faeries, I think it’s interesting to note that only one of these decks gets a ton of ire in the discourse. It is quite possible that over the next few weeks Reckless Red will overtake Faeries and this little denouement will look foolish, but it is something that’s been tickling the back of my brain for a while. Blue being good in Pauper is not surprising since it is a high power non-rotating format. Blue is supposed to be good. Red, well, maybe not.
Being clear – red has gotten a ton of tools in the past few years and has seen its power level pushed quite a bit. And the fact that red’s reign is coming right on the heels of Affinity’s stay at the top can be seen as evidence there is something amiss with overall format health and some action needs to be taken. I for one am interested to see if this new brand of Red has the staying power of the previous iteration.
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