April 16-17 Pauper Weekend Recap

We are in the home stretch of Neon Dynasty season. There’s one more weekend of events before Streets of New Capenna his Magic Online. While the next set looks to be of a lower power level it still has within it the capacity to impact the metagame. But that’s looking to the future and this is about the here and now.

The April 16 and April 17 were something of an anomaly given the recent trends in the format. Dimir Faeries put up a middling performance while Affinity and Boros were barely a factor. Instead the big winner out of the Big Three was Izzet Faeries, which used three Top 8 finishes on Saturday to propel itself to the best weekend out of any archetype, with 16.67% of the winner’s metagame.

The other big winner on the weekend was Rakdos Blood Burn. This deck has been gaining ground over the past several weeks and it deserves some attention. Leveraging the material generated by Crimson Vow‘s Blood Mechanic, as well as Blood Tokens’ ability to discard for Madness, and you get a deck that excels at mining every ounce of value from its cards. It is reminiscent of the earliest builds of Boros Bully in that regard which would use Faithless Looting to dump Prismatic Strands into the yard to be used later. Rakdos Blood Burn is not using Looting in such a defensive matter, instead using it to stick copies of Kitchen Imp or throw Fiery Tempers at the opponent.

But what about the format at large? These two decks accounted for almost 30% of the winner’s metagame over the weekend. The real story was how the Big 3 decks of the current moment played out:

While this week saw the Big Three chew up the least amount of the winner’s metagame, Faeries came out swinging with its second best weekend this season. Out of the Big 3, Faeries accounted for nearly 70% of their top finishes – far and away Faeries biggest share of this season.

Taking a look at the above chart we can see a trend of Faeries performing somewhere between “good” and “excellent”, while the other major plays vacillate between “above average” and “great”. For all the press Affinity gets for its busted cards and Boros gets for Experimental Synthesizer, Faeries continues to be the most consistently good performer in the bunch.

Why does Faeries seemingly get away with it? Perhaps it is because Affinity has only had its new toys for a little under a year while Boros only just got Experimental Synthesizer this year. Faeries, despite arguably being better than either of these archetypes, has always been near or at the top of the metagame. It also does not do anything that appears broken, instead playing relatively fair Magic compared to some of the other nonsense in Pauper. And yet it is likely the best strategy in the format right now.

None of this is to say action needs to be taken. In fact, the format looks relatively robust and healthy (outside of Faeries one weekend spike). While it does look rather different than Pauper before Modern Horizons 2, the format still appears to be in a good spot overall. And with Streets of New Capenna around the corner ready to rough things up, I think we’re poised for an interesting, and fun, summer.

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April 9-10 Pauper Weekend Recap

The April 9 and April 10 Pauper Challenges start us on our second four week tour of the format in the wake of the latest round of bans. The Top 8s from these events were fairly diverse, with 12 different archetypes making it to the single elimination rounds – Grixis Affinity and Dimir Faeries each had three Top 8 finishes across the weekend. Even if you group macro archetypes (Affinity, Boros, Faeries), you get ten different stripes in the Top 8 on the weekend.

I think it goes without saying that the biggest three decks in the format currently are Affinity, Boros, and Faeries. While other strategies can (and do) succeed, these three are the best, and this is due in no small part to their flexibility. Affinity can run the best cards and cheap threats while Faeries can shift colors to best meet the metagame. Boros has at least five different builds that can be tailored for most fields.

This chart looks at the top strategies in Pauper and their chunk of the Winner’s Metagame, week over week. The most volatile of these appears to be Affinity, which has fairly large swings week over week. Boros tends to be somewhat more consistent, but still can get caught off guard. Faeries had a fantastic week one (which can be expected in a new metagame) but has since settled into a consistent pace. I believe that Faeries is the best deck in the format right now and is benefiting immensely from the format discourse.

Depending on where you get your information, Pauper is either in a great place or is a format where decks are trying to race past one another, not that these are mutually exclusive phenomena. However I think that there are some greater issues at play.

These three decks are all fantastic at generating card advantage while also pressing a tempo advantage (Affinity through cheating mana, Boros through producing multiple threats, Faeries through a flash game). This in turn creates a landscape where other decks struggle to fight on both these axes. The result is that a lot of the decks outside of the top tier end up being hyper-linear decks that are focused on enacting their gameplan. There are exceptions to this – Jeskai Ephmerate and Dimir Angler spring to mind – but for the most part if you venture outside the top of the metagame you are doing to see a bunch of go-karts zipping past each other. None of this is to say that interacting is a fool’s errand but rather you have to decide how you are going to interact. Given that these decks can just draw more cards than you the best way appears to be trying to play a tempo game.

So what does that all mean for this week? Considering how popular aggressive red strategies have been the past two weeks I would expect a decent amount of life gain to rear its head. But Poison counters do not care about your life total and I would be trying to find the best Infect deck to try and steal a win or seven.

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April 2-3 Pauper Weekend Recap

Four weekends have passed since the last round of bans. There have been countless words written about the state of Pauper so today I want to take a slightly different approach. The chart I am presenting today takes into account the eight challenges and one qualifier that have taken place on Magic Online since the Pauper Format Panel’s last round of updates. It does no include the (amazing) Paupergeddon event that took place this past weekend.

This chart is broken up by the different weeks and it measures each archetype’s volume of the winner’s metagame, defined as share of wins at X-2 or better. So X-2 counts as one win, X-1 is two, and X-0 is three. It does not take Top 8 records into account – only Swiss. It also breaks up macro archetypes (Affinity, Boros, Faeries) into their sub-components.

Bold black numbers represent the deck with the largest winner’s meta share on that weekend; red numbers is the largest drop off from the week prior; green numbers represent the biggest gains (for week 4, the same deck had largest winner’s meta share and biggest gain).

Phew! With all that out of the way, let’s get to the chart!

I’m eager to see what folks think of this information, but here are some tidbits I’ve pulled from this information:

  • Outside of the first week, the best deck on any given weekend makes up about 15% of the winner’s metagame. That first week, the best deck had nearly double those numbers.
  • No micro-archetype has had back to back weekends where it was the best deck.
  • Azorius Familiars, Dimir Faeries, are Grixis Affinity are the most consistently “good” decks.
  • Boros as a macro archetype is a solid choice but rewards you for picking the best Boros build for a given weekend – just look at that drop-off for Kuldotha Boros.

Let’s talk about the macros for a moment. Here is the week over week for Affinity (Grixis, Kuldotha, Rakdos), Boros (Bully, Kuldotha, Metalcraft), and Faeries (Delver, Dimir, Izzet, Mono Blue):

This is an interesting tidbit – from week to week, the best choice changes. That indicates that the Pauper metagame is more dynamic than stagnant, meaning it trends towards change. That is a drastic change from the format in the past, where a best deck was not only clearly the best deck but tracking these shifts was a fool’s errand since some deck (whether it was Tron or Tribe or Chatterstorm) was going to be at the top of the heap.

So what can these trend lines tell us? Faeries should trend down slightly next week, as should Affinity. Boros could make a surge but that depends on whether or not people pick the right suite.

But what do you see in this data? What questions are left unanswered? What deck could be next week’s Burn?

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Pauper’s Problem with Material

If you think I’m going to link that song, you’d be sorely mistaken. Instead I want to take some time to talk about the dearth of good removal in Pauper.

Do I have your attention yet?

Pauper is home to some fantastic creature removal – Skred, Lightning Bolt, Cast Down, Chainer’s Edict, Snuff Out, Savage Swipe, Journey to Nowhere…the list goes on and on. Keeping creatures alive is a struggle. But as good as the creature kill is in Pauper, the non-creature removal is just as bad. The best general option is Oblivion Ring but as we will see soon, this is problematic.

One reason the creature removal is strong is because it almost always “trades up” – that is you are spending less on removing a creature than your opponent invested in bringing it to the battlefield. The issue as it stands today is that a lot of Pauper’s power and card advantage are tied up in non-creature permanents, both cards and tokens.

Let’s look at Thraben Inspector for a moment. If you kill Thraben Inspector with a Lightning Bolt you are down a card since they have the Clue. If you kill the Clue not only are you down a card but you also included a narrow answer in your deck. Fragementize and similar effects are powerful but narrow and including them in your main come at a real cost. Returning to Oblivion Ring, it is one of the cleanest answer to these material cards but it comes at such a massive cost. And all of this ignores Experimental Synthesizer. You have to carefully time removing this card otherwise you are going to be down a card as well.

Now all of this doesn’t take into account the other issue with the current surplus of material: the lands count. It does not matter how many copies of Oblivion Ring or Shenanigans you draw, you are going to struggle removing the Bridges. The fact that these lands provide redundant fodder for Deadly Dispute contributes to the issue.

So what can be down with what the format has on hand? Cards like Cathar Commando and Qasali Pridemage should be going up in value, but the sleeper might be Hearth Kami. The fact that this can pop off for free against a Clue or Treasure token, or for cheap against Synthesizer, does matter. Gorilla Shaman remains solid but lacks the general utility to find a slot in the 60. All this being said, the best answer for the current metagame might just be cards like Repeal and Into the Roil or Echoing Truth. Going that route means you need to have a powerful grasp on endgame to make up for the lack of better answers to opposing threats.

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March 26-27 Pauper Weekend Recap

Sorry for the delay in this one folks – a busy week at work and a wedding anniversary takes precedence over my pontificating on Pauper. And the extra few days has given me some time to reflect on this Twitter post from Monday. While I believed the format to be in a good place at the start of the week today I am less sure and it has a lot to do with this week’s League Results. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For reference, here are the Saturday and Sunday Challenges and here’s a chart that tracks every deck with either a Top 8 finish or at least 4 appearances in the past three weeks:

The Sunday Challenge saw a ton of combo decks make the Top 8 and it prompted me to look at the Winner’s Metagame track of archetypes over the first few weeks. What I saw was Affinity ebbing and flowing, Boros finding its feet in the Kuldotha version, and Dimir Faeries starting strong but tailing off. I hypothesized that this was promoting a dynamic metagame – the rise of Boros led to a decline in Faeries which in turn allowed an opening for Combo. And while this might still be true, the League Results have given me something to think about.

At last check the league remained relatively popular. However when fewer than 30 decks get posted to the weekly results, that tends to be the sign things are trending in a bad direction. This week 28 decks got posted and several of them fall into the same archetype (multiple Bogles, multiple Boros, multiple Jeskai Ephemerate, etc.) which could mean a few things.

First, it could simply be a blip. People saw a bunch of new decks crop up and tried them to less success than in an average week. It could also mean that a lot of people are still playing but the same decks are succeeding over and over again.

It could also mean that people saw the weekend results and decided that they’d rather not play the format for the time being.

What do I think? I believe the rules of engagement in Pauper have been shifting for some time and it is only in the most recent round of bans that the new field of battle can be properly discerned. Learning how to navigate the new paths takes time, especially when they have not been disrupted for years. If this is true it does not preclude the format from being in a bad state. I do not have an answer right now but I know I will be watching the weeks closely to see if we are entering a more dynamic phase of Pauper or if things are treading the water of stagnation.

March 19-20 Pauper Weekend in Review

Here’s a number: 70.83%.

That’s the percentage of Top 8 decks from the Saturday and Sunday Challenges, as well as the Super Qualifier that store their card advantage on the board. These cards can be stored either in of Clue or Treasure Tokens, or in the form of Ichor Wellspring and Experimental Synthesizer. The nature of Card Advantage in Pauper continues to shift from cards in hand to material on the board, and the implications are being felt format wide.

Top performing decks post-ban; at least 3 appearances in the Top 32 OR a Top 8 finish

I think it is hard to fully appreciate what this wrinkle in card accumulation means. Mulldrifter has been the gold standard for a Pauper card advantage creature since it was printed. The flying fish not only replaces itself but puts you up a card. Maneuvering cards like Momentary Blink, Undying Evil, Ghostly Flicker, and Ephemerate to get more cards out of Mulldrifter has been part of the format for as long as there has been an official filter on Magic Online. And while Mulldrifter always represented cards, it represented them immediately – that is the cards ended up in your hand right away. While there were ways to store cards on the board – namely with Prophetic Prism – there was work to be done to extract extra value.

The Monarch is an interesting case. It can generate a card almost immediately but then needs to be held for a turn cycle before you gain an advantage. That meant contorting your deck and play pattern to leverage the full advantage of the game piece. The end result was the same – you had to do work and the cards ended up in your hand.

If Mulldrifter was the old standard, Thraben Inspector is likely the new standard bearer of card flow. While not the best at what it does, it is emblematic of how card accumulation works. Now you get an at rate creature or effect and then can store a card in material. Being able to bank a draw in a tangible game piece means that draw is either a new card or can fuel part of an engine.

Let’s examine Voldaren Epicure. The creature itself is fine but it comes with a Blood Token. In Burn this token represents a fresh look at three damage. In other decks it can help turn on Metalcraft or enable Madness, or can be sacrificed to Deadly Dispute or Kuldotha Rebirth. And beyond that it can just be a rummage. Where Mulldrifters were expensive and you had to work to make them cheap, Thraben Inspectors are all cheap and you have less work to do to extract value.

Whereas Mulldrifters need to be countered to stop cards from being drawn, this new crop of cards come down early enough that battling them on the Stack is a fool’s errand. Instead, new angles of attack need to be developed to mitigate the effectiveness of these card batteries.

Take Repeal. It maintains utility against a wide swath of the format but has the upside of being able to remove these tokens from the battlefield while being card neutral for the caster. While this may not always work optimally at the very least it can force the opponent – the holder of material – to disrupt their play patterns. Repealing a Treasure Token likely means you do not get a card but if it removes their Lotus Petal that is a tangible advantage. While Experimental Synthesizer and other artifacts are exempt from this line of play, packing cheap artifact removal – Natural State, for example – can go a long way in disrupting timing; Experimental Synthesizer gets worse when cards are stranded.

All of this is to say that the format needs to think about different ways to fight the card advantage battles in today’s metagame and run answers that can attack the material where cards are stored.

Dare I say it? That the format, right now, is all about tempo?

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The Snow-Covered Island Problem

I’ve had this idea rattling around in my head for some time now so I decided to put it to the digital paper. If you like this kind of content, please let me know (and consider becoming a Patron) to support more writing in this vein moving forward.

In a match of Pauper against an unknown opponent, the first land played on the other side on the table is Snow-Covered Island. How does this inform your play?

At a glance this is a simple question but understanding the implications of this land drop can set you up for success in the game and the format at large. The more one understands about the metagame dynamics and the choices people make in deck inclusion the better prepared one can be for what comes next.

Let’s start at Level One: currently there is one blue deck that cares about having Snow-Covered Island and that is Izzet Faeries. Sometimes called Skred Faeries, this deck is a blue-red Spellstutter Sprite midrange control deck that leverages powerful blue cantrips and counters with the red removal of Lightning Bolt and Skred. The deck relies on Ninja of the Deep Hours and Moon-Circuit Hacker (and occasionally a Monarch or two) to keep the cards flowing, giving it a steady stream of spells that tend to outclass those of the opponent.

While Izzet Faeries is the only deck where running Snow-Covered Island provides an in-game advantage, any blue deck can garner an out-of-game advantage by also running Snow-Covered Island in an effort to fool the opponent into planning for Izzet Faeries. Therefore Snow-Covered Island does not mean the opponent is running Izzet Faeries but rather almost any base blue deck. I would feel comfortable ruling out some of the Cleansing Wildfire piles since they really want to have an indestructible land on turn one to play their namesake spell on turn two, but that leaves the following decks as possible options:

  • Dimir Faeries
  • Delver/Faeries
  • Azorius Familiars
  • Izzet or Dimir Control (usually featuring Devious Cover-Up)

While it is plausible you will run into one of the true control decks in a random Pauper match, I would also feel comfortable assuming my opponent is not on one of those decks until proven otherwise due to their relative lack of popularity. Of course the first land drop is only so much information, we can also infer what they are piloting based upon the first spell they cast.

For example, if my opponent goes Snow-Covered Island into Faerie Miscreant I can put them almost assuredly on Mono-Blue Faeries while a Delver of Secrets means they are probably on Delver. Faerie Seer, on the other hand, means they could be any Spellstutter Sprite deck.

And what does this mean? If I am putting my opponent on one of the mono-blue decks it indicates that they are trying to play a proactive tempo game and that I should respond in kind. Their main piece of on-board interaction is Snap and I should do my level best to not put myself in a position where they can Snap a creature of mine for value and leave up Counterspell or Spellstutter Sprite. I also want to be pressuring their life total in way that makes Mutagenic Growth a dead card while not offering trades where it would blow me out. These decks are also more reliant on Ninjas to see fresh cards so I would block more frequently and time removal so that I can ensure it resolves.

But this is only the case if they lead on Miscreant or Delver. What about Seer? In that case I do not have enough information to make an informed decision.

What if their first spell is Preordain? Again, there is not enough information to make an informed decision seeing as that card show up in nearly every blue deck (even if they Faerie deck above does not run that specific powerhouse).

If my opponent leads on Ponder I would put them on Familiars (and a less than ideal hand at that). Familiars ideally wants to lead on Preordain or Ash Barrens and them casting Ponder means they kept a borderline hand – one that had enough action to keep but not a top tier starter. Still, I would prepare myself to try and win through discounted Snaps. I would save removal for Sunscape Familiar and try to maneuver the game to a point where I could choke them off of resources for a turn to then resolve key removal and threats. I would also try to end the game before turn five if possible to prevent them from clawing back into the fight with Mulldrifter.

Ash Barrens can be a dead giveaway if they fetch the second color but outside of Familiars it is not uncommon to see Dimir and Izzet Faeries fetch a second Island with Ash Barrens. This allows them to obfuscate what variety of Faeries they are actually playing. Fetching the second color can also provide a bounty of information. Getting a Swamp can indicate my opponent has a slower hand and might be leaning on Snuff Out to protect their early turns while getting a Mountain can mean something similar and I would put them on Lightning Bolt instead of Skred as it is more efficient in the early turns of the game. In both instances I would also guess they either have additional blue sources or hand sculpting to get them to their third and fourth land drops.

The final play that is likely to take place is Brainstorm at the end of my first turn. Here they are most certainly on either Dimir or Izzet Faeries and would plan accordingly. In both cases you want to avoid getting blown out by Spellstutter Sprite so you would have to sequence your plays in such a way that the world’s smallest Mystic Snake is less effective. Beyond that I would not put too much stock on guessing their hand as Brainstorm into Ash Barrens or Evolving Wilds gives your opponent the opportunity to see so many cards. However if they Ash Barrens in their upkeep I would assume that they have a removal heavy hand as they are willing to take turn two off of board development to set up their mana.

Snow-Covered Island might only belong in one deck but it sees play in just about every blue deck for a reason: deception. Learning how to decipher your opponent’s strategy from the get go can give you an edge, but only if you have a deck prepared to fight the battle on the correct axes.

March 12-13 Pauper Weekend Recap

Pauper just had its first set of Challenges after the most recent bans and things turned out close to expectations with Dimir Faeries having an excellent weekend (including a win on Saturday) while Grixis Affinity (winning on Sunday), Bogles, and Boros all putting up solid results.

It is far too early to read too much into these results and the next few weeks should be informative with regards to the true metagame composition. Given what we have seen today I would expect Pestilence and Chainer’s Edict based board control to see a small surge in popularity and for Boros to figure out if it should be casting Battle Screech or Kuldotha Rebirth.

Pauper chatter in the past weeks has been dominated by discussions of power creep. The recent slate of releases, to listen to the discourse, are above the curve of what should be acceptable. Many of the cards released recently – the Bridges, Deadly Dispute, and Experimental Synthesizer – are cited as cause for alarm and representative of the recent upward trend in card strength. These cards are strong – do not get me wrong – but much of their power is not only contextual but they are also in line with cards released earlier in the format’s history.

For years Pauper was largely static. While new strategies would emerge they were often just updates or twists on existing archetypes or were decks that finally sprung forth under the weight of too much synergy. It is hard for any common printed today to compete with the likes of Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, Priest of Titania, the Tron lands, and so on and so on. And while new decks have come into being, they do so only after the final piece falls into place – I’m thinking decks like WonderWalls and Goblin Combo here.

Pauper, for years, has been defined by the format’s past rather than its present.

This issue is being exacerbated today thanks to Affinity. If you look at a list of “all time broken mechanics” Affinity for Artifacts is pretty high on that list. Back when Pauper was first given a format filter on Magic Online the archetype was the source of the only banned card in Cranial Plating. Over the years the machine menace was held in check by the fragility of its mana base and the presence of cards like Gorilla Shaman and Ancient Grudge. All of this changed with the indestructible Bridges as now the main way to attack Affinity’s mana changed to Dust to Dust and Revoke Existence.

It’s easy to write but I want to be clear – the Bridges upended over a decade of play patterns. In the relative blink of an eye a deck went from fragile fringe monster to one that is defining the metagame.

Insert into the mix Deadly Dispute – a more or less strict upgrade on Perilous Research (a card which had already seen some play in Affinity) and Experimental Synthesizer, a card that ticks so many Pauper boxes in that it provides both material and card flow. And so Affinity has come out of the shadows and has established itself as one of defining elements of Pauper.

The result is a lot of clamor, and rightfully so. In the span of two years the relatively stable Pauper metagame has been upended by powerful additions. However, prior to Modern Horizons 2 a lot of the power was added to decks that were already powerful. Arcum’s Astrolabe added strength of Monarch and Tron strategies while Mystic Sanctuary was yet another broken blue card. Fall from Favor added muscle to Faeries and Monarch. Even Ephemerate – a single card engine that remains legal – is just an improvement to Ghostly Flicker. And while these cards have all earned some vitriol, it’s drastically different than the hate Affinity is getting these days, and that may be because it has changed the way the format plays out.

Savage Swipe was a card that got a lot of flack when it was printed. Back before Stompy fell off the face of the planet, Savage Swipe was bemoaned as a card that gave the mono green deck a tool that was not already at its disposal and earned a lot of cries of “this is bull s[p]it!”.

Pauper, as a format, is more comfortable when there are incremental (or not-so-incremental) improvements made to established top decks when the general play patterns are still in place. When new cards change the way the game is played on the table (or screen), there is a bit more rabble rousing.

What should Pauper be? Should it be a format of slow, plodding change where certain decks have a historical advantage, or should it be a place where new cards are exciting and can change things? To me there should be a middle ground, where new cards more regularly make waves but maybe not ones of the tidal variety.

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One Engine Just Won’t Do

The March 5-6 Pauper Weekend Recap

There were Challenges on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, but the results are now a relic thanks to Monday’s bans that will take Galvanic Relay Storm out of the format and require Affinity to reconfigure itself. The chart below represents every deck that had at least 5 Top 32 finishes or a Top 8 finish in the four weeks of Neon Dynasty season before the bans took effect:

Despite Affinity and Storm getting a ton of the press (and rightfully so), both Bogles and Bully had very strong showings over the past few weeks. But that’s more a footnote in the story rather than the driving narrative. The truth is that Affinity and Storm set the pace for the past four weeks. The hope is that the changes the Pauper Format Panel enacted will help to diversify the top of the metagame.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Pauper Format Panel and had a hand in the decision process.

Watching the discussion in the wake of the format update, a few cards came up more than a few times: Deadly Dispute and the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges. These cards were cited as recent additions to Pauper that are exacerbating underlying issues. The Bridges help to fuel Affinity’s starts while also having play in Cleansing Wildfire shells as card draw and acceleration; Deadly Dispute takes a tried and true method of extracting value in Pauper and kicks it into another level thanks to the residual Treasure.

I believe both of these instances are additive to the format but I want to take some time to discuss Deadly Dispute and its place. Dispute is highlighting something that has been true about Pauper for the past several months (if not years) but has not been called out and that is that if decks want to do battle on the axis of card advantage they now require two engines to do so.

What do I mean by an “engine” here? Roughly speaking, an engine is anything in Magic that converts resources into other resources, often at an advantage. Tron is a mana engine in that it takes three pieces to increase the reasonable output of three lands; Affinity is also a mana engine of sorts. Monarch and Ninja of the Deep Hours are both card advantage engines but a card like Moon-Circuit Hacker is more of a card selection engine.

Let’s take a look at Flicker Tron during the height of its powers. Tron had multiple layered engines, all fueled by the mana provided by Tron. Perhaps the most obvious one was the Ghostly Flicker Engine, which was later replaced with an Ephemerate Engine (itself two separate engines), combined with a Mystical Teachings engine. The result was a deck that once it got online could generate value at a rate that far outpaced most of its contemporaries. And really, it heralded the next era of Pauper deck development, but it would take a few years for the format to catch up.

Deadly Dispute stitches together a few engines that have existed in a way that pushes them to new heights. The Kor Skyfisher engine – that is the one behind nearly every build of Boros for the past decade – leverages cantrip artifacts to eke out extra value and also got a new toy in Experimental Synthesizer. Deadly Dispute pairs this with the already strong Affinity/Metalcraft mana engine by leaving behind a Treasure token, generating the more cards than Glint Hawk and an artifact but also leaving behind spare mana as opposed to a threat. It is not that Deadly Dispute is something entirely unprecedented but rather it is an optimized version of something that has existed in other colors.

Faerie strategies were often the target of ire due to their interwoven engines. Ninja of the Deep Hours could provide a steady flow of cards when coupled with removal but the addition of the Monarch provided these decks with another “free” way to draw cards. Compare this to the Boros Monarch decks which used an older version of the Kor Skyfisher engine to bridge to Monarch.

Then there’s Ephemerate which is a raw card advantage machine with Mulldrifter and a tutor engine (in a fashion) with Mnemonic Wall effects. People often say that Ephemerate is an engine unto itself and that is somewhat true, but it is just more compact than other similar packages and is far more mana efficient. It either self sufficient or layers neatly onto another engine (like Cleansing Wildfire and the Bridges).

So what good is this knowledge? First, it can help inform those who like to brew. If you are looking to try a new midrange or control strategy you need to be prepared to either have your own overlapping engines or have a way to negate at least one of your opponent’s. Similarly if you are trying to go under you need to establish a game plan for fighting against card advantage on multiple axes. This might mean going the route of Boros Bully and adding a way to filter away useless cards (Faithless Looting) or take the Bogles route and add a light touch of selection (Commune with Spirits). Even Slivers has an engine these days in Winding Way/Lead the Stampede.

This may help to explain why Stompy struggles so mightily these days – it is a deck without a secondary engine and no easy way to add one; even Burn gets some selection in Needle Drop and Voldaren Epicure.

A personal aside: this may be why Tortured Existence is always on the outside looking in – in order to run its primary engine it needs a density of cards which leaves precious little room for a supplemental engine to find footing.

What do you think? Is Pauper now a format where two engines aren’t only better than one but are necessary in the current format if you aren’t trying to clock the opponent? What engines are under explored and which ones could make waves in the weeks until Streets of New Capenna?

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