May 2-3 Pauper Weekend in Review

I’m going to start by saying this: don’t put too much stock in the Showcase Qualifier results. Shortly after the event finished, Top 8 competitor Simon Nielsen tweeted that none of the Flicker Tron decks in the 25 person field made Top 8. In fact, only one such deck finished with a winning record.

May 3 Showcase Qualifier

Pauper Challenges already have a relatively small player pool but a 25 person tournament that cuts to Top 8 after five rounds isn’t representative of the metagame at large even if the top decks look familiar. The lone Mono Black Control deck in the winner’s bracket went undefeated in the Swiss but is that enough to proclaim the deck “is back”? Not for me. Even though two more builds made the Top 8 of Sunday’s Challenge, I would be cautious before throwing my chips down with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. But I’ll talk more about that later.

As has been the case, Saturday’s Challenge was a six round affair. Boros Monarch took down the tournament and two slots in the Top 8 despite barely making a blip thus far in Ikoria season.

May 2 Challenge

Out of the top decks, Flikcer Tron only did alright by its own gaudy standards. Boros put on a clinic and for at least a day the midrange crown shifted from a Mystic Sanctuary to a Wind-Scarred Crag. Despite Boros’ victory, I found the winner’s list to be ambitious, adding two copies of Cave of Temptation to a deck splashing two black cards is just begging to lose to your mana. Then again, I’ve long rallied against cards like Radiant Fountain in Boros so what do I know?

Sunday’s Challenge saw two more Mono Black Control decks in the Top 8 but, once again, Flicker Tron won the Challenge. Despite placing only three copies in the Top 32, one went all the way for the fourth time in Ikoria season. Despite having what appeared to be a bad weekend, the deck still managed three Top 8 slots and maintains a weighted metagame volume over of 22.2%, compared to its real volume of 17.7%

May 3 Challenge

So what does this weekend tell us? There are a few decks to beat – namely Flicker Tron, Boros builds, and Delver decks. Stompy and Affinity are the most consistent aggressive options and do a fine job of applying pressure. But beyond these, everything is up in the air. The fringe elements of the metagame exist but they struggle to establish a foothold. i think I would be less alarmed by this if every deck would eventually regress to their expected performance. Most do, except for Flicker Tron.

Mono Black Control was a big winner on the weekend and expect there to be plenty of people trying to win on the back of Gary this week. Still, the deck isn’t back, especially since it hasn’t gotten anything new. Instead, I expect various Boros Monarch builds to emerge as the defacto midrange option this week. If you’re dead set on playing black, though, I would run some sort of persistent engine like Grim Harvest or Kor Skyfisher and Omen of the Dead.

Quarantine Commander: Gyrus and Obosh

Last night was Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths night on Kendra’s stream. I’ll be honest here – none of the legendary creatures in Ikoria really appeal to my Commander senses. I considered playing a Brokkos, Apex of Forever or a Nethroi, Apex of Death deck, but I just couldn’t settle on a build I enjoyed. I then shifted my thought process to running a Companion. I almost ran a Pharika, God of Afflicition deck with Umori, the Collector as a Companion to attempt the all-enchantment challenge. Instead I decided to go for broke and build a Gyrus, Waker of Corpses deck with Obosh, the Preypiercer as a Companion.

The games were a delight and I won’t spoil them for you in case you want to watch them unfold yourself. Instead of talking about the deck I played, I want to talk about the process of building it and the give some overall thoughts on Companion itself.

Building this deck was capital ‘F’ Fun. I have a few ways I like to play Commander and even though Gyrus is firmly in my wheelhouse, I found myself choked off of a few cards I love to run. Instead I had to scour the options for cards that would meet Obosh’s condition. I relished in finding ways around the restriction and even though I missed some obvious inclusions – I somehow neglected Doubling Season – and came away pleased with the results. For someone who finds themselves falling into the “samey” trap, building towards a Companion was a fun way to flex tired muscles.
The payoff was middling. I cast Obosh once and while it doubled the damage it didn’t take place at a high impact moment in the game. I didn’t feel like I was at a significant advantage in Commander since the extra card was mitigated by a pretty hefty drawback, all things considered.

That being said, I’ve soured on Companions overall. I think they are great for non-competitive formats. For tournament play, however, I worry that they change something fundamental about how Magic works. Back when Arena was an in-store play program and not a digital platform, there were cards called Vanguard. These were oversized cards that gave you a global ability while also modifying your starting hand size and life total. Guess which ones were the best?

Magic is a game of resources and giving players additional resources at the start of a duel gives an inherent advantage. Not only do Companions incentivize players to build towards having one, they basically require all players to do so to maintain card economy parity. Compare Companions to Leylines.

Leylines come with a significant cost: they have to be in your starting hand. That means running enough copies to reasonably find one in your opening seven. While a Leyline is essentially cast “for free”, additional copies could be dead if found off the top. Companions have no such cost. They sit there as a single option, not eating a deck slot, waiting to be deployed.

I am not sad that Companions were printed. I think expanding what the game of Magic can do is vital to its continued growth and success. But I do think, at least with regards to the competitive sphere, that this mechanic was pushed too far. And I hope that the next two years of Standard (and non-rotating formats in perpetuity) aren’t dominated by cards from outside the game.

April 25-26 Weekend in Review

I was not optimistic about the potential impact of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in Pauper. After last weekend I was proven rather wrong as already 11 cards from the set have posted a Top 32 Challenge finish or gone 5-0 in the Pauper League. Considering the prevailing popular talking point about new sets is that they have nothing to offer Pauper, this is impressive. This number is bolstered by an update to an old fringe playable deck, which we will get to.

Saturday’s Challenge was more of the same. Flicker Tron took down three spots in the Top 8 and won the tournament. A Dimir Ponza deck made the Top 4 after sneaking into the elimination rounds. How did it win? It got matched up against an until-that-point undefeated Flicker Tron deck.

April 25

The wrinkle in the metagame emerged in the form of Cycling Songs. The abundance of one mana cards with Cycling in Ikoria has launched this deck into the competitive sphere. The goal is to fill your graveyard with creatures, cast a bunch of rituals to fuel a Reaping the Graves, get the cyclers back and do it all again to find a kill. Saturday’s version used either Consume Spirit or Haunting Misery as a spout with Drannith Stinger as a back up. Sunday’s Top 8 list went all in on the pinger.

There were three Songs decks reported in Sunday’s Challenge. One in the Top 8 and two in the Top 16. While Flicker Tron split the finals, winning 3 of the 4 Ikoria events to date, the real story was the emergence of Songs and the return of Izzet Blitz. Nivix Cyclops is back and put two players into the Top 8.

April 26

The lone Stompy deck in the field won eight matches in a row before falling in the semifinals. That’s impressive in isolation, but considering what is going on in the metagame at large it does not mean much. Instead, last weekend has indicated a fundamental shift in the texture of the Pauper metagame.

Months ago I described the Pauper metagame as one of extremes. At one end there are hyper aggressive linear decks (Affinity, Bogles, Burn) and at the other are decks with Prison style finishes (Familiars, Flicker Tron) that occupy the “control” slot in the meta. In the middle there was a scrum of decks that all played along a transactional axis of Magic – the various Delver and Monarch decks. The past few weeks have shown that while the ends of the spectrum have not changed, the scrum in the middle has seen some upheaval.

Midrange as we have known it in Pauper is dead.

Decks that have been traditionally associated with midrange – specifically the various white based Monarch decks – have all but been pushed out of the metagame. While Boros Bully makes use of Palace Sentinels it is far more aggressive than something like Monarch or the dead horse of Pauper Mono Black Control. These decks simply don’t do enough anymore.

An aside: When a free card every turn isn’t good enough to build a deck around, that may be a sign that something is wrong in the format.

Instead, Delver decks with their Mystic Sanctuary engines have moved into the midrange slot. While they appear to be aggro control builds, these decks now represent the midrange approach to the format. Despite many people bemoaning that Pauper is no longer Legacy Lite, it now resembles Legacy in its metagame composition.

  • Hyper aggressive/combo decks at one extreme
  • Stack control decks in the middle
  • Control decks with lock elements at the other extreme

I am not here to pass judgement on what this means for the health of Pauper. Rather this is an observation that the way the Pauper metagame operates has experienced a fundamental shift. Plan accordingly.

Quarantine Commander: Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves

Commander has been a social outlet for me for quite some time. It was a way to take a night out and just jam some games. The last social thing I did was play a few games after weighing the options of going out in the final days before the New York City lock down.

Given all of this I needed to find another way to stay sane and decompress. Commander was such a huge part of that for me that losing it was way harder than I expected. So when a few of my friends posited playing games through Magic Online I jumped at the chance. One of them – Mike the Geologist – had been talking about the card rental service he uses. I decided to give it a go. I have had a great experience using ManaTraders (not sponsored) and if you are looking to get some silly games with friends online, I cannot recommend them enough.

Back to the Commander; Kendra Smith (aka TheMaverickGirl) is a streamer and agreed to host our Wednesday night game on her channel. The game include Kendra, Mike the Geologist, and Mike from the Pauper Cube. Once the replay is up you can listen to everyone cringe as I compare the original art of Mana Crypt to part of the human body. Which part? Well, I’ll leave that to you to decide.

I wanted to play a deck that I had considered putting together in paper but wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to invest in the physical cards. The deck is Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves.

I have a thing for permanents entering the battlefield in ways other than being cast. Tolsimir lets me create tokens and generate value, but it shines when you can make other tokens that trigger his ability. It also let me run one of my all-time favorite Commander cards in Kessig Cagebreakers. Cagebreakers just speaks to part of my Golgari soul. It wants you to have creatures in the graveyard and then it helps to make a giant army. If I ever build this deck in paper it will be because of that card. And hey, it also can be a kick in the teeth when Tolsimir is out.

I also have a soft spot for the fight mechanic. I have long thought about building a mono red fight deck around Tahngarth, Talruum Hero (and might just do that one night on MTGO) but Tolsimir makes it so much easier. I never got to pull it off in game, but I would have loved attacking with Cagebreakers while my Commander was on the battlefield with a Bow of Nylea out.

I’m not very nice.

The last thing I loved about this deck was how it let me run one of my favorite triumvirates of cards. Cryptolith Rite, Druid’s Repository, and Throne of the God-Pharaoh all work together with a token strategy. They encourage attacking and generate mana, giving you the tools to make more tokens. And when it’s all said and done you get to hit every opponent with the Throne. Mike the Geologist talked about Nature’s Will as a compliment to Repository and it is something to consider.

So if you’re looking for a goofy deck that is relatively cheap on Magic Online, you could do worse than my Tolsimir deck. Because who doesn’t love dogs?

April 18-19 Pauper Weekend in Review

The weekend of April 18-19 was the first weekend under the new Magic Online model where each format receives two Challenges per weekend. I wrote about what the format looked like before the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths on ChannelFireball and last weekend gave me a chance to see if my predictions were anywhere close to the mark.

First up was Saturday’s Challenge. A six round affair, it would help to test the hypothesis that the Sunday events were biased towards Americans and created a stagnant metagame that looked the same week to week. Despite there being 14 archetypes in the Top 32, the top of the metagame was largely familiar.

April 18 Pauper Challenge

Boros Bully and Flicker Tron were the two most popular archetypes, each with five copies in the Top 32. Bully performed better with a Win+ of 4 compared to Flicker Tron’s Win+ of 3. Affinity won the tournament but both of its Win+ points came on the back of 4-2 records – it sneaked into the Top 8 and took out Bogles and two copies of Boros Monarch on its way to the victory.

There is not a lot to suss out from one event. Two Ikoria cards made their debut: Of One Mind and Ram Through. Other than that, however, it was business as usual.

April 19th Pauper Challenge

Sunday’s challenge went seven rounds and the winner – on Flicker Tron – went the distance. Heisen01 didn’t drop a match. We went from 7 different archetypes in the Top 8 on Saturday to 5 on Sunday, with four of those being the same. On the weekend, Boros Bully took down 25% of the Top 8 slots and so did Flicker Tron. Flicker Tron took down a significant amount of Win+ points as well, showing off exactly why it is number one in my current Power Rankings. Also of note – Suffocating Fumes made an appearance in the maindeck of the Top 8 Dimir Delver.

So where does the format go from here? Flicker Tron and Boros Bully are the decks to beat and aside from Suffocating Fumes, there isn’t much in Ikoria that can attack either of the top dogs. Flicker Tron remains the deck to beat. Despite the fact that Boros Bully is a more popular deck, it performs about a win behind Flicker Tron.

Memory Leak is a card I am excited about but you need to be able to cast it quickly. It might be time to pair Llanowar Elves with Swamps, but that is going to lead to some awkward openings. How do you plan to approach the top of the metagame?

April 7 Pauper Super Qualifier Breakdown

Due to a parsing error we do not have the results of the April 5th Pauper Challenge. That’s fine because there was a Super Qualifier on April 7th. And while the format will not be getting a Showcase Weekend during the next Magic Online premier play season, there will be twice as many Challenges taking place.

An aside on this change: It’s fine. Pauper and Vintage have die-hard communities and both should have a chance to earn their way up the premier play ladder. Given the current structure, it makes more sense to rotate through formats than attempt to add another segment to the structure.

While we do not have the April 5th decklists it has been reported that Flicker Tron won. It also won on April 7th. After a few weeks on the decline it appears that there is a surge in its popularity once again. That doesn’t come without controversy.

Posts like this come up often from people who are new to the format. The issue that arises is this: Flicker Tron and Familiars can take a long time to end the game (after they have effectively won). The nature of Magic Online is that the clock can cause a player who has locked up the game to lose.

To be honest, I used to be one of those “clock you” players. I had the mindset that you, my opponent, needed to beat me. After reading posts from players with physical issues that make iterating combos painful, I decided that I had been a dick for no reason now my baseline is if the game is lost, I’m going to scoop.

That doesn’t mean that I find these Flicker loops are any more fun to play against, and I still believe that the long-term health of the format depends on these being answered either by new cards or aggressive bans.

April 7th Super Qualifier

Boros Bully is supposed to beat Tron. It’s supposed to be aggressive enough to get under the Stonehorn lock. There were three Bully lists in the Top 8 and they all lost to the same player – Kasa on their version of Flicker Tron.

No Moment’s Peace, no Pulse of Murasa. Instead Kasa included a maindeck copy of Lone Missionary as a life total buffer while leaning on Reaping the Graves to regrow threats. Prismatic Strands makes an appearance. If you thought Strands was annoying thanks to Flashback, it gets worse when you can get it back with Mnemonic Wall.

Moving into this weekend, it would be foolish to no prepare for both Tron and Bully. Boros Bully was nearly a third of the Top 32 and the deck didn’t get worse. At the same time, I wouldn’t say it is a good choice. If Tron decks are packing this many defensive measures, prolonging the game as long as possible, then a better angle of attack might be running an aggressive Delver deck. These builds have been at the fringes of the top tier all season but have yet to punch through in a meaningful way. That being said, the ability to say no with a Counterspell remains excellent.

2% volume ~ 8 appearances

The pillars haven’t moved much. You can Tron, you can Mystic Sanctuary, or you can be Boros. If I were playing this weekend I would look into a blue-black Mystic Sanctuary deck, potentially with maindeck Shrivel or Echoing Decay. Delver decks are enticing but I think playing a more midrange game is better suited, especially if it gives you access to the tools needed to beat up on Flicker Tron. Nihil Spellbomb is a cantrip afterall.