May 30-31 Pauper Weekend In Review

Burn and WonderWalls won the weekend challenges. But that’s only part of the story. Izzet Mystic Sanctuary decks took a back seat to Dimir Delver and Stompy. Let’s get into the numbers.

May 30 Pauper Challenge; Win+ represents wins above an X-2 record.

Burn won the tournament, which itself is notable. Burn is an often maligned deck and has a tendency to be played often while experiencing relatively little success. Still, Lightning Bolt can get there. I don’t expect Burn to keep putting up these numbers, mostly since it is so easy to hate out.

Stompy, on the other hand, could be here for a while. The green deck has the ability to present an early army that can overwhelm the Izzet decks. We even saw the return of Young Wolf to one of the Top 8 builds as a way to render Skred only half as good. Stompy is not likely to take down 25% of a weekend’s Top 8s again anytime soon, but has the tools to shift to an aggro control role as Mystic Sanctuary decks assume the control role.

May 31 Pauper Challenge; Win+ represents wins above an X-2 record.

WonderWalls is a combo deck that takes the Freed from Real combo and staples it on to something resembling a Elves shell, but the deck is for real. While it hasn’t put up fantastic numbers it is a deck that can catch people unprepared and run over them. The deck is resilient to removal and discard and, by virtue of being packed with walls, is pretty good at absorbing the beatdown.

Again, we see Stompy put up good numbers. We also see Dimir Delver take two slots in toe Top 8. The ability to run Suffocating Fumes in the maindeck is rather enticing. It is never a dead card thanks to cycling but when it is good it is great. That being said I still believe the Izzet versions of these decks to be the better option.

Also of note: we saw Bonder’s Ornament make its challenge debut. A lot of Pauper Tron pilots are high on this card and I would recommend being on the lookout for copies. That being said, I am not convinced it’s necessary to compete but am willing to be proven wrong.

May 23-24 Pauper Weekend in Review

Historically, it’s really hard to keep Delver decks down. When mono-blue Delver rose to prominence, it did so in no small part thanks to the interaction of Cloud of Faeries and Spellstutter Sprite. Then came the era of Augur of Bolas and Gush; once Delver decks were at the top of the metagame. Today it is Mystic Sanctuary and Tragic Lesson that is helping to propel Delver style decks to the top of Pauper. But this time, honestly, I believe it is different.

Let’s start on Saturday, May 23rd. Half of the Top 8 were Izzet Mystic Sanctuary decks and this pattern was repeated in the Top 16. These decks might not be identical but they have a few common elements: Augur of Bolas, Ninja of the Deep Hours, and Spellstutter Sprite as creatures; Lightning Bolt, Skred, and the Mystic Sanctuary package in the spell slot. Whether they run Delver of Secrets or Faerie Seer or neither, these decks have made a solid run at the throne.

May 23 Pauper Challenge; Win+ indicates wins above an X-3 record.

How good were Izzet decks on Saturday? Out of 23 possible Win+ points they took home 13 – almost 57%. These are the sort of numbers, if sustained, could be a cause for alarm. Yet I’m not worried at this time. Let’s look at Sunday.

May 24 Pauper Challenge; Win+ indicates wins above an X-3 record

Did Izzet Faeries win the event? Yes. But it was the only Izzet Mystic Sanctuary deck in the Top 8 and one of two in the Top 32. There were only 5 Mystic Sanctuary decks in the entire Top 32. As a reminder, there were 4 such decks in the Top 8 on Saturday.

What happened?

First off, there was a surge in Boros Monarch and Boros Bully. Both of these decks have a traditionally good matchup against Delver-style decks. Second, Affinity came out in force. There are two good ways to fight Spellstutter Sprite and crew. The first is to completely ignore red and blue spells to dodge Hydroblast/Pyroblast. The second is to have access to Hydroblast/Pyroblast yourself. Affinity falls into the latter camp. Affinity is also quite capable of presenting enough large threats to put a premium on Skred use all while setting up a combo kill.

So back to why I’m not concerned at this point in time. When looking at Cloud of Faeries and Gush, these cards presented problematic game states in the very early stages of a game. Cloud of Faeries and Spellstutter Sprite, backed up with Daze, could lock players out of the first three turns of the game. Gush could do its thing as early as turn four without being much of an impediment. Compare this to the Mystic Sanctuary engines (in fair decks). It takes time for these decks to build up the resources to effectively leverage their engine. That set up gives other decks time to find their own countermeasures.

There is a lot of attention on Pauper these days. The lack of problematic Planeswalkers and Companions means that players are coming to the format looking for something else. If this influx continues I expect to see further developments in the metagame as it continues to churn. With that in mind I would come prepared to fight Boros Monarch and Bully next weekend, while also having a solid plan for Affinity.

May 16-17 Pauper Weekend in Review

The weekend of May 16-17 took place on the fifth week of Ikoria season. After one month, Flicker Tron proved itself to be the top deck but not by a massive margin. At the end of the first four weeks of Ikoria season we saw a resurgence of Mono Black Control and saw Izzet Faeries drop even more creatures. How would the second month kick off?

May 16 Pauper Challenge

The May 16th Challenge was all about Mystic Sanctuary. Five of the Top 8 decks ran the land alongside the Deprive and Tragic Lesson engine. Rounding out the Top 8: two copies of Elves and a copy of Flicker Tron. A Dimir Delver player ran the table in the Swiss and ended up in the Top 4 but the finals pitted Izzet Delver against Izzet Faeries.

Currently there are three five ways to play Mystic Sanctuary in a non-combo setting. The mono blue varietals- Delver and Mono Blue Control – have had some success but seem to be lagging behind the other potential builds. Delver has a hard time dealing with creatures once they hit the battlefield and has to resort to a pure tempo game in order to press the advantage. Mono Blue Control has the advantage of being able to run Desert but has not put up impressive numbers in the Challenges.

That leaves the Dimir and Izzet builds. Izzet Delver has continued to put up respectable numbers. It trades tempo plays for the ability to run Lightning Bolt and Skred. Where in the past these decks could potentially run out of steam, Mystic Sanctuary has given them a chance to redraw their best spells late. The big difference between Izzet Delver and Izzet Faeries is that the Delver variants skew aggressive. More and more, Izzet Faeries is trimming down to Augur of Bolas, Ninja of the Deep Hours, and Spellstutter Sprite as its creature package, looking more like a flash deck of old.

Dimir Delver lacks the reach of Izzet builds but trades that for the ability to stick Gurmag Angler. The Dimir decks are able to run a wider gamut of removal, although none of it can be aimed at a life total. Some of these decks have also added Thorn of the Black Rose for a way to steal the Monarch and cement their own advantage engines. And while Dimir Delver has done well in Challenge Swiss rounds, it seems to stumble more often than Izzet in the Top 8.

May 17th Challenge

Where May 16th had plenty of Mono Black Control decks finish outside the Top 16, May 17th saw the deck finish in the Top 8 and Top 16. In fact, four decks with access to Crypt Rats and/or Pestilence finished in the Top 16 (placing two in the Top 8). These cards are quite good against the small creatures in Mystic Sanctuary decks.

Speaking of those decks, two made the Top 8 – Izzet Delver and Izzet Faeries. The latter, piloted to a 7-0 finish by Luis Scott-Vargas, was eliminated by hjc piloting Izzet Delver in the Top 8. So of course hjc won the whole thing. Sunday’s Top 8 was more diverse than Saturday’s. As a whole, more archetypes finished in the Top 32.

There are some trends to keep an eye on. First is the struggles of Stompy. The strategy appears to be having a real problem between the success of Flicker Tron and the recent popularity of black based removal decks. Second is the staying power of Mono Black Control. As Boros Monarch has faded, MBC has risen to take hold of the Monarch midrange spot. These decks have shifted ever so slightly to defend their most valuable resource: the Monarch. Defile has certainly helped in this situation but so has the move back to Geth’s Verdict. As always, Gray Merchant of Asphodel ends games.

Looking ahead to the weekend of May 23 and 24, I would absolutely expect to see more Izzet Mystic Sanctuary decks. A smart counter would be to run Boros Monarch or Elves. I would lean into a Boros Monarch deck that has extra reach as a way to close the door on Flicker Tron.

Quarantine Commander: Hallar, the Firefletcher

This post is a little late going up so my apologies for that. Last Wednesday I played a Hallar, the Firefletcher on Kendra’s Commander night.

If you’re interested, here’s the current list for the deck. I had wanted to play a deck based around The Ozolith but wanted to avoid my same old Golgari ways. I had also been enamored with the interaction of Keen Sense and Snake Umbra with creatures that could deal non-combat damage to opponents. Big Mike had also suggested looking at an uncommon Commander and wanted me to run Eutropia, the Twice Favored.
Instead I focused on Hallar and built a red-green Spellslinger deck. And I was pleasantly surprised. The deck, despite having a relatively narrow card pool, was a blast to pilot. The ability to apply pressure with spells while not attacking is something I don’t really do often in Commander. There’s also the fact that slapping a Snake Umbra on to Hallar and turning the Archer into a repeatable Ancestral Recall is a ton of fun.

I am not sure what I would do moving forward with this deck. I would absolutely retool the manabase to be better – hello Fungal Reaches – but as noted by many in the game above the card pool is finite. That being said I am absolutely bringing this to another MTGO night at some point in the future.

May 9-10 Pauper Weekend in Review

Color me surprised.

On the heels of last weekend some speculated that Mono Black Control would be on the rise. Some others – myself included – felt that this would not be the case. Despite containing some powerful cards it just seems like Mono Black Control is never a perfectly positioned deck.

A win and five Top 8s later, it appears that I may have been mistaken.

I think it’s important to talk a little bit about regional differences in the Pauper metagame. One critique I have seen of my metagame analysis is that it is heavily biased in favor of events Americans can more easily attend and it is biased towards events held on Magic Online. I don’t dispute this in the slightest.

I tend to look at the Top 32 lists provided by Wizards of the Coast because it provides a cohesive data set. Not only do we see the Top 32 decks, we also see their match records. That last piece provides information on what decks can succeed in a Swiss style tournament when examined over a long enough time frame.

None of this is to say the results from major tournaments in Brazil or Italy do not matter because they most certainly do. The problem with examining them beyond lists provided is that it can be challenging to find match record information. Often times paper lists rely on individual naming conventions and I can attest that sometimes people get creative. Yes, Stompy might have a red card and a black card, but that doesn’t make it Jund Aggro.

Getting back to the main point, for years the Brazilian player base has been touting Mono Black Control as a powerful option. The Italian player base has repeatedly criticized the Sunday Challenge results for being too focused on one segment of the Pauper playing population. The addition of a Saturday Challenge has opened up the Magic Online events to more time zones which can influence what decks show up.

There is another element at play here. Recently MTGGoldfish changed their metagame tracker to default to a seven day window. This has placed a greater emphasis on Player Run Events where Mono Black Control is popular. Combined with a good showing last weekend and we have an Information Cascade. Because Mono Black Control put up a result people will pick it up and for a short period of time its results might be inflated regardless of the actual strength of the deck.

None of this means Mono Black Control is bad. Rather it is a deck that can capitalize when other decks stumble. Most Pauper decks these days are built to operate on maximum consistency and suffer from persistent disruption. Mono Black Control can disrupt opposing draws with discard and Chittering Rats and can take advantage of missteps by chaining together copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Because of this MBC will never truly die, but there are going to be days when it is better than others.

May 9th Challenge
May 10th Challenge

In the above charts, an asterisk indicates a Top 8 finish and the carat indicates a Challenge win. Win+ measures wins above an X-3 record and volume is the number of appearances in the Top 32.

Here is a breakdown of the first four weeks of Ikoria season,. This chart only takes into account decks that have comprised at least 2% of the winner’s metagame (5 appearances). Decks with a Top 8 appearance that do not make the cut: Izzet Blitz (2), Atog Shift, Bogles, Cycling Songs, Dimir Ponza

If you want to look at what the best decks are, you start at Flicker Tron – I don’t think there can be any question about it at this point. After that I have Affinity. Despite not being as popular as Boros Bully, Affinity has the second most wins this season and has the ability to attack a game from multiple angles. While I have Boros Bully as 3rd in my power rankings, I think that deck is overrated despite its popularity.

What decks do you think are currently underrated? Which ones are poised to make a run in the next four weeks? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. And if you enjoy this content, please consider becoming a Patron.

What’s the [Pauper] Play?

I encountered this situation today in the Pauper League and in examining the game, this decision had a huge impact on how the game played out.

It is game three and you’re on the play. You are on BG Aristocrats and your opponent is on Flicker Tron. You won game one where your opponent went to four cards and you easily ran them over. In game two Tron did its thing and assembled a lock.

It’s now game three. Here is your deck:

You have sided out the two Plagued Rusalka and two Nest Invader for three Mesmeric Fiend and a Falkenrath Noble. You assume your opponent is on this deck or a very similar list:

Your starting hand isn’t amazing but it includes Carrion Feeder and Loam Dryad – key cards to explosive starts. Your opponent has taken a mulligan to six.

You lead on Carrion Feeder and they lead on Urza’s Tower. On your turn you draw Mesmeric Fiend – one of the best cards in this situation. You cast it and stack the triggers with Carrion Feeder so that you can nab the card forever. This is what you see:

The cards you can take are Ephemerate, Impulse, Prophetic Prism, Stonehorn Dignitary, and Mulldrifter. The other card in their hand is Cave of Temptation.

What card do you take and why? You’ll find my answer below.

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There are merits to every card you can take. Let’s start with Ephemerate. This card is key to their endgame engine and with either Mulldrifter or Stonehorn it can bury you, either under cards or blanked combat steps. Exiling it is a good call since Mnemonic Wall can easily get it back. However, the deck runs anywhere from two to three other copies of this effect and given the other cards in their hand, taking Ephemerate doesn’t seem wise.

What about Prophetic Prism? This is the only card they can currently cast next turn and it sets up their Impulse on turn three which digs them deeper and potentially helps to set up Tron. Prism also replaces itself and while they already have fixing in the form of Cave, taking Prism does buy you time which is what you need right now. Of course, so much of this is undone by them drawing a land, but Prism, to me, remains a viable option.

Next up is Impulse. As good as this card is I don’t think you can justify taking it here. Impulse digs them four deep and can find other hammers like Moment’s Peace or another Urza Land, but it costs them time. Time is something you want them to be taking so leaving them that option doesn’t seem too terrible.

Next up is Stonehorn Dignitary. This card is a nightmare. While you have reach in the form of Falkenrath Noble and Lampad of Death’s Vigil, you need to attack to get them low enough where your reach can close the game through a Pulse of Murasa. They are, at best, two turns away from Stonehorn Dignitary which, given the cards in your hand and composition of your deck, you cannot win by. Taking Stonehorn means they need to find another other fast – something Impulse and Mulldrifter can do. Still, if you’re looking for time taking Stonehorn buys you the most.

Mulldrifter might be the most flexible card in this hand, coming down on turn three, four, or five. However if they are able to cast Mulldrifter for five there’s a good chance you’ve already lost the game. If they cast it for three, you are likely able to pull ahead. Given the variance here, I don’t think you can reasonably take the flying fish.

That leaves the cards to take as Prophetic Prism and Stonehorn Dignitary. I believe I made the wrong decision and I took Prism, thinking that the draw I was denying them would be good enough. Their next two draws were lands – Tranquil Cove and Urza’s Mine – meaning I lost my combat steps in short order. Taking Dignitary forces them to spend resources to find another (or a Moment’s Peace) while you’re able to build out your army and deploy threats, getting them low enough to where Lampad or Noble can finish the job.

Quarantine Commander: Grismold, the Dreadsower

Sometimes you don’t want to think. Usually for Kendra’s stream I try to come up with a new brew. This week, however, I wanted to play one of my paper decks. So I went to one with a backstory.

For quite some time now, I’ve worked with Mike (Omniczech/Big Mike) on building decks for some time. Mike helps me to cut some of the chaff and refine the ideas as I move towards a full list. When I saw Polukranos, Unchained I started sounding off about a million terrible ideas. Mike recommended I build Grismold, the Dreadsower. As he put it, it would let me run a ton of bad cards and “readers” – cards that most people would need to read regardless of how long they had played the game.

I was sold.

Grismold provided an interesting challenge. But I was up for it. I looked for persistent effects that would handle the tokens created by my commander on regular basis. I knew about Plague Spitter, Illness in the Ranks, and Virulent Plague. Mike introduced me to Festering Evil and I was excited to add it, as well as every Pestilence variant I could get my grubby hands on. Last Laugh was a fun find and one that, if I set it up correctly, should leave me with a massive troll and an empty board.

Grismold also gave me the opportunity to run some of my favorite cards and combinations. The +1/+1 counter theme let me run Animation Module, which feeds Grismold twice over. It also let me turn Retribution of the Ancients into a machine gun. Grismold provided a home for some combos that would otherwise have no home in my collection like NathHypnotist and Mephidross VampireTriskelion. I also got to include Vigor, which is just good, and Saber Ants, which is just weird.

Wednesday’s game was wild and even though I was choked on lands for most of it, I managed to get a few good hits in and eventually helped to dictate the way the game ended. Even if it wasn’t entirely on my terms.

So here it is, in all its glory – Grismold, the Trash King.