December 19-20 Pauper Weekend in Review

In my most recent Power Rankings, I put Tron in the top spot but wrote that it’s hold on Number 1 is the most tenuous it has been in quite some time. While Tron remains one of the most powerful decks in Pauper, the following circumstances have threatened its position:

  • One of the best ways to fight Tron was to stick an early Monarch and ride the extra cards to victory. Fall from Favor comes down a full turn earlier than the previous Monarch granters and the card gets run in shells with plenty of counterspells. This is a combination that can keep Tron on the back foot.
  • There has a been a surge in Atog + Fling decks. These decks have access to both Hydroblast and Pyroblast with the ability to win outside of the combat phase which can pressure Tron from another angle.
  • The latest iteration of WonderWalls has game against a wider swath of the field. As the deck already has a good Tron matchup, improving this deck’s position against the remainder of the metagame can spell bad news for Tron.

Going into the December 19 and December 20 Challenges, the metagame from Commander Legends looked like this:

Tron might have been on top but it has not been the dominant force of seasons gone by. The last weekend displayed just how fragile this grip on format is at this time:

The various Spellstutter Sprite/Fall from Favor decks are currently at the top, with Izzet Faeries winning both Challenges. Dimir Faeries is the most popular deck from the weekend but had a rough Sunday compared to Saturday. And yet lingering in third is Flicker Tron.

What fascinates me most about this weekend is the strong Stompy finishes. Two Top 8s in three total trips to the Top 32 may not seem like much but the deck has adjusted to the new metagame. Savage Swipe is no longer a four-of and instead the deck is trying to play more to the board, increasing the number of creatures. Given the lack of Palace Sentinels and really, blockers, this makes sense. Why load up your deck with a removal spell when your path to winning is trying to deal damage before they can muster any defenses?

I am interested to see if these trends continue. If Faeries decks continue to live at the top of things then that will represent a massive shift in the metagame. Despite being incredible powerful these decks are thriving in part because their natural enemies are absent. Kor Skyfisher is nearly absent and Pestilence is only moderately more prevalent. A shift to a Faeries dominated metagame could open up a new window for removal based midrange decks which could be problematic for WonderWalls but good news for Tron.

Of course this all presupposes that next weekend Tron doesn’t come out and smack down all the pretenders.

Svogthir’s Study: Sisters of Stone Death

Hello and welcome to Svogthir’s Study: a place to appreciate Golgari in Commander.

It’s been a month since my last entry into Svogthir’s Study and it’s not for lack of desire. When I started this project I was furloughed and figured I would make use of the hours in the day. Well, my furlough ended early and those hours were filled with work. And so I let this post linger in the thought box.

It didn’t help that this next Commander is a tough nut to crack.

Sisters of Stone Death is from an era before Commander was as large of a thing as it is today. Legendary creatures didn’t need to carry a format on their back and you can see that in this eight mana spell that you need to put more mana into for maximum value. Compare the Sisters to Dragonlord Silumgar and you could drown a leviathan in the gap between the two in efficiency.

I wish I had more to say about the Sisters that can’t be better said by their EDHRec page. You can lean on the creature type and go for Gorgon Tribal, featuring Hythonia the Cruel. Or you can go for Lure Tribal and turn the Sisters into a combat dominating machine. If I were building this deck, I would go for the second option.

How would I do this? I’d start with ramp – every mana elf I could get my hands on. I’d want various forms of protection – Asceticism comes to mind – as possible. Why? I want to make sure that once the Sisters are ready to rumble there’s a loaded Druid’s Repository ready to make a new suite of statues.

How would you build Sisters of Stone Death? What’s your favorite “bad” Commander?

Treasured Find: Grappling Hook

The First Four Weeks of Commander Legends

December 12-13 Pauper Weekend in Review

The December 12 and December 13 Challenges close out the first four weeks of Commander Legends season. Won by WonderWalls and Dimir Delver, these two events put a cap on an interesting month of Pauper.

The big story of the last month is Fall from Favor and its massive impact on the Pauper metagame. I’m on the record as saying I think that the Monarch promotes poor play patterns while incentivizing defense to the point that going on the offense is a strategic error. But it goes deeper than that – Fall from Favor has fundamentally changed the way Pauper games play out.

Before we get to that, I want to discuss what I mean about poor play patterns. The Monarch is zero sum – if one player has it the other cannot. This means that keeping the emblem is incredibly important and once online, relatively easy. The Monarch represents one free card every turn and if your opponent is only able to present one new threat per turn then you are coming out ahead (one spell to deal with the threat, one fresh draw). Monarch encourages you to sit back and let the cards roll in while also making it challenging for your opponent to enact their own plan if it involves attacking.

Leading up to Commander Legends you could make the argument that Pauper revolved around Burning-Tree Emissary. Stompy was the so-called clock of the format – its consistent turn four kill gave Pauper a fundamental turn, a focal point around which the game needed to be built. Before Fiery Cannonade decks had to lean on Moment’s Peace and similar effect to survive which in many ways is responsible for how we got to the point we were at the end of Zendikar Rising season. In my opinion the addition of Fall from Favor has changed the fundamental turn – the turn on which and entire game can pivot – to the third turn.

A Fall from Favor on turn three usually will end the game. The avalanche of card advantage can be challenging to overcome and requires significant effort. As a result we have seen a shift the appearance of aggro and also a replacement of the Clock. In my opinion, the metagame looks something like this:

  • WonderWalls (Cascade) is the Clock – It represents a reliable turn four kill that is difficult to disrupt.
  • Boros Bully is Aggro – It’s ability to go wide while also packing its own Monarch engine gives it the tools to beat down.
  • Spellstutter Sprite/Fall from Favor decks are Midrange – These decks can now pack their own Monarch cards and as a result have a far easier time assuming both aggro and control positions.
  • Flicker Tron remains the Control.

The result is a new metagame that is surprisingly diverse and has a healthy appearance:

The first 8 Challenges of Commander Legends Season

I’m going to say that again: this is a diverse and somewhat healthy metagame, at least according to the numbers. There are 14 decks that represent over 2% of the metagame volume (5 appearances) with another two – WonderWalls and Gruul Ramp – that are sitting at 1.97% of metagame volume. Flicker Tron is at it’s lowest volume in quite some time and it has a relatively reasonable delta between actual volume and weighted volume. Fully half of these decks are outperforming their actual volume with another one – Jeskai Affinity – one good result away from doing the same.

So on hand we have a diverse metagame with a decent spread of archetypes, none of which are dominant to the point of being troublesome. On the other hand we have a large number of decks that lean on the Monarch for their success. Around 53% of decks, by volume, lean on the Monarch (this excludes Tron builds) and Monarch decks account for around 57% of weighted metagame volume.

Now these Monarch decks look drastically different – there are the various Delver/Faerie decks, traditional Boros/Orzhov midrange, and even Gruul Ramp which can cascade into the crown. The question remains – is this healthy?

Putting my cards of the proverbial table, I do not know. On the one hand we are seeing diversity of archetypes and not only that, a diversity of successful archetypes. At the same time many of these decks are leaning on the Monarch which as explained earlier, does promote a back and forth. Instead we are seeing decks like WonderWalls which can deal with one free draw since it wants to vomit out four threats on turn four and win the game on the spot.

I’ve been one of the staunchest supporters of bans in Pauper. I believe the Monarch promotes poor game play. But these results are giving me something to think about. I do think that if these trends continue we are going to see an increase in the polarization of the format between the Clock and the Control. I also am concerned about the increasing homogenization of decks as over 50% Monarch is alarming. I still think action needs to be taken.

But what do you think?

December 5-6 Pauper Weekend In Review

Fall from Favor tempo decks went undefeated in the Swiss on both days before sweeping the Top 8 on Saturday and Sunday. Twitter is awash with discussion about how the format is dominated by the Monarch.

I wish there was more to say about Pauper at this time…and there is…sorta.

This chart tracks every archetype that has at least 2% of the total metagame volume (approximately 4 appearances) or a Top 8 finish. Six events into Commander Legends season and already Tron is pulling away from the pack in Top 8s. Looking at these top decks, however, the number that are running the Monarch is nothing short of astounding as it now includes almost every Spellstutter Sprite deck. Decks that are not Tron or Monarch (or some combination) account for just over 22% of all wins above X-2. This number might not seem so bad until you break down that remaining 78%.

Tron, with and without Monarch, accounts for 23% of all wins above X-2. That means decks packing the Monarch account for around 55% of all wins at X-2 or better.

There’s a Pauper PTQ on January 23rd. There is a very real cost to not fixing the format before that event. Magic Online PTQs attract a wide swath of players – not just dedicated Pauper grinders. If this is their first exposure to Pauper and they see “Monarch: The Format” are they really going to come back? Like it or not, Pauper can’t survive on die-hards alone.

The choice to me is either to kick off the new year right or the first foot of the format six feet under.

November 28-29 Pauper Weekend in Review

What makes up a healthy metagame in a non-rotating Magic format? I think that depends on a number of factors. One of the big critiques of Modern, from a professional player standpoint, was that it was so wide open that it was difficult to feel prepared for a major event. This was a boon to both the casually competitive and aspirant player base. The wide open nature of Modern meant that it was possible to have “your deck” and have a shot. Something similar can be said for Legacy. It is tough to balance having a format with a plethora of options and one that can stand up to being played ad infinitum. This is why that, for competitive play, Wizards will often introduce new, smaller formats. Extended begat Modern which begat Pioneer which, in ten years will beget something new. For a format like Pauper, I think there is merit in having something of an unbalanced metagame provided it is relatively open.

Here is where the top of the Pauper metagame stands after the November 28 and November 29 Challenges (taking into account any deck with at least 3 appearances or a Top 8 finish):

In these four challenges there have been 68 decks that have finished with a 4-2 or better record. 45 of them are running at least one Monarch card in their 75 (66%). The decks break down like this:

  • Monarch decks: 24 copies
  • Spellstutter Sprite + Monarch: 14
  • Jeskai Affinity w/Fall from Favor: 2
  • Tron: 15 (including 5 with access to the Monarch)

All told these decks account for 81% of the top of the Winner’s metagame over four challenges. Now there is some variety in these archetypes – Boros Bully and Boros Monarch; Pestilence Control and Dimir Control options; Mono-Blue, Dimir, and Izzet Spellstutter Sprite builds; Tron with Staunch Throneguard main and Tron with Fall from Favor in the sideboard.

Is this healthy? It all depends on your point of view. On one hand there are options of what to play but at the same time the decks are slowly trending towards homogenizing. There were several images going around this weekend involving five copies of Fall from Favor on a battlefield, sometimes representing the Monarch changing hands half a dozen times.

Right now there are no real checks on the Monarch. More than that, aggressive decks outside of Boros Bully and Jeskai Affinity (the latter of which is soft to Gorilla Shaman) are non-existent. Playing out creatures is a massive risk since that opens you up to having it Fall from Favor and start giving your opponent more resources.

Gavin Verhey has said that Wizards is closely monitoring Pauper and that we can expect action if things are out of whack. I think my opinion is well known at this point – what do you think?

In the interim, if you are going to play Pauper I would advise against exposing yourself to Fall from Favor. Whether this means running Yavimaya Barbarian or just not running creatures, that last thing you want to do is make it easy for your opponent to draw cards. Gut Shot, Snapback, Snuff Out – these are going to be your friends moving forward. If you decide to run creatures, you better be sure to be packing enough ways to gain the crown back should your opponent be trying to win.

November 21-23 Pauper Weekend In Review: Enter Commander Legends

Commander Legends has finally made its way to Magic Online. And the bugs that plagued the latest set’s release have (hopefully) been put out to pasture. While there were a few notable bugs that could have potentially impacted Pauper last weekend, the results of the November 21 and November 22 Challenges are no less informative. Despite an influx of new cards, the metagame looks rather similar at the surface.

None of this should be a shock. Nothing in the latest set looked like it could dethrone Flicker Tron from its perch at the top of the metagame. The Boros brothers – Bully and Monarch – both had a solid Zendikar Rising season and thanks to Prismatic Strands are well positioned to adapt to Fiery Cannonade’s pressence in the metagame. After these the most popular decks are various Spellstutter Sprite decks which adopted a bevy of new Monarch options, although Fall from Favor seems to be the most popular way to take the crown.

It is far too early to draw firm conclusions, but there are a few indications of shifts in the metagame. First, Stompy has taken another hit. Burning-Tree Emissary decks are going to have to adjust to a world with Fiery Cannonade. Going tall with Bogles or Heroic could work in theory, but if you want to pressure a life total your best bet may just be Boros Bully.

Black based midrange looks to have an uphill climb. One of the best reasons to run black was the ability to play Thorn of the Black Rose and Pestilence. Now that more colors have access to the Monarch, Pestilence is going to have to do a heavier lift and may struggle to find a foothold.

Finally, free spells are going to get better. If the metagame shifts to revolve around a turn three Fall from Favor, being able to remove the target at no cost seems paramount. Snuff Out and Gut Shot are known quantities at this point, but I am interested in trying out Snapback to see if it can get the job done.

How are you looking to approach this new metagame? What cards have been all-stars for you and which ones have underperformed?

Svogthir’s Study: Savra, Queen of the Golgari

Hello and welcome to Svogthir’s Study: a place to appreciate Golgari in Commander.

When I saw which Commander was up next in my own arbitrary order I felt a pit of dread rise in my gut. It wasn’t that I was worried about writing about this card. Rather I was concerned with confronting my own failure before my queen.

Savra, Queen of the Golgari is one of my all-time favorite Commanders. She enables so many things I love about Magic. She plays well with token strategies while also leaning into a stax game. She helps to keep you alive while also converting your life total into a weapon. While not cheap, Savra is far from an expensive Commander and she can be used as soon as she enters the battlefield. Heck, she doesn’t even enable her ability which means you have to build around her – something I love about Commander. Savra is a perfect example of an open ended legend that provides a myriad of possibilities.

And that is where I failed. Savra is my Commander White Whale. I love the card but every time I try to build around her I get pulled in a million different directions. Compare that to some of the more recently released options. So many Commanders from the past three years shout from the rooftops of Markov Manor what you should be doing. Savra, by contrast, is a utility player. You can play up the sacrifice theme with cards like Smothering Abomination or Priest of Forgotten Gods or go huge with Living Death or Krav, the Unredeemed. While she isn’t Meren (thank Pharika), she helm a Birthing Pod deck and heck, she plays great with Fiend Artisan. Or maybe you want to focus on that life payment and you run Font of Agonies and Vilis, Broker of Blood. Perhaps you want to play with the fact she looks for black and green creatures and load up on Creakwood Liege, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed and Pharika, God of Affliction. I’ve tried all of these and none of them seemed to work. I wanted to do everything and as a result I did nothing. And so I took apart my Savra deck, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do in service of the Undercity crown.

I am not sure why but as of late, I have looked more and more at stax style decks. I think this blossoms from a desire to force interaction while also seeking to take full advantage of said interaction. Before we went on lockdown, I would frequent a Commander game where folks had relatively high powered casual decks. These decks were often optimized to some degree but aside from countermagic and board wipes, there was not a ton of interaction (in my view). In order to keep up I started bringing decks that had universal interaction – cards like Grave Pact. I would seek to break the symmetry of universally painful effects in an attempt to come out ahead. Now that I am playing with a different group of folks via webcam, I have toned down the stax in some decks. I think Savra was a victim of this shift in that I didn’t want to have so many decks focused on locking my opponents out of playing the game. That being said I believe Savra makes an excellent stax Commander. You have a pseudo-Grave Pact in the Command Zone and there are plenty of ways to sacrifice creatures for minimal cost. Throw in an Ogre Slumlord and now you are coming out ahead in the exchange. You could go even harder and add Darkest Hour to turn cards like Awakening Zone into the best Innocent Blood of all time. 

Savra Stax suffers from many of the problems inherent in making yourself the archenemy, namely that everyone is going to be coming for you. While it is possible to effectively protect your life total you’re lacking the power of a card like Meren of Clan Nel-Toth to make up for the resources you are investing to keep the table clear. Meren, for example, will keep your board populated while Savra requires some more work to really break that parity.

So where am I going with Savra next? Well, I used to have a Seton, Krosan Protector deck that was both Elf and Druid tribal. And considering that I have tried to make Nath of the Gilt-Leaf (and yes, Sadistic Hypnotist) work for years and have a newfound crush on Miara, Thorn of the Glade, I’m going to build Savra Elves. This is forcing me to look at my old flame in an entirely new light. Now I’ll have the opportunity to bolster my life total sky high thanks to a bevy of Elf tokens flying around. I can lean harder on some other ways to sacrifice creatures including an old favorite in Death Pit Offering. Abomination of Llanowar seems like a stellar fit in this deck since yes, creatures are going to be dying left and right. I also get to play a small Aristocrats theme with Poison-Tip Archer and Nadier’s Nightblade. I also get to try out using Skyshroud Poacher to fetch out Izoni. Finally if I am being realistic this finally provides me a chance to pair Cryptolith Rite with Death Cloud.

Long live the Queen!

Treasured Find: Deathless Knight

Zendikar Rising Season – The Second Check In

There were two Challenges this past weekend, bringing the grand total of results in Zendikar Rising season to 9. In order to examine trends I divide long seasons into four week chunks and wouldn’t you know it, we just hit the end of the eight week.

Normally this would give a strong indication of where the format is at large but we are mere weeks away from a massive upheaval. Commander Legends, with a bevy of Monarch cards and two new sweepers, is poised to shake things up. For a short answer as to what is going to happen I’ll say that Tron is going to get better and blue is likely to put in a claim as one of the best colors for Monarch. Because it needed help.

But that’s just speculation. I want to use this time to talk about something more concrete: the past. For those of you unfamiliar with how I track the metagame, here is a quick guide.

When I discussed the first four weeks of the season I talked about the relative strength of Tron and its outsized impact on the format. Here is what the top of the metagame looked like after 4 weeks (taking into account decks that accounted for at least 2% of the Winner’s Metagame).

September 19-October 11

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Keep this chart in mind as we look at the next one, which is the past four weeks of the challenge metagame with the same 2% threshold.

October 17 – November 8

There are some very important things to note. First, more decks out performed their volume this time around – 7 in the second chunk as opposed to 5. That being said, there were only 11 archetypes to clear the threshold in the second half of the season as opposed to 12 in the first four weeks.

Let’s talk about Tron first. The deck maintained around 16% of the metagame volume and even if it did slightly worse in the past four weeks, it’s still significantly better than every other archetype. Nothing about Tron has changed and it still eats a lion’s share of the wins.

Dimir Faeries was less popular in the second month but did marginally better. The decline in popularity may be due to the rise of Dimir Delver as a choice but that’s just speculation. The complete drop off in Izzet variants leads me to believe that the option to run Cast Down and Snuff out is a pretty significant improvement over Skred, which is saying something.

Here are some other quick hits:

  • Jeskai Affinity is the most played bad deck. We’ll see in a moment, but the much maligned Burn is outperforming this archetype.
  • Stompy continues to struggle in a Monarch and Tron metagame.
  • More people should be playing Bogles and Elves – they are slightly underrepresented given their relative strength.
  • Boros Bully and Boros Monarch occupy a largely similar spot in the metagame despite being drastically different decks.

I wish this information would be more helpful in the look ahead. Simply put it is hard to determine what is going to change once Commander Legends and any subsequent bans hit. With that in mind, here is what the entire season looks like:

Tron is kinda gross outside of these numbers. It has 36 Top 8 slots out of a possible 136 (around 26.47%) and has taken down 6 of 17 events. If there is anything to take away from this season it’s that you really need to have a plan for Tron if you’re trying to win a Challenge.

A Chat with Gavin Verhey

A few weeks ago in the midst of Commander Legends preview season Senior Magic Designer and the mind behind the set Gavin Verhey Tweeted that he’d love to come into the MTGPauper Discord to chat about the set. After some back and forth with Gavin we settled upon a date and time.

On Wednesday, November 11 at 7:30pm Eastern Time, Gavin will be chatting Commander Legends and Pauper. You can access the Discord via this link. What happens if you can’t make it? Good news! We have a channel in the Discord labeled “question-time” where you can post a question for Gavin ahead of the chat. Then on Wednesday we’ll be opening a channel for the duration of the discussion and then locking it after the fact to keep a record.

I want to thank Gavin for working with me on this and taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to speak with the passionate Pauper community.

October 31-November 1 Pauper Weekend in Review

I’m going to skip my regular summary this week. Instead I implore all of you who live in the United States, who have not done so, to vote. And while I’m not one to tell you how to live your life, I am going to encourage you to vote for the Democratic party because they, at the bare minimum, have a plan that will get us out of this pandemic (as opposed to no plan at all from the other side).

October 31 Challenge
Top Decks from Second Check In, at least 2% volume of metagame (4 appearances)

Keep your eye on Elves. The deck had a great weekend and is poised to benefit from Commander Legends.