Looking at Lists: Bone Picker Dimir

I want to talk a little bit about Delver of Secrets. Delver exerts a unique pressure on Pauper in that when left unanswered it can absolutely take over the game. When a turn one Delver flips it changes to entire texture of battle.

Pauper in many ways is a format of Magic‘s fundamentals (taken to the extreme). The baseline stat for a creature is 2/2 and any variation on this can have massive implications. Burning-Tree Emissary isn’t a powerhouse because it is one creature but rather because it represents a much better rate for several 2/2s. Mulldrifter is also a 2/2 but comes with extra cards attached. Kor Skyfisher would not see nearly as much play if not for that extra point of toughness that gives it a leg up against, you guessed it, bears.

Delver of Secrets changes the math on combat. The damage is going to pile up 50% faster. That creates a huge incentive to try and flip the creature as quickly as possible if you are trying to be aggressive. As of late, various “Delver” decks have realized that the deckbuilding cost was too damn high. It makes sense as these decks want to trade early removal to leverage Ninja of the Deep Hours late. Taking a turn off in the hope of getting an offensive boost doesn’t track.

Today’s list from the league results doesn’t try to flip a Delver of Secrets early. Instead it wants to play a more traditional control game. Kingziggy’s deck wants to trade resources early to make it easier to cast Gurmag Angler in the mid game. Deck’s like this have been very popular but have also featured everyone’s favorite flying beatstick. Here it is replaced by recent downshift Bone Picker and it makes a ton of sense. Now the deck can either cast Preordain turn one or set up its mana with Ash Barrens and then double spell later to set up a Bone Picker. Or it can wait until turn four an evoke a ‘Drifter to turn on Bone Picker’s morbid ability.

I like this slightly slower take on the Dimir deck. My one quibble is the Radiant Fountain. In a deck that ideally wants access to both UU and BB, running a land that produces neither is a decent liability. While there is something nice about having a maindeck buffer for more aggressive decks, is two life really going to save you from Thermo-Alchemist?

Center Stage: Last Rites

Let’s talk about decision making.

Last Rites is a three drop discard spell that can absolutely destroy your opponent’s hand. The rub is that you need to to the same. The pay off is huge in that for each card you pitch, your opponent reveals a card in their hand and send it to the graveyard. I have found success with this deck in both Exhume decks and Lands strategies where you have tons of fodder thanks to Mulch.

The big thing about Last Rites is that discard the cards from your hand is not part of the cost. That means that if your opponent wants to counter it, they have to do it before they know how many cards you are going after. Therefore this card is at its best when it follows a Duress but even on its own it can be backbreaking. If it resolves of course.

Last Rites is one of those cards that should see more play in specific situations, but probably isn’t good enough to be a format staple.


And now for something a little different. I found out this week that starting in early September I am being furloughed for at least the rest of the calendar year. I don’t like sharing too much about my personal life here but here’s a little taste: my spouse was laid off earlier this summer and we have a toddler at home. Living in the United States means that our health insurance is tied to employment and, well, the math is pretty simple here.

Even if I didn’t have a chronic illness that requires regular doses of medication, we could not go without health insurance for any length of time. While we are both searching for work and have some savings, I can’t say things are going to be “okay” long term. And that sucks.

I know times are tough all over. If you enjoy my work and are able to, it would mean a lot if you would considering becoming a Patron. I am not going to hawk this all the time, but if I didn’t exhaust every avenue for my family, I wouldn’t be happy with myself.

While I look for new employment I will do my best to provide you all with more Pauper content.

Keep slingin’ commons,

-Alex

Looking at Lists: Turbo Fog

If you follow my writing you might find it ironic that, despite my hatred of all things Stonehorn Dignitary, I really love Turbo Fog strategies. I think it comes down to the fact that while both seek to disrupt the combat step, Turbo Fog has far more fail cases than Flicker Tron. This is probably because it actually plays fair Magic and is far more constrained on resources.

Most builds of Turbo Fog include Jace’s Erasure as a win condition to help speed along the natural process. Combobuilder even includes Muddle the Mixture – a common tutor for the enchantment – in their build. But instead of Erasure they are running three copies of Stream of Thought which seems awesome. Stream has the advantage of shuffling key cards back into your library and in the late-game it comes in with Replicate.

This build also benefits from four maindeck copies of Weather the Storm. Normally you could beat a Turbo Fog deck by dealing non-combat damage (we see you Burn). Weather the Storm not only provides additional insurance against creature combat, but it also makes it that much harder to be bludgeoned by a barrage of bolts.

If I were looking to make changes to this deck I would consider adding a few lands. This feels like a deck that wants to ensure it hits enough land drops to be able to counter something and then fog the same turn cycle. While Fog might help, it is the only single mana combat nullifier in the deck and there are only two copies total.

August 15-16 Pauper Weekend in Review

We have hit the third week of Double Masters season and the metagame is rounding into shape. To the shock of almost no one, it looks a lot like the metagame before the bans of Expedition Map and Mystic Sanctuary. The best decks remain Tron, Monarch, and Spellstutter Sprite variants. Let’s take a look.

Saturday’s Challenge was not very diverse. Stompy and Flicker Tron were the two most popular strategies; Flicker Tron performed extremely well, Stompy not so much. But the deck of the weekend was Boros Monarch. In four appearances on Saturday, it placed three decks in the Top 8 (including an undefeated Swiss run).

Before the bans, Boros Monarch had been struggling to keep pace with the other major players. As of late, it has seen a resurgence due in no small part to the Thriving lands. These cards give Boros easier access to splash colors – specifically black. We have seen more copies of Terminate, Chainer’s Edict, and Unearth show up in Boros as of late. We have also seen more copies of Bonder’s Ornament which can help to turn off Tron’s card flow. Boros also can now run Abrade as another way to pressure some of Tron’s mana rocks.

Another challenge and another undefeated run by Boros Monarch. While it made it to the Top 8, it fell in the quarterfinals. The deck of the day was Jeskai Ephemerate, with three copies in the Top 8. Jeskai Ephemerate plays a similar game plan to Tron except it eschews the benefits of Tron – namely Mystical Teachings – for running Ponder and Preordain.

Here are the best decks with at least 2% of metagame volume (approximately 4 appearances). Left off this chart are Azorius Familiars and Izzet Delver, who each have a challenge win.

Looking at this chart we can see that both Flicker Tron and Boros/Mardu Monarch are pulling away from the field. While it is still early in the season, it appears that those two are the decks to beat. The different Spellstutter Sprite decks are putting up a good fight but are definitely better situated to do well in the Top 8 than the Swiss. Meanwhile, there’s Stompy – a deck which needs to adjust to the shifting landscape.

What deck do you think is poised to breakout next weekend?

Center Stage: Sire of Stagnation

You thought I was going to talk about a common today? Think again!

I hate this card in Commander. I have trouble articulating why when this hits the table I seethe, but I have less of a problem with the extremely similar Consecrated Sphinx. I think a not so small part of it is that I loathe having cards exiled from my library (probably because I love graveyard shenanigans). But I think what gets me is that this card tries to punish players for advancing their own game state by playing lands. This just doesn’t sit right with me, and the fact that it doesn’t sit right gives me pause.

Let’s be real: this card is fragile. It’s a six drop creature that can be handled easily. Running any interaction at all can render this permanent null and void.

And there are plenty of other cards I don’t have a problem with that are far more oppressive on game states. Like this one:

Another six drop creature with a massive impact on the game. But it affects everyone – not just opponents. The same can be said for cards like Winter Orb (which I don’t currently play) and Smokestack (one of my favorite cards). But Sire of Stagnation only impacts opponents. Is that what offends me?

Probably not since I adore Grave Pact.

The cards I’ve talked about actively encourage you to play out resources to counteract their effects. Winter Orb? You can get around that with more mana rocks and lands. Smokestack? Well, you can play more permanents. Grave Pact? I’ve been on the receiving end of Edgar Markov greatest hits with Pact on the board before.

When punisher effects are asymmetrical they create a game state I don’t enjoy. But that’s me. I may hate Sire of Stagnation and may never play it in my decks, but if you play it, I’m just going to make you my enemy until it’s gone.

August 1-2 Pauper Weekend in Review

The results from the August 1 and August 2 Challenges were published this week after a backend issue was resolved. Rather than look back at these events and try to predict what they mean for the format moving forward, I want to use this as an opportunity to take a look at the best decks from this very early Double Masters seasons. But first, Challenge breakdowns!

Mardu Monarch is an off shoot of Boros Monarch. While the latter had often adopted the occasional copy of Reaping the Graves or Okiba-Gang Shinobi, the newer build adopts more black cards, including (but not limited to) Chainer’s Edict, Terminate, and Unearth. I am not sure if this is better or worse than a two-color build, but if the mana base can support the splash, so be it.

Two weeks into this season and none of this should be surprising. The winning deck left off this chart is Azorius Familairs which is probably the best deck more people aren’t playing right now. If I did an overrated/underrated segment, it would firmly be in the latter camp.

The top of the metagame should not shock anyone. There’s Flicker Tron, there are Spellstutter Sprite decks, and there are Monarch decks. Despite the fact that Dimir Delver – that is Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler builds – has more Top 8 appearances, I believe Dimir Faeries – playing far more like a traditional Delver deck – is the superior option. It is much better at playing a Ninja game plan and relies less on protecting a few key threats. And Spellstutter Sprite is quite a card.

If I had to pick one overrated deck from this Top 10 it would be Stompy. It is not that the deck is bad, but rather it needs to evolve. The nature of the metagame means that trying to simply steamroll your opponent with damage is going to be a high variance route. Clearly it can succeed – Stompy is one of three archetypes with 3 Top 8s – but it also has the worst conversion rate of the bunch. The solution may be opting to play for a slightly longer game against the field, cutting copies of Elephant Guide for another Vines of Vastwood and perhaps Mutagenic Growth, while skewing its sideboard towards racing Stonehorn Dignitary.

Here are some things to consider about the format current:

  • Cast Down makes singular large threats a risky play.
  • Abrade seems to be everywhere (as it should be) and punishes an over-reliance on Artifacts.
  • What races Tron?
  • Best home for Bone Picker – we’ve seen it in MBC and Dimir Delver, but where can this card shine?

What are the interesting Pauper questions the format is currently asking, in your mind?

Looking at Lists: Azorius Metalcraft

Deluxeicoff is a long time Pauper player and deck brewer. This past weekend they put up a Top 8 and followed it up with a 5-0 league run with one of their builds. Let’s take a gander:

There’s a lot going on in this list, all in the service for resolving 3/3s. This deck runs a minimal land count, but needs to hit one land and likely a Springleaf Drum to operate. It has no cantrips but plenty of cheap draw two effects that, ideally, can be resolved turn two. The deck can get off to some explosive starts for sure but relies on Ardent Recruit and Auriok Sunchaser to seal the deal. Still, there are only three cards in the maindeck that effectively cost more than one mana – the removal spells – and they exist to clear out the final few blockers.

Here’s my biggest concern with a deck like this: removal. A card like Gorilla Shaman or Ancient Grudge can really put a damped on your plans. This says nothing about Abrade which handles every threat and more than half the lands in this deck.

Clearly this deck can win and there is a good core here for sure. But there are a lot of pinch points here where the entire house of cards can come crumbling down. What would I do? I’d find slots for more land and swap some of the removal for Vedalken Certarchs. I would also try to find a way to leverage the Ornithopters – like Ninjas.

August 8-9 Pauper Weekend In Review

It’s good to be back! While the weekend of August 2 and 3 have seemingly been lost to gremlins in the code, we have our first look at the impact of Double Masters and the downshifts it brings – Abrade and Cast Down being chief amongst them. Before diving into the “start” of this season, let’s take a look at how the post-ban world of Core 2021 shook out.

There is not a ton of data to work with, but this is what the top of the metagame looked like in the four challenges post the ban of Expedition Map and Mystic Sanctuary. As discussed previously Tron remained a major player. Old standbys were solid if unexciting in the short span of time between the bans and the latest set. Simply put, there is not a lot to pull from this suite of information since it draws from a small sample size. That being said, Tron decks looked to be just fine and Stompy appeared to be a serious force.

Now what happens when you add two fantastic removal spells?

Despite not winning an event, Flicker Tron variants took down four Top 8 slots across the two tournaments. Seven total decks across both Top 8s ran either Cast Down or Abrade. Stompy managedd two Top 8 finishes. Hobble made an appearance, as did Bone Picker. There were also four Spellstutter Sprite decks across both sets of elimination rounds.

I do not want to do too much divining from one weekend, but it seems clear that more than before, aggressive decks are going to struggle. It isn’t just the new removal spells or the adopting of old ones, it’s also Bone Picker. Bone Picker is a removal spell that has the advantage of coming in for extra damage later in the game. While fragile, Bone Picker also promotes players trying to double spell in the early game, helping them to get ahead on board.

Normally the best way to fight this would be to go slightly slower and play more resilient threats – Mother Bear anyone? – but that runs the risk of letting the window of opportunity against Tron slam shut. I think the best course of action might be to look for supplemental damage engines a la deluxeicoff in Sunday’s Top 8. Sideboard Harsh Sustenance is something we first saw out of Elves but it could be key to closing games in the next few weeks.

Center Stage: Ixalli’s Diviner

I’m going to let you in on a secret: as a content creator, I love and loathe spoiler season. I love it because who doesn’t love new cards? Who doesn’t enjoy trying to figure out where the new pieces fit or what entirely new puzzles have been crafted? And yes, as a content creator, I’m overjoyed when a topic is thrown into my lap.

At the same time, it can be exhausting. New sets seem to come out all the time and, especially with Pauper, reprint sets can cause all sorts of headaches. People who focus on other formats don’t have to worry when extra copies of Sword of Feast and Famine are made, but I have to pore over the spoiler trying to figure out what former uncommon is going to wreck havoc.

What I don’t worry about, though, is mis-evaluating a new card. Like this one:

When I saw this card I tried so hard to make it work. I’m a sucker for micro-graveyard synergies and Ixalli’s Diviner has that and more. It is either a 0/3 that draws you a land or a 1/4 that filters away a dead card. I tried this deck for months in Green Tron builds, trying to leverage the extra velocity. I saw the body and thought it could absorb blows from Stompy until Evincar’s Justice or Swirling Sandstorm could come online. I saw the opportunity to bin a Firebolt for later or get me to that Urza’s Tower one turn sooner.

I was blinded by what I wanted to work. Even before Flicker Tron caught on, this deck was trying too hard to make one card work instead of finding cards that made the deck better.

Look at Elvish Visionary. Is this a card Tron would run? Almost certainly not. Yet for all intents and purposes, Ixalli’s Diviner was worse than Visionary. I was absolutely wrong about Diviner. Yet I was happy I tried it out. I tend to focus on the top of the metagame and figuring out what is best, but sometimes it is still fun to play cards you like in an effort to find a path to victory. You just have to keep in mind that ever loss (and victory) can teach you something. You just can’t be blinded by your feelings about a single card.