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The Pauper 8 from Oath of the Gatewatch


Shadows over Innistrad has wormed its way to Magic Online, and new Pauper results are being posted. It will take some time to fully gauge the impact of the new set, which leaves this week to take a look back. Oath of the Gatewatch season spanned eleven weeks and provided over seven hundred forty decklists from which we can extract metagame data.

I like to look at Pauper data in aggregate because I find it the best way to understand the composition of the format. The League regularly has over one thousand competitors, but at most, Wizards of the Coast publishes ten decks per day. Occasionally, glitches in the system will result in a list becoming lost. This results in an incomplete data set. What is represented is a small number of decks that go undefeated on a given day. Lost are the 4–1 and 3–2 lists as well as what the successful lists have beaten.

So why collect the data at all? Understanding what goes undefeated regularly gives insight as to what is needed to combat the best decks. While these decks are hardly representative of the true variety of Pauper, they do provide a standard to which the other decks are held. Similarly, while these lists do not represent the totality of the metagame when taken together, they provide a relatively comprehensive picture of the landscape. Finally, the lists in questions also provide a glimpse into what it takes to go undefeated.

The last point has some subtle undertones. The decks that populate the league lists all have the capability of the I-win draw. Whether it is blind-transforming Delver of Secrets, loading up a Nettle Sentinel with Rancor and Groundswell, casting Fling on Atog or Temur Battle Rage on Nivix Cyclops, or chaining Chittering Rats into Gray Merchant of Asphodel, the most visible decks all have opening hands that follow scripted paths to victory. The decks that occasionally make it to these posts may not have these draws, but that does not mean they are bad decks. Sometimes to be noticed, you just have to run hot.

With that out of the way, what did Oath of the Gatewatch season look like?

1 — Delver, 14.4% (107 Appearances)

There were some rumblings at the start of the season that Delver would not be a top deck. Some felt that removing Cloud of Faeries would neuter the deck and render it merely “good” instead of dominant. And then Faerie Miscreant happened. Miscreant was discussed during Magic Origins spoiler season as a potential 1-drop for Delver but never made the cut, as it was squeezed out by other options. And yet, the ability to be a Faerie on turn one and occasionally draw cards proved to be a solid replacement for a “free” 1/1 flyer. Miscreant took over for Cloud of Faeries, and Delver barely missed a beat. The first four weeks of the season saw Delver take a back seat to Tron and Affinity. The final seven saw it have a share of the most popular deck each week except for one during which it took second place to Stompy. Delver also had the single best week of any deck, with an amazing twenty undefeated placings during the final week of the season.

Why is Delver so good? Aside from the ability to have a 3/2 flyer on turn two, Delver maintains the ability to simply obsolete anything an opponent is trying to accomplish. A first-turn Faerie Miscreant represents a huge number of possibilities on the next untap. Ninja of the Deep Hours lets the Miscreant apply pressure while Spellstutter Sprite allows for a more controlling game. Lacking these, there is always a normal Counterspell or Ponder into a Delver of Secrets or another Miscreant (and another card). Spire Golem eventually roadblocks combat and lets the tiny air force go to work.

What it gains from Shadows: Not much. Delver is a very tight design, and in order for a card to make the cut, it needs to come at a cut rate. Ponder and Preordain are relics of library manipulation, and a Delver of Secrets–like card is not coming to common any time soon. If anything, the deck may want to sideboard copies of Deny Existence against people bringing in Stormbound Geist.

2 — Stompy, 9.15% (68 Appearances)

Stompy has been a mainstay of Pauper. The cheap green creatures backed up by efficient damage boosts has been a thorn in the side of Delver for the duration of the blue deck’s existence. Stompy can stick threats despite countermagic, and even in the days of Cloud of Faeries, it could keep pace with the tempo deck. Esper Combo, on the other hand, was a near impossibility without drawing key sideboard cards. As such, Stompy fell out of favor, but with Esper Combo gone, the green machine was able to reassert itself in the metagame.

It should follow that Stompy rose to prominence this season in the wake of Delver. Once the blue army took to the skies, it followed that players were packing Rancor and Quirion Ranger as a way to keep the Faeries grounded. It seemed to have worked, as the green deck claimed second place for the season and had the second-best individual week.

Stompy used to fall prey to Mono-Black Control and that deck’s loaded removal suite. Now, thanks to Young Wolf, Nest Invader, and Brindle Shoat, it is easier for the beatdown deck to keep pace with the kill spells. Expect Stompy to be a big player early in Shadows over Innistrad season.

What it gains from Shadows: Like Delver, Stompy is looking for the cheapest possible iteration of effects. Neither of the pump spells—Confront the Unknown or Might Beyond Reason—fits into this strategy. Hinterland Logger might get the nod as a late-game threat that is not dead on turn two. Some versions of the deck have taken to running Feed the Clan in the side, and another natural 4-power creature does not hurt the cause.

3 — Affinity, 8.75% (65 Appearances)

Affinity came out of the gates strong and was among the top decks early in the season. Of course, people adjusted, and we eventually saw more copies of Gorilla Shaman, Ancient Grudge, Natural State, and Gleeful Sabotage find home in sideboards. It also was not outside the reasonable to see main-decked copies of Kor Sanctifiers since enchantments are also abound in Pauper. When this happened, Affinity suffered.

This is nothing new. Affinity is an amazing deck when the format is unprepared. It can spit out 4/4s with ease, and the combination of Atog and Fling can end games in a flash, especially when backed up by Galvanic Blast. The problem is as it always has been: Its mana base is woefully fragile. Yet, it still was among the best-performing decks early on.

What it gains from Shadows: Thankfully, Shadows over Innistrad is an artifact-themed set . . . oh . . . wait. It is a stretch to think that cards like Thraben Inspector would make the cut in Affinity. Investigate creates an artifact, which does help make Carapace Forger a 4/4 and reduce the cost on Thoughtcast. However, it does come attached to a nonartifact spell, and the risk is probably too high to go digging for Clues in this deck.

4 — Tron, 8.21% (61 Appearances)

Tron played second fiddle to Affinity for the first month of the season. The most popular version of the deck, leaning almost entirely on colorless lands and Prophetic Prism, never quite went away, but it lagged behind the first- and second-best decks of the season. In no way does this diminish the strength of Tron, as when you add the results of other Tron decks (Mono-Blue, U/R, and Pulse of Murasa builds), the deck clocks in at 11.28% of eighty-four appearances. However, these builds are far more controlling than the Fangren Marauder versions, and as such, they are discrete entities.

Tron is too powerful to go anywhere. It is highly consistent and able to cheat mana development by multiple turns. It is also able to pick and choose the very best spells to cast, provided they do not have a severe colored-mana requirement.

What it gains from Shadows: The obvious answer is Vessel of Nascency, as it can find any permanent Tron wants. While Ancient Stirrings still gets the nod in traditional versions of Tron, I can absolutely see a fringe build trying to work the Vessel in as a way to build a toolbox.

5 — Goblins, 7.27% (54 Appearances)

Stompy is not the only deck capable of playing out 2/2s for 1 mana. Goblins replaces Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood with Lightning Bolt and Goblin Bushwhacker. Goblins excels at going wide and presenting too many threats, all of which can be bolstered by Mogg Raider or Goblin Sledder. Death Spark and Sparksmith are both strong against Delver, and Sylvok Lifestaff out of the sideboard provides some defense against Stompy and other aggressive decks. Also, it can cast Gorilla Shaman, and it is the strength against Affinity that helped the deck find a home near the top of the standings for much of the season.

What it gains from Shadows: While some versions of the deck do run Jackal Familiar as an off-tribe 1-drop, there is no card of that quality in Shadows over Innistrad.

6 — Izzet Blitz, 6.86% (51 Appearances)

The top combo deck in the format, Blitz, suffers from being creature-focused. Stompy has no way of removing creatures in the main while Affinity runs a minimum. The creatures in Blitz match up well against Goblins’s Lightning Bolts but fall easily to Chainer's Edict and its ilk. The confluence of events results in a deck that is explosive when it can defend its draw but is also prone to simply casting spells for no real benefit.

What it gains from Shadows: Some have mentioned Pyre Hound as a way to play for the long game. That is not the worst idea, but it may require the eighteen-land deck to cut spells—something it can ill afford.

7 — Mono-Black Control, 6.46% (48 Appearances)

I’ve made my feelings known on the devotion-heavy version of the deck. Mono-Black is probably the best board-control deck in the format, but it suffers from people coming prepared with Young Wolf and Stormbound Geist. It also is a deck with a huge opportunity to adapt its removal suite to better fight the top performers. Out of all the decks in this list, MBC is the least constrained in what it can include. It should flex those muscles occasionally.

What it gains from Shadows: While adding the gain lands from Khans of Tarkir could give the deck access to just about anything, the card that most intrigues me is Vessel of Malignity. Wrench Mind already sees play, but the Vessel can add to devotion while not fueling opposing Gurmag Anglers.

8 — Kuldotha Jeskai, 4.98% (37 Appearances)

Kuldotha Jeskai is a slow-burn deck. It tries to leverage Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher to draw extra cards. These flyers, in turn, help to soften the life total so that Galvanic Blast and Lightning Bolt can end the game. The popular deck took a dive (down from 7.74% during Battle for Zendikar season) despite the fact that a more powerful deck left the format. It is possible that Jeskai was feasting on decks that tried to alter their game plans to fight Cloud of Faeries, but that seems unlikely. Rather, with the format slowing down, it became easier to contain the deck’s threats while also keeping a life total high. However, the advent of investigate bodes well.

What it gains from Shadows: Thraben Inspector comes to mind immediately. Kuldotha Jeskai started as a straight Boros deck before starting to add Perilous Research and Mulldrifter to draw more cards. The Inspector produces two permanents, helping to keep Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk happy. Costing a single mana, Thraben Inspector is also less likely to set back the deck on board development.

Angelic Purge also could see play. Considering this deck had its start from sacrificing Ichor Wellspring for three tokens, doing the same to exile a troublesome permanent could be an upgrade. While it may not completely replace Oblivion Ring, it definitely has some merit in the deck.

There you have it: the top-performing Pauper decks from Oath of the Gatewatch season. Other decks that cleared the 3% threshold but missed out include Dimir Delver (4.85%), Dimir Teachings (4.31%), Burn (3.63%), and Hexproof (3.5%). Shadows over Innistrad has the chance to shake things up, as it gives only a few of these decks any new cards. I would not be surprised to see this list of eight look slightly different by the time Eternal Masters shows up.

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