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Moving Out of the Shadows


Peregrine Drake
Eternal Masters has arrived and everything in Pauper is changing. A few days into the release and Peregrine Drake decks are all the rage. While a best build has not emerged the early results indicate that combo will be a force in the format.

For those unfamiliar the combo involves resolving a Peregrine Drake and a Mnemonic Wall (or Archaeomancer). Once these two are in play, one can target both with Ghostly Flicker to generate mana and return the Flicker. The cycle can create a huge amount of mana which can then be poured into a Rolling Thunder (or Consume Spirit). The combo is not new, it used to use Cloud of Faeries, but the fact Drake untaps five lands makes generating mana far easier than with Cloud of Faeries. The old kill was a Sage's Row Denizen on the battlefield used to deplete an opponent’s library but that is no longer necessary as Drake can make mana quickly enough to allow for a Rolling Thunder kill. That being said Sage's Row Denizen continues to make appearances so the combo has two potential end games.

Unlike Cloud of Faeries, Peregrine Drake itself is a reasonable threat. The end result is the new Drake combo package resembles Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek or Vampire Hexmage/Dark Depths. It does not require a ton of space and can fit into any deck with the ability to support it mana wise. Pauper hasn’t had access to a similar package, and its presence has massive implications. Any Blue deck that is not trying to play a tempo game can now run the Drake kill.

Failure to prepare for this is preparing to fail.

The old order has been usurped but that does not mean data from last season is completely useless. A new kid is in class does not undo all the work done previously. Instead we can use information from Shadows over Innistrad season to help us understand Drake combo’s role in the upcoming metagame and ways to combat the potential menace.

As with any combo the key is going to be attacking the most important elements. Here, the components are Peregrine Drake, Mnemonic Wall (or kin) and Ghostly Flicker. Unlike Cloud of Faeries, Drake costs five and as such makes going off before turn four a challenge. Consequently the chance of an opposing deck drawing a removal spell goes up. That is not to say removal is the best way to fight the combo, but it does help. Another thing to keep in mind as we examine results is that Drake combo is slower than its predecessor, which means aggressive decks have an additional turn (or maybe two) to reduce a life total.

1. Delver - 20.04%

Delver had a fantastic season. Early on it appeared as if it could end up comprising over a quarter of the undefeated metagame. For six of the nine weeks, it tallied the most wins and it was only due to a late season surge by our number two deck that it did not lap the field.

Delver is a typical Blue aggro-control deck that wants to establish a threat and then protect it. Back when Esper Combo was at its height, Delver maintained its position as top dog thanks in part to its own ability to run Cloud of Faeries. While it now misses out on a free 2-drop it has barely missed a beat due to Faerie Miscreant to help the card flow.

Not much has changed, and Delver is well positioned to do battle in the new metagame. The ability to present a Delver of Secrets turn one and then follow it up with disruption remains a powerful line of play. The deck also gains access to effective counters such as Dispel and Spell Pierce while retaining its ability to cast, y’know, Counterspell.

Delver also is a deck situated to take advantage of Faerie Trickery, Syncopate, and Deny Existence. Faerie Trickery has been legal for years but since it could not stop a Cloud of Faeries it fell by the wayside. Trickery can stop a Drake for good and deserves a second look. All these cards can be expensive; but, then again, an Insectile Aberration is a clock in its own right. So taking the late game off to leave up countermagic is not the worst case scenario.

2. Stompy - 15.59%

Stompy was the most popular deck in weeks 6, 7, and 8, a testament to the strategy’s consistency and strength. Stompy has evolved into the premier beatdown deck in Pauper. Cheap threats coupled with Rancor and Groundswell can grind down any life total. The Green deck is also equally adept at going wide as it is going tall, presenting multiple threats or one large beater. Despite the abundance of creature removal present in Pauper, Stompy thrived this season thanks in part to the absence of a strong combo deck.

So what does Peregrine Drake mean for the Green machine? The future is uncertain. The templating on Vines of Vastwood makes it so you can target an opposing Mnemonic Wall to prevent it from being targeted by Ghostly Flicker. Outside of this trick, Stompy has access to Leaf Arrow and Aerial Volley to snipe a Drake. Perhaps the best thing Stompy has going for it is speed. In the days of Cloud of Faeries combo, Stompy would find itself a turn short of dealing lethal damage. The increased cost on Peregrine Drake means Stompy could have the time needed to deal those final points of damage.

To this end, I can see the Green deck eschewing some of its “cuter” elements, such including a single Epic Confrontation in the main. Vault Skirge also seems better suited for the sideboard, seeing as high power creatures like Swordwise Centaur, Garruk's Companion, and Slaughterhorn do a better job of piling on the damage. If decks move toward Swordwise Centaur then it might be time to examine Aspect of Hydra as a supplemental pump spell that could well outperform Groundswell on the cost/damage axis.

3. Mono-Black Control - 8.1%

Mono-Black Control keeps chugging along with respectable results. Between its ability to handle most threats and the ability to close out games with Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Gurmag Angler, MBC is going to be around for quite a while. Whether it remains Mono-Black or not is the question.

Eternal Masters provided Pauper with Night's Whisper. Now Black based control no longer needs to rely on Sign in Blood to keep the cards flowing on turn two. In addition to this Cuombajj Witches has lost some luster. Before the Cloud of Faeries ban, Witches was a common sight on turn two as it could derail the combo for some time. Now the ping ability on Witches is less relevant as a main deck inclusion. These two elements contribute to the fact that the best Gray Merchant deck may now be able to splash.

For Black based control, this is huge. The strength of cards like Chainer's Edict is reduced As the need for pinpoint removal increases. That is not to say Chainer's Edict is a bad card, far from it. But relying on it, Geth's Verdict, and Diabolic Edict is now a riskier proposition. Instead cards like Last Gasp and Doom Blade get better for their ability to take out a particular creature. Vendetta and Snuff Out also have their appeal due to cost, but additional lifegain may be needed to offset the cost of doing business. Finally, a card like Complete Disregard goes up in value since it exiles. Black is also the best at exiling graveyards. While Bojuka Bog is a staple, Faerie Macabre and Beckon Apparition both can remove the offending Ghostly Flicker and stall the combo.

Looking at potential splashes Lightning Bolt can handle a Drake. Red also grants access to Terminate and Carbonize. White on the other hand can provide access to Last Breath and makes casting Unmake easy as well. White also gives the deck the ability to use Castigate which also exiles.

4. Affinity - 6.88%

Affinity is just going to keep being Affinity. Deploying undercosted threats will never go out of style, and while Affinity does not have any new toys from Eternal Masters it also does not have any recently added hate. Affinity is going to keep casting Carapace Forgers and Myr Enforcers and continue to Fling Atog. Galvanic Blast is not going to suddenly become a bad card.

Affinity is unique amongst these decks in that it can manipulate its mana base to cast any key spell. While Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, and Tree of Tales are standard, the addition of Ancient Den means access to Last Breath while Vault of Whisper leans on other removal. Affinity is also not vulnerable to graveyard hate, so it can run its own copies of Relic of Progenitus with impunity.

Affinity occupies an interesting spot in the Pauper metagame. It and Izzet Blitz take turns as the “clock”. These two decks both represent aggro-combo options that pressure life totals but require completely different hate. During Shadows over Innistrad, the hate for Izzet Blitz was much stronger than the hate for Affinity. Blitz tends to fall to cards like Chainer's Edict; but, as mentioned before those spells may lose some utility going forward. As such it would not surprise me for Affinity and Izzet Blitz to continue their dance, trading time in the undefeated circle.

5. Tron - 5.47%

Tron had a few weeks where it appeared to be a force in Pauper, but it eventually returned to the pack. The most popular version of the deck ran a minimal number of colored mana sources and instead relied on Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, and Prophetic Prism to generate discrete mana. These versions were wholly focused on assembling Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower. If we factor in decks that use Tron as part of a control plan, the metagame percentage rises to 7.9% of the undefeated metagame.

Like Affinity, Tron can manipulate its mana base to accommodate the answers needed for the metagame. Unlike its artifact driven counterpart, Tron is uniquely positioned amongst the top decks to incorporate Peregrine Drake combo. The more controlling versions of the deck already run Mnemonic Wall and some include Ghostly Flicker for value. Finding space for a few copies of the third element should not be a struggle at all. Murasa Tron innovator Jason Sirichoke has already found success with this version of the deck:

Peregrine Drake changes everything. Giving Pauper access to a true combo deck informs deck construction as new answers need to be applied to the threat. Unlike Cloud of Faeries, there is a true temporal cost to the new combo. So, hopefully aggressive strategies will be able to better keep the Drake in check. Time will tell of course. Perhaps the ease of bringing the combo into any Blue deck will spell doom once more, but in the interim do yourself a favor. Run instant speed removal.

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