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The Eternal Drake


The release of Eternal Masters has seen me jump into the Pauper League with a variety of decks to some mixed results (which is a nice way of saying the win column isn’t as populated as the loss column). Now part of this, faithful reader, is for you, as I have been experimenting with some different decks to try and get a feel for the new format. Another part is I did not have all the information I needed in order to come out of the deck-builder with something ready to take on the new world.

Pauper is experiencing a metagame shift at the moment. While much of this can be attributed to Peregrine Drake combo entering the format, there is a rather massive ripple effect occurring from this singular boulder. At the time of writing, there have been eight days of results with 87 total decklists having been released. Currently the most popular strategy in the format is Murasa Tron, with and without a Peregrine Drake kill.

Unlike last season, the first place deck is not running circles around every other competitor. There are three decks, currently one undefeated, chugging along behind the front runner. Delver should come as no surprise, but the other two are decks with no recent success.

The first is Izzet Control. Packing card draw and removal, the deck has been around for quite some time. The one thing keeping the deck down was its lack of a strong win condition. The introduction of Peregrine Drake gives the strategy access to a powerful end game. Not every 5-0 version of the deck has included the engine, but it has appeared in a majority of the posted lists.

The other surprise contender is Hexproof. This is not to say that Hexproof is a bad deck, Shadows over Innistrad saw a four color version perform above 5% of the undefeated metagame, but it has been the second best Rancor deck for quite a while. Hexproof is at its best when Black removal is not seeing play, and that seems to be the case right now. The ability to make a giant Slippery Bogle combined with the increase in the supply of Ancestral Mask makes Hexproof an interesting option for trying to race against the clock that is Peregrine Drake combo.

Compared to last season’s top three of Delver, Stompy, and Mono-Black Control, the early results from Eternal Masters season has demonstrated that the old order is a thing of the past. Peregrine Drake decks, both dedicated combo and decks using it as a win condition, appear to be dominating the format. After these 10 events, Drake decks comprise over 26% of all undefeated lists. However the split from the first five events to the second five show that Drake may be trending down. Given this is an incredibly small sample size, the first five Pauper league results were 31% Drake decks while the second five were only 22% Drake decks. The popularity of the combo is still high but is trending downward. Initially, it seems this is due to an increase in the number of decks trying to represent an actual clock on a damage axis. Hexproof is first in this group, but there are multiple other decks trying to deal 20.

It is worthwhile to note a particular deck’s absence in this field, Stompy. Last season’s number two, the Green machine, has only posted three undefeated runs so far. Part of this is due to various Drake decks including Radiant Fountain to gain life as part of their loop but it is also reflective of a change in the pace of the format. Before Peregrine Drake, Stompy could overrun opponents with its cheap creatures and pump. A key spell here was Young Wolf as it could eat both sides of a Chainer's Edict and leave other beaters unscathed. The increased emphasis on removal that exiles has put a constraint on the efficacy of Young Wolf and ,coupled with a greater need for Lightning Bolt, the early drops in Stompy are more vulnerable. Additionally, many decks are running Sea Gate Oracle as an early blocker. Consequently, Stompy is having a harder time forcing through damage in its current configuration which is why it is playing second fiddle in the Rancor band to Hexproof.

But why is Lightning Bolt so good right now? Well, uncontested it can break up the combo loop at an absurdly low rate. The ability to reach out and touch something (by setting it on fire) is more important now than it was last season, so pinpoint removal is at a premium. Black removal is at its best when the threats are all largely interchangeable and a Chainer's Edict can mop up anything Disfigure cannot handle. Drake has changed which removal spells work and Black decks have yet to catch up. Instead, Red is becoming a more common inclusion which leads to more aggressive decks pining for Mountains. Results have reflected this with Affinity, Goblins, and Izzet Blitz all sitting tied for third place in popularity behind Delver, Hexproof, and Izzet Control. These decks all have access to burn as a way to deal with those final few life points, putting their control measures to good use when they are on the beatdown plan.

This is the metagame in broad strokes, an uptick in Red and a down turn for Black, more Hexproof less Stompy. None of this will necessarily change the decks being run in the league. These results are always reflective of decks with strong ideal draws and we now see different decks being run with the hope of drawing well. We will forever lack the information on 3-2 and 4-1 decks to show off an improved texture to the metagame. It is only from experience we can see the small bends that comprise the wide curves.

My own experience, as mentioned, has been less than fruitful. While I do not like coming out of a league with more losses than wins, I try to use each one as a learning opportunity. This is often easier said than done, and I still have my own anecdotes to inform what I try next. Considering I spent a good amount of time talking about why Lightning Bolt is great right now, it should come as no shock that I want to be running Jungle Hollow.

Night's Whisper has opened up the possibilities for non-Mono-Black midrange decks. The ability to pair Pulse of Murasa with value creatures is enticing as the combination represent close to three cards. The biggest change here is the inclusion of Putrid Leech and Snuff Out.

Putrid Leech is a fine card left on the sidelines because of its hard to justify the casting cost. Older versions of this deck ignored Forests entirely since it relied on Sign in Blood to keep the cards flowing. Now, with Night's Whisper, the deck can run a single Forest to help run the two way threat. Leech provides the deck with some much needed action that blanks opposing Lightning Bolts. Pulse of Murasa is pulling its weight here by keeping the life total high enough for all these shenanigans.

Snuff Out is a concession to Peregrine Drake. Black has excellent pinpoint removal in the form of Doom Blade and Victim of Night, but the ability to cast Snuff Out while completely tapped out is exceedingly attractive. While it does not handle Gurmag Angler or Gray Merchant of Asphodel it does take out just about every other threat in Pauper. In order to make it work, the remaining removal suite had to adjust. Gone is Dead Weight, Unmake, and Grasp of Darkness. Instead Tragic Slip straddles the line of the aura and Grasp, relying on other things dying (say via Chainer's Edict) to do the most damage. Complete Disregard is a concession to the need for exile while also working with the new mana base of the deck.

Wakedancer has been a pleasant surprise. I initially had three and I was often casting the first one as a Gray Ogre. With Putrid Leech it is far more common to end turn three with 8 power on the board, allowing this rock style deck to go wide when called upon.

The early results are just starting to come in, and while Eternal Masters is certainly making its presence felt, there is a lot more Magic to be played. Cards like Kird Ape have yet to make a dent while others like Desperate Ravings and Rally the Peasants are making smaller waves. I’m still excited for what tomorrow brings.

Do I think Peregrine Drake is currently defining the format? Yes. Do I think it needs to be watched closely? Absolutely. But, unlike its predecessor, the Drake is a slow win condition in multiple decks. The engines built around it allow other strategies to try and race. Cloud of Faeries was incredibly fast and made interaction difficult. I am not saying Drake is safe forever, but for now I think it’s helping more than hurting Pauper.

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