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Drakes and Deadlines

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As I write this we are still a few days away from the Banned and Restricted List update that comes with Kaladesh. That puts me in an awkward position. Clearly on the day this is published we will all know the outcome so I can either write about a potentially outdated format and talk about why the list update was the right/wrong move.

Or I could do both.

Let’s choose our own adventure this week as we enter the weird world of the Pauper Banned List!

Option 1: Pauper has a card Restricted

Cloud of Faeries
Just kidding! This isn’t actually an option. Whenever these updates come there is always a contingent of folks who want some cards restricted. Before it was Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake has inherited that mantle. Other cards that have been mentioned include Ghostly Flicker and, well, basically every good card that helps to power a deck.

There will never be a Restricted List in Pauper. That list exists for Vintage, where certain cards are so absurdly powerful that they would wreak havoc if allowed in multiples. These cards would probably be banned if not for the fact that Vintage is designed to have every card (save ante and dexterity) available to players.

Restricting a card in Pauper doesn’t actually change anything. Instead it makes losing to the restricted card that much worse. If, say, both Cloud of Faeries and Peregrine Drake were limited to a single copy, they would still have a negative impact on the format. Players would need to prepare for the eventuality of losing to the combo or experience the feel bad of losing to the singleton card. In a format with Impulse, Ponder, Forbidden Alchemy, and access to Transmute cards, all this would do is make decklists longer.

Limiting cards to a one-of would also make the format less accessible. All things considered the banned list for Pauper is fairly short. Adding a second list of cards that have separate rules could cause confusion for players trying to start Pauper communities at their local game store. The problem already exists thanks to the difference between paper and digital legality — compounding it won’t help the situation.

Option 2: Nothing Changes

Peregrine Drake
I consider this the second most likely scenario. Even with weeks of data and a displayed dominance there remains a chance that Peregrine Drake is not banned. Why? Let’s explore the reasons.

Since Eternal Masters commons were added to the format on June 15 Peregrine Drake decks have comprised over 25% of the undefeated metagame. However the overall volume of Drake has declined over 3% July 28. A slow downward trend, but it is still on the decline. In the same span Affinity, Delver, and Stompy have all made gains between 1% and 3% on the entire metagame (residing at approximately 11%, 10.6%, and 8.7% respectively).

Peregrine Drake decks are not a singular entity. The most popular, Izzet Drake, is a midrange deck with a combo finish. Some versions run a spout of Rolling Thunder while others try to win with recurred Lightning Bolts and others just try to attack with Mulldrifters and Peregrine Drakes. The second most popular version is a U/G Urza Tron build that uses Tangle and Moment's Peace to buy time until it can achieve victory either through flying beats or a Capsize lock. There are other builds as well, but variety exists.

The final reason to keep Peregrine Drake around is that it simply represents a shift in the status quo. Previously Delver had been the top deck with Stompy, Affinity, Mono-Black Control and others vying for spot on the podium. Now Drake is clearly the top deck with the other decks vying for second. The ascendency of Peregrine Drake has pushed the format left on the speed curve, making earlier interaction matter more. Pauper’s average power level has gone up as more explosive strategies are needed to try and fight an unbound mana combo.

Now, none of these are necessarily great arguments but they are reasons that can be used to justify keeping Peregrine Drake legal.

Option 3: Something besides Peregrine Drake gets banned

Ponder
I won’t lie to you — there are a ton of powerful cards in Pauper. Ponder and Preordain are both banned in Modern and the former is restricted in Vintage. While these two are hardly the most offensive cards in the format they do a ton of work in helping to keep Blue decks consistent. Delver of Secrets and its eponymous deck both make great use of these filtering spells to keep the gas flowing. The ability to filter poor draws at minimal cost is a uniquely Blue effect at common and as such helps to push people toward that color in Pauper. Much as Modern has had to make do with Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, I think Pauper could as well. That being said I personally do not want these cards banned as they are, in my opinion, not the problem. Are they contributors to the issue? Absolutely, but I’d rather see the actual problem addressed before going after other offenders.

The Artifact Lands are in a similar vein. Five of these are banned in Modern and while Affinity exists in that format it is a vastly different deck than its Pauper counterpart. I also do not believe these should be removed from the format at this time due to the abundance of great hate available. As long as people can cast Gorilla Shaman on turn two and start casting 1 mana Stone Rains, Affinity can be kept in check.

The most common targets of this argument are cards in successful decks. The problem with banning something other than Peregrine Drake is that it weakens other decks in the metagame without directly addressing the problem card.

Option 4: Something comes off the banned list

Grapeshot
One way to keep Peregrine Drake in check, people opine, is to release some cards previously held captive. Surely giving players access to Storm combo would do wonders for keeping the turn five Drake decks on the fringes of the metagame. I mean, Storm is a turn three or 4 deck and can easily win before Drake does its thing.

But then we’re advocating for adding Storm back to the format. Grapeshot, like Drake, is nigh-impossible to handle given the tools of the format. Empty the Warrens, at least, has reasonable answers in multiple colors. The problem with these cards are that they help to contribute to non-interactive game states and can place heavier emphasis on drawing sideboard cards.

Invigorate is another card that gets floated by some corners of the community. Invigorate has the same problems as Storm cards as it forces there to be an answer. Unlike Storm, it means that answer needs to be cheap and come in the top eight cards of a library. Infect can win on turn two with Invigorate and that is not something Pauper needs.

There are other cards on the ban list but releasing them into the wild would not do much to keep Peregrine Drake down. If you had to ask me, this is the second least likely outcome.

Option 5: Peregrine Drake gets banned

Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Could this article end any other way? While I was initially hopeful that Peregrine Drake would introduce a combo that the format could handle, I was quickly proved wrong. The ability to untap five lands, even at two and a half times the cost of Cloud of Faeries, was too good to pass up. Drake, simply put, is the best thing you can do on turn five and as such has forced various other decks out of the format.

Mono-Black Control, once a staple, is now a fringe deck at best. While losing to top-decked copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel is far from great the ability to run that card in the first place was good for the format. Now it is almost impossible to find our friend Gary. Similar Jeskai Midrange, a deck that manipulated two-mana artifacts with Kor Skyfisher and leaned heavily on Galvanic Blast, has all but vanished. This deck was incredibly popular and to see it drop to 0.7% of the metagame indicates that something may be wrong.

Peregrine Drake decks are over 25% of the metagame. If you add up any two of the next three (Affinity, Delver, Stompy), those decks still do not have the win share of Peregrine Drake. Only two other decks in Eldritch Moon season — Hexproof and Dimir Delver — have over 5% of the metagame. Simply put Peregrine Drake is crowding other decks out of the format.

Much like Survival of the Fittest before its ban in Legacy, you can play whatever you want, as long as you play Peregrine Drake.

Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from Wizards of the Coast. Shortly after Eternal Masters was spoiled Adam Prosak, the lead developer of the set, said that if they had known Cloud of Faeries was going to be banned in Pauper they would have reconsidered printing Peregrine Drake at common. On the Daily Magic Update Blake Rasmussen likened the deck to Splinter Twin and we all know how that deck fared.

So if I had to put money on yesterday’s actions, I would say this is the result.

At the time of reading this you will know what happened. Either Pauper will remain under the thrall of Drake or we will spend the next months trying to figure out how to beat the beast while also staying competitive against the rest of the metagame. I hope that Wizards went with option five. But there’s something else that’s true: if they picked anything else on this list I am still going to try and figure out how to attack the format.


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