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Drake Fall and a Mailbag

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Peregrine Drake
I was going to do a mailbag column this week. I let the Pauper community know and got on a plane. One day later quite a few of those questions were answered by the folks at Wizards of the Coast. After the Magic Online downtime on November 16, Peregrine Drake will no longer be legal in the format.

To say I am happy with this ban would be a serious understatement. Peregrine Drake decks were an oppressive force in the format and had started to severely limit deck diversity. There was no way for Pauper decks to reasonably interact with the combo once it got going. The format devolved into either Drake decks or decks that could race Drake. The past four weeks have seen Drake decks steadily climb in number even as more and more people adopted faster aggressive strategies.

Presenting this as a unilaterally loved move would not be correct. There are players who actively enjoyed the broken interactions and assembling the combo. I think combo decks should have a place in the format but they have to have natural checks. The issue is that many of the decks that have been banned force interaction earlier and earlier into the game (like Grapeshot Storm and Infect) or obsolete the opponent entirely (Drake). In formats packed with cards like Thoughtseize, Force of Will, and Wasteland this is more acceptable. Such breaking in Pauper is more problematic. Affinity is only acceptable in part because of the abundance of cheap artifact hate but Peregrine Drake had no natural foil. It was too good for Pauper and for the sake of format health it had to go.

So what happens now?

Accomplished Automaton
Regarding Pauper as a format, things should go back to the way they were before Eternal Masters. Delver was a top deck with Stompy not far behind. Two sets — Eldritch Moon and Kaladesh — were released during the reign of Drake and never really had time to find their footing. While individual cards like Thermo-Alchemist made a splash there are a number of other options that have been kept out of Pauper. Aviary Mechanic, Ulvenwald Captive, and Accomplished Automaton could find homes in previously established decks or new builds. Take Down is a potent sideboard option that could help to contain Delver.

Frankly I foresee a return to the old order. Removal heavy decks like Mono-Black Control and Jeskai Midrange should see an uptick in popularity. These decks leaned heavily on strong sorcery speed removal — Journey to Nowhere, Flame Slash, Chainer's Edict — that were hard to justify in a world with Peregrine Drake decks. Affinity will take a hit as it can be more reasonably targeted by sideboards now with more copies of Gorilla Shaman, Ancient Grudge, and Fragmentize seeing play.

Innovation should also come quickly. While the top tier was largely established there was room for slower midrange decks to evolve. Kaladesh is full of cards that can facilitate these builds and I am interested to see if Metalworker's Puzzleknot can find a home with cards like Remember the Fallen and Fortuitous Find. Eldritch Moon provides interesting top end options in Wretched Gryff and It of the Horrid Swarm which may finally see play. That’s to say nothing about other powerful cards that were printed in Eternal Masters that ended up completely overshadowed by Drake. Cards like Avarax and Desperate Ravings are strong enough for consideration but could not contend with the combo. The door is open and I’m excited to see what walks through.

Before diving in the mailbag, I want to talk about this ban in the greater context of Magic. The banning of Peregrine Drake is only the second time I can recall that a card was banned outside the normal cycle of things. Memory Jar created a completely broken deck in a format that was just putting itself back together.

Peregrine Drake is no Memory Jar but Pauper is no Standard.

Pauper is separate from other formats in that its rules are defined by rarity. The Modern metagame was not at all altered by the printing of Modern Masters but when a card is rarity shifted in these sets it can have massive implications for Pauper. Because of this the old cycle no longer works for the format of commons. Instead Wizards took a bold step with this largely online format and decided to step in.

An aside: I want to let everyone know that while Pauper is largely played on Magic Online there is a growing vibrant Paper Pauper community. Pauper is popular in Italy, Brazil, and the United States and there was a Pauper Side Event at Grand Prix London. This is exciting news for people who love Pauper. As a secondary aside - please feel free to send me the results of any large paper Pauper tournaments you see.

The decision, on some level, appears to be less on the digital/analog divide and more on cost. To be perfectly blunt, Pauper is cheap and the cost to players of a card getting banned is minimal. Compare this to a format like Modern or Legacy were key components can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. The cost is not invisible but losing a card, or even a deck, in Pauper is less of a hit to a player’s bottom line. Experimenting with a less static schedule of bans makes sense for Pauper and bodes well for the format in the future if only as a testing ground for changes to more widely played formats.

I’ll be looking into what exactly the Peregrine Drake ban means for the format next week but for now, let’s get to some questions!

While things are sure to change soon, I would currently say the set with the greatest impact is Shadows over Innistrad. My reasoning is based almost entirely on Thraben Inspector, which pushed White decks back to relevance when paired with Kor Skyfisher. Inspector is not a fancy card but it fits perfectly into Pauper. A relevant 1-drop that can trade with 1 toughness creatures it also replaces itself thanks to the Clue. The Clue also helps to turn on Metalcraft and Affinity and we’ve only scratched the surface of interactions involving Kaladesh. Foundry Screecher and Dhund Operative have the potential to come down after the Inspector and connect for quite a bit of damage.

In the world after Peregrine Drake I would say Kaladesh has the most potential. Gearseeker Serpent is already seeing play and cards like Metalspinner's Puzzleknot and Fortuitous Find fit into existing shells. Renegade Freighter and Sky Skiff are both fantastic ways to aggressive decks to keep the pressure on and Aviary Mechanic is sure to find its way into a sixty card home.

I'd be interested in hearing a comprehensive take on the MTGO-Paper divide in the format. I'm sure you've mentioned your opinion at some point in some thread, but I don't recall this discussion ever making its way into a column.

razer_pauper145, via Reddit

This question came up in one form or another multiple times and I wanted to answer these in the same section.

First off, I would love to see Forked Bolt (printed at common in Duel Decks: Zendikar vs. Eldrazi) and the specifically called out Custodi Squire ported to the digital world as common. I’m also hopeful that Ash Barrens from Commander 2016 and Sinuous Vermin from Conspiracy: Take the Crown will make their way into Treasure Chests soon.

And this is the problem with the divide between Paper and Digital Pauper. These cards would almost certainly see play if they were available online. Conversely, staples like Chainer's Edict and Battle Screech were never printed at common in Paper which means some stores have them as “off limits”. In my ideal world, Pauper would adhere to the digital ruleset and cardlist (yes to Chainer's Edict! No to Goblin Grenade) but Wizards would also make the effort to get potentially useful commons “printed” online (provided they came after the start of the Modern legal divide). The truth is that despite having a large paper following, Pauper’s metagame is driven by Magic Online and that ruleset that has undergone additional rigor. Trying to figure out if High Tide is healthy (HAH!) is not a good use of time. Additionally as we just saw the ability to monitor the online metagame closely should result in a healthier format overall.

Standard Pauper lost the support of a filter on Magic Online. The reasoning at the time is that even with the filter option very few people used it to play the format. While Standard Pauper has staunch supporters it never managed to have the same popularity as its Eternal counterpart. While I have not played Standard Pauper in a long time I have my own opinions as to why. Simply put the smaller cardpool made it harder for anything but midrange decks to emerge as a dominant strategy. The push toward more expensive removal and fewer build around commons forced the cardpool toward the middle of the game.

That being said, the recent changes in design philosophy (the two-block paradigm, two year Standard) could make it so that Standard Pauper remains unsolved for longer periods of time. The interblock synergy could also give rise to more cohesive decks that operate outside a Jund paradigm.

Do you think a Pauper version of the Vintage Super League would be viable? If so, who gets invited, and what deck do you bring?

jabradley, via Reddit

Absolutely! I think Pauper is a fun format and now that Drake is banned it could make for excellent viewing. But I’m a die hard, so I think it’s more important to hear what the general Magic playing population think. Would you watch a Pauper series in the vein of the Vintage Super League?

How much do you think has the incidental lifegain from taplands affected the format. Prima facie, one would think that it hurts aggro while giving midrange/control decks more room to breathe, but still stompy, burn affinity and MU Delver reign supreme. Is 1-2 lifes per game just too little to matter or do you think they are actually helping put linear aggro decks on check (ie. aggro would be take a much bigger share without them)?

BrocoLee, via Reddit

Initially the gainlands kept decks like Burn, which were great at dealing 20-23 points of damage, from making any major gains in the metagame. Thermo-Alchemist changed everything as the Eldritch Moon common made it possible for Burn to deal upwards of 28 damage with ease. In turn more decks turned to Radiant Fountain which helped to knock Burn down a peg. The fall of Drake means a rise in removal and Chainer's Edict which could mean bad times are ahead for Thermo-Alchemist.

Feel free to use this post.

People may think that we are analyzing the pauper metagame with insufficient data, because we only get the lists of 5-0 decks in Leagues and not even all of them. I have two questions about this topic:

  1. Do you think that we don't get enough data to analyze the format properly?
  2. Do you think that it would be positive to the format to create a place (Reddit post, facebook page, etc.) where people could upload their 4-1 decks?

TheGatoring, via Reddit

Pauper is not getting the whole picture. Unlike other formats which have large regular paper tournaments to help shape a metagame, Pauper largely relies on the distributed 5-0 decks to make inferences. What this means is that it is very hard to see week-to-week fluctuations in the metagame. However the 5-0 data is wonderful for helping us to understand broader trends. It gives us the opportunity to understand the texture of the metagame without knowing every nook and cranny.

That being said I would love to see more data made available for Pauper and I am hoping that getting Paper tournament results will do just that.

Last question!

What do you think we should do, as a community, to help pauper getting the relevance it deserves?

I think that creating more pauper content and help people who creates good pauper content to get to more viewers/readers is a good way to start. But I want to know what do you think about it and see if you come up with some more ideas that the average pauper player could achieve.

Edit: You can use this post.

TheGatoring, via Reddit

First I want to talk about the phrase “relevance it deserves”. Pauper gets a ton of recognition and support. Take a step back and think about it - we have online support and Masters sets are designed with Pauper in mind. The format just prompted the second ever out of cycle ban. I love Pauper and want to see it get more attention but make no mistake - the format is getting a ton of love and it shows.

So what can the community do? I think more content is good. We’ve seen a proliferation of Pauper content in the past year and I hope to see these content providers flourish. Now that Peregrine Drake has been banned it would be interesting to see if other content creators drift back towards the format during downtimes in Standard.

Speaking of, I would absolutely love to see the Magic Online team provide some incentive for Pauper events during the weeks between the full spoiling of a set and its release into the digital environment. Doing this would help to highlight the format without detracting from other formats that should top billing.

I want to thank everyone who asked me questions on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to everyone but I hope do another one of these columns in the future.

I can’t wait to come back next week to talk about what we can expect now that Drake is gone!


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