Ixalan was kind of boring. For a set filled to the brim with awesome individual cards the set provided relatively little on the Pauper front. Only two cards — Prosperous Pirates and Dive Down — made any impact of note and even those existed on the margins of the format. The creature has some adherents but its core archetype has yet to break through. Dive Down found a home in Tireless Tribe combo decks but is hardly a linchpin. Instead of looking back at a metagame filled with new cards, the community is eagerly awaiting results from Iconic Masters infused events. There’s more, of course. A number of new cards were added to Pauper via Treasure Chest boosters. These cards include another Monarch card — Entourage of Trest — and the world’s best Gravedigger in Custodi Squire. As history has shown, reprint sets and prize cards have shaped the format in ways few Standard legal releases can claim.
As of the writing of this article we are still a few days away from the first Challenge with these cards being legal. Seeing as how Ixalan season has just ended, now would be a good time to take stock of the Pauper metagame. Due to timing of the Iconic Masters release, Ixalan had a relatively short seven week season — Hour of Devastation was an 11 week season — which showcased an interesting shift in the metagame. Again, I will be evaluating the 25 best performing decks from the past seven Challenges. For reference, this is how I track decks (taken from my last Challenge recap).
“The K-Score takes a deck’s wins and subtracts its losses to arrive at a numerical value. I’ve split K-Score into two different numbers — one inclusive of Top 8 statistics and one that completely ignores the elimination rounds. The goal here is to try and understand how well a deck does in a Swiss environment since that’s what gets you to the proverbial Sunday Stage.
The second metric is Win+. The Challenges are 6 or 7 rounds and this stat measures the Top 32 against the 32nd place deck. Normally this means an X-3, and for each win above three losses, the deck earns a point. The more points, the higher the finish in the standings and usually a Win+ score corresponds to a Top 16 finish.”
In these charts a * denotes a Top 8 finish while a ^ indicates a challenge win. With that out of the way, on with the show!
25-19: Flip a coin for a winning record
Last time around, I pegged Mono-Black Control as deck to watch from this strata. It did well enough to move up to the next rank (despite never making a Top 8). The deck I want to discuss from this strata did make it to the elimination rounds one time. Stonehorn Tron takes its eponymous mana engines and crafts a Blue control deck around it. Using cards like Condescend, Repeal, and Prohibit to defend itself, it can lock out combat phases using Ghostly Flicker with Mnemonic Wall and its other eponymous card — Stonehorn Dignitary. Eventually Rolling Thunder or Ulamog's Crusher shows up to finish the job.
Stonehorn Tron shows us that Pauper has become a format the cares about combat. Whether it’s Stompy, Izzet Blitz, or Boros Monarch, combat steps matter. This deck is capable of taking them away. It suffers, like other control decks with the UrzaTron, of falling victim to early aggression is it takes the time to set up a defense. With Seeker of the Way now legal, it may be possible for decks like this (albeit with a different mana base) to survive long enough to do their thing.
Stonehorn Tron ? Pauper | TomatoCheese, Top 8 November 5 Pauper Challenge
- Creatures (11)
- 1 Ulamog's Crusher
- 2 Mnemonic Wall
- 2 Sea Gate Oracle
- 2 Stonehorn Dignitary
- 4 Mulldrifter
- Lands (23)
- 2 Island
- 1 Shimmering Grotto
- 1 Tranquil Cove
- 1 Unknown Shores
- 2 Swiftwater Cliffs
- 4 Thornwood Falls
- 4 Urza's Mine
- 4 Urza's Power Plant
- 4 Urza's Tower
18-10: Solidly Top 16
Izzet Blitz is a deck that has been around far longer than it has been competitive. Before Nivix Cyclops existed, there was Wee Dragonauts, and before Temur Battle Rage, there was Assault Strobe. It was Battle Rage that made the deck truly competitive, and the addition of Augur of Bolas helped to increase its consistency. Izzet Blitz plays similar to Storm combo in that it wants to chain together spells before winning the game. Unlike Storm, it needs a win condition on the table before it can start its victory formation. With access to Ponder, Preordain, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush having enough spells to win is easy — it’s possible to win without Temur Battle Rage for sure — but the crux remains attacking.
Izzet Blitz has thrived, much like Tribe combo, due to the lack of Chainer's Edict style effects. While not a guaranteed victory, Edicts force Pauper’s combo decks to bide their time until suitable protection is procured. These decks also suffer from the recent focus on the combat step. Flaring Pain is a vital sideboard option in the current meta as it can negate both Moment's Peace and Prismatic Strands. These decks will never go away but their success is directly related to how much relevant hate exists in first 60 cards of the challenge decks.
Izzet Blitz ? Pauper | Toastmachine, Winner November 12 Pauper Challenge
- Instants (18)
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 3 Apostle's Blessing
- 3 Gush
- 3 Mutagenic Growth
- 3 Temur Battle Rage
- 4 Lightning Bolt
9-5: The Good
Burn in every format, right? Burn wants to completely avoid the combat phase by attacking life totals with spells rather than attacking. Yet, Burn has leaned hard on creatures as of late. Thermo-Alchemist gave the deck a shot in the arm but Firebrand Archer gave the strategy more fuel for its fire. Burn used to be adept at dealing between 25 and 27 damage but the advent of these creatures makes it so that mere lifegain alone is not enough to contain the direct damage.
Burn saw success early this season until people adjusted their sideboard plans. Normally taking out your removal against the mono-Red-deck was correct as they had so few targets. Replacing these cards with life gain and damage prevention effects made sense as it bought enough time against their ability to deal lethal damage. Firebrand Archer is a must kill and having leaving in some creature kill is now correct. Yet whenever the format starts to care entirely too much about attacking, you can expect Burn to show up and spike some results.
Burn ? Pauper | ACtuallyMeAmKing, Top 8 November 12 Pauper Challenge
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
4-1: The Great
I have talked at length about Boros Monarch before. The preeminent midrange deck overtook Stompy for the top spot during Ixalan. Also of note — Dimir Alchemy cracked the Top 4 and usurped Affinity. But this is Boros Monarch’s show. The ability to pick off threats with cheap removal and then dictate combat phases with Alchemist's Vial, all while drawing additional cards thanks to Palace Sentinels makes Boros Monarch a force.
Again, we see a deck that care intensely about combat damage. The Monarch demands that you protect the crown to keep the cards flowing. While removal and Alchemist's Vial do a good job, we have seen decks start to adapt. Guardian of the Guildpact is seeing more play and a few creatures with Shadow have started to see play once again. Yet, Boros Monarch continues to reign. While I do not see this deck going anywhere, I think that other decks will rise up in the wake of Iconic Masters.
Boros Monarch ? Pauper | Xwhale, Winner October 15 Pauper Challenge
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Journey to Nowhere
- Lands (22)
- 1 Plains
- 1 Forgotten Cave
- 2 Secluded Steppe
- 3 Boros Garrison
- 3 Radiant Fountain
- 4 Wind-Scarred Crag
- 4 Ancient Den
- 4 Great Furnace
Moving forward it would be easy to say be prepared for Boros Monarch and Stompy. That wouldn’t be the entire story. On the same day, Iconic Masters became legal a slew of other Pauper legal cards were released in Treasure Chests. Headlining these were Entourage of Trest and Custodi Squire.
Entourage of Trest bleeds the Monarch into Green and gives one of the game’s traditional midrange colors a heck of a midrange tool. Although it costs five (as opposed to four), it has the best stats of the bunch at 4/4. Entourage also can come down and eat two blockers in an effort to defend the Monarch object. The Green crown isn’t likely to come down before turn four, even with Green’s excellent acceleration. While Sakura-Tribe Elder exists, many folks are focusing on adding the new Elf to, well, Elves.
Elves is well positioned to run Entourage of Trest since it can generate the mana needed while also blocking most attackers. The issue is, does Elves really need the Monarch? My guess is the deck can draw plenty of cards as is. While Lead the Stampede is good, it cannot be chained like Distant Melody. This gap leads me to believe that the best Elves decks will run a mix of the two draw spells moving forward.
Custodi Squire is less impressive on face value. A 3/3 flying Gravedigger that can also get back an artifact or enchantment is fine. Yet this is a card that the Pauper community has wanted for years. Squire gives midrange decks a powerful tool that can hold its own as a threat. While it will hardly be a game breaker it is a fine tool for decks seeking a curve topper.
Next week I hope to look at how these new cards have shaped the format. With a week of league play and a Challenge in the rear view, Pauper may look drastically different from what was presented today. And change could do us good.