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A Look Back on 2017


It takes a lot to make waves in Pauper. Despite being comprised of commons, the format has had a relatively stable metagame over the course of its history. Usually it takes a seismic event to upend the apple cart. More often than not this is the result of a ban or will result in a card being removed from the format. Treasure Cruise was one such card, as it basically forced everyone to run Blue or be buried under card advantage. The most recent example comes from 2016: Peregrine Drake.

Peregrine Drake was released in Eternal Masters and Drake Combo became the best thing you could do in Pauper. Using the Mnemonic Wall-Ghostly Flicker loop, it became absurdly easy to win the game by turn five - at the very least establish a supremely advantageous position - and the deck slowly ate up a third of the metagame. In November of 2016 Peregrine Drake was banned and the Pauper metagame settled back to where it had been.

That is where 2017 opened. Mono-Blue Delver was a top deck while Stompy, Affinity, and various builds of Tron kept pace. Mono-Black Control had experienced a small resurgence directly after Peregrine Drake was banned but had settled back down to being merely okay. The status quo was about to change and Delver was going to be knocked down a peg.

Despite the ups and downs, Delver has always been one of the best decks in Pauper. Access to one of the single best offensive threats in the format, as well as disruptive spells like Spellstutter Sprite and Counterspell, meant that the deck was able to help dictate the pace of the early game. Before Cloud of Faeries was banned, it also had access to one of the best lockdown openings in Pauper by blind flipping Delver of Secrets and following it up with Cloud of Faeries, turning Spellstutter Sprite into the world's best Spell Snare. Even without Cloud of Faeries, Delver acted as the baseline for the format. While not ubiquitous it was a deck you had to have a gameplan against if you wanted to reasonably succeed in a Pauper League.

Two decks made their name on the back of having a good Delver matchup. Stompy, the Rancor based aggressive Green deck, could often deploy more threats in a turn than Delver could contain. Resolving a Rancor was important but hardly a lock to victory. Instead Stompy could go wide and deploy Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood to deal the final points. On the other end of the spectrum was Kuldotha Boros. The deck used Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring in concert with Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk to keep cards flowing. Access to premium Red removal aided in clearing a path and closing out games. After Eternal Masters and the banning of Peregrine Drake the deck also adopted Rally the Peasants to pair with Battle Screech as a way to end the game in an eye blink.

The release of Modern Masters 2017 changed everything. Stompy found a new toy in Burning-Tree Emissary and it helped to propel the deck into rarified air -- it became the format's new baseline. Stompy already had a great Delver matchup but now it had the tools available to win games by virtue of its early turns. Burning-Tree Emissary made it easier to commit multiple bodies to the battlefield and in some cases led to there being 7 power on the board turn two, spread across four creatures. Reminiscent of the old Cloud of Faeries opening due to the presence of free mana, Stompy had a major difference in that it was fundamentally an active deck. In turn the Stompy opening represented a new break point that the format had to deal with. In doing so the Green deck managed to push Delver from its pedestal.

Boros also benefited from a release around the same time. Certain cards from Conspiracy: Take the Crown made their way into Treasure Chests. Two of them brought the Monarch mechanic to Pauper. Thorn of the Black Rose soon found her way into multiple Pauper decks but few took flight. It wasn't until people caught on to the combination of Palace Sentinels and Prismatic Strands that the Monarch truly took hold in Pauper. Using Prismatic Strands to prevent combat damage and then sticking a Palace Sentinels meant that the next attack would also likely be for naught and as such the crown would stay put. The Monarch represented something brand new to Pauper: a persistent way to draw extra cards. The same Kor Skyfisher Boros deck was not the first to try and make Monarch work but it was the best suited. A strong Delver matchup was good but the ability to run a maindeck way to blunt Stompy's assault may have been better.

Modern Masters 2017 brought a few other key cards to the table. Dinrova Horror quickly caught on as a spout for Tron decks sporting Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall. Dinrova Tron became the Tron deck best suited to assemble the mana engine quickly and leverage it in the mid-game. It also was high on preventative measures as it would run three copies of Moment's Peace to buy time. Despite a bevy of new cards Pauper still lacked a good sweeper and as such the best way to reach an endgame remains preventing combat damage.

While Dinrova Tron is still a solid option today it has not caught on like some of the other big winners in 2017. The deck relies heavily on the graveyard, between Mnemonic Wall, Pulse of Murasa, and Forbidden Alchemy. While the discard pile continues to be one of the best targets for tutors in Pauper it is also one of the easiest to target. Relic of Progenitus is a common sideboard inclusion while multiple decks, even those that aren't running Black, pack Bojuka Bog.

The other big gain from March's reprint set was Augur of Bolas. The ability helped Blue decks find their powerful spells with greater consistency and opened up a bevy of opportunities. While some Delver decks adopted the card early, it was not until Pauper grinder Kungfutrees put in the hours with a ur version of Delver, using Snow-Covered Mountains to go with Snow-Covered Islands to support Skred and Lightning Bolt, that a new metagame deck was born. Izzet Delver leveraged Augur of Bolas finding Gush and Brainstorm, and the two strong spells' synergy with Ash Barrens, to push a new deck to the top of the standings.

Gush had long been legal in Pauper, but it wasn't until Augur of Bolas came along that I saw the upper limit for its potential. Packing a deck full of copies of Gush is a risk since Pauper lacks true dual lands. Instead, Augur of Bolas allowed a base Blue deck to run more virtual copies of the card and leverage its strength. Using Gush to then cast Brainstorm and put back two lands, then shuffling them away with Ash Barrens, helped Izzet Delver dominate the early challenges.

Speaking of Challenges, these helped to give us a better image of the Pauper metagame. While League data has been nice, it only shows off the decks that went 5-0 and more recently, only decks that are sufficiently different from one another. While over a long enough time period the League data could provide a general texture of the metagame, the Challenges provided lists down to 32nd place. Now we not only saw what did very well but also what did reasonably well (and sometimes what performed decidedly meh). The challenges also gave us two of the more innovative decks of the past year and both of them played in combo space.

Rally Gond took the shell of a Battle Screech token deck and stitched Pauper's very own Splinter Twin Combo of Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond into the fabric. The result was a deck that took the format by storm and put up solid results for a few months. The deck fizzled almost as fast as it flared as it has made barely a peep since mid-October.

What happened? One of Rally Gond's advantages over the field was its ability to play a long game with Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant. Yet these cards, and many others, were vulnerable to Electrickery and other popular sweepers. Additionally, Orzhov Monarch grew popular. While never as successful as its Boros cousin, the wb deck packs Pestilence main as a way to contain threats. Pestilence eats tokens for breakfast lunch and dinner.

The other combo deck to come out of the challenges was Tireless Tribe combo. The first time I saw it I might have explained "oh it's Gush-a-Tog", evoking the old Psychatog deck. I was using hyperbole but the deck continues a serious contender. Using Tireless Tribe and Inside Out, the deck will attack for 20 in one turn, aided by Gush and Shadow Rift. The pieces for this deck have long existed in Pauper but it was the addition of Augur of Bolas that made it a contender. Augur allowed the deck to find key spells while also providing the Tribe with protection from Chainer's Edict and its ilk. Tribe Combo remains a real deck and until those same Edicts are backed up with Doom Blades en masse, I predict it will continue to attack for 20 on the regular.

You'll notice I haven't spoken about Standard legal releases. Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, and Ixalan provided relatively little in the way of impact cards. A few do stand out. The first is Firebrand Archer. The unassuming card from Hour of Devastation gave Burn a real shot in the arm. Burn had already adopted Thermo-Alchemist as a way to add damage to each spell. The Archer gives the deck the ability to double up on the extra damage. The result is a Burn deck that has a better long game at the cost of being more susceptible to creature removal.

Burn -- Pauper | m0torhead, Top 4 October 1 Pauper Challenge

The second is Prosperous Pirates. Using the Mnemonic Wall-Ghostly Flicker loop with Sunscape Familiar, Prosperous Pirates can generate an unbound amount of mana. Similar iterations of this combo have been oppressive in the past but Pirate Flicker is slower than its ancestors. Because the deck has to dedicate so many slots to achieving its combo it has minimal defenses. All that being said this would still be a deck I would watch moving into 2018.

The Standard releases had a hard task this year. Not only did Modern Masters 2017 provide three key cards in Augur of Bolas, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Dinrova Horror, but Treasure Chests gave the format Ash Barrens, Palace Sentinels, and Thorn of the Black Rose. Frankly that would have been enough to render Standard second fiddle but then came Iconic Masters. The second reprint set of the year gave Pauper two more options that gave established decks something new to write home about.

Seeker of the Way gave Boros Monarch another option. The Khans of Tarkir downshift made it easier for the deck to go aggressive and apply pressure. While Boros Monarch did not need help in the early game, the addition of Seeker gave the strategy another dimension. Seeker is still new to the format and has yet to find a solid home. At this point, Boros Monarch has been the place where Seeker of the Way has found the most success.

Lead the Stampede rounds out the impact cards from 2017. The sorcery allows creature heavy decks the opportunity to draw five cards for 3 mana. While a deck has to be heavily biased toward creatures for this to even be a possibility Pauper had a perfect candidate in Elves. Elves already had a place in the metagame by virtue of a strong Delver matchup. Like Stompy the deck could produce more threats than the Blue deck could answer. But Elves had the added dimension of being able to reload with Distant Melody. Lead the Stampede helped the deck reduce the reliance on Blue while not losing the ability to draw into gas. Elves has not become the best deck in the format but has established itself as a constant metagame presence.

Pauper realigned itself around Stompy in 2017. Whereas the format used to use Delver as a baseline that is no longer the case. With this new baseline Pauper has found new extremes. Stompy may be the litmus test but at the moment playing with Gush, Tron, or the Monarch are the most powerful things you can do. Stompy may not be able to do any of these but it can race. The only way you can do powerful things is if you can survive this onslaught. And that is what we have seen in 2017.

What does 2018 hold for Pauper? First off, we are going to see more events. ChannelFireball will be hosting paper events are Grand Prix in January and if they prove successful more could be on the way. We will also be getting another reprint set in 25th Anniversary Masters. And there will be more Leagues and more Challenges. 2018 could be the best year for Pauper and I can't wait to experience it. Can you?

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