This past Monday, Wizards of the Coast announced fresh bannings for the Pauper format. In their banned and restricted announcement it was stated that Gush, Gitaxian Probe, and Daze have all been banned in the format. You can read their full statement here.
The announcement has shaken the Pauper metagame completely as we know it currently. While the aim was to cripple the Dimir Delver deck that has been dominating with, according to Ian Duke, a 55% average win rate, there was also collateral damage. Mono-Blue Delver took a major hit as the deck also ran Daze, both Inside Out Combo and Izzet Blitz lost multiple key cards, and Burn lost Gitaxian Probe.
One major thing to note, however, is that Wizards and the Play Design team really did their homework on this one. They looked at every single card the deck had to offer and weighed them against one another. This means they looked at the banned cards but also the entire cantrip suite of Blue decks, Foil, and Augur of Bolas. Ultimately, they settled on the three cards we saw removed as of Monday.
Let's have a look at each individual card that was banned and dig a bit deeper on just why the cards were banned and what makes them so strong.
If you've paid attention to my content at all over the past year, specifically my Pauper articles, you may have read my piece on the state of format health back in January. In case you haven't, you can read it here. It got a lot of people talking, and while the discourse wasn't always healthy, more and more people were discussing the issue of the format health. Alex Ullman notably wrote at length about it, with multiple articles over the last year going in depth about the state of Blue's overwhelming level of dominance in the Pauper format.
At first, Alex discussed a number of these options. The ones on the table for discussion early on were usually Preordain (the most played spell in the format), Gush, and Augur of Bolas. The reasons were simple enough to understand. Preordain gave the best card selection and Augur of Bolas also gave you reasonable card selection and a reasonably costed body.
The case against Gush was that it provides you card draw too easily for too little mana and can even give you a land drop for the turn you might otherwise not have had. The case for this card worsened with the development of the Dimir Delver deck in its original form with a high density of free spells like Snuff Out and Daze to deal with opponents' threats. This was, of course, in addition to the other spells it had like regular old Counterspell.
Upon the release of Ultimate Masters, however, Wizards unleashed Foil upon the format, bringing with it a Force of Will-like effect into the world of Pauper. Many scoffed at the idea of 3-for-1ing yourself to deal with a spell but as it happens, it's not as tremendous of a downside when played along with Gush. As Play Design ultimately determined themselves, Gush was the stronger engine card and has been an arguable cause of issues with the format in the past. As a result, they chose this card to ban as opposed to Foil itself.
Of the three bans, this likely is the one that comes with the least amount of shock to the greater playerbase. The other two, however, weren't so easily predictable. Let's talk about those now.
Gitaxian Probe is one of the cards that people have clamored for to be banned in relatively decent numbers. The card appears rather innocuous and, truth be told, it kind of was for awhile in Pauper.
For the longest time it was primarily used by creature combo decks like Inside Out and Izzet Blitz to see if the coast was clear before going in on their attack. By and large, this wasn't the worst thing, though it did ultimately provide a bit more consistency to the decks than they might otherwise have had. You could still battle them back with removal and countermagic so they were somewhat reasonable in terms of how easy they were to deal with.
Then came Ghitu Lavarunner and suddenly Burn began playing Gitaxian Probe. The reason was to try turning on Lavarunner quicker for better attacks while also adding better consistency to the deck as a whole. After a few months we saw the rise of Dimir Delver with, you guessed it, Gitaxian Probe.
The big problem is that the card is somewhat poor design overall. Prior to the ban here, it's been banned in Modern and Legacy, and also restricted in Vintage. In all these formats, it's too good in multiple fronts. Let's count the ways:
- It's "free," costing only two life.
- It cantrips, replacing itself easily.
- It fills your graveyard for Delve cards. This angle was very relevant in Modern with the likes of Become Immense for Infect, foro example.
- It gives you perfect information by showing what your opponents' hand and game plan is.
The last point is arguably the most important and is, in my opinion, the big reason for why it suddenly became too big. With Inside Out and Blitz it's not as a big deal. After all, without Git Probe they'd still likely try to kill you anyways. They could even slow down slightly and play Peek instead. By being free, though, it allows the more interactive decks like Burn and Delver to know exactly how to play a game and pilot it in their favor. This includes knowing what cards to counter and remove based on a variety of circumstances.
It's just all around a poorly designed card and, while not what I'd have considered a top contender for bans, I'm both not very surprised with this one nor sad to see it go.
On the other hand, Daze was the card that made heads turn completely. While it came up very, very infrequently in banning discussion, this card wasn't remotely on most people's radars. Prior to the rise of Dimir Delver where the card was played in great numbers, it usually only showed up as a one or two-of in decks like Mono-Blue Delver or Izzet Blitz. It was more of a "gotcha" kind of moment and opponents would learn to play around it, making it less good again.
Ultimately, though, in the eyes of Play Design it just wasn't good for the format as a whole. In the words of Ian Duke, it took away "shields down" moments since it was free. This card being banned sends a strong message that Pauper shouldn't have such a high density of free spells.
This isn't the first time we've seen such a philosophy either, with cards like Frantic Search, Cloud of Faeries, and Peregrine Drake being "free" cards Wizards banned from the format in the past. We do have a few spells still, though. Snap, Snuff Out, and Land Grant all fit this category as a few notable examples. With the precedent set by Wizards moving forward, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up keeping a close eye on these kinds of cards.
Now that the bans are out of the way, people are trying everything. The ban is already live on Magic Online, though it won't take effect for paper events until Friday, the 24th. This is particularly interesting to me when Pauper has by and large been considered a Magic Online only format, something I strongly feel Wizards needs to tackle ASAP. Hopefully this is a sign we'll see some change soon so judges don't have to keep addressing awkward issues regarding format legality and the players can earn actual Planeswalker Points for events, but I digress.
There's been a number of fears that the format will become overrun by the likes of Monarch and Tron decks, though as Ian states, we, "...need to allow time for it to readjust rather than making assumptions about what the results will be." It's too early to tell in the face of the new format what can happen.
It may even be that rumors of a number of decks' deaths have been greatly exaggerated. When I jumped into a league on Magic Online yesterday, the very first deck I ran into was Vinestorm, a silly little deck that generates large amounts of mana with Sprouting Vines and Inner Fire. It wheels big hands with Tolarian Winds and ultimately kills with a Fireball-esque effect. Because the deck relied so much on Gush, people feared it would go away. In reality, the player in question opted to try out Fathom Seer instead, a creature with Gush and its alternate cost stapled to it as a Morph cost.
Just as well, by the end of the league, I bumped into Izzet Delver which still gave me as much of a run for my money as ever. Even though they can't Gush for free card draw, the package of Delver of Secrets, cantrips, and faeries is still quite a force to be reckoned with. Even Mono-Blue Delver, while it takes a big hit from losing Gush and, to a lesser extent, Daze, it still has a tremendous number of options to make it viable and is arguably the only deck truly capable of playing Foil post-ban.
Some players have been applying different methodologies to creature combo decks also. Known online brewer raptor56 has been trying out a new form of Inside Out Combo (here listed as "Tribe") without the banned cards and has been putting up a respectable number of 3-2s and 4-1s. People have even taken these decks in a different direction, with rumblings of a Boros Kiln Fiend - Izzet Blitz's primary kill creature - variant.
Yes we'll still see lots of Monarch. Yes we'll still see lots of Tron. And yes, of course, there will be lots and lots of Burn. We'll see more decks come back out of the woodwork like Elves, Bogles, Affinity, and perhaps even Slivers and Stompy. Monarch decks still hurt aggressive decks quite a bit but now that the meta is shaken up a bit it could open some doors. It is a bit early to tell just yet, but we'll know more in the coming weeks. And hey, if things are still bad, Wizards can always break out the banhammer once again.
It's a brave new world for Pauper. What decks do you want to play and/or try that you felt you couldn't before with the format in the state it was in for a while? Are you happy with these bans? Let me know down below and sound off your thoughts!