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Checking In With The Pauper Metagame


It's been nearly a year now since The Professor from Tolarian Community College tweeted out about the possibility for more major Pauper events to be held. Since then, we've seen more and more events popping up, from small local run events all the way to a classic at SCG Con and Championship events held at a select number of Grand Prix. The numbers are even visibly higher online where the format originated with hundreds more active players by the season's end compared to a similar league last year. We've seen the format evolve quite a bit and new decks are showing up as well, so what's happened to the competitive Pauper scene in these last nine months?

The Big Events

Palace Sentinels
Delver of Secrets
Lightning Bolt

While we may not have gotten the full Grand Prix or Open Series event that The Professor wanted, we did still get some pretty big events that we've hardly seen up until now. Previously, there has been a regular tournament usually held on a monthly basis in Seattle known as Rags to Riches that largely reflects the Magic Online metagame. However, it has one major difference in that it allows not just the Magic Online legality, which takes into account if a card was printed at common in a set on Magic Online, but also counts paper printings. This allows cards like Desert and Merchant Scroll to show up, among others, and required a few in-house bannings of cards like Hymn to Tourach and High Tide. As such, it wasn't a perfect representation of the meta until SCG Con in June.

In case you didn't catch the interview with David Wright here on CoolStuffInc.com, I took down the Pauper Classic event with my trademark Elves list, coming in first out of 123 players. With the event came a strong variety of players and deck types that gave the appearance of a healthy meta until we reached the Top 8. Here, alongside myself, we saw Boros Monarch, Mono-Black Control, Dimir Alchemy, a shocking appearance by Abzan Tortured Existence, and three Izzet Delver lists. To make the matter of Delver's strong showing more concerning, all three lists made it into the Top 4.

This trend continued in both Championship events in Vegas and in Richmond, the latter of which I also attended. In both events, the Top 4 was also dominated by a slew of Izzet Delver lists. There's a few things we can likely attribute to why the deck is doing so well here. For one, Izzet Delver is, if not the strongest deck, one of the strongest decks in the format. As such, that already gives it a bit of a leg up on the competition. Another is the greater potential skill disparity between online and paper events. It's well known that the average skill level of a player online is generally higher than we see in paper, largely because the most dedicated players play constantly for prizes and to sharpen their skills. This ends up leading to a more cutthroat environment. While I have no doubt many great players played in these events (and make no mistake, they certainly did), it's still a factor to consider all the same.

The third thing to consider is the low showing of certain beloved deck archetypes. If you play for any amount of time online, you'll very often run into various Tron builds and the infamous Tireless Tribe/Inside Out combo deck. In the two events I played in, both of these decks were largely absent. They each showed up in small quantities but not enough to make a noticeable dent in the overall metashare. While Tribe Combo likely wouldn't have matched quite as well against a lot of Delver decks, it still could've had some game and the Tron decks, especially when considering the number of unique builds, could have provided more opportunities to control the matchups. These aren't the only decks that may have matched up well to Delver's reign, but their absence was glaring nonetheless and shows that the meta may have largely been skewed in Delver's favor.

Despite the format being top heavy with Delver, we did still see plenty of variety within the greater Top 16 of each event and we're seeing a constantly adapting meta online as well between the weekly Challenge events and in the leagues. Even at the local level, players are often changing things up to bring something fresh to the table. Every Tuesday night there's a Pauper event at CoolStuffInc.com's flagship Maitland location, where I play, and every week seems to bring with it a fresh meta despite often seeing the same faces time and again.

New Faces, New Decks

Custodi Squire
Ghitu Lavarunner
Seeker of the Way

With the influx of new players there's also bound to be a few new decks entering the fray. Many of the decks we've seen on the rise lately have largely been new riffs on classic builds. For example Burn, a classic mainstay in not just Pauper but in Magic period, has been getting a bunch of new toys over the years allowing for many ways to build this ever-present archetype. April brought us Dominaria and with it came Ghitu Lavarunner. People quickly saw an analog to Goblin Guide, especially when it was as easy as casting a bolt on turn one, followed by another and a "Garbo Guide", as it's affectionately called, on turn two. This new version put up some very strong showings in various online Challenge events. The list's relative affordability and the ease with which new players can pick it up has caused it to take up a considerable amount of the recent metashare.

The last few weeks have also brought with it a whole new take on the classic Angler Delver archetype. The core is similar to those from past past builds, but it has a bit more removal packed in. We've also seen a number of fresh takes on Tron between Mono-Green, Self-Assembler Temur, Stonehorn, and Rhystic versions making appearances in competitive events. Even Orzhov Pestilence has made a grand return in the last year thanks to the release of cards like Palace Sentinels and Custodi Squire.

Of all the decks to emerge in the last year, however, none is more original than Mono-White Heroic.

For years people have been trying to make this deck work. It always seemed like a no-brainer following the prevalence of the archetype in Theros block Standard, but was always just shy of making it. Last year brought with it a few new cards to help its case. The first was Cartouche of Solidarity. Not great on its own, it both gives a little extra resilience between a pump and first strike and also generates an additional creature to not just attack but also be sacrificed to an Edict effect. What really pushed it later in the year was the common downgrade of Seeker of the Way and Emerge Unscathed in Iconic Masters.

When the set was first spoiled, it was immediately apparent Lead The Stampede would have a home in Elves, but cards like Seeker of the Way had the same level of potential. Earlier this year, some players in one of the popular Pauper Discord servers put a list together and ran it through some leagues to great success. At first, many, myself included, felt it was a bad version of Bogles, losing the hexproof to gain speed. In actuality, it streamlined the deck by making it one color and giving on-the-fly protection to not just keep your creatures from dying but also get through blockers. While Bogles has a stronger payoff, Heroic has since shown to be a bit more resilient, even recently taking down a weekly Challenge.

The Other Decks

Ninja of the Deep Hours
Nettle Sentinel
Myr Enforcer

That having been said, where do the other decks in the format stand? Mono-Blue Delver, a more streamlined tempo analog to the Izzet version's midrange, has once again been making considerable waves in the format. This is most likely due, in no small part, to the deck's best pilot, Mezzel, taking it to multiple recent Challenge wins. That list features a lot more cards like Gut Shots and Piracy Charm to help against tough matchups like Elves.

Speaking of Elves, the little Green people have been on a slight downturn as of late, at least as far as online leagues are concerned. With the renewed rise of Burn in the format, the bane of Elves has made it hard for the deck to flourish like it has before. However, Burn seems to be showing up less and, as is normal. It tends to not go far in most proper Swiss tournaments which means, in those settings, Elves will often find itself winning appreciably more. When I took it to the GP Richmond Championship, the deck managed to take second place, losing to skilled player and online grinder Jherjames Bisconde on Izzet Delver. We see comparable results in the weekly Challenges with Elves often showing up in some capacity in the Top 16 if not the Top 8.

Next up is everyone's favorite artifact beatdown list, Affinity. This deck still has just as much blisteringly fast power as it always did and this past weekend even brought with it a rare 10-0 undefeated finish in the hands of known grinder Mathonical in Sunday's Challenge. The thing about Affinity, however, is it can often lose to itself, be it by not drawing enough mana sources or else not drawing the right ones. Its place in the meta will also often depend on how prepared people are. If people are packing lots of Gorilla Shamans you're probably going to have a bad time.

Last is a deck that was once the top of the class but has fallen in recent months: Mono-Green Stompy. Thanks to the rise in Elves' popularity as well as Heroic being able to attack, block, and gain life with reasonable effectiveness, Stompy has had a bit of a rough time as of late. Yet sometimes the meta still allows for the deck to shine and it can get in some really quick strong hits out of nowhere, rapidly taking down your opponent.

With all the growth the format has seen over the last few months, it's no wonder the best budget format around continues to evolve. Affectionately called a brewer's paradise for a reason, there's still plenty more room to grow. Guilds of Ravnica is right around the corner and with it is coming some interesting spice which I'll be talking about next week. In the meantime, you should definitely check out Magic Mics' new Top 10 which this week is covering each host's Top 10 Pauper cards! I also may not have covered your favorite deck because there's simply so much to talk about so feel free to sound off in the comments below. Until next week!

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