Today marks my 300th article for CoolStuffInc.com! How do I know this? Every so often I get the urge to look through my past articles and sometimes end up finding myself going all the way to the last page. This allows me to see just how many articles I've written and helps give me some perspective on how long I've been doing this and how far I've come over the years. Recently I went back to look for something and noticed that my 300th article would be coming up here at the end of the month.
That's a lot of articles to have put out! I've been at this over five years, starting under the CoolStuff banner in September 2018 following a few months with Hipsters of the Coast. It's hard to believe that it's been so long now, and it felt like it would be great to run through some of my most popular articles and see what you all have loved reading over the years. I've asked my editor for my most read pieces from each year (except 2023 since we're not far enough into the year to really know), overall, and a few specific categories. There's a bit of overlap between some, so in certain cases, I'll be using a runner-up article to talk about instead. I'll then finish with what I feel is my personal best work
Let's jump in!
Most Read Overall - The Many Faces of Pauper Tron
I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't surprised this one was my most read article of all time. However, Tron has always been a very popular archetype to play in Pauper. Additionally, this was one of the earliest articles I ever put out, making it a popular read around the time of release and a piece that people can go back and look at from time to time. By now all of the builds of Pauper Tron discussed here are tremendously obsolete, with newer versions of Flicker Tron and Altar Tron taking the cake now for top builds. If anything, this piece remains as a historical note; a piece that people can go back to and look at how Tron might have looked like once upon a time in the past.
Most Read Pauper Article - The Problem With Arcum's Astrolabe (runner up to The Many Faces of Pauper Tron)
2019 was a wild year for Pauper. The format was reaching a new level of popularity. We were beginning to get high level play at this time, including Pro Tour Qualifier events such as the massive one that took place at Grand Prix Los Angeles that year. We saw some major shake ups in the notorious "Blue Monday" bans that got rid of some long-time favorites and even had a format unification between paper and Magic Online that was a huge deal at the time. Then there was Arcum's Astrolabe.
Arcum's Astrolabe came out with Modern Horizons and boy did it have a monstrous impact on the format. Most decks in Pauper run solely on basic lands, so there was virtually no downside to running a bunch of snow lands and then using the likes of Arcum's Astrolabe to splash whatever you wanted. To make matters worse, cards like Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher were already massively popular, which made the card far more ubiquitous in the format. It created a truly homogenizing effect and within a few short months it was banned, but this piece was designed to show exactly why it was such a problem.
I'm almost surprised this was my most read Pauper article (after The Many Faces of Tron) given some of the other pieces out there. However, I think this one got a lot of attention as well in the last few years thanks to the problematic nature (and subsequent banning of the card) in other formats like Modern and Legacy with time. It's an interesting snapshot of a particular time in Pauper's history that makes it worth revisiting here and there.
Most Read Non-PreDH Commander Article - Lathril, Queen of the Elfball
Seeing this one coming out on top is hardly a surprise to me at all. Lathril is an absolute monster in terms of popularity when it comes to Commander. In fact, if you go look at EDHREC now, she's the third most popular commander in the format as a whole, trailing only behind Tymna the Weaver and Atraxa, Praetor's Voice. Couple that with the fact that I'm a personality well known for my love of Elves and you've got a recipe for a tremendously popular piece!
Historically, I actually dislike Elves in Commander, because they always tend to play the same. I like that in competitive environments, but less so in casual formats where I'm just trying to relax and have a chill time with friends. Lathril offers a little more variety in play so while she can still go off and do typical Elfball nonsense, that's not always the case. I even have a fairly comparable list now as one of my main paper Commander decks and love playing it from time to time. Lathril is awesome, and this article is sure to be a popular one for years to come.
Most Read PreDH Commander Article - Classic Commander: Sek'kuar, Deathkeeper
I'm not going to lie: this one completely took me aback! PreDH has been one of my favorite things to write about over the last few years. Some people have taken to the format to thumb their nose at Wizards over their printing of cards made for Commander a little too much. For me, though, it was a way of revisiting a strong sense of nostalgia I have for the format, as I came back to the game thanks to it in 2010-11 during the Scars of Mirrodin Block. As it happens, that's exactly where PreDH cuts off!
As a result, this allows me the opportunity to go back and revisit old memories. I get to talk about the decks I used to play with when I was younger, or fondly recall the decks my best friends would use against me while we hung out between classes in our college's lounge. In other cases, it lets me look at other cards like the ones I grew up with as a child in the late 90s and early 00s, allowing for a slightly different nostalgic lens. There's even times, like with this deck, where I get to think about the road not taken and examine decks I once considered making but never went through with.
What makes this so interesting to me is that I often tend to think of Sek'kuar as a fairly dull Commander. It's certainly not the first one that comes to mind when I think of Jund, yet it clearly has a devoted following of people who love to sacrifice stuff. The fact that it wound up being more well-read than some of the most historically popular Commanders I can think of like Isamaru, Hound of Konda; Doran, the Siege Tower; and Jhoira of the Ghitu is a genuine shock. That just goes to show you the appeal of this classic version of this beloved format and the variety of things you can do with it. I know I certainly can't wait to try my hand at more decks in this format in the future!
Most Read from 2018 - Mono-Black in Pauper (runner up to The Many Faces of Pauper Tron)
Nowadays, I think most people know me for playing a certain deck in Pauper (which may or may not be the next topic discussed). Back in 2016, however, the archetype that made me the most excited to pick up Pauper was Mono-Black Control. This was a time in my life when I'd sold out of a lot of my Magic collection and was starting to have bills that prevented me from going deep on formats like Modern and Legacy as I used to. Pauper seemed like a great way to get back into the competitive scene by playing affordably and with cards I'd gotten to know over the years.
I'd just come off of playing Theros-era Mono-Black Control with Pack Rats and such in Standard, so Gray Merchant of Asphodel was a massive draw for me. Seeing cards that I grew up with as a child like Cuombajj Witches, Phyrexian Rager, Chittering Rats, and the old staple Chainer's Edict just made me fall in love that much more. I moved onto Greener pastures and other decks soon after, but this deck is one persistently popular archetype. In fact, many players feel the same way I felt all those years ago and love breaking this deck out at various Pauper events the world over, even if the deck has long fallen out of favor in the greater meta. It's no surprise that this article - my fourth ever under the CoolStuffInc banner - remains such a popular piece to this day. Maybe it's high time I go back and revisit this soon!
Most Read from 2019 - The Ultimate Pauper Elves Primer: An Introduction (runner up to The Problem With Arcum's Astrolabe)
Over the years I'd like to think I've been known for a number of things when it comes to Magic. Growing up in Buffalo, my friends knew me for playing Slivers and Affinity decks. When I came back, a whole new group of players got to know me for my love of Affinity-style strategies and my primary Commander deck, Sharuum the Hegemon. Then it was my extensive time with Legacy playing Maverick, which is where my username of TheMaverickGirl comes from across several platforms.
Today, though, I'm most known for Elves, and it all started with Pauper Elves. Well, that's not entirely accurate, as my love for the archetype began all the way back in Onslaught Block when I'd play the Tribal Wars format on Magic Online. Ever since, it remained a long favorite, and picking up the archetype in Pauper reminded me of those days long past. Since then, I've won several tournaments with it and have easily thousands of matches under my belt with it. At some point, writing an in-depth guide to the archetype just made sense. This part one provides a solid overview of the deck's core cards and how it plays, and largely remains relevant for those looking to pick up the strategy today, making it a no-brainer for my most read article of the year following The Problem With Arcum's Astrolabe.
If you'd like to read the later parts, you can find them here. Some information will likely be out of date over three years removed, but can still provide general ideas and theory for ways you can play the deck today.
Most Read from 2020 - The Problem with The Walking Dead Secret Lair
Of all the articles in this retrospective, this is probably the most interesting to go back and look at. This is the sort of thing you can look back to in a few years and view as a small time capsule of how things were at the time, and in a way we're already there. The Walking Dead Secret Lair was the very first Universes Beyond product and boy did it get some very raw reactions from a lot of people - myself included. This was made worse by the fact that it was deemed unlikely any of these cards could be possibly reprinted in the future.
In retrospect, I feel in some ways I was maybe a little too unkind to the Secret Lair, as I was actually a bit cooler on it once that initial shock of seeing the cards wore off. I even noted that if we were to get something like a Final Fantasy Universes Beyond product, I'd buy every bit of it without a second thought. Sure enough, they've actually announced that they have Final Fantasy Universes Beyond products currently in the works, and you'd better believe I'm excited.
But even beyond that, we've now seen enough Universes Beyond products that they're just a part of our daily lives. I've bought the Street Fighter Secret Lair as a hardcore video game nerd myself, and we've seen the likes of Warhammer 40,000, Doctor Who, and Stranger Things all show up in Magic. Even right this moment we're seeing previews trickle in for Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth and I have to say, I'm incredibly excited. It looks like a match made in heaven and feels like the most naturally fitting property we've seen used to date. It's fair to say Universes Beyond isn't going anywhere, and it all started here.
Most Read from 2021 - Upgrading Pioneer Challenger Decks: Azorius Spirits and Lotus Field Combo
For a little while, I went back to my earliest Magic writing roots and put a heavier focus on writing upgrade articles. Some of you may not know this if you've only been following my works through CoolStuffInc, but during my early days with Hipsters of the Coast my first articles were actually Challenger Deck upgrade lists. As such, with Pioneer growing tremendously in popularity as we were slowly starting to ramp up paper play again through the pandemic, returning to this for the latest round of Pioneer Challenger decks seemed like a natural way to go about things.
It's hardly a surprise that of the upgrade articles I wrote around the 2021 Pioneer Challenger Decks, this one would be the hottest of them. The other one focused on Mono-Red Burn and Orzhov Auras. Burn is such a basic deck with many iterations, it's not hard to just pick up a deck and go. As for Orzhov Auras, the deck had taken a bit of a hit as Lurrus of the Dream-Den was nerfed thanks to the Companion errata and was banned the year after, making the deck function far less optimally at multiple points.
Comparatively, however, both Azorius Spirits and Lotus Field Combo are huge players in the Pioneer metagame. As a result, both of these decks provide a decent base of the essentials you'd need to be able to play them. Given their popularity, it's obvious players would want to upgrade them quite a bit. The Spirits precon still runs a large number of the same core cards, but needed (and still needs) a massive overhaul in mana base and sideboard based on current lists. Similarly, you'll find a number of the cards and play patterns in Lotus Field remain the same, but now it relies on cards like Emergent Ultimatum and Dark Petition to help take it to victory.
Most Read from 2022 - Battle for Baldur's Gate Pauper Review: White, Blue, and Black
2022 was an absolute workhorse year for me and I was putting out an absurd amount of articles across a number of topics. It's interesting to me that of everything I put out, this one would be among my most read of the year. It's even more interesting when you consider the fact that I absolutely underestimated the power of the initiative mechanic - as have many even up to today. Boy how wrong I was, as we on the Pauper Format Panel had to go ahead and ban several of the cards soon after they showed up on Magic Online due to their sheer level of dominance.
There were many other noteworthy cards here as well. Kenku Artificer shows up in Affinity lists frequently, Arms of Hadar gets used as a board wipe in certain strategies, and even Guildsworn Prowler has been killing it in the Black Gardens archetype. Cards like Guardian Naga, Pegasus Guardian, and even Summon Undead have been dabbled with. Even beyond the Initiative cards there's still a lot to return to here, and there's even more in the other colors that made up the second piece as well (Basilisk Gate anyone?). It's really funny that for as much of a failure as Battle for Baldur's Gate arguably was out of the, well, gate it turned out to be quite well loved and had a lot of great utility and power - especially for Pauper.
My Personal Favorite - Shaking the Pillars
From the moment I finished and submitted Shaking the Pillars, I knew quickly it was my masterstroke. There was a tremendous amount of work that went into this piece. I spoke to a number of people about it, spent weeks working on it and getting things to read just the way I wanted, and went deep on a lot of my arguments and reasonings. At the time, the format felt like it was in dire straits. Dimir Delver was absolutely tearing it up, with a new build taking inspiration from the likes of Legacy Death Shadow lists that arose to fame in 2018. This issue was exacerbated by the downshifting of Foil which made long-time staple Gush even more powerful and dangerous than it already was.
There was also growing concern at the time of Monarch and Tron's impact on the format and how they may take over in the wake of Dimir Delver bans. I tried to cover all of this in the article. It got everyone who played the format talking. There were many that agreed, others who disagreed, but one thing I felt most agreed on was how well-reasoned and put together the piece was. Soon after this article was released - as well as others writing similar ones, the continued strong results of Dimir Delver, and the severe shrinking of deck variety in MTGO leagues - Wizards banned three cards from the deck: Gush, Daze, and Gitaxian Probe. Pauper players have collectively called these the Blue Monday bans.
Whether or not this article had any influence here, I still stand firmly that it is the best article I have ever written and is my personal favorite. Interestingly, if you only count views in 2019 and not any other year, this was far and away my most read article of that year. It was a very "of the moment" article, however, and as a result the other articles from the year that were mentioned earlier in this retrospective have been revisited more often over time. Maybe one day I'll surpass this, but even if I never wrote another article ever again, I'm damn proud of this one.
That said, I'm not planning on going anywhere or stopping anytime soon. I love talking about Magic and it's a genuine privilege getting to discuss the game, its many formats, and its history - something many readers tell me they love about my work. Today marks article number 300, but it feels like it was just yesterday when I was sitting down with a pen and paper trying to write out my very first one on a plane back from Seattle. It's been a truly wild ride and I can't wait to see what the coming years have to offer. I hope you'll join me and enjoy the trip yourselves.
Thank you for reading my articles over these last five years and 300 articles. Here's to many more.