Challenge Accepted

On Sunday, May 21st, Pauper is going to be getting its first Magic Online Challenge. For the first time in years Pauper will be getting a non-league, Swiss style tournament, with an impressive payout. The tournament is part of a roll-out for all non-rotating formats (including the new 1v1 Commander format) but represents a huge boon for Pauper.

First and foremost these tournaments will be providing an absolute bounty of metagame data. Currently Pauper only has access to (at most) 70 5-0 decks a week and those are only a small sampling of the decks being played. The Challenges will showcase all decks in the Top 32 which will result in an increased understanding of the decks seeing play (not just those winning). This could be a boon for decks like Mono-Black Control.

Mono-Black Control — Pauper | watchmen, 5-0 Pauper League

Mono-Black Control is a deck that must be tuned correctly for the metagame in order to succeed. Running Chainer’s Edict in a field full of Young Wolf is a recipe for failure and knowing the correct mix of disruptive elements and removal is key to seeing Mono-Black Control tally wins. The deck is also likely to pick up some losses along the way which means it is less likely to go 5-0 but at the same time could find itself at X-1 and make its way into the elimination rounds. I am of the mindset that there are multiple decks seeing play in this vein and the publishing of the Top 32 lists will do a lot to highlight some of the lesser known decks in Pauper.

Shifting gears, let’s start talking about what you can expect to see in the challenges. Any discussion of Pauper these days has to begin with Stompy. The Mono-Green, Rancor-based aggressive deck is the current baseline for the format. Powered by Burning-Tree Emissary, Stompy can present a clock capable of killing on turn four.

Young Wolf
Stompy is the baseline because it is incredibly consistent. It has access to some of the best 1-drops in the format and playing Young Wolf first does work against removal based strategies. The ability to turn most early removal spells off means that Stompy can almost always get the jump on an opponent. A turn two involving Rancor and a Nettle Sentinel or Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, or even just a Burning-Tree Emissary into a Nest Invader, can present a large enough army that pump spells quickly find an unblocked attacker and become lethal. There are many ways to build Stompy and some have opted for copies of Wild Mongrel as a way to turn Quirion Ranger’s ability into extra damage, but the core remains largely the same.

How do you fight against the deck? Without a true board wipe it can be easy to fall behind. Decks that can accelerate into either Evincar’s Justice or Swirling Sandstorm, or those that can run enough early removal to contain threats to cast these on the optimal turn, may be well positioned. Justice is clearly the easier to resolve on turn four but still struggles in the face of Young Wolf or River Boa. Selecting the correct cheap removal is key and cards like Vendetta or Magma Spray deserve to see play over ostensibly better cards like Lightning Bolt and Chainer’s Edict.

White also provides plenty of sideboard options to contain the Green menace. Circle of Protection: Green can shut down every threat outside Vault Skirge and an Eldrazi Spawn from Nest Invader. Prismatic Strands can Fog twice while also leaving your creatures active. Finally, Standard Bearer can turn off Stompy’s pump spells and Rancors.

If I were going to run Stompy this weekend, I would want to go bigger. Something like this makes sense, only with Cartouche of Strength replacing Epic Confrontation. The combination of Cartouche and Elephant Guide means that the deck will often go bigger than other Stompy decks while having outs against abundant removal and Standard Bearer decks.

Stompy currently represents just over 19% of the undefeated metagame so its presence on Sunday is all but guaranteed. The next two most popular decks are Izzet Delver at almost 12.4% and Affinity nearly 12% of the undefeated metagames.

Gorilla Shaman
Out of these two I expect Affinity to put up better numbers this weekend. For newcomers Affinity is a known quantity and presents as an extremely powerful deck. The ability to cast cheap 4/4s while also drawing cards with Thoughtcast and building toward a combo kill with Atog and Fling is clearly Very Good. Thanks to Springleaf Drum, Affinity can run a polychromatic sideboard full of bullets for popular matchups. Since Affinity can win fast or slow it is well suited for open metagames.

The issue, of course, is how vulnerable Affinity is to hate. Gorilla Shaman exists and is likely the reason that Affinity has not been banned out of the format. Outside of the Mox Monkey cards like Gleeful Sabotage and Ancient Grudge see play, as do cheap answers like Smash to Smithereens and Natural State. Affinity also runs the bare minimum number of lands which can lead to some awkward draws if Springleaf Drum is taken away. All that being said the power level of the deck remains high and will show up this Sunday.

Izzet Delver has all but replaced the Mono-Blue version of the deck. Aside from counters Delver relied on Vapor Snag and Snap to interact with an opposing board. In a world with Burning-Tree Emissary these cards are no longer as powerful. Adding Red has given the deck access to Lightning Bolt and Skred as well as Swirling Sandstorm out of the sideboard. The result is a powerful option that has to make concessions to its mana base. The deck also struggles in the latter stages of the game since it has eschewed Spire Golem for access to Red cards. Because of this the deck is more vulnerable to Electrickery than its predecessor. This combined with the fact that Delver was the best deck for so long leads me to believe that there will be more Delver than Izzet Delver this weekend. Until Modern Masters 2017 was released Delver was the de facto best deck for years (aside from a brief stint from Peregrine Drake) and those with only a surface understanding of Pauper may be drawn to a deck that was dominant for so long.

Delver — Pauper | N3nne, 5-0 Pauper League

There are two other strategies I expect to show up in force. The first is Hexproof, which has been making a strong showing in the wake of Cartouche of Solidarity. The new Aura has increased the deck’s resiliency to Chainer’s Edict and has helped propel it to 8.76% of the undefeated metagame. Hexproof has access to some unsolvable draws and hands with Armadillo Cloak and Ethereal Armor can put many games away in an instant. However the deck remains vulnerable to cards like Standard Bearer and Leave no Trace. Additionally cards like Patrician’s Scorn, Serene Heart, and Calming Verse can all wreak havoc on a Hexproof board position. Hexproof has a high ceiling but given how vulnerable it can be to hate I would avoid the deck this weekend.

The last two strategies are both Ghostly Flicker decks. Dimir Flicker is just 6.7% of the undefeated metagame while Dinrova Tron is at around 3.6%. Both decks want to assemble a Ghostly Flicker lock with Archaeomancer or Mnemonic Wall, looping the instant through Chittering Rats or Dinrova Horror to lock an opponent out of resources. Dimir Flicker is more popular but given the length of the tournament I would err on the side of the Tron build. Dimir Flicker is a strong deck but in the end it has two win with 2 power creatures. Similarly if Magma Spray is as popular this weekend as I predict it could prove a thorn in the side of the more popular deck as both combo pieces - Chittering Rats and Archaeomancer - are vulnerable to the instant. Dinrova Tron may be a better option since it also has larger threats that can turn sideways. If there is a downside to the slower deck it is that it runs very few active cards and can often take too much time to set up its kill, giving decks like Affinity and Hexproof the time they need to assemble their own winning board state.

If I were playing this weekend (family commitments are going to prevent that) I would want to play an updated version of Rakdos Reanimator. I have been very happy with how the deck has performed against the aggressive side of the metagame. It does struggle against Mulldrifter decks, but if those can be kept at bay the ability to present an Ulamog’s Crusher early is often too much to overcome. Here is my most recent list for reference:

Undying Evil
I have been less than impressed with Anarchist and it does very little to fix the long game issues. Instead I am looking for ways to add a fourth copy of Dragon Breath — haste is important in the face of Dimir Flicker’s Chainer’s Edict effects — and find a way to include some number of Supernatural Stamina or Undying Evil. I am also thinking about including copies of Faultgrinder in the sideboard as a way to constrain {B}{U} decks on mana while also potentially doubling up on the effect with Undying Evil.

The popular aggressive decks all have problems handling a quick Crusher. Being able to back the Eldrazi up with Swirling Sandstorm makes it so that attacks will often start eating lands. Make no mistake that this is a combo deck and as such can be fragile. However given that I expect Stompy and Affinity to be two of the most heavily played decks and this deck’s strong matchup there, I would be willing to roll the dice.

That being said I think Boros Monarch is the best deck for this weekend. Kuldotha Tokens has been a popular option that can win from nowhere with Battle Screech and Rally the Peasants. Boros Monarch takes a similar shell but trades Kuldotha Rebirth and Ichor Wellspring for Alchemist’s Vial and Palace Sentinels. The Vial may seem odd at first but since it can turn off an attack and allow you to hold on to the crown it allows you to keep the cards flowing. Since the newer deck has moved away from the Rally the Peasants kill it leans more on the duo of Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast. The deck has access to White’s stellar sideboard options while also retaining the ability to cast some of the better Red cards in Magma Spray, Pyroblast, and Gorilla Shaman.

So this is where we are going into the first Pauper Challenge. I am interested to see how the metagame evolves in the wake of these events and hope that Wizards is watching; with more Masters sets coming up maybe these tournaments will provide the push needed to start seeding the sets with cards Pauper needs rather than just downshifting commons to serve limited.

What? A man can hope.

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