The Pauper’s Postbox

I was all set to give you the rundown on the Hour of Devastation season this week. I was convinced the last challenge before Ixalan had taken place and we could put a bow on one of the most interesting Pauper seasons to date. Turns out I had timed it wrong by one full week.

Whoops.

So with that topic delayed I turned to social media. I asked both Twitter and /r/Pauper for questions they wanted me to answer. This time around, Reddit was more useful and provided a bounty of queries regard the current state of the format and what may be in store for the future.

Infest
We are starting with /u/Raptor56 because they asked quite a few interesting questions. Note to self: next time be sure to ask for one question per person. With that out of the way I am going to tackle the first two together.

I have long wanted to see a sweeper in the format, preferably one in the 3-mana range. I think Infest would be the best without being too back breaking for aggressive strategies. It would allow a Black based control deck to come back into the format while also being tough to ramp into since it has {B}{B} in the casting cost. Ideally there would be a Pyroclasm that costs {1}{R}{R} but, failing that, something akin to Rolling Temblor would be neat (if a tad too powerful).

As far as other cards I would like to see find their way into the format, I talked about getting a Forked Bolt reprint on Magic Online ever since it was released as a common on paper. I also would love to see Ulcerate make its way into the format to give Black a removal spell on par with Lightning Bolt. Strangleroot Geist seems interesting if only because it would give Mono-Green a tool to fight all this new removal I seem dead set on adding. And, being the purely selfish person I am, I want to add another Reanimator spell — Reanimate is the cleanest of the bunch but Animate Dead is probably the closest to the correct power level for a common.

This ties to another question Raptor56 asked – what deck would I like to see be competitive. The answer is Reanimator. I love using Exhume but the problem is it is the only reasonable reanimation spell available. Stir the Grave is too expensive and Unearth is a tad too narrow. Animate Dead is an appropriate power level but its text is so byzantine we have a better chance of seeing Zombify than anything else.

The trinity of White removal spells listed are all too good for Pauper. If you were forcing me to pick one, I think it would have to be Condemn as it has the most restrictions. These are all universal removal that can take out just about everything played in the format for a single mana. Other single mana removal spells exist — Ghastly Demise, Skred, and Vendetta — but they all have some sort of restriction on when they can be used to their maximum efficacy. Condemn, for all intents and purposes, does not. Unlike formats where these three are legal, Pauper does not have the same saturation of utility creatures that would need to be handled outside of combat. We are a combat format.

As far as the current health — I think Pauper is the healthiest it has ever been. There is no one clearly dominant deck and multiple strategies are viable and successful. I think if anything, the format needs access to a reasonable sweeper to help contain the “go wide with reckless abandon” decks but if we don’t see a board wipe in the next few months I won’t be calling for anyone’s head.

I will talk about the other questions here later on in the column.

Seeker of the Way
Seeker of the Way has generated quite the cacophony in Pauper circles. I am higher on it than most due to the fact that it gains lifelink upon the Prowess trigger. The ability to mitigate attacks is important right now due to two of the top three decks being aggressive.

Stompy and Affinity are two of the better decks at the moment and Stompy, with its explosive Burning-Tree Emissary draws, is the pace-car of Pauper. As a 2/2 Seeker of the Way is already primed to trade with Stompy’s threats. Once you run it with any of White’s protection style effects like Gods Willing (or the newly down shifted Emerge Unscathed) it can come out ahead in combat. Pair it with Prismatic Strands and the player with Seeker of the Way can craft their own bloodbath.

So, will Seeker fit into existing archetypes? Absolutely. But it will also spawn new decks. Despite being based largely around creatures and attacking Pauper is a format that is relatively bereft of complex combat. More often than not the attack phase is about pushing through damage. A midrange White deck with creatures like Loyal Cathar actively wants to get into combat and it is in a deck like this that Seeker can thrive. Being able to treat the combat phase as an opportunity to pick off opposing threats — that is where the way will be found.

At this point, moving to the Modern card pool would completely upend the format. Chainer’s Edict and Battle Screech are lost, as are nearly every sweeper that matters (Evincar’s Justice, Swirling Sandstorm, Crypt Rats). Tortured Existence is dead and gone. Rancor also bites the dust and Affinity completely loses its edge. Delver decks lose Counterspell. Brainstorm, Gush, and Daze leave and so do Capsize and Rolling Thunder. Oh and Palace Sentinels, Thorn of the Black Rose, and Ash Barrens are gone.

Basically the meta looks nothing like it does today and is probably dominated by Tron decks.

The joke here is that the poster, /u/SixesMTG, will often comment on different threads as to how well positioned their {B}{G} deck is in the current metagame.

Pauper — all about the weird memes.

The different control decks mentioned all occupy separate areas on the Pauper competitive axis. But I want to use this question to explore a point about Tron in Pauper. The powerful mana engine does not push out other control decks as much as forces them to occupy a slightly different area of the metagame. Tron is one of the best decks in the end game because it has an overabundance of mana. However, the concession to the Tron mana base is running cards that help to produce discrete mana —Signets and Prophetic Prism. This reduces the number of actual business cards that can find a home.

The relative success of non-Tron control decks recently is due in part to dynamic. Tron has a harder time casting cheap removal on the optimal turn due to its reliance on non-lands to fix mana. As long as Stompy remains a presence in the format it will be on the control decks to try and contain the swarm in the early turns, which will require specific colors of mana.

I would love to see the tri-lands from Shards of Alara and Khans of Tarkir at common. I think they are reasonable downshifts in a shard and wedge based Masters set at some point in the future. I have no idea when that may be, but a man can hope.

I think I missed on Lead the Stampede in my review article. I think Elves directly benefits as it can now reduce its reliance on Blue mana and, as such, cut back on Sylvan Ranger. It also helps the deck recover from a Crypt Rats. However, I think the best deck for Lead the Stampede is one that uses it to compound card advantage. Ideally the deck would have cards like Faceless Butcher and Ghitu Slinger, or even Fourth Bridge Prowler, to act as pseudo-spells. Mono-Black Control at one point succeeded on the back of chaining together value creatures. Lead the Stampede can do that but the issue will be deploying them in a timely fashion. Phyrexian Rager and Chittering Rats both cost three but if that nut can be cracked I think a creature based midrange strategy is a perfect home for the Mirrodin Besieged stand out.

I am in no way qualified to talk about the ways that buyouts in other formats could impact Pauper. If Pauper is succeeding I like to think it is doing so on its own merits as an interesting and fun format.

Penny Dreadful is a format based around the cost of cards on Magic Online. Since the economy there functions in fractions of tickets, any card that costs under 0.01 tix is allowed (hence the name).

Cloudpost was an incredibly dominant card in Pauper. Not only was it the backbone of a control deck that locked aggro out of the format, but it also held up one of the more dominant Storm combo decks of its era. Now, Cloud of Faeries and Temporal Fissure, key cards in that combo deck, are gone and Peregrine Drake has also been exiled to the banned list. The control Cloudpost decks looked similar to the more controlling Tron decks of today except they had the added buffer of Glimmerpost to help keep their life total high enough. Given all of this, is it safe for these cards to go Eddie Murphy — Dan Akroyd?

In a word: no. In two words: hell no.

When looking at banning cards I think it is safer to take away the card that breaks a fundamental rule of the game. Glimmerpost gains you life while Cloudpost generates mana. Similarly, banning Glimmerpost means that on our next visit to New Phyrexia neé Mirrodin, we would have to examine banning the next Locus that gets printed. This is the logic behind banning the Urza’s Block “free” spells and leaving Ghostly Flicker alone — one generates mana and the other just makes use of the abundance.

In Magic it’s Black. In real life it’s Green.

If the premise of this question is “the format isn’t diverse” I am going to disagree. Questions like these pop up often and tend to end up in discussion of “I want Card X or Deck Y to be competitive.”

As I said before I think that the current metagame is the healthiest we have ever had in competitive Pauper. That being said, if you forced me to ban one card it would probably end up being Ponder. Ponder is an overpowered spell that helps to mitigate the bad draws of decks that can run it. Only Blue decks have access to the ability to improve consistency at the level Ponder provides, and taking it away would bolster other decks a little while not completely crippling the Blue decks that exist.

Storm Combo no questions asked. I am looking to Grapeshot people on turn two and playing to take as many ten minute turns as possible. The other options, to me, would be Infect with Lotus Petals and Invigorate, or Delver with Treasure Cruise.

Underrated is a loaded question. While I may think a certain strategy or card is unappreciated someone else might label it completely unplayable. I will say a card I often try in decks that never quite works as well as I hope is Pilfered Plans. At 3 mana, I read this as “draw four cards”, even if that is simply some wishful thinking.

{U}{G} Threshold is another pipe dream type of deck. With access to Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, and Werebear the ability to attack already exists. The deck has access to some great countermagic and tempo plays. I think the thing holding it back is the mana. If the deck is going to succeed it needs to do so on the back of its 1-drops — one in Blue and one in Green. The color requirements mean that Crumbling Vestige is a liability after the first few turns and Thornwood Falls, while great, is too slow.

Also the deck basically folds to Gurmag Angler.

My favorite version of Tortured Existence is one I can play on Magic Online where I do not lose multiple seconds for each iteration of the namesake card.

I hold a very unpopular opinion on this front. Pauper is competitive Magic using common cards. Cost, while a secondary factor, is not intrinsic to the format the way rarity is. While the relative scarcity of these cards runs opposed to the cost of commons, I am fine with their place in the format.

I do have issue with the distribution. Ideally once or twice a year there would be a Pauper Cube available online. These could either be phantom events — ones where the cards drafted are not added to a collection — but they could come with special Pauper Chests. These chests could contain hard to get commons like Gorilla Shaman or Ash Barrens. That way the draft junkies get a new experience and the Pauper fans get an increased supply of key cards.

I am going to address the final question here. I think powerful sideboard cards and necessary in Pauper. Gorilla Shaman is the reason Affinity can continue to exist in the format. Without that very important check on the powerful mechanic I fear it could easily overrun Pauper. I think that knowing what to pack in your sideboard is a skill that Pauper, as whole, could improve upon. I also think running decks that are resilient to these powerful cards is another skill — I am not likely to ever run Affinity since it does have such a problem with hate.

I am going to close my article today with another unpopular opinion. The question of unified legality comes up often but to me, Wizards already has given us the official rules for Pauper. Even if they view it as a Magic Online exclusive format that has not stopped stores in America, Brazil, Italy, and other countries have used the digital ruleset for their analog tournaments.

Given unilateral power to update the rules, I would issue the following decree:

“Pauper is a format where cards released at common on Magic Online are legal.”

I would then start a Pauper Cube on the platform and make sure the following cards were added to the prize packets so they could be incorporated into the format:

I know this leaves certain Paper commons on the other side of the legal list — sorry Hymn to Tourach and friends — but considering the amount of effort that has been put into the online format I think it represents the best base for a unified format.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to ask me a question. I look forward to doing this again before too much longer. I will be back next week with a look back at Hour of Devastation season (for real this time) and maybe even some Ixalan infused decklists (if the leagues cooperate).


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