It’s a relatively quiet time in the world of Pauper. The ban announcement that shook the foundations of several other formats passed Pauper by. The result is that the metagame is still adjusting to life without Fall from Favor. While things look to be improving, it’s still early in the Kaldheim life cycle. So with that in mind, I’m going to shamelessly rip off of fellow ChannelFireball writer Lawrence Harmon and open up the mailbag. Let’s get right to it!
What was the best Pauper period of all time?
— Joe Spanier (@FoundOmega) February 18, 2021
The history of Pauper is littered with times when the format was barely playable. If held under the rigors of high level play at any point, there are periods in the format’s past where I’m fairly certain it would crack under the pressure of severely broken interactions. All that being said, I can think of a period of time when the format is an excellent spot.
The release of Peregrine Drake at common in Eternal Masters led to a bunch of head scratching. Cloud of Faeries – a key component in Sunscape Familiar fueled combo decks – had just been banned earlier in 2016 and to see an arguably better version printed into the format made little sense. It came out that Drake had been put into the card file before discussions of a potential ban of Cloud of Faeries began and rather than excise it outright, Wizards wanted to see how it would play out. I was optimistic that, being a five drop, Drake would not be as problematic as Cloud of Faeries. After all, Cloud had the upside of being a lockdown play with Spellstutter Sprite and Peregrine Drake had no such synergy.
I was wrong. Wizards was wrong. Izzet Peregrine Drake decks were utterly dominant for a period of nearly eight months. At their height, these decks were taking up around 70 percent of the winner’s metagame. These decks were similar to Splinter Twin in that they could play a solid control game until they could combo kill. Usually the combo involved Ghostly Flicker, Archaeomancer and looping Lightning Bolt over and over.
Peregrine Drake was more or less emergency banned in November 2016. The result was a metagame the opened up and saw a wide variety of decks become viable. While there were no Challenges at that time, the results from leagues revealed a diverse format. Affinity, Delver, Ratlock, Stompy, Control Tron, Bogles, Elves and Boros Kuldotha Rebirth were just a smattering for the repeatedly successful decks. Other archetypes were not off limits either and the format was set up to thrive.
So what happened? Modern Masters 2017 came along and everything changed. The set released three cards that had a massive impact: Augur of Bolas, Burning-Tree Emissary and Dinrova Horror. These cards took several of the best archetypes and supercharged them – Delver decks had an easier time finding Gush; Stompy had a play that could rocket them ahead on turn two, and Murasa Tron now had a way to weaponize Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker. But that’s not all as around the same time, three cards were released on Magic Online – Ash Barrens, Palace Sentinels and Thorn of the Black Rose. These, along with the cards from Modern Masters 2017, completely reshaped Pauper.
Now, nearly four years (and several bans later), Pauper is once again in a pretty good spot. I’ve gone on record as saying that the current iteration of the format is the best since those halcyon days between Drake and Modern Masters. That being said, I’m prepared to eat these words (with ketchup, if I must).
This question sparked a few others that, while not directly related, are similar enough that I want to group them here.
let me try again.
"Why is maternally copulating dinrova horror still legal"
— Shivam, Apex of Fun (@ghirapurigears) February 18, 2021
Why is this card banned? pic.twitter.com/XOWeQgahaa
— Kyle Slone (@PervySageMagic) February 18, 2021
Do you think Grapeshot could be unbanned?
— Bond, Street Bond. Professional Nazi Killer. (@browndr) February 18, 2021
The Pauper ban list is a hotly contended thing. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that, despite being recognized by Wizards of the Coast as a format for over a dozen years, there are some who still view it as community-driven.
Perhaps there’s no better example of this than the “Gush did nothing wrong” crowd. After Foil was printed at common in Ultimate Masters, various Gush decks rose up the ranks. The belief was that Foil had given these decks a potent free counterspell and that removing it from the equation would bring the format back into balance. The fact is that Gush is a broken card and that was very likely underplayed up to the printing of Foil. Without Gush, Foil has been a non-factor.
A similar debate is currently taking place around Ghostly Flicker. Despite being a largely “fair” card, Flicker has been key in many problematic archetypes in the past, from Temporal Fissure Cloudpost Storm to Familiar Combo to Flicker Tron. At some point, the question will need to be asked whether or not Ghostly Flicker is too good for the format.
Hymn to Tourarch was banned when Pauper was made an official analog offering. It’s a messed up Magic card that can lead to non-games and takes away strategic decisions. Hymn would give black-based control a boost but would also create some miserable play patterns and, as far as I’m concerned, Pauper is better off without Hymn.
All that being said, giving the format better discard options would do a lot to help black control decks deal with the format at large. Duress and Divest are both just on the wrong side of playable but a card like Inquisition of Kozilek would likely be too good, so it’s definitely a fine needle to thread.
Grapeshot is too good. Pauper has access to tons of great rituals, the Invasion sac lands and amazing cantrips. It’s pitifully easy to win through storm combo and even with Weather the Storm, a Pauper Grapeshot deck could win on turn two quite often. It’s a shame because traditional storm combo is cool, if a bit broken. However, the answers available in the format simply do not work against a good Storm deck and thus, the deck can’t exist.
Before I go further I want to say this: most of the reasons a certain stripe of card doesn’t exist in Pauper is because they can’t easily be printed at common. These cards need to do the heavy lifting in Limited formats and having a Deafening Silence or Dryad Militant in Limited requires an incredibly specific environment, and one that probably wouldn’t make it out of Play Design.
Why is Dinrova Horror legal? At six mana it’s fine. The real problem is looping it with Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall over and over thanks to the mana abundance provided by Tron. The good news is that, right now, the spat of Mwonvuli Acid-Moss decks are helping to bring Tron builds back to the pack.
Is foiling out a #MTGPauper deck against the spirit of the format?
— ClentDC 💰™ // Fugazi Placebo; Many Such Cases 🍇 (@clentdc) February 18, 2021
Not at all. Pauper might get press as a budget format but to me, that’s a bug and not a feature. The truth is that Pauper is a competitive format composed entirely of commons. The fact that it’s inexpensive compared to other formats is just gravy. So if you want to splurge on 7th Edition foil Crypt Rats for your Mono Black Control deck, go off.
How can I get more people into it?
— Neil Cotton (@NeilCotton) February 18, 2021
Even though I just called the low price tag of Pauper a bug, it’s a really nice one. A tried and true way to get people involved and interest in Pauper is to build a ton of decks and bust them out between rounds of a tournament just to have something to do.
Or rather, that’s what I’d recommend in normal times. Currently, I’d tell them it’s a great way to learn to apply the fundamental principles of Magic in a tournament setting without having to worry about massively swingy cards. The absence of planeswalkers and one-card card advantage machines in general – whether they be board wipes or something akin to Sphinx’s Revelation – makes it so that many games are won and lost in the margins. If someone wants to learn about competitive Magic and do so in a lower stakes way, Pauper could be a perfect fit.
Favorite/least favorite deck names across the history of the format and why do more players cling to MBC compared to other decks that have become outdated (for example Tribe, Blitz, the UR Control builds of Tron, Rally Gond)?
— HeWhoIsInTheWater (@HWIITW) February 18, 2021
I’m not going to touch that deck name question with a ten-foot pole. As for why players cling to Mono-Black Control, there are a few reasons. First, there’s a vibrant Pauper scene in Brazil and there are a ton of players there who swear by Mono-Black Control. Like Modern and Legacy, some of these players may view MBC as “their deck” and rather than abandon it, they keep iterating over time.
As someone who enjoys Mono-Black Control, even though it has not been good in years, the deck is incredibly satisfying when it works. Curving removal into Sign in Blood into Chittering Rats into another creature into multiple copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel is viscerally satisfying.
The truth is that MBC is a turn too slow these days and relying so much on Gray Merchant is problematic. That being said, MBC is always just a card or two away from being a viable Tier 2 option and hope springs eternal.
What decks would you recommend to people who want to get into pauper long term?
What decks would you recommend for people who want to just dabble in the format occasionally?
— Lawrence Harmon (@LawrHarmon) February 18, 2021
I get asked this question a lot and my first response is always the same: what do you like to play? That’s a coward’s answer so I’ll try to provide a warrior one here.
If you’re looking to dabble in the format and are not looking to go deep, I would recommend Mono-Blue Delver. It’s a consistently solid option and runs Ponder, Preordain and Counterspell. It is also a deck that has enough flex slots that you can test out different configurations without giving up a ton of potential wins. It’s also rewarding to pilot at both an entry and more experience level.
Or you can play Burn. Burn is a good deck that’s great for churning through Leagues and unless you run into consistent dedicated hate can just roll some decks.
Now if you’re looking to get more involved in the format, it really does depend on what you would like to play. It also depends heavily whether or not you play other 60 card Constructed formats. That being said, if you’re looking at investing in the format, either digitally or physically, I think there’s one place to start: blue cantrip decks.
Between Mono-Blue Delver, Dimir Delver, Dimir Faeries and Izzet Faeries, these decks share a ton of the same cards. Even though they all have slightly different game plans, they’re similar enough that you can move from one to the other and use a lot of the same muscle memory to guide your game play. These decks also are able to easily adopt new options since the cantrips make finding single copies of cards that much easier.
If you’re more aggro minded, I would suggest looking into both traditional Affinity and Jeskai Affinity. While Stompy is the de facto aggro deck in the format, it has largely been supplanted by Jeskai Affinity. Thraben Inspector, Kor Skyfisher, Atog and Myr Enforcer make for quite the team and backing them up with Thoughtcast, Of One Mind and Galvanic Blast means you have some high quality spells. These are not decks for the faint of heart since Gorilla Shaman drinks your milkshake.
Finally, if you’re more combo minded, I would look into Elves. While it might be on a downswing at the moment, Elves is a consistently good deck. Birchlore Rangers and now Jaspera Sentinel give it outs to non-green shenanigans. It has access to some of the best card draw available in Distant Melody, Lead the Stampede and Winding Way. Elves is also a deck that rewards staying on top of the metagame to make sure you’re running the right combination of kill mechanisms. Lately, I’ve seen more Wildheart Invoker and Valakut Invoker, and I think that’s just nifty.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions and I’m sorry I couldn’t get to them all. I promise to hit writer’s block again and do this in the future.