It feels like Streets of New Capenna just hit the scene but Pauper is already gearing up for another release in Battle for Baldur’s Gate. While the last release has certainly had some impact on Pauper, it has done almost nothing to upset the applecart that are our Power Rankings.
The upcoming Commander Legends looks poised to not only upset that cart, but to flip it over and steal all the apples thanks to the initiative mechanic. While we have not seen anything that is setting off alarm bells yet, the persistent value presented by the Undercity is something I have my eyes on. I hope that this mechanic provides incentives to try new things but I wonder if it’s just going to find itself in the same structures that currently exist.
That’s the future; let’s talk about what’s going on right now in Pauper. Right now, the format is dominated by three major macro-archetypes: Affinity, Boros and Faeries. In fact, these three strategies are so pervasive and dominant that this round of Power Rankings only has five entries and an honorable mention. Tradition dictates that when there are so few decks to discuss, a question of “is this format healthy?” follows.
Usually I would be inclined to say yes, but there’s more to it than that. Right now, even if there are only a few decks in the Power Rankings, both Boros and Faeries have a lot of different ways they can be built using different color schemes (Faeries) or different support packages (Boros). Even Affinity has some variety in its builds. So just based upon the decks listed here, I would not pass judgment of format health.
However, the lack of diversity is coupled with an issue with the current Pauper game play. The pressure exerted by the top three archetypes means there’s less time for slower strategies to develop and decks are priced into playing cheap interaction that may fall flat. This, combined with the overwhelming strength of Pauper’s engines, means that it is incredibly difficult for decks that fall behind early to ever overcome that deficit. When games are decided in the first few turns of a match time and time again, that may be a sign something is amiss.
Honorable Mention: Rakdos Blood Burn
Rakdos Blood Burn is a rising star in Pauper. It has put up consistently solid results despite being made up of cards that by and large do not stand on their own. The deck pairs Faithless Looting and cards that generate Blood tokens with Kitchen Imp and Fiery Temper to turn these downsides into damage. The result is a deck that is far more than the sum of its parts. That being said it, isn’t doing anything inherently unfair and given the current landscape, that counts for something. While Rakdos Blood Burn might be one of the more mana-efficient decks outside of the top three, that only goes so far when your opponents have free 4/4s.
5. Azorius Familiars
Azorius Familiars is an absurdly powerful deck that is largely held back by the majority of Pauper events taking place on Magic Online. The deck leans on Ephemerate to generate a ton of value with cards like Sea Gate Oracle, Mulldrifter and Archaeomancer and as such, requires a lot of clicks to operate at maximum efficiency.
The deck takes its name from Sunscape Familiar, which allows the deck to pull off some absurd value lines with Snap or, with two copies in play, cycle Ghostly Flicker an unbound number of times by passing it through an Archaeomancer and an Island. This loop can act as a kill mechanism with Sage’s Row Denizen. Familiars is also one of the best Dust to Dust decks in the format, which gives it game against Affinity, and can gain a rather obscene amount of life with God-Pharaoh’s Faithful.
4. Goblin Combo
Goblin Combo is another deck that takes quite a few clicks to achieve a win, but because the endgame is far more deterministic than that of Familiars, your opponent is more likely to concede once the win is presented (without Denizen, Familiars does not always have a clean kill).
Goblin Combo can win as early as turn three with Skirk Prospector, First Day of Class and Putrid Goblin. The fact that you can sacrifice Putrid Goblin to Prospector to pay for First Day of Class (with the persist trigger on the stack) makes it a rather compact package. The deck benefits from being able to run both Faithless Looting and Deadly Dispute, granting it access to fantastic filtering and card draw.
Boros includes a wide variety of decks that tend to skew aggressive. The most beatdown oriented versions lean on Squadron Hawks and force multipliers like Rally the Peasants. The slower, but still aggro builds, have moved back to Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher in concert with Experimental Synthesizer. Some of these decks have added Kuldotha Rebirth to go even wider and some run Foundry Helix for more reach. The result is a macro-archetype that has a ton of play to it and can keep the decks ahead of it honest.
If you have followed Pauper for any length of time it should not surprise you to see Faeries high up on the Power Rankings. While the deck might change colors from mono-blue to Dimir to Izzet, the core remains the same: blue cantrips, Spellstutter Sprite and Ninja of the Deep Hours, counterspells and efficient interaction. Looking at these decks separately is useful for preparing for events – Glaze Fiend is much better against Snuff Out than Abrade, for example – but the reality is this is one strategy that can just change the dressing for maximum impact.
Affinity is approaching Tron in the “what else is there to say” department. The deck gets to run the best threats, the best card advantage and thanks to its flexible and resilient mana base, some of the best spells the format has to offer. That is part of what makes the machine so frightening – you do not know if you’re going to be facing down Counterspell or not, or if the Affinity deck you’re up against has eschewed it for a more beatdown slant. Couple this with the recursion of Blood Fountain and the reach of Makeshift Munitions and you have a deck that is rather tough to fight.