Yesterday on WeeklyMTG, Gavin Verhey announced the first Pauper ban list update in the Pauper Format Panel era. Atog, Bonder’s Ornament and Prophetic Prism have been banned. With that in mind I want to take a look at the potential landscape of Pauper once these bans go into effect.
As mentioned in the announcement, Affinity was a deck where the general consensus was something had to go. Removing Atog closes off one of the “oops I win” aspects of the deck. While sacrifice outlets for Disciple of the Vault remain (such as Krark-Clan Grunt, Krark-Clan Shaman, Thermal Glider, Oxidda Daredevil and more), none of them provide the ability to end the game with Fling quite like Atog. The result is that Affinity decks are going to have to make some choices – do they want to go for a slower version of the Disciple fueled combo kill or try to smash face with large creatures? I’m not saying that a middle path does not exist, but it’s going to be more difficult to stitch these two builds together.
If Affinity chooses to go the beatdown route, it has plenty of options. It almost assuredly wants to add green back for Carapace Forger and potentially returns to Springleaf Drum and Frogmite to help power out threats. Gearseeker Serpent can make a comeback as well giving the deck another top end threat. Affinity can lean harder on blue for cards like Perilous Research, Metallic Rebuke and Somber Hoverguard. Perhaps Wavesifter gets a nod as a way to make two artifacts to be cashed in later. These decks should be able to easily cast Galvanic Blast but might struggle to go full four color.
Grixis Affinity survives in a more aggressive shape as well. It too can add Gearseeker Serpent and might even want to go for Gurmag Angler as another way to make use of discarded trinkets. Etherium Spinner can help to provide a steady stream of artifacts that can be fed to Makeshift Munitions to help implement a death of a thousand cuts, which can be doubled up with Disciple of the Vault or Reckless Fireweaver.
The most aggressive Rakdos Affinity variants may eschew blue all together and instead try to leverage Glaze Fiend. While it cannot make use of artifacts that are already on the board the way Atog could, it can still pack quite a wallop if paired with Fling or Temur Battle Rage. Fiend also avoids Krark-Clan Shaman which could lead to another style of combo kill.
These changes also open up an opportunity for dedicated Disciple of the Vault combo decks. Both Myr Retriever and Ashnod’s Altar are legal in Pauper and two copies of Retriever can loop themselves through Altar. Once Disciple of the Vault or Reckless Fireweaver are in play, the game can end in short order.
All told, Affinity is going to survive. While it will have a harder time attacking from multiple angles, the machine is not going to go quietly into the night.
Make no mistake: Tron as it was constructed took a hit. Being able to run the best cards from any color for no real cost, combined with the abundance of mana, made Tron a constant threat in the metagame. On the surface, this looks like another Expedition Map ban, but in reality, these bans cut off one of Tron’s advantages: easy access to every color of mana. Unlike other mana rocks, these can either replace themselves (Prophetic Prism) or generate card advantage turn after turn (Bonder’s Ornament). Removing these cards will hopefully force Tron to make concessions in deck construction to fewer colors.
So where does Tron go from here? I don’t believe Ghostly Flicker-based Tron decks aren’t going anywhere. If anything, I could see them reverting back to Azorius builds – sometimes called Rhystic Tron due to their inclusion of Rhystic Circle. These decks could lean on Azorius Signet to help fix their mana while still running a Ghostly Flicker or Ephemerate engine. It is possible that these decks will also include Mystical Teachings but again, maximizing that spell will require working with the mana base.
Green Tron decks – ones that try to resolve large threats early – are also poised to return. These decks still have access to Ancient Stirrings to dig for Ulamog’s Crusher or Self-Assembler. These decks may have an easier time splashing for a second color thanks to Crop Rotation and might be able to Tron faster thanks to Elvish Rejuvenator.
Finally, it is entirely possible that the current builds of Tron persist. Sphere of the Suns can help Tron accelerate and Deadly Dispute can turn one that has burned out into fresh cards. While this may reduce the early velocity Flicker Tron grew accustomed to, it could provide enough fixing and card draw to put a Band-Aid on Tron’s wounds.
This deck is the big loser in these bans. Pestilence Control is an Orzhov control deck that pairs discard with a copious amount of removal. It locks opponents out of playing creatures with the combination of Guardian of the Guildpact and Pestilence. Because it plays a lot of one-for-one style cards it came to lean on Bonder’s Ornament as a way to keep the cards flowing. Unless the deck shifts to Palace Sentinels or Thorn of the Black Rose – cards it had run in the past – it may have to revert to a Kor Skyfisher-based deck that also runs Spare Supplies and other cantrip artifacts. These builds have been popular in the past but play more like midrange decks than hard control decks. Can this deck survive? I think so, but it is going to take a serious hit.
Monarch-based strategies emerged from these bans almost completely unscathed. Not only did Tron take a hit but Affinity got taken down several notches as well. Monarch will likely cement itself as the Day One midrange strategy to beat but I am not convinced it will stay that way. We have seen more Cleansing Wildfire/Ephemerate decks crop up and now that these builds do not have to contend with Affinity the same way, they may be able to combat the Monarch in the midgame.
The decline in Tron and Affinity should also open up the field for other aggressive decks to make a return. While these decks may falter in the late game against Monarch, it is possible for them to win before Monarch can set up a true tower defense. The key for these decks will be finding enough creatures with three toughness to get around Fiery Cannonade.
Another strategy that lost nothing, Faeries looks to be a major player moving forward, but what else is new? These decks have been format staples for as long as Pauper has been a format but have natural predators that have not vanished. Boros Monarch and Boros Bully both matchup well, as do decks like Bogles and Heroic. These are not going anywhere and if other beatdown decks reemerge, it could force Faeries to adapt and adjust. It is possible that these decks will not be able to rely on their own monarch cards moving forward, especially if they are being put under additional pressure from attackers.
One Familiars pilot told me something akin to “Familiars is Tron on hard mode” and they were not wrong. Familiars has a similar game plan to Tron but does so on the back of cost reducers (Sunscape Familiar) as opposed to lands that produce multiple colors of mana. Familiars is a traditionally underrepresented strategy on Magic Online due to the number of loops it requires to function optimally. Still it can put up gaudy numbers and did not lose anything in the bans. Historically, these decks can stumble when there are a large number of aggro decks in the metagame but they have new tools at their disposal, Ephemerate first amongst them. The deck might have to adjust some to the new meta but I fully expect it to remain a contender.
These decks leverage Cleansing Wildfire and the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges to ramp out huge threats. Some builds also used Bonder’s Ornament to churn through cards late. I think these decks will be just fine without Ornament, even if they do lose a little late game power. Their main engine also makes it easy for them to dip into a third or fourth color for additional card draw.
The hits on Affinity and Tron will hopefully create a window of opportunity for more aggressive decks to emerge. Stompy and other traditional aggro decks have been largely absent from the competitive metagame for quite some time. The combination of a better aggro deck with reach (Affinity) and a control deck that can render the combat step useless (Tron) made attacking a fool’s errand. While Affinity will still present a quick clock and Tron a strong endgame, there should be enough space for more traditional aggressive decks to emerge.
Similarly, the weakening of Tron could allow for other control decks to emerge. To date, Tron has had a stranglehold on the late game. While it can still out mana every deck in the field, it now has to make concessions to discrete mana in the casting cost. This may be enough to let decks like Dimir Alchemy return to the fold, albeit in a reduced capacity.
I am excited to see what Pauper looks like after these changes take effect. And with Neon Dynasty just around the corner, the format is primed to refresh.