In case you haven’t heard, there was a Pauper ban list update. Disciple of the Vault and Galvanic Relay have been removed from the format while Expedition Map has come back into the fold. So, where does this leave Pauper?
First off, the Storm deck as it has come to be constructed is no more. While the supporting structure remains, the ability for the deck to store spells in exile with Galvanic Relay is gone. So where does that leave Storm? The deck still can “go off” thanks to plenty of rituals and Kessig Flamebreather but it misses out on the opportunity to know it has all the pieces waiting in the wings. The existing shell can also pivot back to a previous build that tried to resolve a Marauding Blight-Priest and then go for the win with Weather the Storm. Having seen this deck in action, it is still quite potent but lacks the inevitability of a deck that can start a turn with effectively 20 cards in its hand. All that being said, Storm is likely to find itself at a tier or two below its previous metagame topping status.
What about Affinity? The deck lost another angle to combo kill with Disciple of the Vault getting the axe. But make no mistake – Affinity is still one of the best decks out there. It can present large threats early and has the ability to see a ton of cards either with Thoughtcast or the new engine of Deadly Dispute and Experimental Synthesizer. Some builds have already adopted Gurmag Angler as another top end threat while other players have opted to cut black entirely and add white for Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk to get extra uses out of Synthesizer. Affinity is not going anywhere and is an early contender to be the clock of the new era of Pauper.
How about Tron? The deck had almost entirely fallen out of favor after the ban of Bonder’s Ornament and Prophetic Prism. Expedition Map does not help the control versions of Tron come back into vogue but it does allow decks that try to turbo out a Fangren Marauder or other large threats more viable. The issue with this style of deck moving forward is that they have to include a secondary engine beyond Tron in order to keep up with the rest of the format.
Pauper has become a format where everything but the most aggressive decks need access to at least two different engines to keep up on card economy. Decks like Affinity, Faeries, Wildfire piles and Ephemerate decks all use overlapping engines to stitch together a steady flow of cards. Faerie decks lean on Ninja of the Deep Hours and Moon-Circuit Hacker to start the card flow and beyond that, Izzet and Dimir lean on monarchy while mono-blue has adopted Of One Mind. Boros decks have started to lean on Experimental Synthesizer to see multiple cards with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher, with some adding Kuldotha Rebirth back into the fold to sacrifice some of their material. Affinity not only has their mana engine, but also the Synthesizer and Deadly Dispute pairing. And Ephemerate and Cleansing Wildfire engines have been going hand-in-hand since Modern Horizons 2 dropped.
That’s all well and good, but what does this mean? The mid-and-late games of Pauper matches are slogs of card advantage but also of efficiency. These packets are not only powerful but they are cheap. The combination of Deadly Dispute and Ichor Wellspring has been called “Ancestral Recall” because on the turn you Dispute you get a one mana rebate in the form of Treasure. Experimental Synthesizer is an absurd card that can generate a ton of value if leveraged correctly and right now plenty of decks are doing just that. And while these are all strong options, these decks can still close the game out with the free card draw of monarch. If you’re trying to build a deck that wants to push past the midgame you have to think about how you are going to get there and how you are going to pull ahead.
What about aggressive strategies? The more proactive Boros builds still use Synthesizer but back it up with Galvanic Blast and sometimes Foundry Helix. Bogles has moved over to Spirited Companion and Commune with Spirits as a way to keep cards flowing. Even Burn has fully adopted Voldaren Epicure to filter otherwise dead cards. Simply put, having good stats just is not enough to be the beatdown in Pauper right now – you need the push of card flow to keep up.
It’s an exciting time in Pauper. The bans, while maybe not perfect, are helping to open up the format and provide an opportunity for different decks to try their hand at being the best. Right now, not much has changed with Affinity and Faeries likely taking the early lead on the metagame. But that’s just for the first weekend and I for one am excited to see what develops in the weeks to come before Streets of New Capenna.