The events that have unfolded over the past week in Pauper and culminated a Pauper ban list update banning two cards, Chatterstorm and Sojourner’s Companion have been nothing short of completely absurd. I have never, ever, in my 25-plus years of playing Magic, seen anything more ridiculous than what I’ve just watched unfold in the past quarter century surrounding this particularly broken Pauper meta.
Both cards are recent printings from Modern Horizons 2 and contributed to the complete collapse of the Pauper metagame into a three-pronged format: Storm, Affinity and U/B Meta Hate.
Let’s just get this out of the way….
Do I think these particular bans will fix Pauper?
Do I agree with the DCI’s choice of cards to ban?
I think the bans are “banned”-aids that don’t fix the actual problem: Affinity and Storm strategically and tactically are broken relative to the rest of the field.
Has anybody…. Ever… in the history of Pauper…. Ever…. Even one time… Seriously discussed the necessity of banning Myr Enforcer!?
These questions are rhetorical. No. They have not. So why is that the DCI’s choice?
Banning Sojourner’s Companion feels very much like when the DCI banned Bridge from Below in Modern when Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was clearly the problem card, causing Dredge to lap the field. I see the DCI’s Affinity ban as analogous to the DCI’s failure to ban the actual problem card from a new set.
Specific cards from Modern Horizons 2 have brought Pauper to its current state.
Let me start by saying that MTG Pauper has a looooooong history and a lot of historical precedent that informs what we know to not work and break the format.
For instance, proactive storm spells have always been a problem when they exist and have earned well-deserved bans over the years.
Storm, as a mechanic, has way too many powerful enablers in the form of cheap cantrips and mana accelerants and has traditionally proven too strong to handle.
Storm Spells Do Not Belong at Common!
And yet, for some reason they do… again.
Mark my words, the DCI will be back for Galvanic Relay. It’s a storm payoff in a format where it’s been proven that storm breaks the rules of parity way too hard.
Indestructible Artifact Dual Lands are Too Powerful for Pauper
The other issue with Modern Horizons 2 is the printing of a new cycle of indestructible artifact lands called “Bridges.”
Again, there are lessons to be learned from the past.
Did WotC up and forget how hard artifact lands dominated the first Mirrodin block?
Artifact lands are “free” Medallions for artifacts that also tap for a mana and are also easily repurposed into damage via Atog later in the game. They produce more than two mana per turn and lead to additional damage when sacrificed.
I know a thing or two about Affinity decks. I’ve built and played them in every format. I’ve written multiple Pauper Affinity primers over the past year and I always frame the pros and cons of the archetype as such:
- Affinity’s ability to leverage its artifact lands to generate tempo advantage (and repurpose those lands into damage later on via Atog) makes “what it does” among the most powerful inherent strategies in Pauper.
- The “Achilles Heel” of Affinity is it’s unreliable and vulnerable mana base. It has to devote slots to color fixing and the best way to fight against Affinity post-sideboard is to attack its lands.
The addition of artifact type dual lands with the “indestructible” keyword simultaneously shores up both of Affinity’s biggest weaknesses: color fixing and an opponent’s ability to attack an artifact land mana base directly post-sideboard.
I’m personally in the camp that the Bridges are the problem and the cards that should have been banned, but it’s also worth noting there is another vocal camp of Pauper players who were calling for a ban to Atog (which is the combo kill in the Affinity deck).
I also think this would have been a more reasonable ban than a Myr Enforcer ban if the goal was to actually knock Affinity back onto par with other archetypes.
The part that is interesting to me is that there were two camps of Pauper players with two reasonable solutions to an obvious problem and the DCI selected neither option.
I tend to believe the most straightforward solution tends to be correct most of the time. Nobody was calling for a ban to Atog or Myr Enforcer before Modern Horizons 2. The issue in my opinion is that the Bridges are just too powerful and make Affinity too much of a freeroll allowing the archetype to lap the field.
It may seem basic that I’m explaining what cards do and why they are good. I think the majority of my audience understands these points already from playing the format over the years.
- The issue isn’t that Pauper players don’t understand.
- The issue isn’t that WotC doesn’t understand.
- The issue is WotC continues to transplant these clearly broken and format destabilizing cards at common, especially via Horizons and Commander products.
- The issue is WotC doesn’t respect the history and traditions of Pauper that have allowed the community and format to thrive for years and years.
- The problem is the cards WotC is designing and slighting for common:
The past year has been a revolving door of nonsense cards that collapse the meta into a few viable decks, irritate the fanbase to the point that they stop playing and then require emergency bans to try and undo the damage.
Today’s B&R changes were a direct reflection of the community voicing their concern and taking action.
Just 4-0ed a prelim with 60 basic lands AMA pic.twitter.com/aOLPRB6NYV
— Ari Zax (@argzax) September 3, 2021
Last weekend, a group of Pauper community players went guerilla on the MTGO Pauper Prelims.
These players all registered 60-card decks containing all basic lands to play in the event. Attendance has dwindled so badly for Pauper as a result of the abysmal metagame Modern Horizons 2 has created that one of these “All Land Decks” via concessions was able to 4-0 and win the event and got posted on the WotC mothership website.
The fact that the format is viewed as so unplayable by lifelong fans of the format that an all basic lands deck could get scooped through the tournament is a huge black eye on WotC for how poor a job they’ve done with the format in the past two months.
Also, keep in mind that the Pauper community has been voicing concerns with the gameplay of the format for at least a month as interest has dwindled to naught with no recourse from WOTC or the DCI to address player’s concerns. My fellow CFB writer and Pauper fan, Alex Ullman, has been publishing data showing the poor state of the format and reaching out to WotC for a month.
— Alex Ullman (@nerdtothecore) September 9, 2021
It took a group of rogue Pauper fans throwing a big old 60-card all basic tomato in WotC’s face to finally get the point across and get the DCI to pay attention to player’s concerns. Today’s “emergency banning for Pauper” was a direct and immediate response to Pauper player’s essentially “dunking on” WotC with meme 4-0 decks. I’ve never ever seen a player base for any format become so disenfranchised and disappointed with game play as Pauper in the wake of the MH2 debacle.
I’ve tried to take a more positive approach to my content over the past year. Rather than complain about what I don’t like about particular formats, I focus on writing about what I do like in my content. As a former pro-player, I’ve played way too many formats I didn’t enjoy because I was “priced into playing” for Pro status and, now that I’m retired, I absolutely refuse to play formats I don’t like. Instead, now I only play and write about what I’m enjoying. I have no interest in selling my peers on formats I don’t actually think are particularly fun or well designed:
The last time I weighed in on Pauper was June 24. I wrote an article about how to build the best possible Chatterstorm deck based on current information at the time and my assessment was,,,
“The deck completely and utterly breaks the format and can win on turn two a fair amount of the time. If you insist on playing this format in this iteration – I advise playing this broken Storm deck.”
That was week one of the format and I was already bored with Chatterstorm because it’s not interesting, fun and there’s nowhere else to go with it. There’s nothing more to say and nothing more to write about.
I think Pauper is an extremely fun format with a relatively low cost of entry compared to any other option. I believe it provides an important function in the multiverse for players and fauns – it’s a version of Magic that is more about “playing” than “paying.” It’s a version of Magic where eternal cards from all across history merge together without a revolving door of mythics and planeswalkers culling the card pool.
Or, is it?
It very much feels like these cards have impacted and narrowed the Pauper metagame at various points in the past years in the same manner that Oko, Thief of Crowns, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Lurrus of the Dream-Den did to other formats. They just took over, could not be beaten and had to be removed.
I would very much prefer to write articles about what I’m enjoying and what I like to play than criticize or complain. To clarify, I have zero interest in saying anything bad about Pauper as a format or the community of individuals who enjoy playing it. I enjoy playing it (not the absurd Chatterstorm/Affinity MH2 meta – but, Pauper in general over the years).
Is it good that Chatterstorm is finally gone? Yes. It should never have existed at all.
Do I anticipate Affinity with Bridges and Atog to be the new Tier 1? Also, yes.
Will I continue to play Pauper? Yes, of course. That is… if there are enough paper players interested in sleeving up at the LGS.
Will I play Affinity? Yeah, probably.
Will I have fun? Yes.
Was this the ideal solution to create the best possible gameplay for fans of the format? In my opinion: No, it was not.
There’s a ton of things right about Pauper as a format: It’s affordable, it has a diverse and iconic card pool, it typically has a fun metagame and fun gameplay and it has an enthusiastic and loyal community of fans and players.
The biggest thing wrong with Pauper (and with Magic in general in my opinion) is that WotC doesn’t listen to what player’s actually want from their gaming experience.
Sell me on a great gaming experience, not on obviously broken cards that lead to mediocre gameplay.
Waiting two months for the DCI to take actions against a Storm deck that kills on Turn 2 is unacceptable in and of itself – especially considering they didn’t take both Storm cards or realistically address an Affinity deck that was every bit as powerful as Chatterstorm.deck in the format. It’s a fail from top to bottom, from the design of the cards released into the format to how WotC didn’t listen to its player base to the content of the recent B&R. Not a great couple of months to be a Pauper fan but hopefully the format gets sorted out before LGS paper events start back up.