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What’s the Best Deck in Pauper MTG Right Now?

It’s a new year and that means a new set is just around the corner. The end of December was a bit of a bumpy ride for Pauper. The continued prevalence of both Grixis Affinity and Kuldotha Red in the Magic Online League has left some players feeling disgruntled. On some level this makes sense – seeing the same cards on the other side of the table time and time again, win or lose, can get dull. Looking at the Top 32 data out of this season’s Challenges, both of these decks are popular and strong choices. That being said, neither are dominating the winner’s metagame in a way that is so far outside the realm of reasonable, but rather they are just everywhere. This presents an interesting question – at what point does sheer volume come into account when discussing the health of the Pauper metagame at a macro level? 

But back to the topic at hand. There has been some jostling for position in the metagame, including some surprises. Before we get to the good stuff I want to talk about two honorable mentions:

 

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Honorable Mentions

Orzhov Ephemerate

Pauper Orzhov Ephemerate by Add1ct3d

 

This deck started out the season strong but tailed off in recent weeks, and then last weekend brought it back in a big way. Orzhov Ephemerate is a creature-based value deck that does a good job of drawing cards and has plenty of incidental life gain. The more current builds of the deck add more lands and life to the mana base in the form of Obscura Storefront. The latest pilots have also correctly identified Snuff Out as a liability against the aggression of Affinity and Red and see the value in exile removal like Unmake in a world of Blood Fountain and Sacred Cat.

Izzet Faeries

Pauper Izzet Faeries by Brivenix

 

It is really hard to keep Spellstutter Sprite down. The format staple combines red removal with the powerful control suite of blue. These decks have had to adjust as well, moving away from running as many sorcery cantrips in favor of being able to leave up mana for interaction. The ability to leave up a response to Swiftspear and a Basilisk Gate activation is huge in the current metagame and Skred fits the role nicely.

10. Mardu Synthesizer

The current heir to Boros Monarch in that it plays a real midrange value game, Mardu Synthesizer leverages Experimental Synthesizer with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher to see plenty of cards. It also runs the Cleansing Wildfire-Bridge package to help accelerate. The result is a deck that can make land drops despite only running 19 lands. Being consistent goes a long way in the face of the top decks and Mardu Synthesizer is well set up to have the opportunity to play the game.

9. WonderWalls

The biggest thing WonderWalls has going for it is the flexibility of the core engine. The deck runs several win conditions, from Valakut Invoker to Secret Door, and can even pivot to a cascade build with Annoyed Alitsaur if the metagame calls for it (although it hasn’t for quite some time). The deck has thrived as of late with fewer decks packing removal but that may change in the coming weeks as more strategies are figuring out ways to buy time by removing threats. Still, it is difficult to remove every one of WonderWall’s pieces so I fully expect to see the strategy continue to put up respectable results.

8. Naya Gates

After a few weeks where the deck was hovering at around 4.5 percent of the Top 32 metagame, last weekend saw Naya Gates surge to over nine percent. The deck features the same Sacred Cat-Basilisk Game combo that put CawGate on the map but backs it up with a Kor Skyfisher engine that pairs with both Abundant Growth and Omen of the Dead. It also sneaks in Ephemerate to keep the value coming and Gatecreeper Vine to increase the consistency of hitting Gates. Finally, the deck has one of the current best blockers in the format thanks to Saruli Gatekeepers. Naya Gates continues to impress and I am interested to see how it performs in the wake of the rise of Flicker Tron.

7. Madness Burn

Another Galvanic Blast and Deadly Dispute deck, Madness Burn remains a potent choice for people who really enjoy pointing burn spells at the dome. While Kuldotha Red does this as well, Madness Burn has a bit more of a rogue flair, trying to turn the downside of discarding cards into damage via Fiery Temper and Kitchen Imp. There is a lot of power packed into these 60 cards but it can stumble if it draws too many copies of those cards with madness without a discard outlet.

6. Flicker Tron

Flicker Tron was once the bane of the format, using Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker with Mnemonic Wall to consistently rebuy high value spells or to destroy an opponent’s will with Dinrova Horror and Stonehorn Dignitary. The strategy took a serious hit when Prophetic Prism was banned in 2022 but the addition of Energy Refractor has given Tron another life. Refractor has the advantage of being able to filter generic mana multiple times a turn, albeit at a loss of overall mana available due to the cost of the ability. Still, the allure of recurring Moment’s Peace and Weather the Storm is real in a format where Monastery Mentor, Myr Enforcer and Galvanic Blast are at the top of the heap.

5. Bogles

Bogles is more popular than the deck in the number four spot but suffers from inconsistent draws. Despite adding Commune with Spirits and Spirited Companion to improve the overall velocity of the deck, Bogles can still be plagued with drawing Ancestral Mask without a Gladecover Scout and vice versa. That multiple decks are running Suffocating Fumes and Dawnbringer Cleric in the main also makes running the slippery ones a slippery proposition, but it is a testament to the overall strength of the game plan that Bogles finds itself in the top half of these power rankings.

4. CawGate

There’s little new to say about CawGate. The ability to turn Sacred Cat and Guardian of the Guildpact into threats that can end the game in two turns is a pretty big deal, especially considering how hard it is to remove Basilisk Gate. Some pilots have taken to running Coalition Honor Guard in the main deck as a way to steal opposing Basilisk Gate activations. CawGate is likely a bit better than it looks on the surface but has lost some players to the allure of Naya Gates and its more robust life gain package.

3. Kuldotha Red

Kuldotha Red is an incredibly popular deck in both the Challenges and the Leagues. The metagame has begun to adjust to its damage output which has taken it down a notch. Whereas before the deck would consistently find itself placing the Top 16, its recent run has shown the real feast or famine nature of the strategy. The games go rather differently when a Red player opens on a Monastery Swiftspear (or two) but the numbers seem to indicate that Kuldotha Red is just as likely to flame out as it is to burn away the opponent. That being said, I would not stop packing defensive measures anytime soon as the deck is still a force.

2. Dimir Terror

It’s a tale as old as time – cheap blue cantrips combined with low cost threats and potent removal spells is the backbone of a staple archetype. Unexpected Fangs has taken on a new importance in the current metagame as a way to turn Gurmag Angler and Tolarian Terror into grounded Baneslayer Angels. While less popular than Kuldotha Red, Dimir Terror has some slightly better numbers – 19 Top 8 finishes in 70 Top 32 finishes compared to Red’s 18 Top 8s in 85 Top 32 appearances. Dimir Terror also performs slightly better in the Swiss rounds, even if it lacks the same closing power of Red.

1. Affinity

Eight weeks into The Brothers’ War season and Affinity continues to have strong results. In its 95 Top 32 appearances, the deck has 22 finishes in the Top 8, including five wins. It has over 20 percent of wins at an X-2 record and over 21 percent of all wins less all losses. All of this is to say it is the clear best deck in the format. With another set likely to feature powerful artifacts coming in just a few weeks, it is likely to add a tool or two to its repertoire. 

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