It’s been a wild few weeks in Pauper. Expedition Map and Mystic Sanctuary were banned and then Double Masters gave the format a number of new options. Rather than doing a Top 10 this time, I want to focus on six different archetypes. Let’s get right to it:
Rising Fast: Jeskai Ephemerate
Pauper Jeskai Ephemerate - hadesblade - Top 4 8/16/20 Pauper Challenge
If Jeskai Ephemerate looks familiar, it’s because it bears a striking resemblance to the Arcum’s Astrolabe powered deck that dominated Pauper before the snowball was banned. The deck plays the best cheap spells in the format and then attempts to reuse them thanks to Archaeomancer. Ephemerate and Archaemomancer is a two card combo that allows you to “draw” the best spell from your graveyard every turn, and then get the Ephemerate back with the Archaeomancer.
While the deck used to need Arcum’s Astrolabe to make the mana work, it now has two better options. First is Thriving Isle. The Jumpstart land is the perfect dual for this deck as it provides the blue needed to string cantrips together and whatever color you need. Paired with Azorius Chancery Thriving Isle becomes a potent, if time delayed, fixer. The second option is Bonder’s Ornament. A three mana rock, Ornament can tap for any color and in the late game can keep cards flowing.
The result is a deck that, if it can find its footing early, can be unstoppable late. Ephemeral is a pitifully cheap spell that makes it easy to protect Archaeomancer while also being an absolute house with Mulldrifter. Jeskai Ephemerate can afford to overload on early interaction since all it needs is one Lightning Bolt, recast five or six times, to end the game.
Stompy remains the best pure beatdown deck in Pauper. The ability to vomit out a ton of threats with Burning-Tree Emissary can overwhelm blockers early. The deck also has a viable “go tall” strategy with Vault Skirge or Silhana Ledgewalker with Hunger of the Howlpack or Elephant Guide. The deck can also leverage Savage Swipe into both clearing a blocker and applying a ton of pressure.
Despite all it has going for it, Stompy seems to be struggling to keep pace with the metagame. Removal is constantly improving and currently Stompy is optimized for damage output rather than resilience. While Elephant Guide is powerful it also costs three mana. Some players have moved back to Young Wolf as a way to eat removal spells and I wonder (aloud, of all things) if the deck should move back to maximizing the number of Vines of Vastwood and looking at other pump spells that serve in as light countermagic (like Mutagenic Growth or Gather Courage).
4. Dimir Faeries
At some point last season, Dimir tempo decks started to eschew Delver of Secrets in favor of Spellstutter Sprite. They now resemble old Mono-Blue Faerie/Ninja decks that splash black for removal. These decks have benefitted mightily from Cast Down being downshifted to common in Double Masters. Cast Down is quickly becoming the best removal spell in the format as it handles almost everything.
So why is Dimir Faeries taking precedence over the Delver variants? I’m not entirely sure. I think as the removal gets better, relying on more singular threats like Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler becomes problematic. I know that some players are sticking to Dimir Delver and trying out additional creatures, like Jhessian Thief.
3. Izzet Faeries
Packing even fewer threats than the Dimir builds, these decks lean hard on the high quality of red and blue spells to achieve victory. While the creatures are fragile, Augur of Bolas and Ninja of Deep Hours both make it easy to keep a hand stocked with interaction. Izzet Faeries thrives when decks that try to play to the board – like Mono Black Control – are in short supply. Even if those strategies are popular, Izzet can adapt and run more resilient creatures such as Stormbound Geist. Despite losing Mystic Sanctuary, it is not a surprise to see this deck continue to succeed.
Like its Dimir cousin, Delver of Secrets has been losing favor in these builds. While the creature can still lead to some free wins, it also is not as good in these decks since they spend the first turns fixing their mana. It is far better to cast Augur of Bolas on turn three and have Skred up rather than committing to a turn one Island in the hope of flipping into a 3/2.
2. Boros Monarch
Another beneficiary of the Thriving Lands, Boros Monarch has been dipping more and more into black. While Reaping the Graves and Okiba-Gang Shinobi have often been high impact splashes, builds have been adopting more and more black cards. Suffocating Fumes has replaced Electrickery as a way to wipe the board that does not fold to Hydroblast, and it has the upside of cycling in dead matchups. These decks have also adopted Terminate as a way to handle Guardian of the Guildpact, and some have even gone so far as to include Chainer’s Edict and Unearth for more long game power.
Boros Monarch decks have also adopted Bonder’s Ornament. This is as much to create another source of cards as to turn off the opponent’s Ornaments. As we will see in the number one deck, being able to stop their Ornament is almost as good as yours going unchecked.
1. Flicker Tron
Let’s get this out of the way: banning Expedition Map did almost nothing to hinder Flicker Tron. Unlike Modern Tron, Pauper Tron does not need to hit Tron early to function. Rather, it wants to leverage that mana late to do more in a single turn cycle than the opponent. Thriving Lands, again, have made it easy to adopt Crop Rotation. In some ways, Rotation is better than Map as it can force the defender to make a choice about developing their own board or leaving up resources to fight over Crop Rotation.
Tron can now draw more cards thanks to Bonder’s Ornament. Ornament, funny enough, can be cast and activated off of Tron. Ornament also can help ensure Tron its four mana, which is key for hitting Mulldrifter plus Ephemerate early and keep the cards flowing. Tron also just got access to both new removal spells in Abrade and Cast Down, reducing the need to negate the combat phase and instead, it can actually kill creatures. This exposes the problem with Tron – as long as new powerful cards are printed, Tron will have the easiest time adopting them.