It’s time to round out the Pauper Winner’s Metagame with the Top 10 best decks in the format. In case you missed Part 1 from earlier this week, you can find it here. Part 1 highlighted a Rogue’s Gallery of Tier 1.5 strategies. It’s a great place to look for inspiration or to find a deck that people are not currently gunning for in the metagame.
Today’s article will feature the top decks of the format. Whether you are looking to get into Pauper or are an advanced player looking to hone those metagame skills, these 10 are important to know because they are the decks you are most likely to face in paper or online.
I want to make a quick disclaimer about “tiers.” Picking a Tier 1 deck isn’t a free ticket to winning all your games. The tiers tend to be better indicators of representation within the metagame as opposed to abstract power level. Of course, there is a correlation between decks performing well and getting a lot of shuffles from players. I just want to emphasize that I believe any of the decks in the Top 20 are legitimate choices with proper tuning and practice based on metagame trends.
I will also say that the Top 10 (and Top 20 for that matter!) are incredibly diverse to the point that no matter what kind of deck you like, there’s likely a great option for you in Pauper.
3, 2, 1, let’s jam…
The Top 10 Decks in Pauper
#10. Mono-Black Midrange, 4% of the metagame
I considered grouping Orzhov Pestilence and Mono-Black Control together because they share a lot of tactical overlap in the sense that they are super-removal heavy. It’s also worth noting that Mono-Black Zombie Aggro is also an option. So, if you are a fan of the basic Swamp, like me, there’s a lot of things to do!
I recently wrote a primer on the list I played in PPL.
Brian DeMars, Pauper Premier League
18 Swamp 4 Bojuka Bog 4 Cuombajj Witches 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel 4 Chittering Rats 1 Crypt Rats 4 Disfigure 2 Phyrexian Defiler 2 Duress 2 Unearth 3 Oubliette (Dark) 1 Evincar’s Justice 1 Night’s Whisper 4 Sign in Blood 1 Echoing Decay 4 Chainer’s Edict Sideboard 4 Wrench Mind 3 Choking Sands 2 Rancid Earth 1 Faerie Macabre 1 Duress 1 Crypt Incursion 1 Echoing Decay 1 Evincar’s Justice 1 Mindstab
Mono-Black saw a bit of a resurgence after the bans but has since fallen a little bit out of favor. Specifically, the deck struggles to out grind the Izzet Control and Jeskai’s endless stream of cantripping threats, which leaves it vulnerable in a metagame where this tactic has becoming increasingly popular.
The deck has a ton of good matchups, specifically against creature aggro, which gives it a unique role in the metagame.
Along with High Tide, these two incredibly strong black cards covertly received a ban when the paper card pool was merged with the MTGO pool. I was disappointed that neither were even given a chance in the format. First, they are both OG and Iconic.
I understand banning a two-cost Stone Rain. On the other hand, it might have been premature to ban Hymn to Tourach. Would Hymn being legal more than quadruple its Top 8 % (which is what it would take to even justify a discussion to ban)?
I don’t currently think that black has one of the best 15 cards in Pauper and I don’t think giving it a “power card” would be a terrible thing.
#9. Hexproof Auras, 4% of Winner’s Metagame
Bogles in one of the bogeymen of Pauper. It’s a coherent, linear strategy that forces an opponent to interact with a specific subset of cards or race. It’s also a deck that has been gaining popularity lately, so make sure you have a plan to interact with a hexproof creature wearing a ton of pants!
PAULO_CABRAL_BR, 2nd MTGO Challenge
4 Crumbling Vestige 1 Khalni Garden 12 Snow-Covered Forest 1 Snow Covered Plains 3 Gladecover Scout 1 Heliod’s Pilgrim 4 Kor Skyfisher 2 Silhana Ledgewalker 4 Slippery Bogle 2 Fling 4 Abundant Growth 3 Ancestral Mask 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 3 Armadillo Cloak 4 Ethereal Armor 4 Rancor 4 Utopia Sprawl Sideboard 1 Cartouche of Ambition 1 Crimson Acolyte 2 Dispel 3 Electrickery 1 Fling 3 Gorilla Shaman 1 Lifelink 3 Standard Bearer
Another interesting factoid about the Bogles decks are that there are several ways of building the list with no clear-cut consensus! In this list, we see the power of Arcum’s Astrolabe + Kor Skyfisher on full display (it’s not the last time we’ll be seeing this in the Top 10!) to fix mana and generate powerful value.
#8. Elves, 4% of Winner’s Metagame
Another long-time staple, Elves, are alive and well in Pauper. Elves is a sort of Aggro / Combo hybrid deck and has the distinction of being one of the best “combo decks” in Pauper. It generates a ton of mana via Priest of Titania and Quirion Ranger and has plenty of big, synergistic tribal payoffs.
Antonov Valentyn, 1st, Bednyak na Volge Cup
8 Forest 4 Birchlore Rangers 2 Elvish Mystic 3 Elvish Vanguard 2 Essence Warden 3 Fyndhorn Elves 3 Llanowar Elves 3 Lys Alana Huntmaster 3 Nettle Sentinel 4 Priest of Titania 4 Quirion Ranger 4 Timberwatch Elf 3 Wellwisher 4 Land Grant 4 Lead the Stampede 4 Winding Way 1 Spidersilk Armor 1 Viridian Longbow Sideboard 3 Gleeful Sabotage 1 Kaervek’s Torch 1 Luminescent Rain 2 Magnify 1 Relic of Progenitus 2 Scattershot Archer 2 Spidersilk Armor 1 Spore Frog 1 Ulamog’s Crusher 1 Viridian Longbow
The biggest weakness of the Elf decks are their vulnerability to sweepers:
If you ever wonder why people spam so much of these types of effects in the sideboard, Elves are the reason. It’s also worth noting that because Elves draws so much hate that other aggro decks tend to avoid playing X/1 creatures to insulate themselves against commonly played sideboard cards like Electrickery.
#7. Jeskai Midrange, 5% of Winner’s Metagame
Jeskai Midrange has been the new, hot deck over the past two weeks. Hold your disappointment… I was also surprised that the deck didn’t land higher on the list because before I started data-crunching I assumed it would be in one of the Top 3 spots and so did most of the other Pauper players I talked to.
The fact is, it simply doesn’t have the numbers to earn that kind of a ranking, at least not yet. I also used only data from after the “free blue ban” and so these numbers do reflect the current state of the metagame.
Adam Yurchick, 3-0 Pauper Premier League
1 Ancient Den 10 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Mountain 4 Ash Barrens 1 Azorius Chancery 2 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Archaeomancer 4 Seeker of the Way 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 3 Mulldrifter 2 Trinket Mage 4 Counterspell 4 Preordain 2 Ponder 4 Skred 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 2 Ephemerate 2 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Relic of Progenitus 2 Electrickery 3 Pyroblast 1 Navigator’s Compass 2 Hydroblast 1 Dispeller’s Capsule 2 Ancient Grudge 2 Lone Missionary 1 Dispel
To be fair, if we combine Izzzet Control and Jeskai Midrange, we end up at about 10% of the Winner’s metagame, which would put the “Jeskai Snow” archetype into the Top 3 decks. I don’t want to undersell the impact of Astro Jeskai in the metagame, because it has been significant, no doubt.
Yurchick’s build is much more aggressive than the pure control deck. It features a bunch of cheap creatures that can bring pressure while continuing to mount card advantage with ETB creatures, Ephemerating those creatures, as well as looping Arcum’s Astrolabe with gating creatures such as Hawk and Skyfisher.
While we’ve seen Astrolabe in a variety of decks already, Jeskai is the one that pushes its utility to the max (at least so far!).
#6. Dimir Control, 6% of Winner’s Metagame
Dimir Control is still kicking around and doing quite well for itself despite not really getting any new toys from Modern Horizons! With Gush, Daze, and Probe gone, it has opened up the door for more traditional control decks to run their game.
Antillectual, MTGO Pauper League
2 Dimir Aqueduct 2 Dimir Guildgate 4 Dismal Backwater 7 Island (335) 2 Radiant Fountain 4 Swamp (339) 3 Chainer’s Edict 4 Counterspell 2 Crypt Incursion 4 Disfigure 1 Dispel 2 Doom Blade 2 Evincar’s Justice 4 Innocent Blood 2 Mystical Teachings 4 Preordain 1 Prohibit 2 Recoil 2 Think Twice 2 Curse of the Bloody Tome 1 Dead Weight 3 Pristine Talisman Sideboard 1 Ashes to Ashes 4 Blue Elemental Blast 2 Dispel 1 Doom Blade 1 Duress 1 Evincar’s Justice 4 Nihil Spellbomb 1 Syphon Life
I think this recent, creatureless build is pretty sweet. Since it wins via decking and doesn’t use its own creatures, it’s able to exploit cards like Innocent Blood. Wow, I would not want to play against this deck with Bogles!
#5. Burn, 7% of Winner’s Metagame
Burn is a tried-and-true way to put an opponent to the test. The burn test, that is! Burn feels like it’s in a strange place right now. The sideboard cards against Burn are extremely difficult to beat:
Players are also packing a fair amount of incidental life gain as a hedge against the influx of aggressive decks (which includes Burn). Bolting face is still the fastest and most consistent way to get an opponent dead on turn five, which is why Burn still cracks the Top 5.
Chris Van Meter, 2-1 Pauper Premier League
17 Mountain 4 Ghithu Lavarunner 4 Thermo-Alchemist 4 Chain Lightning 3 Curse of the Pierced Heart 4 Fireblast 4 Lava Spike 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Needle Drop 4 Rift Bolt 4 Searing Blaze 4 Skewer the Critics Sideboard 1 Electrickery 1 Keldon Marauders 2 Martyr of Ashes 3 Molten Rain 4 Red Elemental Blast 1 Relic of Progenitus 3 Smash to Smithereens
It’s not that far off from a Legacy deck…
#4. Affinity, 8% of Winner’s Metagame
We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of the format now and it should be no shock to see Affinity. When I did my post-ban metagame analysis, there were three decks that made substantial gains: Mono-Black, Affinity, and Stompy, all three of which at least doubled their metagame representation. While Mono-Black has remained about the same, Affinity has picked up another 2% in the meantime.
Lucas Silva, 1st Toca Disco Pauper
1 Ancient Den 4 Darksteel Citadel 1 Forgotten Cave 3 Great Furnace 1 Lonely Sandbar 3 Seat of Synod 2 Tree of Tales 1 Vault of Whispers 3 Atog 2 Auriok Sunchaser 2 Carapace Forger 1 Disciple of the Vault 4 Frogmite 1 Gearseeker Serpent 4 Myr Enforcer 1 Dispel 1 Fling 2 Galvanic Blast 1 Perilous Research 1 Temur Battle Rage 4 Thoughtcast 4 Chromatic Star 3 Ichor Wellspring 2 Implement of Ferocity 4 Prophetic Prism 4 Terrarion Sideboard 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Electrickery 1 Feed the Clan 1 Gorilla Shaman 2 Hydroblast 2 Krark-Clan Shaman 1 Ray of Revelation 1 Reaping the Graves 1 Relic of Progenitus 1 Serene Heart
4/4s are a big game in Pauper. They don’t die to Lightning Bolt and rumble with the commonly played 2/2s, 2/3s, and 1/3s of the format. There are a lot of decks that really struggle against a handful of big bodies on the quick.
It’s worth noting Lucas’ list is a bit out there, but I like it a lot. Most lists are a little bit more streamlined around Carapace Forger, Atog and Galvanic Blast, whereas Lucas is experimenting with some other neat synergy cards:
I’m also a big fan of his sideboard. I can tell he’s put a lot of work into his build of the deck and am glad to see it translate into a first-place finish for him!
#3. Stompy, 8% of the Winner’s Metagame
Stompy is secretly (no so secretly) one of the best decks in Pauper. It’s fast, aggressive, and puts an opponent to the test quickly. It’s also quite adept at interacting with the board and using combat tricks to absolutely dominate the Red Zone.
I played Stompy in PPL last week and went 3-0, 6-0. All my opponents thought I had the weakest deck in the pod. One commentator said he was surprised I picked Stompy because I needed to 3-0 to make the playoffs. I picked Stompy because I needed to 3-0!
Brian DeMars, 3-0 Pauper Premier League
16 Forest 4 Quirion Ranger 4 Skarrgan Pit Skulk 4 Burning-Tree Emissary 4 Nettle Sentinel 4 Nest Invader 2 Wild Mongrel 2 Vault Skirge 2 River Boa 4 Savage Swipe 4 Rancor 4 Vines of Vastwood 4 Hunter of the Howlpack 2 Mutagenic Growth Sideboard 4 Gleeful Sabotage 2 Gut Shot 2 Scattershot Archers 3 Relic of Progenitus 2 Weather the Storm 2 Viridian Longbow
One of the reasons Stompy is so well-positioned is that it punishes decks for screwing around too much. Looping Astrolabe is great, but not when your own the draw and facing down 6 power worth of attackers!
I also cannot overstate the importance of this card:
#2. Boros, 10% of Winner’s Metagame
It’s a Boros Renaissance! Astrolabe seemed poised to make Jeskai the new hotness, but Boros was not having any of that #Hype. Boros decks were very good in the Free Blue era and they have adapted well in the post-ban metagame. While not holding as big of a piece of the meta pie as before, it’s worth noting the format is significantly more diverse than before without Gush decks holding upwards of 30% of the format hostage.
While Token variants are still a thing, a new version has emerged.
Alessandro Longoni, 1st, SERIES III
2 Ancient Furnace 2 Ash Barrens 4 Great Furnace 8 Snow-Covered Mountain 6 Snow-Covered Plains 3 Terramorphic Expanse 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Seeker of the Way 4 Thraben Inspector 1 Electrickery 2 Firebolt 4 Galvanic Blast 1 Lava Spike 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 2 Journey to Nowhere 2 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Ancient Grudge 1 Electrickery 1 Ephemerate 2 Gorilla Shaman 2 Leave No Trace 3 Pyroblast 1 Ray of Revelation 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Standard Bearer
I love the deck. It’s basically maximum synergy with the Glint Hawk + Kor Skyfisher package backed up by burn rather than the card draw of Jeskai Midrange. There’s a lot of fun builds of Boros out there, it’s a fun deck to go deep on!
#1. UrzaTron 15% of the Winner’s Metagame
Tron is the best deck in Pauper. Various UrzaTron variants soak up a significant 15% of the winner’s metagame and establish a baseline for what a control deck looks like. While Dimir and Izzet Control also represent a combined 10% of the metagame, these decks always tend to struggle against Tron’s tangible superiority of mana.
The addition of Arcum’s Astrolabe has worked to Tron’s advantage. One of the biggest issues with Tron has always been finding good ways to funnel an abundance of colorless mana into colored sources. Astrolabe essentially doubles the number of “free” ways to do this (alongside Prophetic Prism). It’s also worth noting that there is significant diversity among Tron lists.
Hellsau, 1st MTGO Pauper League
3 Ash Barrens 5 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Plains 4 Urza’s Mine 4 Urza’s Power Plant 4 Urza’s Tower 2 Dinrova Horror 3 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 2 Sea Gate Oracle 4 Stonehorn Dignitary 2 Trinket Mage 1 Compulsive Research 1 Dispel 2 Ephemerate 4 Ghostly Flicker 1 Moment’s Peace 1 Mystical Teachings 1 Prohibit 1 Pulse of Murasa 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 2 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Dinrova Horror 4 Hydroblast 3 Lone Missionary 2 Moment’s Peace 4 Pyroblast 1 Shattering Pulse
The most popular Tron decks make use of the “big mana” by looping Ghostly Flicker on Mnemonic Wall and friends. In this case, the deck can set up a lock with Stonehorn Dignitary that locks an opponent out of their combat step every single turn!
While I locked the PPL Playoffs last week, the only other player who is guaranteed in is Brian Coval, who played a unique spin on Tron.
Brian Coval, 2-1 Pauper Premier League
Coval’s build doesn’t utilize the Ghostly Flicker “soft lock” and instead jams Birds and Astrolabes! The concept is to trade removal for opposing threats and generate chip damage with the gating fliers. Brian’s deck only needs to connect a few times before Kaervek’s Torch can threaten lethal with a handful of Tron lands in play.
A few notes about Tron.
Its metagame representation numbers are likely suppressed because of the difficulty of clicks / timing out on MTGO. I specifically didn’t play the deck in PPL because I’m not a strong enough online player to beat the clock with Tron in a situation where I must 3-0 to advance.
I do look at Tron’s numbers (and the pure power of the land cycle) and really question the wisdom behind banning Hymn to Tourach in the dark. Are Hymn decks better than Tron? No way.
The most popular argument for banning Hymn (by a wide margin) that I’ve heard is:
“I hate getting Hymn’d.”
Fair point… But does anybody really love getting Tron’d, Bogle’d, or Astrolabe’d into dust? In reality, I think Mono-Black is 4 Hymns away from having a 50% matchup against Tron decks.
With that said, I think Tron should be at the top of the DCI watch list for a potential ban, but I wouldn’t be in favor of a ban unless the deck creeps to around 25% of the winner’s meta. Would you ban it?
Another option could be introducing Hymn to Tourach into the wild. The BB cost is prohibitive enough that even with Astrolabe it would be a difficult splash. I’m not the Seer, (just a Vanilla Villager)–and I can’t say that Hymn wouldn’t be too good–I just thought banning it in the blind was a huge assumption by the DCI’s. It’s really hard to be 20% of a metagame with 20+ playable decks!
I believe this week’s series reflects a vibrant, fun and exciting metagame. Tron at a potentially suppressed 15% of the winner’s metagame doesn’t signify a broken format or a need for a ban, but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward. I do believe a big part of the last two months has been figuring out the metagame in the wake of the Free Blue Bans and I also believe we’ve arrived at a point where the picture is finally coming into focus.
With Tron as the “deck to beat” are you jumping on the #TronWagon or going fast beatdown? Maybe comboing off with Elves is more your style, or Bolting some domes? Whatever your style, Pauper has a deck for you to take into battle. Give your deck some love in the comments, what are you playing?