We are less than one week away from a Banned and Restricted List update. While everyone is (rightfully) watching Modern and what will happen to Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, the Pauper community will also be waiting with bated breath on August 26th to see if anything will change.
Before discussing whether or not something should change, we need to understand the current landscape. To do this, I want to look at every Pauper Challenge since the release of Core Set 2020 (and the unification of Paper and Digital Pauper). For each of these Challenges I measured the decks against each other using an X-3 record as a baseline. As such, an X-2 record yields 1 point, X-1 2 points, and so one. From there I totally the sum of these points and then compared the archetype volume to the weighted win volume. I want to thank Frank Karsten’s metagame analysis for the inspiration.
So what’s at the top of the metagame?
The Best-Performing Decks in Pauper
Joker10289’s Jeskai Blink
Top 8, August 18th Pauper Challenge
4 Ash Barrens 3 Azorius Chancery 2 Evolving Wilds 1 Snow-Covered Forest 6 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Mountain 1 Snow-Covered Plains 3 Archaeomancer 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Mulldrifter 2 Spellstutter Sprite 4 Preordain 2 Brainstorm 4 Counterspell 1 Dispel 1 Electrickery 3 Ephemerate 3 Lightning Bolt 1 Pulse of Murasa 4 Skred 4 Arcum's Astrolabe 1 Relic of Progenitus Sideboard 2 Spellstutter Sprite 2 Dispel 2 Relic of Progenitus 1 Gorilla Shaman 2 Hydroblast 4 Pyroblast 2 Standard Bearer
Ocenansoul92’s Jeskai Trinket
Top 8, August 11th Pauper Challenge
3 Ash Barrens 2 Evolving Wilds 9 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Mountain 3 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Archaeomancer 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 3 Mulldrifter 4 Seeker of the Way 2 Trinket Mage 4 Preordain 4 Counterspell 2 Ephemerate 1 Lightning Bolt 4 Skred 4 Arcum's Astrolabe 2 Prophetic Prism 1 Relic of Progenitus Sideboard 1 Relic of Progenitus 1 Dispel 2 Electrickery 2 Gorilla Shaman 1 Hydroblast 1 Leave No Trace 2 Lone Missionary 2 Pyroblast 2 Standard Bearer 1 Swirling Sandstorm
These two decks lead the way. Jeskai Blink has seven Top 8 appearances, alongside one win. It is 9.82% of all Top 32 decks but makes up 15.07% of the weighted volume. Jeskai Trinket is more popular–12.95% of the metagame–but has not performed as well overall. The Trinket Mage decks have six Top 8 appearances and are 10.27% of the weighted metagame.
Jeskai Blink and Jeskai Trinket, alongside a handful of other decks, represent the new midrange of Pauper. Whereas before the best midrange strategy was to lean on Palace Sentinels for a steady flow of cards, the current engine of choice involves Arcum’s Astrolabe and Ephemerate. Arcum’s Astrolabe not only replaces itself, it can actually generate card advantage with the help of Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher. More than that, it allows these decks to run the best cards available regardless of color requirements. That comes in handy with the next engine–Archaeomancer and Ephemerate.
When the creature and the instant pair up, it results in a free card every turn. Ephemerate targets Archaeomancer, which gets back a key spell. Then the rebound resolves, and the Archaeomancer can get back the Ephemerate. And Astrolabe sets this up in fixing mana, helping to ensure the optimal spell can be cast at the optimal time.
Winner, August 18th Pauper Challenge
17 Forest 4 Burning-Tree Emissary 4 Nest Invader 4 Nettle Sentinel 2 Quirion Ranger 3 River Boa 2 Silhana Ledgewalker 3 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk 3 Vault Skirge 4 Savage Swipe 4 Hunger of the Howlpack 3 Vines of Vastwood 3 Elephant Guide 4 Rancor Sideboard 1 Epic Confrontation 4 Gleeful Sabotage 2 Gut Shot 3 Hidden Spider 2 Viridian Longbow 3 Weather the Storm
The premier aggressive strategy of the moment. Stompy has five Top 8 finishes and three wins. The archetype is 7.59% of all Top 32 lists but improves to 8.9% in weighted metagame. Stompy can hit hard and fast thanks to its low curve and powerful pump spells. The deck’s best starts have Burning-Tree Emissary to help flood the board on turn two, something it shares with Red Deck Wins (two Top 8s, one win).
Winner, July 7th Pauper Challenge
4 Darksteel Citadel 4 Great Furnace 4 Seat of the Synod 4 Tree of Tales 1 Vault of Whispers 4 Atog 4 Carapace Forger 4 Frogmite 1 Gearseeker Serpent 4 Myr Enforcer 4 Thoughtcast 3 Fling 3 Galvanic Blast 2 Metallic Rebuke 1 Perilous Research 1 Temur Battle Rage 4 Chromatic Star 1 Flayer Husk 4 Prophetic Prism 3 Springleaf Drum Sideboard 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Dispel 2 Electrickery 2 Hydroblast 3 Krark-Clan Shaman 3 Pyroblast 1 Ray of Revelation 1 Reaping the Graves
Two Top 8s and a win, Affinity started the season strong. However, as people adjusted to the pairing of Atog with Fling and Temur Battle Rage, the machine stalled somewhat. Currently it makes up just over 6% of both the total volume and the weighted metagame. A new strategy, dubbed Atog Shift, as also made a few appearances. The deck, which goes all-in on Atog and Fling, has two Top 8s of its own out of three total appearances across all Top 32s.
Modern_Monkey’s Flicker Tron
Top 4, August 11th Pauper Challenge
1 Cave of Temptation 1 Mortuary Mire 9 Snow-Covered Island 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 1 Dinrova Horror 3 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 1 Stonehorn Dignitary 1 Trinket Mage 1 Capsize 1 Counterspell 1 Dispel 1 Ephemerate 1 Forbidden Alchemy 2 Ghostly Flicker 2 Impulse 2 Moment's Peace 2 Mystical Teachings 1 Prohibit 1 Pulse of Murasa 1 Weather the Storm 4 Arcum's Astrolabe 3 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 2 Stonehorn Dignitary 1 Dispel 1 Moment's Peace 1 Ancient Grudge 4 Hydroblast 3 Pyroblast 1 Ulamog's Crusher 2 Wretched Gryff
The other big Ephemerate deck. Tron has long used Ghostly Flicker and Mnemonic Wall to establish endgame locks. Ephemerate makes it that much easier to get multiple enter-the-battlefield triggers. On top of that, Ephemerate is harder to hate out of the graveyard thanks to being “stored” in exile. Flicker Tron–a strategy that runs both Dinrova Horror and Stonehorn Dignitary–has four Top 8 appearances and makes up 8.04% of the total volume. It’s weighted volume? Just over 6%.
These Tron decks have also started to include Arcum’s Astrolabe to fix their mana. The card is so useful that Tron has moved off utility lands in order to facilitate a Snow-Covered mana base.
While these represent the top decks, it isn’t the entire story. The base-Jeskai Astrolabe-Ephemerate decks have earned 16 total Top 8s across the 7 Challenges. The macro archetype has over 25% of the total volume of Top 32s and over 30% of the weighted metagame. The various Tron decks seeking to use an endgame loop have 11.6% of the total Top 32 and nearly 9% of the weighted metagame. And Burning-Tree Emissary aggro decks? 12.5% of the actual metagame and 12.3% of the weighted metagame. These three macro archetypes make up nearly 50% of the metagame and over 50% of the win-weighted meta.
The current Pauper metagame can be summed up in this way: play Ephemerate or race Ephemerate. You can play Ephemerate in a value engine a la Jeskai, or a game-ending combo lock in Tron. Either way, it is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do in Pauper at the moment. At the same time, aggro is viable and successful. Multiple beatdown decks are performing well. Yet there is a ton of sameness. While the strategy is split between midrange and Tron, Ephemerate, powered by the fixing of Arcum’s Astrolabe, is everywhere.
The question remains: is this a problem? My answer: not yet. While the share of the Jeskai decks does give me pause, I would be more concerned if aggressive decks were not doing well. I feel that if these decks decided they wanted to stop the beatdown I do not doubt that they could. Could aggressive decks adjust? They have thus far, but I think the problem wouldn’t go away.
Arcum’s Astrolabe is an innocuous card. It does not do much on the surface. Looking deeper though, it helps decks play games of Magic. The trinket helps to see more cards and at the same time allows decks to cast their spells on time. It subverts the mana system by allowing decks to run the best card for any situation without having to fear not having the right color. Because Astrolabe replaces itself, traditional artifact removal is only so good against it. Casting any normal Shatter effect will leave you down a card at best and multiple (thanks to Kor Skyfisher) at worst.
I do not think anything will be banned in Pauper on August 26th. I can see Arcum’s Astrolabe being an issue down the road if these numbers persist. But what do you think? What should be added to the Pauper banned list during the next announcement?