A few weeks ago on Magic Online, there was a Pauper Showcase Challenge. These tournaments tend to have a larger turnout than the regularly scheduled Weekend Challenges as they provide a more direct path to the highest echelons of competitive play on the digital platform. In other words, people who do not normally play Pauper come out for these events since they are an opportunity to qualify for other high profile events. Traditionally, this means we see slightly different metagame outcomes as fresh eyes bring a new perspective. Today, I want to look at the results from the May 13 Showcase Challenge and understand what they are telling us about the current state of Pauper.
Pauper Bogles by Slatorade
It’s no secret that at the moment there is a red cloud hanging over Pauper. The strength of Wrenn’s Resolve has given various aggressive Burn adjacent strategies a boost. As these decks tend to approach the game on a very direct axis, the metagame has adjusted around so that other similarly linear decks have emerged as contenders. This can be seen most clearly in both decks from the finals from Saturday’s event: Bogles. These two decks had a combined 20-2 record (and the exact same 75). There were three other Bogles in the Top 32 with a combined record 17-7. All told the deck had an 80 percent win rate taking into account only the Top 32 placing decks.
Bogles was not messing around against red decks, with four copies of Armadillo Cloak main alongside a Spirit Link. The sideboard further shows how seriously these pilots took red as there were four copies of Freewind Falcon and an additional Spirit Link found in the next 15. Flaring Pain and Ram Through are concessions to cards like Prismatic Strands and Moment’s Peace. The two main-deck copies of Cartouche of Solidarity indicate that the finalist pilots did not expect a ton of Chainer’s Edicts in the field but came prepared with Vitality Charm for Games 2 and 3. Finally, there are the three sideboard copies of Scattershot Archer, a nod to the nigh-omnipresence of Spellstutter Sprite.
What does this list tell us about Pauper? The first games of a match are all about enacting your own game plan while coming prepared to survive an onslaught of Lightning Bolts. Running a pair of Cartouche of Solidarity can also tell us that black-based midrange decks were not a real factor (despite being somewhat popular). The overall lack of resilience points towards decks wanting to “Do Their Thing First.” But as we will see later not everyone saw things the same way.
Pauper Faeries by Backoff
Remember how I talked about the popularity of Spellstutter Sprite? Despite only making two Top 32 appearances (including a Top 8 finish), Mono-Blue Faeries has been one of the best decks in Pauper for the past two months. It has been the most popular decks in the Challenge Winner’s metagame and has 18 Top 8 finishes in that span. These decks are built for efficiency, trying to replicate their best draws game after game. Like Bogles, Faeries is built to be assertive with most of its interaction based on pushing an advantage. Snap, Spell Pierce and Mutagenic Growth all go up in value when you can leverage them to play from ahead. Between Growth and Brinebarrow Intruder, the deck is not afraid to get into tussles in combat. Faeries has also largely left the fear of Electrickery and End the Festivities behind. This tracks with the development of red decks moving away from Kuldotha Rebirth and towards Kessig Flamebreather and Thermo-Alchemist.
Speaking of those red decks, Faeries also came prepared with a full six elemental blasts. Two Hydroblast next to four copies of Blue Elemental Blast show a fierce respect for Mountain. The four copies of Annul and a pair of Steel Sabotage indicate that Grixis Affinity is also a concern. Oddly enough, Affinity was completely absent from the Top 32.
Pauper Kuldotha Red by Gregoriusil
Pauper Reckless Burn by Boom_bust
Monastery Swiftspear in concert with Experimental Synthesizer and Reckless Impulse defined most of Phyrexia: All Will Be One Season. March of the Machine added Wrenn’s Resolve to the mix which only added fuel to the fire. This has led to some divergence in lists, with some adhering to Kuldotha Rebirth and Galvanic Blast and others eschewing the metalcraft package for Kessig Flamebreather and Thermo-Alchemist. It is this latter build that was more popular leading up to the Showcase Challenge but it was the Kuldotha Red builds that performed better.
Kuldotha Red has the advantage of attacking from multiple angles. It can go wide with Kuldotha Rebirth and Goblin Bushwhacker or tall with Monastery Swiftspear. No matter what creatures it sticks, it can still go for the throat with burn spells. The pinger-based version lacks the same flexibility and relies more heavily on individual creatures to apply pressure.
Here is why I think the pinger version stumbled during the Challenge: there were a ton of removal spells seeing play. Both Dimir Terror and Black Gardens had a great showing in the tournament and both of these decks pack a decent amount of removal. It is far easier to pick off a single Thermo-Alchemist with Chainer’s Edict or Snuff Out than it is to negate an entire Kuldotha Rebirth with the same spells.
Moving forward, I think that red will continue to vacillate between these – and potentially other – builds. These decks will need to stay ahead of the trends in removal in order to have continued success in the Challenges. The Pauper League is another story altogether. There, red is a dominant force due in part to how quickly it can finish matches but also because it is just an extremely good deck. While other decks have to adjust to what red is doing, tweaking removal and adjusting numbers, red can just be and find success. Because of this, I would advise on playing a deck that has a solid plan for the various styles of red if you are going to be hopping into the Magic Online league.
Pauper Black Gardens by Leobertucci
Black Gardens is the latest entry in the lineage of Mono-Black Control. Removal, card draw and a haymaker at the top of the curve is a recipe for success. Black Gardens leans on Deadly Dispute to keep the cards coming and pairs it with Khalni Garden, Ichor Wellspring and Guildsworn Prowler. These decks also are able to run a solid amount of life gain with Spinning Darkness, Pulse of Murasa and Vampire Sovereign to give them a cushion against red. The key to their success has resided in the cards they use to pick off opposing threats, using Crypt Rats to keep the board clear of smaller threats so Chainer’s Edict can do the heavy lifting.
Crypt Rats is a card that has always been viable in Pauper but has not been this good in quite some time. The relatively high price in life points is worth it in the life points saved from removing red’s board.
The removal in these builds is telling us a story of a metagame that is low to the ground. Crypt Rats can take out larger monsters in a pinch but it earns its stripes by wiping the board of more fragile creatures. Fungal Infection can pick off an X/1 and potentially trade with another or leave behind material for Deadly Dispute. The top builds from the Showcase gave up on Vampire Sovereign, instead leaning more on creature kill and the sideboard to shore up the game against more aggressive strategies.
There are some other pretty big metagame implications from this event I want to touch on before I wrap up. First is the strength of Dimir Terror. The duo of Gurmag Angler and Tolarian Terror is formidable to be sure and renders cards like Snuff Out far less effective. Going back to Black Gardens, we can start to see why it makes sense to run Chainer’s Edict in the current metagame, but given the prevalence of both red and Faeries, that powerhouse needs to be paired with a sweeper. Given how well Bogles performed on the weekend, I would expect to see plenty of Edicts in the coming weeks and more copies of Kuldotha Rebirth as a reaction.
The last thing I want to talk about is the evolution of Basilisk Gate decks. These builds started as Azorius with Sacred Cat, Squadron Hawk and Guardian of the Guildpact to close out the game. Gates decks sacrificed early game board development in exchange for running a mana base that could be weaponized later. The so-called CawGate deck is still quite good but we are seeing further development in other colors. Currently green is a more popular secondary color thanks to Saruli Gatekeepers gaining a ton of life. Gate decks are difficult to stop in the late game since any creature, regardless of size, can end the game. Again, this puts a premium on packing the correct removal as leaving any spare body behind can spell certain doom.
Pauper is continuing to slowly evolve. While red remains a defining feature of the metagame, there is a lot of movement happening around those decks. How are you planning on attacking the new state of the format?