End of Year Pauper Review
- Mark Pinder
It's been an amazing year for Pauper. We got bans, we got exciting new cards from various sets across the year, and we got official rules for paper Pauper. Let's review what happened in 2019 and take a look at the current metagame.
In May, Daze, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush were all banned and the oppressive blue decks that had been dominating the format had their key cards removed from the format. This became known as the "Blue Monday" and the result was a traumatic shift in the meta. Overnight Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration based strategies practically vanished from existence. However, it needed to be done to fight the format's stagnation.
By far the greatest change to Pauper and the most popular was aligning paper with the online banned list to one entity legitimizing and making it an official, sanctionable format. This was welcomed by Pauper players all over the world. The player base has grown significantly. In the United States there even was a 1k event with well over a hundred people in attendance, including the Professor from The Tolarian Academy. This was the most attended event ever since things went sanctioned and it was only a handful of players under the all-time paper record of the MCQ in Los Angeles earlier in the year.
You can also see on social media that many more local game stores run their own Pauper FNMs nowadays, as people realize how challenging the format actually is, while you can acquire a deck for a fraction of the cost of a playset of the latest must-have Standard planeswalker.
Standard on F.I.R.E.
Around the time of Guilds of Ravnica, Wizards started a project called F.I.R.E., which is short for:
This has given us several more powerful cards to play with even at common. It has led to a steady flow of cards into the format for over a year now, which is a drastic sea change when previously you would be lucky to see the odd card make it into the format every now and then. We have cards appearing in main decks and sideboards with regularity.
Guilds of Ravnica brought us Devious Cover-Up and Whisper Agent. Whisper Agent has found a home in many Monoblack Control shells where you value the flexibility of a creature or a removal spell that can be used again later. Devious Cover-Up found a space in control shells hoping to loop for victory.
War of the Spark surprised even myself. While it is famous for bringing in uncommon planeswalkers, it also gave Pauper two reliable spells. Ob Nixilis's Cruelty not only can kill the majority of creatures in the format, it also exiles them which is extremely useful to hold off delve and graveyard recursion strategies. Vivien's Grizzly is an excellent sideboard option that allows green decks to restock their board presence in a removal-heavy format.
Core Set 2020 so far has brought us one card in Winged Words: a premium card draw as so many blue decks run fliers anyway. We also got significant reprints in Faerie Miscreant and life lands like Scoured Barrens.
Throne of Eldraine is by far the most impressive Standard legal set for Pauper in some time. Yul Brynner would be proud to have these cards as his Magnificent Seven: Mystic Sanctuary, Golden Egg, Malevolent Noble, Lost Legion, Witch's Cottage, Witching Well, and Mantle of Tides have all seen play in some of the better decks in Pauper. Personally, I'm a big fan of Monoblack Control and the Cottage was the first card from the set of which I ordered a playset in foil. Being a Swamp is awesome as you can use Twisted Abomination to swampcycle it into your hand, then return the Twisted Abomination to the top of your library to be played when convenient. It's a one-card combo that helps ensure you hit your land drops and can make a notoriously sticky threat even harder to deal with.
Modern Horizons came out with much fanfare, and we immediately had an influx of great cards not just in Modern but in Pauper too. The additional reprints of Pauper staples Battle Screech, Crypt Rats, and the cycling lands like Secluded Steppe were a brilliant strategy from Wizards. So many players now have access to the format and can start a deck just from draft chaff.
We also had some new cards become all-star staples. Faerie Seer appears in many blue shells performing double duty of fixing draws, enabling ninjutsu, and being a Faerie for Spellstutter Sprite. Defile has become the defining 1-mana spell for Monoblack Control as it just keeps scaling in value with every relevant land drop. If we thought the card couldn't get any better, along comes another Swamp in Witch's Cottage to replace Mortuary Mire.
Of course Modern Horizons also brought along controversy, massive controversy in fact. Arcum's Astrolabe rapidly became one of the bogeymen of the format, with many famous content creators screaming for a ban to prevent homogenization of the format. Eventually Wizards of the Coast agreed and we lost the ability to have smoother manabases, which was a joy while it was legal. I am still not convinced this was the correct decision. Although you did have an effective white draw engine from Glint Hawk/Kor Skyfisher, other decks were beginning to come through and we had the potential for the format to self-correct.
A second card avoided the banhammer. Ephemerate is still legal as I write this article and I truly hope it stays that way. Ephemerate can enable a lock on a game by recycling value creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities. Oddly Cloudshift is considered unplayable and Ephemerate is allegedly broken for a card with the same mana cost. I played Jeskai Snow when Arcum's Astrolabe was legal: yes, the games could be grindy and the mirror super grindy, but it also made for some of the most fun I've had in Magic over my twenty-plus years of playing. After the Astrolabe ban, the Ephemerate-centric decks have evaporated away to being a much smaller percentage of the metagame.
The New Meta
The current state is more of a throwback to the metagame between Blue Monday and the release of Modern Horizons. These are all decks that I also personally own and have sleeved up ready to battle at my local game store.
Monogreen Stompy is the premier aggro deck in the format. The deck thrives on flooding the board with creatures. Savage Swipe from Modern Horizons gives the deck removal and potentially a buff to its creatures.
|Monogreen Stompy by Timcanpy, repeated Pauper League 5-0 player|
Skred Faeries is a tempo deck that nibbles away at the opponent with some of the best removal and counter magic in the format.
|Skred Faeries by Modern_Monkey, regular Pauper Challenge Top 8 player|
Boros Monarch is the predominant midrange deck of the format and returned to power with the loss of Arcum's Astrolabe, as previously playing Jeskai was just an incrementally better deck. The deck can switch between control and aggro with ease and has the ability to grind out wins. Faster versions of the deck are also an option and just seeing a Wind-Scarred Crag on turn one doesn't mean you know what deck you're actually facing.
|Boros Monarch by Carvs, one of Brazil's best players and Pauper Challenge Top 8 regular|
Tron is the bogeyman of the format and the deck most people will complain about having to play against. Online it has significant issues of being able to complete its matches within the time limit, but it's certainly powerful with the ability to effectively lock an opponent out of the game.
|Tron by masterofseasons, Pauper Challenge winner|
This is a cross section of the most popular decks that are currently putting up consistent good results. However, your local environment may well have players using their personal favorite deck. Pauper is currently very diverse and among the decks I could have easily added are Monoblack Control, Burn, Elves, Dimir Teachings, Monowhite Heroic, Bogles, Affinity, Inside Out Combo, Goblins, and White-Black Pestilence just off the top of my head. Every week the Pauper meta online shifts slightly as some players will pick up a deck that did well in the previous weeks' events.
Hopes for Pauper in 2020
Pauper has had so many good things happen in 2019 that were on so many Pauper players' wish list for such a long time, so what is left for 2020 ? Unfortunately, what could have been a stellar year rather than just an amazing one was all the mixed messages coming from Wizards of the Coast with Brawl and Pioneer taking away some of the focus that could have been given to Pauper.
First of all, I'd like to see the end to the relentless calls for cards to be banned. We all have decks we don't like to face, but the more variety we have in the format the better.
Secondly, some reliable mana fixing would be nice. Something similar to Arcum's Astrolabe but without the card draw engine.
Clearly there is the Holy Grail left on the Pauper bucket list. We've seen Pauper 1K events in the States. There have been PTQs/MCQs both online and in paper. MagicFests support Pauper with a host of regular side events. My one wish for 2020 is a big one, but sometimes you have to go big or go home: Pioneer is a new format and was granted GPs during early 2020. Can we have our own Grand Prix too, please?
I'm sorry to say that this was my last article for Cardmarket Insight. I've really enjoyed my time here. I'm still playing Pauper and if you still want to hear my musings, then follow me on Twitter.
I hope you've enjoyed my content. As the dolphins said in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "So long and thanks for all the fish!"
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.