Last week I’ve showed the data that I’ve gathered about the Pauper leagues’ metagame [check out Part 1]. In the present article, instead, I’m going to analyze some interesting aspects of that data and compare it to the challenge data.
Here’s a recap of what we’ve seen last time:
A. ban = Astrolabe ban; S&M ban = Sanctuary and Map ban; CMR = Commander Legends; FFF ban = Fall from Favor ban; MH2 = Modern Horizons 2.
Section 3: Patterns
Looking at how each deck goes up and down during the two years, you’ll notice how some share similar behaviors. I’ve isolated four (plus one) patterns, which I’m going to show in five separate charts. I believe that they can teach us something about how the format moves and reacts to changes (like the ban that has been announced for this week!).
The interpretation of these charts involves many factors and can put you in front of chicken-and-egg problems. I’ll do my best to produce reasonable interpretations, but feel free to share yours too!
Important note: these charts show data points connected by artificial lines, not continuous flows.
This chart shows the decks that grew popular during the Fall from Favor era. Here, we can distinguish three couples of decks.
Volatile tempo decks (Izzet Faeries and Mono Blue Delver)
Go-tall decks (Bogles and Heroic)
Ramp cascade decks (Walls and Green Ponza)
Why are Izzet Faeries and Mono Blue Delver more volatile than their Dimir counterparts? First of all, they have more extreme matchups (i.e. they tend to have excellent matchups and horrible matchups instead of relatively even matchups). Additionally, Dimir decks have always had access to their secondary card advantage engine (Thorn of the Black Rose). Izzet and Mono Blue, instead, have been more reliant on cards that had to get banned (Mystic Sanctuary and Fall from Favor).
Bogles and Heroic prey on Izzet Faeries and follow its path. On the other hand, I believe that the cascade decks behavior isn’t directly related to the other decks in the chart. Boarding Party and Annoyed Altisaur simply happened to be printed in the same set as Fall from Favor.
The decks that tanked during the Fall from Favor era can also be divided into three groups:
Interestingly, but not shockingly, midrange decks behave more or less all in the same way. The surprising part is how they tend to do the opposite of the volatile tempo decks, instead of preying on them. The reason becomes clearer when you recall that ramp cascade decks happened to share the tempo decks’ ups and downs, as midrange isn’t a good archetype against Walls and Ponza. Up until now, I’ve considered it natural for two decks that have a polarized matchup to share the same pattern. In this case, I believe that cascade decks weren’t specifically targeting midrange decks. Their rise caused the midrange demise as collateral damage, so it makes sense for these two archetypes to go in opposite directions.
Stompy had two major downfalls, the first motivated by the fear of Fiery Cannonade and the second by its inability to beat Storm and Affinity. Similarly to midrange, Stompy would be good against the volatile tempo decks, but it can’t fully take advantage of this because of other decks that follow the A pattern, namely the go-tall decks.
Like the midrange decks, Tron doesn’t have a good matchup against Walls and Ponza, and this ultimately determined its downswing. It also makes sense for Tron to follow the same pattern as midrange and aggro decks since it can be seen as a predator towards them.
These are the decks that benefited the most out of Modern Horizons 2.
Excluding MH2, Affinity followed the B pattern, and Dimir Delver behaved similarly to Mono Blue Delver, but in a less emphatic way.
These three decks consistently declined since Commander Legends. What they have in common is that their strategy focuses on getting to the late game, where they can leverage their inevitability.
This kind of deck lacks an efficient beatdown plan, therefore they have a hard time stealing the monarchy, which can easily compromise their plans for the late game. I believe that the injection of many new monarch cards with Commander Legends is the general cause for the decline of late-game-oriented decks, even though they might have been influenced individually by additional factors.
These three decks are outliers. They may move in a way that’s similar to that of other decks, but they don’t truly belong to any of the previous patterns. Being a somewhat regular presence in the leagues seems to be what best characterizes them.
Section 4: Leagues vs Challenges
Thanks to the work of pproteus, who created for me some special filters in the challenge project sheet, I’ve been able to put league and challenge data side by side.
Challenges have higher stakes than leagues and the data reflect it by showing how, in each era, challenges registered higher meta shares for the decks that were considered the top decks.
Note: the challenge project sheet doesn’t display decks with less than 1% of meta share. Thus, when you see a deck with 0%, its real meta share could be any number between 0% and 1%.
It’s ugly, as it was only meant as a workspace for me, but if you’re interested in the numbers, they are there. For example, you can see the whole composition of the “Other” categories or the exact numbers in the Leagues vs Challenges charts.
If you’re a maniac and you’d like to see the raw data (i.e. the data as it was sent by the collectors), feel free to contact me via private messages and I will share it with you.
Thanks to the Challenge Project, run by the Castle of Commons Discord server [https://discord.gg/U4hnkNT], we have (almost) full information about the Pauper challenge meta. As far as the Magic Online leagues go, instead, having full information will never be possible unless data is released from WotC itself. However, we can at least get a picture of the league meta by using data collected by the people who keep track of their league matches, which I’m going to do here.
In this article, I will show my methodology and talk about five Pauper metagames. Soon, I will also focus on the evolution of the meta over time and the differences between Leagues and Challenges. The data that I’m using consists of 4938 matches, spread over 22 months and recorded by 13 people: me (Walker735), apas72, HeWhoIsInTheWater, bren, Jayrod_Silva, Zimplfy/NotGood, kalko, bnoru, kalikaiz/saidin.raken, BluStalker, Calpine, pproteus and A_AdeptoTerra.
Huge thanks to all the people who contributed!
The data that I received from bren is a special subset, because, in addition to tracking their matches, they kept track of the matchups found by content creators and by people who shared their league results on Discord. Therefore, the data technically comes from more than 13 people, even though bren’s data only covers the period between Fall from Favor’s ban and Modern Horizons 2. To express this, I’ll make a “+” follow the number of data collectors when referencing the number of people who contributed to that data set.
Data can be framed in different ways and tell different stories. What I’m showing here is shaped by my current understanding of the format, but I will be transparent about my criteria so that at least you can judge by yourself to which degree you agree with them.
I’ve broken up the last two years of Pauper into 5 segments, using B&R announcements and high-powered sets release dates as dividers, except for Double Masters release date, which was ignored because it was too close to a ban. For each segment, only decks which have at least 2% meta share in that segment will be featured in the respective pie chart. Everything else falls under the “other” category. More details about my deck categorization can be found at the end of this article.
Keep in mind that meta share doesn’t necessarily relate to power level and that league grinders usually prefer decks that lead to quick matches. Fun fact: my win rate with Elves tends to be inversely proportional to the deck’s presence in leagues.
Section 1: the Five Eras
From the banning of Arcum’s Astrolabe (Oct 21, 2019) to the banning of Mystic Sanctuary and Expedition Map (July 13, 2020)
This meta saw a cyclical fight between blue tempo/midrange decks (Izzet Faeries, Dimir Delver, and Mono Blue Delver, for a total of 18.6% meta share), Flicker Tron (9.6%), and Boros midrange decks (Boros Monarch and Bully, for a total of 9.9%). It was commonly held that the blue decks beat Tron, which beat Boros decks, which beat the blue decks. As you can see by the disproportionate amount of blue decks, this rock-paper-scissors mechanism wasn’t perfect, but the format was fairly balanced, and many tier 2 decks were allowed to exist and thrive. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any underlying issue, but the meta was pretty close to what I would consider a “normal” Pauper meta, as opposed to the other two pre-ban metagames that we will review: the Fall from Favor meta and the Modern Horizons 2 meta [I know that there hasn’t been any ban following MH2, but we all know that it’s coming.].
In this period, thanks to new cards (Winding Way and Crashing Drawbridge) and Caleb Gannon’s brewing efforts, Walls parted its way from Familiars, becoming an autonomous and respected figure in the metagame.
From the banning of Mystic Sanctuary and Expedition Map (July 13, 2020) to the release of Commander Legends (Nov 18, 2020)
This season originated from one of the most controversial ban announcements in the format’s history. According to the most successful Tron players, Flicker Tron benefited from Mystic Sanctuary’s ban more than it was hurt from Expedition Map’s ban. Consequently, the three archetypes system was broken and Tron ended up dominating the challenges for months.
By contrast, leagues numbers look rather healthy and diverse in this time frame. The ban’s impact on Tron (9.0%) and tempo decks (17.3%) was negligible in terms of meta share, and the format kept more or less its pre-ban shape. If we look inside the “tempo deck” conglomerate though, we can see the true legacy of the Sanctuary ban. The need for a new value engine (Thorn of the Black Rose) and the printings of Suffocating Fumes and Cast Down all contributed to the birth of a new giant: Dimir Faeries.
Meanwhile, another deck was being hit by Mystic Sanctuary’s ban: Familiars. Surprisingly, this deck’s meta share nearly triples after the banning of one of its key combo pieces. My guess is that Sanctuary Familiars was an exoteric deck, with hidden lines and convoluted combos that were hard to perform on Magic Online, so, when the deck went back to being a normal Flicker pile, it became more accessible and attracted more pilots (like me).
The most popular deck in this era is Stompy. I think that Stompy being popular in leagues is usually a good sign about format health, as it means that no deck is broken enough to be worth playing over the quick and consistent Stompy from the grinder’s point of view. But this is probably an oversimplification of how things work.
From the release of Commander Legends (Nov 18, 2020) to the banning of Fall From Favor (Jan 14, 2021)
Commander Legends was certainly one of the most impactful sets ever for Pauper. The set introduced many new cards that have shaped the format ever since they appeared, and in the first portion of the CMR season, the metagame was turned on its head.
Unsurprisingly, Fall from Favor greatly increased the blue tempo decks’ popularity, bringing them to an impressive total of 24.9% of the metagame. It was also tried with success in Affinity, but that didn’t stop Affinity from registering its lowest meta share in these two years. Experiments to put FFF in Elves, Familiars, Mono Black and other decks were also made, with less success. Faeries and Delver decks were the best shells for the card.
On the other hand, the cascade creatures made green-based Ponza decks become real contenders in the meta and gave birth to a new version of Walls. Cascade Walls and Ponza had an explosion in popularity, despite having bad Faeries and Delver matchups, likely because people simply loved playing those two brand new decks featuring cascade creatures. Between the cascade trend and the fact that blue decks had just got the cheapest monarch card of all times, midrange decks and Tron tanked in popularity.
At the same time, another old faerie predator had disappeared: Stompy. Stompy was very good against Fall from Favor and land destruction, especially, but not only, thanks to Quirion Ranger. My explanation for Stompy’s demise is that people were afraid of the newly printed Fiery Cannonade, even though the following months would’ve revealed that the card isn’t that big of an issue for Stompy in particular, which has a remarkable go-tall component.
With all these decks gone, it was up to Bogles and Heroic to try and keep faeries in check, so they increased in popularity.
From the banning of Fall From Favor’s (Jan 14, 2021) to the release of Modern Horizons 2 (June 3, 2021)
With the banning of Fall From Favor, the format reverted to a fairly normal shape, except for the fact that it was still under the influence of Commander Legends, which in this case was a positive influence in my opinion.
Ponza and Walls were redimensioned, but they kept their presence and role in the metagame, preventing Tron from recovering its past glory (remember that I’m just talking about popularity here). Meanwhile, green-based cascade decks became the most popular kind of midrange in the format.
With Strixhaven’s release, blue-based control decks were turned into control-combo decks featuring Serpentine Curve, and a Goblin Combo deck featuring First Day of Class was born.
The Modern Horizons 2 meta (June 3, 2021 – today)
MH2 caused the biggest shakeup to date in the 2 years that we’re reviewing here.
Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens were banned in 2013, and no good Storm deck has existed ever since. Now, Chatterstorm has brought Storm to an astonishing 16.8% of meta share, beating by far the 9.7% that we registered for Stompy during the post-Sanctuary era, which was the highest number reached by a single deck yet. And yet, Affinity manages to be even more popular than that, with its 20.7%, thanks to Sojourner’s Companion and indestructible artifact duals. Dimir Delver and Dimir Faeries (total 12.6%) are considered to constitute together the third pillar of this format, but they aren’t nearly as popular as Storm or Affinity.
The only other deck that has experienced substantial growth is Jeskai Ephemerate, which has finally found a new way to fix its mana through Cleansing Wildfire, thanks to the new indestructible dual lands. An honorable mention goes to Soul Sisters, which was rediscovered after the release of Adventure in the Forgotten Realms, thanks to Celestial Unicorn. It isn’t popular enough to appear in the chart, but it went from 0% to 1.8%, which is a very good accomplishment, even though it probably isn’t going to last for long.
Every other deck shrunk, or simply disappeared because it can’t keep up with one or more among the three format pillars; the most glaring example being Stompy, which used to be the most popular deck just in the previous meta, and is now reduced to a humble 0.6%. By the way, most of its sightings come from the early stages of the new metagame. The current situation is likely even worse for Stompy.
My takeaway is that if there have been times where you could enter a league hoping to dodge the best deck, this is not one of them. You can’t enter a league with a nice deck that loses to Storm or Affinity, willing to accept the loss if I run into it, because expecting to have a good result would be unrealistic, given those decks’ omnipresence.
I will admit that this meta has one positive element, which is how the matchups between the three top decks are very balanced, unlike the matchups between the three old pillars of the Sanctuary era, which were quite polarized. But at the same time, the gap between tier 1 decks and tier 2 decks has never been so wide, and too many decks have disappeared. The situation is ridiculous and I’m sure that action will be taken as soon as someone at Wizards of the Coast will seriously look into it.
I would also like to point out that Faeries is the only archetype that keeps being a top strategy over the years, despite regularly receiving bans and powerful cards being printed for other archetypes. While banning Chatterstorm is the priority, I honestly think that banning something from the blue tempo decks is more important than banning something from Affinity. Enough about bans though. The aim of this article is just to provide some context for the data, and meta share alone doesn’t provide sufficient information to seriously talk about format health.
Section 2: Deck Categorization
As I mentioned, I’ve gathered data from different people. Of course, each one of them had their way to classify decks, like I have mine. So, for the purpose of this roundup, I had to translate everything into a coherent system. I opted for having broad concepts, rather than minute distinctions, mainly for two reasons: (1) it makes the data more readable, and (2) it lowers the chances of running into data that can’t be translated. For example, let’s say that I consider Jeskai Affinity a different deck from Grixis Affinity; then, I run into some data that only mentions “Affinity”. How do I translate it?
On the other hand, the archetypes couldn’t be too broad, as that would have resulted in a loss of critical information: it’s a tough balance.
These are the most relevant choices that I’ve made:
“Affinity” includes every version of Affinity, regardless of what colors they play. But it doesn’t include metalcraft decks like Brute Squad, which have their own category, that you don’t see simply because they never reached 2% of meta share.
“Izzet Faeries” includes both the classic version and the one that runs Delver of Secrets in addition to the faerie package. Dimir Faeries is distinct from Izzet, and Dimir Delver (which includes Dimir Angler) is distinct from Dimir Faeries, because:
They are more established decks compared to the countless versions of Affinity or other archetypes (is the Affinity that splashes black for Deadly Dispute as Grixis as the one that splashes for Disciple of the Vault?).
It’s interesting to see the different behaviors of these decks in different metagames.
I had the option to do so. Everybody distinguishes them when they track their matches. There is only one exception to this statement. Apas72 didn’t make any distinction between Dimir Faeries and Dimir Delver in the FFF era (only in that period). So I had to artificially split his Dimir category in Faeries and Delver, with a 60-40 proportion based on data from the other 3 sources about that time frame.
“Stompy” includes both the classic version and the Bayou Groff aristocrats-ish version.
“Black Midrange” means “black-based midrange decks” and it includes things like Mono Black Devotion, Rakdos Midrange and even things like Mono Black Corrupt, even if it isn’t a midrange deck strictly speaking, but it doesn’t include Pestilence. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve grouped Mono Black Corrupt with Pestilence, but don’t worry: I can assure you that it wouldn’t have changed much, as Mono Black Corrupt has always been almost inexistent.
“Elves” includes both the Simic and the mono green version.
“Mono Blue Delver” includes various versions of the deck, like the one with Quandrix Pledgemage and even some other weird variations, more focused on the beatdown plan.
“Boros Monarch” includes both the classic version and the ones that splash black to any degree.
“Bully” includes some other white-based fringe token strategies in addition to the classic version, but it’s distinct from White Weenie.
“Blue Control” includes Goblin Wizardry decks, Serpentine Curve decks, Mystical Teachings decks, Mono Blue deserts and other blue-based control decks. It also includes Rat-lock. I was hesitant about including a Flicker deck in this category, but at the end of the day, to belong to this category, it doesn’t matter too much which endgame you choose, as long as you execute a control gameplan.
“Walls” includes both the Combo and the Cascade versions. This decision is probably the one that bothers me the most, as these two decks have fairly different game plans and matchup spreads. But I wasn’t always able to distinguish the two archetypes in the raw data, and Combo Walls is basically extinct anyways since the printing of the Cascade creatures.
“Familiars” includes both the classic Azorius version and the one that splashes for red, as well as the Rainbow version with Utopia Sprawl.
“Green Ponza” includes every green-based land destruction strategy, from mono green to Jund, but the most common one is Gruul.
“Green Cascade Midrange” includes all the green-based cascade piles, like Jund, Gruul or Sultai.
“Storm” includes all versions of Storm with Chatterstorm as win condition. But keep in mind that the Izzet version, the Gruul version and the Rakdos version with Street Wraith are all extinct, and the overwhelming majority of Storm decks is made by the Rakdos Relay version.