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.
Be aware of the numbers of walls and amount of mana you need to start the combo:
Freed requires 2 walls on the battlefield to generate one extra mana, Galv.Alchemist 4.
Drift of Phantasms is one the best cards you can play here, let’s suppose you want to kill your opponent in this turn, how much mana you need?
7 mana for Freed (3 mana for transmute, 3 for cast, 1 for untap)
9 mana for GalvAlchemist (3 mana for transmute, 3 for cast, 3 for untap)
The reason to play the split 1 Freed and 1 GalvAlchemist is precisely this difference between costs. And Galvanic Alchemist’s soulbound ability doesn’t target.
Side-note: on MTGO Freed from the Real is way faster (it requires less clicks); sometimes your opponent don’t scoop even if you have all your combo on. Same thing for Overgrown Battlement (+ Orochi Leafcaller) compared to Overgrowth Battlement: a less amount of clicks.
Transmute for these cards can be difficult if you have only 1 drift of phantasms, right? Actually no. Despite the fact transmute is an ability, if you have enough mana and spells to cast, supposedly 1, you can transmute first for a second copy of Drift and then for Reaping the Graves. Play reaping, brin back 2 tutors for the infinite mana blue card and for Bloodrite Invoker.
Sideboard Ulamog’s Crusher is right now the best sideplan against removal decks. I usually swipe Crashing Drawnbridge for them because let the opponent kill your Axebane Guardian or Overgrown Battlement on responce to bridge activate ability still is a bad move for us.
For the same reason I often board out Freed from the Real. Please opponent, don’t kill the wall I want to target.
Sometimes I cut 1 mana dork, when I face removal decks, because I don’t want to keep against them an initial hand that struggle from a removal to a turn1 llanowar elves.
Notes: Their only interaction against creature combo decks are bounce spells and counterspells, that means they need an aggressive approach to the MU and Scattershot Archer is the best way to gain time to set up a criticital turn to combo-off.
Boros Monarch (favorable)
In: 3 Ulamog’s Crusher, 2 Gorilla Shaman
Out: 3 Crashing Drawnbridge, 1 Fyndhorn Elves, 1 Freed from the Real
Notes: They can win pretty often on turn 4 or 5 (usually is necessary a Burning-Tree Emissary or a Rancor on t2). The blue combo card is not necessary to win if they don’t kill Bloodrite invoker and we have enough mana.
In: 2 Moment’s Peace
Out: 1 Mnemonic Wall and 1 Vivien’s Grizzly or 2 Vivien’s Grizzly
Sometimes Ulamog’s Crusher feels like an overkill, so I tried Wrethed Gryff instead. It’s better to stop Ux Faeries and Boros Monarch and allows a sweet interaction with Mnemonic Wall and Reaping the Graves thanks to the emerge alternative cost, but probably Ulamog’s Crusher is more impactfull in a lot of games.
Someone plays Standard Bearer, but I think is not really relevant or impactfull. Against Stompy can stop only the first removal spell and seems good only VS Bogles (even tought is extremely good against Timberwatch Elf and Quirion Ranger).
Article by Matteo Manizza Translation by Alberto Volpe
Hi everyone, I am Matteo Manizza, Lega Pauper Marche’s player and admin, and I wrote this article to talk about the deck which led us to Pauper Challenge Top 8 on april 27th, “created” by me and my mtgo mate federusher.
Cycle Storm by federusher, Top8 Pauper Challenge 26/04/2020
I previously said “created”, because I actually took the key mechanics of this deck from the famous streamer Caleb Gannon, known for being a master storm deck builder in pauper and probably in any other format.
Let me say it loud:Caleb Gannonis an artist to me!
The creator has indeed taken an old deck, the Songs of the Damned Combo, and made it much more competitive thanks to the new cards from the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths set.
Songs Combo by Kurogi Takehiko, Pauper League March 2018
Let’s start with how the deck works, then we’ll see each single card and at the end the reasons why I chose this version.
I’d like to make it clear now: this version is probably way far to be the final one. Indeed, I sincerely hope that the deck will be assimilated by the community, improved and turned it into a tier in all respects.
How it works
As said, the basic mechanics isn’t mine, but I think I got it decently.
I’m not going to write a papyrus on how to go off with the combo, I’ll just give some guidelines, even because having developed it only few days ago my advices may be inadequate, given also the considerable amount of testing that the deck still requires.
The average turn to go off is the fourth, rarely the third. The first few turns you just have to cycle your creatures, in fact each creature can be cycled with one red mana, so you can use your lands without the possibility of having dead cards in hand. My advice for the future archetype’s players is to include only cycling cards that can be cycled through the mana provided by your lands in order to constantly cycling without get stucked. As soon as you find the combo key cards, basically Reaping The Graves and tons of mana, you can go off.
That’s it, obviously there are many different ways to get the max value out of it, but it would be harder to write them all than show ‘em in a game, so i’ll give up here with the explanation of the gameplan.
For the right amount of lands we relied to percentage calculators, but I won’t report the maths here cause it’s too long and definitely too boring, mostly based on the possibility of finding the second land even in the worst case scenario.
2 Forgotten Cave – Cycle land, useful during the combo, but it’s better not have too many of these to avoid the risk of being too slow in the early game.
4 Geothermal Crevice – Extremely strong land, a bit slow in your opening turns cause it enters tapped, but it allows you to fix black mana without using additional slots in the deck. The green mana is also a house with Manamorphose and Deadshot Minotaur. If I could have chosen this land’s colors, I would definitely have chosen these.
6 Basic Mountain – 12 total lands, as mentioned I find it the right amount to easily find 2-3 lands, keeping a one land-starting hand.
The creatures are divided between humble draw cards, useful for their ability to cycle for 1 mana or less, and key cards for the combo. Luckily, mom Wizards has also given the ability “cycling” to the combo cards, making the deck way more linear.
4 Deadshot Minotaur– Bad cycle card, but still better than others, cycling for G/R; at least it’s a valid creature.
4 Drannith Healer – Excellent cycle card, very strong creature against fast aggro decks, where gaining a bunch of lives can give you enough time to prepare your combo, which is so important for this kind of deck.
4 Drannith Stinger – The deck’s finisher and also a great cycle card thanks to his colorless cycling cost; Once on the board, it deals 1 or more damage to the opponent depending on how many you cast.
As mentioned, accumulating mana in order to go off with the combo is essential, so I’ve included the best “rites” available on the market.
4 Cabal Ritual – The strongest ritual, getting threshold is really easy.
4 Manamorphose – This card has a power level so high that playing it is like cheating. Not only it lets us draw for free, provides the storm count and fix our black mana in order to go off, but during the combo it can turn tons of black mana from Songs of the Damned into red mana so we can keep on cycle and cast the few cards that require it.
4 Reaping the Graves – Deck’s key card, mandatory. Going down below 4 copies, despite the high casting cost, it’s just mental. Without this card, it’s hard to go off, and once you do, if you can’t find it, then your combo is done, probably ending with a loss. Best case scenario is to go off while having this card in your hand and this often happens thanks to the considerable amount of draws in the early game.
4 Songs of the Damned – I’ve called Cabal Ritual as “strongest ritual”, which is undeniably true, except for this deck where it’s widely outclassed by Songs of the Damned. The amount of mana this card can generate is outstanding. Although it seem to add relatively few mana when you start to go off, during the combo it will show all its power.
2 Faithless Looting – Another card with a very high power level. It’s just in two copies because is useful especially during the combo where you want to discard some of the few dead draws (lands, sideboards). Uncomfortable instead, in hands where you’d like not to discard anything at all. It can be useful to find lands on your first turns, but still uncomfortable.
4 Rite of Flame – We chose this card over Dark Ritual because of its color: to generate red mana during the combo is quite difficult, and Rite of Flame helps a lot.
4 Death Spark – I would like to spend few words on this one. I find this card so strong, we can consider to slightly change our gameplan against some decks since g2, especially blue-based decks full of annoying fairies, which are bad match-ups, finding themselves in a soft lock to solve, by the time is quite easy for this deck to find two copies of Death Spark. Obviously really strong against any deck full of 1/1 creatures like Elves.
2 Flaring Pain – Not playing this card means losing to every Prismatic Strands deck, and I don’t like to.
2 Lotus Petal – These two slots were empty, so we decided to add 2 petals in order to improve the match-up against fast decks, but I think they will be replaced soon.
4 Pyroblast – I’m not even explaining it, but don’t put Red Elemental Blast in its place! Pyroblast can be randomly cast without a target just to increase the storm count, while REB can’t.
3 Shredded Sails – The best card against artifact and hate in general available. It destroys artifacts, annoying flyers and can be cycled at a relatively low cost. I couldn’t ask for any better.
Chromatic Star / Chromatic Sphere – Thanks again to the many percentage calculators available on the internet, we know how having 8 mana-fixers (4 Geothermal Crevice, 4 Manamorphose) are enough to get the necessary amount of black mana. To be precise: you have 91,6% chance to draw one of the fixers out of 15 cards (7 from starting hand, 3-4 standard draws and 3-4 cycling cards, to stay low). More than acceptable to choose not to weaken the deck with similar cards.
Lotus Petal – Just inside the sideboard, it turned out to be quite disappointing, while in the maindeck is completely useless, except to increase the storm count. The mana it generates is almost irrelevant.
Seething Song – Card we are considering at the moment to include in double copy.
Fireball/Kaervek’s Torch/Rolling Thunder – Alternative finishers to take advantage of the amount of mana we generate, I don’t find them necessary: once you developed large amount of mana, the combo does the rest. You can try 1x copy of one of those, might be nice, but I don’t see the point in weaken the deck structure with cards that don’t significantly improve our game plan.
In the end, I’d like to report those I consider the pros and cons of the many versions of the deck we’ve seen so far, and why I chose exactly the red-based one to develop the deck.
Extremely solid deck having every cycling card black. It allows faster starts (can go off on turn 3, with less difficulties than the green/red version).
Difficulty on having good storm count in the early game;
No anti-hate sideboards (No black artifact-destroyer), so color-splash needed to counter hate cards. Splash extremely hard to make due to the lack of excellent color-fixers, so it requires cards like Chromatic Star/Sphere, weakening the maindeck.
Strongest possible sideboard thanks to cards like Pyroblast, Flaring Pain, Death Spark and Shredded Sails.
Generically slower combo than black-based version (Turn 4, hardly turn 3);
Difficulty having strong cards against fast aggro decks (or at least I didn’t find some yet).
So, the reason why I chose the red-based version is basically its versatility against most part of match-ups, thanks to the high power level sideboard cards available. Some might righlty want to try a two-colors version of the deck, which I don’t recommend at the moment, cause it can really lose strength. After that, don’t listen to me and my advices, just try to build your own ideal version of this deck. Well, I think everything has been told, hope you enjoied the article, as well as the deck itself.
Article by Alessandro Moretti Translation by Fabrizio Pucci
Around november I’ve played in 5 MTGO major Pauper Events (2 Pauper Playoff e 3 Pauper Challenge) and for 4 times I’ve reached top8 with Fog Tron, thanks to my experience I would like to write about it.
Why Fog Tron?
How to beat it
Impact on the meta
Why Fog Tron?
In pauper there are many different archetypes based on Tronlands (a.k.a urzalands) because they are an high level enabler for different Strategies, from Control oriented versions (Fog Tron and Removal Tron) to midrange style shells (Fangren Tron, Kitty Tron, ecc.).
Fog Tron is a Prison deck with a game-plane based on locking the opponent out from their combat step looping effects like Moment’s Peace or Stonehorn Dignitary.
Murasa Tron ed Izzet Tron are usually defined as Removal Tron because their way to interact with opponent’s pressure are cards like Flame Slash e Lightning Bolt. They are underplayed right now mainly due to two factors: first, a low amount of spot removals isn’t enough to stop Swarn strategies (Elves, Stompy), and Ux Faeries/Delver and Voltron combo decks (UR Kiln Fiend, UW Tribe) are a little part of the actual metagame.
Another reason Fog Tron is the best Tron deck right now is the powerful endgame value generated by Ghostly Flicker ed Ephemerate, that is good enough to beat Monarch token in the long run. (Boros Monarch is one of the tier 1 of the format currently). The blink effects of Ghostly Flicker ed Ephemerate allow Tron to be both able to grind out midrange strategies and to stop aggro decks from attacking.
Fog Tron by A_AdeptoTerra, Finalist Pauper Playoff 01/12/2019
Sunscape Familiar e Nightscape Familiar are combo oriented cards (enabler for Snap and Ghostly Flicker). They are certainly not control cards, but allow blink combo decks to reach the loop condition faster.
The urzalands, as familiars, need enables like Prophetic Prism ed Expedition Map and a number of turns to set up, causing a bad reactivity in the early game. I don’t think those lands are problematic by themselves, but there’s no dout that they allow a go-wide value strategy with cards like Mulldrifter e Pulse of Murasa, often good against removal based decks (MBC; Boros, etc.)
Ephemerate is the relevant card here. First of all, costs 1 mana and usually do not require a second copy of Mnemonic Wall to loop value.
In second place, it does not suffer from graveyard hate, or rather, is a sort of answer to it. Casting Ephemerate on Mnemonic Wall in response to Bojuka Bog o Relic of Progenitus allows to recur a spell from the yard without even losing Ephemerate. Ghostly Flicker is able to do the same, but the setup require a second copy of Mnemonic Wall, it is self-explanatory the huge difference between paying 3 mana and having a second copy of Mnemonic Wall rather than simply paying W.
Third, It is better than Moment’s Peace. Is true that Ephemerate requires Stonehorn Dignitary in play, but by paying only W the result is two effects of Moment’s Peace, for 4 mana less and have still access to both Ephemerate (in the yard) and Stonehorn (on the battlefield) while Moment’s Peace would be in the exile zone. Mana advantage of Ephemerate vs Moment’s peace allows Tron players to cast cards like Teachings or Impulse or keep mana up to counter problematic threats.
This approach to the game is still good against traditional Midrange and Control decks, but usually is weak against explosive and linear strategies (Burn, Elves) and never had nor has enough answers to Dinrova Horror or Stonehorn Dignitary blink lock.
Fangren Tron by CtrlZED 5-0 Pauper League 20/11/2019
These old Tron flavors are still playable, but they usually are bad in the current metagame, because it’s faster compared to 4-5 years ago and due to the presence of Flicker Tron, the worst MU for these kind of strategies (alongside Ux Delver).
To have a lot of disruption and a good clock (mainly counterspells)
Sadly, the meta has lost aggressive blue decks due to Gush ban that used to and could have had a great matchup in Tron. At the same time, Ephemerate is a cheap value engine that eases to have a progressively value over the game. Let’s try to look at the archetypes usually Tron suffers: Stompy, RDW, Elves e Affinity.
Burn in my opinion is a matchup that highly depends on specific hate cards (lifegain and counterspells), so is not really negative. If you have enough answers, is favorable.
Stompy can close the game at T4 but hate like Lone Missionary helps and the matchup is mostly balanced if even not favorable to Tron.
Tragic Lessons plus Mystic Sanctuary seems a good alternative to Gush; and in combination with Deprive with a good race, allows to play a favorable gameplan against Flicker Tron, but it has to be seen how those strategies will perform against the rest of the field.
Izzet Faeries by Apa19, Top8 Pauper Challenge 25/11/2019
Usually cards like Duress or Divest are not good enough itself; like Tempo strategies a treath such as Okiba-Gang Shinobi is a nice card, despit its mana cost it gives Bx decks away to interact and clock Flicker Tron.
Sadly, after Gush ban, explosive combo decks that pray on Tron’s lack of interaction in early turns (UW Tribe, Izzet Blitz, Infect) are underplayed due to Bx Midranges and/or WR Midranges.
Impact on the meta
Both Flicker Tron and Monarch mechanic are, from my point of view, elements that remove entire strategies from the Pauper format.
Monarch erase automatically all the control and midrange decks that are not able to play and protect the Monarchy or that try to rely their card advantage on other cards. In addition midranges monarch decks limit aggro and combo decks in the format.
I wish to point out that the presence of both Tron and Monarch are the main reasons Ux Land-Go Control is not playable. Moreover, the combined presence of WR and Bx midrange decks limit aggro and combo decks to non-interactive and/or extremely fast builds (Burn, just for example).
That being said, best decks in the meta are probably Affinity, Elves e Burn, then followed by Boros, Dimir Angler/Delver and Stompy.
It is mandatory to underline that Flicker Tron is a deck that easily draw in paper and times out on MTGO. This is probably why the results on MTGO and in Paper magic are made by the same expert player of the archetype. This is probably why the deck seems underplayed currently.
Apparently Pauper meta is evolving to face the two dominant strategies (Tron and Monarch) and right now the only innovations are Izzet Faeries e Dimir Angler with Mystic Sanctuary. Probably the meta could evolve more in the future.
Actually we cannot value if Flicker Tron wil get the ban axe soon because we have not enough data.
We have low number of big paper tournaments, but all of them shows a balanced meta. On MTGO our best (or only) data are Castle of Commons ones for challenges (thanks a lot for you work!).
My personal opinion is that the deck is too consistent and the problematic cards are Ephemerate e (secondly) Mulldrifter.
It is really hard to categorize a Midrange deck. I really like the following definition: “A midrange is a deck that adapts on the opponent’s deck and is able to switch from being the aggro or the control deck depending on which deck they are facing.” It’s not the best definition, honestly I don’t think there is one, but usually this works fine.
This kind of decks usually do not have a definite strategy like the Combo, aggro or control deck. They can close the game by winning damage races or by overwhelming the opponent with card advantage.
The evolution of midrange strategies in Pauper has started after Cloud of Faeries’ ban and the consequent disappearance of Esper Familiar.
The main paths this archetype has taken in the course of the years have been essentially three:
In the beginning, the white based have been Boros and Jeskai Kuldotha. Both based on Kor Skyfisher, Glint Hawk + Prophetic Prism and Kuldotha Rebirth + Ichor Wellspring. Boros was more aggro oriented, Jeskai has always been the value counterpart. After Modern Masters 2017, Palace Sentilel joined the party and Boros Monarch has been the referring white midrange.
Blue Midranges have historically used black as the other color (UB Flicker and UB Alchemy exasperating the control aspect of midranges) but UR Snow Delver has been the most important blue midrange since Modern Masters 2017 where Augur of Bolas was downgraded.
MBC has been the first midrange ever played in the format (I belive) and later Orzhov Pestilence has been developed joining the black based team.
Before the downgrade of Foil, 2 out of 3 tier one were midrange decks. UR Faeries (Snow Delver) and Boros Monarch were dominating the format with Dinrova Tron. Then UB Delver started to devour the format and the Gush ban happened. Alongside the ban, Modern Horizon was printed.
With this new expansion, Ephemerate and Arcum’s Astrolabes joined the format. Rapdly, we have seen the Jeskai Ephemerate archetype rising and all the midrange decks merged into it.
Why this happened? In my opinion there are several reasons:
Ephemerate + Archaeomancer loop. It is basically a better monarch token. At the cost of being “disruptible” (you should know how easy is to defend the loop) you will draw two cards in your turn but instead of being a random card at the end of your turn, is a chosen card from your graveyard at instant speed.
Ephemerate + Evoked Mulldrifter. 2/2 flyier that draws 6 cards for 4 mana allows the Jeskai players to play 1×1 the whole game, not caring at all about the resources they are giving up. Monarch had to manage for a long part of the game until the incremental advantage given by the token would take place, making the resource managing ability negligible.
Ephemerate is not just an incredible value engine. It’s a one mana spell that is just recyclable against all kind of opponents (i.e. it saves your pieces from removals).
Because Ephemerate is so cheap, the deck is able to play the strongest card advantage the format have ever seen in a midrange AND Boros had no cantrips to settle the draws but had Monarch, UR Faeries had the cantrips, but relied on a worse card advantage in the long run. Jeskai has a better card advantage than Boros and can use cantrips as UR Faeries.
Flexibility. A lot of midranges decks are playable with astrolabe that speed up their paces and stabilized their manabase, but no other deck can play a 1 mana removal spell for any threat, a 2 mana counter for any spell, the card draw engine given by Kor Skyfisher and a super powerful value loop with Ephemerate + Mulldrifter/ Archaemancer/Spellstutter Sprite and no real way to be attacked by sideboards cards
The deck has rapidly become the deck to beat and warped the metagame around it. The deck has so much value that can handle Tron and a lot of players have switched to aggro (Bogle and Stompy) to try to close the game before the loops become relevant.
Various content creators (Alex Ullman, this very blog Pauperwave and others) have underlined with numbers how Jeskai continue to perform incredibly well in an hostile metagame.
Because of the metagame warping and the number of top8s and top16s this deck is able to do in a metagame full of decks that are suited to beat it, in my opinion, Ephemerate must be banned and it would open a lot this metagame.
Why just Ephemerate? I do not like to rush. I think that the main reasons Jeskai is so good are explained in the 5 points previously written. Of course, both Arcum’s Astrolabe and Tron lands are great card in the format (and AA is great in Jeskai and is the reason it can be played) but I don’t see any reason to ban them at this round. If they will cause any issue in the future they can be easily banned in future announcements. But what if those cards actually helps the metagame to be various and enjoyable? What if monarch midranges are so good and Tron can mitigate their influence? What if Arcum’s Astrolabe helps decks to stabilize their manabase that is usually an issue in Pauper due to the fact that we do not have untapped fetch lands?
I know how strong and influent are these cards but banning them without data from a new meta could be a mistake. The January ban is around the corner, in my opinion it’s worth the risk.
Now, I wanna start playing and try to speculate on the metagame without Ephemerate.
Frist of all. Would Jeskai disappear? I don’t think so.
Once lost the value of Ephemerate I can see Jeskai deviate to a more aggro game plan. The cantrips give stability and consistency while Seeker of the Way is the star. Mulldrifter can still be played for value or it could be switched with some cheap permission spell.
The other midranges could be Boros, Rakdos, Orzhov Monarch and UB (Flicker and Alchemy). Not a thing I’m super happy with, I don’t personally like monarch, I think I a bad designed mechanic for 1vs1.
Boros could be the best deck among those and probably one of the best deck of the format. Don’t forget about Boros Bully that could be played again.
About Tron, the Stonehorn Lock without Ephemerate is slower and aggro are faster or more interactive with the new cards (Swipe and Goblin Granade). Don’t forget that Arcum’s Astrolabe gives the possibility to Boros, Jeskai and other midranges to be consistently fast in developing an aggro plan, that is usually the key against Tron. Moreover, Dinrova Tron suffers pressure plus disruption (i.e. Relic of Progenitus) way more than Jeskai. Despite all of this, the deck would probably be one of the tiers of the format.
Stompy and Bogle would be the losers of the Ephemerate’s ban. Boros (and Rakdos) Monarch back in the mix is bad for those decks but stompy has always been a good strategy even when Monarch and Dinrova Tron were tier one, I don’t have doubt that these decks would be present in the format.
Goblins, Burn and RDW have always been played and would be played as well.
Last but not least, Throne of Eldraine cards are now into the format and could help to have a wide and various meta as well.
Maybe I’m completely wrong, but without any numerical data we can just suppose what will happen. I hope R&D will intervene with a ban on Monday 7th to stop this Jeskai madness. Hopefully, they will ban just Ephemerate and wait to see how the format evolves. Whatever they decide, no changes would be the only losing play.
For today that’s all! Hope you enjoyed the reading, if you want to interact with me you can follow me on twitter @Xardian7!
Great Pauper to everybody!
PS: All the lists posted are used exclusively to give an idea of the archetypes, they are not optimized and/or tested.