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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
May 08 2018 12:00pm
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 How To Recognize Your Opponent's Deck Very First Land Drop

Glasses of Urza

When I was a new Pauper player, one of the most challenging adjustments I had to make was learning to recognize all the decks. I don't even mean that I hoped to learn how to play all the popular decks in Pauper. My goal was much more basic: I just wanted to learn how each of my opponent's decks worked. What cards did they play? What was their overall archetype strategy? And how did the hope to win? Eventually as I got more experienced with the format I learned to ask myself questions like, "What cards could they be holding?", "What could they top-deck?", or most importantly if I was ahead, "What are their outs?" 

In those days I used a tool which is still available to players even today, a valuable resource to anyone seeking to learn a new format. Every week, Wizards of the Coast publishes deck lists of successful decks. It used to be that these were the decks that went 4-0 and 3-1 in the now extinct "Daily Events". These days the data which WOTC shares with us is as follows: 25 different deck lists that have gone 5-0 in the past week's Pauper Friendly Leagues plus the Top 32 decks based on finish in the weekly Sunday Pauper Challenge.

Your Resources for Decklists

Even though some still complain that Wizards is holding out on us for the sake of preserving the mystique of (false?) format diversity, I happen to think this is one heck of a data drop. Bottom line: you can use this data tremendously to your advantage if you take the time to access it. There a couple of places where data like this can be found. One is on the "Mothership", aka "DailyMTG". Here's links from last week's Pauper Leagues and Challenges:

Pauper League

Pauper Challenge

The other source you can use is MTGGoldfish, which orgainizes the WOTC data dump into a coherent metagame that includes the various popular deck archetypes, example deck lists of each archetype and a relative precentage of the metagame for each deck archetype. The Pauper metagame page can be found here:

MTGGoldfish Pauper Page

Utilizing this data, I can observe that the most popular decks in the current Pauper metagame are: Izzet Delver (9.45%), Five-Color Tron (9.15%), Mono-Blue Delver (8.84 %), Kuldotha Boros (6.6%), and Stompy (5.79%). This is the Tier 1 Metagame, the decks you should expect to play. Other popular decks include Inside Out Combo, Elves, Izzet Blitz, Dimir Contol, Bogles, Red Deck Wins, Affinity and Burn. 

Our goal today will be to learn how to recognize your potential matchup by your opponent's turn one play so that you can identify their strategy and know better what to expect.

Identifying Pauper Decks Based on their Turn-One Lands

Easy Ones:

Wind-Scarred Crag Ancient Den

Wind-Scarred Crag is a very common opening for Boros Monarch decks. Ancient Den is also a land that almost exclusively gets played in Boros Monarch and might come down early to turn on Metalcraft. 

Urza's Tower Swiftwater Cliffs Unknown Shores

Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant and Urza's Tower all are tell-tale lands for the 5-Color Tron deck. But these days that deck also runs a few Khans of Tarkir "gainlands" to supplement its mana base including Swiftwater Cliffs and occasionally Thornwood Falls. These decks also usually run some number of the 5-color filter lands like Painted Bluffs, Shimmering Grotto and Unknown Shores, though the less frequently will be their first land drop unless they're desperate or trying to turbo out a Expedition Map to crack on turn-2. 

Seat of the Synod Darksteel Citadel Tree of Tales

Seat of the Synod, Darksteel Citadel and Tree of Tales are all unique lands to the Affinity Deck. The overlap land is Great Furnace which could be a turn-1 play both in Affinity and Boros Monarch. 

Slightly Trickier:

Dismal Backwater

Dismal Backwater is a signpost to the slower Dimir Control decks, but the problem is that these decks come in a few different varieties. The most popular of the current Dimir decks focuses around Forbidden Alchemy, both as a early / late game draw engine and also a way to set up the delve cost of Gurmag Angler. But other Dimir decks include Dimir Teachings, an even slower build of Dimir Alchemy, Dimir Reanimator, which uses Exhume to recur powerful threats like Striped Riverwinder and Ulamog's Crusher or 'Caligula', an utterly miserable deck that usually wins around turn-27 by establishing a two-card lock of Pristine Talisman and Evincar's Justice. Turn-1 Dismal Backwater can even signal Tron, as it too occasionally sees 1-2 of play as a color supplement for Tron.

Snow-Covered Island Snow-Covered Mountain

Snow-Covered Island and Snow-Covered Mountain used to be the tell-tale lands for Izzet Delver decks, except that now, since it comes at so little deck building cost (except price), other decks are starting to include Snow-Covered lands in preference to basics just to act as a red herring to throw their opponent off course. 

Forest

Basic Forest usually indicates one of three decks: Stompy, Elves, or Bogles. Since all three play a low-curve full of one-drops, most of the time you should know which opponent you're facing based on what spell they tap that turn-one forest to cast. The only overlap spells are Quirion Ranger and Nettle Sentinel which appear in both Stompy and Elves, and occasionally Young Wolf, though usually Bogles only plays this card from the sideboard.

Mountain

Similarly, Basic Mountain means that the race is on. If their turn one is a Rift Bolt, a Chain Lightning or a Lava Spike, you're up against Burn. If their turn one is a Mogg Conscripts or a Goblin Cohort, you're likely up against Red Deck Wins, though occasionally these two will single Goblins, a slightly less popular version of the all-in cheap red aggro deck.

Swamp

Basic Swamp almost always signals a control deck. Usually you're expecting Mono Black Devotion, since Dimir decks will usually lean towards playing a Dismal Backwater first or an Island so that they can cast Preordain, but will occasionally have to lead on a Swamp. There is also a fringe Orzhov Monarch deck that runs both Plains and Swamps, but they too will prefer the turn-1 gain land or Plains since most of their turn-1 plays are white.

Blossoming Sands

Blossoming Sands usually signals Bogles, but is also the dual land of choice for Slivers, a popular fringe deck choice.

The Trickiest Ones:

Evolving Wilds

Evolving Wilds is usually an indicator that you're up against a 2-Color Gush deck. This could include Izzet Delver, Inside Out Combo, or Izzet Blitz. The reason these decks prefer Evolving Wilds to the appropriate two-color gainland is because they need a critical mass of Islands or Snow-Covered Islands, so that they can reliably pay the alterate cost on Gush. What all these decks have in common is great card selection from cards like Preordain and Ponder, tempo elements, and counterspells. Think Pyroblast.

Island

Basic Island is probably the most vague turn-1 play in Pauper, especially if my opponent taps that Island to cast Preordain. While the deck that only runs Basic Islands is Mono-Blue Delver, many decks run Islands as the support basic land of choice, including all varieties of Blue-Black control decks, Red-Blue Midrange and Control decks, and the same Evolving Wilds / Gush decks: Inside Out Combo and Izzet Blitz.

Plains

Basic Plains is the rarest basic land in Pauper. Most decks that run basic plains are White-based Aggro decks like Mono White Heroic or white Soul Sisters, although the later has morphed more popularity into a 2-3 color deck that also includes the combo of Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond.

And finally...

Dimir Aqueduct

Dimir Aqueduct on turn one signals the opponent either misclicked and Time Walked themselves, or they mulliganed once or more, scryed to the bottom, have no other lands, and should concede.