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By: Pujols_Teh_Destroyer, Christopher Oliver
Aug 19 2019 12:00pm
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I don’t think the printing of a single-mana artifact that required snow-mana would impact most formats the way a certain artifact has effected Pauper.  Arcum’s Astrolabe is a card that when spoiled, I honestly didn’t think much of.  It required snow mana, which most decks in the format at the time could produce, but at the cost of trimming artifact lands, dual lands, and Urza Lands.  That price seemed a tad too steep in my first impression of the card.  

Clearly, I was incorrect in my assessment.

This innocuous artifact has settled into existing archetypes, completely changed others, and has made a splash far greater than I would anticipate from something that only costs one mana.  Now the question is - Is Arcum’s Astrolabe too good for Pauper? Is having access to every color efficiently a problem in Pauper?

I’m on the fence.

On one hand, the starts that decks featuring Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher can now have have sped the format up significantly. The proliferation of decks featuring these cantripping flyers has also pushed out some of our traditional format pillars ; the most obvious being decks featuring Delver of Secrets.

Delver of Secrets

Where did you go, buddy?

Instead of relying on two-mana artifacts that cantrip, the white-based Boros and three-color decks can have a blistering start with Astrolabe into Kor Skyfisher. It’s not uncommon for these decks to feature 6 to 8 points of evasive power on the board as early as turn 4, while also having drawn cards to refill. Back that up with snow-permanents powering up Skred, it’s easy to see why Gurmag Angler is no longer the most feared fishy around.

Mulldrifter

Pictured: The original fishy boi.

Beyond just altering the way the Boros decks are constructed, Astrolabe has given brewers a way to splash colors like they never have. We’ve always had Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, bad dual lands, and more recently Ash Barrens, but the speed at which this fixing came was often a big issue in the face of efficient, mono-colored strategies. Now these decks can simply play basic lands, throw in Astrolabe, and start going to town both fixing their mana and drawing cards along the way. It’s given deckbuilders in Pauper a new avenue to explore outside of the color blue. I do think that’s a positive for the format.

That said, is Astrolabe really giving other colors new card draw engines, or is it just allowing blue decks to feature the most efficient answers in other colors?

Looking at both Challenge results and 5-0 lists, there are an awful lot of snow-covered islands being registered in Pauper these days.  These decks have always featured some of the best cantrips Pauper has to offer in the likes of Preordain, Ponder, and Brainstorm, but now they get to take it a step further and splash additional colors for sideboard hate. It’s created an interesting format where people can brew decks we simply could not have seen six months ago. On top of that, these three-color midrange piles aren’t being outclassed by Tron as they historically have been because of the efficiency and consistency Astrolabe provides. It’s tough trying to go over the top with Tron when decks packing Archaeomancer and Counterspell can also play Ephemerate and Pulse of Murasa.

 

Speaking of Tron, it’s rare now to see decklists not featuring snow basics and the one-mana artifact. Instead, Tron is now relying on Astrolabe to fix mana, both speeding up the deck and giving it early plays. Shortly following Modern Horizons being released, we saw interesting mixes of Boros and Tron packages, featuring 8 mana fixing rocks married to the Glint Hawk Kor Skyfisher package that leveraged Tron’s mana advantage to power up fireballs for the late game. Now we’re seeing Tron decks feature snow islands and Trinket Mage to keep the cards flowing, while enjoying the luxury of playing cards like Counterspell. Initially, I was quite concerned about this shift, as Tron historically does so well against the midrange decks that Astrolabe has helped create. That fear hasn’t quite been realized, as aggressive decks can still put pressure on, even in the face of Weather the Storm and Moment’s Peace. Tron is a powerful deck, but has it’s weaknesses like everything else.

The most recent Tron lists have been packing the usual suspects in Ghostly Flicker, Dinrova Horror, and Mnemonic Wall, but they also get to pack Ephemerate, Arcum's Astrolabe for speed, and Trinket Mage. Even a classic Temur Tron deck showed up in the Pauper Challenge from 8.4.2019. It's interesting that we can have a metagame where slower midrange decks can exist fighting against Tron. 

 Urza's TowerSnow-Covered Island

We can be friends!

The format is in a strange place. It’s unexplored territory. One of the defining characteristics that has separated Pauper from other constructed formats is the limitations of mana. You could absolutely play more than one color, but it came with a significant cost. Three-color decks leaned on Prophetic Prism and usually started out with 12 Tron lands. This shift in the format has led to some grumbling throughout the Pauper community as folks debate whether or not this is ultimately a good thing for Pauper.

Another interesting variable to take into account are the other cards that have been added to Pauper in the last two months. Along with Astrolabe, Defile has given Mono Black decks another tool to keep creatures in check. While the deck certainly wasn’t lacking in ways to kill things, Defile is no doubt a very powerful card that will make jamming swamps a very attractive option. I mentioned Ephemerate before, but we really cannot understate the impact this card has had on the format. One mana to combo with any of Pauper’s Mnemonic Wall effects rebuys a spell every turn. It’s such an efficient addition to the format that has both slotted into prior decks and helped foster brand new archetypes, such as the Jeskai Ephemerate decks.

 

  

Just a few of the new kids on the block.

With new decks come the traditional format gatekeepers. Hexproof, Stompy, Affinity, and Burn are all fine choices to play at the moment. They do well to push these three-color midrange strategies and force them to play interaction beyond just flickering their own creatures. Weather the Storm is a card that Burn doesn’t want to see, but people are still casting Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike with success. Even Boros Monarch has transformed into a much more aggressive shell overall, with some lists favoring Seeker of the Way and Searing Blaze as a way to push the slower midrange strategies. We’ve seen a small resurgence of these aggressive strategies both online and in paper tournaments.

Mono Green Stompy
by _DissonancE_ 6-1 record from 8.4.2019 Pauper Challenge

4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Nest Invader
4 Nettle Sentinel
2 Quirion Ranger
4 River Boa
2 Silhana Ledgewalker
2 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
2 Vault Skirge
4 Hunger of the Howlpack
3 Vines of Vastwood
4 Savage Swipe
3 Elephant Guide
4 Rancor
18 Forest
 
 

 

Concluding, Pauper players will continue to debate about whether or not Acrum’s Astrolabe should be here to stay, but we what we cannot deny is that the format is in a very interesting place with mana fixing we haven’t experienced before. I’m not sold either way on if it’s a good or bad thing for the format, but what I do know is that we will continue to see interesting decklists as long as we have access to all of the colors. While I don’t think it’s fair to categorize every deck jamming Arcum’s Astrolabe into one archetype, I do think the impact this little artifact has had goes well beyond what anyone expected. It's been an interesting month or for Pauper and I am excited to see what people come up with, both with Astrolabe and with the numerous other cards that have been introduced into the format thanks to unification. 

 


 

About the Author - I’ve been playing Magic for almost 15 years. Pauper has been my go-to format for nearly a decade. While I’ve been in and out of the format, it’s always something I’ve kept my eye on. Beyond Pauper, I’m a big fan of Commander and Standard formats that include Siege Rhino or Primeval Titan. You can find me on Twitter at @EatMahBeans and on MTGO/Discord as PujolsTheDestroyer.