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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Aug 31 2015 12:00pm
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Something funny happened in the comment section of my article last week. In a piece dedicated to discussing one of the least interactive ways to win a game of Magic a discussion sprouted up around a singular card: Cloud of Faeries. A poster felt that the card should be banned, in part due to power level and in part due to availability. Someone responded that the commons in Pauper are in relative balance with each other.

I happen to disagree.

Cloud of Faeries is well above the curve for Pauper. It has been a dominant force for far too long and it is time for a change.
Before I go deeper I want to talk about the value of a card as it relates to Pauper. The card is a basic unit of measurement for a game of Magic. In terms of card advantage one spell can generate a card. Compare Chittering Rats to Mulldrifter. The former represents a full creature card plus a spell effect. Mulldrifter represents two cards - the creature and the draw spell. Related to this is tempo. The basic cost of a card is mana, although Snuff Out and others try to sidestep this. Usually a card has an associated opportunity cost as represented by the choice to cast it. Finally, there is the Philosophy of Fire where the basic value of a card is two damage for one mana. Sure, Pauper has access to Lightning Bolt and Fireblast, but those spells are exceptions.

Why is this important? When one looks at the Pauper Ban List it starts to become clear that every card there cheats significantly in one or more of these areas.

The most narrow of these are Cranial Plating and Invigorate. Pure damage cards they represent far more than a Fireblast worth of damage for significantly less investment. Now alone this would not be enough to get these cards banned but by looking at their intended decks - Affinity and Infect - we start to see their ability to generate far more damage that one card’s worth of value. Invigorate had the issue of ending games on turn two, representing a true tempo twist. The ability to shrink the game so that barely any cards mattered and negated the utility of a wide swath of cards. While they only appear to be a single card they hold the value of far more.

The same can be said for Treasure Cruise. This card simply did not cost eight. It was simply the best card in the format for too long and could not be contained. What Treasure Cruise was for cards Cloudpost was for mana. The Locus with the most allowed the controller to jump multiple turns in mana development for minimal card investment. Two Cloudposts generate four mana while two Tron pieces do nothing by comparison.

The Storm trio of Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, and Temporal Fissure cheat on investment. Storm is a broken mechanic because it allows cards to generate more effect than their mana cost would usually garner. There really is not much more to say.
Here is what I had to say on Frantic Search in 2011 when that card was banned:
“In an ideal situation—three Ravnica bouncelands two familiars—one Frantic Search could generate eleven mana and then filter away unneeded lands. No other card in the deck could move towards the endgame on all metrics in such a way.

Why Frantic Search? While I have not seen any official word I have to think this card got the axe because of the insane amount of mana it could generate. As mentioned in an ideal situation which is not difficult to achieve in Pauper this one spell can generate eleven mana. Even with three basics and two Familiars Search could generate five mana which is enough to cast the game winning spell. Add to this the “free” Snap and Cloud of Faeries and the engine is in full swing.”

-The Banning of Frantic Search and M12 Thoughts

Cloud of Faeries makes a cameo in that post and it is incredibly apt. The free mechanic from Urza’s Legacy creates an interesting problem as related to opportunity cost. Spells in Magic have a mana cost but also the fact that casting a certain spell can mean that other spells are left stranded in hand. While any spell can be countered (another risk of being cast), once resolved the loop is closed. Not so with the free spells as they can untap the invested resource. This reduces to opportunity cost associated and therefore makes the spell cheaper.

There’s more, of course. Given the ability to reduce cost or lands that generate more than one mana, Cloud of Faeries becomes a serious engine. In fact, it acts as an engine even when it only untaps two Islands. Cloud of Faeries cheats on tempo in both of its homes - Delver and Combo.

Here are some numbers I ran from a few weeks ago on the dominance of Cloud of Faeries in Pauper.

In the totality of the Dragons of Tarkir and Modern Masters 2015 seasons, as well as the start of Origins CoF has asserted itself at the top of the metagame. Across 23 different daily events and 2435 winning deck appearances, here are different strategies and their respective win share (here out of 7791 available wins):

  1. Delver 12.75%

  2. MBC 11.58%

  3. CoF Combo 10.22%

  4. Stompy 8.43%

  5. Affinity 8.07%

  6. Burn 6.26%

  7. Izzet Blitz 6.17%

  8. Dimir Delver 5.85%

  9. Goblins 4.25%

CoF comprises 22.97% of the win share over the past five months. That's impressive. And this is with MBC (and variants) having an absurd DTK season with 528 wins, almost 200 more than the next closest competitor. Taking only the past 11 weeks (MM2015 and ORI seasons) we are left with 4513 wins and the win shares look like this:

  1. Delver 14.45%

  2. CoF Combo 12.54%

  3. Stompy 8.71%

  4. MBC 8.29%

  5. Dimir Delver 7.45%

  6. Affinity 7.2%

  7. Burn 6.23%

  8. Izzet Blitz 5.56%

  9. Goblins 4.92%

When I brought this up last time there was a lot of "let's wait and see." That was completely fair - Treasure Cruise was running rampant and that card eventually got banned. The metagame has had time to settle since then and Cloud of Faeries decks are still dominating. That is with the addition of cards like Gut Shot, Twin Bolt, and Aerial Volley.

When this discussion comes up it always circles back to two points:

  • Delver itself is not completely unfair and there are decks that can compete with it.

  • Without CoF combo dies.

These are no longer good enough. Delver is not going to go away if you remove a free 1/1 flyer. I agree that combo should exist but the way CoF currently operates it is incredibly difficult to stop unless the entire metagame is devoted to abating its advance, and even then it can still perform.

I don't have Karsten Scores for all season (a formula that determines expected wins) but I have it for MM2015 and ORI thus far. A deck receives 4 points for a 4-0 and 2 for a 3-1.

Delver: MM2015 - 362; ORI - 134

CoF Combo: MM2015 - 314 ; ORI - 136

 

The next closest deck (Stompy) has a score of 214 in MM2015 and 78 in ORI.

                                                                                                                                                          -Revisiting Cloud of Faeries- 8/11/15

There are those who claim that combining Delver and Combo into one category here is disingenuous since the decks use Cloud of Faeries differently. Except they both rely on the ability of Cloud of Faeries to mitigate opportunity cost and turn it into free mana. Delver uses the mana to steal turns through holding up counters while Combo uses the mana to kill outright.

I cannot understate how powerful it is to be able to untap lands at no real cost.

None of this would matter if the decks had not been dominant. Look at the K-Score Numbers above. Decks featuring Cloud of Faeries are outperforming the format.

Cloud of Faeries is not a new problem. While it first blipped on my radar in 2011, I found articles of mine referencing it as a problem in 2013 and 2014.

To ensure I was not in an echo chamber, I reached out to two other Pauper players - Michael Vadman my co-host from the perpetually on hiatus “Common Cause” and Jason Sirichoke - one of the better innovators in the format. This is what they have to say:

“Cloud of Faeries is a disruptive card in the Pauper metagame, pure and simple. We can see this by looking at Daily Event results, K Score, any number of statistical factors. But even in a larger sense, Cloud of Faeries does something that is intrinsically unfair. It lets you cheat on mana. While that by itself is not an indictment of Cloud of Faeries, the fact that it lets you generate vast amounts of mana in Esper Storm or power out the strongest first two turns in Pauper in Delver really shows that it is degenerate.

Looking at the other cards on the banned list, fully half cheat on mana on their own. Cloudpost, Frantic Search, Invigorate, and Treasure Cruise all generate effects that either create large amounts of mana, or are drastically undercosted/free. This is not something to be ignored. It really should be one of the metrics we use to determine if a card is degenerate and needs to be regulated.” -Michael Vadman


The issue of banning Cloud of Faeries in Pauper has come up from time to time in the community over the past few years and opinions are always divided. How a player feels about Cloud of Faeries being banned depends on what kind of cards they think should be on the Pauper ban list. Generally speaking there are two categories of cards on the ban list today:

1) Powerful cards - These are cards capable of winning the game almost on their own when they resolve. Storm mechanic cards, Cranial Plating, Treasure Cruise and Invigorate fall into this category.

2) Engine cards - These are cards enabling some of the most oppressive decks in the format and warp the metagame. Cloudpost and Frantic Search fall into this category.

People who argue Cloud of Faeries should not be banned are typically measuring it against cards in the first category. In a vacuum, Cloud of Faeries is fairly innocent. If we judge it solely as a 1/1 flyer then the popular "dies to removal" argument is used as proof by naysayers that the card is not a threat. If you ask people what they hate about the two most popular decks, Delver and Esper Familiar, Cloud of Faeries might not even be the card they name. You are more likely to hear complaints about cards like Delver of Secrets, Spellstutter Sprite or even Mulldrifter.

The argument for banning Cloud of Faeries lies in its use as an engine card to enable other powerful interactions easily outclassing almost anything else you can do in the format. It is not about landing a 1/1 flying faerie on the battlefield, it is about everything that happens afterwards. Anyone who has played against Delver knows this particular Turn 2 flyer is a great way to prevent the opponent from doing anything meaningful for several turns when followed up by other counters, insects and ninjas. In the case of Esper Familiar, the mana acceleration provided by this card leads to several broken value plays happening much earlier than normally possible to give the player a nearly insurmountable advantage. Chaining card draw with spells using Cloud of Faeries into Mulldrifter into Ghostly Flicker/Snap into who knows what else is all too common. The potential lines of plays using this card combined with the fact that removal spells on the body still put you behind on mana (thanks to being free once it resolves) makes it nearly impossible to deal with.

If the Delver and Esper Familiar decks were just one of many viable options in competitive Pauper no one would be concerned with Cloud of Faeries. The reality is these two decks have been near or at the top of the Pauper metagame for several years (since the days of Magic Online Version 3 and a full slate of Pauper Daily Events). In the process they have made several other cards and entire decks almost completely unplayable in the competitive scene. Even though other decks do still place from time to time it is more on virtue of avoiding these two decks rather than finding any real answer to them. Some players have tried to dedicate entire sideboards with a mix of land destruction, discard and removal to fighting Esper Familiar with very little success. Every new set release comes with new hope of finding cards to upset this dominance but WOTC's ideas about what should be found in a common card in today's game makes this less and less likely.

There is no guarantee Pauper is going to be "better" with Cloud of Faeries gone but it will be different. And different is what the format needs right now. With less events and players already leaving the competitive scene because they are frustrated with the reduced support on top of an already stale metagame (see Alex's stats over the course of 2015), something needs to change. Eliminating Esper Familiar and reducing Delver's power level helps open up the possibility of other decks competing again. In turn this may help new and old players alike see the format as something more than "just play blue" or "hope you don't face Esper." If there is even the slight possibility of new decks, new players and a revitalized metagame then banning Cloud of Faeries is a risk we should take.

-Jason Sirichoke

The answer to having broken cards in a format is not to hope that more broken cards will be printed. It’s to remove them to restore the landscape to something a little healthier.

Cloud of Faeries bends Pauper to its will. It has exerted this force for almost half a decade. It’s time to let other cards shine.
Keep slingin’ commons-
-Alex 

SpikeBoyM on Magic Online

@nerdtothecore

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9 Comments

Topic by Elbinac at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 13:20
Elbinac's picture

While I personally find the combo build to be a bit too resilient and consistent..
I don't think the delver lists are actually so format warping as the cards you want to disrupt delver are also usually good or at least useful against things like infect/elves/tokens and etc.
You should be running some cheap creature removal main-board.
Even with CoF gone you would still want the same cards to answer an early delver and still likely have to fight through counters.
Granted delver would have more difficulty applying pressure while countering.

My point is that removing CoF is relatively low impact in Delver functioning as Delver does.
But the combo deck actually feels distressing to play against unless you can just blow them out via izzet blitz/infect/burn/stompy/affinity nut draws.

Then again if we are going to talk about storm being degenerate for the format then I don't see how izzet blitz doesn't come up as "creatures with storm".
That deck seldom cares about blockers and usually has dispel and co. to protect the creature on the key turn.

I wouldn't mind the cards being banned as it would make my games easier in general I suppose, but I always felt it made more sense to adapt and overcome when possible.

Cloud of Faeries by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 13:31
SpikeBoyM's picture

If you cut Cloud of Faeries from Delver the deck will still be around but it loses the soul crushing opening of "Delver into Cloud into Spellstutter back up lock you out of the first two turns of the game. If you want to talk about "feel bad" it doesn't get much worse than that. Cloud of Faeries is not "low impact". It masquerades as a 1/1 flyer but the card enables so much for its respective decks.

And as for Izzet Blitz, that deck has hardly experienced the dominance of Delver or Combo, or heck, even a tier 1.5 deck like Stompy or MBC.

"Adapt and overcome" would make sense if this was a new problem. It's not. It's almost five years old.

Aye by Elbinac at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 22:23
Elbinac's picture

I tend to run a fair number of one mana kill cards so I don't find it to be as problematic in Delver.

Losing CoF would probably send Delver lists back into running Phantasmal Bear and Stitched Drake again.

Either way it goes will be fine with me.

Considering that Stompy and by ScionOfJustice at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 17:29
ScionOfJustice's picture

Considering that Stompy and MBC are currently the number one and number two decks in the format via Goldfish, I think they are defined as tier 1 decks.

I don't know how far back by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 18:00
SpikeBoyM's picture

I don't know how far back Goldfish tracks stats (on their page it only goes back to August 20th). That's 11 days of data.

I've been tracking the numbers for over two years. Delver outpaces everything in that time and despite having a small metagame percentage than Stompy and MBC, Esper Combo has an outsized win share.

Delver into Cloud of Fearies by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 18:24
TugaChampion's picture

Delver into Cloud of Fearies + Sprite is pretty scary but in my opinion the real problem is the stupid combo that takes 5 to 10 minutes to kill you. I have played a lot of Pauper in the past but I started playing much less when the combo deck with cloudpost and temporal fissure was all over the place. There aren't many decks in the history of magic that I have found as annoying as that one. They banned the deck and the format got much better but eventually the deck came back in the form it is still played today. I stopped playing Pauper and never got back to it because of that deck (although the 3 rounds DEs also make me not want to play no matter what)

I wouldn't lose any sleep by AKMatt at Mon, 08/31/2015 - 21:50
AKMatt's picture

I wouldn't lose any sleep over classifying Familiars as tier 1, Delver, Stompy, and MBC (and maybe Goblins) as tier 1.5, and everything else as tier 2 or worse. Not to say that tier 2 decks can't win, just that over the long run nothing in this format will post results comparable to Familiars in the hands of a highly skilled pilot. The only deterrent to just always running familiars is how incredibly boring the games can get.

Same reception by ComixWriter at Tue, 09/01/2015 - 13:33
ComixWriter's picture

So, we're picking up on the conversation I started last week, within your hexproof deck, eh?
Seems you're getting the same responses I got, bro.
Thanks, though, for coming to my defense when I pitched this idea, and for crediting me oh so long a week ago.

Meh, I still feel there are by longtimegone at Tue, 09/01/2015 - 19:49
longtimegone's picture

Meh, I still feel there are good answers available. I've been running a few gut shot between the main and board to great effect against cloud of faeries, or the rest of Delver for that matter.