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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Dec 01 2015 1:00pm
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 The Pauper league has started and the results are starting to trickle in. After a slight delay 43 undefeated decklists were released to the public on Monday. The numbers are not that far off from what the League Primer listed as metagame powers. The numbers, however, look a little different.

Here are the most popular decks from the first five days of the league:


  1. Esper Combo: 10 appearances; 23.26%

  2. Delver: 6; 13.95%

  3. Izzet Blitz: 4; 9.3%

  4. Izzet Control: 3; 6.98%

  5. Kuldotha Jeskai: 3; 6.98%

  6. MBC: 3: 6.98%

  7. Dimir Delver: 2; 4.65%

  8. Dimir Teachings: 2; 4.65%

  9. Goblins: 2; 4.65%

  10. Stompy: 2; 4.65%


Esper Combo nearly laps the field while Delver and Izzet Blitz jockey for second place. Only three of these decks lack Islands of any sort - Mono-Black Control, Goblins, and Stompy.
These results are largely in line with the Battle for Zendikar seasonal numbers. The following results are inclusive of the league results.


  1. Delver: 17.47%

  2. Esper Combo: 12.05%

  3. MBC: 10.24%

  4. Izzet Blitz: 7.43%

  5. Dimir Delver: 6.02%

  6. Kuldotha Jeskai: 6.02%

  7. Stompy: 4.82%

  8. Goblins: 3.61%

  9. Temur Tron: 3.61%

  10. Dimir Teachings: 3.01%

  11. Elves: 3.01%

  12. Hexproof: 3.01%


Aside from Esper Combo and Delver flip-flopping, the popularity and strength of the decks looks rather consistent. These results are also not that far off from where Pauper has been as a format for the past few years.
If this were a new development I would point to a small sample size as no cause for alarm. The truth is there may not be a reason to worry. But one deck making up nearly a quarter of all undefeated decks is something that should definitely raise eyebrows.

The truth is Pauper has a blue problem.
As an eternal format Pauper can draw on the massive history of Magic and the fact of the matter is that blue, for a long time, had the lion’s share of the most powerful aspects of the color pie. While recent design and development has worked hard to achieve a better sense of balance, the fact is that present actions cannot undo past mistakes. Unless you want a time paradox.

And no one wants a time paradox.

What contributes to the prevalence of blue? Why do nearly 80% of the undefeated decks run cards with the drop in the upper right hand corner? Let’s see if we can find this out.

Cloud of Faeries: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. My stance on this card is well established but for the newcomers let me summarize. Cloud of Faeries is a mana engine that Pauper is unable to support. When played “fair” in Delver it is part of one of the best openings in the format of Delver of Secrets into Cloud of Faeries with a Spellstutter Sprite as back up. Clearly this is an attractive option as almost 14% of all undefeated decks were Delver and the deck also has a season popularity of nearly 17.5%.
Cloud of Faeries does not just enable this start, but it also allows the Delver deck to invest in a threat without the same mana cost. Sure, two lands have to be tapped, but the only way to stop them from untapping is...by playing a counterspell. Aside from four notable exceptions - Pyroblast, Mana Tithe, Dash Hopes, and Lapse of Certainty - the best way to stop Cloud from acting as an engine is blue.
But what about when one plays unfair, as nearly a quarter of all undefeated players did this past week? There Cloud of Faeries is the most important cog in a machine that can generate an unbound amount of mana. Esper Combo is also incredibly resilient. Having played as the villain and against it there have been many times when I thought all was lost, and then I drew Cloud of Faeries and won on the spot.
Well, you may say, what about the other elements of Esper Combo? Aren’t they just as egregious? I am less sure of that. Cost reducers are problematic but at the same time they are not as necessary to the actual combo but rather they just facilitate it happening sooner.
Similarly Ghostly Flicker is a key card in that in “blinks” two permanents. The issue here is that by itself this is the least “broken” card in the loop. Without the ability to generate mana, Ghostly Flicker remains becomes an interesting puzzle piece in a format full of creatures with enter the battlefield triggers.

Library Manipulation: Why is Delver of Secrets so hated? if Mark Rosewater’s blog is to be believed it is because the creature is often a 3/2 flyer for a single blue mana. The reason it flips so often is in part because blue wants to run spells over creatures but also because blue has access to some of the very best library manipulation spells. Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm have all been banned or restricted in other formats and yet all three are allowed to run rampant in Pauper. 31 of the 43 undefeated decks ran some sort of cheap card draw or library manipulation. Even Thoughtcast counts as it is most often a single blue mana for two cards.

How good is blue library manipulation? The lone Temur Tron deck to go 5-0 cut Ancient Stirrings - which digs five cards deep - for Impulse.
When a deck is cutting a green card tailor made for it for a blue one, there may be a problem.

Ponder and its ilk are not unfair in the abstract. The issue is that they allow blue decks to sculpt their games while other colors are left living off the top of their library. The ability to increase the consistency of any blue deck is a huge draw and one reason why the color is everywhere.


Answers: So Alex, you might be saying, what answers exist to these problems?
Would you be shocked if I said the answers were also blue cards?
Duress, Ostracize, and Distress, which can handle these problems before they hit the stack. But the only way to stop these cards once they are cast are - save for the four exceptions listed before - are all blue cards.

The best way to stop a spell on turn one is either Force Spike or Daze. Turn two and beyond its Counterspell. It is very hard to run those cards in non-blue decks.
In order to fight blue decks on their axis then you must also run Islands if you want to be successful. It’s a vicious cycle.


What can be done? While Pauper can hope that Wizards will print new commons that answer these problems that outcome is unlikely. The problem cards are all from a bygone era of design and the chances that new cards are going to be printed to specifically neuter problems in a niche format, well, its wishful thinking.
Take Cloud of Faeries - what does a reasonable common look like that handles this card. Sound off in the comments.
No, the answer resides in removing cards from the format to ensure a healthy balance.  As said before, my stance is well known so I will not reiterate it here. I believe that the best way to ensure a healthy and vibrant Pauper, in the long term, involves growing the ban list.

However I may be wrong. This may just be a blip on the radar and we’ll see actual answers rise up in the future.

But given the past three years, I wouldn’t count on it.

Keep slingin’ commons-


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While I agree with your by Rerepete at Tue, 12/01/2015 - 22:43
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While I agree with your assessment of CoF, I disagree with your analysis of impulse over ancient stirrings in Temur Tron.

It is already running blue, so an instant that guarantees you a card over a sorcery that likely will net you a card, seems like a gain. You can hold up counter mana then cast it on opponents end step. It also shuffles your deck, so if you had to bottom something important, it will not stay there.

I think it's conceivable to by AKMatt at Wed, 12/02/2015 - 16:22
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I think it's conceivable to work a good flying creature hate card into green that would bump up some post-board percentages against familiars and delver, but I don't think main deck-worthy answers will be printed at common under modern design philosophy.

Something like: 1G, instant, the next time a creature with flying would enter the battlefield this turn, exile it instead.

This card would hit cloud of faeries and mulldrifter while occasionally sniping some skyfisher or something. It would be a decent sideboard option in Standard and Limited without being too strong at common, too, though realistically it does seem more like an uncommon effect.

The counter-rebels deck that went 5-0 last week looks like a good answer to CoF decks in the meantime, but probably has pretty weak game against the various black-based control decks. (Not sure on that, though).

Aerial Volley seems good for by Rerepete at Thu, 12/03/2015 - 00:00
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Aerial Volley seems good for green

Yeah, it's solid, especially by AKMatt at Thu, 12/03/2015 - 00:39
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Yeah, it's solid, especially in the delver matchup. It often doesn't cut it against the Familiars deck, though. Not sure that the card I proposed would be enough either, honestly. The combination of removing the creature, stopping the untap effect, and turning off the possibility of getting the CoF back from graveyard seems like it would be more helpful in that matchup, but not as good against Delver.

A lot of decks can deal with by Elbinac at Thu, 12/03/2015 - 17:08
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A lot of decks can deal with the creatures in a timely fashion but then lose to the recursion.
They try to hate on the recursion with graveyard removal and don't find enough removal.

One would have to highly tune a build to beat the familiars deck and then hope it still worked vs the field I suppose.

Suicide Black by TheWolf at Thu, 12/03/2015 - 19:37
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I've had a lot of success running Suicide Black against the blue decks. 1st turn Dark Ritual into 2-3 creatures, especially on the play, is hard for them to deal with.

Suicide Black sounds like a by AKMatt at Fri, 12/04/2015 - 15:24
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Suicide Black sounds like a fun choice against Delver. I really like NO_Pride's Rebel list in that matchup, too.