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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Apr 06 2015 12:00pm
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In the time since I last wrote, Pauper has experienced two major changes and another looms on the horizon. The first and more important is that Treasure Cruise has been banned. This is not a surprise to anyone who has played a match of Pauper since the card made its way to the digital battlefield. Treasure Cruise was far and away the best way to turn expended resources into fresh cards. It was strong enough to be curtailed in more powerful formats (read as Modern, Legacy, and Vintage). Considering that the power level of played cards in Pauper is relatively even when compared to other formats, the swing the followed a resolved Treasure Cruise could only be answered by resolving one’s own Treasure Cruise. Across the Fate Reforged season decks relying on Treasure Cruise routinely made up over two-thirds of the winners metagame and neared 70% of the 4-0 camp.

Getting off the boat should not be too much of a problem for most of the decks that once ran spell. Delver, Izzet Blitz and Control, and Temur Tron - all decks that ran the now banned Sorcery - were successful before the introduction of Khans of Tarkir and should be able to adapt. The lone new contender built to delve, Dimir Delver, never had a chance to exist without Treasure Cruise. The deck, once laser focused on Treasure Cruise and Gurmag Angler, now has some room to breathe and could survive by focusing less on cheating mana costs and more on card quality.

In the short term the recent ban opens the window for decks that thrived on trading one-for-one to return. Both Mono-Black Control and traditional (read non-token) White Weenie operated at different ends of the midrange spectrum (control and aggro respectively) to try and obsolete even trades. MBC had creatures like Chittering Rats to tip the attrition scales while White Weenie has Squadron Hawk and Kor Skyfisher to do the same. In a world full of Treasure Cruise these incremental gains were ineffective. While they may not immediately make waves, these decks can be expected to make a return in some capacity.

The second major change is the end of the Fate Reforged season. This season lasted nine weeks, three of which were under the three reported Daily Event model (six weeks featured six reported DEs). In a bit of serendipity, there was only one Daily Event that took place after the ban of Treasure Cruise and before the release of Dragons of Tarkir on Magic Online, so for the purposes of my tracking.

Speaking of, I track the numbers from every reported Daily Event on my Facebook page. The goal is to try and understand a larger image of the Pauper metagame. There exists a trend in Pauper discussion circles to highlight decks that occasionally do well or perform decently in one or two events. Such occurrences are used to promote the diversity of the format. Focusing on singular results is dangerous as it obscures the reality which still displays a fairly diverse format, but one where the best decks are well established while the fringes scramble for crumbs. For example, here is the collection of data for Pauper’s Fate Reforged Season.

For each archetype I assign three points for a 3-1 record and then four points for a 4-0 record. This is represented in the Total column. Power Percent represents the percentage of all possible points earned by a specific archetype. Entries counts the number of appearances while Points/Appearances gives the average score. The Adjusted Metagame Value attempts to adjust the Points/App score for popularity, taking overall metagame percentage into account. Dimir Delver, for example, earned 148 points (4.54% of all available) with 46 different entries. The deck earned on average 3.22 wins per entry while its AMV was 3.36, indicating that the deck’s popularity makes it appear about 1/10th of a win worse than otherwise. In my opinion, the scores most indicative of strength are the Total numbers and those found in the AMV column.

While these results are somewhat antiquated in that they represent a format with Treasure Cruise, they still provide a framework for the direction Pauper will be taking in the coming weeks. It is important to understand the shifting dynamics that are going to be cresting in the days before disembarking from the vessel.

The ten best decks, from a perspective of Power, are as follows.

1.   Delver

2.   Izzet Control

3.   Izzet Blitz

4.   Affinity

5.   Stompy

6.   Temur Tron

7.   Esper Combo

8.   Dimir Delver

9.   Hexproof

10. Delver MUC

If taken in sum,the various forms of Cloud of Faeries combo decks would jump to third on this list. The numbers here are not a surprise. The best cards from the previous format were Treasure Cruise, Cloud of Faeries, Lightning Bolt, and Rancor- all of which are well represented in the above list. White is largely absent, although it would have ranked 12th on this list, right behind Burn.

White experienced a true transformation during this season. In the past the color had been defined by Kor Skyfisher and its ability to accrue small gains. The presence Treasure Cruise meant this was no longer good enough and instead white shifted its foundation to Battle Screech. Battle Screech, in conjunction with Squadron Hawk, Raise the Alarm, and Triplicate Spirits, allowed white a form of on board card advantage. While this strategy has long been present it was kept to the fringe thanks to the abundance of Crypt Rats in Mono-Black Control. The popularity of Treasure Cruise, however, relegated MBC to the 13th best deck in this metric, clearing the way for armies of tokens.

The future is uncertain for white. The expected return of MBC and the advent of Twin Bolt makes going wide a far riskier strategy than it once had been. The fact that the color no longer needs to contend with a modified Ancestral Recall makes Kor Skyfisher a true option again. Battle Screech is likely to remain present however as the card is one of the more powerful token generators in the format and can surface whenever Crypt Rats subsides.

Looking at the format through the lens of Adjusted Metagame Value (AMV) provides a very similar image. The best performing deck by this metric was Elves with a score of 3.81. The deck only made 16 appearances all season, less than one per event, and only rose to prominence after MBC fell off a cliff. Elves is an outlier, but is a data point that deserves discussion. Like token strategies, the deck can flood the board and create an insurmountable army. Once again, Crypt Rats and Twin Bolt are likely to help keep the pointed eared wood folk in check.

Out of the ten most popular decks, here are the ones with the best AMV score: 

1.   Delver

2.   Izzet Blitz

3.   Izzet Control

4.   Delver MUC

5.   Hexproof

6.   Stompy

7.   Temur Tron

8.   Burn

9.   Dimir Delver

10. Affinity

Burn bumps Esper Combo out of the discussion. Again we see Delver at the top but the fast Swiftwater Cliffs deck leapfrogs its slower cousin. Looking at the data it appears that those two decks tended to trade blows, one ascending while the other took a step back. Regardless, it also appears that committing to a fast or slow Izzet strategy was a correct call, as Izzet Midrange - featuring the spells of Izzet Control and the offensive suite of Izzet Blitz, underperformed compared to its relations.

The next season should prove interesting as the removal of Treasure Cruise and the addition of Dragons of Tarkir should give other colors besides blue some room to flex. The season may be short, however, due to the upcoming release schedule.

Tempest Remastered is coming in just under a month and with it are two important rarity shifted cards in Horned Sliver and Whispers of the Muse. Shortly thereafter Modern Masters 2015 Edition will be unveiled and then Magic Origins. I have yet to determine how I am going to handle the delineation of seasons, but no matter what I intend to mark the release of new sets. For now, Tempest Remastered looms large.

Whispers of the Muse was a card that generated a significant amount of discussion when spoiled. A powerhouse in days gone by the card has a cloak of mystique. This was the card that legends wielded. Times, however, have changed. Think Twice gets two cards for five mana whereas Whispers yields the same at six. Whispers of the Muse, while powerful, is not going to suddenly become ubiquitous. Rather it will find a home in decks that can afford to invest six mana regularly. Decks like Delver MUC, different flavors of Tron, and any deck that comes along running Mystical Teachings. These decks can run the spells needed to support a long term plan that Whispers of the Muse can supplement. In a deck like traditional Delver, an early Whispers is significantly worse than an Opt. Delver’s long game plays better with cards like Ninja of the Deep Hours and Oona’s Grace and relying on Spire Golem to generate virtual card advantage.Whispers is going to see play and is a fine card, but it is not the second coming of Treasure Cruise.

Horned Sliver takes a played strategy in Slivers and gives it a serious power boost. Slivers is strong in part because every resolved spell makes subsequent investments that much better. Horned Sliver takes a deck that runs twelve Crusade effects and gives it on theme access to trample. Slivers now becomes a far more dangerous deck since it can top deck victories. The addition of Horned Sliver also lets Slivers spend early turns on Blossoming Sands or Safewright Quest setting it up for stronger turns two and three. Being a natural 2/2 also makes Horned Sliver a decent threat on its own since it only takes one of Muscle Sliver, Sinew Sliver, or Predatory Sliver to turn it into a real threat. Crypt Rats may keep Slivers in check, but  I expect to see a lot of the tribe running around.

As Pauper takes a step into the future it is becoming apparent that the format is turning to a place where Crypt Rats is a key card. While blue is likely to remain at the top of the heap, the decks that can correctly leverage Pauper’s best board sweeper and also best avoid it are contenders to come out on top. As always, I am excited to see what the next iteration of the format brings.  

Keep slingin’ commons-

-Alex 

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