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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jun 15 2015 12:00pm
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Pauper moves slowly. Eternal (used here as shorthand for Non-Rotating) formats have their boundaries shift in two major ways. First is the release of new cards. In formats like Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, these cards have a higher potential for massive impact due to the fact that they can draw from all rarities. Recently cards like Monastery Mentor, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and (Kolaghan’s Command) have seen play in these formats in part because of their raw power. When one looks at the commons that see play from Dragons of Tarkir block in the same formats one will immediately encounter Gurmag Angler as the standout and that is due in part to its absolutely absurd offensive rate.

Treasure Cruise we hardly knew ye.

The other main way to induce textural shifts in these formats is by way of removing cards. The Ban Hammer carries emotional consequence as well as game play, as some adherents to these formats gravitate to Eternal for the ability to play Their Deck. The banning of Birthing Pod may have been a net positive for the health of Modern but for the players who spent time learning the deck and dollars putting it together, the decision came with some serious feel-bad. Thankfully Pauper has a relatively small list of forbidden cards and announcements regarding bans are few and far between.

From this logic it can be inferred that the main way Pauper’s landscape shifts is with the introduction of new cards. With cards rarely ever leaving the format it is up to new sets to provide lifeblood. Given the recent design and development trends it takes a uniquely strong card - the aforementioned Gurmag Angler or the over the top Gray Merchant of Asphodel- to make an immediate impact in Pauper. Other cards, like Goblin Heelcutter or Twin Bolt can find a home in the right situation, but it often takes a few weeks of the format settling before they are seen. None of this is new information. The Pauper landscape has been largely comprised of the same decks since the release of Theros, with a brief broken break during the reign of Treasure Cruise. Pauper has a metagame that is rather well established but lacks decks that are designed to attack the metagame. Rather, nearly every successful deck in the format simply tries to brute force its way to the top.

Before delving further I want to be clear - I am not saying that decks cannot be hated out in certain environments. One only needs to look at the wane of Mono-Black Control and its (Geth’s Verdicts) and the wax of Hexproof and Nivix Cyclops decks to see that a dynamic metagame does in fact exist.

So what am I trying to say? Take a look at these two Mono-Black Control lists:

 


From 2013, the first list was the image of Mono-Black Control (also known as Rats) was the baseline build of the deck until the introduction of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The player known as SneakAttackKid was a long time champion of the Unearth strategy and piloted MBC like few others. The deck was dramatically different in 2013, where it lacked a strong over the top finish. Yes, Corrupt was available, but it pulled the deck away from its core strategy of board control. The Rats deck had no clear path to victory other than attacking with undersized creatures. And it worked - SneakAttackKid would routinely find himself at the top of the events he entered. The reasoning was constant tweaking, specifically with the removal slots. Dead Weight was an innovation at the time, taking out Atog and Kiln Fiend no questions asked. On days when the metagame was trending away from those decks, more absolute removal could be found. The Rats version of Mono-Black Control was incredibly flexible in how it could respond to the threats of the format. As long as it was resolving Chittering Rats and had access to Doom Blade effects, it was in fantastic shape.

Contrast this to the modern version of Mono-Black Control. The introduction of Gray Merchant encouraged deck builders to bias their deck towards a devotion strategy. A prevalence of Delver decks made Cuombajj Witches a smart call but the presence of two black mana symbols turned the card into a staple, regardless of positioning. As MBC became more and more reliant on Gray Merchant the number of flex slots dropped. Cards such as Oubliette, a removal spell of the plodding variety, became the norm because of its concentration of pips and less because of its value in a majority of matchups. While the Enchantment was fantastic in the mirror in creating a four pip swing it had less utility against the more aggressive decks in the format. These cards, while great in certain positions, became commonplace and lowered the number of variable slots in Mono-Black Control. In turn it transformed from a deck that would eke out advantages to one completely dedicated to winning on the back of Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

This presents the dichotomy between a metagame deck and a more focused approach. Rats was designed as an answer to the format and MBC simply wants to exert its own will. When taking a look at some of the popular decks in Pauper - Izzet Blitz, Hexproof, Burn, and Esper Combo - all attempt to function on one axis. Now this is not entirely fair as those are, at their core, combo decks, but this zeitgeist extends to many other elements in Pauper.

 


Stompy, as innovated by Greg Weiss and then further developed by Deluxeicoff and Jsiri84 started as a Fish deck. In this model it operated by presenting a threat and then resolving to protect it with cards like Vines of Vastwood and Gather Courage. It also had the ability to pick off enemy creatures thanks to the combination of Quirion Ranger and (Shinen of Life’s Roar). At some point the texture of the deck changed to one that became more focused on resolving damage. Mutagenic Growth is similar to Gather Courage but seems infinitely worse in a Burn heavy metagame. The lack of maindeck interactive elements and the presence of (Garruk’s Companion) indicate an increased focus on damage, transforming Stompy from a Fish model into a curve-aggro or Sligh build.

The presence of so many decks designed to simply enact their own plan has necessitated an incredibly focused sixty cards while relegating interactive elements to the sideboard. No small part of this is also due to the diversity of Pauper and the numerous archetypes one can encounter in a given tournament. At the end of Dragons of Tarkir season a dozen different decks made up at least 3% of the winner’s metagame.

Going for the throat wholly focused weapon is not only easier in deck construction but it is sound due to the variety of potential opponents. Why, then, is metagame deckbuilding important? It allows for the prepared to gain edges on the format and also encourages further diversity. Approaching deck selection from a spells first perspective as opposed to simply selecting a strategy and trying to win the race can yield better results in the short and long term if one can follow the trends.

Let’s look at a recent example.

 


The first list is a typical Temur Tron list in that it attempts to win through sheer power. It has minimized its interactive elements and is instead wholly focused on finding Tron to power out its threats. While more resilient than previous versions thanks to the card replacement ability on Aurochs Herd, it still tries to not care about what is happening across the table.

The Izzet Tron list goes to the other extreme. Instead of dedicating part of its deck to assembling Tron, it instead makes the natural progression of its mana engine part of a long game plan. Instead, it runs powerful answers in Condescend and Twin Bolt, as well as the best Ancient Stirrings ever in Impulse as a way to find specific answers or Tron pieces while also keeping defenses up. By committing fewer resources to enacting its own plan Izzet Tron finds more slots used to answer opposing threats. The result is a deck that is well suited when its pilot is prepared but could be caught flat if a trend changes.

Twin Bolt, for instance, is at its best when there are numerous decks that rely on X/1 creatures such as Delver or Goblins where it has the potential to trade for two cards It is terrible against token strategies where it will often trade for less than one card. If the metagame were to shift to tokens I could absolutely see Izzet Tron moving to Electrickery in that slot. There the utility to having the card main leads to greater play when it comes to sideboarding. The presence of both Impulse and Mystical Teachings allows the deck to run more virtual copies and helps to prevent dedicating multiple sideboard slots to a rather narrow card.

The above example is all well and good when dealing with a deck with powerful card selection spells, but what happens when a deck is more focused on beating down?

Returning to Stompy, a recent Daily Event shows what a metagaming looks like when you also want to be acting as the threat.


The differences are subtle but they have a massive impact. Gone are the copies Mutagenic Growth in favor of Gather Courage as a nod to the recent popularity of Burn but also the inclusion of Gut Shot in the sideboard. DromarX retains a healthy respect for removal but eschews Nest Invader’s two power for Safehold Elite’s three. The presence of Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla over Vault Skirge and two (Garruk’s Companion)s demonstrate a desire to beat other aggressive decks as these creatures are far more resilient. The lack of Hunger of the Howlpack also means that DromarX’s creatures need to stand on their own.

The art of metagaming is about understanding what is winning now and what may be winning next time. Selecting the right cards for these scenarios is a skill that comes with time. Here are some shortcuts for Pauper.

Sacrifice vs Target: When it comes to picking removal it is important to see what the threats are. The most common decision in Pauper comes down to selecting between Diabolic Edict effects and Doom Blade effects. When decks such as Hexproof or Izzet Blitz are popular and strong then cards such as Celestial Flare get better. Similarly if the format is full of low threat count control decks, forcing an opponent to sacrifice creatures also is a fine answer. However when there are decks with multiple redundant threats then having access to targeted removal shines brightest.

Sorcery vs Instant: This is less about the spell types present and more about the pace of the format. Sorcery speed formats trend towards brute force decks that are okay tapping out to act on their plans because of a belief that anything they can do will simply outclass their opponent. Instant speed formats reward being able to react and respond with mana efficient threats. Dimir Delver is a current example of an instant speed deck in that it operates in the idea that a Gurmag Angler is simply better than anything else. To that end it can leave up mana to answer threats. Conversely, Burn runs at sorcery speed as it does not care what else is happening when it starts casing Lava Spike.

Power vs Resilience: Regardless of the speed or type of removal present in a metagame threats will always exist. The thought behind this scale is determining which is more important - dealing damage or retaining threats. In the Stompy lists I have presented today we can see these choices pay out. A preference for (Garruk’s Companion) shows an emphasis on dealing damage. Cards like Wild Mongrel or Basking Rootwalla represent creatures that have a chance at dodging removal. Creatures with built in resistance a la persist, undying, or protection can serve dual purposes. In this instance the metagame matters but so does the very nature of the deck. Aggressive archetypes that are focused more on dealing damage will almost always choose power over resilience - having Stormbound Geist in a Kiln Fiend deck does not make much sense.

These are gross characterizations of trends in the metagame and do not speak to specific cards. Clearly if a format is full of creatures with five toughness than Flame Slash is worse than Terminate. However through understanding more macro trends the ability to make informed decisions, and therefore gain edges, can be found.

Keep slingin’ commons-

-Alex

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