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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jul 27 2015 12:00pm
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 Magic Origins is upon us! As the Two-Block Paradigm approaches Pauper trudges forward, largely set in its eternal ways. Before looking back at the previous eight weeks that comprised the Modern Masters 2015 season, I want to take a moment to discuss the changes that were announced last week.

I am not an economist and I do not want to get dragged into an argument about expected value or the “fairness” of the new system. Instead I want to focus on the new structure for Pauper. After the initial announcement that Daily Events were going to double their entry fee there was a lot of feedback. A few days later Lee Sharpe announced that Vintage, Legacy, and Pauper would all have their Daily Events replaced with three round Swiss tournaments a la 8 person queues.

When the entry fee for Daily Events were doubled, I believed that offering on-demand Swiss 8 person queues for Pauper would be a good idea. Doing this would allow people to test new ideas in a lower stakes environment that would not punish scrubbing out to the same degree. Replacing Daily Events with these tournaments, however, does not make sense. Since the return of Pauper Daily Events the tournaments have always drawn players. The format is growing and while single elimination 8 person events were eliminated, there was still a desire for tournaments that were not tied to a specific hour. Now, the need for smaller tournaments has been met but it has come at the cost of the premier showcase for Pauper.

While lists for the new tournaments will still be published, it remains to be seen if ever 2-1 and 3-0 deck gets its day in the sun or if only the undefeateds will be displayed. Regardless, the quality of decks that a newcomer will have access to will shift dramatically - 3-1 decks are much better than 2-1 decks. Pauper might have a drastic new look but it will not change the best strategies. I worry that the softer appearance of the format may make it easier for players to run into a Delver or Esper Combo and then be turned off for good. Regardless, Pauper will survive as it always has.

All this being said I do believe the people in charge of Magic Online want the best for the game, the program, and the players. I am confident that if these changes do not work out that further alterations will be made.

 

With that out of the way, let’s look back at the Modern Masters 2015 season. If there was a defining card of the past eight weeks it would have to be Gurmag Angler. Originally released back in February the Angler has warped the format around its bulk. First we saw a volume increase in the best Angler deck in Dimir Delver. The combination of cheap blue cantrips and black removal made it quite easy to resolve the Angler as early as turn two (although turns three and four are more common). Dimir Delver was not the best deck of the past season but proved itself to be a contender and established its position in the metagame.

The presence of Gurmag Angler led to a change in removal. Where before Flame Slash was the gold standard the inability of the card to effectively remove Angler meant that Izzet Control and various red Tron decks fell by the wayside. In turn the amount of instant speed damage based removal went down.

The presence of Angler and the decline in Lightning Bolt style cards had two major effects. First it led to Mono-Black Control leaning harder on Diabolic Edict style removal as it was best suited to deal with the five toughness zombie. Second it led to an increase in Stompy and Goblins as those decks are well suited to dodge Edicts. The decks that are not as strong against sacrifice based removal - Izzet Blitz and Hexproof - failed to perform as well as they had in the past.

 

This confluence of events led to a resurgence in Esper Combo. Without cheap instant speed removal everywhere Cloud of Faeries were safe. The dwindling number of one-shot decks gave Esper Combo the space it needed to breathe and allowed the deck to reassert some level of dominance. Izzet Blitz and Hexproof were not the Answer to Esper, but both decks were able to apply pressure in a way that could win before the winning cards were assembled. As we forward to Magic Origins season, this is what Pauper players can expect to see.

 

1. Delver: 13.36% of the winners metagame; 3.24 wins/appearance

After what some hopeful players may describe as a down season, the Blue Meanie is back with a vengeance. Delver upped its winner’s volume by almost 3% - 38 decks over eight weeks. Delver also managed to go up .8 wins per appearance and 3.24 looks way more impressive than 3.16.

So what happened? The short answer is Mono-Black Control took a serious step back in popularity. With its full arsenal of removal, MBC could overload Delver. Shifting from Disfigure to (Geth’s Verdict) however made it easier for Delver to weather the storm.

Delver is a constant and it is not likely to go away anytime soon. The recipe of cheap cantrips, strong countermagic, and efficient creatures has been winning over diners since the dawn of Magic and things are not poised to change. In the upcoming season, however, I would not be surprised to see Delver take a hit at the hands of Aerial Volley. The green instant seems well suited to two-for-one Delver at the very least. Arc Lightning has seen some play and Twin Bolt should see more. Aerial Volley has a narrower application than those two cards but could very well have a more significant impact. The result may be that Delver picks up a card I thought was unplayable - Faerie Miscreant. The Zephyr Sprite with upside is already close enough to seeing play and the ability to recoup a card in the face of Volley may be enough to make it a main deck inclusion.

 

Delver
4-0 on 7/19/15 - MOS19990

Creatures
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Delver of Secrets
1 Frostburn Weird
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Spire Golem
21 cards

Other Spells
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
4 Counterspell
2 Daze
1 Exclude
2 Gush
1 Logic Knot
1 Mutagenic Growth
3 Snap
1 Bonesplitter
1 Relic of Progenitus
22 cards
Lands
16 Island
1 Quicksand
17 cards

Spire Golem

 2. Esper Combo: 9.33%; 3.34


Esper nearly doubled its winner’s volume, from 55 entries to 102. It also upped its average wins by .09. After two seasons hovering around 5.3% Esper Combo cemented itself near the top of the metagame. I already theorized a possible reason for this surge in the shifting tides of removal.
The most interesting development in the deck this season was the variety of win conditions. Some stuck with (Sage’s Row Denizen) while Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Bloodhunter Bat both saw some play with the latter becoming the backup kill of choice.

Esper does not get any new toys with Origins but just like Delver it may suffer at the hands Aerial Volley. Esper has no new cards to fight the Arc Flying so we may see the deck leaning more on Reaping the Graves in the coming weeks. It is possible that Esper continues this upward trend, but I am inclined to believe it will fall back to the pack some and settle somewhere between its recent volume and that of seasons gone by.


 

 

 

3. Mono-Black Control: 8.42%; 3.12

I have been beating this drum for a while - MBC needs to adapt. The fact it is still this high is a testament to the strength of chaining Cuombajj Witches into Chittering Rats into Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Being a top three deck would be fantastic for most other entries on this list, but considering MBC is down from 163 winners to 92, well, it leaves something to be desired.

 

The answer is not in any new cards but rather in massaging numbers. MBC has one of the best scripts in the format and it is figuring out the correct supporting cast of removal and disruption to help ensure victories. MBC had some great weeks during the Modern Masters season, but it also had some where it hardly performed up to expectations. Between these weeks the lists were largely the same. If MBC wants to reclaim some lost territory its pilots will need to pay more attention to metagame trends and be willing to kill some darlings if the time is right.


 

 

 

4. Stompy: 8.23%; 3.19

Where Mono-Black Control experienced a dip, Stompy rose. Up six entrants from last season, Stompy managed to raise its average wins by .05. Not nearly as impressive as Esper’s climb this bump is still of note as Stompy remained in the number four slot but its performance improved. Stompy has a strong game against Delver but is soft to MBC so it stands to reason that when the former ascends and the latter declines that Stompy can make gains. However the Green Machine also has holes against Esper Combo which may help to explain why the deck has improved on some metrics but remains in the same spot.

This is only part of the story - Stompy had the best performance in the season’s final week. It had two other weeks with top three performances. Yet the deck is unassuming and does not get nearly the press as Delver, MBC, or Esper. Stompy just attacks, but it does it better than just about any deck in the metagame. As alluded to above Aerial Volley is a huge addition for the deck and could mean these small gains are a thing of the past.

 

 

 

 

5. Dimir Delver: 7.5%; 3.29

Dimir Delver was the breakout deck of this past season. Going from 31 appearances to 82 is one thing but the deck also managed to maintain an average win rate of 3.29. That is a very consistent result given the increase in volume. For the past eight weeks I also applied Frank Karsten’s math based approach to each deck (4 points for a win, 2 for a loss). The so-called K-Score for Dimir Delver was 2.59 - third highest for qualified decks (Esper Combo was the best with 2.71). This indicates it was able to go 4-0 quite often - 24 times overall which accounts for nearly 30% of all appearances. In other words, almost one out of every three Dimir Delver decks that made it to the winner’s circle also went 4-0. That is quite the rate.

Looking ahead I am not sure anything changes. It is quite possible that this deck supplants Delver as the premier Delver of Secrets strategy. On the other hand the deck may abandon the one drop entirely and assume a more midrange approach with Undead Servant and Grim Harvest, although that may be a different deck entirely.

 

 

Dimir Delver
4-0 on 7/13/15 - Neckfire
Creatures
4 Delver of Secrets
2 Sultai Scavenger
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Gurmag Angler
2 Ponder
3 Agony Warp
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Deprive
1 Doom Blade
4 Ghastly Demise
4 Mental Note
1 Miscalculation
2 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
4 Dismal Backwater
40 cards
Lands
4 Evolving Wilds
8 Island
2 Swamp
14 cards

Gurmag Angler

 

 

6. Burn: 7.41%; 3.15

Burn’s numbers look far more impressive than they were in practice. Most of Burn’s numbers were bolstered by two strong early weeks. Afterwards the deck regressed to its mean - 79 wins in week one and 58 in week two far exceeded its average of 32 per week. Even that 32 may be high as it only achieved that score or better three times. The other weeks? Burn had win totals of 15, 18, 22, 22, and 9.

The Burn deck is a metagame sniper but when the time is right it is hard to argue with the results.


 

Burn
4-0 on 7/10/15 - Kelsov
Creatures
4 Keldon Marauders
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Fireblast
4 Incinerate
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Needle Drop
4 Searing Blaze
2 Searing Spear
4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
38 cards
Lands
2 Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain
18 cards

Curse of the Pierced Heart

 

 

7. Affinity: 7.14%; 3.22

Down 15 appearances from last season Affinity finds itself out of the top 10. Aside from one week where it accumulated 51 wins, Affinity was fairly consistent it achieving around 30 wins per week. I wish I had more to say about the deck but the fact is Affinity does not change much from season to season.


 

 

 

8. Izzet Blitz: 5.31%; 3.21

I discussed my thoughts on why Izzet Blitz took a hit this past season. While Magic Origins does not have any automatic includes for the deck there were two developments that bode well for this deck moving forward. The first is the addition of Prowess to the evergreen mechanic list. Izzet Blitz already loves playing spells and adding this card to the cadre of repeat mechanics means the chances of a new threat are high. The second is the promotion of Scry to similar status. Izzet Blitz loves consistency and the chance for more instants and sorceries with the ability to smooth draws in the future portents well for this strategy.


 

 

 

9. Goblins: 5.12%; 3.29

My pick for the best performing deck relative to sample size, Goblins was a monster this season. It’s 3.29 wins per appearance was tied for second best only behind Esper Combo. Its K-Score was 2.64 - only behind Esper Combo. Goblins was well positioned this season. The ability to go wide on the Goblin Bushwhacker plan allowed the deck to mitigate the removal spells present. The presence of instant speed removal - Lightning Bolt and Death Spark - have merit against the two top decks. Finally, Goblins has access to one of the better cards against Gurmag Angler in Goblin Heelcutter.

Heelcutter is sneaky in how good it is against Angler. First, it manages to dodge (Chainer’s Edict), the most popular Edict. Second, it stops Angler from blocking full stop, helping to force through extra damage- often enough to do precisely lethal. Goblins often struggled against any deck that could establish a defense and Heelcutter is very good at shoring up that soft spot.


 

 

 

10. Dimir Teachings: 4.67%; 3.18

The last deck to log more than 3% of the winner’s field, Dimir Teachings was able to experience success this season in part because the format became predictable. Whereas MBC suffers when it is not perfectly positioned, Dimir Teachings is able to use its namesake Mystical Teachings to run a diversity of answers. The ability to run a cheap finisher in Gurmag Angler also enables this control deck to close out games quickly while leaving up mana. If one deck was going to fall out of the top 10 next season it would be Teachings - not due to its tenth place finish but more due to the chance of the format’s threats changing.


 

 

 

Peering into the crystal ball I would have to guess that decks that rely on flying creatures take a hit next season thanks to Aerial Volley. In response I would not be shocked to see White Weenie tokens - with its ability to trade with the Volley on a one-for-one basis thanks to Battle Screech - to see an uptick in popularity.

What do you think will happen in the next eight weeks? Sound off in the comments.


Keep slingin’ commons-
-Alex

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