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By: Tom Scud, Tom Scudder
May 04 2015 12:00pm
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 battle screech

Welcome back to Pauper Observed, my look at the seamy underside of Magic Online's budget format. I once again tracked three Pauper events (Thursday afternoon, Friday night, and Saturday afternoon) to see the full metagame, including the parts Wizards doesn't show you in their daily reports. 

For metagame numbers, I'm going to be using the numbers for the previous four weeks, instead of a week-by-week survey; I feel like this is a reasonable compromise between covering a decent sample size and being up to date. As usual, my full results can be found on my spreadsheet, including the more volatile week-to-week results. The top five decks' share of the metagame and average results per entry can be found in the table below - bear in mind that the average packs per entry for all decks entered in daily events is 2.2, so MBC's number is somewhat below average, while Delver is well above.

Deck Share (weeks 2-5) Share (weeks 1-4) Packs per Entry (2-5) PPE (1-4)
Mono-Black Control 16% 17% 1.81 1.88
Delver 11% 10% 3.43 3.43
Affinity 10% 10% 2.15 2.00
UR Fiend 8% 9% 2.50 2.36
Stompy 7% 7% 2.14 2.73

The next five decks in the list, all with shares of between 3 and 5 percent, were Burn, Goblins, Esper Fae Combo, UB Control, and W Tokens; the white token deck is new to the top ten, about which much more shortly.

The week that was

The big news from this week's sample was the continued strong showing by the White Tokens deck. The deck's aggressive plan is to spew large numbers of 1/1 token creatures onto the board and then back them with a Guardians' Pledge to either inflict lethal damage or wreck the opponent's blocking creatures. The ability to cast a zero-cost Ramosian Rally in response to removal helps guard against blowouts by cards like Electrickery. Two weeks ago, the deck made a huge splash, as 7 of the 9 decks (including those splashing blue) managed a 3-1 or better record for a gaudy PPE of 5.22; last week the deck did almost as well, with 8 of 13 decks going 3-1 or better and a 4.46 PPE. Worth noting that the blue splash disappeared; apparently the deck's pilots preferred the consistency of the one-color mana base.

At the other end of the spectrum, Burn also grew in popularity this week, with 13 decks appearing; however, of those 13 decks, not a single one managed a winning record. The deck put together 5 0-2 records, 4 1-2s, and 4 2-2s for a putrid 12-26 combined match record. The result was partially bad luck; the deck only had 4 matches versus MBC, usually a positive match, but 6 versus Delver, which is generally unwinnable. 

Looking at the top five decks, Delver, after a series of spectacular weeks, was more pedestrian with an average 2.21 PPE; MBC's results dropped from mediocre to an outright bad 1.52 PPE; and Stompy had a poor week all around as only 2 of 11 decks managed 3 wins. On the other hand, Affinity and UR Fiend both did very well on the week; 47% of Affinity's decks went 3-1 or better, for a 3.13 PPE, while UR Fiend picked up 2.9 packs per entry with a well-above-average 40 percent of its decks in the winners' circle.

Matchups:

Due to the White Token deck's appearance on the scene, I added it to the top decks whose matchups I tracked.

Deck vs. Affinity vs. Delver vs. MBC vs. Stompy vs. UR Fiend vs. W Tokens vs. Burn vs. Aggro vs. Control vs. Other
Affinity 4-4 4-2 7-4 3-0 5-3 0-2 2-0 0-0 1-4 1-2
Delver 2-4 4-4 5-7 4-2 6-2 4-4 6-0 3-3 0-2 3-3
MBC 4-7 7-5 5-5 3-1 6-3 0-6 1-3 6-1 5-8 10-7
Stompy 0-3 2-4 1-3 1-1 0-2 0-1 3-0 2-1 3-1 1-4
UR Fiend 3-5 2-6 3-6 2-0 2-2 2-1 2-1 1-1 4-4 10-3
W Tokens 2-0 4-4 6-0 1-0 1-2 3-3 0-1 3-0 9-3 4-3

Comparing this chart to the one in last week's article, it looks like the main difference for Delver was that it did not receive the favorable pairings with slow mid-range and combo decks that it did the previous week; those pairings instead went to the UR Fiend deck, which took advantage, suggesting that the Fiend deck's bounce might not last.

The white token deck had a positive matchup with basically everything except Delver and UR Fiend. The draw against Delver is odd since the deck's origins were as an anti-Delver deck during the days of Treasure Cruise. The 6-0 record versus MBC certainly stands out, as does the 9-3 record against other control decks. The black deck and other control decks have the cards available to them to fight token strategies. The question is whether they can deploy them without hurting other matches too badly.

Stompy, meanwhile, looks like a deck that just flat had a bad week; the matchup with Delver should be even or better, and the matchup with Affinity should be closer than 0-3. The deck has a nice defensive option against the token decks (and against Delver) in Scattershot Archer, but the match otherwise looks troubling, considering that only Skarrgan Pit-Skulk can reliably swing through for damage. 

Looking ahead

The big question for the coming week is whether the White Tokens deck is here to stay, and how the other decks in the format will adjust to it. In the past few months, this deck has appeared more than once, made a huge impact, and then disappeared nearly as quickly; we'll see if it has more staying power this time around. While it's here, cards like Echoing Decay, Electrickery, Crypt Rats, Echoing Truth, and Scattershot Archer are likely to make their way into sideboards and main decks in larger numbers. Fog effects such as Moment's Peace are another possible tactic to combat the deck's mass-pump spells; Duress could be good as well, since even if it doesn't hit a mass pump spell it's likely to take away a token generator. Another possibility is to flat-out race the deck; not an easy feat, but one that UR Fiend and Hexproof have been able to accomplish in the past.

Matchup Spotlight: Mono-Black Control vs. Delver

This will be an occasional feature, pulling up some examples of matchups between winning decks in the dailies. To start us off, I chose one of the classics of the format: the mono-blue Delver tempo deck (piloted by funkalicious) versus Mono-Black Control (played by ColdPier).

The match took place on the third round of Thursday afternoon's event. Both players entered the match with 2-0 records. 

Delver
Funkalicious
Creatures
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Spire Golem
20 cards

Other Spells
2 Bonesplitter
4 Counterspell
2 Deprive
2 Gitaxian Probe
2 Gush
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
3 Snap
23 cards
Lands
17 Island
17 cards

Insectile Aberration

 

Some comments on the decks, first: both are very close to stock, though the second Bonesplitter and two Probes in Funkalicious's deck are a bit unusual. I would load up on Snap before starting to add Gitaxian Probe myself. ColdPier's deck looks a bit on the greedy side to me; the two Corrupt in addition to the four Garys gives it a ton of late game, but at a cost to early game tempo, and 22 lands may be too few for a deck with six 5-and-over drops. I'm not a huge fan of Pestilence over Crypt Rats, either, especially in decks that also run Unearth.

Game 1 saw ColdPier on the play; after both players played lands and passed Turn 1, ColdPier dropped some Cuombajj Witches Turn 2, threatening to lock the mono-blue deck out of 60% of its creatures. Funkalicious responded with a Cloud of Faeries into a Snap on the Witches, managing the neat trick of casting two spells and still leaving UU untapped. The Black mage played a swamp and attempted to recast the Witches, making the Blue mage have it; have it he did, in the form of a Spellstutter Sprite; the lack of Disfigures in ColdPier's deck left no way to respond.

The following turn, ColdPier's Chittering Rats met another Spellstutter, essentially ending the game. A Delver of Secrets and Spire Golem joined the party and nothing the black deck could do mattered as the flying army swung in.

Game 2 opened with a turn 1 Delver from Funkalicious into a turn 2 Witches from ColdPier. This time, the Delver deck did not have a snap. After the Delver failed to flip, Funkalicious committed a Cloud of Faeries to the board and passed the turn. ColdPier laid a swamp and cast a sideboarded Duress, to which Funkalicious replied with a Spellstutter. ColdPier tapped his remaining two swamps for a Geth's Verdict.

At this point, Funkalicious had an interesting choice - stop the Duress or hope for a lucky flip from the Delver:

A difficult choice

Funkalicious opted to sacrifice the Cloud of Faeries, allowing the Duress to resolve after the Witches pinged away the Spellstutter Sprite. This left the possibility open that the Delver would flip the following upkeep, giving the blue mage something on board that wouldn't just die to the Witches. The Duress netted a Preordain; unfortunately for Funkalicious, the Delver did not flip, and the game was essentially over. A Sign in Blood and some Chittering Rats pulled the Black deck three more cards ahead and a Spire Golem quickly became a Victim of Night. In desperation, the Blue mage put a Delver of Secrets and a Spellstutter Sprite on the board, going down to zero cards in hand. ColdPier closed the game out with a lethal Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

In game 3, Funkalicious went on the early offensive, landing a Cloud of Faeries and Stormbound Geist on turn 3, and followed up by tapping out for another Geist on turn 4. Taking advantage of the downed shields (and hoping for no Daze), ColdPier laid a Pestilence and proceeded to pay life for cards in the best tradition of black decks everywhere; after one more hit on Turn 5, a 2 point Pestilence on turn 6 followed by a 3 point Pestilence the next turn wiped the board. Funkalicious opted not to play any other creatures in order to make Pestilence go away. The 4-mana enchantment may be clunky at times, but it sure showed its power in these three turns.

With Pestilence gone, ColdPier once again found a Cuombajj Witches to put on the board; the Delver player either didn't have a counterspell or chose not to use it. On the following turn, Funkalicious cast Ponder, chose to shuffle, and then played Golem-Golem-Golem, leaving the following threatening board state:

One end step and one main phase later, the board had changed to this:

And from there, it was all downhill for the Delver deck, as a hard-cast Ninja of the Deep Hours fell into an Oubliette and one Gray Merchant of Asphodel was followed by a second for, as they say, the win. Worth noting that the Delver deck apparently hadn't drawn a single Counterspell for the entire game.