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By: Tom Scud, Tom Scudder
May 27 2015 12:00pm
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Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore

Welcome back to Pauper Observed! This week, following our usual round-up of the week's action, we will take a look at how much advantage the player who plays first has and drop in on a match between Affinity and Stompy in a daily event.

Metagame overview

As usual, much more information is available on my spreadsheet. These numbers are based on a three-event sample of each week's events for the past four weeks. Share is the percentage of all decks (not just winning decks) that the deck represents; PPE is the number of packs per entry the deck returned to its pilots. The average across all Pauper daily event decks is approximately 2.2 PPE, so MBC and Affinity, despite being the most popular decks, are slightly below average, while Esper Fae's 4.17 number is incredibly strong and is the result of nearly half of its pilots finishing in the money over the past four weeks.

Deck Share (Weeks 5-8) Share (Weeks 5-8) PPE (Weeks 4-7) PPE (Weeks 4-7)
MBC 17% 16% 1.90 1.77
Affinity 8% 9% 2.03 2.01
Burn 8% 7% 2.23 2.08
Delver 8% 9% 3.03 3.25
UR Fiend 7% 7% 2.52 2.37
Stompy 7% 6% 3.04 3.55
W Tokens 6% 6% 2.18 2.80
Esper Fae 6% <5% 4.17 3.21

As you can see, Delver has dropped two places in popularity despite continuing to win; for Week 8, it was only the tenth-most-played deck in my sample, finishing behind UB Control and UB Angler in addition to the other seven in my top-8. I'm not sure if Delver players have given up in disgust with the rarity shift of Gut Shot, or if they're placing too much importance on a sub-par matchup with MBC. In any case, Esper and Burn have happily taken advantage of Delver's relative absence.

Matchups and the week in review

Again, a list of matchups for the season is available in a spreadsheet I maintain.

Deck vs. Affinity vs. Burn vs. Delver vs. Esper vs. MBC vs. Stompy vs. UR Fiend vs. W Tokens vs. Aggro vs. Control vs. Other
Affinity 1-1 2-4  1-1  2-2  3-4  3-0  0-1 2-3  3-1  4-9  4-5 
Burn 4-2 2-2  3-5  1-4  8-2  2-2  2-2 1-2  2-3  10-4  7-5
Delver 1-1 5-3 1-1  0-0  1-7  2-1  1-0 0-1 1-2 8-3 5-1
Esper Fae 2-2 4-1 0-0 3-3 6-4 6-2 0-1 0-0 4-2 8-1 6-3
MBC 4-3 2-8 7-1 4-6 9-9 6-4 6-1 1-1 1-2 10-16 5-4
Stompy 0-3 2-2 1-2 2-6 4-6 5-5 3-3 0-1 1-3 4-2 7-2
UR Fiend 1-0 2-2 0-1 1-0 1-6 3-3 0-0 4-1 3-0 3-4 6-4
W Tokens 3-2 2-1 1-0 0-0 1-1 1-0 1-4 0-0 0-1 0-3 2-2

Apologies for any eyestrain; 12 columns is hard to fit in with a normal-sized font.

One thing I'm getting from these matchup numbers is that there are a lot of control decks out there in various colors that do pretty well at grinding out MBC and Affinity but have a harder time with Burn, Esper, and Delver, probably because of how much harder it is to interact with those decks. Among those control decks, Boros Kitty had another strong week and several different blue-red varieties also did well. One interesting innovation in the blue-red decks is the use of Beetleback Chief as a value creature; another deck, brewed up by token-deck artist Naga_Tsuki, uses some tech from Boros Kitty and similar decks, notably Ichor Wellspring and Dream Stalker, as a card-advantage engine.

I feel confident in calling that 7-1 MBC vs. Delver matchup a fluke, although MBC has had an edge on Delver all season, and had a pretty good week against everything but Burn. Burn continues to thrive on its MBC matchup. Esper Fae ran the table against everything, although it was a bit lucky to duck Delver, usually one of the deck's harder opponents, entirely. On the flip side, W Tokens continued to underperform in events I watched, with only 1 result, albeit a 4-0, out of 11 decks. On the other hand, it looks like the token deck did somewhat better in some of the other reported dailies.

Play or Draw?

Virtually everyone agrees that it's better to play than draw in Pauper, as in nearly all constructed formats. Players will often mention that a particular matchup is difficult, especially if you're on the draw. Two Channel Fireball writers have looked at the question of just how much better it is to be on the play and come up with nearly identical results. Florian Koch looked at hundreds of MTGO Standard daily event games in 2013 and found that the player on the play in game 1 won his or her match 53% of the time, and Frank Karsten analyzed the question with respect to Grand Prix Top 8s in 2014, and found a win rate of 52.9% for the play-first player in constructed events (a mix of Standard and Modern).

To see if these results held up for Pauper, I recorded whether the winner or loser of each of the first-round matches I observed had won the die roll. I also received an additional report from Patrick Johnson (@patrickstocks on twitter). As this involves first-round matches, it is likely that the "who plays first" effect is at its weakest, as there are more likely to be large mismatches of deck quality or player skill. The results for the four events were 28-11 on Thursday, 21-16 on Friday, 24-23 on Sunday afternoon, and 15-23 on Sunday evening, for a total of 88 match wins for decks that played first in round one and 73 match wins for the decks that drew first. That translates to a winning percentage of 54.7%, marginally higher than the Channel Fireball researchers found for Standard and Modern.

This is a small sample size compared to the one Koch used, but there are some reasons to think Pauper might be more dependent on playing first; the format lacks sweepers or powerful catch-up creatures like Siege Rhino, and the presence of Counterspell makes getting to two mana first a significant advantage in many games. I will continue to track this and will update here if further data causes the result to differ.

Matchup Spotlight 2: Stompy vs. Affinity

played by _Shatun_ on 5/21
4 Garruk's Companion
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
2 River Boa
2 Scattershot Archer
1 Shinen of Life's Roar
4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
4 Young Wolf
25 cards

Other Spells
1 Bonesplitter
4 Groundswell
1 Hunger of the Howlpack
4 Mutagenic Growth
1 Prey Upon
4 Rancor
4 Vines of Vastwood
19 cards
16 Forest
16 cards

River Boa


The games took place in round 2 of Thursday afternoon's event; both players came into the event at 1-0 and finished the day at 3-1.

In this matchup, the Stompy deck usually starts out on the offensive, with the ability to attack in on turn 2 whereas Affinity normally has to wait until turn 3 to turn guys sideways. However, Affinity can usually stabilize fairly quickly with its legion of 4/4s and its infinitely pumpable Atog. Stompy's plan is to swing in early and trade pump spells for creatures; if Affinity stabilizes the board, the endgame plan is to sneak a heavily pumped Skarrgan Pit-Skulk or trampling creature through (or over) Affinity's defenses for lethal damage. River Boa is huge in this matchup because of its ability to block Atogs indefinitely and, with a single Rancor or Bonesplitter equip, kill any of Affinity's other creatures. Affinity has nothing in the main deck or sideboard that can kill the little bastard as long as Stompy has mana up.

Affinity wants to stabilize with big guys, use Galvanic Blast to pick off any really annoying Stompy creatures (and ideally send Rancor to the graveyard for good), and win either by building up an overpowering board and attacking with larger creatures, swinging in over the top with flyers (usually Auriok Sunchaser or Somber Hoverguard, but in this deck the much slower but more card advantageous Sanctum Gargoyle), or probably most likely, Fling an Atog for lethal damage. The Fling plan is one that Stompy has essentially no answer to and always makes Affinity the favorite in a game that goes long.

In terms of sideboard cards, Stompy has four copies of Gleeful Sabotage, which can be used to nuke artifact creatures or, in the early game, wipe out Affinity's mana base and help with the early rush. Affinity can bring in Krark-Clan Shaman, which can clear Stompy's creatures off the board pretty efficiently, and Standard Bearer, which turns off all of Stompy's pump spells. Electrickery is not very good versus stompy and probably does not get sided in.

Game 1

Arapako was on the play, leading with a Great Furnace and Chromatic Star. Shatun replied by dropping a Young Wolf. Arapako brought a Frogmite and Flayer Husk into play, then sac'd the Star to Thoughtcast; Shatun played a second forest and brought a River Boa into play.

A Galvanic Blast took the Boa out before it could regenerate, and a second blast took out the Wolf after a Mutagenic Growth threatened to allow it to eat an attacking Frogmite. The undead 2/2 wolf snuck through for damage the following turn, allowing a bloodthirsty 2/2 Pit Skulk to land. The Skulk, with the help of a non-energized Groundswell then picked off the attacking Frogmite, but Arapako was able to lay an Atog. The following turn, after eating 4 damage from skulk and wolf and seeing a Quirion Ranger arrive on the scene, the Affinity player was able to reinforce with a Myr Enforcer. An Atog attack was met with an untapped wolf and a pumped Vines of Vastwood, forcing the sacrifice of two artifact lands and a Chromatic Star. _Shatun_ was able to find a second River Boa, and both players stalled out for a couple turns. Stompy added a Scattershot Archer to the board, but lost the Pit-Skulk to a Galvanic Blast.

Finally, the Affinity player decided to go back on the offensive, equipping the Flayer Husk to the Atog and swinging in with both Atog and Enforcer into Stompy's Ranger, Archer, and Boa. Stompy took the Atog hit, going to 16 life to Affinity's 14, and swung in for 3 with the boa and ranger. On the next attack, the stompy player was able to untap the Boa with the ranger and pump it with a Mutagenic Growth, allowing it to take out the Enforcer; the Atog was chumped by the archer; after the crackback, stompy led with 16 life to Affinity's 8; Affinity had 5 mana artifacts, a Flayer Husk, and an Atog on the board to Stompy's River Boa, two Quirion Rangers, and 3 Forests. Both players had one card in hand.

On turn 10, Affinity found a Sanctum Gargoyle, returning the Myr Enforcer to hand and casting it for free. However, Stompy was able to put a Rancor on the boa and swing in. Thanks to the Quirion Ranger, the Boa was also able to stand up as a potential blocker. Affinity chose not to trade an Enforcer for a regeneration activation and went down to 4 life. Note that at this point the Affinity player had enough artifacts on the board to make a fling lethal.

On turn 11, Affinity again dropped a Sanctum Gargoyle, tapping the Atog for white mana with a Springleaf Drum; the Gargoyle fetched a Chromatic Star, signaling that Affinity was all-in on the Fling plan but didn't have the card in hand yet. Two Gargoyles and a Myr Enforcer were left back for blocks. Personally, I think it was a mistake to not leave the Atog up as a blocker, as now a Vines of Vastwood or Groundswell would allow the Boa to trample over for lethal damage. As it turned out, it didn't matter, because the Stompy player played a fourth forest and did this:


Yes, that would be a Shinen of Life's Roar used for its Channel ability. Affinity sacrificed the Star for red mana, failed to find a Galvanic Blast, and scooped.

Game 2:

Here, Affinity kept a very slow hand and missed the turn two land drop; however, three Galvanic Blasts meant that Stompy couldn't develop very much either, as the green deck was also on one land and saw two Quirion Rangers and a Skarrgan Pit-Skulk hit the graveyard, leaving just a Young Wolf to swing in, finally joined by a Nettle Sentinel.

Affinity finally deployed a Flayer Husk and Frogmite, but at the same time Stompy finally found a second forest and won the sideboard lottery, using Gleeful Sabotage conspired to wipe Affinity's creatures. The spell even untapped the Nettle Sentinel and allowed it to swing in. Affinity dropped a Frogmite, but had to trade it for the Sentinel while Stompy deployed a Garruk's Companion. The following turn, after a pass from Affinity, Stompy suited up the wolf with a Rancor and a Bonesplitter and swung in for 8, bringing Affinity to 7 life; it was looking pretty grim for the robots.

But then Affinity reminded us why it's Affinity, going Thoughtcast into another Thoughtcast into a land and an Atog, leaving the board looking like this:


The Stompy player had a serious dilemma. With six artifacts on the Affinity side; all that was needed was one more for Fling to be lethal; on the other hand, an attack would be lethal for Affinity if the Atog didn't block. Unfortunately, I don't know what _Shatun_ had in hand, so can't say what the correct play was precisely. If he had 4 points of pump (Vines or 2x Mutagenic Growth or Groundswell), the play would have been super-easy - swing in, pump the unblocked guy, if Affinity has the fourth Galvanic Blast in hand, shake your head and say "good game". With two points of pump, the play would be trickier - I'd say swing in with both anyway; if Atog blocks the wolf, pump the wolf and force the Atog to eat 3 artifacts. You also get the wolf back as a blocker.

With no pump but a creature, it would probably still be right to swing in. If Affinity has a lot of guts and blocks the Companion (sacrificing one artifact), drop the creature and pass the turn. If Affinity can drop two artifacts, you lose, sorry. Finally, if somehow all three remaining Gleeful Sabotages were in hand, the correct play is still not to use the sabotage - you probably have to swing in with the wolf but not the Companion and hope that the Atog blocks and sacrifices two artifacts, then use an un-Conspired Sabotage to knock over a third one.

In the event, _Shatun_ chose to Sabotage with conspire, tapping out his board and knocking down two artifact lands. Unfortunately, this left the doors wide open for the Atog to attack in; Arapako laid a Seat of the Synod and a Springleaf Drum, sac'd all his artifacts except for two lands, and attacked for 9; he then sacrificed the two remaining artifacts and flung the Atog for an additional 13. If Arapako had had zero artifacts in hand, this attack would not have worked, but with even one the attack-then-fling was lethal.

Regardless of the correct play, I'd say this endgame clearly shows the pressure that the Fling plan brings in this matchup - what looked like a complete blowout in favor of Stompy suddenly forced a misplay and turned the game around in Affinity's favor.

Game 3:

After an interesting first two games, the third game was a wet squib. Stompy mulliganed and kept a 6-card hand that had a single creature, several forests, and several pump spells, lost the creature to a first-turn Galvanic Blast, and then didn't draw another creature until turn 5. In the meantime, Affinity curved out normally and simply overwhelmed the Stompy deck.

Coming soon

Next week, we'll be back with a full DtK season review and a first look at a metagame featuring cards from Modern Masters 15, such as Gut Shot and ... Gut Shot.

Be seeing you.


Table of Matchups by MichelleWong at Wed, 05/27/2015 - 15:26
MichelleWong's picture

Great article. I love your Table of Matchup results.

Esper Fae defeated Control 8-1! Wow!

My questions are:

1. Did you expect the matchup for Esper Fae vs Control to be such a blowout?
2. In your category of "Control" decks, what color(s) control decks are you referring to here?
3. What is the purpose of 4 x Vault Skirge in the sideboard? Against whom is this matchup designed for? (My first thought was Burn for the lifegain, but then the Burn player can simply burn the Vault Skirge and he has 2-for-1'd you because you have paid the Phyrexian mana to cast Skirge).
4. What weapons would a Green Stompy player typically bring in against Burn post-board? Surely there is something better than Vault Skirge?

Thanks! by Tom Scud at Wed, 05/27/2015 - 18:40
Tom Scud's picture

Thanks for the comment/questions. In order:

1 - I wouldn't expect the match-up to be that one-sided, but I do rate Esper Fae as a strong favorite versus most control decks, due to the deck's ability to sculpt its hand with draw spells and take one huge turn that overloads the control deck's ability to respond. Esper Fae/Familiars probably has the strongest late game in the format and decks that can't put a clock on are in real trouble. Maaybe mono-blue with lots of card draw can out-counter it.

2 - The last three columns in that table are a catch-all for "all other decks" split into aggro, control, and other (mid-range/combo). In this particular sample, the most common control decks were blue-black (various builds, including Teachings-based decks and Trinket Mage-based decks), RUG Tron, blue-red (mostly the builds using beetleback chief), and white-red aka Boros Kitty. There was also a new black-red control deck and some others. Only one mono-blue control - not sure why that deck has fallen off the radar.

3 - Skirge is mainly for Stompy mirror matches and I think also for Goblins and Hexproof - anyone without flying blockers where you expect to race. It's also great if you expect COP: Green to come into play, for example against Tron decks. Not sure if stompy runs the skirge out against burn or not - would be glad to hear from any stompy players. (It also gets a lot worse once Gut Shot is in the format).

4 - Stompy has a pretty strong game vs. Burn with just the base deck - it kind of comes down to who wins the die roll and/or floods out, but stompy probably has the edge in the race. With this deck, depending on whether skirge is good (I have no idea), you might just side out the prey upon and shinen and put in a couple scattershots to have more bodies. (Nourish) is a plausible sideboard card if you really want to side for the burn matchup, or you could run (Mtenda Lion) to play for the straight race, especially since (Electrickery) is pretty bad vs. Stompy usually.

STOMPY Vs BURN by deluxeicoff at Thu, 05/28/2015 - 17:38
deluxeicoff's picture

Usually you win this race, but it's always close.

Here are some thoughts -
I've never been a fan of Gleeful Sabo - rather than run it, I'd try Quiet Disrepair - it gains you 2 life of those cards that looks lame, but in gameplay you're VERY happy to see it...if you are using gleeful in sideboard - try swapping them out and see if you like it. One active vs. burn and it's GG. Seriously, it's that lopsided. Make sure you have bonesplitter and Imp in case you need a target other than their curse. Try and get up to 12 artifacts - if you really want to go 'all in' and never lose to burn, run 4 artifact lands too - not too hot with Q.Ranger out, but if your meta is burn heavy - it's a solid out.

Less consistent, but best life/buck is NOURISH.

Additionally, the Slyvok Lifestaff is amazing, but Stompy's generic build isn't good at ditching its own critters.

Cliffnotes: Your favored, it's close. Quiet Disrepair.