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By: Tom Scud, Tom Scudder
Jun 03 2015 12:00pm
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In this week's Pauper Observed, we first take a look at the weekend's action and then go for a bit longer look back at the 8 weeks between the release of Dragons of Tarkir and the release of Modern Masters 2015. And yes, there will be a lot of tables.

Metagame update

chittering ratsCloud of Faerieslightning boltKor Skyfisher

Since we're at least theoretically into a new season, I'm going to use one-week numbers instead of the rolling four-week average. As you can see, the first week was dominated by Burn and MBC, which together made up nearly 1/3 of the decks played; the most successful deck by far was Esper Fae Combo, which had 16 decks appear in the four events I (or Patrick Johnson) observed, of which 10 finished 3-1 or better. You can check my spreadsheet for the full results from the three events. Share is the percentage of total decks (not just winning decks) that the deck represented, and PPE is "Packs per Entry", or the number of packs that the deck brought home divided by the number of appearances. Average for all pauper decks is 2.20, so Esper's 5.31 is off-the-charts good and Burn and MBC's 1.87 is pretty poor, likely the result of those two decks being the target that all other decks prepared themselves for.

Deck Appearances PPE Share
MBC 47 1.87 16%
Burn 47 1.87 16%
Delver 19 3.11 6%
Affinity 19 1.58 6%
Boros Kitty 18 2.28 6%
Stompy 17 1.76 6%
Esper Fae Combo 16 5.31 5%
UB Angler 16 1.06 5%

Just off the bottom of the table are UR Fiend at 14 decks, which had a pedestrian 2.07 PPE, and Goblins, which had a very good weekend - out of 13 decks, 5 finished 3-1 and 2 finished 4-0 for a 4.0 PPE. W Tokens only had 6 entries, although 2 of them (both piloted by Deluxeicoff) finished 4-0. Another deck that we may be hearing a lot more of is a UR Tron deck that jsiri84 put together and discusses here on his blog - in my sample he had a 4-0 and another player netdecked to a 3-1 result. Jsiri84 also had a 4-0 on Saturday in an event I didn't cover.

To save on eyestrain slightly, I'm going to bust the matchup table into two - the top decks versus each other, and versus other aggro/control/"other" decks. I'm also going to leave out Boros Kitty, as 8 of the deck's appearances, including 3 3-1s and one 4-0 came in the event Patrick Johnson recorded, and he isn't quite crazy enough to sign on for also doing matchup data. I've moved UR Fiend up into the last place, partially for historical reasons.

Deck vs. Affinty vs. Burn vs. Delver vs. Esper Fae  vs. MBC vs. Stompy vs. UB Angler vs. UR Fiend
Affinity 3-3 4-2 1-1 1-1 5-5 2-3 2-2 1-1
Burn 2-4 11-11 2-8 4-8 15-7 1-3 3-2 3-4
Delver 1-1 8-2 1-1 1-1 3-7 0-1 4-2 1-0
Esper Fae Combo 1-1 8-4 1-1 0-0 7-2 3-1 3-0 4-1
MBC 5-5 7-15 7-3 2-7 10-10 2-0 3-4 1-1
Stompy 3-2 3-1 1-0 1-3 0-2 0-0 2-1 4-4
UB Angler 2-2 2-3 2-4 0-3 4-3 1-2 2-2 1-1
UR Fiend 1-1 4-3 0-1 1-4 1-1 4-4 1-1 1-1

So here we see the continuation of previous trends: Burn loses badly to Delver and beats MBC (though not quite as badly as in previous weeks). MBC has a solid edge over Delver. Esper Fae has an edge on practically every deck in the format, with the possible exceptions of Delver and Affinity. The one slight surprise is the solid lead by Esper Fae over Burn; possibly the fact that several decks have started using Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Bloodhunter Bat in place of Sage's Row Denizen as their win condition is a factor here, with the small amount of life drain from a single casting of their win con giving the deck that one extra turn to go off.

Deck vs. Aggro vs. Control vs. Combo/Mid-range
Affinity 2-2 5-4 4-2
Burn 4-12 8-4 7-1
Delver 2-0 7-4 2-0
Esper Fae Combo 3-3 6-3 2-0
MBC 3-7 9-12 4-1
Stompy 0-3 5-3 2-2
UB Angler 2-2 0-1 2-1
UR Fiend 2-3 2-3 1-1

Here we clearly see Burn's other Achilles heel, aside from the Delver matchup: the deck is not quite fast enough to outrace the most aggressive decks in the format. A lot of the damage here was done by Goblins, which was a very good meta call by the players that chose to pilot it. With Esper Fae Combo and UB Angler promoted to the big leagues, the remaining Combo/Mid-range decks are mostly a pretty sad lot and it shows up in the results.

One card that has not seen a lot of play yet is Gut Shot - I saw it cast a grand total of one time in the games I watched, though admittedly those were mostly pre-sideboard. Looking at decklists, there are only a small handful of decks that have yet adjusted their sideboards to include this as a weapon against Delver and Esper Fae Combo.

A look back at DtK season

Insectile AberrationCuombajj WitchesAtogSkarrgan Pit-skulk

So the eight weeks between the release of Dragons of Tarkir (and the banning of Treasure Cruise) and the release of Modern Masters 2015 are behind us. With a sample of three games per week, here are my overall results for the eight most popular decks, the decks that we tracked for most of the season. (As usual, much more can be found on my spreadsheet.) Wins is the number of 3-1 and 4-0 results recorded; 4-0 is the number of 4-0s.

Deck Appearances Wins 4-0 PPE Share Match W-L
MBC 251 69 12 1.89 17% 389-421
Delver 129 58 14 3.24 9% 264-186
Stompy 105 44 8 2.90 7% 199-158
UR Fiend 120 42 8 2.43 8% 190-190
Affinity 139 40 8 2.01 9% 224-230
Esper Fae Combo 69 33 6 3.30 5% 135-99
Burn 89 27 7 2.21 6% 167-144
W Tokens 62 20 4 2.26 4% 104-100

As you can see, Delver and Esper Fae Combo look like the clear winners from an efficiency perspective, followed by Stompy, with the other decks more or less treading water compared to the average deck.

To see whether my sample was somehow biased, and what affect that might have had, I checked my results against Wizards' official results, doubling my results to estimate what the reported results "should" be and then comparing them to the actual results. As you can see, MBC is somewhat underrated, but the real surprise comes in the 4-0 column, where it looks like Affinity did dramatically better outside my sample and Delver did significantly worse.

Deck Est. wins Official wins Est. 4-0 Official 4-0
MBC 138 160 24 23
Delver 116 108 28 18
Stompy 88 83 16 12
UR Fiend 84 88 16 21
Affinity 80 91 16 25
Esper Fae 66 55 12 14
Burn 54 62 14 15
W Tokens 40 43 8 12

It's unfortunately not trivial to correct the data - are there more MBC wins in the official data because more decks played, or because the decks that were played won at a higher rate? It's totally unknowable. (In fact, it's possible that fewer decks played and won at a much higher rate). The most generous assumption seemed to be to assume that the difference came solely from winning rates; I "adjusted" my numbers by shifting 2-2 results to either 3-1 or 4-0 and vice versa to make my numbers reflect the official ones. The actual shift is probably somewhat less pronounced. In any case, the adjusted numbers look like this:

Deck Appearances Wins 4-0 PPE Share Match W-L
MBC 251 80 12 2.15 17% 400-410
Delver 129 54 9 2.86 9% 255-195
Affinity 139 45 13 2.41 9% 234-220
UR Fiend 120 44 10 2.62 8% 194-186
Stompy 105 42 6 2.69 7% 195-162
Esper Fae Combo 69 28 7 2.94 5% 131-103
Burn 89 31 7 2.48 6% 171-140
W Tokens 62 21 6 2.52 4% 107-97

The adjustment pushes all the decks (except MBC) to solidly above average, but it leaves Delver and Esper Fae Combo as clearly the most efficient of the decks. Since it was much more heavily played, and also was good all season long, I feel pretty comfortable giving the season crown to good old mono-blue Delver.

As far as MBC is concerned, I have noticed over three seasons of data that the single most popular deck in any given season tends to underperform, a sort of a Pauper "winner's curse." Specifically, there tend to be a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 finishes. This suggests that new players are drawn to these decks, and tend not to do well with them; while the most skilled players should do better than average with any deck, it's likely that the most skilled MBC players outperform by a greater margin. It's also likely that the most popular deck's performance is diminished somewhat by the fact that most players will build their decks around beating it.

But that leaves a mystery. If Delver was the best deck all season long, why did it lose share all season, going from 12% of the meta Week Two to less than 4% on Week Eight? A look at the season-long matchup results (spreadsheet here) gives one possible explanation.

Deck vs. Affinty vs. Burn vs. Delver vs. MBC vs. Stompy vs. UR Fiend vs. W Tokens vs. Aggro vs. Control vs. Other
Affinity 12-12 6-11 16-16 27-30 13-9 15-12 4-7 8-12 18-21 21-27
Delver 16-16 25-5 12-12 26-35 14-14 15-9 8-11 11-8 18-11 36-17
MBC 30-27 5-28 35-26 51-51 18-18 23-19 8-12 15-11 33-43 47-55
Stompy 9-13 12-5 14-14 18-18 11-11 10-12 3-5 9-6 23-7 25-21
UR Fiend 12-15 10-7 9-15 19-23 12-10 12-12 9-5 12-3 15-22 30-21
W Tokens 7-4 3-8 11-8 12-8 5-3 5-9 5-5 6-2 13-14 11-19

As you can see, Delver has a poor (43%) matchup with MBC for the whole season. Given what I said above about the Pauper "winner's curse," it's likely that the matchup between skilled Delver pilots and skilled MBC pilots was even worse. Knowing that their matchup with by far the most popular deck in the format was poor might have led some Delver pilots to abandon the deck or find another use for their time, even though the deck's overall results (buoyed by a strong performance against the non-top-tier decks in the format) were good.

Other interesting results from this table include the vs. Burn column, where the deck's huge swing between MBC (28-5) and Delver (5-25) explains a lot about how the deck came to prominence as Delver lost favor compared to MBC. The vs. Control column is also interesting, as it shows how the various control decks in the format were able to gear up to do well against Affinity, MBC, and UR Fiend but were exposed by Delver's tempo plan and Stompy's rapid and resilient aggression.

(Note that these matchup results are only for the weeks that I actually was able to do matchups - weeks 1 and 4-8 for matchups between Affinity, Delver, MBC, Stompy, and UR Fiend, weeks 4-8 for the Burn and generic aggro/control/other matchups, and weeks 5-8 for W Tokens matchups. For that reason, it wouldn't make sense to add these up to get some sort of overall winning percentage.)

Rogue winners and losers

Gurmag AnglerGlint HawkFangren MarauderExclude

Looking at the less-played decks, there were some clear winners and losers (and some that were more or less average, which we won't discuss). Among decks with at least 20 appearances but less than 60, the top three and bottom three by PPE were as follows:

Deck Appearances Wins 4-0 PPE Match W-L
Boros Kitty 36 18 7 3.97 79-47
Mono-Blue Control 21 9 2 3.05 40-31
UB Angler 42 17 3 2.79 74-64
UB Control 50 12 3 1.74 70-85
Hexproof 23 5 1 1.52 30-40
RUG Tron 30 6 1 1.37 47-53

Boros Kitty, the white-red deck with 2 power flyers, burn spells for years, and an apparently absurd card advantage plan involving recasting the same Ichor Wellspring as many times as possible, is our rogue of the season, although there's a bit of a fluke here, too, as I have 7 4-0s in my sample but only show 6 for the whole season in the official data. Mono-Blue Control was much stronger earlier in the season; only two of those results came in the last four weeks. UB Angler was the opposite. The deck, which relies on self-mill spells like Thought Scour to power out black Delve creatures like Gurmag Angler and Sultai Scavenger, started to take off in Week 6 and actually had more decks than Delver or W Tokens in Week 8.

On the flip side, the combination of creature kill in black and countermagic and card draw in blue have brought people back to that combination over and over again in the seven months or so I've been watching the format, and I have yet to see the plan really work; somehow the aggressive decks just seem to get in there a bit too fast for UB Control to consistently set up. Hexproof's decline in a meta full of Mono-Black Control was predictable; the deck just can't fight through that many edicts. RUG Tron, meanwhile, just wasn't able to compensate for the loss of Treasure Cruise. Both of the control decks could be helped significantly by Gut Shot if they choose to adopt that technology - the ability to remove a 1/1 threat early could give them just enough breathing room to get to their strong late game.

Next week, in a shift in focus, I'm going to start taking a close look at a single daily event each week.

Be seeing you.