Today I’m going to tell you about the current state of Pauper, the ironically titled Prince of formats. The format has certainly had some ups and down over the years, mostly being great, occasionally being plagued by turn 2 kills before cards like Frantic Search and Grapeshot get the ban hammer, but always maintaining a cult following.
After the Cloud of Faeries banning, things were fairly calm in the format. Delver was de-facto king of the format I’d say, but most styles of deck were represented. But that all changed when the Peregrine Drake Nation attacked. Under this new brutal order, fan favourite midrange decks like Mono-Black and the Jeskai artifacts deck have been hunted to extinction, while control decks like UB Teachings are barely hanging on.
This leaves us with baaaasically 3 deck types, which I would term ‘Drake Decks’, ‘Delver Decks’ and ‘Linear Aggressive Decks’ with some overlap between the varieties. Looking at 5-0 decklists published online we have…
1. The Drake decks – ~30% of the field
The most dominant drake deck, UR has it all. Outstanding card selection in Ponder and Preordain, great removal, card drawing, amazing sideboard cards, Mulldrifters, what more can anyone ever want. Oh, perhaps the oppressively good long game of Archaeomancer and Ghostly Flicker combining with the Drake itself to give you infinite mana, then infinite card draw, and infinite spells, letting you kill the opponent no matter what they were doing?
Decks like this laugh off enemies that try to go toe-to-toe with you using discard or removal. Mulldrifters, Sea Gate Oracles and so on all undo your hard work, meaning if you want to combat the card advantage engines you need counterspells. Or, you know, to kill your opponent before they can leverage the millions of cards that they have drawn.
The best Tron deck is currently a Drake deck too. This one is more focused on crushing the linear decks, by assembling the combo of Ghostly Flicker + Drake + cool lands more quickly than UR, while simply ignoring what the opponent is doing by casting Moment’s Peace.
It’s hard to understate just how effective these decks are. They draw so many cards they are super consistent, they can kill you from nearly any point in the game, and they don’t even NEED to combo kill you. If you try to defend too much against the combo, destroying lands or Duressing Ghostly Flickers, they can just beat you up with Mulldrifters while you run out of gas.
In a way, Drake decks are like Splinter Twin. The main combo invalidates many other types of deck in the format. It needs so few slots to have an incredible win condition, it’s pretty easy to hybridise other decks to fit the combo in. And importantly, you end up being able to play a solid game without it, roping the opponent into boarding in cards that are weak against the rest of your deck in order to have a chance against the combo.
But wait, there’s more!
2) The Delver decks – ~20% of the field
These decks will be great in basically every variation of Pauper as long as Delver of Secrets, Counterspell, Daze and so on are legal. It also just so happens to be one of the best ways to combat the Drake scourge – being able to meaningfully interact using counterspells – pairs well with you attacking them with little blue things.
Pretty straightforward, but I wouldn’t describe it as one of the linear decks since Delver decks CAN switch roles if the tempo plan is thwarted. Transitioning into a control deck is easy since Counterpells and card draw can make up for the times your opponent manages to kill your first 4 plays. If the opponent fails to do so, Delvers flipping on turn 2 manages to be a great play in Legacy, a frighteningly fast clock.
Angler Delver is fundamentally similar, except with actual creature removal and a threat with more than 3 power. I personally don’t like this style as much as mono blue, since I don’t think the upsides compensate for not being able to actually play turn 1 Delver all that reliably, but it’s clearly solid. some decks really have a problem against 1-mana 5/5s backed with cheap spells for some reason. Not everyone wants to cast blue spells all the time though. And if they do, they better be strictly used for pumping your creatures.
3) The Linear decks – ~48% of the field
[Note: examples of all these can be found here https://www.mtggoldfish.com/metagame/pauper#online]
There are so, so many linear decks. There are the Kiln Fiend decks (yes, they do play Delver too, but they aren’t flexible, thus are in this category), perennial boogie man Affinity, Stompy, Boggles, Elves and three separate red decks based on Goblins, Burn and RDW. All of them generally hoping to ignore what you are doing and get you dead, with the different archetypes having varying levels of resistance to removal and often needing specific sideboard cards to beat.
The sheer variety of these decks – decks that require certain kinds of answers to overcome – are the 2nd main factor as to why the pure control and midrange decks are suffering. It’s hard to pack enough removal in your deck to answer turn 2 Myr Enforcers, Hexproof creatures, swarms of 1/1s, swarms of 2/2s, Elves reloading with Distant Melody, Persist and Undying creatures, the Delver decks, and decks that do nothing but burn you out.
Oh, also, the cards you need to beat THESE decks, are also the cards you typically do not want against the Drake decks, like Chainer’s Edict, Disfigure or Journey to Nowhere. So yeah, much like Modern at times, if it’s impossible to answer everything you play against, it seems instead the best option is to have your own pro-active game plan. While some brave souls to make it to 5-0 and do fine with Mystical Teachings, the environment is extremely hostile if you are not fast or using your Peregrine Bling.
This doesn’t mean the format isn’t sweet though, the games remain very fun, certain decks just rule the roost for now. Pauper often has complex games with relatively simply cards, so it can be a great way to increase your Magic fundamentals, as they say. Next time, we have options! I’m thinking we should go in-depth on a deck, but which one? Let me know in the comments if you have a particular favorite Pauper deck you would like me to explore.
Ciao for now!
Stephen ‘Jecht’ Murray out.