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Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / The Power of Pauper: The State of Pauper - September Edition

The Power of Pauper: The State of Pauper - September Edition

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of The Power of Pauper! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be taking a look at Pauper as it stands for the past 8 weeks in terms of metagame. In addition to that we've got two Challenges from this past weekend to dig into.

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

Pauper Metagame Update - September 2023

It's been a little bit since the last time we looked at the current metagame, so I figure it only makes sense to get a feel for where the current format is from a data perspective. For the purposes of this data, I'm utilizing the data collection handled by the Castle of Commons Discord (see their metagame sheet here) and filtering down to the past eight weeks.

Let's start by looking at some graphical data.

One major thing right off the bat is just how omnipresent Burn and its sub variants (be it Kuldotha or not Kuldotha, etc.) is in the current format. Standing at roughly 17-18% of the current metagame, it's very clear where this deck stands, especially in relation to its win rate being a little over 50%. Beyond Burn, the metagame share dips down to the 8% range for decks like Gruul Ponza and Dimir Terror. Of these, neither have very stunning win rates, and even traditional Affinity's win rate is a little down. The deck with the most solid win rate here is Mono Blue Terror at a solid 60%.

Let's look at some of the big movers and shakers and what is going on here.

The Dichotomy of Burn and Mono Blue

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The biggest dichotomy of the current Pauper format is the arms battle between Burn/Mono Red decks and Mono Blue decks, very specifically Mono Blue Terror decks. Prior to the release of Commander Masters and Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth there was a lot of back and forth on the status of Burn and whether it was too good thanks to the Monastery Swiftspear's presence in the format. LOTR shifted things a bunch with the printing of Lorien Revealed, which gave decks like Dimir Terror a strong presence in the format.

However, Dimir Terror has proven that since the release of Commander Masters that it is one of the more inferior versions of the Terror builds in favor of the pure Mono Blue decks, which gain access to Cryptic Serpent and Delver of Secrets as powerful additional threats that Mono Blue didn't really have before the downshift of Serpent. Combined with Lorien Revealed and Brainstorm these decks are exceptionally powerful.

The flip side of this is that to combat this new strategy, Burn has become one of the stronger opposing archetypes due to the fact that it can run both Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast post-board without too much compromise on their colors or mana constraints. This overcorrection reminds me heavily of the era of Vintage in which both Karn, the Great Creator and Mystic Forge were not restricted yet, and the best opposing deck to that strategy was the BUG DRS decks that absolutely demolished the Karn deck, leading to BUG heavy events as players flocked to that deck in order to not lose to Karn, and BUG had a reasonable matchup against a good number of other decks at the time.

The same feels slightly true of the current state of Pauper. The severe over-correction of Mono Red to combat the Mono Blue decks definitely has a space where it is damaging other archetypes and their ability to compete in the current format. The need to have blast effects to deal with threats out of Mono Blue does allow for some of these non-blue strategies to sneak through, but that space seems quite limited in what is considered to have good consistent performance. Decks like Golgari Gardens, and Gruul Ponza have found a footing in this space, but not much else is finding a ton of success outside of Affinity (which is its own topic).

The Power of Affinity

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Affinity reached a divergence with the release of Commander Masters, splitting into two distinct variants: the traditional Grixis Affinity lists running cards like Deadly Dispute and Kenku Artificer, and a new Azorius based Affinity list playing All That Glitters and Affinity creatures wth things like Ornithopter.

Affinity continues to be a strong portion of the overall metagame and often ends up being one of the few decks that have answers to contend with the ongoing arms race between Red and Blue decks. The Grixis variant can play both halves of Blast effects (both Blue and Red to combat those two decks) as well as other powerful effects. The Azorius build is not geared specifically towards attacking blue decks with Blasts, but it has cards like Metallic Rebuke and the overall speed of the deck is very good.

It helps that Affinity requires a modicum of sideboard space devoted to the matchup and that provides it a strong position within the current format.

The Non Blue Decks

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Of the decks represented of at least 25 copies or greater, the two big non blue decks of the current format are both Gruul Ponza and Golgari Gardens. Both of these decks attack a specific aspect of another deck, as Gruul attacks the opponent's manabase which can prevent them from casting spells, while Gardens creates value and deals with permanents on the board through removal.

Both of these decks are quite strong at the moment because they are also taking advantage of the arms race between the Blue and Red decks of the format. Gruul has removal like Thermokarst for lands and Skred for creatures, while Gardens is primarily focused on removing the opponent's creatures which can prevent the opponent from winning. These are definitely decks to keep an eye on in the current format as I believe they will continue to be successful as long as the current arms race exists.


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Gates is another deck that has been a very reasonable portion of the current metagame. Again, it's a deck that capitalizes on the current metagame forces at work by virtue of being able to play Blast effects. Lifelink effects like Sacred Cat and damage prevention like Prismatic Strands allow the deck to survive the assault from Mono Red decks, while things like Guardian of the Guildpact enable it to push through damage that is difficult to interact with.

The fact that this deck is also a bit of a control shell helps it right now as well, as it gains access to Counterspell and cantrips to find them. It's a powerful deck and has a lot of velocity, and the overall Gates shell is very powerful that anything can be built into it.

Is Pauper Healthy?

The big question at the end of the day is to ask whether or not Pauper is actually healthy at the moment or not. While we did just get some new cards in Wilds of Eldraine, I do believe that the current arms race between the Mono Red and Mono Blue decks of the format is long term not incredibly healthy. The format is overtly hostile to any deck that is incapable of contending with these two halves and also being able to deal with the decks that do prey on those decks, making it much harder to brew within the context of the space.

Both the Red decks and Blue decks have gotten huge amounts of boosts in past sets between March of the MachineCommander Masters, and Wilds of Eldraine that each deck has to continue to one-up the other. This type of gameplay is something I've seen before in other formats and it doesn't always end up being healthy.

Problematically, changes would be made to depower decks on both sides of this arms race and would nreduce the amount of redundancy between the two. I know very specifically people have suggested cards like Monastery Swiftspear for bringing down the Burn side of things, but I do suspect there would need to be a balancing act across both halves of the top of the format in order to fully address the issues that could arise with Mono Red being dealt a blow without Mono Blue taking a hit as well.

I'm not overly sure what needs to happen at the moment, but I am curious to continue to follow the format until we can see what will happen next. Will a new set upset the balance? Or will a banning be needed? Only time will tell at this juncture.

Pauper Challenge 9/16

The first Challenge event of the weekend was the Saturday event. This event had 50 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Castle of Commons Discord.

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the datasheet here.

Burn was the most popular deck by a mile in this event, and its win rate was what I would expect with such a large percentage of the format, as mirror matches would definitely occur more often at that level. Also popular was Azorius Affinity, Golgari, and Mono Blue Terror. Of these, Azorius had a less than 50% win rate, but it had a strong Top 8 finish balancing that out.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Golgari Gardens 1st Purgatory_01
Burn 2nd MCScards
Mono Blue Terror 3rd twister66
Grixis Affinity 4th LuffyDoChapeuDePalha
Azorius Affinity 5th Mogged
Mono Blue Terror 6th otakkun
Golgari Gardens 7th ezocratto
Burn 8th boom_bust

Definitely an even spread across a few deck types here. Affinity, Terror, Burn, and Gardens were the four decks functionally in this Top 8. At the end of the event, it was Golgari that won.

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Interesting thing here is new card Troublemaker Ouphe out of the sideboard. Bargaining in Pauper is exceptionally easy to do, but even more especially in Gardens decks because of Khalni Garden making a token that's ready to be sacrificed and also cards like Ichor Wellspring that reward the sacrifice.

In Second Place we had Burn.

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The Kuldotha go-wide strategy here is in full effect, leaning on cards like Experimental Synthesizer and Implement of Combustion as additional sacrifice fodder outside of the artifact lands in the deck.

Also in this Top 8 we had Grixis Affinity.

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This version of the deck is definitely still very real and very powerful. The Negates in this deck seem quite good too.

Pauper Challenge 9/x

The second Challenge event of the weekend was the Sunday event. This event had 67 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Castle of Commons Discord.

You can find the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the datasheet here.

Burn was the most popular deck yet again, and while it had a less than 50% win rate it had more than a few Top 8s here. Mono Blue was the best-performing deck though with its conversion rate, and Golgari / Dimir decks did worse.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Mono Blue Terror 1st Beicodegeia
Jeskai Gates 2nd John1111
Mono Blue Terror 3rd twister66
4C Gates 4th BurnMann
Burn 5th medvedev
Burn 6th Diego_Brando
Golgari Gardens 7th Arukasnobnes
Burn 8th bernardocssa

As noted, quite a bit of Burn here. At the end of the event though it was Mono Blue Terror that won.

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This deck continues to be very powerful. Having a strong Delver-esque game plan here is what makes this so good for sure.

In Second Place we had Jeskai Gates.

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Jeskai is a slight misnomer since the red splash is specifically for Pyroblast here. It's amazing how much of this sideboard is taken up solely by Blast effects though.

Also in this Top 8 we had 4C Gates.

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The 4C shift here in being able to splash for sideboard cards as need be is pretty good. Multiple blasts and also stuff like Arms of Hadar is quite good.

Around the Web

  • Alex Ullman has an article on the initial impact of Wilds of Eldraine. Check it out here.
  • Heartyshow MTG has a video on Cats vs Stompy. Check it out here.
  • Bryant Cook is cooking up some Cycle Storm. Check it out here.

The Spice Corner

You can find this past week's 5-0 deck lists over here.

Mardu Synthesizer with new card Hopeless Nightmare is interesting.

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Mono Black Cauldron Familiar is kind of sweet.

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for continuing to support the column and join us next week as we continue our journey into Pauper!

As always you can reach me at all my associated links via my Link Tree! In addition, I'm always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the MTGPauper Discord Server.

Until next time!

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