Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Checking In

Hi everyone,

I've moved my Magic writing over to nerdtothecore.com. Check it out there!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

November 24th Pauper Challenge Breakdown

The November 24th Pauper Challenge looked rather different than the three prior events. There was only one Flicker Tron deck in the Top 8 and the archetype was not in the winner's circle. Instead it was one of two Stompy decks in the Top 32 - both in the Top 8 - that edged out a version of Boros Monarch that appears to have been built to beat the mirror. 

These results should be heartening. Tron was held in check by an abundance of strategies that are strong against the deck. Stompy, Elves, and Burn are all decks that attack Tron from slightly different angles. The second most popular deck - Izzet Faeries - has also adjusted and now has it's own end game lock in Deprive and Mystic Sanctuary. While not a slam dunk against Tron, access to true counters can help disrupt the loop that would otherwise lock a player out of a game. 

And here is the part where I say that the  results of the Challenge are not totally reflective of the wider Pauper metagame. Shortly after I tweeted out the image to the left I got a reply:

There are a few ways to look at the claim. No one can deny the fact that some well known Tron pilots stayed out of the Challenge. If you have been hanging out in Discord I manage you will have no doubt seen Hellsau, and to a lesser extent, Birbman bemoaning how good the deck is - with Hellsau feeling locked into play the strategy in the Format Championship even though they hate it. 

But to quote a musical that is culturally relevant, you had to be in the room where it happened. 

More on this in a bit.

Because these players did not play there is no way to know if they would have won in this field. It is possible that they would have won and it is also possible they would have lost. But the tweet above unintentionally questions the veracity of the results. This tournament doesn't count because Tron wasn't played.

What is true? Has Tron taken a hit or is it just a blip on the radar and the prison deck is going to come back in force before the December 16th Banned and Restricted announcement?

I'm not sure it matters. What does is that these discussions about Pauper need to come out of the shadows. While all social platforms are opt-in, Twitter at least puts the discourse in front of folks who make Magic. So if you have opinions on Pauper let people know using the #mtgpauper hashtag

Because shouting into the void of a Discord with people who agree with you doesn't affect change. It just makes you look like you're shouting. 

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!

Monday, November 18, 2019

November 17th Pauper Challenge Breakdown

There are two main takeaways from the November 17th Pauper Challenge. The first is that Tron currently holds Tier 0 status in the metagame. Winning the event and taking three of the Top 4 slots, it is clear that locking your opponents out of combat phases is a Good Thing at the moment. 

That is the headline for sure. Going into a Challenge without being prepared to take on both Moment's Peace and Stonehorn Dignitary is a recipe for failure. There are many ways to try and get around these cards - from Skewer the Critics to Shepherd of Rot - but one rising strategy seems to be running good old Counterspell. Delver made a Top 8 this week and was backed up by two different stripes of Faeries decks - Dimir and Izzet. The ability to apply pressure while saying no to key spells can buy enough time to beat Tron before they can fully assemble their prison lock.

But I want to talk about another way to use creatures here. I want to talk about Slivers. Back when Modern Horizons was fully revealed, Pauper players (including yours truly) recognized that Bladeback Sliver could provide Sliver decks with the reach needed to close out games. The new addition to the deck provided a way for Slivers to win in a board stall and through effects that obfuscated combat.

Frucile - who has put a lot of effort into Slivers in years past - put this change into practice. They made Top 8 while a similar list made it into the Top 16. Gemhide Sliver allows Slivers to explode on to the board a la Elves and Bladeblack Sliver means that board stalls do not matter (outside of the mirror). Slivers has always been a powerful tribe thanks to its three traditional lords. The result is a deck that can fairly quickly blank toughness based removal while also applying a ton of pressure and thanks to Virulent Sliver, a way to win through Weather the Storm.
The addition of Hunter Sliver in these decks is fantastic. It can help push through key creatures while also acting as a form of removal for smaller bodies (or bodies made smaller by Sidewinder Sliver). Considering that recent decline of Stompy in the past two Challenges, I think it is safe to say that Slivers is coming for the title of premier beatdown deck. An interesting, if not welcome, change.

The next Banned and Restricted update comes in four weeks. Until then we have a good idea of what the metagame is going to look like. With that being the case, how are you going to approach Pauper?

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

November 10th Pauper Challenge Breakdown

There were 10 varieties of Flicker Tron decks in the Top 32 of the November 10th Pauper Challenge. Tron had two decks in the Top 8 and won the event. The recent performance of the deck has been the source some concerns expressed over the archetype's dominance as of late. 

But is this warranted?

I am not so sure. Taking a look at the chart that breaks down the Top 32, Burn performed on par with Tron. The most remarkable thing about the Top 32 may not be the number of Tron decks but the absolute dearth of Stompy - and aggro in general. While Boros Bully might be an aggressive deck, it is not beatdown in the sense of Heroic or Slivers (in the case of Sunday). Rather there exists a full spectrum of strategies under the Tron umbrella while everything else is trying to find a lane.

This is perhaps the best argument against keeping Tron around. Tron is a powerful enough mana engine that once it is online it simply gets to do more than a deck with a non-Tron mana base. Thanks to cards like Expedition Map and the advent of the London Mulligan, Tron's fail rate has declined. As such it has a greater chance of being able to leverage its mana advantage earlier and more often. The result is that decks that are not Tron get squeezed out by similar Tron-based strategies. Why play a control deck without Tron when you can play one with the engine and never want for mana again?

The popularity of Tron would be more worrisome if it had more success on Magic Online. Through three Challenges and a PTQ, Flicker based Tron decks are make up 17.19% of the Challenge Metagame while accounting for 20.48% of the Weighted Meta - that is weight of wins at a X-2 record or better. That's a pretty good clip but considering its popularity, the deck would have to be performing better to register as a problem on the radar of someone caring exclusively about numbers. 

By comparison, at the end of the Core 2020 season Jeskai midrange was 25% of all Top 32 lists and accounted for over 33% of the Weighted Metagame.

So Tron isn't as dominant as previous "best decks" but I don't think that tells the whole story. 

Tron can be miserable to play against. A non-Tron deck can establish its gameplan according to the most well written script and it simply may not matter. If Tron is able to come online it stops acting as a control deck and instead plays prison, locking the opponent out of meaningful actions. But the war is not entirely lost and so there exists a compulsion to play to the bitter end of things. 

It comes down to this: Tron is not a dominant deck as we have come to know them in Pauper, but the toll it takes on the psyche during a game is quite high. That is not to take anything away from people who enjoy playing the archetype, but I have heard from multiple people who win with the deck that they actively hate it and only play it because they feel there is no other choice.

That's not good.

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!

Monday, November 4, 2019

November 3rd Challenge Breakdown

On November 3rd there were 6 Tron decks in the Pauper Challenge and four of them made Top 8. It was half the Top 4 and won the Challenge. The winning player went 7-0 in the Swiss and then clearly went 3-0 in the Top 8. That's impressive. 

If you have followed me for any length of time you probably know I am not fan of the current iteration of Tron decks in Pauper. While the prospect of looping Dinrova Horror or Stonehorn Dignitary sounds cool, playing against it time after time can get tiresome - especially if you like attacking. Tron, in Pauper, is a prison deck that masquerades as a value build. 

But is it a problem?

I am not convinced. 

Shocking, I know.

Look at the results of the Challenge. Out of all the decks you can argue that one of them is a traditionally bad matchup for Tron - Elves. While you can make the case for Affinity, Burn, and possible the Dimir Exhume deck, each of them have some problems, including a vulnerability to either Hydroblast or Pyroblast and their Alpha kin. 

But every deck here attempts to attack the game on an axis that Tron excels at stopping. If some of these Stompy decks had instead been Red Deck Wins, it is possible a few Tron decks would have fallen. If the Izzet Faeries deck instead opted for an aggressive Delver of Secrets build, it's possible that one of these decks would have taken a hit. Four decks in a Top 8 is scary but only if it is consistent. And while this singular challenge may not be a harbinger of something worse, when we take a look at the three tournaments since Arcum's Astrolabe was banned we see something that should give pause.

This chart takes a look at the popularity of a given archetype (here Flicker Tron and Dinrova Tron are grouped) and compares its volume to the weight of its wins at X-2 or better. Through three events, Tron is crushing the field (although not as bad as some previous offenders). So the question then becomes what can be done? I would be looking at Bogles as a potential foil to Tron, while also investigating the prospect of Zombies as Shepherd of Rot can do some work in pressuring Tron without having to attack. 

But that's my two cents - what are yours?

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 26 and October 27 Weekend Recap

First, I want to apologize for the delay in this post. I was out doing coverage of Grand Prix Phoenix this past weekend and let me tell you: two cross country flights in the span of 84 hours is not good for getting back on a schedule.
Regardless, there were two major Pauper tournaments this weekend - an 8 Round PTQ and a 7 Round Challenge. The results were not surprising but there was something that stood out immediately to me upon viewing the decks that performed well.

When you look at the PTQ results, they conform to what many believed the format would look like in the wake of banning Arcum's Astrolabe. Stompy and Boros Monarch were two of the best performing decks on the day, with Monarch taking the Blue Envelope - while other former format staples put up respectable numbers. These were top decks that lost the least after the ban.
At the same time some fringe strategies showed up in the shape of Dimir Teachings and Mono Black Aristocrats. It is heartening to see fringe strategies perform well in the PTQ as this event attracted a larger player base and one not as well versed in the nuances of Pauper. If these decks perform well under these circumstances then they may have merit as legitimate strategies. As always, however, there needs to be more than one result to identify a trend. And in the case of Teachings, a slightly different (read: 80 card) build made it back to the elimination rounds on Sunday.

The Challenge results sit in stark contrast to those presented above. Setting aside the fact that the PTQ was more than twice the size of the Challenge, no deck in the Top 32 took home more than four slots. In the Challenge, Boros Bully and Boros Monarch each put seven players into the Top 32. There was less overall diversity of archetypes but that in it of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, nothing about the Challenge results are inherently "bad".

Yet I couldn't shake a funny feeling about them during my flight home.

And I think this is why. Boros Monarch and Stompy were the best performing decks on Saturday. If the metagame had reacted rationally I would have expected to see an increase in Tron (true) and an increase in decks that prey on Tron (also true). At the same time, the sheer volume of Boros laid in stark contrast to the diversity of the PTQ. 

And I think it may have something to do with the population of players. The PTQ attracts both Pauper stalwarts and people trying to qualify. Compare that the the Challenge, which is made up almost exclusively are hardcore Pauper regulars. With such a closed metagame in mind it can become easier to game the system and attempt to predict what the known quantities will be running. The metagame is not as varied as as such packing specific cards becomes more attractive.

In turn this can explain the allure of Boros. Red and white have access to some of the best sideboard cards in Pauper - Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast, Gorilla Shaman, Prismatic Strands, Standard Bearer - and having access to these cards, especially in a relatively closed system, can give you a sizable advantage over the rest of the field. Of course this can create a feedback loop where if this is known, then it actually could be beneficially to not run in lockstep with the loop.

On Sunday that did not take place. In a single event, players were attracted to the powerful options provided by Wind-Scarred Crag. As the metagame moves further away from Jeskai it will be interesting to see if people will look for the exploits in the system or continue to trod the same paths again and again.

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

October 20th Format Playoff Breakdown

So there was a Pauper Playoff on October 20th and the story of the Top 16 was a familiar tale. Jeskai Midrange decks dominated the Top 16 but didn't punch through for the win. Stompy put up a strong showing but was held in check by the correct metagame choice of the weekend - Boros Monarch. 

But all of this is a moot point. The format has fundamentally changed after the Arcum's Astrolabe ban. While I don't expect the metagame to change too much from a macro point of view (outside of Jeskai tanking) there are going to be some shifts.

First and foremost, Jeskai, as we have come to know it, is dead in a ditch. The cards are all still powerful and a shell using similar cards could easily exist. The problem with the builds moving forward is the mana. Astrolabe represented a way to get every color for a single mana. While Prophetic Prism still exists it is twice as expensive in a deck that ran 19 or 20 lands. That is a huge ask, especially considering how often the deck relied on a combination of Astrolabe and Preordain to set up its early turns. That is a lot harder to do when your Astrolabe costs two. Mulldrifter and Ephemerate is still a powerful combo, as is the Archaeomancer loop, but my guess is it becomes significantly harder to splash a third color, forcing Azorius Blink decks to slow down a bit and look for other ways to control the board. 

Out side of that, the format remains largely unchanged. Yes, the absence of Arcum's Astrolabe means that three color good stuff will take a hit, but look at the rest of the Top 16. You can reasonable expect those decks to remain part of the the competitive sphere. 

I've said Tron is likely to lose a step but still remain a highly played deck. I stand by this statement. Tron isn't going anywhere but the loss of Astrolabe is going to hurt its early game consistency. At the same point it may end up being a benefit as the deck can return to relying on lands to fix its mana rather than an artifact. 

What cards from Modern Horizons, Core 2020, and Throne of Eldraine now have a chance to take off in the wake of Astrolabe's axe? Sound off below.

Pauper continues to grow in popularity and I want to continue to be at the forefront of the metagame. If you like the work I do, please consider becoming a Patron. Thank you!