Monday, August 19, 2019

August 18th Pauper Challenge Winner's Metagame

On a recent broadcast of the Pauper Premiere League, Charles Jenkins (aka birbman aka Entropy263) said that the Pauper metagame currently pits beatdown decks against Ephemerate decks. The August 18th Pauper Challenge showed that even if aggro wins a battle it might be losing the war. 
Let's be clear: out of the seven challenges this season, 5 have been won by aggressive decks and two have been won by Ephemerate decks. On some level this makes sense - aggressive decks win these days by being faster than potential Ephemerate loops.Out of the 56 top 8 slots, 23 have gone to Ephemerate decks and 21 have gone to different styles of aggressive decks (not counting Burn). The metagame is polarizing with Ephmerate taking on both the midrange and the control roles.
Is this a bad thing? While there has been a homogenization in the midrange department, aggressive decks are arguably experiencing a renaissance. There were four different beatdown strategies (inclusive of Burn) in yesterday's Top 8 and Stompy took down its third challenge.
At the same time, Jeskai Blink - an Astrolabe -Ephemerate - Archaeomancer deck - was both the moist popular and the most successful archetype. And this is not isolated to a single tournament either. Across all seven Challenges since the release of Core 2020, Jeskai Blink is the second most popular deck with 22 appearances. It trails only Jeskai Trinket - a similar strategy that also runs Trinket Mage - by seven entrants in Top 32s. The Blink variety, however, has 22 wins above an X-3 record (Win+), as compared to the 15 from Jeskai Trinket. The best beatdown deck in this regard? Stompy with a Win+ score of 13 in 17 appearances.
The Pauper metagame is not as easy as saying "Astrolabe is everywhere" or "Ephemerate is broken". Instead, there is a real tension where the best archetypes are leveraging the power of these two cards together to have a strong season, but still can fall prey to creatures attacking for damage.

So now we are a week away from the next Banned and Restricted List update. The question remains - what should be done? 

This is the part of the story where people expect me to call for bans. To say that some of these cards are detrimental to the health of the format and that they should be removed before they can do more damage.

Here's the part where I talk about how much I hate playing against the inevitability of Flicker Tron and how those games can feel helpless. It's where I tell you that I think that recycling a Stonehorn Dignitary is a net negative for Pauper when it is a popular, if not dominant, strategy.

Except this time I'm not going to do any of that.

Well, I will say I hate losing to endless copies of Stonehorn Dignitary. But that's because I like attacking.

Despite this I don't think any bans are currently warranted. The best deck - Jeskai Blink - isn't even 10% of all Top 32 decks and it's weighted volume - that is the proportional volume of its strong finishes - is not that much greater than its actual volume. Tron, while strong, is far from an unmovable object.

And yet I think that at some point something will happen. As we have seen time and time again, when Pauper cards subvert the traditional mana system, they tend to get the axe. In this vein I could absolutely see Tron being sent to a farm upstate at some point in the future. Same with Arcum's Astrolabe. While Astrolabe does not subvert the mana system on a volume rate, it does so by making splashing too easy. If Pauper were Standard and the card would rotate it would be a novelty. As it stands, it makes running base-blue Best Spells a tad too easy.

All of this would be far more imminent if not for the strength of being the beatdown as of late. Even with overwhelming endgames, these decks still struggle when pressure is applied early and often. So if you're thinking about jumping into the Pauper Mythic Qualifier this weekend, you'd do well to be turning your creatures sideways.

2019 is going to be a banner year for Pauper. 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!

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