Thursday, July 4, 2019

The June 30th Format Playoff

The second Pauper Playoff took place on June 30th. These playoffs qualify high finishers for a Championship, which in turn will qualify a player for the Magic Online Championship Series.

The Playoff was won by Affinity, which was one of two decks not running Arcum's Astrolabe in the Top 8. Affinity has had a strong season with two other Top 8 finishes. The strategy has experienced a resurgence in the wake of the recent bans. Affinity has always been a powerful option but when there are too many cheap counters running around it loses some luster. Now with the advent of Blue Elemental Blast one wonders if Affinity will see its stock decline since there will be more sideboard hate for Atog, Fling, and Temur Battle Rage.

The story of this playoff, and really the format since the release of Modern Horizons has been Arcum's Astrolabe. Not only has this card easily slotted into existing Kor Skyfisher strategies, it has also allowed these decks to expand their metagame share. At half the price of Prophetic Prism, Arcum's Astrolabe is a one mana cantrip that nearly any deck can run that has the upside of fixing your mana. While it does come with a very real cost - that is a slot in your deck - the upside is massive, especially when paired with Skyfisher and Glint Hawk. On top of all that it is not hard to get value out of Astrolabe since once it hits the battlefield it immediately replaces itself. The end result is that this card has become a format staple and is pushing Pauper in a specific direction.

The mana system is integral to the way Magic works. If you want to have better mana you need to run fewer colors. While various non-Basic Lands help to mitigate this almost all of them (as of late) come with a cost. Arcum's Astrolabe changes the nature of mana in Pauper in that as long as you have Snow-Covered Basics, you can cast nearly anything. The consequence of this is that Arcum's Astrolabe decks are started to resemble each other. They are becoming three and four color "good stuff" decks and are taking up a decent chunk of the metagame. Non-Astrolabe decks are relegated to linear strategies - Affinity Burn, Elves, Stompy - and are creating a metagame of beatdown against value. 

If Astrolabe is the current focal point of the metagame what can be done? Qasali Pridemage is a decent card but asks quite a bit when it comes to mana cost, as does Tin-Street Hooligan (unless you are yourself an Astrolabe deck). Hearth Kami and Torch Fiend might be good enough but then you are leaving yourself behind. It might be that Spellstutter Sprite is just the answer we are looking for, provided it can stay on the board long enough to matter.

All of this may be for nothing. The recent addition of all commons means that Mystic Remora is coming to play. An early Remora could put a damper on the plan of "recast Astrolabe to get ahead". And we are still early enough in Modern Horizons' life-cycle that an answer may be uncovered.

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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