As 2020 opens, I want to take a look at the landscape of Pauper. The three months of Throne of Eldraine season have helped clarify the top of the metagame. And if we’re going to try to beat the top, it makes sense to understand what we’re aiming at.
Some caveats: This information is pulled from Magic Online. While this information is not comprehensive (it only pulls from the Top 32 data), it gives us the best image of what consistently does well in that environment. The information used to inform these conclusions also excludes paper tournaments for which I do not have data of a comparable sample size—that is Top 32 decklists with Swiss round record.
I also utilize a statistic shorthanded as Win+. This measures a specific deck’s performance against the 32nd place list in a given tournament; usually an X-3 record. A Win+ score of 1 roughly equates to a Top 16 finish in an average Pauper Challenge. Between one and three Win+ 1 decks will make Top 8 on any given Sunday. The goal of this measure is to see how well an archetype is performing against the field during any given event but also over the course of a season.
Throne of Eldraine Pauper Season: The Numbers
• 11 Challenges
• 1 Players Tour Qualifier
• 1 Format Playoff
• 1 Format Championship
The aggregate stats presented in these charts track the 11 Challenges and the PTQ. This is because the other events parsed the data differently. The Format Playoff only provided the Top 16 decklists, while the Format Championship was a small six-round event which created a tournament with multiple negative Win+ scores.
The Top 8s of those events are as follows:
2 Boros Monarch
2 Flicker Tron
1 Azorius Familiars
1 Elves (winner)
1 Izzet Faeries
4 Flicker Tron
1 Bant Familiars
1 Bogles (winner)
1 Izzet Flicker
1 Mono-Green Land Destruction
The most prevalent archetype in these two tournaments was Flicker Tron. This is representative of the season at large. The decks that were not Tron were either hyper-linear strategies trying to race Tron—Burn, Elves, Bogles, Mono-Green—or decks with a powerful value engine—Boros Monarch (Palace Sentinels), Azorius Familiars, Bant Familiars, Izzet Faeries, Izzet Flicker (Mystic Sanctuary). Again, this is a decent representation of the season at large.
Here are the stats for the Top 32 for the 11 Challenges and 1 PTQ. Any listed deck accumulated at least 2% of the metagame—8 appearances. The weighted volume column checks a deck’s Win+ score against the total Win+ awarded during the course of the season.
Flicker Tron has the biggest delta between how popular the deck was and how well it performed. When averaging out its Win+ score for the entire season it scored 1.1—that’s approximately a 5-2 record or a Top 16 finish. No other deck with at least 8 appearances approached this average. Put another way, the average Flicker Tron deck finished closer to 8th place than 16th place, while the average non-Tron deck finished closer to 17th place.
Four of the decks with a positive delta—Affinity, Bogles, Slivers, Stompy—are aggressive strategies that can effectively race the rest of the metagame. Stompy is the outlier here as the other three are synergy-driven decks. From this we can infer that one of the best ways to beat Tron is to overwhelm them early while also being able to attack on a non-combat axis (Bladeback Sliver, Fling, Soul’s Fire).
Outside of Flicker Tron, these numbers look rather reasonable. There is a variety of archetypes and strategies at the top of the metagame, as well as a healthy portion dedicated to rogue or fringe builds. What happens when we look at Top 8s and wins?
Flicker Tron decks, including the Azorius Tron and Dinrova Tron sub-archetypes, took down 28 of 96 Top 8 slots, or just over 29%. For comparison during the Core Set 2020 season, Jeskai Ephemerate decks leaning on Arcum’s Astrolabe took 32% of all Top 8s slots in a similar time span. Flicker Tron decks also had the most victories with four.
Again there is a good amount of variety and a solid tier structure emerging, with Flicker Tron decks lapping the field.
Flicker Tron decks—those built around using Mnemonic Wall with Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker to generate card advantage—are the defining decks of Pauper at the moment. Using Stonehorn Dignitary and Moment’s Peace to blunt attacks and Dinrova Horror to end the game, Flicker Tron can come online as early as turn 4. Tron is incredibly redundant, making disrupting the deck past this point difficult. Mnemonic Wall and Pulse of Murasa can get key elements—including lands—back from the graveyard. Ghostly Flicker and Pulse of Murasa neuter a dedicated land destruction game. Ephemerate makes it trivial to keep key pieces out the graveyard, making cards like Relic of Progenitus less effective. Aside from racing, the best way to attack Tron is to go after all of its resources in rapid succession. I have found moderate success using Divest and Duress followed up with Okiba-Gang Shinobi, Choking Sands, and Bojuka Bog.
The more reliable way to sidestep Tron is to race it. Affinity can do this, but it can also Fling a massive Atog. Bogles can attack for victory, but that deck has moved from Fling to Soul’s Fire to Essence Harvest—the latter because it avoids cards like Dispel and Hydroblast, common sideboard options out of Tron.
It would be easy to say that Tron is a problem and it very well may be. The deck is redundant and can more or less ignore the combat phase from opponents. It has dominated the Challenge metagame since Arcum’s Astrolabe was banned. The Challenges, however, are not the totality of the Pauper metagame. What happens when we take a look at tournaments that do not focus on Pauper regulars? Events like the October 26th PTQ and the January 26th Format Showcase.
PTQ Top 8:
1 Boros Monarch (Winner)
1 Dimir Teachings
1 Dinrova Tron
1 Izzet Faeries
1 Mono-Black Aristocrats
Format Showcase Top 8:
1 Flicker Tron
2 Izzet Delver (Winner)
1 Mardu Monarch
Once the player pool opens up, the variety of the decks making Top 8 also rises. To me this is emblematic of the landscape of Pauper at the moment. Decks exist along a spectrum. At one end are hyper aggressive decks like Affinity, Bogles, Burn, Elves, and Stompy. The other extreme are Flicker lock decks such as Flicker Tron or Familiars. The middle scrum is occupied by decks operating either on the back of the Monarch or on a Mystic Sanctuary value engine.
If you are playing Pauper at the start of 2020 this is where you should start. Figure out how you want to approach the metagame. Once you have that in mind, figure out how to maximize your engine of choice.
Here is a deck I’ve been playing to moderate success. It’s a take on Mono-Black Control that tries to constrain aggressive decks with its 60. The sideboard allows it to attack Tron on a resource denial plan, increasing discard elements while also trying to disrupt the mana base. The deck leverages both Thorn of the Black Rose and Pestilence as advantage engines—Thorn results in more resources while Pestilence helps to control the board.
19 Swamp 2 Bojuka Bog 2 Witch's Cottage 3 Cuombajj Witches 4 Phyrexian Rager 2 Thorn of the Black Rose 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel 1 Gurmag Angler 3 Divest 3 Chainer's Edict 4 Sign in Blood 2 Disfigure 1 Echoing Decay 2 Pharika's Libation 1 Snuff Out 1 Tendrils of Corruption 2 Omen of the Dead 1 Mire's Grasp 2 Pestilence 1 Mogis's Favor Sideboard 1 Cuombajj Witches 1 Disfigure 2 Duress 1 Mire's Grasp 1 Mogis's Favor 2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi 3 Rancid Earth 1 Raven's Crime 2 Shrivel 1 Thorn of the Black Rose