ChannelFireball Events hosted a Pauper Championship at Grand Prix Richmond. While the event was smaller than the tournament in Las Vegas—Richmond only had 56 competitors—I was able to get my hands on every last deck list from the tournament.
Let’s start with a general metagame breakdown. Izzet Delver was the most popular deck with seven appearances. It is followed by Elves (6) and Boros Monarch (4). This is very much in line with the online metagame where Izzet Delver is the most popular deck in the Challenges and both Boros Monarch and Elves fall within the top five most played archetypes.
Moving down the line to decks with three appearances we have Mono-Blue Delver and Dinrova Tron. The decks with two appearances include old standbys Hexproof, Esper Familiars, Stompy, and Affinity, newcomers R/G Cascade and Black Ponza, and fringe favorites like Sultai Zuberas. There were 16 decks that made a single appearance—the massive “Other” segment.
Raw volume only tells us so much. I wanted to look at the decks with winning records. There were 24 decks that posted a 3-2 or better. While there were 30 distinct archetypes present at the tournament, only half of them ended up in the black. An asterisk indicates a Top 8 finish.
All three of the most popular decks increased their relative volume, but that is to be expected as the number of total decks decrease. The shift is still reflective of the larger Pauper metagame, where the best decks tend to vastly outperform anything outside the top tiers.
When it comes to Pauper, the best decks are significantly better than the merely fine. These decks have been honed over time and tend to run a higher concentration of powerful cards. Gush and Palace Sentinels are much more powerful than cards like Floating-Dream Zubera and the gap is anything but small.
This chart is all about weighing wins. There were a lot of draws in this event so rather than try to parse the difference between 4-1 and 4-0-1, I assigned point values based upon the win column. Four wins yielded 2 points, and three wins a single point. Again, the same 24 decks were measured and Izzet Delver saw a fairly large increase. It had four decks finish with four wins—Boros Monarch had four decks in the entire event.
Izzet Delver won the dang thing as well. Jherjames Bisconde, better known as jherjamesb on Magic Online, hung up his trusty Jace’s Erasures to play with some Lightning Bolts and Skreds. His opponent in the finals was TheMaverickGal a.k.a. Kendra Smith, who was playing Elves.
Jherjames Bisconde, Winner of the Pauper Championships
Kendra Smith, Finalist at Pauper Championships
The other deck of note in the Top 8 was Steven Keys’ Mono-Blue Control deck. Not drastically different from previous versions of Mono-Blue Control, it trades the early game strength of Delver for additional flash Faeries. It also skimps on Spire Golems in order to run some utility lands like Radiant Fountain and Quicksand. The downside of this deck is that it needs to be on the play to best utilize its defensive suite. Force Spike is a strong card, but in a format so heavy on 1-drops, it gets worse when you are on the draw. I also worry about this deck’s ability to close. If Quicksand and Radiant Fountain are strong enough to warrant inclusion, then I would seriously look at running Proven Combatant.
I think that this card would see far more play in the format if it were not for the fact that when it was first released on Magic Online it was bugged. A 1/1 creature barely matters but an uncounterable 4/4 is no slouch. The card also fits nicely into this style of deck since it can come down early without forcing a tapout and when it dies it provides inevitability.
Steven Keys, Top 8 at Pauper Championships
I want to close this piece out by talking about Zuberas. Two different decks based upon these Champions of Kamigawa cards showed up in Richmond. Zuberas care about the number of their kin that die in a given turn. The neat thing about them is that if you have a way to bring one back, say with an Undying Evil, and then sacrifice it again before the first death trigger resolves, the ability will see two dead Zuberas. While this may be convoluted, there are some payoffs to be found.
Evan Rabinowitsch, Pauper Championships
Zubera Storm is a weird deck. Your game plan is to sacrifice Floating-Dream Zubera enough times to draw the better part of your deck. How does it win? Ember-Fist Zubera. Once you have seen a sufficient sacrifice, you then bin your Ember-Fist to dome your opponent. To facilitate this, Zubera Storm runs the Pauper reanimator package of Exhume and Unearth, and plenty of ritual effects. The deck is powerful but a notch or two below competitive. Still, it’s incredibly exciting.
Eric Wallace, Pauper Championships
Sultai Zuberas is a value deck. Instead of trying to win with Ember-Fist Zubera, it uses Dripping-Tongue Zubera to generate an army of 1/1 Spirit tokens. The deck also runs Crypt Rats, which can not only wipe the board but also kills all of your Zuberas. Carrion Feeder is nice but without a supporting cast it cannot do the heavy lifting to kill your opponent.
The problem with the non-combo deck is the kill. It might be better served by cutting blue entirely and moving all-in on an Aristocrats style deck with Carrion Feeder and Bloodthrone Vampire. Stacking Ashen-Skin Zubera and Dripping-Tongue Zubera with Supernatural Stamina gives you a good chance of generating quite a bit of power. A single copy of the black and green Zubera that has been targeted by Stamina will generate 18 additional power on a Bloodthrone Vampire and force your opponent to discard three cards to boot. This version does lose the raw cards from Mulldrifter and Floating-Dream Zubera but is probably better at killing your opponent in a single swing. Sad as it may be, the mana in Pauper is not good enough to support a three-color midrange-aggro deck at the moment.
Richmond was a watershed moment for Pauper. While it may not have had the attendance of other events, it played out a Top 8 where some of the best decks showed up and performed as expected. So the only question that remains is when Pauper takes a step up from the sidelines to a main event.