Pauper Championships Breakdown

It’s prime time for Pauper. The Pauper Champs at Grand Prix Las Vegas attracted over 200 players, and in the end Izzet Delver won the day.

But that’s only part of the story.

Today I want to look at the Top 8 lists from that tournament and compare the metagame from Las Vegas to the wider world of Pauper. A few quick notes:

  • ChannelFireball attempted to send me all 200+ deck lists via post. Due to logistics that was not able to happen.
  • Pauper Champs was 5 rounds with a cut to Top 8. Given the size of the tournament, a true Swiss would have pushed it to 8 rounds and then a cut to the elimination rounds. When Pauper Champs happens next time, I would like to see a full Swiss cut.

With that out of the way, let’s look at our Top 8!

  • 3 copies of Izzet Delver (including both decks in the finals)
  • Dimir Teachings (top of the standings after 5 rounds)
  • Burn
  • Elves
  • Songs of the Damned Combo
  • Mono-Black Control (creatureless)

In many ways this looks very similar to the Pauper metagame from the Magic Online Challenges, with Izzet Delver, Burn, and Elves performing well while also looking dramatically different with Teachings, Mono-Black, and Songs Combo. Part of this may be due to the nature of the field, nearly double the size of the largest Challenge. It is possible that some of these decks would have fallen by the wayside given a normal Swiss tournament. A deck like Songs of the Damned Combo shows up in Pauper from time to time but has a hard time against disruption.

Songs of the Damned Combo

Corby Waterscheid, Top 8 at Pauper Champs

Songs Combo works like this: cycle a ton of creatures into your graveyard and then use Songs of the Damned to generate lots of black mana. Feed the mana to a Consume Spirit for the win or use Gnaw to the Bone to gain a ton of life, then feed the mana to Crypt Rats for the win. Corby leaned on Grisly Salvage to help find Crypt Rats. Pit Keeper is a nice inclusion as well, but I wonder if Morgue Theft might be a better option. I am not up to date on Songs Combo as it is largely a fringe player and has only a few results of note to its name. Decks like this are cool but I am not sure how well it holds up in a metagame featuring a healthy dose of Counterspell.

Dimir Teachings

Jesse Adams, Top 4 at Pauper Champs

Speaking of Counterspell, here we have Dimir Teachings. Mystical Teachings is what you would call a really good card. It allows the deck to run a tool box of instant-speed answers and card draw, including four copies of Accumulated Knowledge. Interestingly enough, Jesse ran zero copies of Chainer’s Edict. The deck is sweet but the biggest problem is winning the game. Online, some players have taken to running a main deck in excess of 75 cards so that they can more reliably deplete their opponent’s library. While Jesse ran a single copy of Curse of the Bloody Tome, they also had two copies each of Evincar’s Justice and Pristine Talisman. Justice is one of Pauper’s best board wipes and using two copies of Talisman to help pay for buyback means that the deck can slowly pull ahead on life totals.

Despite the power of running nothing but answers, Teachings decks still face an uphill climb. On top of the weak win condition, it is possible for the deck to fall behind on board. Justice is one of the best board wipes but still can only hit for 2 damage. Against threats that have been enhanced with Elephant Guide or Hunger of the Howlpack, or even against a Kor Skyfisher, Justice won’t be served. Teachings has a hard time playing catch up—it can if it draws enough removal but even then it is possible for the deck to get overrun.

Corrupt Control

Shawn Stokes, Top 8 at Pauper Champs

Mono-Black Control normally is a creature-based midrange deck that uses Phyrexian Rager and Chittering Rats to grind out value before ending the game with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Shawn eschewed creatures entirely and instead relied on Corrupt and Consume Spirit to end games. Here we also see the Pristine Talisman and Evincar’s Justice “combo.” This deck also includes Pestilence, another sweeper. Here, it is a bit out of place.

Most Pestilence decks feature high-toughness creatures so that the Urza’s Saga standout can stick around. Palace Sentinels, Guardian of the Guildpact, Gurmag Angler, and good old Gray Merchant of Asphodel all fit the bill. Yet Shawn has no creatures main and a lone Gurmag Angler in the sideboard. In other words, he was relying on a creature-heavy metagame to make the card function, or to run it as a Fireball with a base cost of 4 mana. Being able to accelerate into your haymakers via Wayfarer’s Bauble also helps out.

Building your plan around Corrupt has some problems. First, Counterspell is heavily played—there were 16 copies in this Top 8 alone. Second, Pauper is a fairly fast format and it is possible to lose quickly, even with all of the removal available. By and large people are ready for removal, whether they are packing Young Wolf or Stormbound Geist, so overloading isn’t always the best plan. Couple with that the same issue that plagues Teachings—the struggle to play catch-up—and you have a deck that may not be as successful in other events.


Mark Douglass, Top 8 at Pauper Champs

Mark got a tough break. Elves has a great matchup against Izzet Delver but struggles against every other deck in the Top 8. Facing off against the Dimir Teachings player in the Quarterfinals was basically a death blow. Still, Elves is a top deck that won the Pauper event at SCGCon the week before Vegas. Kendra Smith, noted Elf pilot and Pauper player, is no slouch (she went undefeated Day 1 of the Standard Grand Prix Seattle) with a different build.

Mark opts to go mono-green, with no copies of Distant Melody. Instead, he relied entirely on Lead the Stampede to reload. Lead is a great card that allows the deck to better recover from board wipes. Elves plays a lot like its Modern counterpart except without Heritage Druid and Wirewood Symbiote it leans on Birchlore Rangers and Priest of Titania. Elves does not win with multiple Ezuri, Renegade Leader activations.

Instead, it pairs Quirion Ranger with Timberwatch Elf to attack for a ton, grow an Elvish Vanguard, or use a mana abundance to move Viridian Longbow around to plenty of tokens.

Elves is hit hardest by sweepers. Electrickery is a nightmare (just see the main deck Spidersilk Armor) and Evincar’s Justice can undo turns of hard work. The benefit of Elves is that its Birchlore Rangers mana base makes it easy to run multiple sideboard bullets like Mob Justice to break board stalls. Green also has great tools to fight the hate in Wrap in Vigor and Magnify. Still, Innocent Blood into Disfigure into Evincar’s Justice is hard to beat for the pointy-eared army.


Andrew Chaux, Top 8 at Pauper Champs

Burn got a shot in the arm from Dominaria in the form of Ghitu Lavarunner. Being able to cast a Lava Spike on turn 1, and following it up with a Chain Lightning and a Lavarunner on the second turn can put your opponent on the back foot quick. Andrew, however, opted to go with the other creature suite of Thermo-Alchemist and Firebrand Archer. This duo gives every spell an extra point of damage each and while they may not deal as much damage early in the game, they can really stack up the pain later on.

There is not much to say about Burn and I don’t mean that as a knock on the deck. It is quite potent and can catch unprepared opponents completely by surprise. Burn is one of the most powerful decks in the format when left unanswered.

Izzet Delver

Jon Clancy, 1st place at Pauper Champs

Izzet Delver

Julio Murillo, Finalist at Pauper Champs

Izzet Delver

Paxton Smith, Top 4 at Pauper Champs

Three of the four decks in the Top 4 were Izzet Delver. The deck was on both sides of the finals. Out of the 203 reported deck lists, 13 were Izzet Delver. Just over 6% of the field, and the deck was 37.5% of the Top 8. All three were undefeated (two 5-0s, one 4-0-1) and the conversation rate from played to undefeated was 23.1%.

That’s a little absurd.

Granted, running a 203-person tournament for 5 rounds definitely factored into this result but it is very hard to deny that the deck is one of the better, if not the best, decks in the format. Izzet Delver gets to run Vintage and Legacy quality cantrips while also having access to Spellstutter Sprite and Counterspell. To top it off, blue decks get Ash Barrens, which when paired with Brainstorm and Gush has an almost trivial cost.

When comparing the metagame from Pauper Champs to the Top 32 results of the last ten Pauper Challenges on Magic Online we see some similarities. For the sake of space, I’m only looking at the ten most popular archetypes from each set. Many of the same decks are popular in both realms—Izzet Delver, Elves, Boros Monarch, Stompy—the paper world leaned toward heroic and hexproof while the digital one favored Tron. Still, these results show a format with a well defined top tier and decks to beat.

So how are you going to approach the Pauper metagame? Are you going to try and beat Izzet Delver or are you going to forage for some Snow-Covered Islands?


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