On Monday, May 20th, 2019, Daze, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush were banned from Pauper. While I believed Gush warranted a ban, the addition of Daze and Gitaxian Probe caught me by surprise. Ian Duke cited the way these three cards interacted with other powerful blue cards like Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm to allow blue tempo builds—Delver decks—to increase their density of spells. Each of these cards did something slightly different for blue decks, but in concert they contributed to dominance.
Gitaxian Probe picked up steam as a ban candidate in the run up to May 20th. Effectively a free spell, the cantrip provided perfect information and replaced itself. In Dimir Delver, this helped to speed out Gurmag Angler while also helping to plot out the Delver player’s defenses. In decks like Tireless Tribe Combo, it gave a peek to see if the coast was clear. It also has had a home in Burn for the better part of a year as a way to enable Ghitu Lavarunner. All of this while not requiring any mana investment and providing a fresh card. Gitaxian Probe made it easier to flip Delver of Secrets by running more spells and not reducing a deck’s effective land count. The card is now banned in three non-rotating formats: Modern, Legacy, and Pauper.
If there were whispers about Gitaxian Probe, then any mention of Daze was straight out of A Quiet Place. This one caught me and other members of the Pauper community completely off-guard. Daze has been part of the format for so long—since Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra was released on Magic Online back in 2008—that it flew completely under the radar. It shouldn’t have. Daze might not be as impressive as Force of Will in the free counter department, but as Ian Duke noted, it removed any sense of “shields down.” A blue deck could tap out without fear in the early turns of the game and still have a way to stop an opponent’s threat. Ian Duke cited Daze as reducing interactive game play, which seems odd for a purely reactive spell. But in the early game the best way to interact with Daze is to have your own copy. One of the the issues with Pauper as of late was the complete dearth of aggressive strategies. As these decks live and die on their 2-drops, having Daze in the format presented yet another roadblock to their success. Why bother trying to commit a threat on the second turn of the game if there’s a great chance it is going to get Dazed?
In concert, Daze, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush allowed Delver and other blue decks to run fewer actual mana sources and still hit their land drops, see more cards than their opponents, and limit their ability to interact. Play Design had a plethora of options to help reduce the dominance of blue. They opted to take out the free spells.
Notably, the monarch survived unscathed. While Thorn of the Black Rose and Entourage of Trest have yet to make waves, Palace Sentinels is the backbone of various midrange decks running white. As noted in the announcement, monarch helps to promote variety and gives these decks a fighting chance against other midrange and control decks. Monarch decks preyed on Delver style decks, but the combination of Prismatic Strands and Palace Sentinels also helped to keep aggressive strategies at bay. Now that Daze has left the format, beatdown decks could make a comeback. Monarch decks often take the second turn off to either develop their mana base with a tapland or play a Prophetic Prism. If there are more 2-drops running around, taking the second turn off may be costly.
The other thing that may help to keep monarch in check is a rise in Tron decks. In the old metagame, Tron decks were kept down by aggressive Delver strategies and their suite of countermagic. Tron is capable of going over Monarch and using the abundance of mana to invalidate the surplus of cards. Now that Delver decks have been weakened, some fear that Tron could emerge as the new apex predator. While I do believe that Tron will help to contain monarch strategies, I also think that despite Tron’s reliance on Moment’s Peace, aggressive decks could help to limit the impact of Tron. The cost of running a Tron mana base is high in Pauper as there is no analog for Sylvan Scrying. As such, the popular Tron decks are not pure “over the top” decks like their Modern counterparts but instead they attempt to race toward the mana engine to enact a Ghostly Flicker lock. But this limits the number of slots to affect the board. The best Tron decks from week to week are going to be those that are able to pack the correct removal while the best aggressive decks are going to be those that stay a step ahead.
So what decks on life support get a second wind? Stompy and Affinity are poised to make waves early. Stompy is a deck based around 2-drops and has access to Burning-Tree Emissary openings. Augur of Bolas into Daze was such a beating against the green deck that it all but vanished from the format. While the green deck will still struggle against monarch decks, especially those with access to Standard Bearer, for the first time in almost two years it will have a chance to compete.
Affinity never really went away but it is hardly the dominant force it was in the past. Affinity relies on early 4/4s to get the job done when Atog and Fling cannot. Now that the premier Gurmag Angler deck has been cut off at the knees it is possible for Carapace Forgers and Myr Enforcers to be together forever again.
Week 1 in this new format is going to be interesting. Delver is not the powerhouse it has been in the past, but is far from dead. Beyond that, not much is known. For the first time in a long time, Pauper is wide open. My advice? Be prepared to kill 4-toughness creatures. Grasp of Darkness and Flame Slash seem to be well positioned and Heartfire could see some play. Gurmag Angler is not going anywhere, but Palace Sentinels, Dinrova Horror, and maybe even Spire Golem are going to be key threats. Regardless, Pauper is never going to be the same again. And that’s amazing.