At Grand Prix Las Vegas, ChannelFireball will be hosting a Pauper Championship. For fans of the format, this is a huge get as it provides a capstone to the side events that have been at Grand Prix all year. It also gives us a chance to see what the format looks like when loops can be communicated rather than clicked through, but that’s beside the point. While life prevents me from visiting Vegas for the Grand Prix, I can still share the preparation I’ve done for the event.
For years I’ve been collecting data on the Pauper metagame. The information comes from the reported results and has been less than complete for that entire time. Simply put, without access to every deck and every pairing I can only reconstruct the broad strokes of the metagame. The advent of the Pauper Challenges, however, has been a boon to my efforts. Not only do we get 32 deck lists per week, but we also get their records. Over time this has given us the opportunity to see the strata of the Pauper metagame. While some intrepid fans have pored over the replays to record every archetype, I concern myself with the lists for which we have an official account of every card.
I have a few tools at my disposal when evaluating the relative strength of decks in the Pauper metagame. Today I will be talking about Win+. Win+ measures how well a deck did against the worst placing deck in the Top 32. More often than not the bottom of the standings features a 4-3 record. That equates to a Win+ of zero, a 5-2 means a Win+ of 1, and so on. While there have been 6-round events in the past, Pauper Challenges have comfortably been seven rounds for some time now.
This measure is far from perfect. It does not take into account how the decks play against each other nor decks that fail to make the Top 32. It also cannot account for the fact that there are plenty of people who play Pauper who do not play in the Challenges or online at all. That being said, if you want to prepare for the defined metagame, it provides a solid framework.
These tiers are based upon the Pauper Challenges featuring Dominaria between April 22 and and June 3. The season is not over yet, but the top of the heap is unlikely to change too much over the next few weeks.
The Best of the Best
_DISSONANCE_, Top 4 at June 3 Pauper Challenge
After a season flying under the radar—five appearances between the release of 25th Anniversary Masters and Dominaria—Stompy has returned with a vengeance. In seven Challenges, the Green Machine has 28 appearances and a Win+ score of 29, averaging a hair better than a 5-2 finish (the equivalent of a Top 16). Stompy also leads the way in Top 8 appearances with 11 such visits to the final rounds.
Stompy is a low-to-the-ground green aggressive deck. It got a significant shot in the arm thanks to Burning-Tree Emissary leading to openings where the deck can present 6 power on the second turn of the game. Rancor is an above rate card and thanks to the interaction of Nest Invader’s Eldrazi Spawn and Hunger of the Howlpack, the deck can generate some massive threats for minimal investment. Recent builds have also moved to Silhana Ledgewalker and Elephant Guide as a way to not only go bigger, but also to lessen the impact of removal.
Stompy is vulnerable to decks that overload on removal and has trouble with decks that can go over the top quickly. The prevalence of Moment’s Peace also presents a problem, although the combination of Viridian Longbow and either Quirion Ranger or Nettle Sentinel can help get around that. Stompy is a fine choice for an open field and a deck I would not be surprised to see do well at the Pauper Championship.
HELLutek, Top 4 at June 3 Pauper Challenge
Gush is a silly Magic card. While drawing two cards at instant speed for no mana investment is good enough, Tribe Combo is Pauper’s best impersonation of Gush-Psychatog. The deck works by chaining blue cantrips together until the combination of Tireless Tribe, Inside Out, and Gush is assembled. If needed, Shadow Rift can make the discard outlet nigh unblockable. Once Inside Out has been cast, a single Gush represents 16 points of damage, meaning that any other card in hand is lethal.
This season, Tribe Combo has a Win+ of 19 against 18 appearances in the Top 32—slightly better than a Top 16 finish. It’s made the trip to the Top 8 seven times. Tribe was one of the best decks last season, with seven Top 8s and a win, but it has fallen back to the pack as players have adapted. Dead Weight, Serrated Arrows, and Gut Shot are all seeing more play as ways to stop Tribe in its tracks. The format has also adjusted, learning how to pilot existing builds against the Gush deck. Still, the allure of a true combo deck with a control shell is strong. If folks are taking the Championship seriously, expect this deck to be a presence.
SkrewYou, 1st place at May 27 Pauper Challenge
What happens when you combine cheap burn with a personal Howling Mine? You get Boros Monarch, the midrange deck of choice in Pauper. Boros Monarch is built around the efficiency of Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast as both removal and a way to end games. In order to facilitate metalcraft, the deck runs Ancient Den and Great Furnace alongside Alchemist’s Vial and Prophetic Prism. These cantrip artifacts are then used over and over thanks to both Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk. Palace Sentinels sits at the top of the curve and its enters-the-battlefield trigger makes you the Monarch. Once you have the crown you draw an extra card during your end step. The only way to lose the Monarch is if another player has a card that grants them the game piece or you take combat damage. This is why Alchemist’s Vial sees play and why many of builds also feature Prismatic Strands. Staying alive is good, but drawing cards is better. Boros Monarch can also employ a go-wide strategy with Battle Screech and Rally the Peasants.
In the season, Boros Monarch has five Top 8s and a single win. Its Win+ to volume ratio is a respectable 15 to 16. Being one of the most heavily played decks in the format, it makes sense that it is just as likely to be in the Top 16 as outside it. If you are planning to try and be aggressive you should build with Monarch’s removal suite in mind. In addition to the package of burn, they also have been known to run Journey to Nowhere.
Reddybear, 1st place at April 29th Pauper Challenge
I won’t go into too much detail about Izzet Delver since I covered it just a few weeks ago. Needless to say, the deck, while still great, isn’t having the best run of things. Despite six Top 8s and three wins, the best Gush tempo deck has a paltry Win+ of 12 against 33 appearances. This does not mean that Izzet Delver is bad, just that it is heavily played and expected. Two of the other top decks—Stompy and Boros—both have positive matchups against Izzet Delver. Their abundance during the Dominaria season probably has something to do with the less than stellar numbers. Still, this deck is gas and would be a strong option for a field like the Pauper Championship.
Mezzel, 1st place at June 3 Pauper Challenge
Again, I won’t go into much detail about Delver as I wrote at length about the deck in that same article. Delver is a rock solid deck that won two Challenges this season. Unlike the Izzet version, it does not have to make concessions to its mana base. Instead, it gets to run a plethora of Islands and reaps the rewards of rarely stranding a Counterspell.
Be sure to check out the second part of this series, Preparing for the Pauper Championship: Contenders and Fan Favorites. See you next time!