On Saturday, March 2nd, Max Forlini qualified for Mythic Championship London in a Pauper Qualifier at MagicFest Los Angeles. If you had asked me two years ago whether I thought there would ever be Pauper format Pro Tour/Mythic Championship feeder event my answer would have been a resounding “no.”

Yet in the past two years the format has experienced explosive growth and recognition. Due to The Professor’s staunch support, ChannelFireball’s numerous Pauper events at Grand Prix in 2018, and increased importance in the race for the Magic Online Championship Series, we have this:

I cannot wait to see where Pauper goes from here.

Let’s look at the Top 8 decks.

Tortured Existence

Paul Jasinto

7 Swamp
4 Forest
4 Jungle Hollow
3 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Barren Moor
1 Ash Barrens
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Tranquil Thicket
4 Golgari Brownscale
3 Stinkweed Imp
3 Grave Scrabbler
3 Fume Spitter
2 Spore Frog
2 Crypt Rats
1 Wickerbough Elder
1 Tilling Treefolk
1 Thoughtpicker Witch
1 Wild Mongrel
1 Perilous Myr
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Liliana's Specter
1 Gurmag Angler
1 Horror of the Broken Lands
4 Commune with the Gods
4 Tortured Existence
1 Vessel of Nascency
1 Gnaw to the Bone
1 Dead Weight

Sideboard
2 Caustic Caterpillar
2 Faceless Butcher
1 Mesmeric Fiend
1 Dead Weight
1 Death's-Head Buzzard
1 Penumbra Spider
1 Gnaw to the Bone
1 Spore Frog
1 Thorn of the Black Rose
1 Raven's Crime
1 Crypt Rats
1 Chainer's Edict
1 Faerie Macabre

Tortured Existence is one of my favorite cards in Pauper. It is one of the only engines available in the format and provides the opportunity to take a toolbox approach to the metagame. Paul’s list differs from my own but the overarching concept is the same: grind the game out. Paul runs the Spore Frog lock, which makes sense in an open metagame (but wasn’t enough to overcome Max in the semifinals), and Thoughtpicker Witch. While I have not been a fan of the Witch to this point, Paul’s expert use of the card against Flicker Tron in the quarterfinals is going to force me to reexamine the sacrifice outlet as a way to fight some problem matchups.

Flicker Tron

Jason Ames

3 Shimmering Grotto
2 Unknown Shores
2 Thornwood Falls
1 Tranquil Cove
2 Remote Isle
1 Haunted Fengraf
4 Urza's Tower
4 Urza's Power Plant
4 Urza's Tower
3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Stonehorn Dignitary
4 Mulldrifter
3 Mnemonic Wall
1 Dinrova Horror
2 Ghostly Flicker
2 Pulse of Murasa
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Mystical Teachings
3 Moment's Peace
1 Capsize
1 Prohibit
1 Condescend
4 Expedition Map
4 Prophetic Prism

Sideboard
4 Pyroblast
4 Hydroblast
2 Circle of Protection: Red
2 Circle of Protection: Blue
1 Moment's Peace
1 Curse of Chains
1 Dinrova Horror

Jason Ames ran a fairly standard Flicker Tron deck. The deck belongs to a family of Ghostly Flicker lock strategies that diverge based on their end game. Stonehorn Tron (sometimes called Fog Tron), ignores Dinrova Horror and instead wins with Mulldrifter beats or milling the opponent with Compulsive Research. Dinrova Tron omits Stonehorn Dignitary and instead tries to Upheaval the opponent. Flicker Tron blends the two.

Despite going out in the quarterfinals, Jason’s deck was advantaged in the Tortured Existence matchup and is a real powerhouse. This stripe of Tron decks is less about big mana plays and more about racing to the endgame, which tend to be a demoralizing prison lock. Once Mnemonic Wall, Ghostly Flicker, and Dinrova Horror are active it can be extremely hard to crawl out from underneath the lock.

Mono-Blue Flash

Steven Keys

3 Lonely Sandbar
4 Quicksand
1 Radiant Fountain
14 Island
2 Sentinels of Glen Elendra
4 Pestermite
2 Spire Golem
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Repulse
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Counterspell
4 Exclude
4 Think Twice
2 Condescend
4 Force Spike

Sideboard
2 Annul
1 Curfew
3 Dispel
4 Hydroblast
1 Boomerang
3 Gut Shot
1 Faerie Macabre

Steven Keys named his deck “Oops, All Instants” but it is far more similar to various mono-blue control decks that have existed for the better part of Pauper’s history. Playing a strategy based around operating at instant speed, Keys included counters, threats, and card draw. Draw, go is a viable strategy but I wonder if the deck would have benefited from running Faerie Invaders over Sentinels of Glen Elendra to fight Kor Skyfisher. I also think this deck would have loved a single copy of Whispers of the Muse, now a common thanks to Tempest Remastered.

Steven had a nightmare matchup in the quaterfinals as this deck cannot interact with a hexproof creature once it is on the board in game 1. The low curve of Bogles also meant it would be relatively easy to overload the wall of counters.

Zombies

John Poglodzinski

2 Barren Moor
1 Bojuka Bog
19 Swamp
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Festering Mummy
3 Gempalm Polluter
4 Ghoulraiser
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Shambling Goblin
4 Sultai Emissary
3 Chainer's Edict
3 Ghoulcaller's Chant
2 Nameless Inversion
3 Sign in Blood
2 Vicious Offering
1 Pestilence

Sideboard
1 Chainer's Edict
4 Choking Sands
2 Crypt Creeper
3 Duress
1 Pestilence
4 Shepherd of Rot

I love a good Zombie deck and John Poglodzinski’s list has a lot going for it. Considering the abundance of Burn in the online metagame running up to the Mythic Qualifier, moving Shepherd of Rot to the sideboard was an inspired decision. I would have liked to see Rakdos Carnarium or another black bounceland to help facilitate Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Chainer’s Edict, but all told this list is a good starting point. John just so happened to run into a tough matchup in the quarterfinals and while the Familiars matchup is winnable, it is helped by having access to Shepherd of Rot in game 1.

Burn

Josh Rose

18 Mountain
4 Thermo-Alchemist
4 Ghitu Lavarunner
4 Searing Blaze
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Skewer the Critics
4 Fireblast
4 Lava Spike
4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
2 Shard Volley

Sideboard
2 Electrickery
4 Molten Rain
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Flaring Pain
2 Keldon Marauders
3 Pyroblast

Josh Rose’s deck looks like a typical Burn list. It has Thermo-Alchemist and Ghitu Lavarunner for creatures, Lightning Bolt and its ilk, and newcomer Skewer the Critics. Josh, however, is not running a card that is incredibly popular online: Gitaxian Probe. I think Josh is correct. Gitaxian Probe helps to set up early Ghitu Lavarunner but it comes at the expense of a burn spell. In order for Gitaxian Probe to equal 3 damage it needs to be used in concert with Lava Spike or Rift Bolt to enable a Ghitu Lavarunner, and then have that Lavarunner connect three times.

Dimir Delver

William Yoder

8 Snow-Covered Island
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Ash Barrens
3 Evolving Wilds
3 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration
4 Gurmag Angler
4 Augur of Bolas
1 Stormbound Geist
4 Brainstorm
4 Preordain
3 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gush
2 Counterspell
3 Foil
4 Daze
3 Echoing Decay
2 Snuff Out
1 Spell Pierce
1 Disfigure
2 Nausea
2 Annul
2 Hydroblast
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Curse of Chains
3 Dispel
2 Stormbound Geist
1 Gut Shot

William Yoder’s Dimir Delver deck is fairly stock. Running some of the most powerful cards in the format, it wants to get ahead and stay ahead. Luis Scott-Vargas hit the nail on the head when talking about the deck on stream so I recommend going back and watching the semifinal matchup. One issue that stuck out to me was the discussion of the low threat count in the build. I happen to agree and have long supported using Elusive Spellfist in place of Augur of Bolas as a way to chip in for more damage.

Familiars

Joseph Hourani

1 Mortuary Mire
4 Azorius Chancery
2 Dimir Aqueduct
2 Plains
2 Island
4 Snow-Covered Island
2 Terramorphic Expanse
3 Ash Barrens
4 Sunscape Familiar
4 Mulldrifter
3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 God-Pharaoh's Faithful
3 Mnemonic Wall
1 Sage's Row Denizen
4 Preordain
2 Ponder
3 Kirtar's Desire
4 Deep Analysis
4 Snap
3 Ghostly Flicker

Sideboard
4 Stonehorn Dignitary
2 Guard Duty
1 Kirtar's Desire
3 Dispel
3 Hydroblast
2 Aven Riftwatcher

Joseph Hourani is one of the best Pauper players on Magic Online when he bothers to play. He has been playing his “Flicker Fam” for years and is always miles ahead of the field when it comes to technology for his Familiars deck. Here the key addition was Kirtar’s Desire as a cheap way to render opposing Gurmag Anglers and Insectile Aberrations useless. The deck is a well oiled machine and despite the messy board state, watching Joseph play it is a lesson on how it’s done. He knows how much damage he can afford and in his semifinal win navigates a game loss in a way that the right card would have won him the game.

Bogles

Max Forlini

15 Forest
3 Crumbling Vestige
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Slippery Bogle
1 Silhana Ledgewalker
2 Heliod's Pilgrim
4 Ancestral Mask
4 Armadillo Cloak
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Utopia Sprawl
4 Abundant Growth
3 Commune with the Gods
2 Unbridled Growth
2 Cartouche of Strength
2 Rancor
1 Cartouche of Solidarity

Sideboard
3 Flaring Pain
2 Gut Shot
2 Mutagenic Growth
2 Dispel
2 Gorilla Shaman
1 Lifelink
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Silhana Ledgewalker
1 Dawn Charm

Max won the event and the invite to the Mythic Championship in London. Bogles—also called Hexproof—excels when there are no Chainer’s Edicts running around and Max managed to dodge that side of the bracket. The big innovation in this build is the complete lack of Blossoming Sands. Instead the deck relied on Utopia Sprawl, Abundant Growth, Unbridled Growth, and Crumbling Vestige to make white mana. While both Vestige and Unbridled Growth have seen play in the deck before, there was always at least one native white mana source. Unbridled Growth made it easier to run certain sideboard all-stars like Gorilla Shaman and Dispel.

Max also skimped on Rancor and Silhana Ledgewalker, which seems wrong at first glance but merits testing. This build has already had an impact online where the Pauper Challenge on March 3rd featured numerous copies of Bogles inspired by Max’s build. Still, I think moving forward the deck will want at least one land that can naturally produce white.

There you have it—the Top 8 of the first Pauper Mythic Qualifier. Notably, the elimination rounds were not dominated by the current monsters-under-the-bed in Gush and Monarch. Does this mean the cards aren’t as powerful as this author has made them out to be? I’m not sure. This tournament used modified Swiss and the cut to Top 8 took place after the fifth round, despite the 186 player count. The diversity on display is heartening but I wouldn’t say Wizards’ work is done here just yet.

It is also important to note that two of the decks that made the elimination rounds—Tortured Existence and Familiars—are underplayed online compared to their strength due to how click intensive they are. Loops involving two Golgari Brownscale or Snap can be time intensive and eat away precious seconds. It is much easier to demonstrate a loop in tabletop, which creates another wrinkle. It isn’t that these decks are bad—far from it—they just suffer from the user interface.

March 11th is the next round of Banned and Restricted List updates. Pauper has an equal shot at having something axed as it does going unchanged. Regardless of what happens, I am happy to be playing Magic in a world with more eyes on Pauper.