I spend too much time looking at the Pauper metagame. To help chunk my records I divide time by set release. This leads to some uneven “seasons,” depending on the release of non-Standard sets. The most recent season—Ravnica Allegiance—took place over 14 weeks with 13 open Challenges (one event was a closed invite Playoff). With War of the Spark just starting to hit the scene and Modern Horizons poised to make some changes, I think now is a good time to take stock of the metagame.
Here is every archetype that made Top 8 during the Ravnica Allegiance season (again, excluding the Playoff). This accounts for 383 of 416 decks that were posted. The decks listed in red did not meet 2% of the total metagame volume.
I’ll come back to those last two columns in a little bit.
Sandydogmtg, 1st place at April 21st Pauper Challenge
1 Ash Barrens 2 Evolving Wilds 4 Terramorphic Expanse 9 Island 2 Swamp 4 Augur of Bolas 4 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration 4 Gurmag Angler 4 Gitaxian Probe 4 Preordain 4 Brainstorm 2 Counterspell 4 Daze 1 Disfigure 3 Echoing Decay 3 Foil 3 Gush 2 Snuff Out Sideboard 2 Annul 2 Dispel 2 Hydroblast 1 Nausea 2 Relic of Progenitus 1 Shrivel 2 Soul Reap 3 Stormbound Geist
The big winner this season was Dimir Delver. It took down a full quarter of the Top 8 slots and won 5 of the 13 Challenges (as well as the Playoff). The deck has put up some absolutely gaudy numbers and it isn’t hard to see why. Dimir Delver runs two Legacy quality threats in Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler. It also has access to a bevy of cards banned in larger formats: Gush (banned in Legacy), Ponder, and Preordain (banned in Modern). Combine this with free spells like Daze, Foil, and Snuff Out, and you have a recipe for the best Pauper deck.
LORiWWA, Top 4 at April 7th Pauper Challenge
3 Ancient Den 3 Boros Garrison 3 Great Furnace 3 Radiant Fountain 2 Secluded Steppe 1 Snow-Covered Mountain 2 Snow-Covered Plains 4 Wind-Scarred Crag 4 Glint Hawk 4 Kor Skyfisher 3 Palace Sentinels 4 Thraben Inspector 2 Battle Screech 1 Faithless Looting 4 Galvanic Blast 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Prismatic Strands 3 Alchemist's Vial 4 Prophetic Prism 4 Journey to Nowhere Sideboard 2 Electrickery 2 Gorilla Shaman 2 Leave No Trace 4 Lone Missionary 4 Pyroblast 1 Standard Bearer
Kasa, 1st place at March 17 Pauper Challenge
4 Boros Garrison 2 Evolving Wilds 3 Wind-Scarred Crag 6 Mountain 6 Plains 1 Guardian of the Guildpact 2 Palace Sentinels 2 Sacred Cat 4 Seeker of the Way 4 Squadron Hawk 4 Thraben Inspector 4 Battle Screech 1 Cathartic Reunion 4 Faithless Looting 1 Electrickery 3 Lightning Bolt 4 Prismatic Strands 1 Rally the Peasants 4 Journey to Nowhere Sideboard 1 Electrickery 1 Aura Fracture 1 Circle of Protection: Blue 1 Flaring Pain 1 Gorilla Shaman 1 Lone Missionary 2 Lumithread Field 4 Pyroblast 1 Standard Bearer 2 Stone Rain
Coming in second is Boros Monarch. While traditional Boros Monarch runs a metalcraft package including Alchemist’s Vial, Glint Hawk, and Galvanic Blast, there is a second Boros deck that leans on the monarch mechanic, labeled as Bully. Where Boros Monarch is built for a slightly longer game, Bully leans on Squadron Hawk, Seeker of the Way, and Battle Screech to close out the game early with Rally the Peasants. Combined, these two decks were more popular than Dimir Delver but managed 23 total Top 8 appearances—three fewer than Dimir Delver. Boros did not win a single Challenge over the past 14 weeks.
Blaze66, 1st place at March 10th Pauper Challenge
17 Island 2 Augur of Bolas 4 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration 4 Faerie Miscreant 1 Jhessian Thief 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 4 Spellstutter Sprite 3 Gitaxian Probe 3 Ponder 4 Preordain 4 Counterspell 2 Daze 2 Gush 2 Mutagenic Growth 4 Snap Sideboard 3 Annul 3 Dispel 2 Gut Shot 3 Hydroblast 2 Serrated Arrows 2 Stormbound Geist
Delver was, by my measure, the 3rd best deck this season. Two wins and nine Top 8s in 30 appearances. While it lacks the game ending threat of a 5/5 Zombie Fish it does have access to one of the format’s best counters in Spellstutter Sprite. Backing up the Faerie package is Ninja of the Deep Hours and a suite of potent card filtering and draw that is remarkably similar to the one found in Dimir Delver.
_Shatun, 1st place at February 24th Pauper Challenge
16 Mountain 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Thermo-Alchemist 4 Chain Lightning 4 Gitaxian Probe 4 Lava Spike 4 Rift Bolt 1 Skewer the Critics 4 Fireblast 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Needle Drop 4 Searing Blaze 3 Curse of the Pierced Heart Sideboard 3 Electrickery 3 Keldon Marauders 3 Martyr of Ashes 2 Molten Rain 4 Smash to Smithereens
Burn tied Delver in Challenge wins and Top 8s but did so while showing up 41 times. The archetype has largely shifted away from Firebrand Archer to Ghitu Lavarunner, adding Gitaxian Probe to help enable the 1-drop. Burn was also the deck that benefited the most from Ravnica Allegiance with the addition of Skewer the Critics. In a deck built around a critical mass of 1-mana spells that deal 3 damage, adding another is sure to help.
Amoras27, Top 8 at February 21st Pauper Challenge
2 Bojuka Bog 2 Kabira Crossroads 4 Orzhov Basilica 2 Radiant Fountain 4 Scoured Barrens 1 Plains 8 Swamp 4 Guardian of the Guildpact 2 Palace Sentinels 3 Castigate 4 Chainer's Edict 1 Divest 2 Duress 4 Night's Whisper 2 Read the Bones 1 Diabolic Edict 2 Disfigure 1 Echoing Decay 1 Unmake 4 Pristine Talisman 2 Dead Weight 4 Pestilence Sideboard 1 Castigate 2 Duress 1 Unmake 2 Circle of Protection: Blue 2 Circle of Protection: Red 1 Evincar's Justice 4 Fragmentize 2 Nihil Spellbomb
PR0boszcz, Top 4 at April 14th Pauper Challenge
1 Ash Barrens 2 Barren Moor 2 Bojuka Bog 1 Mortuary Mire 4 Orzhov Basilica 4 Scoured Barrens 2 Secluded Steppe 3 Plains 4 Swamp 4 Arashin Cleric 3 Aven Riftwatcher 1 Crypt Rats 3 Guardian of the Guildpact 4 Kor Skyfisher 2 Palace Sentinels 4 Thraben Inspector 3 Castigate 4 Chainer's Edict 2 Prismatic Strands 2 Tragic Slip 1 Dead Weight 1 Journey to Nowhere 3 Pestilence Sideboard 1 Guardian of the Guildpact 1 Prismatic Strands 1 Diabolic Edict 3 Duress 2 Kor Sanctifiers 2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi 1 Patrician's Scorn 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Standard Bearer
Rounding out the top 5 of Ravnica Allegiance is Orzhov Monarch. There are two distinct versions of the deck, with one leaning more heavily on creatures and the other relying on removal. Both leverage Pestilence and Guardian of the Guildpact as a way to control the board and end the game. In 23 combined appearances, the black-white take on Monarch finished in the Top 8 six times.
Hellsau, Top 8 at April 14th Pauper Challenge
1 Azorius Chancery 1 Haunted Fengraf 1 Remote Isle 4 Shimmering Grotto 1 Thornwood Falls 1 Tranquil Cove 2 Unknown Shores 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 1 Dinrova Horror 3 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 4 Sea Gate Oracle 3 Stonehorn Dignitary 2 Compulsive Research 1 Capsize 1 Condescend 1 Dispel 2 Ghostly Flicker 2 Moment's Peace 2 Mystical Teachings 1 Prohibit 2 Pulse of Murasa 4 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Stonehorn Dignitary 1 Moment's Peace 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Circle of Protection: Blue 2 Circle of Protection: Red 4 Hydroblast 4 Pyroblast
A_AdeptoTerra, Top 8 at March 24th Pauper Challenge
1 Bojuka Bog 1 Remote Isle 3 Swiftwater Cliffs 3 Thornwood Falls 2 Unknown Shores 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower 1 Island 2 Dinrova Horror 2 Mnemonic Wall 4 Mulldrifter 1 Compulsive Research 1 Rolling Thunder 1 Condescend 1 Crop Rotation 1 Doom Blade 1 Echoing Decay 1 Exclude 2 Fire/Ice 2 Forbidden Alchemy 2 Ghostly Flicker 2 Moment's Peace 2 Mystical Teachings 2 Prohibit 2 Pulse of Murasa 1 Unwind 1 Dimir Signet 2 Expedition Map 4 Prophetic Prism Sideboard 1 Doom Blade 1 Moment's Peace 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Dispel 1 Electrickery 2 Hydroblast 1 Lightning Axe 3 Pyroblast 1 Stonehorn Dignitary 2 Ulamog's Crusher
Tron decks made the Top 8 five times this season. The most successful versions of Tron all use the Ghostly Flicker–Mnemonic Wall loop to repeat enter-the-battlefield triggers. With three Top 8s, the version that uses both Stonehorn Dignitary and Dinrova Horror—Flicker Tron—performed the best. Dinrova Tron—a version that only runs Dinrova Horror—had two Top 8s. Stonehorn Tron, which does not run the 4/4, had zero Top 8s in three appearances.
Two Delver-Gush decks, two Monarch decks, and Burn. This is fairly emblematic of the Ravnica Allegiance season. Drawing cards is good and the blue decks above excel at that, but then again so do the Monarch decks. While Gush is a two-for-one and Ninja of the Deep Hours represents a repeatable source of card advantage, becoming the monarch is arguably better. Being able to hold the crown for any length of time increases your advantage. All that said, with a limited data set it can sometimes be hard to determine how well an archetype is performing compared to the rest of the field.
This is where those last two columns come in.
Win+ is a metric I use to rate decks that finish in the Top 32. A finish of X-2 nets one Win+ point, X-1 two, and X-0 three. On average, decks in the Top 16 have a Win+ score of 1. The goal of Win+ is to see how decks perform against each other over time. As the ratio of Win+ to Volume approaches 1, the closer the deck is to averaging a Top 16 finish.
With that in mind, out of decks with at least 20 appearances, Dimir Delver has the best ratio at 0.84. Izzet Delver and Flicker Tron both have a ratio of 1 but do so in 13 and 8 appearances, respectively. Looking deeper, there were 289 Win+ points awarded this season and Dimir Delver earned 64 of them—over 22%.
All this is to say that Dimir Delver is the current best deck in the format and the only archetype that seems to have a chance of unseating it is Boros Monarch. Boros Monarch rose to prominence due to its ability to contain Mono-Blue Delver and was a strong check on Izzet Delver. It appears that midrange is struggling to keep pace with Dimir Delver.
Let’s look at two other charts. These collect all of the Gush decks (both Delver and combo) and Monarch decks to make Top 8 during Ravnica Allegiance season. These charts do include the Playoff.
Over the course of 14 weeks, Gush and Monarch never made up less than 50% of the Top 8 of a Pauper Challenge. On eight such occasions they combined for 6 slots. These two engines are crowding out diversity. It makes sense—drawing cards is one of the best things you can do in Pauper and both of these macro-archetypes excel in that department.
If this were a short term trend it would not be that much of an issue. But there’s another chart I want to look at. This one goes back to the release of Guilds of Ravnica and uses Win+, tracking the share of all Win+ earned by Gush and Monarch decks in that span. Here we exclude the Playoff due to its closed entrance.
The trend is clearly climbing. Over the better part of six months Gush and Monarch have increased their presence in the winner’s circle. Since September 30, 2018 these two macro-archetypes have accounted for 70% of all Win+. Pauper is poised to explode this year. Currently there is not much wiggle room at the top. You can play Gush, be the monarch, or play for second place. By keeping these cards legal, Pauper is limiting a wide number of other viable strategies. Modern Horizons is coming but I do not think new cards, even those designed to impact Modern, could keep up. It might be time for something to be added to the banned list for the sake of Pauper’s long term health.