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  • erobert

A New Style of Play the Pauper Way

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Looking for something new to try? While a select group have been having fun with new formats in Challenge matches or 2v2s among friends, the new Tournament Mode gives players powerful tools for organizing fun new formats! Anyone who has been following in game and on the discord will recognize Mythgard’s Pauper as a descendant of a format with the same name in Magic. Let’s dive into yet another contortion of this resilient Mythgard Core Set!

Getting Started in Pauper

The format is, especially at this point in the lifespan of the game itself, a little silly in obvious ways. Magic’s Pauper format took shape after officially become part of Magic Online in 2008, at which point there was more than a decade’s worth of Commons to build an unusual and robust set of decks using only cards of this rarity. The 118 unique Commons in Mythgard, on the other hand, create a rather paltry set of cards to build your decks, and this set of cards has a rather distinct set of limitations.

The specific deckbuilding rules of Mythgard, wherein cards at Mythic rarity are limited to one per deck, Rare to two, Uncommon to three, and Common to four, creates a design scheme where cards at higher rarity are justifiably more powerful than their Common counterparts. Indeed, you may notice that most control tools, mass removal, value-generating artifacts, even value-generating enchantments like Serpents Den are all at least Uncommon. Many kinds of decks are simply not possible to build in this format, and removal is at an absolute minimum, making games even more dramatically board-based, playing similarly to games in Arena and Booster Drafts.

Far from a bad thing, as Mythgard’s combat is a pretty fun board game in and of itself, this showcases different elements of the game, rewarding clever placement and strategic patterns of attack. Even more interesting, unlike limited formats, because all players are required to play only Commons, they are allowed to make decks which feature as many as four copies of any card in their deck. While the power levels of cards are obviously lower than other constructed formats, the consistency of decks can be quite dramatic!

Deck Design and Early Competition in Pauper I

As mentioned, with limited removal, many decks settled into rather midrange patterns, relying on large durable minions to both block early attackers, and to roll over them, knowing that they won’t be punished by sweeps like Misanthropia or spot removal like Spirit Away or even Vicious Cycle. Heavy hitters that had seen play in Arena, powerful Minions with native Overrun, like Volkov Heavy, or the ability to acquire Overrun, like Terragon, were heavily played in the First Pauper Test Event. Similarly most players noted well that everyone’s favorite Spirit, Hopeless Necromantic, is also common, and one of the only removal options at all, Detained, point a great deal of deckbuilding into Green. While some decks, including one in the Top 8, attempted to use Disk to dump the burliest Common Minion, red’s Mister Snuggles, but ultimately Necromantic was also simply a powerhouse at maintaining tempo and featured prominently in many Green decks.

One of the most notable Green decks which utilized these tools, Volkov Heavy and Hopeless Necromantic, but offered an even more exciting midrange spin, was Red Green Fires of Creation. Notable probably for being literally the only possible Fires of Creation deck in the format at present, this deck utilizes the only two Artifacts which exist at Common rarity, Matryoshka and Barbed Bolts. Both provide vital utility, the former helping minions win trades on crowded boards and the latter providing outright removal, as well as weakening enemy Minions to win trades. Where the Power itself becomes even more interesting, is that while forgelings often seem anemic compared to the cards you can put in your deck in standard constructed, they compare much more favorably to the average common card. Rotary Forgeling, for example is literally the only card available in current Pauper that can have Blast 2, and these Minions being a byproduct of playing your artifacts also can help you keep up a healthy set of Minions on board with Regen 2 or Armor 1.

Purple similarly offered a lot of Common powerhouses to maintain it’s midrange assault, with Racer in Shadow pulling double duty as both a removal tool and a way to sneak in final damage, and Sword Saint as a way to turn overrunning Minions into huge life swings. Ultimately the top 8 contained 5 decks featuring Green and 5 decks featuring Purple, and 0 decks that featured neither. The most successful deck, in a tournament that was accidentally single elimination, was Nosebatter’s fearsome Green Purple midrange deck. Early Minions like Racer in Shadow and Simuzen could provide effective answers to the early game, while escalating beaters from Volkov Veteran like Terragon and Volkov maintained a brutal snowball through to mid and late game. Sword Saint, as mentioned above, swings life totals dramatically, and Hopeless Necromantic even makes an appearance to maintain tempo as it blocks and takes up space on the board. Nosebatter’s deck even featured a clever removal option in Decoy.

Nosebatter’s masterpiece was far from the only deck which capitalized on these obviously powerful cards, and this motivated some question of what the format might look like with more regulation. The specific utility of large minions in a format without much removal is rather evident, but the specific added value of Terragon’s pearl, and Volkov Heavy’s Armor 1 makes them excessively efficient in Minion combat. It is maybe not surprising then that they were dramatically over represented in the top 8 and in the tournament as a whole. There were 20 Terragons in the Top 8 of Pauper I, with more than half of the decks present playing the maximum number, beating out Volkov Heavy (18) and even Detained (18)! This followed through to the rest of the tournament decks, as four cards, Terragon, Volkov Heavy, Detained, and Hopeless Necromantic, were tied for most represented with 58 copies across 32 decks. Again perhaps predictably, this translated as well to the aforementioned concentration of colors in the top 8. There are many powerful cards in Green and Purple which are well represented in decklists in the top 8, but focusing squarely on the excessively valuable and efficient five-drops feels like it prevents having to consider far too many bans of surrounding cards with interesting power levels. With removal being so sparse, the ability to plunk down a Terragon on curve on play is something that I think creates an unnecessary snowball. Rather than banning life gain instruments like sword saint (of which there were also 16 in the top 8 decklists) or value-added bounce like detained, I wanted to see if this could be managed by controlling the excessively valuable beaters.

Similarly, my general gut instinct on bans is that I’m inclined to ban things in pairs or multiples. While Terragon was the most represented card in the top 8, and maybe this singular prevalence of this card would best justify its ban, I didn’t want to simply leave a power vacuum for something else to fill. My biggest hesitation in just banning these two cards is that banning Volkov Heavy only somewhat affects RG fires, and that banning Terragon only somewhat affects BP aggro, the other decks which appeared in the top 4, but the outright dominance of Green and Purple specifically made this seem like a worthwhile premise.

Pauper II and Too Much Disk (Even for Me)

I generally expected to see a sustained push for existing decks, RG Fires, Necromantic decks, and BP Aggro, but really, only one of those assumptions was supported by the actual decklists in The Second Pauper Test Event. Fires was only used in two decks out of 24, though one of them made it into the Top 8, and Necromantic was nowhere to be seen. BP Aggro on the other hand, made a strong showing, especially as it acquired an even more powerful Path.

In Pauper I, there was a lot of discussion about how a path like Fires of Creation simply does more than staples like Journey of Souls or Turn of Seasons. While the general function of Journey of Souls is the same in Pauper, it is also simply bringing back weaker Minions, by virtue of the lower power level of cards in a deck with only Commons. Turn of Seasons grants the same guaranteed card advantage, but this has less actual value, just as in the previous example. Fires of Creation on the other hand searches for specific cards and puts playable Minions into your hand and can provide burnable cards and can regenerate your Barbed Bolts so they can keep killing opposing Minions. This reasoning also unleashed BP aggro which had a much more flexible set of options for play than Journey of Souls offered, and also saw a new deck from two very talented players, LendoKaar and KG’s own Tempest.

The capacity for card advantage in Disk of Circadia is a topic I’ve discussed before, potentially drawing a card every other turn, and with Divination 2, compared to Turn of Seasons drawing every four turns. The downside in standard constructed play is that you have to spend 2 Mana on your Power to gain this benefit, and you frequently have better things to do with 2 Mana. In Pauper, on the other hand, you may not always have a better use for two mana than using Smite on your opponent. As if this wasn’t enough, the focus in Pauper on Minion combat makes the Day side of Disk even more powerful, as you can trade up with small Minions that would normally just get bulldozed by larger Minions.

This effect is sufficiently useful with Minions like Freki Scout or Simuzen and the usual suspects in Blue Purple Aggro but Tempest and LendoKaar pushed this even further, by replacing Blue with Orange. The Slayer 1 bonus can be spread across even more minions as Eager Recruit creates it’s own Parsa Recruit token, which can either be discarded or used to set up a wide board of dorks, especially as they will never have to worry about Thunderclap or Magnus in Pauper. This wide board, which previously seemed vulnerable to large Minions like Terragon and Volkov Heavy, flourished. While Honed Edge had long been on the radar as a powerful buff spell, Juiced emerged as a perfect complement to these wide Orange boards, even taking advantage of Twinfire Zealot to double the buff from Juiced on offense.

This fast, powerful aggro attack was not the only place Orange made an appearance in the top 8, after being completely absent from the Top 8 in Pauper I, appeared in four different decks! Two identical lists from LendoKaar and Tempest, a spicy Blue Orange deck focused on midrange power cards like Aimless Vessel and Cataphract, as well as the brutal combat trick Halcyon Decree, and even an Orange splash in RG Fires of Creation to win mirrors with Xerxian Saboteur!

While the most successful decks still focused on Purple as a color, the lack of Terragon and Volkov Heavy saw Green and Purple make more room for Orange and Blue in the Top 8. Despite the prevalence of Orange and Purple, no card was as dramatically represented at Terragon had been, with a healthy mix of different Shinobis in different decks, and 12 copies of Eager recruit appearing in the top 8, though admittedly, all 12 in the top 3 decks, tied for 4-1 in five rounds of Swiss.

The diversity of Colors in the top 8, and the tournament as a whole, looked much better, but the prevalence of Disk presented a kind of problem that was more dramatic. While Disk's power seems a bit obvious, the results were even more surprising. Four decks played Disk, all four were in the top 8. It is the case that this power was concentrated in the decks of very good players, but this kind of performance stands out as maybe even more statistically unusual than the prevalence of Terragon in Pauper I. Though not nearly as dramatic, it seems similarly relevant to me that only two decks featured Fires of Creation, but one of them was in the top 8 (that is to say, a Path used by ~4% of total decks in the event represented 16.666% of the Top 8).

I have many concerns about simply executing a deck because it is good, and being judicious with bans I think requires a light touch moving forward. While Necromantic really relies on the trick of Disk of Circadia dumping a Minion early, the function in the decks in Pauper II was really more as a simply better version of Turn of Season, getting ambient value from Disk flips and Smite while just generating lots of card advantage. It seems highly likely to me that Orange Purple aggro will still be very good with Journey of Souls, just not insurmountably so in so many different kinds of matchups.

Similarly, I think that high powered paths are something that will be easier to regulate in this format than trying to control them through banning cards. Disk and Fires simply do a lot more than other paths, providing draw, damage, and promoting trades with the former, and for the latter, providing a stack of removal options (in a format starved for removal) and playable minions that make that removal renewable. Add in that Matryoshka (often necessarily paired with Trapezist) is a card which snowballs incredibly well when you play it before your opponent, and we see a lot of play patterns that I’m not convinced are healthy for the format.

Generally speaking, as I've outlined before, I don't really like banning just one thing unless it prevents a singular problem, as something will step in to fill that power vacuum. Fires of Creation was contained in Pauper II by the proliferation of aggro (with the most successful versions featuring Disk of Circadia) after banning Terragon and Volkov Heavy, but it was also just dramatically underplayed, so it's unclear what that would look like. It’s possible that Pauper III will be overrun with Fires of Creation, but I think that simply saying that that deck should not exist (even though I suspect Matryoshka has a home in decks without Fires of Creation) is at this point, premature, especially as Forgelings are vulnerable to bounce and there is actually dedicated Artifact hate in an Orange splash for Xerxian Saboteur.

Who Watches the Watchlist

I am greatly looking forward to Pauper III and in addition to Fires of Creation, there are a few things which are being looked at for future balance concerns. Honed Edge was the most played card in the Top 8 of Pauper II, even though the only one of the three top decks even played Blue! Just as in Arena, the ability to buff a Minion such that it wins a trade, does excess damage, and generally snowballs out of control, is very powerful, especially in a format with so little removal. Juiced similarly provides a very big buff, and can easily swing games for the player that is mostly quickly able to leverage this buff to Minions, and may prove to be a problem in future events.

So let’s all get out there for Pauper III and get some things BANNED! I mean, let’s all have some fun and enjoy some coin! As we have seen this event get more and more competitive, I am happy to say that we are moving out of strictly testing and toward a prize structure that will pay out handsomely for being the most cunning pauper!

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