Reflecting on Pauper Bans & Current Meta

Depending on how you look at it, MTG Pauper is a very diverse format. Like many other MTG formats, it has many playable decks, some better than others. However, regarding its health, I have some doubts.

What does the meta reflect?

Right now, there is no doubt that blue Pauper decks and aggro decks polarize the meta. While this is not bad in principle, it creates a meta that can be annoying for many players.

I don’t really know the answer to Pauper's problems, if any, but I want to point out a few lines of thought.

Burn is not dead, but Blue has the best answers for it, so those are the most prevalent decks in the meta.

  • Affinity is yet again a problem in Pauper.
  • Midrange is DEAD.
  • Golgari Gardens is not a Midrange deck.
  • Control is possible, and it works best if you run Deadly Dispute.

While other decks like Boros Synthesizer, Elves, Auras, and so on exist, they struggle 100% to win in a meta dominated by the same stuff from two+ years ago.

Of course, we have decks trying to beat the meta, like Familiars or Golgari Gardens, but we will talk about them in a second.

The Golgari Gardens Theorem

Some decks are usually not playable until the meta suddenly becomes favorable to them, or rather, they are crafted around it as “anti-meta decks,” or what I like to call the Golgari Gardens Theorem. Golgari Gardens is a deck that ranges from 12-16 removals main deck, with very few creatures, and its primary win condition is to bore you, or rather, kill everything in front and somehow win later. In other metas, like when Flicker Tron was dominant or emblems like Monarch or Initiative were played more, this deck would not have been great or playable at all. To be fair, its win rate right now is not amazing either, reaching around 48% of the top 32 in Challenges, one of the lowest win rates among other decks. It has a niche in the format right now because many of the other top decks in the meta are aggressive creature-based ones, like Azorius Affinity. With tons of removal, this deck preys on them.

A similar thing occurred with the recent rise of Jund Dredge, a deck that is strong but very susceptible to graveyard hate. However, the current meta has its hands tied to run either burn hate or artifact hate, so running graveyard hate is almost a luxury now. That, and the fact that the deck has an easier time to live thanks to the Monastery Swiftspear, makes the rise of this deck in popularity not a coincidence.

Think about it, why is Elves not seen a lot, or why did mono-green aggro suddenly disappear? It's not that the decks don’t exist anymore; it's just that the meta has pushed them away.

Banning the RIGHT cards

While I acknowledge that balancing a format is HARD, currently there’s not just one, but five to six people who are in charge of that, and they have the weight of hundreds, if not thousands, of players over their shoulders.

With that in mind, this is a reminder that the correct bans must address the underlying issue. Think about it: what do you do first if you have a flood coming from a cracked pipe in your kitchen? Put a finger on the hole or close the water supply to stop it from flooding. Doing the first will patch the issue, but the water will keep running, and if you let your finger out of the hole, the water will continue to flood the room. The latter is a step closer to fixing the issue, as no water means no flood.

The same principle can be applied to any format, and Pauper is no exception. How many cards have been banned from Affinity at this point? Atog, Disciple of the Vault, Sojourner’s Companion. Now, All that Glitters is also on the chopping board, but are those cards really the problem? Imagine if we ban Glitters now. Maybe next month, another good affinity payoff will need to be dealt with, and we will ban that card at the time.

The same thing happened with Ephemerate Tron. How many bans did it take for it to nerf it? Are we waiting for another good fix source to have it banned a few months later? Right now, the meta is too fast for it, and while not great, it's an excruciating experience for someone trying to play midrange. We are just one Mana Rock away that creates card advantage and fixes mana to have it be a problem again, but can you see the point? Why ban surrounding cards rather than addressing the underlying issue? Why keep cards like Galvanic Relay out of the format if the problem is the rituals? I know all of these are hard questions, but THIS is not an issue from a year or two back; it's an issue that Pauper has had since its conception and consolidation from MTGO.

The current Pauper banlist has many cards on it, and while most of them I agree on, are they really the main culprits or just adjacent cards that suffered from incorrect banning behavior?

Paper vs. Online

I know people will come back at this and say, " But paper is different,” and to them, I would say, “Great, does Paper run every Pauper Tournament?” Since the answer is no, both environments must be treated equally, especially since the online one is the most represented in the media.

Wrap Up

My opinions are my own, and this is truly how I feel. A format is not sustainable if it does not rely on data, and if the answer is that the format is not healthy and, as such,, the data is not trustable, then you need to fix it.

As far as I know, the only reasonable way of fixing things is addressing the underlying issue, and patching it will never solve things 100%.

Where to Play Pauper?

I have compiled a list of places to play Pauper, mostly IRL. The address may vary, but it's a helpful place to start and check if some of them are near you. They may not play Pauper daily, so asking before traveling is always a good idea.

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