After the WeeklyMTG ban discussion that took place on Tuesday, Pioneer and Modern have been the talk of the town. Andrew Brown and Dan Musser, two members of the Play Design Team for Wizards of the Coast, went into detail about current issues within the Pioneer and Modern formats. Changes in both formats were essentially confirmed, with hints about potential unbannings mixed in the discussion as well.
Andrew and Dan made it sound like there were going to be no changes in Standard, Legacy, or Vintage, so it makes sense that Pioneer and Modern have been the focus of speculation among the player base. One format this leaves out, however, is Pauper. Pauper is an active format, especially on Magic Online, that has had its handful of critics. Over the past couple years, the metagame has become somewhat polarizing, which has only gotten worse in recent months.
On his Twitter page, Gavin Verhey, principal MTG designer at Wizards of the Coast, announced that Pauper will be receiving a banlist update on Monday, December 4 along with the other major Constructed formats. Pauper bans work a little bit differently, as decisions are made directly by the Pauper Format Panel. This panel was created back in 2022 as a means of overseeing a format that is sometimes otherwise forgotten. Up to this point, the public has not been given much information about what may or may not be banned or unbanned in this announcement. That being said, one strategy in particular stands head and shoulders above the rest and may finally be in for a nerf.
Pauper’s Biggest Problem
If any cards are going to be banned in Pauper on Monday, they will almost certainly include at least one card from mono-red aggro strategies. Over the past couple years, we have seen a multitude of different builds of mono-red arise. Some decklists have focused more on burn spells in conjunction with Kessig Flamebreather. Others focused on using “Name Sticker Goblin” from Unfinity to generate lots of mana. More recently, heavier Artifact builds maximizing Kuldotha Rebirth have become much more powerful with the presence of Goblin Tomb Raider.
Each of these strategies have had one key card in common: Monastery Swiftspear. Monastery Swiftspear is simply an absurd card on rate when compared to the rest of the Pauper format. As a Hasty one-drop that grows as you cast more spells, it threatens a ton of damage in a short period of time.
Swiftspear is a big reason why mono-red has become such a dominant archetype. For reference, last weekend, there were two Magic Online Pauper Challenges. Among the top 32 decklists in each tournament, there were 22 mono-red builds combined. This means that over 34% of the players that made top 32 across both tournaments were playing mono-red, which is an absolutely insane number.
Beyond Monastery Swiftspear, there are a couple other cards that could be considered for bans. At this point, the Artifact-centric builds of mono-red have taken over. All 22 mono-red decklists utilized Kuldotha Rebirth alongside Experimental Synthesizer. Goblin Tomb Raider helped push this variant over the top, and a ban of Synthesizer could help nerf this strategy as a whole. Still, it seems most likely that Swiftspear will get the axe over anything given its versatility across all aggressive version of mono-red.
Other Ban Considerations
Since a bunch of cards got downshifted to common in Commander Masters, there have been a few other cards on the hot seat. All that Glitters, for instance, gave rise to new Azorius builds of Affinity. Thanks to the Artifact Lands, All that Glitters can give a massive buff to your cheap evasive threats like Ornithopter and Gingerbrute. The introduction of Cryptic Serpent into the format greatly increased the popularity of mono-blue Tolarian Terror strategies.
It is possible that the Pauper Format Panel comes to the conclusion that Pauper needs a bigger shakeup than simply banning a card from mono-red. Despite the multitude of cards from Affinity builds that have already been banned, such as Sojourner’s Companion, the deck is still very strong. However, no deck outside of mono-red has been overwhelming in regard to win rate and play rate within the Pauper metagame.
Additionally, both Myr Enforcer and Tolarian Terror see play in multiple different color combinations. Azorius and Grixis Affinity are both reasonable strategies, as are mono-blue and Dimir Terror decks. In this sense, even if these pillars of the format are strong, they are less homogenous than mono-red Swiftspear decks and seemingly less likely to see bans as a result.
Not to mention, Gavin Verhey mentioned in a video over a month ago regarding the state of the Pauper format that the overall increase in speed of the format was worth monitoring. Mono-red’s rise in popularity only compounds this issue, so a ban there seems somewhat inevitable.
Speaking of the speed of the format, Gavin Verhey mentioned in the same video that the speed of the format had pushed decks like Tron almost completely out of the metagame. As a result, there was consideration to unban Prophetic Prism to give some slower decks a bit of added consistency. Unbanning Prophetic Prism on Monday does not seem unreasonable, though I think the Pauper Format Panel may take a more cautious approach for the time being.
Assuming a ban in some capacity to mono-red does occur, the format will likely slow down at least a little. Prophetic Prism isn’t inherently overpowered, but in the context of multi-color Tron decks that already have access to Energy Refractor, the addition of Prism would add a ton of consistency in the deck’s ability to produce all colors of mana. The reality is, the Tron variants that loop Moment’s Peace can be toxic themselves in their own way.
These decks rely on dragging the game out for a long time, locking the opponent out of combat, and winning slowly via Mulldrifter beats, which is not the most enjoyable play pattern. Tron isn’t a problematic archetype at the moment, but nerfing the fastest deck in the format and simultaneously making Tron stronger with a Prism unban may not be the best idea.
If any card will get unbanned, though, it’s still most likely going to be Prism. Almost the entire Pauper banlist is made up of Storm payoffs, Initiative cards, Affinity payoffs, and abusable ways to untap mana, like Peregrine Drake. None of these cards seem safe to unban and the remaining considerations are limited. With that in mind, our prediction for Monday is that Monastery Swiftspear is banned, along with no other changes, but we are curious the direction the Pauper Format Panel takes, nonetheless.