A lot of top Pauper players and content creators are taking a step back from the format and their reasons are all very similar – Pauper has become quite stale. Today, I will break down the data that supports their claims and share the opinions of those players on how to fix this issue.
The Issue With the Meta
Thanks to the Pauper Challenge Project, we have matchup data and total win rates for many of the MTGO Pauper Challenges. This data does show a 49-50% win rate for Kuldotha Red, but that is a bit deceptive when the deck is topping most events. This data also shows that Bogles and Dimir Terror are the only reasonably positioned decks that are favored versus Kuldotha. Affinity has a decently high win rate of around 54-56% and is slightly favored or even versus all the other top decks. This is an issue because it creates a meta where if you want to win, you have to play Kuldotha or Affinity or a deck that beats one of those two very well.
“It pains me, but I think Pauper is in a pretty bad spot right now”
“It is really hard to play anything that is not Red… or Affinity or I guess Blue-Black Terror”“WHY IM QUITTING PAUPER” – 420dragon
“After playing, following and analyzing data; I think Kuldotha and Affinity are (more or less) equally unbalanced. Everyone else is playing a different format”– PyotrPavel
“I believe that the format is in bad shape due to Affinity and Kuldotha clearly having a power level way higher than the other decks in the format”– Adepto
Since the last banning (September 19, 2022), there have been 34 Pauper Challenges and 1 Super Qualifier and 1 Qualifier. The most successful decks of those 36 events were:
Affinity with 56 spots in Top 8’s (including wins) and 9 event wins (including winning both the Super Qualifier and the Qualifier)
Kuldotha Red with 38 spots in Top 8’s (including wins) and 7 event wins
The only deck close is Dimir Terror with 35 spots in Top 8’s (including wins) and 4 event wins. This deck was designed to compete with Kuldotha but has trouble with Affinity.
Kuldotha and Affinity are a combined approximate 30% of the competitive meta. If you add Terror, you get to nearly 40% of the meta between these 3 decks.
The Problematic Decks
“I think something may need to be done about Kuldotha Red and Affinity”– Raptor56
“Affinity and Kuldotha Red greatly strain sideboard slots. A lot of decks have to dedicate 10+ slots to make those matches playable, meaning you can’t cover many other matchups post-board”– Kampo
A lot assumed with the latest bans of Atog (January 20, 2022) and Disciple of the Vault (March 7, 2022), Affinity would finally be more beatable but that ended up being far from the truth. Affinity is once again the top deck with the printings of Deadly Dispute (printed on July 23, 2021 but only became stock for Affinity after Atog ban) and Reckoner's Bargain (February 18, 2022) pushing Affinity to be too strong for the format.
The sheer amount of cards Affinity draws between Thoughtcast, Deadly Dispute, Reckoner's Bargain and with cards like Ichor Wellspring being sacrificed to the latter 2 is very hard for other decks to keep up with. This, along with most of their threats being free or cost very little makes it hard for opponents to survive. Even if you manage to kill these threats, they can return them back to hand with Blood Fountain and easily recast them. This amount of value is very hard to race.
Many players are calling for Affinity bans but there seems to be a lot of different possible approaches on exactly what needs to go:
“I think there are a couple of directions possible:– PyotrPavel
1) Ban all the Mirrodin (untapped artifact) lands -> This weakens Affinity because it becomes slower, while also making Kuldotha worse because they don’t get to use Galvanic Blast and Kuldotha Rebirth as freely. Both decks (Affinity & Kuldotha) will still be strong. Kuldotha will suffer less, but it is much easier to hate out Red.
2) Ban all the Bridges (tapped artifact dual lands) -> This will nerf Affinity the most but it allows room for midrange piles to prey on Kuldotha. The double and triple swiftspear draws will always be a pain, but one can make a pile of midrange cards that can outlast red decks without their pile being completely obliterated by Affinity. Caw Gates, Familiars and other control-ish decks won’t need to dedicate 3-4 slots for Dust to Dust and another couple of slots for Revoke Existence and/or Gorilla Shaman.
3) Ban Deadly Dispute and Experimental Synthesizer -> This is Raptor56‘s suggestion and it would greatly hinder the card advantage capabilities of both decks, which in turn makes them closer in power level to everyone else. I think this is a well rounded choice, especially if all the lands are ‘sacred’. This is quite believable considering the Tron lands weren’t banned almost a year ago”
“(I would like to see) all artifact (tapped) dual lands OR all artifact untapped lands get banned”
“I believe banning the untapped (artifact) lands would nerf both Affinity and Mono-Red (Kuldotha)“– Kampo
“My guess is that Mono-Red (Kuldotha), while maybe a bit too strong (in the current meta), could be very beatable in a different meta. However, Affinity is definitely just too powerful to remain untouched.
I see four possibilities here:
1) Ban bridges: This would make Affinity still somewhat unfair but it becomes much easier to hate with cards like Gorilla Shaman. As a downside of banning bridges, you also (effectively) ban all those cute Cleansing Wildfire decks.
2) Ban Mirrodin artifact lands: There is some risk that makes affinity just too slow to be playable but they could also unban Sojourner's Companion to soften it up. As an upside it would deal some moderate splash damage to Kuldotha.
3) Ban Blood Fountain: Blood Fountain is the most important card against UB Terror, an overall good deck that is able to beat Kuldotha but gets pushed out of the top tables by Affinity.
4) Ban Krark-Clan Shaman: This card doesn’t allow go-wide decks to exist – it’s just too scary to play a deck like Elves or Bushwacker Goblins Krark-Clan Shaman around.
Personally I’d like to see both Blood Fountain and Krark-Clan Shaman banned. I think it’s important to broaden the meta, yet keep Affinity and Kuldotha in the top tiers. With other bans, it is possible we quickly end up in a Tron/Gates/Ephemerate meta which is probably the least fun of all the Pauper’s repeating iterations”– Medvedev
“I strongly believe that banning the lands, both from MH2 and Mirrodin, could be right. This would allow them (to consider) unbans of Sojourner's Companion, Atog and other Affinity cards”– Adepto
Kuldotha Red is the latest version of Burn in Pauper. The deck has super aggressive and explosive starts with Monastery Swiftspear and Kuldotha Rebirth that a lot of decks cannot come back from. It can survive and win longer games frequently beating 1-2 board wipes in the process. It does this with card advantage provided from Experimental Synthesizer and Reckless Impulse. This makes Kuldotha rather hard to “hate out”.
“The red deck has one of the most powerful starts in Pauper with the Swiftspear draws. They pressure the opponent immediately and generally would be handled through normal Hydroblast or removal strategies. However, the deck has a side angle of Kuldotha Rebirth, which makes (1 for 1) removal and Hydroblast (after Kuldotha Rebirth resolves) bad against it. The prowess creatures effectively do what Thermo-Alchemist did in Burn previously but at a better rate. They make any spell get in for extra chip damage. When you combine the creatures with actual burn (spells) and multiple Divination-like effects, there are almost unlimited threats”
“The problem for the opponent is that starting on turn 1 you’re under the gun, and any misstep leads to certain death”
“The very high ceiling of Synth Burn (Kuldotha) makes it appealing to a large amount of people. Yet the ceiling doesn’t always happen, and some pilots are unskilled. Additionally, the entire format is trying to hate the deck out. All of these combined keep the win rate at a “reasonable” level (while still winning tournaments)”
“The extremely high prevalence of the deck combined with the high draws being so extreme make actually playing pauper a poor experience”– Kalikaiz
“It does not matter how good you build your deck to beat Kuldotha Red. If they have a good hand, you can still lose”– Kampo
Kuldotha Red is built in a few different versions, making it even harder to sideboard or play versus. You can find a couple examples below:
Kuldotha is 16-20% of the competitive meta and likely even more played in leagues. A common complaint from players trying to test or practice in leagues is that they face it an average of 2-3 times per 5 matches. Innovating in a format where you only face 1-2 different decks per league can be incredibly difficult.
“I will not play leagues until Mono-Red (Kuldotha) is banned”
“3 out of 5 league games (matches) are Mono-Red”
“I don’t think this is funny”– Tarte (Translated from Japanese)
Similar to the situation with Affinity, many top players agree something needs to be banned from Kuldotha but not everyone agrees on exactly what. Most I have spoken to believe Monastery Swiftspear is the correct ban:
“In my opinion, addressing Mono-Red is an easy task; similar to Affinity, which got its’ best (and fastest) payoffs banned, axe Monastery Swiftspear and the deck is largely untouched and still powerful”– Adepto
“The simplest ban would be Monastery Swiftspear because it makes the deck have a very high ceiling and doesn’t allow you to focus your hate”
“If you want to cut off the card draw, I think you have to ban both Experimental Synthesizer and Reckless Impulse because with just one or the other the deck has still seen success”– Kalikaiz
After witnessing nearly 15 top Pauper players and content creators announce they were taking a break from their beloved format, I felt I had to write this article. I personally only play Pauper as a backup format to Vintage and Legacy but have felt the same as those who contributed to this article have stated. Pauper has become very repetitive and solved. Why play anything besides Kuldotha or Affinity if those are the only decks truly doing well? I tried brewing decks to hate them out but it is really difficult to beat both or even be strong enough against one that you can accept being weaker against the other. This (along with the competitive meta not being able to keep up) is frustrating and is a clear sign of an unhealthy meta. I really hope the PFP (Pauper Format Panel) acts soon before more move away from Pauper.
Thank you to all who allowed me to use their quotes for this article, it really helps drive the point home. You can find all their Twitter links by clicking on their names below their quotes. Another thank you is owed to the Castle of Commons Pauper (Discord Server) for allowing us to continue to use their MTGO Challenges data. Without their data, discussing any of this with accuracy wouldn’t be possible.
Lastly, thanks to everyone who reads this. I have seen others say this format is completely fine but I just wanted to share the opinion I observe most frequently from top players and with which I also agree with. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!