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Top Ten 2021 Cards for Pauper

Magic: the Gathering

Competitive

Top Ten 2021 Cards for Pauper

In today's article, I evaluate the ten most impactful cards (or cards cycle) from 2021's releases for Pauper!

By Humberto, 12/20/21, translated by Humberto, with help from our readers

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Hey everyone, it's the end of the year! Do you know what this means? That's right, it's time for an assessment of how Magic: The Gathering sets impacted competitive formats during 2021, as well as a summary analysis of how much each format has changed, transformed, or suffered from oppressive decks and/or prevailing strategies throughout this period. I plan to run this analysis for each of the competitive tabletop formats (except Commander, as it's out of my general understanding), and I've decided to start this cycle by starting with one of my favorite formats: Pauper!

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Pauper in 2021

Honestly, we cannot say that 2021 was a good year for Pauper, or we can even say that it was a bad year for the format. To define a bad year, I consider two possibilities: Either nothing relevant happened and there was no impact on that year's sets for the format, or the format went through unhealthy or totally polarized stages on more occasions than expected. And unfortunately, Pauper falls into the second category, as the format went through several turbulent stages over the course of 2021: The year started out relatively calm for the format and, in my particular view, even a little tedious as the Metagame was heavily oriented towards attrition matches, while decks that tried to play โ€œunderโ€ were constantly being invalidated by decks with Stonehorn Dignitary and/or with Prismatic Strands. Kadlheim brought good additions to the format, especially Snow Duals, one of the factors that propelled Dimir Faeries to the top of the format, while Strixhaven: School of Mages brought in some interesting cards like Bayou Groff, and also First Day of Class, which enabled the format's first competitively viable and (yet) not broken combo, Moggwarts. However, everything changed with the release of Modern Horizons II (and believe me, you'll see me write this phrase often on this series) and, unlike what I could say about other formats, the impact of this set for Pauper was... chaotic and destructive with results that, looking at it now, seemed very predictable. Since Chatterstorm was first revealed, a considerable portion of the community was sure the card would break the format and that's exactly what happened: a few weeks after its release, the format became polarized around Storm, as the main pillar that defined the speed and demands of the competitive landscape, Affinity (which had received Sojourner's Companion) as the only aggressive deck able to race against Storm and run efficient maindeck cards such as Krark-Clan Shaman and Dimir Faeries as the deck that could regulate Storm, while having a balanced matchup against Affinity. The worst part, however, was that despite the notorious and obvious perception that Chatterstorm would break the format, the community was forced to face this problem for months and make several requests for weeks, even with symbolic protests at official events, until Wizards took action and finally banned Chatterstorm and Sojourner's Companion. However, banning these two cards only revealed another issue that Modern Horizons II brought to the format: Sojourner's Companion was just one of the elements that made Affinity the predominant deck, and slowly, we saw it dominate the format completely, reaching the current 35% of the Metagame's share. As I've mentioned on other occasions, Affinity has always occupied a space in Pauper that decks like Dredge occupy in Modern: The archetype has always been very powerful, able to win games with absurd speed, but it couldn't establish itself in the Metagame because the more the players prepared against it, the worse it was to play in a competitive scenario. As Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger's Cage held Dredge, Gorilla Shaman, Abrade and Shenanigans controlled the dominance of Affinity if the archetype grew too large because its Achilles heel has always been a vulnerable and inconsistent manabase, where any disruptive effects on it could delay the deck long enough for the opponent to establish play.

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Today, this tactic is no longer viable because Affinity's manabase has gained a lot of consistency with the Ariftact Duals that, interestingly, also came in Modern Horizons II. Today, with other additions the archetype has received, in particular Deadly Dispute and Blood Fountain, Affinity is the absolute best deck in the format because it has better threats than any other deck, draws more cards than any another deck, has the current best removal in the form of Galvanic Blast, and can attack from both aggressive angles and unconventional means, such as combo-kills involving Atog and Fling or Atog / Makeshift Munitions and Disciple of the Vault. As of the release of this article, Wizards has yet to comment on the current state of Pauper, and particularly, I think we will end 2021 with Affinity as the absolute best deck in the format.

Top 10 Most Impactful 2021 Cards for Pauper

10 โ€” Reckless Impulse

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Reckless Impulse was recently released, and may not have become an instant staple of the format yet, but it does offer a powerful โ€œdraw 2โ€ for two mana on red, being comparable to two other powerful cards of other formats: Light Up the Stage and Expressive Iteration, and I've learned never to underestimate the potential of a โ€œdraw 2โ€ for a low cost. The card was one of the additions that made Mono-Red Blitz a viable choice in the format today, while it has also been used in other decks, especially in some versions of Rakdos Affinity, where it enabled another powerful card advantage means for the deck. At the moment, Reckless Impulse offers little impact on Pauper's Metagame, but has all the hallmarks of a high-potential spell for the future of the format, while also being a clear demonstration of how far the power level of common cards has risen, even in Standard-oriented sets.

9 โ€” Soul of Migration

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Soul of Migration was one of the cards that enabled the possibility of new variants of Ephemerate decks, including versions like the Mardu Reanimator, which runs the card alongside spells like Late to Dinner to create a plethora of tokens. I believe that out of the polarized state that Pauper currently finds itself in, it would be possible that decks like Mardu Ephemerate, Jeskai, or even Azorius could get good results (though probably still overshadowed by other better archetypes).

8 โ€” Behold the Multiverse

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Behold the Multiverse initially appeared to be just an adapted version of Foresee, but the flexibility that Foretell gives the card made it a powerful element of Blue-Based Decks, like Faeries and Delver decks. Currently, this card's inclusion is practically mandatory as a 1 or 2-of in Faeries and Delver decks, essentially making it a staple for these archetypes, commonly serving as a great topdeck in Late-Game, or as a great investment long-term in the course of a longer matchup.

7 โ€” Ardent Elementalist

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Ardent Elementalist, or the red Archaeomancer, became one of the most important cards in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt for Pauper, as it allowed several archetypes centered around Ephemerate to use their own version of the blue staple. As a highlight, Ardent Elementalist has become a centerpiece of Jeskai Ephemerate, as it has a more aggressive body (and Jeskai Ephemerate is a deck that has a terrible clock), plus a color that has fewer targets of cards commonly used in Sideboards, such as Pyroblast.

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6 โ€“ Snow Duals

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Kaldheim's Snow Duals brought a huge stir to the format when they were announced, both for bringing the important function of the Snow subtype to lands that could fix manabase and for being the first Pauper duals to have the basic lands' subtype, which means they interacted with cards where such subtypes are relevant, like Snuff Out. Initially, players tried to use them in a variety of ways, with players taking advantage of Volatile Fjord to test Spire Golem on Izzet Faeries, or Alpine Meadow to use Skred on Boros Bully, plus a significant upgrade for cards like Wild Nacatl. Currently, we see that the deck most benefited by these lands were the Dimir, as they gained a better ease in casting Snuff Out with the help of an optimized manabase.

5 โ€” First Day of Class

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First Day of Class was one of the most exciting cards from Strixhaven for Pauper, mainly because it enabled, after a long time, a new Combo deck in the format: Moggwarts. The mere fact that a single card can unlock a new combo, with competitive potential, and that is not broken, is great news and a worthy milestone to make it deserve its place as fifth place on this list, but First Day of Class was also instrumental in unlocking one of the most powerful decks the Pauper has seen in recent times, by giving Storm a way to accomplish many feats on a single card: Lowering the Storm count by half, make tokens able to bypass obvious effects like Electrickery and Suffocating Fumes, and give the archetype the ability to continue the sequence with Introduction to Prophecy, or reduce it further the required Storm with Pest Summoning, or deal with a problematic permanent before closing the combo with Introduction to Annihilation. Ultimately, Chatterstorm would still be an absurdly troublesome card on any given occasion, but First Day of Class definitely made the archetype that much more powerful.

4 โ€” Deadly Dispute

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Deadly Dispute stands out for being a powerful card advantage element, capable of dethroning even Thoughtcast, and it even works as a pseudo-Ancestral Recall in combination with Ichor Wellspring, a โ€œcomboโ€ that we see not only in the best deck of the format, but also in several other archetypes, especially those that use other means of abusing artifact sacrifice, such as Atog or Makeshift Munitions. The new spell brought together the function of two cards that were already available in the format, but which never reached the point of becoming Staples because their separate combinations are not as efficient: Costly Plunder, which allows you to sacrifice artifacts and Village Rites, which costs only one mana (The Treasure token created by Deadly Dispute resets the second invested mana), while synergizing very well, especially with Affinity, as it makes trading โ€œan artifact for two cardsโ€ far less unfavorable. I assume that, even if bans eventually occur in Affinity that make the archetype essentially impractical, Deadly Dispute will continue to retain its space as a format staple, seeing play at Moggwarts and other deck variants and archetypes that may have the opportunity to reappear, like Mardu Monarch.

3 โ€” Sojourner's Companion

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It would be impossible to mention the best cards of 2021 without talking about the cards released and banned this year. Sojourner's Companion, or Myr Enforcer 5-8, demonstrated how and why adding extra elements with essentially the same effect can be detrimental when dealing with cards that are very well established in the competitive landscape, especially free spells. While we initially blamed Sojourner's Companion for the dominance of Affinity during the period the creature was legal, it is now clear that Sojourner's Companion was just part of the problem, like an element that gave too much speed and a huge board impact for the format's standards, but which perhaps could have remained part of a powerful addition to the archetype had the Artifact Duals not made Affinity as consistent. This does not specifically mean that I believe we should ban the duals and unban Sojourner's Companion, but that I truly believe that the story told in the Affinity case in 2021 would have been very different if, by chance, the new lands had not were indestructible and, who knows, Sojourner's Companion wouldn't work so well as it did, as an additional threat coupled with the occasional manafixing.

2 โ€“ Chatterstorm

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Chatterstorm It's just not the Top 1 of the year because it wasn't actually the most important card of 2021, but it will definitely be the card we'll remember most and had the biggest impact on the format this year. When Chatterstorm was announced as an addition to Modern Horizons II, a significant portion of content creators and Pauper players were already envisioning the damage the card would do to Metagame's health. After all, any cards with Storm capable of winning the game on its own, like Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens are banned from the format for being too powerful, and Chatterstorm was essentially a junction of these two cards in a different color. It took two weeks for the archetype to begin to dominate the format, and just under a month after its release, there just seemed to be no reason not to play Storm on Pauper, as it was a highly consistent deck with a huge margin of advantage over the other archetypes, basically invalidating any other archetype that was not some Tempo deck like Faeries or Delver, or Affinity. And, because of the impact this spell has had on the format, and the amount of time we had to deal with it before direct action was taken on a much-needed ban, Chatterstorm will be the most remembered 2021 card by the Pauper community. However, my choice for the most impactful card of 2021 for the Pauper is not just one card, but an entire cycle, with an impact that will be even longer lasting.

1 โ€” Artifact Duals

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The Modern Horizons II dual lands cycle is, in the long run, the most impactful cards of 2021 for Pauper, as they have elements that give it relevance from different angles due to two critical points in the format's context The first point is that these lands are artifacts, which not only means that they count for mechanics like Affinity or Metalcraft, but can also be repurposed for cards that use artifacts as resources, like the aforementioned Deadly Dispute and Makeshift Munitions. The second point is that they are

indestructible

, which means that cards like Shenanigans or Gorilla Shaman don't interact well with them, while cards like Cleansing Wildfire and Geomancer's Gambit can be used as powerful ramp spells thanks to the inclusion of these cards in the format.

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A huge irony about the fact that these lands are indestructible is that they were probably granted this ability so that Modern Horizons II's limited games wouldn't have the problems that Affinity has due to the inclusion of Gorilla Shaman in the format, as the famous Mox Monkey (a nickname only older players will remember, from a time when Gorilla Shaman was used to destroy Moxen in Vintage, in a deck known as TMWA) was present as an uncommon on the set. As a result, the Artifact Duals not only made Affinity the most powerful deck on Pauper, they also open many possibilities, even in the absence of the archetype, as decks like Jund Cascade and Jeskai Ephemerate use the combination of these cards with Cleansing Wildfire to get access to the best ramp in the format today, a tactic that will likely become even more popular when/if bans occur in Affinity that doesn't include lands. And this is the third and final point that makes, for me, this cycle the most important cards for Pauper in 2021: I can't imagine, in the near or distant future, any of these lands being banned from the format, merely because

it doesn't make sense

to ban a portion of the lands and leave others, when decks like Affinity are too adaptable to be largely harmed by these bans while, by themselves, these lands do โ€œvery littleโ€ outside certain contexts. So, it seems to me a very likely option that, in the future, cards like Atog / Disciple of the Vault and Cleansing Wildfire will be banned for their interactions/additional consistency because of these lands, rather than a ban on the entire cycle. If that would be the right decision, or if it would just create more problems for the Metagame, where cards are banned for the crimes of something as simple as a lands cycle, it's not for me to say at the moment, but I believe we will have to live with and learn to deal with this new dual lands cycle for a long time in Pauper, whether we like it or not. That said, despite the issues that this cycle presents, I really enjoyed its inclusion in Pauper and Wizards' courage to, again, tinker with the Artifact subtype in their lands, as it made room for several innovative ideas to appear using them, inside and outside the Pauper. My only concern with them, however, is that giving them Indestructible elevated these lands from good duals that would make decks like Affinity compromise between speed and consistency to a cycle that didn't just turn the archetype into a true game-winning machine, but it also opened up the possibility to abuse other cards in an extremely profitable way, like making red have the best Ramp of the format! All that said, I think my point is clear as to why I believe the Artifact Duals cycle is, for me, the most influential 2021 cards for Pauper.

Conclusion

That was my analysis of the Top ten 2021 cards that were most influential and most impactful on Pauper. It is worth mentioning that, like any opinion article, my view and interpretation of facts and the Metagame can directly impact my Top 10, and it is more than natural for players to agree or disagree with my positions, and I consider it very healthy for the community to do so as long as we keep the topic healthy and respectful. There are a few points I plan to address about this article and on my latest Pauper article, something I've been trying to do a few weeks ago, but I've had a busy schedule for the past few weeks to be able to write about certain topics with the attention and complexity they deserve.

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That said, you can look forward to more Top 10 reviews from other competitive formats between this week and next as the year ends, and in 2022 I will be returning with more articles and analysis on Pauper as necessary for a better evaluation of the Metagame and the format itself! Thanks for reading!
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Humberto

Writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually Magic: The Gathering competitive formats. Pauper Masters' Organizer.

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