Hello! This is Gavin Verhey, and in addition to designing Magic cards, I am also a member of the Pauper Format Panel. I'm here today to talk about a ban for the format.

For those who are new to the Pauper scene, the Pauper Format Panel monitors the format and manages bans and restrictions. We don't impact Magic sets, select what cards get downshifted, or make new cards for the format (outside my capacity to do so as a Magic designer). And while we certainly talk about what kinds of cards the format could want, our focus is on the health of the format and important card restrictions.

That said, let me cut to the chase: Monastery Swiftspear is now banned in Pauper. (This change is effective December 4, 2023 for tabletop, and December 4, 2023 at 12 p.m. PT for Magic Online.)

Monastery Swiftspear

Some of you may be wondering "why?" Others may be wondering "why not more?" Let me run you through the data and information that led to this decision, how we see decks in the format, and more.

We'll start with the state of the format. For a while, Pauper has been a decently diverse Eternal format. Looking at online events, like Magic Online challenges, many of the Top 8s feature five to six unique decks. The most recent Paupergeddon, a huge Pauper tournament from a few weeks ago with over 500 players, had five different decks in the Top 8. If you look at the variety, decks like Affinity, Mono-Red, Golgari Gardens, Mono-Blue Terror, Familiars, Faeries, Defenders, Caw-Gate, and more have shown up and been successful. Aggro, control, midrange, and even combo show up.

So, what's the problem?

The problem concerns speed and polarization.

Since 2022, the format has sped up considerably. Adding cards like Tolarian Terror, All That Glitters, and Monastery Swiftspear, among others, has led to decks with faster and more explosive starts. And when your starts can be so strong or difficult to interact with, it can make games feel very lopsided—and that's where the polarization comes in. Sure, with average draws, maybe the games are fine. But when Mono-Red gets a good draw, or maybe you stumble slightly, you're just dead inside of four turns. When Tolarian Terror hits the right mix of cantrips or hits off Thought Scour, you're suddenly facing down double Terror on turn three. And so on.

So, we wanted to make a change. And we talked about a lot of potential bans (and even reversing some). Let me first give you an extremely candid look through the data from Magic Online Leagues—where Pauper is played most.

We'll start with Mono-Red, the most avidly requested deck we ban from. Well, for a deck that people love to talk about, it might shock you to learn that its non-mirror win rate is … 50.8%. Barely over half its games. And that's from the best-performing lists; some versions of the deck hit sub-50% win rates!

So, why ban a card from it?

Well, once again, it's polarity.

When you look at game one, Mono-Red does great. It's favored in most match-ups. But in games two and three … it changes to unfavored in almost all match-ups!

Whether using any of the eight Blasts or bringing in a ton of life gain cards, there are plenty of great options against red.

However, that still has a tremendous impact on the format. If people are spending eight sideboard slots on red, that means it becomes harder to fight other decks. It squeezes out other archetypes. We want to get to a place where Mono-Red is still a viable deck but less feast or famine. We don't want players feeling forced to dedicate eight slots to it. Its explosive draws are a little less strong and resilient. It is good and healthy if Mono-Red is a strong deck. It is bad if it's so strong that it warps the format in this way.

We evaluated all the cards in the deck and talked about a lot of possible bans. Especially with the brand-new Goblin Tomb Raider, which is another huge get for the deck that can be extremely polarizing.

The two different "bottle two" cards (bottling being our internal design name for this effect, named after Elkin Bottle) in Wrenn's Resolve and Reckless Impulse give the deck a ton of card advantage and long gameplay while letting you cheat on lands. Same goes for Experimental Synthesizer. However, these really want a density of cheaper plays to get the full value and can be huge in conjunction with Monastery Swiftspear. The deck has plenty of cheap plays remaining, but losing a marquee one is a huge deal.

Kuldotha Rebirth gives the deck its strongest starts in conjunction with Goblin Bushwhacker. However, both cards have been in Pauper for a long time and enable a lot of fun, casual, and sometimes explosive strategies. Knocking one of these would be taking out a long-time piece of Pauper, and it's not clear that this combo is stronger than powerful individual cards.

Goblin Tomb Raider is the new kid on the block and easily makes a Goblin Guide when drawn with Great Furnace. It certainly adds to polarity when drawn alongside an artifact land.

We also talked about artifact lands—more on that when we get to Affinity below.

Everything really kept pointing back to Monastery Swiftspear. It's what kicked off the huge influx of red in the first place, synergizes with the "bottle two" spells, does a good job of dodging two-toughness removal, and generally makes for the most explosive draws—when your opponent's hand has two or three Swiftspears, you quickly feel behind.

We did talk about whether we wanted to hit one card or two. We thought we'd start here, and then consider if more needs to go. Any of the above cards are certainly on the table. If you have thoughts after trying the new format, you're welcome to share them with us.

Okay, that's a lot about red. Let's move on to some other decks. Starting with Affinity.

Affinity has been playable in Pauper for a very long time. It's been resilient to bans like Atog and picked up new toys along the way. Most recently, All That Glitters gave the deck a whole new spin with a blue-white version that can slap it on an Ornithopter or Gingerbrute and hit hard out of nowhere.

We talked for a long time about bans here. And there were two main directions to go.

The first, and simple one, is All That Glitters. It's the recent downshift that enables this deck to hit so hard and part of what can make games polarizing. However, it's easy to disrupt.

The second, more nuanced one is a set of artifact lands: either the ten Bridges or the five original Mirrodin artifact lands. Banning the five originals also has the knock-down effect of damaging Mono-Red since they lose Great Furnace.

Losing artifact lands is a gigantic blow to both Affinity and the format. They get used in a variety of decks. (For example, the indestructible ones with Cleansing Wildfire.) The untapped ones have been a part of Pauper for a very long time and are beloved. The tapped ones have been culprits previously, but with this new blue-white build, they only use the four blue-white ones. (Though there is, of course, the Jeskai build that won Paupergeddon to consider that does use more.) This was perhaps one of the most widely and lengthy topics discussed.

So, with that in mind, let's dig into the data.

When it comes to win percentage and match-ups, Affinity is a bit of different story than Mono-Red. It does sport a similar win rate—just 50.5%—but it's a lot less polarizing in its match-ups. It has some naturally unfavored match-ups, like Black-Green Gardens and Faeries, where red was advantaged over most other decks. After sideboarding, it only tends to lose ground, picking up more unfavorable match-ups.

Additionally, there are a lot of sideboard options available when it comes to ways that both fight artifacts or even just kill creatures that are holding an All That Glitters. If red is a little weakened, that should open some sideboard slots to help against Affinity. Even just four more removal spells that hit creatures can go a long way toward fighting this build.

Ultimately, we decided to hold on to Affinity for now, see what happens with this change to Mono-Red, and consider it more in a future update depending on what this does. We would also love to hear from players on the artifact lands. How would you feel about the original artifact lands going away? How about the Bridges?

Finally, of the big three decks, I want to talk about Terror.

This deck had been blue-black for a long time, and its win rate was never anything wild. However, the addition of Cryptic Serpent with the Commander Masters downshift moved it into a mono-blue build, which seeks to drop these huge creatures into play quickly.

We talked about banning a couple options here. First were Tolarian Terror and Cryptic Serpent as big threats that come down cheaply and are tough to kill. The second is a spell, the card we most discussed being Lórien Revealed—it lets you cheat on land counts further, gets a spell into your graveyard as you do, and can pull you out of a tough spot if you flood or get stalled in the late game.

So, let's look at the data. How is this deck doing?

Well, it's win percentage is under 50%! Affinity, Faeries, Caw-Gate, and Defenders all thrash it solely by the percentages, and of course it is behind against Mono-Red, too. And while it's capable of winning games, getting help from the sideboard, and so on, it's still brutal. Against Caw-Gate, a popular and strong deck, it boasts only around a 30% win rate!

Additionally, a new card from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has really changed the game here in Tithing Blade. This card suddenly made Black-Green Gardens pick up a huge advantage against Terror, and while it's too early to know if it'll stick, that card threatens to damage this archetype substantially.

All of this in mind, we decided not to make any changes to Tolarian Terror.

Now, we did talk about some much more aggressive changes to really mix things up. For example, banning two cards from Mono-Red, artifact lands, and Tolarian Terror all at once. But there's a few things going on. For one, the format has been diverse. Second, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has introduced some major new pieces, especially Tithing Blade, and while the metagame is moving around, it felt appropriate to make the change we knew we wanted to make and keep an eye on its evolution. We'd rather make a small change here, and if we have to come back in a couple months and knock another card or two because Swiftspear wasn't enough, that's something we're prepared to do.

Oh, and before I move on to the next topic, in the discussion of win rates, if these are the win rates of the decks people talk about the most and they aren't that high, you might be wondering, "Which do have high win rates?"

It can fluctuate as sets come out, of course, but as of the most recent week for which we have data, Familiars sits on top at about 56%. Caw-Gate, Black-Green Gardens, and Blue-Black Faeries (no Terrors in sight!) are all close behind, between 52–55%. One other that really surprised me (though the play rate is quite low, so the data isn't perfect) is White Weenie with a cool 54% win rate—so maybe give that a spin.

Given the relatively low spread of win rates, and that the top decks churn week to week, we have been reticent to make a lot of changes to the format. The problems of speed and polarity have pushed us to act here, and we may so do again. However, we talk about Pauper a lot, and part of the reason we haven't made a change prior is that things have looked balanced. We did settle on this Monastery Swiftspear ban recently but wanted to wait to deploy it until after Brazilian Pauper Nationals, which just happened this past weekend, so that the players weren't scrambling to change anything at the last minute.

A few final things to talk about.

One is reversing bans. We did talk about unbanning some cards, ranging from cards as innocent as Prophetic Prism (which has been mentioned previously) to some much wilder options. But when doing a single ban to make a small adjustment to the format, we didn't want to accidentally introduce a large new variable at the same time. I still think you could potentially see Prism unbanned in the future. As I've talked about in some of my prior Pauper videos, we did investigate Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach, and High Tide but decided not to unban them then. But bringing cards back is certainly something we have been and will continue to discuss.

Next is a question we get on occasion: why not just aggressively ban and unban cards all the time to shake things up for Pauper? After all, it is a very accessible format.

While that is somewhat true, for a non-rotating format, I do think a sense of stability is important—people fall in love with decks and play them because they enjoy them, and banning cards from a deck for a few weeks just to shake things up and see what happens isn't the natural kind of churn I think is healthy—and the whiplash could cause people to leave the format entirely. Additionally, if we ban cards every other month perpetually, it doesn't give a great impression to non-Pauper players about what to expect when they try the format—and we want to grow the format over time. I think we could and should consider banning a little more aggressively, and we're going to talk about it, but still not at any kind of extreme degree.

Finally, I want to talk about the card ________ Goblin, or Name Sticker Goblin on Magic Online. Though the Magic Online team at Daybreak has done great work to implement this card on Magic Online, there have been some notes from players about the fact that it works differently in real life than online being a strange split for the format. It has mostly shown up some in the format alongside Monastery Swiftspear—which is now banned. We're going to keep an eye on this, and we're not afraid to ban it if it does at any point become a substantial issue and disconnect between formats.

I hope this has been a helpful behind-the-scenes look at the format and what led us to this decision. To recapture this one more time at the end: our hope is to nudge the format toward being a little less fast, being a little less polarized, and giving people more sideboard slots back. It is not meant to kill Mono-Red. If nothing meaningful in the format changes, we're not afraid to come back within a couple months and make more changes if needed.

We really try to be as transparent as possible with players about our changes and why we're making them. We appreciate you reading through all of this, and in return, we'd love for you to think about all the rationale here, try out the change to the format, and then reach out to us with your thoughts. Our social media handles are below.

On behalf of the entire Pauper Format Panel, thanks for playing Pauper, and we hope you enjoy the change to the format!

Alex Ullman – @nerdtothecore
Alexandre Weber – @Webermtg
Emma Partlow – @Emmadpartlow
Gavin Verhey – @GavinVerhey
Mirco Ciavatta – @Heisen011
Paige Smith – @TheMaverickGal
Ryuji Saito – @Saito_o3