Updated: Jan 17
On Monday, May 20th, 2019, Wizards announced that they were officially banning a few of the most powerful cards in the entire Pauper format: Gush, Gitaxian Probe, and Daze. Colloquially known as Blue Monday, the loss of these cards was an enormous blow to the xU Delver decks that gripped the top spots of nearly every competitive event and opened the doors to allow the robot-of-many-names to sidle up the ranks. If not for what happened almost exactly four weeks later, we may still be suffering a 7+ month long Tron-based meta game.
Twenty-six days after Blue Monday, WotC released Modern Horizons which was first non-specialty set ever designed to skip the Standard format entirely and go straight into Modern. Quietly, as the Magic community was abuzz about cards like Hogaak, Urza, Lord High Artificer, and the impressive Wrenn and Six, cards like Arcum's Astrolabe and Savage Swipe found an immediate home in existing Pauper decks, and the meta as a whole. As oppressive as it was, Astrolabe was the engine in the dynamic Jeskai Snow archetype and functioned as an auto-include in many other popular meta decks as a way to have a smooth mana base and consistent card advantage. There is no wonder why it was banned only four months after it hit the scene.
Savage Swipe is a seemingly banal, secretly powerful spell that has seen play in many Green-based aggro decks as way to take out any potential threat. It flourished in a color that suffers greatly from the lack of good and/or cheap removal spells, so adding this 1-mana killer pushed Mono Green Stompy into the conversation as being among the elite and gave Pauper devotees another deck to add to their collection. At least for a little while.
Yes, these two were the most played, most powerful spells MH1 gave our beloved format; however, there is currently one other floating around that is fighting the good fight to keep Tron from taking up residence in every spot in every top 8. Take a look at the most recent Pauper Challenge results here.
What do you see? Five Urzatrons, one UB Delver, and one Boros Tokens - since the banning of Astrolabe, these are the three best and most popular decks in the meta, so it's really no surprise. But, what else do you see? SLIVERS. You see Slivers in first place.
You see Slivers... in first place.
How long has it been since you've seen that? Has it ever been ever that you've ever seen that??
If you click through the last month, or so, of leagues, challenges, and events, you will notice a slow creep in the appearance of this particular Slivers list in top 8 finishes. Are people just now realizing that these beasties are powerful? No. Hardly.
What Pauper players figured out long ago, though, is that Tron is nigh unbeatable with the tools available. It only took Blue Monday, and the subsequent introduction of Astrolabe to mask Trons natural ability to dominate nearly any setting; yet, the answer to such a smothering powerhouse finally reared its razor-sharp, Hellbent head. Let's take a look at this first place finisher.
Slivers by mikamimtg
There is really no valid argument to make against GW Slivers being the best iteration of this popular tribe, in Pauper. For the most part, the above list is a fairly standard, stock list that you can generally mass purchase for around $50-$65, depending on the vendor. What makes this Mika's list so punishing to a Tron-dominated meta is the inclusion of the most under-the-radar MH1 card to hit the format: Bladeback Sliver.
If you've ever sat across the table from Tron, you'll know that, from turn one, the next 45 minutes of your life are going to be agonizing. Sitting across the table from a turn-3 natural Tron is sometimes enough to make you scoop right then and there. With its assembly of mana-fixing, recurring bounce spells, fog abilities, and "skip your next combat phase" shenanigans, the numbers prove that Tron is impervious to nearly ever other deck.
What took a little while to realize is that Tron is susceptible to repeatable, non-combat damage. That's where our Hellbent buddy steps in. For those of you unfamiliar with this spicy mechanic, Hellbent shows up on a handful of cards, at varying rarities, and means that as long you have zero cards in your hand, you get a bonus effect. Pretty sweet, pretty simple.
It takes seemingly no amount of time to get to Hellbent status when piloting Slivers, mainly because you are running 32 Slivers and 12 of them are 1-drops while all the rest top out at 2cc. Even the only two non-Sliver spells you are running - Lead the Stampede and Winding Way - are 3 CMC and 2 CMC, respectively. It is not out of the realm of possibilities to be Hellbent by turn 4.
The peculiarly effective result of being Hellbent while controlling a Bladeback Sliver is that all of your other Slivers get the ability to ping your opponent for 1 damage. Now, this amount of lost life may not seem like a lot, but do the math: if you've got 7 Slivers on board, you will naturally ping your Tron opponent for 7 damage at the end of their turn, untap, rinse and repeat on your turn. That's 14+ damage in less than a full turn. In no world, pre-sideboarding, can Tron deal with that amount of damage at once. Even after game one, there isn't much a Moment's Peace can do again non-combat damage and Stonehorn Dignitary is essentially an empty corpse on the field because you won't be needing an attack to deliver fatal damage. Sure, they can bounce your Bladeback Sliver, but that serves only to prolong their demise for one more turn.
Even after sideboarding, you can bring in multiple copies of Standard Bearer to thwart any attempt they may make to Ephemerate or Ghostly Flicker their creatures for extra value. Until this yoked bot tweaks its sideboard to suit a possibly Sliver-heavy meta, with something like Swirling Sandstorm - not likely because Tron typically cannot survive a strong board wipe - then it is likely that we're seeing the start of a wonderful rivalry. I, for one, am looking forward to such nonsense. After all, this is Magic: the Gathering. If you can't have a little bit of fun, you're doing it wrong.