The king is dead—long live the king! Gush was finally banned in Pauper today, and whether or not you were in favor of the ban, against it, or don’t even know what Pauper is, let me tell you: this will result in a seismic shift in the format’s metagame.

For those that are not super keyed into the format, Gush was the defining spell in Pauper, seeing play in multiple Tier 1 Delver strategies (U/R, U/B, and Mono-Blue) as well as in more combo-focused decks like Izzet Blitz and Tireless Tribe. Over the last several months, the majority of reported Challenge and League results have essentially boiled down to four different archetypes: Boros (both Monarch and non-Monarch), Burn, Tron, and the three different flavors of Delver. Those three Delver decks had a metagame share that was more than the next four decks combined—and all play Gush in some capacity.

Gush Deck?

Before I go any further, I should differentiate between between a “Gush Deck” and a deck that merely plays Gush. I define a Gush Deck as a deck that uses three to four copies of Gush. I am juxtaposing the term to a deck that either does not play Gush, or plays Gush in a supporting role. Tribe is a full-on Gush deck, and the Delver decks commonly play three to four copies of Gush and have become increasingly reliant on the card. I will cede in some cases Delver may play only two, but I would say the preponderance of them are heavily reliant on the card.

Nasty's Pauper U/B Delver (1st place in the 12/9/18 Pauper Challenge)

Creature (12)
Augur of Bolas
Delver of Secrets
Gurmag Angler

Spells (31)
Gitaxian Probe
Echoing Decay
Ghastly Demise
Snuff Out

Land (17)
Ash Barrens
Evolving Wilds
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Swamp
Terramorphic Expanse
Sideboard (15)
Faerie Macabre
Relic of Progenitus
Stormbound Geist

The main issue is that Gush transitioned from a support card to a full-on strategy for these Tier 1 decks. I believe this transition is crucial to why the card has a stranglehold on Pauper and why its ban was inevitable. By changing from a role player to a centerpiece, it truly became a play or die card.

But Gush truly shined in Tier 2 decks like Tribe and Blitz. Tribe’s gameplan hinged on it, and the deck is probably gone now that the card has been banned. The reason these decks aren’t Tier 1 despite using Gush is because they are not as effective as leveraging the resources to turn the corner in the game. They are glass cannon decks, and Gush doesn’t necessarily pull them ahead like it does the Delver decks with their bevy of removal, threats, and counters. So while Tribe and Blitz are “Gush decks,” they were never able to dominate the format like their Delver counterparts.

A Brief History of Gush

Calls for Gush to be banned have been made for much of the past year. One of the most prominent members of the Pauper community, Alex Ullman, has been writing on the subject since December, when Foil was downshifted into the Pauper format in Eternal Masters at the end of 2018. But Gush was not always such an offender. Earlier Mono-Blue lists were not as able to capitalize on the tempo advantage as they are today. So what changed?

Pauper Mono-Blue from 2012

Creatures (17)
Cloud of Faeries
Spellstutter Sprite
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Spire Golem

Spells (20)
Piracy Charm
Echoing Truth
Oona’s Grace
Lands (23)
19 Island

Sideboard (15)
Piracy Charm
Spell Pierce
Curse of Chains
Faerie Trickery
Serrated Arrows
Errant Ephemeron

U/R Delver was already a player on the scene when Augur of Bolas was downshifted via Modern Masters in 2017, but I would argue that that was what kicked off the Gush Rush. Being able to Augur into a copy of Gush on Turn 3, effectively generating a mana and cantripping into more business on the same turn, put that deck firmly into Tier 1. From there, Augur of Bolas was a top contender in Pauper for a long while until it was displaced by a second downshift: Foil.

Thanks to some of the excellent brewing minds in Pauper, it was not long before folks had the idea to create a Legacy Death’s Shadow-lite deck that capitalized on free spells in order to protect a single Delver of Secrets or Gurmag Angler and ride it to victory. The deck added Foil to their other free spells—Daze and Snuff Out—all of which can protect Delver or Angler while being tapped out. Gush is powerful in these decks because it not only finds them more business, but also lets them cheat a little on mana by enabling the free clause on Foil.

U/B Delver thus quickly outpaced U/R Delver as the Delver deck to beat, and there were two different versions of it floating around on the challenge results before’ Gush was banned.

Gush had evolved from a role player in the early Mono-Blue lists into a real powerhouse in the trio of top Delver decks, and showed no signs of loosening its grip on the Pauper format. The result was an increasing stranglehold on the MTGO metagame and an extremely stale environment in which people tried (and failed) to find what could beat a free draw two spell that also let its caster play an additional land for the turn.

Why Ban Gush?

There are two standard ways to address strategies that dominate a format: print answers or ban key cards.

I don’t believe Wizards would have printed an answer to Gush at common. Besides, the best answers are arguably already in the format in the form of Pyroblast, Dispel, and other efficient counterspells. I have seen some folks wishing for a permanent that might interact with Gush favorably, like a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben-type effect, but I don’t see that happening at common, either.

I have also heard a few ideas to ban other cards in order to help make the meta less stale, like Augur of Bolas, Ponder, Preordain, or even Daze. My counterargument is that Wizards has banned the engine cards in the past, and I would say that Gush is the engine that makes all of those cards better. Augur’s best find in the mid-game is usually Gush, you can Gush after a Preordain or a shuffle from Ponder to see two fresh cards, and so forth. Gush is a unique, versatile, powerful card that represents a huge burst of resources for the decks that are able to play it, and it is very difficult for non-Gush decks to keep up.

The End of an Era

Gush’s power level had painted Pauper into a corner. With the heavy preponderance of Gush-centric strategies dominating the format, you had to either join the Gush ranks or try and run decks specifically tuned to beat Gush. That dynamic didn’t result in a very healthy format and I am happy to see the Gush era come to an end. I know some folks think that the fact that it enabled new archetypes is a reason to keep the card, but I think that that is exactly why the card was so broken. If one card can lift an entire deck up by itself but not actually single-handedly win the game, that seems like a problem.

Now that the card is gone, I am excited for the future of brewing in Pauper now that we do not have the bottleneck that was Gush to constrain us.


Adrian is the cohost of Color Commontary, a podcast that focuses on the Pauper format.

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