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Short story, you were right! The pad needs replacement.
Longer story, in case it's helpful to anyone else:
I opened up the Deluge to take a look at the pads. Which, for those who don't know, involves following the disassembly instructions for replacing the battery, and then also unscrewing the screws which hold the PCB against the top panel and sandwich the pads between (I should've made a video of doing it).
Looking at the traces on the PCB for the misbehaving pad, I saw a bunch of gunk on there (see the black stuff on the right "sun ray" traces)
I thought for sure this was the problem, took a Q-Tip and some isopropyl and swabbed it clean:
Reassembled and the problem was not changed at all!
Disassembled and took the two 2x4 pad sections (for the mute&demo pads) and switched them around. I had to flip them both 180 degrees to make them fit properly.
Reassembled and the offending pad worked fine! And as expected, the working pad I had swapped with now had the problem.
So this proved that in my case what I need is a replacement pad, which fortunately is easily available from Synthstrom at a reasonable price . My guess as to what caused the problem is just a high amount of wear on that pad caused its conductive surface to rub off on the PCB, which both gunked up the traces and removed the conductive material from the pad.
I don't get it, in what way is this comparable to the Deluge? I mean, I guess they both do sampling. But seems like a very different device geared toward a different purpose to me.