Pursuing Pauper: Introduction to Pauper

Let’s jump right in. A lot of people are very upset with the recent unbannings in the Modern format. I have several people in my playgroup who just finished building U/W/x Control and now they have to spend $300-600 on some number of Jaces to stay competitive…and that one hurts. I’m not here to talk about Modern or my opinions on the unbannings today, though; the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of people want to continue playing magic in a fun format without having to spend several hundred more dollars to stay competitive.

Why not give Pauper a try?

“But Zach, Pauper isn’t a GP or PT format, why would I want to play it?”

Well, let’s take a step back and look at why we all started playing Magic in the first place. It’s a game. Magic is supposed to be fun, right? Sure, it’s a competitive game, and I enjoy grinding tournaments at comp REL, but sometimes I just want to jam powerful spells and have some sweet interactive games. I used to grind a lot of Standard, but lately, my focus has been on Modern, and with the format shakeup, I’m taking things kind of easy while I wait for the meta to take shape. I’ve been an enthusiast of Pauper since 2011 when I first heard about it, and a local shop had a monthly Standard Pauper tournament (I played U/R Delver…it was sweet). Over the last few years, no shop in my area (there are five stores within 20 minutes of my house) has offered pauper as a supported format. Recently WotC announced that they’d start offering Pauper side events at GPs and the community went nuts. I was thrilled. I built six decks, started sharing them with local players, and spent many hours talking to shops and players to try and build interest. My work came to fruition when my local game store agreed to do a weekly pauper tournament. Now we have enough attendees every week to play four full rounds! As much as I enjoy Modern, Pauper feels so much more laid back and I find myself grinning from ear to ear during games…a feeling I seldom get from other constructed formats.

What is Pauper?

For those of you who don’t know, Pauper is a format that originated on MTGO that is just like any other constructed format: 60 card mainboard, 15 card sideboard. The caveat is that you can only play cards that have been “printed” on MTGO as common (ex.: no Hymn, no Sinkhole). You can check legality of pauper cards very easily on Scryfall. There is a short banlist, but outside of that, anything goes!

Since the format is restricted to only commons, that means the cost of building a deck is very low. Tier 1 decks generally cost between $20 and $60, and are an absolute blast to play.

Common only doesn’t mean no fun…there are some very powerful cards that are legal in pauper: artifact lands, Delver of Secrets, Brainstorm, Gush, Daze, Lightning Bolt, Lotus Petal, Urza’s Tower come to mind…

  

  

The Meta

This is a growing format. Every so often, a new deck will break out, and that keeps the format fresh! I’m not going to go over every single deck, but let’s look at what some of the most commonly played decks are and what they do; from there, you can gauge for yourself if this is a format you’re interested in playing:


Delver

Creatures (21)
Augur of Bolas
Delver of Secrets
Faerie Miscreant
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Spellstutter Sprite
Spire Golem

Spells (23)
Ponder
Preordain
Brainstorm
Counterspell
Daze
Gush
Vapor Snag
Lands (16)
16 Island

Sideboard (15)
Annul
Curse of Chains
Dispel
Gut Shot
Hydroblast
Stormbound Geist


Typical configurations are mono U, U/R, or U/B. This is a fast and disruptive tempo strategy that focuses on countering and removing problems, and killing your opponent in the air with creatures. Mono blue gives you access to lots of card draw and lots of cheap flying creatures (like Spire Golem!), plus the best suite of counterspells. Red gives you access to Lightning Bolt and Skred, which give you some quality creature removal and reach in the form of burn. Black gives you access to Delve creatures, hard removal like Doom Blade and Disfigure, and sweepers like Evincar’s Justice and Shrivel. The game plan is common among all versions of the deck: slam a Delver, flip it, and turn it sideways until your opponent’s life total becomes zero, while disrupting them along the way.


Tron

Creatures (9)
Dinrova Horror
Mnemonic Wall
Mulldrifter

Spells (18)
Rolling Thunder
Crop Rotation
Devour Flesh
Doom Blade
Forbidden Alchemy
Ghostly Flicker
Moment’s Peace
Mystical Teachings
Prohibit
Pulse of Murasa
Wail of the Nim

Non-Creature Permanents (11)
Dimir Signet
Expedition Map
Prophetic Prism
Simic Signet
Lands (22)
Dismal Backwater
Forest
Island
Shimmering Grotto
Swamp
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower

Sideboard (15)
Doom Blade
Wail of the Nim
Ancient Grudge
Capsize
Dispel
Gut Shot
Hydroblast
Ray of Revelation


Yeah, the Tron lands were printed as commons. Typically, the Tron decks are control decks that aim to lock your opponents out of the game by manipulating their hand and graveyard via Ghostly Flicker, Mulldrifter, and Mnemonic Wall. These are typically four or five color toolbox decks that aim to buy a bunch of time with the aforementioned cards until they can either Rolling Thunder you out of the game or start to Vindicate your permanents via Dinrova Horror. The most common win condition with Tron is your opponent scooping them up when you start Capsizing their permanents. Older versions of the deck were typically temur, and would use cards like Fangren Marauder and Ulamog’s Crusher to just run your opponents over early on, then finish them off with Rolling Thunder.


Elves

Creatures (40)
Birchlore Rangers
Elvish Mystic
Elvish Vanguard
Elvish Visionary
Essence Warden
Fyndhorn Elves
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Nettle Sentinel
Priest of Titania
Quirion Ranger
Timberwatch Elf
Wellwisher

Spells (10)
Distant Melody
Land Grant
Lead the Stampede

Non-Creature Permanents (1)
Viridian Longbow
Lands (9)
Forest

Sideboard (15)
Wellwisher
Viridian Longbow
Gleeful Sabotage
Luminescent Rain
Magnify
Mob Justice
Relic of Progenitus
Scattershot Archer
Spidersilk Armor
Tangle


Pauper Elves is very similar to Legacy Elves. Since Lead the Stampede was recently downshifted to common, it’s almost just better than casting Collected Company at times, since it usually is just three mana to draw four or five cards. You go super wide early on and establish a huge board, then gain a bunch of life, deal a bunch of damage with Mob Justice, or go all in on a single huge creature. There aren’t a whole lot of sweepers in this format, so you can afford to really go wide and commit to the board. Most of the sweepers come in after sideboarding and typically deal 1-2 damage to everything or giving everything -1/-1, but there are no Wrath of God effects, so it’s pretty easy to play around these.


U/B Control

Creatures (10)
Augur of Bolas
Gurmag Angler
Mulldrifter

Spells (28)
Chainer’s Edict
Duress
Preordain
Probe
Counterspell
Deprive
Disfigure
Doom Blade
Echoing Decay
Forbidden Alchemy
Mystical Teachings
Lands (22)
Bojuka Bog
Dimir Aqueduct
Dismal Backwater
Island
Radiant Fountain
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Devour Flesh
Diabolic Edict
Dispel
Evincar’s Justice
Hydroblast
Negate
Relic of Progenitus
Shrivel
Stinkweed Imp
Stormbound Geist


UB Control is all about the Delve threats, counterspells, card draw, and kill spells. Not much to be said here. Gurmag Angler is amazing as a one-mana 5/5 that closes out the game very quickly since it’s VERY hard to kill a five-toughness black creature in this format. You’re very good vs the aggro decks…but you pretty much auto-lose to Tron, as they’re a better control deck vs you.


Burn

Creatures (8)
Firebrand Archer
Thermo-Alchemist

Spells (29)
Chain Lightning
Flame Rift
Lava Spike
Rift Bolt
Fireblast
Lightning Bolt
Needle Drop
Searing Blaze

Non-Creature Permanents (4)
Curse of the Pierced Heart
Lands (19)
Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Flame Rift
Electrickery
Fireslinger
Molten Rain
Pyroblast
Smash to Smithereens
Staggershock


Mono. Red. Burn. Very straightforward. You play four Firebrand Archer, and four Thermo-Alchemist to get extra damage off of every spell. Win the game by pointing burn spells at your opponent’s face until they die. Turn three/four kills are very common. This deck is insanely fast and powerful.


Mono Black Control

Creatures (19)
Chittering Rats
Crypt Rats
Cuombajj Witches
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Phyrexian Rager
Thorn of the Black Rose

Spells (15)
Chainer’s Edict
Sign in Blood
Disfigure
Geth’s Verdict
Tendrils of Corruption
Victim of Night

Non-Creature Permanents (3)
Dead Weight
Oubliette
Lands (23)
Barren Moor
Bojuka Bog
18 Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Crypt Rats
Thorn of the Black Rose
Oubliette
Choking Sands
Duress
Nihil Spellbomb
Shrivel


This is a Devotion-based control deck that plays mainboard sweepers like Pestilence or Crypt Rats, disrupts your opponent’s hand with things like Chittering Rats and Duress, removes their creatures, draws cards, and most often pulls ahead in games by slamming a Gary (Gray Merchant of Asphodel).


Bogles

Creatures (15)
Aura Gnarlid
Gladecover Scout
Heliod’s Pilgrim
Silhana Ledgewalker
Slippery Bogle

Non-Creature Permanents (27)
Abundant Growth
Ancestral Mask
Armadillo Cloak
Cartouche of Solidarity
Cartouche of Strength
Ethereal Armor
Rancor
Utopia Sprawl
Lands (18)
Blossoming Sands
10 Forest
Khalni Garden
Plains
Selesnya Guildgate

Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Electrickery
Flaring Pain
Gorilla Shaman
Lifelink
Natural State
Standard Bearer
Young Wolf


Put pants on a 1/1 hexproof creature and turn it sideways. A recent variation of the deck is playing mono white creatures with the “heroic” keyword, and then pumping them a bunch with enchantments and instants.


Affinity

Creatures (17)
Atog
Carapace Forger
Frogmite
Krark-Clan Shaman
Myr Enforcer

Spells (12)
Thoughtcast
Fling
Galvanic Blast
Perilous Research
Temur Battle Rage
Lands (31)
Darksteel Citadel
Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Chromatic Star
Flayer Husk
Ichor Wellspring
Prophetic Prism
Springleaf Drum

Sideboard (15)
Krark-Clan Shaman
Ancient Grudge
Dispel
Electrickery
Feed the Clan
Gorilla Shaman
Hydroblast
Pyroblast
Relic of Progenitus
Serene Heart


ARTIFACT. LANDS. Guys, this deck plays Atog and Fling. How sweet is that? Plus, we get to play full playsets of Galvanic Blast, Thoughtcast, and actual Affinity cards like Frogmite and Myr Enforcer. This deck is super fast, super explosive, and very resilient to removal, as the creatures tend to be 4/4s. As with Modern, people that gravitate to Affinity tend to stick with the deck for a very long time…just make sure you’re good at the mirror, as it’s a very common deck choice to newcomers in the format. I had to wade through three mirror matches at my weekly pauper tournament this week. My sideboard won me all three, so be ready! Also, Gorilla Shaman is OP, as he can Stone Rain your opponent’s lands for just one mana.


Tortured Existence

Creatures (19)
Bloodmad Vampire
Crypt Rats
Faerie Macabre
Golgari Brownscale
Grave Scrabbler
Gurmag Angler
Monstrous Carabid
Stinkweed Imp

Spells (15)
Chainer’s Edict
Faithless Looting
Tormenting Voice
Lightning Bolt
Terminate

Non-Creature Permanents (4)
Tortured Existence
Lands (22)
Bloodfell Caves
Evolving Wilds
Mountain
Rakdos Carnarium
Rakdos Guildgate
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Crypt Rats
Faerie Macabre
Chainer’s Edict
Terminate
Aether Chaser
Electrickery
Gorilla Shaman
Ingot Chewer
Pyroblast


Here’s your graveyard deck. You play four copies of Tortured Existence and a toolbox of creatures. You grind your opponent to dust by looping Crypt Rats, Fume Spitter, Spore Frog, and other value creatures. This deck generates some insane value, but is very weak against graveyard hate for obvious reasons (Relic of Progenitus is insanely good here).


Izzet Blitz

Creatures (15)
Augur of Bolas
Delver of Secrets
Kiln Fiend
Nivix Cyclops

Spells (27)
Flame Slash
Gitaxian Probe
Ponder
Preordain
Brainstorm
Dispel
Gush
Lightning Bolt
Mutagenic Growth
Temur Battle Rage
Lands (18)
Evolving Wilds
Island
Mountain
Swiftwater Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Temur Battle Rage
Curfew
Electrickery
Flaring Pain
Hydroblast
Pyroblast
Stormbound Geist


This is a Kiln Fiend/Nivix Cyclops deck. The gameplan is really straightforward: slam a Fiend, cast a bunch of spells, and kill your opponent as early as turn three.


Inside Out Combo

Creatures (6)
Augur of Bolas
Tireless Tribe

Spells (36)
Gitaxian Probe
Ponder
Preordain
Brainstorm
Circular Logic
Daze
Dispel
Dizzy Spell
Gigadrowse
Gush
Inside Out
Shadow Rift
Lands (18)
Ash Barrens
Evolving Wilds
10 Island
Plains

Sideboard (15)
Gigadrowse
Apostle’s Blessing
Dive Down
Echoing Truth
Gut Shot
Hydroblast
Piracy Charm
Standard Bearer


This deck operates really similarly to Izzet Blitz. Your goal is to discard a bunch of cards to activate Tireless Tribe’s ability, then switch its power and toughness with an Inside Out to RKO your opponent out of nowhere.


Wrap-Up

The format is super wide open, and people are always exploring new options. If you’re not playing one of the archetypes mentioned above, there are all kinds of other options and build-around cards that can be explored (ex: Exhume is a common). This format has the classic trichotomy of archetypes: Combo, Aggro, and Control. It is such an absolute blast to play and I highly encourage you to try it out, especially if you’re feeling burnt out on other formats like Modern. If you don’t have a local weekly tournament to attend, you can also start out like I did, maybe build a battle box with a few decks in it, or get a couple friends to all build a deck and just have them to jam games for fun on the side. Playing Pauper recently has given me such a strong sense of enjoyment and community within the game that I haven’t felt in quite a long time, and I am looking forward to the growth of the format.

To demonstrate how sweet and open the format is, I’ve been working on an EGGS brew, that will soon be getting its own deck tech article by popular demand. Until then, have fun slinging commons!