Breaking In: Starting out on MTGO – A Beginner’s Guide to Pauper by Andrew Quinn

Breaking In: Starting out on MTGO – A Beginner’s Guide to Pauper by Andrew Quinn


Hey all. Have any of you ever thought, I want to play competitive magic, but Standard’s far too expensive? Has anyone ever told you that you should play Legacy and again, you’ve found it to be too expensive? Do you at all strive to make yourself at this game but don’t have much time on your hands or much extra money to put into doing so? Do you want to play in a tournament where you never have to worry about Planeswalkers? Do you just want to play a really fun game of Magic in a format that doesn’t rotate? Well, all I can say to that is, welcome to Pauper. This extremely fun, and in fact, competitive format is perfect for you if you answered yes to at least 1 of these questions. Pauper is the cheapest constructed format in the whole game and possibly the cheapest competitive TCG format in the world, yet it’s Magic? If I have caught your interest already, read on, and find out more!

So, the first question that comes to mind would be, what is Pauper? Well, as I’m sure you can tell by the name, it’s basically a poor man’s format that is exclusive to Magic Online (meaning of course, you will need to download Magic Online [MTGO for short], but trust me, it’ll be worth it…). How is this done? Well, first off, it’s an Eternal format, meaning all released sets are legal and it never rotates, like Standard does. However, you are restricted to build your deck with ONLY common cards. In more detail, this means that if a card has ever been printed in a Magic Online expansion with a common symbol, then it is legal for play in your deck. Again, just a little more clarification, if we take Counterspell as an example. Counterspell has been printed in various sets on Magic Online as a common and is therefore legal. However, it was also printed in one set (Masters Edition 2) with an uncommon expansion symbol. This version is still legal for play, since Counterspell was printed as a common in another set. Hymn to Tourach however, was printed as a common in Fallen Empires, yet Fallen Empires was never printed on Magic Online and Hymn to Tourach has only been printed as an uncommon in Masters Edition 1, so it is not legal for play. In addition to these rules, there is a very short banlist of 2 cards, which are Cranial Plating and just recently, Frantic Search.

Before I carry on, I’m going to give a quick tutorial on how to download Magic Online.

First of all, follow THIS link to the Wizards website to download the download client. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two to download this initial program and then you use that program to download MTGO itself. This took me about 3 hours or so, so you might want to get yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit or something… When that’s all sorted, you have an 800MB file called MTGO Installer. Of course, run this program and MTGO will be downloaded. Unfortunately, this requires more waiting. MTGO won’t take long to install, but it will then need to update itself. So, 5 hours later (pfft…) MTGO is ready to begin playing. You need to sign up with a new account if you don’t already own one, so go ahead and register. This will cost you the small fee of $10, but it also comes with a selection of gold-bordered casual decks and a free M11 booster (which will be M12 when it’s released online in early August). For further tips on how to navigate MTGO and what to do with your starter pack, check out Dan Stokes’ article on how to start out on MTGO.

Now, the first thing one must learn about Pauper is that it is a very legitimate constructed format. One could look at it thinking it’s a very random format and you can basically play anything. This would be a very bad way to look at the format. Very much like Sealed and Draft format, it may appear this way, but the truth is that the format is very well practiced and there exist a number of very powerful decks, some of which differ only very slightly from heir counterparts in full Legacy. For example, mono-red is almost IDENTICAL to how it’s played in Legacy, since Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Fireblast, Rift Bolt, Lava Spike, Spark Elemental and Keldon Marauders are all commons, making it very much a tier 1 deck.

Similarly, many decks such as Faeries, Mono-Black Control, Storm combo and Affinity exist in the format and they should all be considered when building your 75 cards. The major problem that the format has is the mana fixing available. You have available, Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, the cycle of common Dual lands from Ravinica block and that’s essentially it as far as colour fixing goes. As such, we must find other ways to fix colours, such as Prophetic Prism or Chromatic Star. Due to this, mono-coloured decks are easily the most consistent options and many decks opt for the mono-coloured route if they can manage it. In addition, for those of us who started out with mono-coloured decks because of the expensive dual lands or because that’s what our intro packs had in them, the format is like a shot back to when we started the game, which I personally have enjoyed immensely.

The first thing that drew me to the format was the perceived cost of the format, and I’m not disappointed at all. I delved into the diverse world of Pauper and in the past week, I’ve managed to pick up 4 almost complete competitive decks (minus a couple of sideboard cards really) and I’ve spent no more than $20 in doing so. I mean, how can you argue with that? But still, how is this possible? If I were building this decks in paper form, buying the list from any online store, it should surely cost LOADS more than $20 for FOUR decks. Well, the main reason is because of ease of access to the cards. The majority of card stores will charge anywhere between 10p and £1 for the majority of commons. So, even if your 4 decks consisted of 40 of these commons (excluding basic lands), averaging around 50p each, then for 4 decks, that’d cost you £80! The only reason for this is because you have to include costs such as the labour used to package your order, the postage and packing costs and so on. This just isn’t the case with online cards. The majority of the commons I’ve put into these decks have costed $0.02 each! Some of them, even less!!!

Simply put, due to there being so many packs being opened online, loads of people sell their collections of unneeded commons to the online bots for cheap and then those bots don’t mind selling them on for only slightly more. With the sheer mass of people around the world who use Magic Online every day, you can be very happy only making say, $0.01 profit on each card you sell if you have an automated program doing this for you several thousands of times every day! You can find hundreds of vendors online offering deals such as 150 commons for 1 tix (the equivalent of $1). I checked out one such vendor, and found something like, 7 or 8 playsets of cards I needed for various decks! Naturally, there are going to be some cards for these decks that are somewhat more expensive, but in general, you can get the majority of your deck for this sort of price ($20). As a note, the most expensive pauper legal card on Magic online is Sunscape Familiar, which is used in a number of Esper control decks. It only costs this much because of its popularity in Pauper and due to the fact that it came from Invasion block, which has been severely underused online, driving up the price of all singles from it. However, despite this, the average online price for a Sunscape Familiar is only 5 tix! Nightscape Familiar follows closely behind on 4 tix and most other powerful commons come in at about 1.5-2 tix each, such as Hydroblast, Pyroblast, Cloud of Faeries, Fireblast and so on. So, have I grabbed your attention yet? Well, next, I’m going to explore some of my favourite archetypes that I’ve built and stumbled across so far!

Ninja Faeries!

Yes! Ninja Faeries! Believe it or not, this is a legitimate archetype in Pauper! I love the deck idea. The simple idea is to attack with some sort of little flying Faerie creature and when it goes unblocked, you flash in Ninja of the Deep Hours using his Ninjutsu ability and draw a card for your effort. In addition, the best faeries around all have some sort of “enters the battlefield” triggered ability, which you can abuse by returning it to your hand and playing it again. We can back up this plan using some powerful counterspells and bounce spells acting as removal. Naturally, you don’t have access to the powerful cards that make the cut in the Legacy version of this deck, like AEther Vial, Standstill or Umezawa’s Jitte, but it’s surprising how much of the deck still survives. Here is my current decklist for it:

Creatures (18):
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Mulldrifter
1 Pestermite
1 Spire Monitor

Spells (20):
4 Counterspell
4 Condescend
1 Mana Leak
4 Think Twice
3 Repeal
1 Capsize
2 Mystical Teachings
1 Oona’s Grace

Lands (22):
14 Island
4 Glimmerpost
4 Cloudpost

Sideboard (15):
4 Spreading Seas
1 Repeal
4 AEther Adept
3 Negate
3 Pestermite

So, there we are. How does that look for a proper control deck? No planeswalkers, no expensive win condition, no man lands, just pure control.

First of all, the land base. Cloudpost is possibly the best land that you have access to in Pauper. It regularly ends up tapping for 2 or 3 mana by itself and usually more. The reason for playing this is essentially to mana ramp. It’s very possible by combining say, 2 Cloudposts and 1 Glimmerpost to have 8+ mana available by turn 5, which is a massive advantage in this format, since games are usually a lot slower than in other constructed formats. Due to this, it’s very possible to cast multiple spells each turn. For example, you could cast a turn 5 or 6 Mulldrifter with a Counterspell backing it up, allowing for games to get pretty silly very quickly and for to get as far ahead of your opponent as possible.

The Glimmerposts usually gain you about 6-8 life over the course of a game, giving you a big advantage over aggro decks. Other than that, the deck is relatively straight forward. Cloud of Faeries combined with a Cloudpost that taps for more than 1 mana allows you to once again, ramp into something. Mystical Teachings can’t be abused with Flashback, but it essentially allows you to hit your bigger win conditions more reliably, those being Spire Monitor (our version of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir) and Capsize which is intended to be cast with Buyback pretty much every time. Thanks to our mana engine, we can do this twice per turn more often than not, which is pretty insane, clearing the board of creatures and eventually lands if that’s needed.

Condescend and Repeal become our Counter and Bounce spells of choice due to again, our land base being able to support their X mana cost very easily. Think Twice and Oona’s Grace round of the lineup as some powerful, instant-speed, recurrable draw spells. In the sideboard, we have access to Spreading Seas, for the Cloudpost mirror match and other decks with fragile mana bases, such as Storm combo and Esper control. Negates give us access to more counterspells in the control mirror.

Finally, AEther Adepts, Pestermites and the fourth Repeal come in for all of the aggro matchups which are easily the hardest matchups. Now, the cost of this deck? Cloudposts and Cloud of Faeries are the only really expensive cards here. Average prices being 1.25 tix for Cloudpost and 1.75 for Cloud of Faeries. However, these sell quite often and can be shopped around for. I found my playset of Cloud of Faeires for a total of 4 tix and the Cloudposts for a total of 4.5. Counterspells should be shopped around for really, but can generally be found for as little as 0.3 each. The rest of the deck falls into the 0.02-0.1 tix category and you could probably find the entire deck for as little as 12 tix.

That’s all I’ve got for you for now. Look for part 2 for a look at some more competetive decklists. Thank you for reading 🙂



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