What is Pauper Magic and the Pauper Metagame? – Breaking In by Andrew Quinn

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


Hi guys. In this article, I’m going to go through a number of different decks for one of the most fun, rich and diverse formats there is. Pauper! The main reason for this being, we’re about to hold a Pauper tournament at our shop in Worcester as a treat for Christmas. Given this, I felt this would be an opportune time to look at the world of Pauper and show you some of the decks that have been making waves in the last couple of weeks.

So what is Pauper Magic again?

I’m going to start off my refreshing your minds as to what exactly Pauper is. Pauper is an eternal format (i.e. using every legal set) with one very key restriction. You’re only allowed to use cards that have been printed in common. No mythics, rares or even uncommons are allowed in your deck. There some outlying circumstances though. Let’s say for example a card was printed as a common AND an uncommon. Trinket Mage was a common in Fifth Dawn and an uncommon in Scars of Mirrodin. Trinket Mage is legal for play, since it has been printed as a common in a legal expansion set. Also, as this format is based on Magic online sets, cards such as Hymn to Tourach and Sinkhole, which were printed as commons in their paper sets are not legal for play because their rarities were upgraded when they were printed in the Masters Edition sets on Magic Online.

If you’re unsure as to whether or not a card is legal for this format, then go to gatherer.wizards.com and search the card. If it was printed as a common in any of the expansion sets (from Mirage block onwards) or core sets from Sixth edition onwards then it is legal for play. If it was printed in anything before that (Ice Age block, fifth edition and prior to that), then look at what rarity the card is in in the “Masters Edition” set, exclusive to Magic online (which will be given on Gatherer). If you’re still unsure, place a comment on this article or contact me directly (I will leave my contact information at the end of the article). In addition to this, there is a small banlist of 2 cards. Cranial Plating and Frantic Search! Both of these cards feature heavily in some of the decks I will show you below. With all of this in mind, lets check out some decks!

How do I constructed a good Pauper deck?

First of all, let’s explain a couple of things about how decks are typically constructed, and some of the strongest staple cards of the format. The main thing to note about Pauper is that, due to only having access to commons, mana fixing is quite difficult, although there are ways to still do this. In Ravnica block, there was a full cycle of 10 dual lands printed as commons (for example: Gruul Turf, Selesnaya Sanctuary, Dimir Aqueduct, etc…). These are one of the best ways to fix your colours in a multicoloured deck. Note also that Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds are legal, which are also perfect for colour fixing, particularly in say, a 2-colour control deck.

There are a number of other very powerful lands available. Cloudpost for example, recently received a ban in Modern for its synergy with Vesuva and Glimmerpost, the latter of which also being legal in this format. 8-post ramp decks and 8-post control decks are certainly viable options in the format and I will show you examples of both of these later on.

Creatures in the format are typically not very big, with your average playable creature being no bigger than a 3/3 or a 2/2. Ulamog’s Crusher is the biggest creature available in the format and a Reanimator deck does actually exist in Pauper, designed to bring out Ulamog’s Crusher on roughly turn 4. He is also used as an extremely good creature to ramp into or to use as a big finisher in a control deck. Also, due to the size of your average creature, the “Affinity for basic land” cycle of creatures from Darksteel (Spire Golem, Razor Golem, etc…) are very powerful in mono-colour decks where they typically come down turn 3 or 4 with mana open for removal or counter spells.

Right then, with all of that out of the way, let’s look at some decks.

Aggro Decks

Aggro decks have always been a force in any metagame, whether they come in the form of Zoo, Affinity, tribal strategies such as Goblins or Elves or just in good old Mono Red form. Pretty much all of these are viable choices in Pauper, so let’s look at some typical decklists:

Affinity by “bA?s” (4-0 in Pauper Daily)

Creatures (22):
4 Atog
4 Carapace Forger
4 Frogmite
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Myr Enforcer
2 Somber Hoverguard

Spells (20):
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Chromatic Star
2 Chromatic Sphere
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Thoughtcast
2 Fling

Lands (18):
4 Great Furnace
4 Tree of Tales
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Seat of the Synod
2 Ancient Den

Sideboard (15):
4 Duress
3 Krark-Clan Shaman
1 Hydroblast
4 Pyroblast
3 Ancient Grudge

Seems like a pretty typical Affinity deck to me. Artifact lands being legal definitely make this deck playable, although much of the typical affinity crowd from Modern and Legacy are absent, such as Memnite, Ornithopter, Signal Pest, etc… Carapace Forger typically being a 4/4 for 2 is a huge deal in this format and Atog takes the place of Arcbound Ravager to make Disciple of the Vault a very viable win condition. This is obviously the reason for the banning of Cranial Plating, which would make a deck like this pretty disgusting. That’s all I have to say on this one. It’s not a whole lot different from similar Artifact decks in Modern, Legacy or even Standard.

Goblins by “teslashock1” (3-1 in Pauper Daily)

Creatures (31):
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Mogg Flunkies
4 Mogg Raider
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Sparksmith

Spells (12):
4 Chain Lightning
2 Death Spark
2 Fireblast
4 Lightning Bolt

Lands (17):
16 Mountain
1 Teetering Peeks

Sideboard (15):
2 Flaring Pain
3 Gorilla Shaman
3 Pyroblast
3 Seismic Shudder
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Sylvok Lifestaff

Goblins used to be a bit of a fringe deck, but as of late, it’s been extremely dominant in Pauper daily events. The general idea, with access to only commons is to play as many 1-mana goblins as you possibly can and just dominate the board. With a lack of much mass removal (Pyroclasm not being legal, and definitely no Wrath of God/Day of Judgment effect), this strategy is quite effective. The fact that Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning, the two best burn spells in history, are legal makes this deck even more stupid! And Fireblast is ALSO legal to give you that extra 4 or 8 points of damage for no mana!

Red also has a lot of good sideboard options, with access to Pyroblast for control decks, Seismic Shudder as one of the only mass removal spells available, with the added bonus of not reaching high enough to kill any of your 2/2s and Gorilla Shaman being absolutely insane against Affinity strategies, which will typically just say “Red: Destroy target land” against them. This is pretty much one of the toughest decks to beat as it leaves you on about 10-12 life at the end of turn 3, before most decks have even cast their first real spell.

Mono-White by “butakov” (4-0 in Pauper Daily)

Creatures (28):
3 Benevolent Bodyguard
3 Guardian of the Guildpact
4 Icatian Javelineers
2 Kor Sanctifiers
4 Kor Skyfisher
4 Razor Golem
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Suture Priest

Spells (11):
4 Bonesplitter
2 Journey to Nowhere
2 Prismatic Strands
3 Unmake

Lands (21):
21 Plains

Sideboard (15):
3 Benevolent Unicorn
3 Crimson Acolyte
4 Dust to Dust
3 Holy Light
2 Kor Sanctifiers

What format would be complete without a White Weenie deck! This form of it is certainly very powerful. I’ve played against it many times and only a few times have come out on the winning side. The deck has access to some of the most powerful creatures in the whole format (mainly, Razor Golem, Kor Skyfisher and Guardian of the Guildpact). Guardian of the Guildpact in particular is one of the best cards in the whole format, with there not being much available in the way of playable, multicoloured commons, so he will simply be a 2/3 with protection from EVERYTHING! against about 90% of the field.

The removal options are also pretty good, with Unmake and Journey to Nowhere both having seen play at some point in their times in standard. Oblivion Ring is also a common and sees play in a lot of these decks. Not to mention, we all remember the dominance that was Squadron Hawk for the past year of Standard and Extended! This would definitely be a good choice if you like Mono-White decks. Just don’t expect me to be unprepared for them 😉

That covers the 3 strongest aggro strategies in the format. I would highly recommend one of these decks if you’re a typical aggro player! Now, for everyone’s favourite!

Combo Decks

Yes, combo decks. Combo is pretty much a thorn in the side of any magic player… who isn’t themselves playing combo. Storm is certainly a deck in Pauper. Sure, Ad Nauseam and Tendrils of Agony aren’t commons, neither are Lion’s Eye Diamond, Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor or a lot of the other usual suspects, but Empty the Warrens is! As are all of the relevant red and black ritual spells!

Storm isn’t the only combo deck though. Infect also has a shot, as does a very nice storm deck in esper colours that looks almost like a Legacy High Tide deck, with many of the same ideas. Let’s take a look at some decks:

Mono-Red Storm by “deluxeicoff” (3rd place in Pauper Premier Event)

Creatures (8):
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Kiln Fiend

Spells (37):
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Empty the Warrens
1 Fireblast
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lava Dart
4 Lotus Petal
4 Manamorphose
4 Rite of Flame
2 Seal of Fire
2 Seething Song
4 Spark Spray

Lands (15):
4 Forgotten Cave[/card]
11 Mountain

Sideboard (15):
2 Flaring Pain
4 Gorilla Shaman
4 Martyr of Ashes
4 Mogg Raider
1 Seal of Fire

This is a mono-red version of the storm deck. As I said, all of the red ritual spells are legal in Pauper, making this a very viable option. The win condition doesn’t involve Grapeshot like the multicoloured version I will show you next, but instead it wins using either Empty the Warrens or Kiln Fiend. Kiln Fiend gets +3/+0 for each instant or sorcery spell you cast, so by playing him on turn 2, you could very easily swing for 20+ on turn 3.

With a good hand, you could even cast him on turn 1 and on the same turn, play a bunch of spells and end on a Goblin Bushwhacker to give him haste and win on that turn. You can similarly play a very large Empty the Warrens on turn 1, possibly followed by Goblin Bushwhacker to end the game instantly. If you want some basis for comparison, the deck plays out a lot like a Belcher deck in Legacy, as opposed to the ANT or TES strategies. However, you can also go for the multicoloured version:

Grixis Storm by “Potara” (3-1 in Pauper Daily)

Spells (48):
3 Cabal Ritual
2 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
2 Compulsive Research
4 Dark Ritual
3 Empty the Warrens
3 Gitaxian Probe
4 Grapeshot
3 Ideas Unbound
4 Lotus Petal
4 Manamorphose
3 Preordain
4 Rite of Flame
1 Seething Song
4 Sign in Blood

Lands (12):
4 Ancient Spring
2 Geothermal Crevice
2 Irrigation Ditch
4 Sulfur Vent

Sideboard (15):
3 Deep Analysis
4 Duress
1 Echoing Decay
1 Echoing Truth
1 Empty the Warrens
3 Innocent Blood
1 Shred Memory
1 Swamp

This deck looks remarkably more similar to the TES and ANT decks that we see in Legacy. The deck generates an initial burst of mana by sacrificing, ideally, 2 or 3 of the Invasion block tri-lands, floating 4-6 mana of various colours into the mana pool. From this, it casts multiple ritual spells and draw spells to generate storm and keep a high card count in hand and end on double Grapehot or a big Empty the Warrens and win the game in the following turn.

Whilst this deck is one of the best in the format, sometimes it can randomly just lose. Not because it fizzles like all combo decks are prone to from time to time, but because every colour has access to some sort of way to remove all of the goblin tokens that it churns out. Despite the lack of mass removal, every colour has something to do just 1 damage to everything, rather than the 2 damage needed to stifle the Goblins deck.

We’ve already seen Seismic Shudder for red and Holy Light for white, and you’ll notice that most of the decks I put forward will feature these cards, including equivalent versions in black, green and blue. Regardless, if you’re a fan of storm combo, this isn’t exactly a bad way to go about it. The next combo deck I show you however is not a storm deck, but rather something a little more familiar to those of you who’ve not touched on Legacy or Modern.

Infect Combo by “GamerLich” (Top 8 in Pauper Premier Event)

Creatures (13):
4 Blight Mamba
1 Corpse Cur
4 Glistener Elf
4 Ichorclaw Myr

Spells (28):
2 Crop Rotation
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Groundswell
4 Invigorate
2 Lotus Petal
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Rancor
4 Vines of Vastwood

Lands (19):
16 Forest
2 Sejiri Steppe
1 Teetering Peeks

Sideboard (15):
1 Bojuka Bog
3 Corpse Cur
3 Hornet Sting
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Sandstorm
1 Soaring Seacliff

Speaking of which, Sandstorm is green’s answer to multiple goblin tokens… anyway…

So it turns out that basically all of the massive pump spells that make this strategy viable in legacy… are commons? I guess that’s as good a reason as any to play this. Whilst the Legacy version has access to Berserk and often splashes blue for counterspells and Blighted Agent, this version is still resilient to the metagame that it’s built for.

The general idea of course is to make a turn 1 or turn 2 Infect guy, then protect it as much as possible before swinging for 10+ poison damage by pumping it with 0 or 1 mana spells. Invigorate at common makes this deck particularly disgusting, just being a free +4/+4 whenever you fancy it, considering you couldn’t care less about the life gain downside. The Crop Rotations are a very nice addition to the deck, allowing you to search up a Sejiri Steppe at instant speed to stop your guy from dying, or search up a Teetering Peeks to push through a little bit of extra damage. It also allows you to mise a couple of utility lands on your sideboard for other matchups.

This deck often just wins on turn 2 or 3. If it doesn’t, it’s very difficult to stop it from putting you to about 9 poison counters, making the next swing lethal without the need for any pump spells. If you like very simple, linear strategies that are hard to disrupt, this is probably the deck for you! Plus, if you’ve been playing standard for the last 6 months plus, I bet you’ll already have half of the deck waiting at home!

My final deck for the combo section is a very different deck. Whilst it is a storm deck, it’s not a very traditional one. It doesn’t use rituals, rather it follows the High Tide style of storm generation, by making your lands tap for more than just 1 mana, then constantly untapping them. Better yet, the storm spell of choice is one that, unless you follow this format already, you probably haven’t even seen before! Check it out:

Esper Storm by “alfonso_666666” (Top 8 in Pauper Premier Event)

Creatures (19):
4 Cloud of Faeries
1 Mnemonic Wall
3 Mulldrifter
4 Nightscape Familiar
3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Sunscape Familiar

Spells (20):
4 Compulsive Research
3 Deep Analysis
1 Foresee
2 Scarscale Ritual
4 Snap
3 Springleaf Drum
3 Temporal Fissure

Lands (21):
3 Azorius Chancery
3 Dimir Aqueduct
2 Evolving Wilds
6 Island
2 Plains
2 Swamp
3 Terramorphic Expanse

Sideboard (15):
2 Benevolent Unicorn
2 Divine Offering
3 Echoing Decay
3 Hydroblast
3 Lone Missionary
2 Prismatic Strands

Well, there you have it. A storm deck where the win condition is Temporal Fissure! How does the deck work? Well, the core of the deck’s strategy relies on Sunscape Familiar and Nightscape Familiar, which both reduce the cost of blue spells that you cast. With enough of them, Deep Analysis practically becomes Ancestral Recall with FLASHBACK!

Then, in the land base, the Dimir Aqueducts and Azorius Chancerys tap for 2 mana at a time. You can tap one of each to float 4 mana, spend one of it to cast a Cloud of Faeries (since its cost should be reduced by a Familiar creature) and untap those lands. Snap then does the same, but bounces the Cloud of Faeries back to your hand to keep an untap ability around. With all of this excess mana, you can cast any one of your draw spells to draw more draw spells, more untap abilities and so on.

How does it win? Well, Temporal Fissure bounces one PERMANENT for each spell you’ve cast in the turn. Notice how it doesn’t say “nonland permanent”? With it, you wipe your opponent’s board completely clean. Sure, they could stabilise, but thanks to drawing about 30+ cards before casting your Temporal Fissure, you’ve drawn your singleton Mnemonic Wall! On your next turn, you can mini-combo off again, casting your very cheap Wall to get back the Temporal Fissure and recast it, bouncing your opponent’s land and 1-drop and your Mnemonic Wall, ready to do it all over again the following turn! Odds are, your Wall and Fissure both cost only 1 mana each, due to drawing so many Familiars, which are easily cast with all of that excess black and white mana floating around after casting your Cloud of Faeries and Snaps. I love the idea of this deck, although it’s main downside is the sideboarding options.

Due to so much of the main deck being devoted to your combo, the deck sideboards extremely badly, often becoming a lot slower after boarding, when it can typically combo off on turn 3 or 4 before boarding. Regardless, it’s one of the strongest decks in the format and definitely one of the most fun! This deck is also one of the main reasons for Frantic Search being banned! Simples!

To wrap it up.

Right, that’s it for now. I’ve shown you 3 aggro decks and 4 combo decks for you to sink your teeth into. You may notice that I’ve been posting up decks from a recent Pauper Premier Event, but not the decks that came first or second. The second place deck I can tell you is a strategy that is only possible with a certain powerful Innistrad common. In fact, the deck got 3 slots in the top 8 of this event and I will show you the deck in my next article, where I will cover a bunch of different control decks and some midrange/tempo strategies, if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you wish to get in contact with me for anything related to this tournament or even magic in general (I’m always willing to help out a magic player of any skill level), either e-mail me at landstar01@hotmail.com or message me on Facebook.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.



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