A Beginner’s Guide To Pauper (Including Deck Lists) – Common, Give It A Go! by Matt Gregory


A Beginner’s Guide to Pauper (including Deck Lists) – Common, Give It A Go!

Last week I spent a bit of time berating the absence of relevant competitive events in the immediate future and the fact that I don’t really enjoy the current Standard and Limited formats, and channelled that into a piece about Modern. When every other format lets me down, I still find it impossible to tire of Modern. The problem for me is that, right now, I’m living away from London, out in the sticks, with Magic Online the only way I can get my fix. And because I’m working part-time, I had to sell a bunch of tickets and simply can’t afford to buy back into Modern online right now.

Normally I’d just grumble miserably about this depressing state of affairs, but luckily Magic Online has made two great changes which have served to perk me up. The first announcement is that, starting on the 30th December, they’ll be running a flashback draft from the Modern period every week until they run out of sets. That means I’ll basically never be short of a fresh format to play, and it’s generally great news for everyone who doesn’t like boredom. The other good news is that, as of a few weeks ago, they’ve instated a Pauper League, and all of a sudden the format has gone from being largely irrelevant and unplayed to once again being a staple of online play.

Pauper is a pretty great format, especially for the budget-conscious. You get to play with every common “printed” on Magic Online, and there are a ton of interesting cards and interactions that don’t see play anywhere else. Most of the Tier 1/2 decks cost under 50 tickets (I’ll be getting my teeth into the exception shortly) and are surprisingly powerful, and whilst the number of established top-tier archetypes is smaller than might be expected given the size of the card pool, basically every strategy you can reasonably think of is represented except for fast combo.



A quick refresher for those unfamiliar with the format – any card printed at common at any point on Magic Online is legal. That includes cards printed at multiple rarities and cards only printed at common in supplemental sets, so both [card]Rancor[/card] and [card]Scion of the Wild[/card] are legal.

Before taking a look at the decks that see regular play, let’s also take a quick look over the banlist:

[deck]Frantic Search
Temporal Fissure
Empty the Warrens
Brain Freeze[/deck]

Storm is basically banhammered out of the format in the hardest possible manner, and won’t ever be coming back. The absence of fast combo is one of the format’s defining features – Pauper is clearly envisioned by the powers that be as a “fair” format. [card]Temporal Fissure[/card] isn’t really a combo card of course, but cards like [card]Cloud of Faeries[/card] and [card]Snap[/card] are staples of the format so turning it into a one-sided [card]Upheaval[/card] is far too trivial. The card would be completely broken.


Apparently Infect was too good and insufficiently interactive to be allowed – not necessarily a sentiment I agree with, and personally I’d be happy with this being off the list. But it’s there, and Infect is about Tier 3 right now as a result.

[deck]Cranial Plating[/deck]

Affinity is already a popular archetype and doesn’t really need any help. Plating pushed it over the edge so it’s off the table.


Another banning that’s hard to argue with. Tron exists to keep ramp fans happy, so I don’t think anyone sheds too many tears over 8-Post being banned into oblivion.

[deck]Treasure Cruise[/deck]

Well, obviously.




17 Island
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spire Golem
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
1 Bonesplitter
4 Counterspell
2 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
4 Snap
3 Gush


3 Annul
2 Dispel
4 Hydroblast
3 Stormbound Geist
1 Exclude
2 Relic of Progenitus

OK, let me get my one gripe about the state of Pauper out of the way. Mono-Blue Delver is the most-played and probably most powerful deck in the format by a wide margin. It puts almost twice as many decks in the 5-0 bracket of the league as any other, and if you combine it with its variants (the more controlling Blue-Black version and the aggressive Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] version), Delver decks make up around 35% of the metagame. The deck is more dominant than Pod or Jund ever were in Modern, and isn’t far off being comparable with Caw-Blade or Affinity in Standard. If Pauper were a more inherently “spikey” format – in other words if the cost of entry and thus the stakes were a lot higher – it would be just about the only deck seeing play. This thing needs banhammering, pronto. And [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] didn’t count.

Blue cards are, somewhat inevitably, the best cards in the format. [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] is the only non-Blue card that regularly makes it into the most-played cards lists. This deck just plays all of the format’s best Blue cards, and dominates as a consequence. Even if you take away one or two of its best cards ([card]Delver of Secrets[/card] and [card]Gush[/card] would be my favourites for the chop), it would remain a top table staple. That’s fine, but it’s just that bit too oppressive right now, and I do feel that it severely stifles the development of the metagame. For the long-term health of the format, I really hope the axe falls sooner rather than later.

Now, don’t let my rant here put you off playing the format. Delver is totally beatable, as powerful as it is. It plays badly if it falls behind (not that it does that very often), and only really has [card]Gush[/card] and [card]Ninja of the Deep Hours[/card] to provide card advantage. The latter is an easily-killed creature, and the former is, admittedly, a completely broken card that’s banned in Legacy. The deck performs so well because [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] provides an incomparable clock, and [card]Gush[/card] provides the card advantage to keep up in the long game and ensure it doesn’t run out of countermagic.

As a result of its success and power level, it’s twice the price of any other deck in the format. [card]Snap[/card] is super-expensive for a common, and the prices of [card]Hydroblast[/card], [card]Ninja of the Deep Hours[/card] and even [card]Exclude[/card] are much higher than their counterparts in other decks. I certainly don’t blame anyone for avoiding Delver purely for budgetary reasons given that none of these cards have serious constructed applications outside of Pauper. But if you want to play Pauper, you have to be aware of Delver, and god knows you need a decent plan for it. Good luck…



I’m not actually kidding by suggesting that every other deck in the format is Tier 1.5 or lower compared with Delver. It’s basically a fact of the format and a truth that needs to be lived with (or complained about, obviously). Happily, all of these decks are good, more than capable of putting up results, and many of them are terrific fun to play.


4 Ancient Den
4 Great Furnace
1 Seat of the Synod
2 Forgotten Cave
2 Secluded Steppe
4 Swiftwater Cliffs
2 Tranquil Cove
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Boros Garrison
1 Azorius Chancery
4 Glint Hawk
4 Kor Skyfisher
1 Lone Missionary
4 Mulldrifter
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Galvanic Blast
2 Firebolt
2 Kuldotha Rebirth
4 Prophetic Prism
4 Ichor Wellspring
2 Journey to Nowhere
1 Burst Lightning
1 Oblivion Ring


2 Lone Missionary
1 Circle of Protection: Red
3 Pyroblast
2 Smash to Smithereens
1 Kor Sanctifiers
1 Electrickery
1 Dispel
1 Mana Leak
1 Negate
2 Celestial Flare

This is my deck of choice – and indeed my current personal decklist. Effectively a value-based midrange deck, it opens the game by durdling a little and drawing a few cards, then it sticks some decent-sized fliers and draws a few more cards, then it burns the opponent out surprisingly quickly, usually whilst drawing more cards. It’s a fantastic mixture of efficient aggression and raw value and one of the most enjoyable decks to play (in my – thoroughly value-oriented – opinion). It doesn’t inherently crush any particular decks but also has few truly bad match-ups, as it can out-card almost any other deck in the format whilst also presenting a very reasonable clock.


4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Needle Drop
4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
4 Incinerate
3 Searing Blaze
4 Rift Bolt
4 Fireblast
2 Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain


3 Electrickery
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Fireslinger
2 Lightning Strike
1 Searing Blaze
4 Smash to Smithereens
2 Molten Rain

Well, yes, obviously Burn is in the format. I’d be lying if I said the deck differed in any meaningful way from its Modern cousin beyond the reduced number of creatures, and it has much the same strengths and weaknesses. It’s currently experiencing a (lava) spike in popularity so whether you like to throw [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s around or you’re like me and consider Burn players to be unspeakable philistines who should be shunned in polite society, be ready.


3 Atog
3 Auriok Sunchaser
3 Carapace Forger
4 Frogmite
2 Somber Hoverguard
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Chromatic Star
3 Flayer Husk
4 Galvanic Blast
3 Springleaf Drum
2 Prophetic Prism
3 Temur Battle Rage
4 Thoughtcast
4 Ancient Den
1 Darksteel Citadel
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Tree of Tales
1 Vault of Whispers


1 Electrickery
1 Krark-Clan Shaman
3 Scattershot Archer
3 Spell Pierce
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Journey to Nowhere
1 Ray of Revelation

Who needs [card]Cranial Plating[/card]? 18 artifact lands alongside the most efficient Metalcraft and Affinity creatures makes for a very fast and consistent beatdown deck. Much like its counterpart in Modern, hate cards can be a problem, but aside from [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] – which not many decks can play – the hosers are far tamer. Almost all Affinity decks contain an [card]Atog[/card] package – [card]Fling[/card] is the traditional finisher but some lists have been giving [card]Temur Battle Rage[/card] a go as of late.


4 Cloud of Faeries
3 Nightscape Familiar
4 Sunscape Familiar
1 Sage’s Row Denizen
3 Sea Gate Oracle
2 Mnemonic Wall
4 Mulldrifter
4 Preordain
4 Snap
4 Compulsive Research
3 Ghostly Flicker
1 Reaping the Graves
1 Foresee
3 Azorius Chancery
3 Dimir Aqueduct
4 Evolving Wilds
6 Island
2 Plains
2 Swamp
2 Terramorphic Expanse


2 Disfigure
4 Hydroblast
2 Repeal
2 Circle of Protection: Green
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Divine Offering
2 Hoodwink
1 Lone Missionary

If somehow my Jeskai deck just isn’t value-heavy enough for you, try this one. It starts off by durdling, then durdles a little more in the midgame, and its primary win condition is durdling so much that the opponent scoops out of sheer desperation to play against something else. The last time I played against it my opponent recurred [card]Ghostly Flicker[/card] with [card]Mnemonic Wall[/card] and [card]Cloud of Faeries[/card] twelve times in one turn cycle for no apparent reason whatsoever. They were, of course, a man or woman of true taste and refinement, and I could only nod my head in approval whilst I beat them up with creatures with power greater than 1. There is no competitive deck in any format, now or probably ever, that durdles as hard as Esper Familiar, and I have only respect for those that play it, although I do wonder where they find the time to complete any meaningful number of matches.


4 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Mulldrifter
4 Fangren Marauder
1 Ulamog’s Crusher
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Prismatic Lens
4 Prophetic Prism
2 Rolling Thunder
4 Haunted Fengraf
1 Shimmering Grotto
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower


3 Circle of Protection: Green
3 Circle of Protection: Red
2 Doom Blade
4 Rest for the Weary
3 Earth Rift

The full Urzatron is legal in Pauper, as is [card]Expedition Map[/card], so a port of the Modern staple was very much inevitable. The top-end ramp targets might not be quite so impressive when you only have commons to choose from, but a [card]Fangren Marauder[/card] still ends the game pretty rapidly once it lands. If I’m honest, playing a deck focused around casting six-drops is not a plan I’m in love with in a format bossed around by Delver, but ramp will always have its aficionados and I don’t fault them for giving it a go – and Tron puts up entirely respectable results regardless of its somewhat awkward position in the metagame.


4 Cuombajj Witches
4 Chittering Rats
1 Crypt Rats
4 Phyrexian Rager
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Gurmag Angler
3 Disfigure
2 Unearth
4 Chainer’s Edict
4 Sign in Blood
1 Victim of Night
1 Oubliette
2 Tendrils of Corruption
1 Corrupt
3 Barren Moor
1 Bojuka Bog
19 Swamp


3 Duress
1 Echoing Decay
1 Font of Return
2 Shrivel
3 Wrench Mind
4 Choking Sands
1 Pestilence

A long-standing pillar of Pauper, this was the deck I played when I first forayed into the format and I still have a soft spot for it. The game plan is pretty straightforward – play a bunch of disruptive creatures (many of which seem to be rodents for some reason) to keep your opponents’ hand-size down, then finish them off with [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]. It can struggle with decks like Jeskai and Esper which can reliably outpace the discard with card advantage, but has a great match-up against most of the more midrange-y decks in the format. Sadly, as the format moves increasingly away from that style of deck, Mono-Black is declining slightly, but it still represents a good chunk of the meta as there are no shortage of people who enjoy preventing their opponents from having any fun whatsoever. And I respect that, too.


4 Birchlore Rangers
4 Elvish Mystic
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Priest of Titania
2 Sylvan Ranger
4 Wellwisher
4 Timberwatch Elf
1 Ivy Lane Denizen
4 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Viridian Longbow
4 Distant Melody
12 Forest
1 Island


2 Essence Warden
2 Scattershot Archer
3 Gleeful Sabotage
2 Nourish
2 Tangle
2 Lys Alana Bowmaster
2 Spidersilk Armor

Elves is, unsurprisingly, a popular deck in Pauper given how many of the classic mana-elves are at common. [card]Lys Alana Huntmaster[/card], [card]Timberwatch Elf[/card] and [card]Distant Melody[/card] provide the rewards for creating a ton of mana, and in a format lacking efficient sweepers, Elves always has a chance to prosper. Sadly Elves is another deck which can suffer from an awkward Delver match-up and whilst in principal it has great game plans against Burn and Mono-Black, those decks also play [card]Electrickery[/card] and [card]Shrivel[/card], which to say the least need to be carefully played around. Not an easy deck to pilot, but a rewarding one if you can navigate the rockier rides you’ll get.


4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
4 Young Wolf
4 Garruk’s Companion
4 River Boa
2 Safehold Elite
1 Bonesplitter
4 Groundswell
3 Mutagenic Growth
4 Rancor
4 Vines of Vastwood
2 Nourish
16 Forest


2 Relic of Progenitus
4 Scattershot Archer
3 Epic Confrontation
2 Gleeful Sabotage
1 Naturalize
1 Serene Heart
2 Shinen of Life’s Roar

Aggro-lovers get a little less to play with in Pauper than fans of other archetypes but Stompy picks up the slack. In truth, it’s perhaps a little closer to Tier 2 than 1 right now, but turning decent-sized Green dudes sideways can only ever be such a bad idea. Not the subtlest of decks, to say the least, but if swinging in for meaty chunks of damage is your idea of a good time, you can do an awful lot worse.



One of the great things about Pauper is that there’s something for just about everyone (provided you’re not fussed about fast combo, I guess). I didn’t get round to mentioning the GW Hexproof deck, or Mono-White Tokens, or the many awesome brews that do the rounds – recent ideas I’ve seen and am tempted to try out include a Blue-White deck based on flickering [card]Reality Acid[/card] and an Abzan deck built around getting value from [card]Tortured Existence[/card]. There’s a ton of space for exploring new ideas in such a vast format. There’s even a [card]Splinter Twin[/card] proxy thanks to the combo between [card]Midnight Guard[/card] and [card]Presence of Gond[/card]!

Unfortunately, Delver will always act as the fun police until the banhammer falls but given that the initial outlay for a deck is so low, if your brew does get hammered by Delver, the losses won’t be so great. There’s a much greater incentive to try out new ideas when the cost of failure is minimal. Most of all though I’d encourage you to give the format a go simply because whatever your idea of a good time is, the format provides.

Community Question: In your personal opinion, what is the best card in Pauper and why?

What is the best card in Pauper and why?

Thanks for reading.

Matt Gregory

A Beginner's Guide to Pauper - Common, Give it a Go! by Matt Gregory
Pauper is a pretty great format, especially for the budget-conscious. You get to play with every common “printed” on Magic Online, and there are a ton of interesting cards and interactions that don’t see play anywhere else.

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