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

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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.

 

THE PAUPER RULES

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 Rancor and Scion of the Wild are legal.

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

Frantic Search (0)

Temporal Fissure (0)

Empty the Warrens (0)

Brain Freeze (0)

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. Temporal Fissure isn’t really a combo card of course, but cards like Cloud of Faeries and Snap are staples of the format so turning it into a one-sided Upheaval is far too trivial. The card would be completely broken.

Invigorate (0)

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.

Cranial Plating (0)

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.

Cloudpost (0)

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.

Treasure Cruise (0)

Well, obviously.

 

THE PAUPER DECKS – TIER 1

MONO-BLUE DELVER

(60)
17 Island
Delver of Secrets
Cloud of Faeries
Spellstutter Sprite
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Spire Golem
Ponder
Preordain
Bonesplitter
Counterspell
Mana Leak
Deprive
Snap
Gush

Sideboard:

(15)
Annul
Dispel
Hydroblast
Stormbound Geist
Exclude
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 Kiln Fiend 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 Treasure Cruise didn’t count.

Blue cards are, somewhat inevitably, the best cards in the format. Lightning Bolt 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 (Delver of Secrets and Gush 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 Gush and Ninja of the Deep Hours 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 Delver of Secrets provides an incomparable clock, and Gush 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. Snap is super-expensive for a common, and the prices of Hydroblast, Ninja of the Deep Hours and even Exclude 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…

 

THE PAUPER DECKS – TIER 1.5

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.

JESKAI

(60)
Ancient Den
Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod
Forgotten Cave
Secluded Steppe
Swiftwater Cliffs
Tranquil Cove
Wind-Scarred Crag
Izzet Boilerworks
Boros Garrison
Azorius Chancery
Glint Hawk
Kor Skyfisher
Lone Missionary
Mulldrifter
Lightning Bolt
Galvanic Blast
Firebolt
Kuldotha Rebirth
Prophetic Prism
Ichor Wellspring
Journey to Nowhere
Burst Lightning
Oblivion Ring

Sideboard:

(15)
Lone Missionary
Circle of Protection: Red
Pyroblast
Smash to Smithereens
Kor Sanctifiers
Electrickery
Dispel
Mana Leak
Negate
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.

BURN

(60)
Goblin Fireslinger
Keldon Marauders
Chain Lightning
Lava Spike
Lightning Bolt
Needle Drop
Curse of the Pierced Heart
Incinerate
Searing Blaze
Rift Bolt
Fireblast
Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain

Sideboard:

(15)
Electrickery
Relic of Progenitus
Fireslinger
Lightning Strike
Searing Blaze
Smash to Smithereens
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 Lightning Bolts around or you’re like me and consider Burn players to be unspeakable philistines who should be shunned in polite society, be ready.

AFFINITY

(60)
Atog
Auriok Sunchaser
Carapace Forger
Frogmite
Somber Hoverguard
Myr Enforcer
Chromatic Star
Flayer Husk
Galvanic Blast
Springleaf Drum
Prophetic Prism
Temur Battle Rage
Thoughtcast
Ancient Den
Darksteel Citadel
Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Vault of Whispers

Sideboard:

(15)
Electrickery
Krark-Clan Shaman
Scattershot Archer
Spell Pierce
Ancient Grudge
Journey to Nowhere
Ray of Revelation

Who needs Cranial Plating? 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 Ancient Grudge – which not many decks can play – the hosers are far tamer. Almost all Affinity decks contain an Atog package – Fling is the traditional finisher but some lists have been giving Temur Battle Rage a go as of late.

ESPER FAMILIAR

(60)
Cloud of Faeries
Nightscape Familiar
Sunscape Familiar
Sage’s Row Denizen
Sea Gate Oracle
Mnemonic Wall
Mulldrifter
Preordain
Snap
Compulsive Research
Ghostly Flicker
Reaping the Graves
Foresee
Azorius Chancery
Dimir Aqueduct
Evolving Wilds
Island
Plains
Swamp
Terramorphic Expanse

Sideboard:

(15)
Disfigure
Hydroblast
Repeal
Circle of Protection: Green
Circle of Protection: Red
Divine Offering
Hoodwink
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 Ghostly Flicker with Mnemonic Wall and Cloud of Faeries 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.

TRON

(60)
Sea Gate Oracle
Mulldrifter
Fangren Marauder
Ulamog’s Crusher
Ancient Stirrings
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Expedition Map
Lightning Bolt
Prismatic Lens
Prophetic Prism
Rolling Thunder
Haunted Fengraf
Shimmering Grotto
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower

Sideboard:

(15)
Circle of Protection: Green
Circle of Protection: Red
Doom Blade
Rest for the Weary
Earth Rift

The full Urzatron is legal in Pauper, as is Expedition Map, 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 Fangren Marauder 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.

MONO-BLACK CONTROL

(60)
Cuombajj Witches
Chittering Rats
Crypt Rats
Phyrexian Rager
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Gurmag Angler
Disfigure
Unearth
Chainer’s Edict
Sign in Blood
Victim of Night
Oubliette
Tendrils of Corruption
Corrupt
Barren Moor
Bojuka Bog
19 Swamp

Sideboard:

(15)
Duress
Echoing Decay
Font of Return
Shrivel
Wrench Mind
Choking Sands
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 Gray Merchant of Asphodel. 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.

ELVES

(60)
Birchlore Rangers
Elvish Mystic
Llanowar Elves
Nettle Sentinel
Quirion Ranger
Elvish Visionary
Priest of Titania
Sylvan Ranger
Wellwisher
Timberwatch Elf
Ivy Lane Denizen
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Viridian Longbow
Distant Melody
12 Forest
Island

Sideboard:

(15)
Essence Warden
Scattershot Archer
Gleeful Sabotage
Nourish
Tangle
Lys Alana Bowmaster
Spidersilk Armor

Elves is, unsurprisingly, a popular deck in Pauper given how many of the classic mana-elves are at common. Lys Alana Huntmaster, Timberwatch Elf and Distant Melody 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 Electrickery and Shrivel, 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.

MONO-GREEN STOMPY

(60)
Nettle Sentinel
Quirion Ranger
Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
Young Wolf
Garruk’s Companion
River Boa
Safehold Elite
Bonesplitter
Groundswell
Mutagenic Growth
Rancor
Vines of Vastwood
Nourish
16 Forest

Sideboard:

(15)
Relic of Progenitus
Scattershot Archer
Epic Confrontation
Gleeful Sabotage
Naturalize
Serene Heart
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.

 

SO COMMON, GIVE IT A GO!

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 Reality Acid and an Abzan deck built around getting value from Tortured Existence. There’s a ton of space for exploring new ideas in such a vast format. There’s even a Splinter Twin proxy thanks to the combo between Midnight Guard and Presence of Gond!

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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