Dec 14, 20174413 views

A Commoner's View on Pauper


Recently, some members of the Magic community have made a push for more Pauper events, seemingly spearheaded by the Professor of Tolarian Community College. Pauper is a format that I've never played - I've only watched it in some videos and streams - so when I saw that ChannelFireball was adding events and considering a full-blown Pauper Grand Prix I took notice. Even with the same general game rules and mechanics, playing new formats can be fun and refreshing. And, of course, it can be a satisfying challenge to compete outside of one's comfort zone. I decided it would be an interesting thought exercise to share how I would prepare for a Pauper tournament this weekend with zero games lifetime under my belt. I hope it will show you how you might approach new formats of your own in addition to diving specifically into Pauper.

Defining the Format In Pauper, you can use cards from the game's full history as long as they have been printed at the common rarity at least once. There is an interesting side effect of this scheme - there are some cards reprinted at common in sets that only exist on Magic Online. For example, Chainer's Edict was printed as a common in Vintage Masters, but its lowest rarity in paper is uncommon. On the flip side, there are some cards like Hymn to Tourach and High Tide which have been printed at common in older paper sets but only exist at higher rarity on Magic Online. So, in theory, you could play a different Pauper format in paper compared to online. To simplify this experiment, I will assume that this hypothetical tournament is using the Magic Online card list, as that seems to be the direction the Pauper folks prefer.
It would be daunting to have all the cards in the format memorized without playing any games, but at least I can make some reasonable assumptions about what not to worry about. For example, since everything is at common, I shouldn't expect a white sweeper, and red or black sweepers would presumably be size-based. It seems like Scryfall has a convenient filter for Magic Online Pauper if you want to search through the available cards. The banlist is as follows: * Cloud of Faeries * Cloudpost * Cranial Plating * Empty the Warrens * Frantic Search * Grapeshot * Invigorate * Peregrine Drake * Temporal Fissure * Treasure Cruise Even before looking at any decklists, the banlist could reveal insight about the pulse of the format. More than half the list seems to be combo related with respect to storm and "free" spells. That makes me think that decks will need to rely heavily on synergy/combos to gain an edge since individual cards are not particularly powerful.

The Metagame Even for formats I know, most of the time I spend preparing for a tournament involves metagame analysis. Either I am trying to figure out what deck to play based on how it would stand up against the rest, or I already have a deck picked out and I want to make sure my 75 is tuned. Since we are coming in blind, let's try to understand what's being played on a macro level. I'll start by going to the MTGGoldfish metagame page, listing out the popular decks and how I might classify them. Stompy - 10.26% - Aggro 5 Color Tron - 9.52% - Control Elves - 8.79% - Aggro Combo RW Kuldotha - 8.06% - Aggro UR Spells - 6.23 % - Aggro Combo Burn - 6.23 % - Aggro Mono Blue Delver - 5.13% - Mix, but tries to be proactive Affinity - 4.76% - Aggro Bogles - 4.40 % - Aggro Combo UR Delver - 4.40% - Aggro UB Control - 4.04% - Control Mono Black (Rats?) - 2.93% - Midrange Inside Out - 2.20% - Combo Added up, these decks comprise ~75% of the perceived metagame. The most glaring takeaway is how many decks have a purely proactive gameplan. The plan could be a creature swarm, one giant creature, or a flurry of burn spells to the face, but the vast majority of the proactive decks seem to rely on creatures of different sorts. With opponents trying to kill you in a multitude of ways, it can make it difficult to play a reactive control deck since you will need to have the right answers at the right time. Let’s dive into some specific decklists to take a closer look.

5-0 by Heyitsgeist 4 Burning-Tree Emissary 4 Elephant Guide 17 Forest 4 Hunger of the Howlpack 4 Nest Invader 4 Nettle Sentinel 3 Quirion Ranger 4 Rancor 3 Silhana Ledgewalker 4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk 2 Vault Skirge 4 Vines of Vastwood 3 Young Wolf Sideboard 4 Epic Confrontation 4 Gleeful Sabotage 2 Scattershot Archer 2 Serene Heart 3 Viridian Longbow The Stompy deck’s gameplan is pretty straightforward. Play a bunch of small green creatures, including some that represent multiple bodies, and then use creature enhancements to bash your opponent’s face in. My first impression is surprise that other proactive decks aren’t able to go over the top. I think one big factor going for this deck is the consistency. So many of the pieces are interchangeable and you even have access to nut-draws via Burning-Tree Emissary. The pair of Vault Skirge, although poor against anything controlling, will shine in the aggro mirrors, making racing a breeze. Looking at the sideboard, my guesses are- Epic Confrontation is for the aggro mirror, Gleeful Sabotage is for Affinity or Bogles, Scattershot Archer is for the decks with tiny blue flyers, Serene Heart is for Bogles, and Viridian Longbow would be at its best against Elves.

5 Color Tron
6-1 Pauper Challenge by PonyPuddle 1 Bojuka Bog 1 Capsize 1 Condescend 1 Doom Blade 1 Electrickery 1 Electrostatic Bolt 1 Essence Scatter 1 Exclude 2 Expedition Map 2 Flame Slash 1 Forbidden Alchemy 1 Ghostly Flicker 1 Impulse 1 Island 1 Lightning Axe 1 Magma Spray 2 Mnemonic Wall 2 Moment's Peace 4 Mulldrifter 2 Mystical Teachings 3 Painted Bluffs 2 Prohibit 4 Prophetic Prism 2 Pulse of Murasa 1 Remote Isle 1 Rolling Thunder 2 Sea Gate Oracle 4 Swiftwater Cliffs 1 Thornwood Falls 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Urza's Tower Sideboard 2 Ancient Grudge 1 Coalition Honor Guard 1 Dispel 1 Electrickery 1 Gorilla Shaman 2 Hydroblast 2 Moment's Peace 3 Pyroblast 1 Serene Heart 1 Serrated Arrows This is the one major control deck. It combines clunky cards that dig for answers like Mystical Teachings with bonus mana from the UrzaTron landbase. The wide variety of answers helps solve the “many angles of attack” issue I mentioned previously. The deck looks extremely satisfying but also tough to play and potentially unforgiving to mistakes. Ghostly Flicker and Pulse of Murasa are cute combos with Mnemonic Wall / Mulldrifter. Moment’s Peace should work overtime versus the various creature aggro decks in the format. One thing that surprises me is that there is only one pseudo-sweeper in the singleton Rolling Thunder, though Electrickery can sometimes get the job done. The sideboard is generally an assortment of different answers; Coalition Honor Guard seems cool versus Bogles and Inside Out Combo.

Inside Out Combo
7-0 Pauper Challenge by greenprinny 1 Apostle's Blessing 2 Ash Barrens 3 Augur of Bolas 4 Brainstorm 4 Circular Logic 1 Daze 3 Dispel 1 Dizzy Spell 4 Evolving Wilds 4 Gitaxian Probe 4 Gush 4 Inside Out 10 Island 2 Plains 4 Ponder 1 Preordain 4 Shadow Rift 4 Tireless Tribe Sideboard 2 Apostle's Blessing 1 Dive Down 1 Echoing Truth 2 Gigadrowse 4 Hydroblast 3 Piracy Charm 2 Standard Bearer I honestly had no idea this was a real archetype, let alone one putting up reasonable results. It looks like it can actually kill on turn 2 with Tireless Tribe into Inside Out if your opponent has no blocker or interaction. Obviously that is going to be quite rare and I imagine most games play out where you play some cantrips to find the necessary combo pieces, play out your Tribe protecting it with a wide range of options, and go for the kill when you feel safe or have no other option. It’s amusing to me that Gush, a card which is banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage, is legal for the full 4 copies in Pauper. The card seems extremely good here basically doing it all - turning 1 card in hand into 4 cards in hand if you need to go for the kill, helping to dig if you need certain pieces, all while not worrying too much about the drawback since your spells are so cheap. Since removal is the basic axis people will rely on postboard against a deck like this, one option would be to sidestep it all together with an alternative win condition. Sideboard Kitchen Finks and planeswalkers out of Modern Infect come to mind. Because the card pool is much more restrictive and the deck is already pretty all-in on the Tireless Tribe combo, the sideboard tries to help fortify the plan against extra removal or counters. Gigadrowse is a classic option against control but I wonder if it would ever come in against a deck that is making lots of blockers. I assume not since Apostle’s Blessing can help fill in for Shadow Rift if you haven’t drawn one while still being a useful protection spell. It’s not entirely clear to me why the control deck plays the 4 mana 2/4 Flagbearer instead of the 2 mana 1/1 Flagbearer being played here. Certainly a 2/4 is a real body but the control deck is mana hungry.

Choosing a Deck I think the most important factor in choosing a deck in a new format is to try to find one that matches your skills or expertise from a format you've already played. Beyond the obvious, direct carryovers such as Burn, there are some style similarities. The Elves deck could be good for someone that has played Pod (RIP) - creature based synergy, part combo and part aggression, non-creature spells providing card advantage; the creatures serve many different purposes and you need to balance their usage. The Mono Black deck functions like Jund, grinding your opponent's resources down with your card advantage, though you'll have to live with Phyrexian Rager instead of Bloodbraid Elf and Thorn of the Black Rose instead of Dark Confidant. Inside Out Combo has similarities to Pummeler or Infect where you navigate protecting your key creature until you can go for the big finish. If you’re feeling lost, you could always take advantage of available resources. Even if you don’t personally know anyone that is an expert in the format, you might be able to find some online - like over in r/pauper! One of the key level-up moments in my Magic career was when I started being very proactive with my networking, online and in person. The networking enabled me to discuss and learn with people that had competitive goals similar to mine. I rely a lot on my teammates and friends when it comes to picking a deck - so much that it’s become a running joke among those that know me.
Depending on card availability and time, it would be beneficial to play some games with a few candidate decks. This would help you gain more understanding of the format while helping to narrow down which deck is the best for you. In my experiment, I’d try out a Magic Online league with my top candidate; if it went well, I’d pursue it further and try a couple more leagues to gain confidence, and if it went poorly, I would abandon it to try another option. Obviously if I had months to prepare I could arrive at a confident conclusion with a larger sample size, but the whole idea is to figure out how we can ramp up quickly! In the end, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to pick the perfect deck. Your main goals should be having fun and learning while trying to do your best. If you have a good time, you’ll have future opportunities to try it all out again. So, in this experiment, what would I actually pick? I think Elves would make the most sense for me personally. I’ve played decks like Extended Combo Elves, Modern Birthing Pod, and Standard 4.5C Rites. Although it can’t be as fancy when restricted to all commons, at its heart it’s a creature engine deck.

6-1 Pauper Challenge by Xemos 4 Birchlore Rangers 2 Distant Melody 4 Elvish Vanguard 3 Elvish Visionary 9 Forest 4 Fyndhorn Elves 4 Land Grant 4 Lead the Stampede 3 Llanowar Elves 4 Lys Alana Huntmaster 1 Mob Justice 4 Nettle Sentinel 3 Priest of Titania 4 Quirion Ranger 4 Timberwatch Elf 3 Wellwisher Sideboard 3 Gleeful Sabotage 1 Luminescent Rain 1 Magnify 1 Moment's Peace 1 Relic of Progenitus 2 Scattershot Archer 3 Spidersilk Armor 1 Viridian Longbow 1 Wellwisher 1 Wrap in Vigor The aspects that attract me are that it seems like it could go over the top of other creature decks and grind through spot removal against control decks via Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody. It seems like it has a reasonable mix of speed and consistency, and could even swap over to a grindy, long gameplan if need be. My concerns would be the fragility of my creatures and not having enough pressure if I don’t draw my payoff cards. It’s tougher to run the beatdown plan without access to the lord creatures. Having no removal in the maindeck could be rough in a few spots, but it should be fine as your focus is on presenting the questions rather than the answers. Extended Combo Elves got away with having no maindeck removal, and my guess is that Pauper has fewer utility creatures to worry about. Lastly, since Wellwisher, Priest of Titania, Elvish Vanguard, and Timberwatch Elf count Elves your opponent plays, the mirror seems like it could be a pain or require unintuitive lines that I’m not experienced with.

Final Tournament Preparation I think it’s extra important to “do my homework” before a tournament in a format that is unfamiliar territory. As I reference in the Game-Day Prep section of my prior article (, I compile a list of all the possible decks in the meta to print out as sideboard notes. Even if I’m ready to outmaneuver my opponents’ potential sideboard plans, I will at least have a list of what cards my opponent is likely to be playing in their deck. I might be flying mostly blind in a game one, since by the rules I can only reference the notes in between games.

Closing Thoughts I think an important takeaway is that other professional players or tournament grinders that are new to Pauper are going to take a similar approach to the format. The majority of professional Magic players do not have Pauper experience and will need to rely on resources like MTGGoldfish. If you’re fluent in Pauper, your knowledge of the history of the format and since-forgotten archetypes could give you a significant edge in metagaming. I enjoyed delving into a format that is completely different to me. For those that haven’t played Pauper before, what archetypes interest you and why? For those that are Pauper experts, did I completely miss the mark on anything? Of course, the next step should be to actually jam some games! I’m excited to play when the current batch of tournaments passes over. The next one on the agenda is Grand Prix Santa Clara Team Trios where I get to play with my Massdrop East teammates Ari Lax and Jarvis Yu. Come say hi if you’re there!

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Twiggithy, steve, and 5 others

RW Kuldotha doesn't really play out like an aggro deck, it's definitely more Midrange than anything else, most lists don't even play Kuldotha Rebirth anymore. It does depend on the list but imo it's closer to Jund than to Zoo, to take Modern as a comparison.
I built a mono black pauper discard deck a couple of years ago. Kind of a pauper 8Rack, but using creatures to inflict damage since there are no rack effects that I know of in pauper. I also threw in a bit of land destruction. The point of it was to be the most annoying deck to play against. :-) I never played the deck because my LGS that was trying to push pauper events gave up since not enough people were interested. I never found out if the deck was any good.