What’s the number-one thing you hear people complain about when it comes to playing Magic: The Gathering competitively? Did you guess “those oppressive frog tribal decks”? Well, you’re wrong, so you get a second guess. Is it the prices? BINGO BAZAMO!
Well, sweat no more over deciding which kidney to hock to afford a mediocre deck that’ll go 3-2 at your shop’s Legacy night, because have we got the format for you!
Meet Pauper. Pauper is the Magic format where only commons are allowed. Really, that’s the only rule. Besides a short ban list, you can run any card ever printed in MTG history provided it’s a common. Now some of you might say, “Yeah, but that’s only online. What if I want to compete with paper in a shop?” Well, shops can run paper Pauper tournaments too – I just got back from one, so it does happen. Wizards of the Coast changed their rules a few years back so that shops can hold sanctioned tournaments in any format they please, even if they make it up.
For the record, Pauper’s banned list is:
- Treasure Cruise
- Cranial Plating
- Empty the Warrens
- Frantic Search
- Temporal Fissure
- Cloud of Faeries
There’s one catch in Pauper: What’s legal in paper and what’s legal online are sometimes different, because some cards were printed at common in MTGO sets and uncommon in paper, and vice versa. But again that’s only a short list. Shops that support Pauper have simply decided to go by the MTGO standard and be done with it.
Pauper support has slowly crested in recent years. More online deck-building sites and apps have begun to add options for checking if a deck is Pauper-legal. Tolarian Community College, the awesome YouTube Magic channel, has a whole series of Pauper videos and the Professor is a big advocate.
It’s a common mistake to assume that just because it’s all-commons, you can throw together any pile of draft chaff and call it a deck. Pauper, like any other competitive constructed format, has a metagame with established decks and archetypes. You can brew easily in the format, but it’s missing some key elements that do restrict some styles of play:
* Mana-fixing is bad to absent. While many duel-lands and cards like Evolving Wilds are out there, it’s not like you can fetch a shockland turn one. Decks with three colors are rare; five-color decks rely almost exclusively on artifacts. The tempo loss from tapped lands is crippling for many decks that would be good otherwise.
* Graveyard recovery is almost non-existent. This makes mill an actually viable strategy.
* Tutoring is very scarce. In fact, most players are shocked to find out there’s any tutoring at all on the common level, but it does exist. Green tutors land, white and blue tutor for artifacts, and black and blue have the trasmute tutors. There’s even a whole deck built around Mystical Teachings.
* Board wipes are paltry. There’s no full-out Wrath of God effects at common, so board wipes are limited to small damage effects.
* With no board wipes, aggro strategies thrive. However, tribal decks don’t make much sense because most tribal lords are at uncommon or better.
* There are no Pauper planeswalkers.
You might think that the format, given these limitations, is slow and boring, just banging away at each other with Vanilla creatures. Nothing could be further from the truth – many archetypes you know from other formats exist in some form in Pauper. Here’s a few:
Delver of Secrets is definitely the Prince of Pauper. One factor to be aware of in Pauper is that the most broken classic blue cards ever printed are legal in the format. Ponder, Preordain, Brainstorm, and all the unfair blue cantrips – have at ’em! And if you’re sick of wussy wannabe-counterspells in other formats, in Pauper you get to play UU Counterspell like a human being! So there’s at least a half dozen Delver builds out there, including plain mono-U. It’s one of the top decks of the format, so you’d better have a plan to beat it.
If you lived through Theros Standard with a few chips of your sanity left, you remember what a pain Grey Merchant of Asphodel was during then. Well, while we don’t have all of the same pieces, there’s enough bothersome black permanents in the format to make dropping Gary one of the most satisfying finishers in the game. His buddy Gurmag Angler makes a nice compliment too.
Yes, there is an Affinity deck, and you’ll underestimate it until you sit down across from it and discover what a beating it can be! The artifact lands, banned in Modern, are legal in Pauper, which gives the deck some strength. Instead, Cranial Plating is banned in Pauper. However, this doesn’t stop you from sacrificing a fistful of artifacts to Atog and swinging for double-digit whammo.
Surely, you didn’t think you’d get away from this deck, did you? You’ve heard Burn’s sales pitch before, and it has many of the same cards here: Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Rift Bolt, Searing Blaze, all the classics. It is missing some key powerhouses like Goblin Guide and Eidolon of the Great Revel, but Burn is the kind of deck where you can pick a close substitute and be nearly as good.
There’s a few dozen ways to build this deck, so I present my own homebrew here…
- 3x Centaur Healer
- 3x Deadly Recluse
- 3x Heliod’s Pilgrim
- 4x Midnight Guard
- 3x Selesnya Evangel
- 3x Tilling Treefolk
- 3x Lignify
- 3x Presence of Gond
- 3x Shield of the Oversoul
- 2x Commune with the Gods
- 2x Sunlance
- 1x Evolution Charm
- 3x Sprout Swarm
- 4x Selesnya Guildgate
- 4x Blossoming Sands
- 1x Selesnya Sanctuary
- 1x Holdout Settlement
- 2x Evolving Wilds
- 2x Forest
- 2x Plains
- 1x Haunted Fengraf
- 4x Secluded Steppe
- 3x Tranquil Thicket
AKA “Midnight Gond.” Yes, Pauper has infinite combos! Cast Presence of Gond onto Midnight Guard, make a bazillion tokens, and swing for lethal next turn. The cycling lands make a pseudo-draw engine with Tilling Treefolk, Heliod’s Pilgrim both tutors the combo and your removal with Lignify, and Centaur Healer wearing Shield of the Oversoul becomes a flying 5/5 with indestructible, just the thing for an alternate wincon.
That’s a little taste of Pauper this time. Later on, I’ll make a note to explore more infinite combos and brew potential in Pauper, because the format has had something of a Renaissance in recent sets and there’s a lot more potential to experiment with.