The Cheapest Format

First, let me say that I'm terrible at draft and sealed. I can build the decks, sure...hell, I can probably make a halfway decent deck out of just about any pile you give me, because I have deck building skills like that. The problem is, I suck hardcore at evaluating power levels and picking cards in draft. When it's all said and done, power levels are easy to see - but when you're looking at half a booster pack of cards, it's not so obvious. Plus, there's this signals thing I still haven't picked up on. I know it's something about drafting certain colors or something like that, but I usually don't pick up on them until I've built myself into a corner by picking a lot of cards out of the color(s) everyone else is drafting. And don't even get me started on sealed. You could put nothing but bomb cards in my tournament pack or boosters, and everyone else would still open better things than me. So while I hate playing limited because I suck at it, I really like it because it poses an interesting deck building challenge. So, one day, after suffering my usual humiliating defeat in a Time Spiral block draft, I decided I was fed up with being a bye all the time. I wanted to play a format like limited, but I wanted to play one that was actually fun and didn't require me to have to sit at a table full of Pro Tour players and pick crappy cards (there are a number of Pros in the Berkeley area, where I play). So I poked around a bit and stumbled across a format that was a lot like limited, but not really...I found Pauper Magic.

Enter the Pauper

What is Pauper Magic? It’s a format where only basic lands and commons are legal. Just about anything is playable, from White Weenie to Storm Combo, thanks to Time Spiral’s common red storm cards. One could even go so far as to say it’s the quintessential casual format, since just about anything goes and the games are a blast to play. Like limited, your deck will be defined largely by its commons and the capabilities you've built into it. And did I mention that it's damn cheap, too? If you spend more than ten dollars on a Pauper deck, you're doing it wrong. Of course, I should probably give you a rundown of things to remember in the format before I plunge into a deck list.

First, color selection in Pauper. The colors are actually pretty balanced in terms of power level, although the format is skewed heavily towards aggro decks in much the same way and for much the same reason as limited is. Multicolor decks got a huge boost out of Ravnica, gaining the bounce lands and the signets, which largely liberated them from needing to rely on green for mana fixing. That said, it’s usually best not to go over two colors without playing green, and I have yet to find a legitimate reason aside from playing Slivers.dec to play more than three colors (And no, I’m not counting “Because I can,” as a legitimate reason). The multicolor awesomeness that was Ravnica carried over to Time Spiral with cards like Terramorphic Expanse (which is one hell of a good card, lemme just tell you) and Prismatic Lens. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Expanse should go in just about any Pauper deck you can stick it in, since it’s always useful to thin your deck in a format without a large number of draw spells outside of blue. It’s also awesome color fixing in multicolor decks, since you don’t have to dedicate as many spell slots to mana fixing when you can replace some colored lands with a fetch land.

I'm lonely in this format. Will you please
be my friend?
One more thing on color selection. Your choice of color or colors is going to greatly influence the kinds of strategies you have available to you. For example, while mono-white control may be playable in a “normal” format, the absence of powerful cards like Wrath makes it a steaming pile in Pauper. The same thing goes for MBC and MUC to a lesser extent. That doesn’t mean you can’t play control – you can – but it does mean that you’ll usually need more than one color to make it work, and you also won’t really have access to many board sweeping effects outside of the occasional black or red spell (and even those, like Nausea and Tremor, are limited in scope).

To follow up on my earlier comparisons to limited, Pauper is a much slower format than those you may be used to. Games tend to last more than ten turns unless you’re staring down a burn deck, in which case you’ll probably be toasty in about six. This leaves a lot of room for a lot of different strategies to compete without too much fear of being rolled by fast decks, although a properly designed weenie deck can be a great weapon here.

A final word before I move on: combo decks in Pauper tend to be things like Horseshoe Crab + Quicksilver Dagger, two to three card combos that tend to be clunky but fun. However, Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot have both made storm decks possible where they weren’t before, as all of the game-winning storm cards were in the uncommon slots. In fact, while we’re on the subject of Pauper Storm…

Purple Rain: A Common Storm Deck
The goal here is to use small draw spells to nab an Ignus and a bunch of red mana effects, or a couple untap effects. Then you drop the Ignus, make red mana out the wazoo, and create a hundred gajillion Goblin tokens. Well, okay, maybe more like 30-40 Goblin tokens, but still…suddenly coming out of nowhere with thirty or more little red men is tough to deal with, especially if you fired off a Grapeshot at your opponent’s dome in the interim. One of the biggest synergies in this deck is between your untap effects (Snap, Cloud, and Search) and the Boilerworks. Tapping Boilerworks and then using only the blue mana to play an untap spell gets you ahead on red mana production for Ignus. It’s not uncommon (har har har) to bounce and then replay the Ignus ten or more times, which ups your storm count drastically. Just don’t expect to come racing out of the gates – the deck doesn’t really go off quickly, as you want to have as much mana as possible in play to maximize your Ignus shenanigans. Waiting until the turn before you’d die is a good idea if your opponent doesn’t have too many fliers, since you’ll almost always make enough Goblins to chump block AND kill the other guy. The lone Grapeshot is a good way to either clear out blockers or halve your opponent’s life total, but don’t expect to win with it unless you’ve been particularly blessed with red mana or your opponent has taken a lot of damage from somewhere else already.

When you’re going off with this deck, your blue mana is generally best spent either on an untap spell, or as colorless mana for your other spells. If you have Chromatic Stars in play, once you’ve exhausted the ritual effects in your hand it’s generally correct to use them to convert untapped Islands into red mana sources…and you get to draw cards while you’re at it. If you play Frantic Search, try not to discard spells unless they’re redundant Igni. Draw spells can refill your hand mid-combo (DO NOT spend red mana for the colorless costs if you can help it) and they increase the storm count as well. Also note that you can drop Clouds of Faeries or Grinning Igni early to block while you gear up for the Big Turn.

The House Dimir and Tog-less Tog
For those of you who don’t know (and that would most likely be a large chunk of my audience), I like blue, green, and black. Just about every deck I’ve made over the years has included at least one of those colors, and many of them have included two or more. Don’t ask me why – it was probably born from my love of multicolor when I got back into Magic in Invasion – but I really, really like those three colors. Consequently, some of my favorite “classic” decks in the game run blue, green, and/or black…which would probably explain some of my irrational love for Psychatog decks. Why am I mentioning this? Dunno, it just crossed my mind.

What is this? A bona-fide control deck in House Dimir colors, and pure commons to boot? I’ve outdone myself yet again. So what’s the deal here?

Well, for those of you not in the know, the old type 2 Psychatog decks of yore sought to win by getting to :5mana::symu::symu::symu::symb:, casting Upheaval, the playing a Psychatog onto an empty board with the mana the deck still had floating. Your hand and graveyard would now have enough stuff in each of them to attack with a gigantic – and quite often lethal – ‘Tog on your next turn. Unfortunately, Dr. Teeth (as he is also known) is an uncommon, so he’s disqualified right off the bat for this deck. However, the principles here are similar: the deck seeks to remove blockers, then win on the back of a really freakin big guy – in this case, Chilling Shade. The Shade made the cut because he has evasion, he’s cheap, and his pump ability requirements are really easy to satisfy without straining the deck too much. Nightscape Familiar is also a good card here, since it makes most of your spells cheaper and it’s devilishly hard to remove, so long as you keep :1mana::symb: open to regenerate it.

Another luminary in the deck is your pair of Perplex. The card can act either as a really, really good counterspell (since real card advantage is difficult to come by outside of blue), or as a tutor for a host of cards, mostly removal, but also your Shades. I suppose they could be Drift of Phantasms if you want the extra defense.

No Article is Complete Without the Rest of It
Okay, yeah, I said there were stompy decks in the format, and I wasn’t lying. Beatdown is a pretty powerful strategy in a format largely without mass removal, but even then, there’s shades of grey to deal with. White weenie? Mono-green beatdown? Hmmm…or how about…

RAWR! >:3
Even in a field of aggro, this deck stands head and shoulders above the rest. Your creatures are cheaper, faster, and nastier than just about anything that’ll get thrown at them from the other side of the table. While the red Goblins player opens with a hasty 1/1, you get to open with a slightly more ephemeral Kird Ape. While the White Weenie player decides which of his bears to drop, you get 3/3’s or 3/4’s for the same price. And what you can’t simply outclass, you can burn out of the way. Also note that that same burn can be pointed at your opponent’s face to end the game after your monsters withdraw. Powerful, indeed.

There are also a number of internal synergies in the deck to keep an eye out for. Horned Kavu can be used to rescue your fading creatures if you're so inclined, although the only ones that are usually worth it are the Blastoderms. Speaking of Blastoderm, that card is quite possibly one of the best creatures in the format. Why? It's big, it's cheap, and it's frustratingly difficult to deal fact, the only way to really deal with it is to hope you can chump block it until it fades away. Hence, given the option to do so, you should always try to save a Blastoderm.

While we're on the subject of aggro decks in Pauper, let me just say that many of the aggro decks you build will probably benefit quite a bit from the addition of red for burn. Unlike creature removal in black, burn can always be pointed at your opponent's face to win the game. In a format as creature-based as this one, playing in a color without access to lots of cheap evasion dudes will leave you liable to stall on the ground. Burn can help close those last few points of damage when your savage offense has ground to a halt.

...and Here's the Rest of It
One of the awesome things about Pauper is that it's a kind of "filter format," or a card legality filter that can be applied to any existing format. In other words, you can play Pauper in just about any way you can come up with: Pauper type 2, Pauper Vintage, Plain Ol' Pauper, hell, even Pauper Block Constructed. All of the decks I've listed up until now were built under the assumption that any and all commons in the game could be used as a full playset in your deck. For those of you who are a bit paranoid about having such unrestricted deck building freedom, I'll include a new Standard Pauper deck before I roll the credits.
Pretty straightforward Deadguy Red deck. You've got lotsa burn and lots of good guys to boot. Note that I avoided including Mogg Fanatic even though he was a common in his previous life. Now that he's uncommon, house rules will have to determine whether or not you can actually play with him...although I'd be inclined to say yes, since he's in Standard and he was a common. Same goes for Spark Elemental.

Well, that's just about a wrap for Pauper. This article is meant to just give those of you unfamiliar with it a basic introduction to a format that's quite a bit like the bastard child of Constructed and Limited. Stay tuned in the future for articles on strategy and all that good stuff.

One more thing, before I go. Pauper is an incredibly flexible format. As I said, not only is it a filter format, it's also an easily modifiable one within your play group. Is a certain common getting you down? Banhammer it. Don't want to play cards that haven't been printed as commons for all of their printings? Don't play with them. Have an itch for something painfully contorted? Play Pauper Two-Headed Giant Time Spiral Block Constructed where every player has to play a different deck, and no one can play Slivers (I'd like to see that one...). Pauper is an incredibly fun format, subject only to your card pool and the whims of your friends. Go out there and build something.


Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes