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By: jcf, Jose Freitas
Aug 13 2018 11:00am
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If you like to brew or tweak and want to get into the casual competitive scene, the Pauper format is one of the best ways to start. It offers a relatively large pool of playable cards, very affordable, so you can try a lot of different strategies until you find the ones you like the most.

The format also offers high level competition, so you can test and improve your skills, learning principles useful in other formats as well.

One of those principles is card advantage. Since I started playing MTG, I quickly fell in love with this. I simply loved to draw cards and more cards having answers for everything my opponent was trying to do. As time went on, I learned there are more ways to achieve card advantage than drawing more cards.

In this article I would like to discuss 18 different ways you can get card advantage in the Pauper format, highlighting some related cards or strategies to each one.

1 - Drawing Extra Cards:


Ok, this is the most obvious, straightforward way to get card advantage in Pauper. There are tons of card drawing spells and engines in the format. 

When you draw cards, usually you want to have some amount of cheap defensive spells in your deck, drawing cards is awesome in a long game but can be risky in the early stages if your opponent is playing an aggressive deck.

Lets take a look at some of the spells and strategies available to draw extra cards.


This guy is the king of card draw in Pauper. While five mana is costly, you are getting 2 cards and a flying body. Most importantly, Mulldrifter can combo with cards like Momentary Blink, Ghostly Flicker and Grim Harvest to reuse his ability and draw tons of cards.

Thorn of The Black Rose / Palace Sentinels / Entourage of Trest:

Entourage of TrestBecoming the monarch is the newest way to draw extra cards in Pauper. It is a very powerful effect. If you manage to keep your opponent from combat damaging you, it is almost certain you win. But, this must be planned and executed carefully. If you lose monarchy the situation could turn against you. Usually monarchy decks have lots of removal spells and/or combat damage prevention.

Ninja of The Deep Hours / Tandem Lookout / Scroll Thief / Ophidian: 

Hit and draw is a very classic strategy to get extra cards. Ninja of The Deep Hours is the best there is at it, specially with the aid of Faerie Miscreant and Spellstutter Sprite to generate extra value. Tandem Lookout doesn't require combat damage, any form of damage will do the trick. It really wants to be best friends with either Thermo-Alchemist or Firebrand Archer to reach crazy-cow-draw mode.

While Scroll Thief and old school Ophidian doesn't see much play, they are actually decent cards and might work in the right deck. Usually you want to get rid of your opponent's blockers when playing this strategy. It works better with removal or evasion.
Elvish Visionary / Coiling Oracle / Multani's Acolyte / Dusk Legion Zealot / Phyrexian Rager / Thraben Inspector:

How to not love those "cantrip" creatures ? When they are part of a bigger plan, they might add up to quite a powerful ending. Elvish Visionary, Coiling Oracle and Multani's Acolyte will contribute to both your elf count and devotion to green, powering up cards like Aspect of Hydra and Timberwatch Elf.

Adding black devotion is not too shabby either. The life loss from Dusk Legion Zealot and Phyrexian Rager could be replenished with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Thraben Inspector can be used to add value to cards like Kor Skyfisher, Whitemane Lion, Deputy of Acquittals, Dream Stalker and Invasive Species. Mix some Abundant Growth for consistency and mana fixing and you have a deck starting to form.

Compulsive Research / Deep Analysis / Accumulated Knowledge / Gush / Rush of Knowledge / Whispers of The Muse / Secrets of the Golden City:

These are some of the most powerful or fun draw spells available in Pauper. Compulsive Research is often almost the same as drawing 3 cards, since you don't need extra lands late game. Deep Analysis is quite costly, 6 mana plus 3 life is no joke, but it can be an excellent tool to force card draw against counter or discard spells. Accumulated Knowledge can get insane late game, specially if you use a lot of card selection in your deck.

The alternative cost on Gush makes it ideal for decks with low land count and lots of cheap spells like Monoblue Delver. It is also very powerful with cards like Tireless Tribe, Rites of Initiation and Kiln Fiend that can use the extra lands in hand and/or finish the game in the same turn you cast it.

While Rush of Knowledge is more of a fun card than competitive in the current metagame, there is no feeling like drawing 7 or 8 cards at once with one spell. Try to combo it with Myr Enforcer, Gurmag Angler or even Ulamog's Crusher for a mega-fun effect. Whispers of the Muse is a versatile card that can be easily "cycled" early game and might offer a nice draw engine later. Finally, if you manage to get the city's blessing, Secrets of the Golden City is a pretty decent card, maybe it could work in a monoblue affinity deck.

Thoughtcast / Perilous Research / Ichor Wellspring:

If you are playing a lot of artifacts, those are the draw spells for you. Thoughtcast is probably the most efficient card draw available in the format. Perilous Research and Ichor Wellspring are a classic choice in affinity decks.

Distant Melody / Keep Watch:

Distant Melody is a very "build-around-it"  spell. To make it work you need to focus your strategy around a tribe, making your deck less versatile and a board wipe could wreck your dreams.

Keep Watch

On the other hand it is potentially the most powerful draw spell available in the Pauper metagame. You can end up drawing 20 cards and winning the game in the spot with some builds. Try to mix it with elves, goblins, soldiers, maybe even some Eldrazi or Saproling tokens and have a blast drawing your whole deck at once (or die trying)!

Keep Watch doesn't require a specific creature type, but having to attack with your creatures to make it work can be a bit clunky sometimes. You can also use it on your opponent's combat phase if necessary. It is an interesting spell that has a lot of potential.


2 - Card Selection:

Sometimes you don't need to go after extra cards to win the game, just select those cards you need instead. Usually card selection is cheaper than card draw often being a good option even in the early game. These are some of the spells capable of selecting cards in Pauper: Preordain, Brainstorm, Opt, Sea Gate Oracle, Sleight of Hand, Impulse, Read the Bones, Foresee.
Regarding card selection, I'd like to talk about a concept I call card density or just density. 

Card density is the rate of cards that matter in your deck as the game develops. Usually, in the mid and late game, you don't want to draw lands. Also there are more or less useful spells depending on the game state.
When you use card selection to grab the card you need, usually you put the card you don't need in the bottom. The card density of the next cards you draw is preserved. 
If after selecting cards you shuffle your library, your deck density has now decreased. You have one less desirable card in the library and those cards you don't need could be drawn again.
That said, there are pretty strong decks that do shuffle a lot. I am not saying it is not a viable strategy in the right deck but, in a long game, the card density can actually matter. If you can avoid shuffling after card selection, it should lead to better topdecks mid to late game. 

3 - Card Search:

There are plenty of interesting spells and effects capable of searching cards in Pauper. Some are quite powerful but restrict the search to the top x cards of your library, requiring you to build around them. Others will search the whole library for a specific card type, card name or even casting cost. As far as I know, there are no Demonic Tutorish spells in the Pauper format, but the search spells we have can be quite useful in some builds.

Lets start with green:

Green is good at two things, searching lands and searching the top of library for useful cards. There isn't a huge payoff for searching basic lands in Pauper because the best lands matter cards are rare or uncommon. Cards like Wild Nacatl and Matca Rioters do care about lands, but you don't need a lot of them, just different types, so you don't really need spell slots to pump them. You can simply use search lands like Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds and Ash Barrens. Lets take a look at some nice land search cards available in Pauper:

Cultivate / Kodama's Reach / Exploding Borders / Mwonvuli Acid-Moss / Sylvan Ranger / Krosan Tusker:

Cultivate and Kodama's Reach are powerful spells, but they don't have much of a home in Pauper. Sylvan Ranger is a nice tool for elf decks splashing blue for Distant Melody. Exploding Borders is an interesting and fun card for domain aggressive decks. Mwonvuli Acid-Moss is a nice tool for land destruction strategies. Krosan Tusker is an interesting card that can be recurred mid game to get lands/cards and can work as a big finisher later.

Of course, green has some tools to search for nonbasic lands too, most tron decks use one or two. 

Now lets search the top of our library:

Lead the Stampede / Kruphix's Insight / Benefaction of Rhonas / Adventurous Impulse / Commune with Nature/ Ancient Stirrings:

Lead the Stampede is probably the most powerful search spell in the format, boosting elf and sliver decks.

If you are looking to dig for key creature faster, you can use Commune with Nature and Adventurous Impulse as a tool, some powerful slivers builds go that direction.

Kruphix's Insight and Benefaction of Rhonas are interesting spells that could be used in decks with a lot of enchantments and maybe could benefit from having cards in the graveyard.

Ancient Stirrings is a very interesting card, it can search both for key lands you need or colorless spells. Ulamog's Crusher is a classic, but there are plenty of interesting colorless spells you can add in your deck, like Serrated Arrows, Corpse Cur and Wall of Tanglecord.

The reason card selection and card search can represent card advantage even if they often trade one card for one card is because you are able to grab the best cards in your deck to answer your opponent's spells, or get the most powerful aggressive cards available in your deck (like Sliver lords as an example). They virtually increase your deck density, but that do cost mana. If you play Commune with Nature, grab a Muscle Sliver and then play it, you actually paid 3 mana to cast that sliver, still worth it in this case of course.


Searching for creatures: 
Squadron Hawk / Legion Conquistador / Goblin Matron / Self-Assembler / Avarax / Aurochs Herd:

Pauper has some creatures that can search for creatures that can search for more creatures.

This is a strange form of card advantage that is moderately powerful and can be used to build some cool decks.

Squadron Hawk and Legion Conquistador can be used to fill your hand with creatures at once. You could combo with cards like Tortured Existence, Vampire Hounds or Faithless Looting to make use of the cards in your hand. Vampire Hounds looks interesting, pumping +6/+6 and filling the grave for a following Gurmag Angler? Count me in!

Goblin Matron is probably the most powerful of them all, because it can search for any goblin but mainly because it can search for Goblin Bushwhacker. If it could search only for Goblin Bushwhacker that would be good enough for me actually.

Avarax is quite nice late game, especially if you have a lot of mana available.

Self-Assembler is capable of searching for any assembly-worker creature in your deck. Usually that means another Self-Assembler, I don't know a lot of good assembly-worker cards in Pauper.

If any of those creatures die and you are able to put them back in your library with cards like Conjurer's Bauble, Mortuary Mire or Nantuko Tracer you can search them back again. That interaction is kind of cool.

Searching for auras:

White offer two interesting cards capable of searching for auras in Pauper: Heliod's Pilgrim and Totem-Guide Hartebeest

Heliod's Pilgrim is particularly interesting in auras/hexproof lists. At a resonable cost, it can search for staples like Armadillo Cloak, Ancestral Mask or Ethereal Armor. But, it can also search for silver bullets like Cho-Manno's Blessing or Fire Whip. This can give some versatility to the deck without diverting heavily from the theme.

Another option is to use both Heliod's Pilgrim and Totem-Guide Hartebeest together with a ton of auras and build a toolbox style deck. Someday I will try to make this work.

Searching for a specific casting cost:

Transmute is a very unique ability. It works well in combo decks that have pieces with the same converted casting cost. 

Spells like: Dizzy Spell, Muddle the Mixture, Drift of PhantasmsDimir House Guard and Brainspoil can be transmuted into the card you need. Or even cast sometimes.

One deck that can benefit from this ability is Tireless Tribe combo. Dizzy Spell is capable of searching for Tireless Tribe the one and only, or utility cards like Gigadrowse, Shadow Rift or Dispel. Sadly, About Face isn't blue... well, maybe I should be happy because playing against Tireless Tribe combo is a nightmare already as it is.

Another interesting example is the Axebane Guardian and Freed From the Real combo. In that case, Drift of Phantasms can search for both combo pieces or you can actually cast it, offering a blocker and boosting cards like Overgrown Battlement and Axebane Guardian itself. 

Searching for instants:

mystical teachingFinally, we can search for instants (or creatures with flash), and do it again, if we have the mana. This card is good for finding specific answers in a control shell. You can also look for Whispers of the Muse to draw more cards late game or even kill conditions in the form of Faerie Invaders and Sprout Swarm

When I cast Mystical Teachings, usually I don't like to search for more copies of it. If I want extra cards I prefer searching  for a draw spell or engine like Whispers of the Muse, Oona's Grace or Grim Harvest and Mulldrifter.

If you are playing a lot of instants and sorceries in your deck you can also take advantage of Augur of Bolas. Consider this guy the Snapcaster Mage of Pauper, useful in both defensive and aggressive strategies.


Did you like this article? Did I forget some relevant or fun card so far? What do you think about card advantage in Pauper? Give your thoughts in the comments!


Coming next:

In the next article of this series I intend to talk about 3 more ways to get card advantage in Pauper:
4 - Discarding opponent's cards.
5 - Selecting and Discarding opponent's cards.
6 - Manipulating opponent's library.
See you there! Battle well and have fun!