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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Aug 28 2013 7:36am
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The metagame of pauper is pretty well established by now.  Affinity, Cloudposts, Delver Fiend, Slivers, mono-colored aggro decks, MBC....  Why not try something different?

Of course, the decks below won't help you win any tournaments.  These are designed for casual play only.  And as such, I encourage you to tinker with their contents.


Deck 1 Tinder Wall

Tinder Wall    

Tinder Wall is an amazingly cool card, and the kind they would never print today.  Its primary use is a green Dark Ritual, even if it does take a turn to get +2 from it instead of +1.  But it also stalls on defense, and it can even take down a small attacker in a pinch!

So it can't get us 3 mana on turn one.  But it can get us 4 mana on turn two. Which begs the question: what are the best 4-drops in green and red?  Keeping in mind this is for Pauper and we're stuck with commons, I would say:

  • Blastoderm. Can you even believe he's common? He's good enough in regular Magic, but when pitted against solely other commons he's over the top. The only card to see wide play in the format that can stop him is Geth's Verdict (so do be careful if your Tinder Wall is looking at an opposing Swamp), but beyond that? Only Crypt Rats (but they'll have taken the full 15 before they get enough mana), Ulamog's Crusher (same parenthetical), Wall of Tanglecord (which I've never once seen somebody use), or some crazy combination of cards, like a Hunger of the Howlpack on a first-striking Sliver. He's a pro. Your best possible turn two play off a Tinder Wall.
  • Endangered Armodon. Depending on the rest of your build, of course, this is a decent size-to-mana ratio even by today's standards. In common, at least. Imperiosaur is superior if you're getting to four mana the honest way, but the whole point of this list is that we're not.
  • Wild Leotau. He'll hurt your ability to follow up with spells on turns 3 onward, but his size is better than the Armodon's. Unless you're playing against Affinity, that is, which usually has eight cheap 4/4s (those being playsets of Myr Enforcer and Carapace Forger).
  • Bull Elephant. If and only if you have some crazy combo built around landfall or something similar.
  • Festerhide Boar.  He'll be a 5/5 if your first turn Tinder Wall goes according to plan!  But think about what he'll look like the other 90% of the times he's in your hand. Or when your opponent responds to your first turn wall with a first turn Bolt.  (It's not uncommon, since they can usually feel the Blastoderm coming.)
  • Flowering Lumberknot. It would be a sweet play with a third turn Soulbond creature. I did not go this route myself, as a turn-two four-drop is already draw-dependent enough!
  • Primal Huntbeast. He may seem underwhelming, but think of the metagame. In Pauper, I would actually rather have this guy over any of the (non-Blastoderm) cards above. He's almost impossible for the opponent to deal with, barring the scant few cards listed next to Blastoderm, as well as the addition of creatures with 3-power and up. But in Pauper, nearly every creature is a 2/2, so this guy has a surprising dominance on the battlefield. And if your opponent does eke out a 3/3 of their own, or two 2/2s, just take one of them out with a bolt (or whatever). This guy will surprise you—give him a try.
        Primal Huntbeast
  • Marauding Maulhorn. If you do go the beast tribal route, this guy could replace Blastoderm, who (unlike Primal Huntbeast) cannot get any counters from Advocate of the Beast. The biggest problem with this plan is that it involves removing Blastoderm from your deck.
  • Mountain Yeti. Maybe in the sideboard? He dodges Journey to Nowhere. Of course, so does Primal Huntbeast, along with several other cards, even if he is easier to block.
  • Mogg Bombers. I'm kidding.

Did you know? As of 2013, there is not one single common red or green non-aura enchantment with a converted mana cost of 4! (Other colors combine to have these four, if you're curious. None of which are recommended for this deck.)

So there are lots of different directions one could take at this point.  I ended up selecting Blastoderm and Primal Huntbeast as my four-drops of choice, and then doubling down on the hard-to-kill theme. This could lead us to an all-hexproof deck, although those have been done to death, and by people a lot more competitive than myself. Instead, I looked to another old favorite of mine: River Boa. He and his pal Mire Boa are both well over the curve, and adept at killing (and surviving against) most of this format's threats. Not to mention, at least one of them will be unblockable against most decks in the format, excluding only things like goblins, green pump, and white weenie. But their bodies and especially regeneration are at their most useful in those exact matchups.

I also experimented with cards like Sacred Wolf and Deadly Insect, but playtesting was very cruel to them. Back out they went.

To turn our creatures from good to great, we can pump them up with Forced Adaptation. They work on anyone but Blastoderm, of course, but that's okay—he's fine without the help!

Now we just need to clear a path for our attackers, as well as take out those pesky fliers, and red is great at that. Lightning Bolts aplenty! Here's my list:


This is a casual pauper deck!
for those of you who are skimming
4 Tinder Wall
3 River Boa
3 Mire Boa
4 Primal Huntbeast
4 Blastoderm
18 cards

Other Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
4 Flame Slash
4 Forced Adaptation
2 Naturalize
18 cards
14 Forest
10 Mountain
24 cards




Deck 2 Combat triggers

Sigil of Sleep     

I was trying to port a Curiosity deck of mine into Pauper when I realized that Curiosity was uncommon.  (Pah!!!!)  But we do have Sigil of Sleep, and Scroll Thief / Stealer of Secrets.  And the cipher mechanic, and ninjutsu, and... okay, who needs Curiosity!

There are two main routes to go with all this.

  1. Ophidian-style creatures with spells that clear a path.  Or...
  2. Naturally evasive creatures with spells that grant bonuses for getting through.

Eenie meenie minie moe, catch a tiger by this is taking too long I'll just pick number 2.

If we're in blue, even when we're stuck in commons we have plenty of cheap evasive creatures. It hurts to lose the uncommon Judge's Familiar, and can you believe Flying Men doesn't count as a common card online?  (He's still good for you paper pauper players, but this is PureMTGO here, so y'all can just sell your cardboard collection and start playing online already.)  But we do still have Zephyr Sprite Cloud Sprite Fledgling Osprey Manta Riders Mothdust Changeling Spindrift Drake Stream Hopper Thought Nibbler Wingcrafter Drifter il-Dal Wind Zendikon sooooooooo I think we'll be okay.

Which of those do we use? It's tempting to just use all of the 2-powered ones (Spindrift Drake, Drifter il-Dal, and Wind Zendikon), but those start to eat up more of our mana than we can allow. Playtesting reduced mine from 4x of each all the way down to 4x of only one.

Obviously Zephyr Sprite is the best of the 1-powered ones, but who's the next best? We'll want a lot of these guys for redundancy's sake. Thought Nibbler would be nice except when you're on the draw, and you still have to discard after casting him on the first turn. Compare this to Cloud Sprite's drawback, which is basically never a drawback (in this deck at least). Fledgling Osprey is great with an aura, but not with cipher or ninjutsu. He makes the cut in my build, but may not in yours.

    Cloud Sprite

There are also a ton of evasive two-drops, but I won't be listing them all out, partially for my sanity's sake, but mostly because two mana is too expensive for this deck!  We want to drop some guy on turn one and start swinging ASAP!  Sigil of Sleep is at its best before the opponent has a whole army out.  Also, there are smaller odds of the opponent having a flying creature to block with in the early game.

Oh, you could upgrade to more expensive creatures with complete unblockability, and control the early game through other means, but your guys will still be very fragile wearing those auras, unless you leave lots of Islands untapped, but now we're moving even further into the late game, when our auras are of even less value. Not to mention, this is sounding boring! Let's just throw everything down and rush through the game wheeee!!

Besides Sigil of Sleep, Hands of Binding is a fine choice.  And Ninja of the Deep Hours never strays too far from the Pauper tables. The only other things I have costing two mana are counterspells (gotta have those when you're in a color lacking removal) and Looter il-Kor, who not only helps us recover when we're down, but even doubles as an evasive attacker.

Now we just need some damage amplification, and even though Unstable Mutation was printed at common in FOUR DIFFERENT SETS, none of them came online, so let's actually look to Bonesplitter instead.


This too is a casual pauper deck
but if you read that you probably also read the above deck's note
4 Zephyr Sprite
4 Cloud Sprite
2 Fledgling Osprey
4 Drifter il-Dal
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
22 cards

Other Spells
4 Bonesplitter
2 Confound
2 Counterspell
8 cards
22 Island
22 cards

Hands of Binding


Deck 3 Pauper Wraths


When talking about the Pauper metagame, we must acknowledge two very important facts.

  1. The format is dominated by creatures.
  2. There exist almost no Wraths.

Seriously—Pestilence, Crypt Rats and Martyr of Ashes are THE ONLY CARDS capable of dealing more than 2 damage to all creatures.  Which is not to say that Gangrenous Zombies and Nausea are unplayable... just that I wouldn't call them "wraths." And if you're looking for a common that directly destroys all creatures, or even multiple creatures? There isn't a single one.  (Did I miss any? Please let me know. Ashes to Ashes would have qualified, but is a paper-only common.)

This provides a very big hole in the metagame, and it warps the way people play. Specifically, it causes an abundance of aggro decks, and more importantly, it causes every creature-based deck to mindlessly overcommit.  Many pauper games feature 6 weenies on the same side of the battlefield, whether they be slivers or goblins or elves (or some non-tribal army).

So what can the metagame-conscious pauper player do with this hole?

How about cramming their deck full of what few wraths there are? That opposing suite of Vampire Lacerators, Dauthi Horrors, and Skittering Skirges won't look so tough when they all instantly poof into the graveyard.

    Crypt Rats

Mono-black control decks already use Crypt Rats (hence their 5+ ticket price). But I'm not talking about having 4 one-shots in the deck.  I'm talking about really committing to the theme here.  I'm talking about making this the wrathiest deck we can.  I'm talking about 4 Crypt Rats, 4 Pestilence, and what's more... I'm going to make all 8 of them reusable.

Oh yes.  Reusable Crypt Rats.

To recap, before getting to the how, our gameplan with this deck is thus:

  1. Stall the early game.
  2. Get out a repeatable wrath.
  3. Stay alive while nuking everything and damaging all players over and over.
  4. Seal the deal.*

* meaning kill the opponent

So the question on everyone's minds: how do we make a Crypt Rats repeatable?

By raising its toughness!  Black is bad at doing this by more than a point (unless you want to start looking at Armor Thrull). Mark of the Vampire does form a very bomby combo, but it is also very expensive and fragile.  Let's look outside of black, even if that precludes the Tendrils of Corruption and Corrupt lifegain that so often accompanies Pestilence.

Divine Favor    

White and green are your best bets, and of those, white is your best best bet.  Divine Favor is my favorite, since it also gains us some life, which is well-needed in the face of our own 8 pestilences.  There's also Eland Umbra, Inviolability, and Mask of Law and Grace. Or we could slap some equipment on it, like Vulshok Morningstar, Accorder's Shield, or Spidersilk Net.

"But Cotton, those don't raise the defense by very much. Aren't we better off with Slagwurm Armor?"  To which I say: you are not going to have to deal that much damage every turn. This is Pauper, where 85% of the creatures you see have 1–2 toughness, 10% have 3 toughness, 5% have 4 toughness, and the remaining 0% have 5 or higher.  There are some with 5+ toughness, but few enough to round down to 0%. (No, those percentages are not based on anything beyond my own estimations.)

Anyway, can you imagine how powerful a Crypt Rats with a Divine Favor is?  It's a 2/4, which is a behemoth in this format.  It deals (up to) X=3 on your turn, killing all other creatures and smacking your opponent for 3 directly.  And then it attacks over an empty board for another 2.  And then on your opponent's turn, it can deal another X=3, before your next untap!

How can you possibly lose!!!

As for how to keep a Pestilence alive, we only need to stick a high-toughness creature next to it. (Or more than one, for safety's sake.) I'm not talking about Wall of Tanglecord or Cemetery Gate. That's overkill! We aren't going to be activating Pestilence 5+ times a turn, remember? We can get by fine with much tinier walls. Wall of Hope is a perfectly adequate size, both for early-game stalling and Pestilence-maintaining. AND of course it negates any damage Pestilence would deal to us!  (For this reason, it's preferable here to the usually-superior Pride Guardian.)  Angelic Wall is big enough to block a Delver of Secrets, which is very important to do in those early pre-Pestilence turns.

Yotian Soldier looks doofy I know but he can stall AND survive AND swing, and doesn't look half-bad wearing a Vulshok Morningstar at that.  I also chose Ogre Jailbreaker, who really is one of the beefier creatures in the format.  Especially when you're stuck in a non-green, non-affinity deck. In fact, he is one of only 9 black or white commons to be bigger than a 3/3, and when you look at the others, you'll see why he made the cut in here. He's great defense early on—and you can't always rely on drawing one of our 8 Wraths by turn four, unfortunately—and he's a formidable late-game attacker when we're trying to seal the deal.

We'll need to fill out the deck with some early disruption, because it's not enough to merely block those early-game creatures with 0-power walls. We'll also need to kill them!  What happens if you don't get a Wrath quickly enough, or if you do but it's destroyed?  Remember that most of the Pauper metagame is one- and two-drop creatures, so this is a very vital step.  Basically it is relevant unless your opponent is playing Cloudposts.

We'll also need a way to deal with non-creature cards, like Duress and the life-gainy Solemn Offering. Although I took that out for a card that simultaneously does what that does and handles those Cloudpost-fueled Ulamog's Crushers: Faith's Fetters.

Here's the deck!  I love this deck.

By now we must all know that this is casual pauper
Right? Right.
4 Wall of Hope
2 Angelic Wall
2 Yotian Soldier
4 Crypt Rats
2 Ogre Jailbreaker
14 cards

Other Spells
3 Duress
2 Vulshok Morningstar
4 Divine Favor
4 Journey to Nowhere
2 Doom Blade
2 Faith's Fetters
4 Pestilence
21 cards
4 Orzhov Guildgate
8 Plains
13 Swamp
25 cards

Orzhov Guildgate


And if you want to see the format's third wrath, Martyr of Ashes, getting recurred—check back next week.


Whoops! The blue deck was by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 08/28/2013 - 16:12
CottonRhetoric's picture

Whoops! The blue deck was missing 4 Sigil of Sleep and 4 Hands of Binding (kind of the centerpieces of the deck actually -- a prettye egregious error).

And I realized Swirling Sandstorm shortly after submitting this article. It's featured prominently in an upcoming article I've already written :)

Accorder's Shield or by Rerepete at Wed, 08/28/2013 - 17:53
Rerepete's picture

Accorder's Shield or Slagwurm Armor for the crypt rats to beef their toughness without moving from mono black.

FYI, Curiosity may be illegal by ThrowawayReply at Tue, 09/17/2013 - 15:09
ThrowawayReply's picture

FYI, Curiosity may be illegal in Pauper, but Ophidian Eye is available and not only avoids 2-for-1's, it allows you to drop it on a ninja behind enemy lines.

Add Swirling Sandstorm to your list of Pauper sweepers. Like the goggles, it does NOTHING when you don't have threshold, so it doesn't go into every deck. Maybe run it in gruul colors with whiteout to ground all creatures. Or book burning for instant threshold. Well, sorcery threshold, but you know what I mean. ;)

Here's a link to the Swirling by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 09/19/2013 - 18:37
CottonRhetoric's picture

Here's a link to the Swirling Sandstorm deck I eventually came up with