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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Nov 24 2015 12:00pm
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The first Pauper League kicks off tomorrow on Magic Online. While longtime fans of the format are excited for a chance to duke it out with commons, the league presents an opportunity for new players to give the format a shot and test their mettle against the established Pauper metagame. So here is a crash course on Pauper to get your ready for the leagues.

Pauper is a competitive format played using only cards printed at common on Magic Online. The Online part is vital as there are some cards, like (Chainer’s Edict) that are common online and not on paper. Conversely, cards like High Tide were never released at common in a  Magic Online set. The best way to see if a card is Pauper legal is to go to the Pauper filter in the deckbuilder and check there.

The following cards are banned in Pauper:

Despite being populated exclusively with commons, Pauper manages to have a fairly robust and diverse metagame. While some decks have a stronger tournament pedigree than others, there are multiple ways to approach games of Pauper and end up with a tally in the win column. The lack of multiple rarities may impact the types of effects available but Pauper is not a format with a power shortage.

Let’s talk about some things that are missing. Pauper lacks Planeswalkers. As such there are very few permanents that have a persistent effect on the game. Two of the more notable cards that fill this role are Curse of the Pierced Heart and Curse of the Bloody Tome. Most other permanents that do something are creatures and as such fall prey to the removal that most decks commonly run.

Pauper also lacks efficient board wipes. (Day of Judgement) is a pipe dream. Instead there are multiple smaller effects like Electrickery or Wail of the Nim. Crypt Rats and Pestilence are the most reliable ways to take out an opposing army but they come with the need for copious amounts of black mana. Due to this, Evincar's Justice is a more common sight these days. Finally there is Swirling Sandstorm, which sees almost no play.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Pauper is it is defined by its mana. Pauper has access to Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse and the Shards of Alara Panoramas, but none of these cards can put lands into play untapped. There is also no way to easily retrieve Pauper’s dual lands of choice - the Khans of Tarkir Gainlands. Because of this decks that want to run multiple colors have to put in effort to make the mana work. There are benefits to going gold, but it comes as a cost. In turn some successful decks in Pauper seek to mitigate this problem by sticking to one color.

As an Eternal format Pauper has access to the entire history of commons. This creates a premium on effects such that the cards that see the most paly tend to be the cheapest iteration of a spell. Lightning Bolt is far superior to Lightning Strike. The decks can be fast and are often chock full of strong spells that force interaction. Mentioned previously, removal is incredibly important to have a plan for dealing with opposing threats.

From these we can build a few base level ideas about Pauper:

  • Mana is a defining characteristic of the format; adding colors has a benefit but also has a tempo related cost

  • Games tend to play out on board as there are few efficient board wipes; these board wipes are better at taking out smaller creatures than larger ones

  • Pinpoint removal is important

  • Most spells are the cheapest version available

We can infer from this that Pauper is a format where tempo matters early but as the game drags on attrition becomes more important. When looking at decks this holds true.

Speaking of, we can examine 45 days' worth of Daily Events (three rounds) for a glance at the Pauper metagame. These results are pulled from events between October 9th and November 22nd,  2015. Any deck that comprises more than 3% of the reported 3-0 field is listed:

  1. Delver (18.1%)

  2. Mono-Black Control (10.34%)

  3. Esper Combo (7.76%)

  4. Izzet Blitz (7.76%)

  5. Dimir Delver (6.9%)

  6. Kuldotha Jeskai (6.03%)

  7. Stompy (5.17%)

  8. Elves (4.31%)

  9. Goblins (3.45%)

  10. Izzet Control (3.45%)

  11. Temur Tron (3.45%)


Here’s a brief look at the most popular decks and their game plan.




Mezzel - 11/22/15
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Spire Golem
19 cards

Other Spells
3 Ponder
3 Preordain
4 Counterspell
2 Deprive
2 Exclude
2 Gush
4 Snap
2 Flayer Husk
22 cards
17 Island
2 Quicksand
19 cards

Delver of Secrets

Delver is a typical aggro-control deck. It wants to stick an early Delver of Secrets and then protect it with countermagic. Ponder and Preordain help to keep the cards flowing while Cloud of Faeries powers up Spellstutter Sprite to supplement the air force and disruption package.

Mono-Black Control takes a midrange approach. The goal is to keep opposing threats off the board with removal - (Chainer’s Edict) shines here - while building up devotion. It wants to go over the top with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Esper Combo is the premier combo deck in the format. The deck works by having access to Dimir Aqueduct and Azorius Chancery, Nightscape Familiar and Sunscape Familiar, Cloud of Faeries, Mnemonic Wall, and Ghostly Flicker. Using these cards together it can generate an unbound amount of mana which can then be used to help draw cards with Mulldrifter. Eventually a (Sage’s Row Denizen) is found and in conjunction with Ghostly Flicker can mill an opponent out.

Izzet Blitz
KNNCCB87 - 11/22/15
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivix Cyclops
12 cards

Other Spells
1 Flame Slash
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
4 Apostle's Blessing
2 Dispel
2 Gush
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Mutagenic Growth
3 Temur Battle Rage
33 cards
9 Island
6 Mountain
3 Swiftwater Cliffs
15 cards

Nivix Cyclops

Izzet Blitz uses Delver of Secrets to apply early pressure while seeking to one-shot an opponent with a souped up Nivix Cyclops or Kiln Fiend. Cheap cantrips combine with (Apostle’s Blessing) and Temur Battle Rage to present threats capable of devouring an entire life total in one attack.

Dimir Delver pairs Delver of Secrets with Gurmag Angler for a potent one-two punch. The deck uses many of the same blue cantrips and counters and pairs them with black’s removal. Dimir Delver has some similar aggro-control elements to Delver but focuses more on resolving a Gurmag Angler and riding it to victory.

Kuldotha Jeskai is a three color value deck that attempts to leverage the card draw from Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring with Glint Hawk, Kor Skyfisher, and Kuldotha Rebirth. The deck thrives in the midgame and has been a consistent presence in Pauper for the past several months.

Stompy is a typical mono green aggro deck that wants to protect its threats with (Vines of the Vastwood) instead of countermagic.

Elves is a creature based combo deck that uses Birchlore Rangers and Nettle Sentinel to flood the board. It uses Onslaught limited wrecking ball Timberwatch Elf as a threat of annihilation and Distant Melody as a source of absurd card advantage.

Goblins is a tribal deck built to maximize Goblin Sledder and Goblin Bushwhacker. It also features one of the best board control elements in Sparksmith.

Izzet Control
melchisedech - 11/15/15
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Mulldrifter
3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Counterspell
2 Curse of Chains
3 Essence Scatter
4 Flame Slash
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
39 cards
3 Evolving Wilds
9 Island
3 Mountain
2 Quicksand
4 Swiftwater Cliffs
17 cards

Swiftwater Cliffs

Izzet Control uses value creatures and efficient blue and red spells to keep their opponent off balance.

Temur Tron is the current big mana deck of choice using Ancient Stirrings and Expedition Map to find key Tron pieces. It survives with Fangren Marauder and can close out games with Rolling Thunder.

Here are some other decks that were once popular but haven’t cracked the 3% threshold:

DarthFedor82 - 11/03/15
4 Keldon Marauders
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Chain Lightning
4 Curse of the Pierced Heart
4 Fireblast
4 Incinerate
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Strike
4 Needle Drop
4 Rift Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
1 Searing Spear
38 cards
2 Forgotten Cave
16 Mountain
18 cards

Lightning Bolt


With so many viable decks, it is a challenge to prepare a deck to face them all. You can build a deck to be strong against the five most popular decks and then randomly face the bottom half of the bracket, exposing vulnerability. No matter what, be prepared to protect your life total from regular onslaught and have some way to interact with your opponent’s graveyard. Pauper lacks a strong suite of tutors and instead many decks will try to use the graveyard as a storage locker. Being able to snipe key cards from the bin is important in multiple matchups.

I’d like to leave you all today with some of my current observations about the state of the format. These are things that may not hold true a month from now but at the moment seem to be accurate:

  • Exiling creatures is better than killing them. Journey to Nowhere may be the best underplayed card at the moment. This is due in part to the prevalence of Gurmag Angler and in part due to decks like Esper Combo being able to regrow key pieces.

  • Tempo is more important than Card Economy at the moment. Most decks would sooner pay less for an effect than tack on a mana for an extra card. Essence Scatter over Exclude.

  • The above is true EXCEPT for decks designed to draw the game out. These decks shift the speed of the game so far down that Tempo becomes largely irrelevant. Card Economy is king.

  • Be prepared for first turn Lava Spike.

  • (Chainer’s Edict) is the best removal spell at the moment in part because it can take out the key creatures from Izzet Blitz and gets around Dispel. Targeted removal is still valuable but make sure it can handle the format’s threats.

  • Don’t sleep on Affinity. Gorilla Shaman is legal and can hold the deck down. However the card does not see heavy play.

You can find information on the metagame at my Facebook page and there is a sizable community of Pauper players over at /r/Pauper. Looking forward to seeing you in the league.

Keep slingin’ commons-


SpikeBoyM on Magic Online


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Discuss Pauper on twitter using #mtgpauper