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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Dec 15 2008 9:20am
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Entering a Pauper Cold   


Deck design is actually a difficult process – at least, it is if you want to do well.  Throwing together 60 roughly aligned cards is easy.  The trick is getting those cards tuned to the point that they 1) win and 2) can handle the metagame.  It is never enough to have the deck do something cool – the point is to have a deck good enough to do its thing  enough while not letting the opponent do his thing.


The easiest way to accomplish this is to grab a netdeck and just build that.  The advantage to having a netdeck is that most of the design, testing and tweaking is already done.  All you have to do is to learn its nuances.  Still – netdecks...  Who wants to netdeck.


Well, if you want to win, maybe you do want to netdeck.  Basically, you are taking a tuned machine and just learning to drive it.  Take NASCAR as an example – do drivers like Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson build their cards from scratch?   Nope .  They take cards expertly tuned by others and learn to drive them. 


Personally, though, I prefer to build my own decks, when I can.  Several reasons.


1)  You learn more by working through the steps.

2)  You have an excuse when you lose.

3)  I used to be good at this stuff.

4)  You can tweak things to your personal style.

5) and, seriously – how hard can it be?  It’s all commons, after all.


(Yes, I’m being facetious with that last one.  The format may involve only commons, but that does not mean that a lot of smart people have not put a lot of time developing the best possible all-commons decks.)


Even if you want to do everything yourself, you have to start somewhere.  You have to at least read the rules of the format, to know what you can and cannot do.  Beyond that – well, the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool, and can teach you a ton.  On just this site alone, a number of good writers have produced excellent articles on the Pauper format.  Beyond that, there are rooms, websites and probably clans devoted to Pauper.  I deliberately avoided all that (although I had read a few pauper articles in the past, just because they were well written.)


I decided to start simply – by modifying my mono-red Classic deck.  After all, it was all Bolts:  Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, Firebolt, etc., plus Fireblast.  Those were all commons.  Obviously the Grim Lavamancers and Chrome Moxen would have to go, but Great Furnace and Shrapnel Blast still – wait, Shrapnel Blast is an uncommon.  Maybe Slith Firewalker? – uncommon.  


This was harder than I thought, and since I have never been that excited about burn decks, I tried another tack.  I wanted to build a blue deck, but that requires some knowledge of the metagame, so I decided to modify an old no-rares deck I have been playing, in  paper, since the Standard format was Masques / Invasion.  That deck was built around Armadillo Cloak and Squallmonger.   Squallmonger is both uncommon and not available online, but I figured I could find alternatives. 


Unblockable guys were also key to that deck.  The original ran River Boas and, once released, Beloved Chaplains.  BC is an uncommon, but Guardian of the Guildpact is almost as good at carrying a Cloak. 


The lands were easy.  I added some MED Forests, some foil Plains, some cycling lands Tranquil Thicket and Secluded Steppe, and a triplet of Selesnya Sanctuary.


Finally, I hate running a deck without Disenchant effects.  The original version ran Seal of Cleansing (the original Seal of Primordium, but in white) in the sideboard and Devout Witness maindeck.  The Witness is a reusable enchantment and artifact killer on legs – and unavailable. The closest available equivalents are Nullmage Advocate and Nantuko Vigilante.  The Advocate is a common, and good politics in multiplayer, but I don’t much like it.  The Vigilante, on the other hand, sees a lot of play in my decks.


I have also had a lot of fun hanging Armadillo Cloaks and Blanchwood Armor on Phantom Centaurs, but the Centaur is an uncommon.  I knew that there were other common Phantoms, so I searched my collection.  Nothing – I did not own any.  That sent me over to the MTGOTraders bot, which allowed me to collect some Phantom Nomads and Phantom Tigers for a couple cents. 


The original deck also had a fair amount of land fetching, because the Squallmonger was a land hog.  Some of that was not in print, and some unnecessary, so I just added some land cyclers and some combat tricks:  a pair of Sigil Blessings and a couple (Predator’s Strike)s.


I threw a couple Disenchants, (Cloudchaser Aven)s and some Mire Boas in the sideboard, together with some Durkwood Baloths to fill the slots, and headed off to the casual play room to try this concoction out.  I clicked on the new game tab, entered all the info and waited for my game.


Thirty seconds later I shut down the request, went back to the deck editor, yanked the land cyclers and added four Oblivion Rings.  DOH!


(Note:  I’m not giving a decklist, because I later found that this deck was only a dozen or so cards off from the Armadillo Cloak decklist that appeared in a format overview article that I can’t find at the moment.


Oh noes! 


Maybe later.


I played this a bit, and it did pretty well.  Triple Armadillo Cloak on a Guardian does just fine against mono-colored decks.  Likewise River / Mire Boas against the appropriate lands types.  The format played out pretty much as I expected, and the deck did about what I expected.  Games in the tournament practice room were scarce, but common in the casual play area.


I had a vague feel for the format.  It was time to build from scratch.  I decided to build a classic-style blue control deck.  That meant some bounce, some counters, some card drawing and a few creatures as finishers.  Of course, since I was playing all commons, that probably turned into a bunch of fliers as finishers. 


The first decision was whether to play a mono-colored deck, or go two colors.  Going UW or UB would give me lots of additional options – starting with Guardian of the Guildpact and Mystical Teachings.  That also gives me more decisions, so I chose to start simple – mono blue.


The lands, after deciding to go mono-blue, were simple.  Twenty Islands, snow-covered  MEDII versions, were obvious, along with Lonely Sandbar cycling lands.  Done.


Creatures were the next step.  I looked at mana accelerants, like Silver Myr, and land cyclers like Shoreline Raider.  The Myr did too little – and I certainly did not want to mess up my turn two playing a 1/1 instead of keeping counter mana open.  I did like the idea of counterspells as creatures, like Spiketail Drakeling and Spiketail Hatchling (side note:  is Spiketail Hatchling even legal in online pauper?  I think not – at least not until Prophecy is released online.)  I also considered Unmorph dudes, like Willbender, Fathom Seer and Shaper Parasite.  I even looked at a couple cantrip creatures, but nothing seemed worthwhile aside from Aven Fisher.


Next, I looked for evasive creatures and finishers.   Spire Golem was an obvious first choice.  After that, I looked at Phantom Warrior and Noggle Bandit, and considered Unstable Mutation – not common online - or artifact pump, like Vulshok Morningstar.  I added a couple of each to the build.  Beyond that I looked for interesting and useful fliers.  Phantom Monster from MED I, is the most cost effective flier (without a drawback.)  Errant Ephemeron and Infiltrator il-Kor are really cheap, when suspended.  Beyond that, cost effective creatures include cards like Snapping Drake and the various 2/4 fliers.  Even Aven Windreader can be highly useful, so I added a pair for further consideration. 


Trinket Mage seemed useful, along with a mix of artifacts, including AEther Spellbomb for certain, plus lesser options like Leonin Bola and Phyrexian Furnace.  That got me thinking about Horseshoe Crab and Viridian Longbow – a cute little massive damage combo that the Trinket Mage could enable. 


The next step was to add some card drawing.  Merfolk Looter, and all the clones, were certainly worth considering.  The best of that lot was Looter il-Kor, which at least did some damage while drawing cards.  Beyond that, I was looking at some pure card drawers.


Brainstorm was a given, and probably Ponder as well.  I could also play Sleight of Hand, and maybe Opt – although I probably don’t need a full 16 once mana card drawers.  On the plus side, I do have a foil Sleight.  Is playing foils in Pauper sort of oxymoronic?  I don’t know – but I probably don’t need Sleights.  I may want AEther Spellbomb – that draws cards, if not necessary for other reasons. 


I did want some other card drawing.  Fact or Fiction is great – and an uncommon.  I includedDeep Analysis, Thirst for Knowledge, a pair of Impulses and even my foil Counsel of the Soratami.  I also checked (Opportunity), but it is uncommon.  Foresee is a common, however, as is (Oona’s Grace), which should provide an opportunity to discard spare lands.  For that matter, if I had a lot of spare lands, I could start playing Whispers of the Muse with buyback.  Or not – it’s uncommon.


Next up I needed some counters.  Counterspell was a common in Mirage, so it was in.  Mana Leak and Rune Snag are both fine.  Force Spike is too limited, usually, but Daze seemed fine, once I got my Jace v. Chandra set.  Maybe – I did not want to set my mana development back too far.  Spell Snare seemed fine, given the number of two drops I played and saw.  Complicate cycles to counter things, and the Scrying part of Condescend seemed good.  Prohibit is a useful counter early, and late if you pay kicker. Finally, Exclude is great, simply because of the cantrip, and the format is creature-heavy enough to make Remove Soul good.  I added some of each.  About the only counters I considered and completely rejected were Arcane Denial and Memory Lapse.


I also needed some bounce spells.  I didn’t have any Capsizes, at that point, so I added a couple Boomerangs, a few Echoing Truths and some Repulses.  Cantrip bounce is important, so I also dug up a playset of Repeals and a pair of Unsummons.    


About this time I looked at the deck editor.  198 cards, not including lands.


And I was just starting to enjoy myself.  Time to get out the axe. 


After a lot of chopping, this is what i ended up playing.


Main Deck More Maindeck Sideboard
20 Island
4 Lonely Sandbar

4 Spire Golem
3 Mulldrifter
3 Errant Ephemeron
3 Phantom Monster
2 Infiltrator il-Kor
Looter il-Kor
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Mana Leak
2 Exclude
2 Repeal
2 Condescend
2 AEther Spellbomb

4 Echoing Truth
2 Exclude
4 Hydroblast
3 Shaper Parasite
2 Snakeform








by Odindusk at Wed, 12/17/2008 - 08:07
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haha best article ever... ending on a decklist.  Such an abrupt ending.  I love it. 

by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 12/16/2008 - 13:42
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I enjoyed the article showing your thoughts around building the deck from scratch. Despite the loss of some of the article, probably the best/most interesting one written by you that I have read. Building a deck from scratch with nothing but an idea and then researching what to put in it is one of the most enjoyable things about magic for me.

by JXClaytor at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 21:16
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This is totally where I thought it ended.  It made sense to me to end with a decklist and thought we would be getting a second part with games and such. 

by one million words at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 14:18
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I always try to CTRL-A and save to Word before submitting - but I think I forgot this time.  I only have an intermediary version.  However, it may be on my desktop at home.  Maybe. 

Short version:  I played against RG (won), MBC Corrupt (lost, mainly because I drew all four cycling lands, and was a step behind all game), played Bant draft deck (close, but won), some MUC (my creatures were better than the opponent, and I won game one, game two my opponent was ahead on the board, but Spire Golems were staring at each other and my opponent had 7 cards and 4 minutes left on the clock when he "lost the connection.)  I also beat red aggro (yay Hydroblast) and lost to a red storm deck when my strategic Hydroblast on his second Rite of Flame - leaving him at one avaiallbel mana - was followed by his third Rite, Seething Song, Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens and Goblin War something for the turn three win. 

I also linked to the various archetypes at  YOu can also find good examples in the deck database at  Just search for Pauper / PDC.  Those decks appear in timestamp order, so jump straight to the last pages.

by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 13:10
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Nice article I enjoyed it.  If your wanting a good counter deck w/ creatures checkout UB Faeries


spell snare by JPLiberato at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 13:02
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I was insanely hitting F5 to reload the page, thinking that there was something wrong with my browser or Internet connection :) "Where's the rest of the article?!", I was thinking.

Btw, Spell Snare is an uncommon.  It would probably see heavy play if it was common.

by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 13:08
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Nice Article I enjoyed it.  If your looking to make a counter deck all I can say is Faeries.  You should be able to build a really good U/B Faerie deck, and if you want one to mirror check UB Faeries


by one million words at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 10:30
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Wow - about half the article is missing.  I played a number of games against various decks, rebuilt the deck a bit, then taslked about checking out the various writers on this site and PDCMagic for more on the format.

I'll try to see if I can recreate / rebuild the rest.


by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 10:47
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It's great to see you come back to the format you visited briefly during SCGs daily series.  I was the guy you smashes with an adapted WW deck- I was running a Trinket Mage Zoo deck at the time and go my keister handed to me.
I like your take on Mono-Blue Control as it seems much better suited for the current field (lots of Burn and Storm) that the more accepted build.

A few questions (that may have answered in the other half): No Ninja of the Deep Hours?  With that much evasion, he seems pretty good and the card advantage gained from a Mulldrifter Ninja'd back is pretty sick.  If you don't want the tempo loss, have you considered Ophidian? 

Stick around the format, should be a good time with the coming PEs and what not.


article by mtgotraders at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 11:04
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Pete were you able to back it up?  I also should mention that Jamuraa is totally redoing this site so this type of thing should not EVER happen again.  Should be done sometime in January.

by hamtastic at Mon, 12/15/2008 - 12:12
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What I've read so far, I've liked.

One thing to mention though, is this:

"I includedDeep Analysis, Thirst for Knowledge, a pair of Impulses and even my foil Counsel of the Soratami. "

Thirst for Knowledge is uncommon.  :(

The "pauper" filter in the deck editor is amazingly useful in this part of the deck building stage, and it handles proxies/reprints properly as well.  The worst feeling I've head in pauper deckbuilding is getting my hopes up about a card/deck and realizing that it's not legal for the format.  :(

Le Sad.