Welcome back to The Brewery! I hope the winter holidays have been kind to you all. It's been a few slow weeks here for Spike content at Quiet Speculation, and I look forward to getting back up to speed. The Extended format is really starting to take shape, and we should be getting bombarded with decklists and tech from PTQs, MTGO events, and Grand Prix in the coming weeks.
So why am I writing about Pauper? Because, quite simply, it is the coolest Constructed format I've ever played on Magic Online! And with the rising costs of Constructed formats these days, how awesome does it sound to be able to play any Tier 1 deck in a competitive format for a tiny percentage of what Extended or Standard would cost you?
What Is So Much Fun About Pauper?
First and foremost, it's an "Eternal" format. Every card ever released at a "common" rarity on Magic Online is available for use. Did you ever want to combine Metalcraft and Affinity without playing Legacy? Or a format where the best Counterspell is usually, quite literally, Counterspell? What about a Goblin deck that can't use Goblin Piledriver or Goblin Lackey?
As a thought exercise, try and consider what a Control deck would look like in this format. To get you on the right track, Mystical Teachings is a common.
Did it look anything like this?
Yeah, I didn't think so. But, seriously, how freaking cool is that deck? Ulamog's Crusher as a finisher? Cloudpost and Glimmerpost? Maindeck Stone Rain? And the best part is that this is one of the Tier 1 archetypes. No joke. The first game I played with this deck (against a mono Black deck featuring Chittering Rats, Okiba-Gang Shinobi, and various other Black card advantage) ended when I obtained a Cloudpost-fueled Capsize lock.
Now, I don't claim this to be the best version of the deck (Locust Control, UR Control, Mystical Teachings, call it what you wish), but it's the version I've been playing with lately. A few points of note:
Land Destruction can be exceptional in this format. The best Combo deck (decklist to follow, use your imagination for now!) uses Cloud of Faeries, Snap, Frantic Search, and friends to power a large Storm count (leading to Temporal Fissure usually, but also rarely Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens). These decks rely on Nightscape Familiar and Sunscape Familiar without being able to draw on Sapphire Medallion, but they also make heavy use of the Ravnica dual lands (no, not the awesome "Shocklands," but their decidedly less-awesome "Bouncelands" such as Azorius Chancery, Simic Growth Chamber, etc.). A timely Stone Rain on an enemy Cloudpost or Azorius Chancery can be enough to provide overwhelming advantage.
Mulldrifter is everywhere. This Elemental is the go-to Sorcery-speed card draw spell for most decks in the format. Other various card draw spells of note in the format include Deep Analysis, Mysteries of the Deep, Frantic Search, Compulsive Research, Sign in Blood, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Preordain, Ponder, Think Twice, Brainstorm, Ideas Unbound, and Thoughtcast. I'm sure there are others, too.
Prohibit headlines many Countermagic suites. Prohibit is fantastic. It will very often be a hard counter for 1U, and it will almost always be a hard counter for 3U. There's a reason why this was the most difficult Pauper staple for me to acquire, being a rather obscure common from Invasion, but it was well worth the 7 Ticket investment for a playset. Other Counterspells that you'll see played often are Force Spike, Counterspell, Mana Leak, Condescend, Deprive, Spell Pierce, Dispel, as well as a few more obscure options.
What an awesome Sideboard, too! Pyroblast and Hydroblast? Gorilla Shaman? Halimar Wavewatch? With any Eternal format, you typically have access to some of the strongest "hoser" cards printed. With Pauper that's not necessarily the case, but there are some fantastic options here to keep something like Affinity from being as otherwise-dominant as it might be.
Oh, and the whole thing will run you just $26.77.
Swing, Swing, Swing, From the Tangles Of...
Generic whiny lyrics aside, what do I mean? Let me start with an example. You're playing the U/B Control mirror in today's Standard. Both players have fought a long, hard attrition battle. Each player is living off the top of their deck, and both players have exhausted most of their resources. You've matched wits for 20 minutes, and you just need things to break a little bit in your way to eke out a much-deserved win.
And that's when your opponent slams down his topdecked Grave Titan on the table and you're drawing cold. Oops.
In a Pauper game, there are obviously times when your opponent (or you, for that matter) can draw that silver bullet that will simply end the game. But when the overall power level of the format is so much lower, games can be much more of a grind. Eking out every bit of card advantage starts to matter all the more. Games go longer, often require more strategy, and you really need to make every turn count. Sure, that's the case in every format, but let's face it: Constructed games lately often come down to whether or not your opponent's Summoning Trap hits an Eldrazi monster or an Overgrown Battlement; whether they have the Cryptic Command they need to both stop your imminent win (while blowing you out at the same time!); whether or not you get Goblin Guide on turn 1; and so on.
Don't get me wrong, Standard and Extended are both exceptionally fun right now. The decks are flashy, powerful-without-being-unfair, and the formats are both quite diverse. But this leads me to my final, and most practical, point:
Pauper is Cheap
Not every card is going to be a throw-in common, but you could probably buy a majority of most decks just with your leftover bot credits. A few staples are going to run you as much as 1-2 Tickets per, and a few choice cards are going to run even a little more than that, but you could purchase an entire Pauper Daily Event (literally, a playset of every card used in any Pauper Daily) for less than a couple of playsets of those filter lands that you've been eying. If you're looking to get into Extended from scratch on MTGO, it's going to cost you at least $200-$250 for the cheapest competitive deck and as much as $400, $600, $800 or more! And then you better hope that your deck stays relevant...
Here are some of the format's other defining decks, as well as some oddball ones I've taken a liking to, along with a total cost of the deck according to MTGO Traders. Feast and enjoy!
Mono Blue Aggro/Control - $15.16
Right now, this is my favorite deck in the format. Spire Golem is an absolute All-Star, Piracy Charm is one of the coolest spells in the format (Blue removal, evasion, or neutered Esper Charm), and this deck can really hold its own against anything you can run up against. Turning a free Spire Golem into a Ninja is exactly as cool as it sounds, and it leaves you with an untapped 2/4 blocker to boot.
And the whole deck will cost you less than a single Twilight Mire from Extended's top "budget" deck, Jund. The only playsets here that will cost you more than a dime or two (no, not that dime, either) are Prohibit and Hydroblast, and both are format staples. Suck on that, Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Affinity - $28.24
So far, I've played against the Affinity deck but not with it yet. It's next on my list, though, and this is a list I would start with. Some builds omit Auriok Sunchaser for Carapace Forger, and some builds omit both Metalcraft creatures for a more focused Affinity core. Whichever way you go, it's pretty obvious why this is one of the most powerful decks in the format. It's important to note here that the bulk of the deck's "hefty" cost comes from its sideboard: Gorilla Shaman is 12 Tickets for a playset, and two playsets of 'blasts will run you approximately 7 Tickets total. A closer look at Gorilla Shaman shows why it is one of the cards that, more than any other, can keep Affinity in check. If you are playing Red, you almost certainly must run 3-4 of them in your Sideboard.
Esper "Familiar" Storm - $51.14
The way this deck wins should be fairly obvious, and weighing in at approximately 2.5 Thoughtseizes, it's going to be the most expensive deck in this article. Pretty awesome, right? This is also likely to be the deck in the format that does the most broken things. I've seen a version of the deck that splashed Green for mana fixing and additional Wild Growth-type effects, but Esper is the most common. This is the go-to Combo deck in the format (you'll notice Storm to be a common component of Pauper Combo decks), and it's quite effective.
Frantic Search (10 Tickets/playset), Snap (7 Tickets/playset), Cloud of Faeries (9 Tickets/playset), Deep Analysis (6 Tickets/playset) and the Familiars (~5-6 Tickets/playset) are the "big ticket" items here. Deep Analysis and Frantic Search, along with Hydroblast out of the Sideboard, are common enough to be considered format staples, so they'll give you additional value.
Goblins - $21.37
Ahh, Goblins. Sure, reaching for Jackal Familiar or Goblin Cohort may not be ideal, but this deck has 12 2-power 1-drops, 12 excellent removal spells (including Sparksmith), and Red's excellent Sideboard options. Of course, the big problem of this deck is that so many of the deck's creatures need help to smash face; Mogg Flunkies is useless on its own, and those 2-power 1-drops require assistance to attack.
All-In Storm - $45.83
This gets my vote for coolest Combo deck in the format, though it should be obvious that a 12-land, 12-Ritual deck is going to suffer some consistency issues. Tendrils of Agony is an Uncommon, so Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens become the Storm spells of choice for a deck like this. Lotus Petals, at almost 5 Tickets each, provide the bulk of the cost for this deck, though it's still less than half of what a single Jace, the Mind Sculptor will cost you.
So What Are You Waiting For?
There are a handful of other established decks, too. In recent Pauper Daily Events (which run a few times per week!), I've seen Mono Green Infect, Mono Green Aggro, Mono Black Aggro, UG Familiar Combo, and of course variations on all of the decklists above. However, the most exciting part about Pauper to me is that, with such a large and diverse cardpool spanning well more than 10 years, the opportunities to innovate as a deckbuilder are tremendous!
Oh, and in case you haven't been keeping track, every single decklist in this article could be purchased on MTGO for roughly 188 Tickets. That's less than any competitive Extended deck, less than most competitive Standard decks, and that's not counting any shared cards between the decks.
Pretty sweet, I'd say 🙂