The world of Pauper is not always one that is easy to comprehend. Immediately following the release of a new set and banning it can be downright confusing. If you’re new to the format and don’t have a lot of experience to draw on, you might already have tried several decks and not found one that feels right to you. If you’re just considering starting in the format, the variety of unfamiliar deck options can be daunting.
Never fear, faithful reader: I am here to help. Let me be your guide to the world of Pauper!
To begin, a bit of history. Since the first homo habilis scrawled a crude depiction of a Totem-Guide Hartebeest on the wall of his cave-apartment, man has struggled to find the perfect way to express himself. He has turned to music, writing, and the visual arts, each of which has surely been a medium for powerful statements. They each somehow fall short of fully capturing the entirety of the human experience. Then, in 1993, Richard Garfield invented Magic cards. Though he might not have realized it at the time, this developed into the most complete and perfect form of expression mankind will ever devise: Magic deckbuilding.
The deck you play tells the story of your life. In fifty minutes or less, you communicate to your opponent you personality, your values, and your very soul. That means that the deck you choose to play is one of the most important decisions you can make. To that end, I’m going to break down this format with a view toward the message that each deck sends on your behalf.
(A Small Note: Many of these lists are gathered them from MTGO Pauper Daily results, and I make no claim that any of them are the best version of the deck or anything like that. These are merely meant to serve as examples, so that you know what I’m talking about when I describe these decks. That said, let’s get to it!)
[deckbox did="a107" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “Eh, I still have the cards for it, so I might as well play them.”
If you aren’t familiar with it, this is the slow, blue-based combo deck that was probably the best deck in the format until a couple of weeks ago. Despite that, I really wouldn’t recommend picking it up now. It’s not that Frantic Storm is a bad deck now that Frantic Search is banned, it’s that it’s just kind of a purposeless one. It can still beat up on a number of decks (generally the creature-based ones that aren’t lightning fast), but so can red-based storm, in half the time and with mostly better matchups.
[deckbox did="a110" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “Pauper? What’s that? Oh, you mean Legacy?”
While not actually degenerate enough to dominate the format, the good old “play a ton of rituals and then Empty the Warrens” plan is very strong and very, very fast. It’s a great choice for players who’ve enjoyed playing storm combo decks in other formats because it plays quite similarly. It’s also good for people who like to play combo decks in general while also like winning, because this is the only deck that seems to be able to combine those two things at the moment.
[deckbox did="a114" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “I can do anything! Well... theoretically at least...”
White Weenie really does have it all. It's fast enough to beat control, blanks combo with hate cards, cuts the legs out from under opposing creature decks with removal, and easily gains more than enough life to trounce burn decks. The only problem is that it’s pretty hard to get it to do all those things at once. If you’re fond of creature decks that have access to a bunch of killer tech, you’d probably enjoy trying your hand at wrangling this beast. For a thrilling tale of how I managed to wrangle it, check here.
This deck says: “I am nostalgic for the summer of 2010.”
Nettle Sentinel! Jungle Lion! River Boa! Quirion Ranger! How can you go wrong, right? Sadly this isn't amazing, thanks to the presence of a certain other deck that plays all Forests and tons of pump spells. If you're wondering why there's no list, it's because this deck is such a non-entity that it doesn't even show up in the dailies.
If you're a fan of this deck, this all might be hard to hear. Believe me, I can sympathize. I have some very fond memories of playing with a lot of these cards in this style deck too, but it's just outdated at this point. As fun as it is to break out a few old favorites, there’s just not really anything to recommend this deck over...
[deckbox did="a111" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “My favorite type of math is multiplication.”
This is the true stompy deck of the format. It’s fast (turn two wins are certainly not unheard of), powerful, and fun to play. Color splashes are being tested here and there, but as of the time of this writing the dominant version is still monogreen, which comes in two flavors: good, and cheap.
The good version plays Invigorate and Lotus Petal, and the cheap version doesn’t. Word to the wise: don’t bother playing the cheap version; it won’t make you feel good about yourself. On the upside, Invigorate is originally from Mercadian Masques which is coming to Magic Online for the first time pretty soon. Its price should plummet after that happens and, really, you should just have the Lotus Petals anyway.
[deckbox did="a108" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “I like to cheat at card games.”
I could, and probably will, write an entire article about this deck, but for now just understand that the Affinity player is playing a different game from the rest of us. I mean it’s still Magic, but just look at some of the cards it has:
- [card Thoughtcast]“Draw two cards” for U.[/card]
- [card Galvanic Blast]“Deal four damage to target creature or player” for R.[/card]
- [card Myr Enforcer]Two[/card] 4/4s for two mana.
- [card Somber Hoverguard]A 3/2 flying for U.[/card]
- A [card Disciple of the Vault]1/1 for B that effectively burns your opponent[/card] for 4-6 if not answered.
- Atog, with the added provision that you can actually sacrifice almost any permanent in the deck to it, and sometimes even draw cards while doing so.
Put another way, the creatures in this deck are so efficient that it has access to a 3/3 for one mana and a 3/3 flying for two mana yet most lists don’t even play them. So yeah, cheats. If you like the cheapness of pauper but don’t care for the reduced power level of the creatures, this deck is for you.
[deckbox did="a113" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says:
Long story short: this is not any of the monoblack control decks you’ve played in the past. It’s essentially a rat tribal deck, kinda sorta, without any tribal effects. The aim is to destroy hands, and all those rats and rat impersonators getting recurred via Unearth do a pretty good job of that, which is enough to swing a lot of games.
The problem is that the deck sometimes struggles with the part of the game that takes place after that. As a result, it sometimes loses games after it appears to have established control, which is awkward. It also has a few horrifically bad matchups, such as Burn (which empties its own hand and makes your rats look kind of bad) and White Weenie (which plays Order of Leitbur). Both are winnable, but neither are easy. This one is a bit of a fixer-upper.
[deckbox did="a118" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: "Stop whining, you can play when I'm done."
Don’t be scared off by this deck’s reputation. While it plays very similarly to its hated Standard counterpart, it feels a lot more fair without the like of Bitterblossom, Mistbind Clique, and Mutavault. It’s still good though, and I have a feeling it’s underplayed right now, so you might be able to score more than the usual number of wins with it before it spreads more and the metagame adjusts to it.
[deckbox did="a116" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “I was totally into Tortured Existence before it was big.”
This is the Boston Red Sox of Magic decks. Seriously, take a look at Tortured Existence. It’s awful. It’s like a sad parody of Survival of the Fittest. But from time immemorial, people have been trying to make it work in Pauper, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t do it in the end. What’s more, the deck's success hasn't been a fluke; against all odds, it’s now one of the better decks in the format. Play this deck if you’re looking for a solid performer with interesting gameplay decisions, just don’t let on that you just started playing it now or the other kids won’t think you’re cool anymore.
[deckbox did="a117" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: "Seriously guys, I'm not a hoarder. These figurines are a collection."
Remember when I said that White Weenie was a creature deck with a lot of techy cards added? Well Goblins is like that too, only with more creatures and less tech. Instead of getting fancy, it just lays creature after creature, backs them with a decent but not excessive amount of burn, and claws its way to the finish.
I realize I’m not shedding a whole lot of light here, but it’s a Red aggro deck. There’s not that much to say, other than that it’s about turning guys sideways, and that it’s a very good deck.
[deckbox did="a109" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “Hey man, you got some mana? I’ll take anything man, I’m hurting here.”
The big mana deck for people who have high standards attached to the phrase “big mana.” In addition to Cloudposts and tons of ways to get more Cloudposts, you’ve got multiple mana-producing walls and often Mwonvuli Acid-Moss to boot! It’s not really all that great, but it does have some nifty tricks, such as toolboxes built around Fierce Empath and Crop Rotation. Play this deck if you want to play big mana the Timmy way, or if you just want to be able to occasionally drop two Ulamog's Crushers on the same turn.
[deckbox did="a112" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “Hi. I’m Luis Scott-Vargas. Pleased to meet you.”
This one is a different story. Probably the premier control deck in the format, this deck is basically a byproduct of people realizing:
- Red’s big mana spells are less flashy but more effectivethan Green’s.
- Mana fixing for control decks is not that bad thanks to Prophetic Prism
These realizations have made it possible for Cloudpost decks to not only run the awesome Red cards that have been in them for quite some time, but a bunch of great Blue (and even some off-color) cards as well. The result is a very powerful control deck that has the tools to beat just about anything else in the format if given enough time.
[deckbox did="a115" size="small" width="567"]
This deck says: “SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!”
Play this deck if you want to LARP as a dumb jock who still plays Magic for some reason (not that that's a bad thing as I've done it myself from time to time), or if you’re just angry or stressed and want to take it out on somebody. It’s a deck that performs pretty consistently, losing to well-defined hate cards and bad matchups and winning everything else most of the time.
I know, I know: I left out some, probably including one of your favorites. But I’m only one man, and besides, that’s what the comments section is for. The point is, if you didn’t know what Pauper was all about before, hopefully you do now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’m late for my appointment at:
BONUS MAGIC 2012 PAUPER REVIEW SECTION
Hooray! Magic 2012 is now fully revealed! While the fact that I’m giving it a couple paragraphs instead of an entire article (like I did with New Phyrexia and will likely do with Innistrad) probably speaks volumes about how good this set is for Pauper, I might as well still give you a quick rundown of the new cards that I think have at least an outside chance of being playable.
Guardian's Pledge - Of all the new commons in this set, I think this one has the best chance of seeing play. It might be good in certain White Weenie builds, and it’s definitely good in token decks. Whether or not it’s good enough to make those decks stronger choices remains to be seen, but this is certainly a card that merits testing.
Frost Breath - Is mini-Sleep good enough? Maybe. It’s sure good against decks that play big creatures. The problem is that so many of the decks in this format play a bunch of 1/1's against which this card is pretty terrible. Still, it could see sideboard play if the metagame changes in favor of fewer, larger creatures.
Griffin Rider - 4/4 Flying for 1W is sure tempting, but how can it be made to work. Actual griffins are probably out, because almost all of them are terrible. Changelings, though? Maybe.
Stave Off - There are a lot of versions of this card already out there, but I’m sure this one will show up from time to time.
Stonehorn Dignitary - This one is a real edge case, but if some kind of monowhite or W/x control deck crops up, this might end up being a decent defensive option.
Bloodrage Vampire, Blood Ogre, Lurking Crocodile, Gorehorn Minotaurs - None of these are super-compelling, but none of them can be ignored, either. Well, except for Lurking Crocodile, I guess. I just don’t see that ever being played over River Boa. But the numbers kind of do look at least decent on the other three. I don’t necessarily see a place for any of them right now, but we’ll see what happens.
Sorin's Thirst - Probably on the wrong side of playable, but it might actually be able to edge in depending on metagame shifts. Killing a creature and gaining life at instant speed is potentially pretty good against aggro decks.