How Can You Keep Up with MTG Pauper’s Growing Consistency?

The past two years has seen competitive Pauper turned on its ear. Much of the underlying truisms that helped to define the format have been questioned, if not thrown out. The current best decks are a marked departure from those before Modern Horizons 2 and that’s only part of the story. The past two and a half years have not only seen a change in the landscape, but has also seen a shift in the way decks are constructed. It’s easy to point to a push in the power level of certain elements as a reason for this change but there is something else at play. The recent additions to the common card pool have helped to increase the overall consistency of decks, providing more tools to regularly enact game plans.

For much of Pauper’s history, the decks that performed well in tournaments tended to fall into one of a few camps. There were single color decks, either aggressive or controlling, that traded power for a more consistent mana base, slower, multicolor midrange or control decks that needed to bias their early game towards surviving beatdown and blue decks that could leverage the powerful duo of Ponder and Preordain to help smooth out their draws. One of the reasons Faeries and other blue decks had been at the top of the format for so long is because they could more reliably enact their game plan and find their key cards.


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Pauper Dimir Faeries (May 2021) by Beicodegea


Ponder and Preordain are incredibly powerful cards, with Preordain being especially potent in the opening grip. These cards – and other similar ones – allow decks running them to go slightly lower on their land count and run more narrow, high impact cards. In the deck above, a card like Suffocating Fumes might not matter in a large number of matchups, but having access to one in a deck full of cantrips and card draw can go a long way when it would wipe out an opposing board state. Preordain, on the other hand, can help borderline hands succeed. How many times have you looked at a hand that is a single piece short? Whether that’s a spell or a land, wouldn’t you be more likely to keep that opener if you knew you had three fresh looks at finding what you needed? That is exactly what a Preordain does when you have it in your initial seven. For the bargain basement price of a single blue, it provides the chance to see three new cards – two on the scry and then potentially one more if both cards end up on the bottoms of the library. 

This says nothing of the midgame where Preordain can help find high impact cards and where Ponder goes up in value. Ponder has the advantage of seeing a possible fourth card, increasing the chances of finding something in the middle stages of a game. It was not uncommon during Pauper before Modern Horizons 2 to see a deck maxing out on Preordain while only running a pair of Ponders. 

Pauper Izzet Faeries by Brivenix


While not as successful, Faerie-style decks still operate on the same architecture. Cheap cantrips help increase the number of hands that can be kept early while also loading up your hand with narrow high impact cards – like Dispel and Spell Pierce – when they are warranted. 

Deck’s that eschewed blue had a much harder road, but they still could keep the cards flowing. Mono-Black Control hung on to the fringes of the format for years thanks to the strength of Sign in Blood being a cheap way to go two cards deeper. Various Boros decks built their reputation on rebuying Prophetic Prism and Ichor Wellspring with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher, all in the name of keeping the velocity high. Arcum’s Astrolabe sent this engine into overdrive when it was legal, as it allowed these builds to not only see so many cards but also helped cast them easily.

So what’s with the history lesson? The long and short of it is that for much of Pauper’s past there were limiting factors that made it difficult for multiple strategies to find the consistency necessary to compete at the upper levels of the format. Tracing the trajectory of Pauper, we can also see spikes in eras where certain decks were not only consistent but also powerful, exerting strain on format health. The apex of Gush and Mystic Sanctuary metagames, as well as Arcum’s Astrolabe, were times when the best strategies were far more consistent – and powerful – than other options. I bring this up because the past few years have seen several cards introduced that have pushed the consistency of Pauper in ways that stretch the fabric of the format. 

Deadly Dispute, Reckoner’s Bargain and Reckless Impulse have provided reliable draw-twos into multiple different strategies. Prior to these cards, the best options outside of blue were in the Night’s Whisper/Sign in Blood vein. These two were fine since they taxed the life total of base black decks in a way that made them susceptible to red aggro and burn. If a deck wanted to reliably reload its hand and not run Islands, it would need to find a way to protect its life total while also developing its board. This trio has now given non-blue decks reliable ways to draw cards while not putting their life total in peril. None of these are perfect – Reckless Impulse’s cards come with a time limit and the black pair require an additional piece of material (but this drawback can be turned into an advantage) but have gone a long way towards providing more decks with a way to keep up in the middle stages of the game.

Then there’s Experimental Synthesizer. The red Preordain might not be as good on the first turn of the game but does a lot of work on clearing the top of the deck after turn one. The fact that its draw is even more time gated than Reckless Impulse pushes Synthesizer decks to lower their curve to best leverage the additional cards. This has the added impact of these decks being able to more reliably cast their spells, adding to the sense of consistency. Looking at Mardu Synthesizer, the deck manages to fit in three colors while keeping its effective curve capped at two in order to be able to cast the hits off of Synthesizer.

Pauper Mardu Synthesizer by Diatomic


Aggressive strategies – or more accurately creature-based strategies – have gotten another shot in the arm. Monastery Swiftspear might be the obvious culprit in its ability to pour on the damage in low to the ground red decks, but I think Basilisk Gate goes a long way for these decks. In another era, creatures would lose their staying power as control decks would continue to draw answers. Basilisk Gate means that turning a creature sideways, no matter how slowly, will eventually connect for lethal damage. 

All of these elements – as well as the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges – have given multiple decks in Pauper new consistency and inevitability. Whereas before these elements were not widespread amongst all the colors, recent Magic design has spread the wealth. This is not a new development in the history of the game, but the surge of options in such a short period of time has done wonders for deckbuilders if they want to build around one of these core engines. All that being said, when the most recent card I can think of that boosted consistency in a reasonable way is Thraben Inspector, it may mean Pauper was due for some improvement.

So if the format is overall more consistent, what can you do to keep up? The most obvious thing one can do is to increase your land count. While decks that load up on cheap velocity like Preordain or Experimental Synthesizer can run fewer lands and still hit their drops, the rest of the format needs to draw them naturally. Upping the volume can go a long way towards increasing consistency. Earlier in The Brothers’ War season, I ran an Orzhov Ephemerate list that had done well in some challenges but felt it was a little light on lands, causing it to stumble. More recent builds have upped the count and, having played the deck, it feels much smoother. While the deck may sacrifice some potential power by cutting spells, the fact that it gets to cast them outweighs this downside.

Pauper Orzhov Ephemerate by Add1cte3d


Green has the toughest path ahead in this new era of consistency. Abundant Harvest is not well suited for the format. The color has seen some increased play with Gatecreeper Vine enabling Basilisk Gate decks to more reliably hit their key cards but that’s a relatively narrow application. Abundant Growth is green’s only real early game velocity and if people continue to pair it with Kor Skyfisher, then maybe there’s a stew cooking. 

Right now is an interesting time to be playing Pauper. The options available to deckbuilders who are striving to keep cards flowing have never been more numerous. While the format is not without some issues at the moment, there is a ton of space to try and figure out the best way to put cardboard to table.

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