Well, folks we’ve got ourselves quite the dynamic little metagame here in the MTG Pauperverse, and today I’ll be your guide as we cross the tracks to the Pauper side of the multiverse and rank and investigate the best competitive tournament decks in the format.
I don’t want to burn too many words on the intro (since the name says it all…) but there are a few points worth establishing from the get-go that will inform the discussion:
Pauper was shaken to its core
Before the ban, Delver “good stuff” blue decks took over the show to the point where sweeping bans was the result. No more!
Modern Horizons has made a huge impact.
Horizons was designed to impact Modern, but its impact on Pauper has been profound and immediate as well. I’ll be sure to point these new players out as we venture from deck to deck.
There’s something to play for now.
The DCI has made Pauper into a “real” format. There are MCQs for the format and rampant speculation about a potential Pauper Grand Prix. If you haven’t joined the game yet, now is the perfect time to pick a deck and jump in!
I’ll be taking a primarily metric-based approach to ranking the decks based on their winner’s metagame representation. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, so I’ll let you know when and if I break from percentages and why, but for the most part I want to paint a picture of what the format looks and feels like.
I also got some help from the RIW LGS :Paup It Like It’s Hot!” Podcast guys with the order for the list. You can check out our first cast talking about the metagame if you’re looking for more Pauper content.
The biggest strength of an article like this isn’t that we all agree on the ranking, but rather it’s a way for players to learn the decks and pick one they enjoy playing. There was a lot of dissention just between the Paup It Like It’s Hot guys about how to order 20-11.
#20. Zoo, 1% of Winner’s Metagame
The first stop on our Pauper journey is at the Zoo, the Domain Zoo!
You’ll notice this version of Zoo is a little bit different from what we’ve seen in the past. The reason?
Arcum’s Astrolabe has become a major player in the format in a relatively short span of time. The ability to fix mana and “loop” with gating creatures, such as Kor Skyfisher, has led Astrolabe to becoming a build-around card.
4 Evolving Wilds 5 Snow-Covered Forest 1 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Mountain 2 Snow-Covered Plains 1 Snow-Covered Swamp 4 Terramorphic Expanse 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Matca Rioters 4 Seeker of the Way 4 Squadron Hawks 4 Wild Nacatl 4 Brainstorm 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Tribal Flames 2 Unearth 4 Arcum's Astrolabe 4 Nylea's Presence Sideboard 2 Diabolic Edict 2 Electrickery 3 Hydroblast 2 Obsidian Acolyte 2 Qasali Pridemage 2 Red Elemental Blast 2 Standard Bearer
While Astrolabe and Nylea’s Presence both help ensure spells will be castable, the 8 copies of Evolving Wilds help establish domain to ensure some nice payoffs:
Great removal, big monsters, and Brainstorm packed in for some nice Squadron Hawk shenanigans? Sounds like Domain Zoo to me!
#19. White Weenie, 2% of Winner’s Metagame
White Heroic is another fun beatdown option in the format capable of bringing the pain right from the get-go. The basic premise is to rule combat with creatures that gain lasting bonuses, all backed up by protective combat tricks.
White Weenie Heroic
GeneralSCUD, 2nd MTGO Challenge
16 Plains (331) 2 Secluded Steppe 3 Akroan Skyguard 3 Deftblade Elite 4 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer 3 Seeker of the Way 1 Act of Heroism 4 Defiant Strike 4 Emerge Unscathed 4 Mutagenic Growth 1 Spare from Evil 4 Cartouche of Solidarity 4 Ethereal Armor 3 Cho-Manno's Blessing 4 Hyena Umbra Sideboard 4 Devout Harpist 2 Gut Shot 2 Hallow 2 Holy Light 2 Lifelink 3 Relic of Progenitus
This deck presents a fast clock and creatures that grow to outclass Lightning Bolt and other smaller creatures on the battlefield. There are several flavors of fast beatdown in the format and while White Heroic has fallen a little bit out of favor at the moment, it’s always an option worth considering!
#18. Tortured Toolbox, 1% of Winner’s Metagame
Tortured Existence is an oldie, but a goodie… I’m of the belief that the deck is much better than its numbers represent, in large part because of the raw number of clicks and game actions the deck takes to play on MTGO.
The namesake card allows the deck to essentially dredge and loop a toolbox from the graveyard. A great deck for players who miss the days of playing dedicated toolbox decks like Survival or Pod in Modern or Extended. The big difference is that you don’t get an easy infinite combo and are forced to grind it out with the tools, just like Garfield intended (I assume).
1 Barren Moor 1 Bojuka Bog 4 Forest (347) 3 Golgari Rot Farm 4 Jungle Hollow 8 Swamp (339) 2 Tranquil Thicket 1 Battlefield Scrounger 2 Carrion Feeder 2 Crypt Rats 2 Fume Spitter 4 Golgari Brownscale 2 Grave Scrabbler 1 Horror of the Broken Lands 1 Krosan Tusker 1 Perilous Myr 1 Satyr Wayfinder 3 Spore Frog 3 Stinkweed Imp 1 Tilling Treefolk 4 Commune with the Gods 1 Gnaw to the Bone 1 Dead Weight 4 Tortured Existence 3 Vessel of Nascency Sideboard 2 Caustic Caterpillar 1 Chainer’s Edict 1 Crypt Rats 1 Dead Weight 1 Faceless Butcher 2 Faerie Macabre 1 Gnaw to the Bone 2 Mesmeric Fiend 1 Penumbra Spider 1 Spore Frog 1 Thorn of the Black Rose 1 Wickerbough Elder
The deck also has the tactical option to “fog lock” opposing aggro decks via Kermit Recursion.
#17. Golgari Aristocrats, 1% of the Winner’s Metagame
Golgari Aristocrats is a deck that I would describe as “better than advertised.” It’s metagame representation is quite small but I believe the deck is much better than the numbers imply. Not to mention, the deck is sweet. Who doesn’t love an Aristocrats/sacrifice deck? Especially a good one!
Alex Ullman brought the deck to PPL last week and though he had a rough pod, I still respect the deck and the choice a great deal.
Alex Ullman, Pauper Premier League
8 Forest (347) 8 Swamp (339) 2 Golgari Rot Farm 1 Ash Barrens 1 Pit Keeper 3 Bloodthrone Vampire 4 Mortician Beetle 4 Carrion Feeder 3 Blisterpod 4 Young Wolf 2 Nest Invader 4 Brindle Shoat 4 Loam Dryad 1 Nantuko Husk 1 Plagued Rusalka 3 Sultai Emissary 2 Rancor 2 Tragic Slip 3 Winding Way Sideboard 1 Life Goes On 1 Slum Reaper 2 Plagued Rusalka 3 Mesmeric Fiend 1 Pit Keeper 2 Falkenrath Noble 1 Festercreep 2 Serene Heart 1 Tragic Slip 1 Weather the Storm
One of the key reasons to play the deck is Mortician Beetle + Carrion Feeder.
These two cards can team up to make a beefy duo at a relatively cheap mana investment. Since you can use the abilities one at a time, and at instant speed, it makes attacking them with damaged-based removal tricky at best.
#16. Slivers, 2% of the Winner’s Metagame
Slivers have long been one of my favorite “pet decks” in the format. There’s just something so satisfying about embracing the hive mind.
1st, Pauper Daily
4 Blossoming Sands 8 Forest (347) 9 Plains (331) 2 Benevolent Bodyguard 1 Metallic Sliver 4 Muscle Sliver 4 Plated Sliver 4 Predatory Sliver 1 Sentinel Sliver 4 Sidewinder Sliver 4 Sinew Sliver 2 Spinneret Sliver 4 Virulent Sliver 4 Lead the Stampede 1 Vines of Vastwood 4 Winding Way Sideboard 3 Circle of Protection: Black 2 Circle of Protection: Red 3 Journey to Nowhere 1 Naturalize 1 Nature’s Chant 2 Pacifism 2 Shelter 1 Vines of Vastwood
There’s just something so baller about playing a deck full of one-cost creatures with 8 two-drop lords!
Another thing worth noting:
Lead the Stampede has been a mainstay since it was downshifted, but now Winding Way has emerged to create redundancy. If you want to draw a lot of creatures… It’s a good time to be alive and playing Pauper!
#15. Blue Deck Wins! 3% of Winner’s Metagame
We’ve all heard about Red Deck Wins! But what about Blue Deck Wins?
It’s a thing in Pauper and the deck plays out a lot like the Mono-Blue Aggro from Standard with Ninja of the Deep Hours filling the role of Curiosity.
6th, MTGO Pauper Challenge
18 Snow-Covered Island 2 Augur of Bolas 4 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration 4 Faerie Miscreant 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 4 Spellstutter Sprite 2 Spire Golem 4 Counterspell 3 Force Spike 3 Mutagenic Growth 4 Ponder 4 Preordain 4 Snap Sideboard 3 Annul 2 Coral Net 2 Dispel 3 Gut Shot 3 Hydroblast 2 Relic of Progenitus
The deck hasn’t specifically benefited from Modern Horizons, which is perhaps why it’s moved down a little bit in the metagame over the past month. I will admit, I wouldn’t be excited about playing a ton of 1/1s in a field that has become faster and more aggressive, but the option exists if you want to go nimble and spritely!
#14. Goblins, 3% of the Winner’s Metagame
Goblins is a new power player on the circuit as a result of getting some nice new toys that even Squee would approve of!
The ability to just blow up a bunch of damage can’t be understated.
MTGO Pauper League
17 Mountain 4 Burning-Tree Emissary 4 Foundry Street Denizen 4 Goblin Bushwhacker 4 Goblin Cohort 2 Goblin Heelcutter 4 Jackal Familiar 4 Mogg Conscripts 4 Mudbrawler Cohort 4 Valley Dasher 2 Chain Lightning 3 Goblin Grenade 4 Lightning Bolt Sideboard 3 Electrickery 3 Flame Slash 2 Flaring Pain 2 Molten Rain 3 Smash to Smithereens 2 Sparksmith
Linear aggro decks, such as Goblins (and others we’ll get to in the Top 10!) have made a big comeback since the bannings. Without Daze to interact from the backfoot, and Gush to dig for action for free in the midgame, aggressive decks have been given second life in Pauper.
#13. Izzet Aggro, 3% of the Winner’s Metagame
The “free blue ban” hit blue aggro decks the hardest, obviously. Izzet and Dimir aggro used to occupy roughly 30% of the meta combined, and now without their trio of busted blue mainstays these archetypes are struggling to combine for 10% of the field!
While it’s true that Deep Hours Aggro has clearly taken a hit since the ban, the deck is still a trusty mainstay among Tier 1.5 and Tier 2 options.
1st MTGO Pauper League
3 Ash Barrens 4 Evolving Wilds 10 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Mountain 4 Augur of Bolas 3 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration 4 Faerie Miscreant 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 4 Spellstutter Sprite 4 Accumulated Knowledge 2 Brainstorm 4 Counterspell 2 Lightning Bolt 3 Ponder 3 Preordain 4 Skred Sideboard 2 Electrickery 1 Gorilla Shaman 3 Hydroblast 3 Pyroblast 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Stormbound Geist 2 Swirling Sandstorm
Izzet hasn’t benefited from Modern Horizons, but it’s still a solid and well-tuned machine for fans of playing Fishy beatdown decks.
#12. Izzet Control, 4% of the Winner’s Metagame
U/R Control has been one of the new, emergent strategies. In particular, these two cards have been making a huge splash:
The deck is basically an Izzet Control deck that splashes Ephemerate for free! It’s a pretty huge game to evoke a Mulldrifter and with the sacrifice trigger on the stack blink it out with Ephemerate to keep the creature and draw an extra two cards.
Ephemerate is also a great way to counter a removal spell for value on a cast of creatures with ETB abilities.
Mathonical, 5th MTGO Pauper Challenge
4 Ash Barrens 2 Evolving Wilds 1 Snow-Covered Forest 10 Snow-Covered Island 1 Snow-Covered Mountain 1 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Archaeomancer 2 Augur of Bolas 2 Aven Riftwatcher 1 Kor Skyfisher 4 Mulldrifter 4 Spellstutter Sprite 2 Brainstorm 4 Counterspell 1 Dispel 4 Ephemerate 2 Lightning Bolt 4 Preordain 1 Pulse of Murasa 4 Skred 4 Arcum’s Astrolabe 4 Arcum's Astrolabe Sideboard 2 Dispel 2 Electrickery 3 Hydroblast 1 Journey to Nowhere 2 Leave No Trace 2 Lone Missionary 2 Pyroblast 1 Standard Bearer
Just so there is no confusion, there is a difference between U/R Skred (which splashes white) and Jeskai Midrange (which maxes out on Glint Hawk, Skyfisher, and Seeker of the Way) and we’ll be talking more about Jeskai Midrange in the Top 10.
#11. Orzhov Pestilence Control, 4% of Winner’s Metagame
Let’s end with a sweet deck! Orzhov Pestilence.
Pestilence is a unique Pauper card in the sense that it lets a control deck really dominate the battlefield with a recursive, removal sweeper effect.
Pestilence, Night’s Whisper, and Ashes to Ashes asked us to pay “the iron price” for value, but Pristine Talisman helps gain it all back. The mana base also includes a bunch of lands that allow Orzhov to gain life (and Orzhov Basilica allows you to replay Radiant Fountain and Crossroads).
1st, Paper Pauper Galacticwide League
2 Bojuka Bog 2 Kabira Crossroads 4 Orzhov Basilica 1 Plains (331) 3 Radiant Fountain 4 Scoured Barrens 6 Swamp (339) 4 Guardian of the Guildpact 2 Palace Sentinels 2 Ashes to Ashes 4 Castigate 4 Chainer’s Edict 1 Diabolic Edict 2 Disfigure 1 Divest 1 Duress 4 Night’s Whisper 1 Read the Bones 2 Unmake 1 Journey to Nowhere 1 Oblivion Ring 4 Pestilence 4 Pristine Talisman Sideboard 4 Arashin Cleric 1 Divest 2 Duress 4 Fragmentize 3 Nihil Spellbomb 1 Wrench Mind
It’s also worth noting that Guardian of the Guildpact is a great way to keep Pestilence around while sweeping the board. In fact, Guardian is a great creature in general. If we look back through the 20-11 decklists, ways of interacting with it are sparse.
Top 10: Coming Later this Week
Be sure to let me know in the comments what you think of these choices. Would you have ranked them differently? Be sure to let me know why.
The next article is going to be an exciting one as we’ll move from the Tier 2 and 1.5 options into the metagame-defining Tier 1 lists. Feel free to take a stab at the Top 10 in the comments as well.
The final thought I’d like to leave you with today is that Pauper is a diverse and exciting format and even the Tier 2 decks are solid role players in the format. For instance, I’m in the playoff for Pauper Premier League and there are at least three decks in the Tier 1.5 crop today I’m actively considering playing. Keep in mind, the tiers don’t mean “how good a deck is,” but rather refer to metagame representation. While it’s correct to infer decks that see a lot of play mean they are well-built, it doesn’t necessarily mean that lesser-played decks are not also great dark horse options.
Hope you enjoyed the tour of the “Rogue Gallery” of Pauper, and I look forward to exploring the most popular decks later this week!