The Arizona Pauper League at Grand Prix Phoenix

Pauper can be a confusing format to get into. It seems cut and dry at first, but it has a lot of complexity under the surface. Why can’t Hymn to Tourach be in my deck? It’s a common, after all.

We at Arizona Pauper League have been actively working to break down the barriers of entry to the format by teaching and answering questions new or current players may have. We believe it’s worth the time and effort because of how much fun, healthy, and competitive the format feels.

Recently, we had the opportunity to work with ChannelFireball in our hometown of Phoenix, Arizona for the Grand Prix. Even though the event was Modern, they upped the ante on Pauper with four side events. We asked if we could help out by being at the convention center and doing what we do best—introducing players to Pauper.

From the moment I arrived and was greeted by the friendly staff at the Grand Prix, our group got to work. We set up a banner, put out our printed pamphlets, and started talking to the incoming crowd. For the next six hours straight we sat down with players who heard about the craze that is Pauper and lent out decks so that we could get people involved. It was a blast, and I heard people talking all afternoon about decks they wanted to build in the future with cards they rarely thought about and some they had.

Pauper is one of the only formats where such a variety of powerful cards coexist harmoniously. Counterspell, Lightning Bolt, Gush, Brainstorm, Preordain, Ponder, Tron lands, and artifact lands are all legal. Personally, I believe that since we don’t have rares or mythics that shake the balance of power, we have access to a unique toolset to build decks.

So many cards can answer others that one deck cannot hope to beat them all. Affinity, for example, is extremely strong, until you meet a Fangren Marauder in a green sideboard. Combo strategies are fantastic until you run into a well-placed Counterspell or disruption effect. Even Bogles, an extremely powerful deck, has issues with edicts and other nontargeted removal such as Serene Heart. It’s a format you can go as wide as you want because of limited mass removal options. But it doesn’t mean that you are invulnerable, seeing that a well sided Holy Light or Electrickery can ruin the day of such a deck like Elves.

For the Friday tournament our League shut down the booth and played with the players. I was on Slivers, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Billy was playing 5-Color Tron, and Erik was on Elves. We had other League members there and it’d take an article just to introduce you to them all, but needless to say it was a great turnout. The judges were just as interested in the format as a lot of players, many of which were getting their first look at it. They were a fantastic bunch and a few had to revert to rule books to figure out interactions they had not experienced before.

The following day, the biggest surprise was all the players who showed up with freshly constructed Pauper decks, not even played yet as they spent the night constructing for the tournament that day. With Modern Day 1 in full swing we had a bit of traffic still, but mainly spent it helping players test out their builds for the afternoon Pauper event. We even had some time to shop around the vendors a bit. Most hadn’t caught onto the Pauper craze as supply was limited for utility cards such as Ash Barrens. We did, however, dig through foil binders to find some Pauper rarities like Standard Bearers and Chainer’s Edicts, which fetched a pretty price.

Wizards has started reprinting and downshifting rarities of cards in its Masters sets, which has been a blessing in disguise for Pauper players. Ash Barrens has been so popular in the last few months that no local stores had them, online retailers were bought out, and the price was creeping to over $10 apiece. Pauper isn’t played solely because it’s cheap, but it’s a nice perk! The ability to try out new archetypes on a whim is fantastic. By announcing the reprinting of Ash Barrens, Rancor, Lightning Bolt, and many other cards, the supply goes up and the prices stay down. It was funny how people left piles of commons on the table from Sealed or Draft events loaded with fantastic cards.

Before the tournament, ChannelFireball’s Alex Ullman was kind enough to tweet our information out, which was picked up by the Tolarian Community and the Professor. Most know the Professor and the great work he does in his videos and attending events such as these. If not, I encourage you to look them up. I was able to meet a lot of fantastic people like Ian, who are veterans of the game, to discuss Pauper strategies.

The following day, I played a mono-white aggro deck, Billy played Tron again, and Erik switched it up for his Red Goblins. We saw a few TurboFog decks floating around, which surprised us as well. Pauper is rock-paper-scissors. If aggro is getting the run of the field, you’ll start to see players shifting their decks to counter the meta. TurboFog is a great example of this in action.

For the final day of the Grand Prix, ChannelFireball had planned a double prize Pauper tournament, followed immediately by a normal Pauper event. It didn’t leave much time for the booth, so we handed out some Turbo Town tickets to players stopping in early and then headed out to the event. I went back to my trusty Slivers, Billy and Erik stayed on their Saturday decks, and my friend Allen (also a cofounder of the League) played Kuldotha Boros.

My first matchup, I played a young girl who played as fiercely as any opponent I’ve ever had, and met my Slivers with Elves. As we battled, I was reminded how I got into Magic, and I was glad to see younger players at big events like this. She played a great game and handily disassembled my Sliver horde, and in the next round I received a bye. I spent the time watching games, talking to judges, and just enjoying being there.

The following tournament I lent my Cathartic Reanimator deck (thanks for the framework Alex) to an enthusiastic competitor who really wanted to play but couldn’t. He ended up going 2-0-1 and had the pleasure of playing a deck no one knew about or expected. I played a wonky game paired against my friend Allen that we took to time because we knew each other’s decks inside and out, but had no less fun joking about it together.

Overall, Grand Prix Phoenix was a huge success, reaching not only a benchmark for our group but we believe for the Pauper community as a whole. Our pamphlets, which condense the rules into a player-friendly format, made it onto Reddit and received overwhelmingly positive feedback in person. I wanted to personally thank ChannelFireball and Alex Ullman for making this possible. We don’t consider ourselves a massive community, but we ended up doubling in size post Grand Prix with players filtering into our local gaming store, enthusiastic that they had a place to play with us.

So if you are in Phoenix please check us out—we’d like to get to know you. We always have spare decks and we play Tuesday nights at North Valley Games on Shea and 32nd street. If we don’t see you there, maybe we’ll see you at the next Grand Prix!

Thanks from Robert, Billy, Erik, Allen, and the rest of the Arizona Pauper League, who made this a reality.


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