For me, Pauper represents the elements of Magic I most enjoy and find attractive in a game.
There’s a lot of reasons to consider taking up Pauper as a format to play, especially in the current MTG climate, and I’m going to begin with some observations that make it an appealing way to play Magic, at least for me. Magic is a huge game and there are lots of different people playing it, in a variety of ways, for different reasons. I’ll tell you a little bit about who I am and why Pauper suits my gaming needs perfectly.
Pauper is an Eternal Format defined by cards that span the entirety of the game. While other non-rotating formats have trended toward metagames and play patterns defined by whatever bonkers new Mythic hasn’t been banned yet, Pauper is largely immune to these Mythic meta-warpers and as a result retains its a lot of Pre Arena feel and flavor. I’ve played and collected MTG for over 25 years. I want a version of Magic for myself that connects all of that history coherently into the present and into the future.
I like to see the time, energy, and money I’ve invested into playing and collecting add to my experience. If I didn’t want to play with my cards, and completely replace all of my favorite decks annually – I’d play Standard. As I’ve transitioned into being a guy who loves to game in his 30s, as opposed to a professional grinder, I need a version of Magic that is enjoyable and suits my needs. Constantly relearning multiple new Metagames on the heels of bans and over the top Mythic bombs that will predictably be banned before their term has run out, isn’t for me.
I’d love to see Magic continue to be a big part of my life and social gaming experience that I share with friends, but I simply don’t see a ton of value in playing a version of Magic that feels disconnected from the previous 25 years I’ve put into learning and collecting the game.
The reason I like Pauper so much and use my platform to advocate for it is because I find it to be the most fair and equitable form of dueling Magic. Not only is Pauper significantly less expensive to play and collect, but I can use the cards I buy indefinitely, and I find the style of game play more familiar to what I’ve played in the past than current iterations of Legacy, Modern, and especially Standard. For the price of one Modern Deck, I can own and play all of the major archetypes in the Pauper Metagame and be confident in investing my time into learning how to play them (because there’s no compelling reason to believe anything is going to be banned).
With the rare exception of a couple of printings (Arcum’s Astrolabe and Mystic Sanctuary) which are just absurd cards in their own rite in any format, Pauper tends to have a nicely balanced and diverse metagame with a ton of interesting, viable options to consider.
Pauper has a diverse and interesting meta, the cards are reasonably affordable so everyone and anyone can play without cost being a debilitating concern, I feel comfortable investing in decks and spending my time learning to play them, and for all of this upside I find the games to be more enjoyable and familiar to the style of gameplay I enjoyed before the MTG Arena era. Pauper also has an incredible community of chill fans and enthusiasts. I see Pauper as a space to play quality Magic, for an affordable price, in a way where having fun is a priority more so than being ruthless, cutthroat, or results oriented.
It’s a format that I see as being attractive to a lot of my grinder friends from back in the day, but is also a fantastic way for a new player to learn the game.
I’ve seen so much complaining and disappointment with competitive Magic in my Twitter feed over the past week, and from the perspective of a guy who complained A LOT about competitive Magic when I played it – I have no complaints about Pauper. It’s exactly what I want from my Magic experience.
THE 50% METAGAME
Pauper has an established and known Metagame that has been fairly stable and balanced for years. The moments of exception were collapsing metagames around recent broken prints, Astrolabe and Mystic Sanctuary. However, once those cards were banned the meta has settled back into a fair and balanced one.
The key players you’ll want to know are what I’ll describe as the “50% Metagame.” Every established Metagame has Tier 1 decks, and Pauper is no exception. A Tier 1 deck tends to meet two qualifications: It is among the most played archetypes and most winning archetypes. Essentially, Tier 1 are known “best decks” that we can expect to frequently play against.
The 50% Metagame consists of five different decks (each of which has variation to how it can be built) and each of these five decks account for roughly 10% of the field in a relatively even split.
- BOROS MIDRANGE: 10%
- MONO GREEN STOMPY BEATDOWN: 8%
- DIMIR DELVER AGGRO CONTROL: 8%
- DIMIR CONTROL: 11%
- FLICKER TRON: 9%
All five of these Tier 1 strategies are solid choices for exploring the Metagame and offer specific advantages and weaknesses and I’ll be rounding out the article with an up to date decklist of each archetype and some basic explanation and description of each strategy.
The other 50% of the field that makes up the Pauper Metagame is incredibly diverse, wild, and largely unpredictable. There’s roughly 25 more strategies that we might expect to face off against: Boggles Hexproof, Mono Black, Orzhov Pestiance, Mono Blue Faeries, UR Delver, Jeskai Flicker, Mono Red Burn, Goblin Blitz, Rakdos Dredge, Cycling Storm, RG Madness, Affinity, White Weenie, Mono Green Elves, Selesnya Slivers, Tortured Existence Dredge, Golgari Sacrifice, Walls Combo, Tireless Tribe Combo, Turbo Fog, Multiple Flavors of Land Destruction, Rakdos Control, Izzet Control, and Raid Bombardment Tokens.
Regardless of the style of deck you enjoy playing, there’s likely a way to build and play that strategy in Pauper. The Meta has all flavors of Aggro, Control, and Combo as well as hybrids of these major strategies as well.
So, you are certainly not beholden to playing just one of the five Tier 1 decks in the 50% meta, but from a pragmatic standpoint it makes sense to understand what the major players in the format are, what they look like, and how your your deck choice stacks up against it (as these are the decks you’ll face of against in tournaments most often).
DIMIR DELVER AND CONTROL
After the Mystic Sanctuary ban, Dimir has risen up to become the premier color to pair with Basic Islands. Efficient removal is a compliment to great card selection (Preordain, Ponder, and Brainstorm) and the always effective, Counterspell.
Counterspell + Card Selection is the reason to play Islands in Pauper and no matter which version of Dimir, or combination of colors we pair with our Islands, chances are these cards enter the mix.
Pauper Dimir Delver Deck List - Oota Yuuki
One popular way to play Islands revolves around using Delver of Secrets to create early pressure to tempo an opponent out. Delver is an objectively powerful card, in terms of what it does for its cost, and benefits from having great support in terms of library manipulation such as Brainstorm and Preordain.
Unexpected Fangs is also a new printing that slots nicely into Dimir Delver, Since Delver, Augur of Bolas, and Gurmag Angler are all fantastic places to use the card against opposing decks looking to race.
Pauper Dimir Control Deck List - Flylemur
Another way to approach playing Dimir is to crux less on creating early pressure with cheap creatures like Delver and play for the late game.
FlyLemur’s Dimir Control list makes nice use of Striped Riverwinder and Exhume to create a great attacker / blocker that is difficult to answer with removal. The deck designer also includes Vampiric Link and Cartouche of Ambition in the main deck to suit up large, difficult to answer monsters, as a “checkmate” move against aggro strategies.
Another exciting new printing that fits nicely into Dimir (and especially Mono Black decks) is Feed the Swarm. These color combinations didn’t have answers to pesky enchantments before, but now they do!
The big difference between these two versions is the use of cheap one drop creatures to create early pressure against opposing control decks. Depending upon the match up, Devler tends to be either good or bad, respectively. It tends to be the case that some decks are very prepared to answer a Delver and others are fairly weak to it. It is always that case that Delver is good against an opposing hand that cannot cheaply answer it on curve (because it deals so much damage!).
If I had to choose one deck that I think stands above the rest, it would be Flicker Tron. However, for all its tactical and strategic upsides the archetype presents some unique challenges to play well, especially on line.
Having a great deck, and playing it well, are not necessarily one in the same. Flicker Tron requires a ton of difficult decisions that must be identified and executed quickly. In order to win a game, and a match, requires a lot of intricate loops of the Ghostly Flicker + Mnemonic Wall combo.
For a Paper Tournament, Flicker Tron would always be my #1 choice but I rarely play it on MTGO because I find it very tedious and stressful to play against the clock, but it is certainly a deck experienced MTGO pilots have been successful in in the largest and most competitive Pauper events over the past two years.
Pauper Flickertron Deck List - Calpine
The biggest innovation to Tron over the past six months have come from new additions to the format:
The Thriving Land cycle, and Bonder’s Ornament, are cards that were not released in a normal expansion but have had a big impact on Pauper and Tron in particular.
Tron tends to prey on slower decks that use the combat step to close out games because it has access to looping Flicker effects on Stonehorn Dignitary to deny an opponent’s entire combat step! The strongest strategies against Tron tend to be decks that can apply consistent early pressure and have sources of damage to close out games without using the combat step. Counterspell decks also tend to be nice against Tron, but it’s a double edged sword because Tron’s incredible Mana Engine and redundant looping engine create a critical mass of card advantage that is difficult for other blue decks to keep up with.
Boros is currently my favorite deck to play because it does a ton of things well and tends to have good or neutral matchups against a huge chunk of the metagame, including the Tier 1 including the 50% metagame. The notable exception being, Boros is extremely poorly positioned against Tron and combo decks that can goldfish quickly and consistently.
Boros is not fast, but it is effective, and does a great just of creating and sustaining sticky pressure via tokens, as well as answering opposing threats with efficient removal. Boros has a lot of different ways to get ahead on resources and has great interaction with most other strategies especially in the sideboard. The downside is that the deck really struggles against the popular Tron deck.
Boros also has some interesting variation to how it can be built and positioned. I tend to prefer the Battle Screech based token approach, but more aggressive Metalcraft / Artifact Land versions have also been putting up increasingly good results. The Artifact land version is able to create some powerful synergies, but keep in mind these troves of advantage also expose an Achilles Heel to powerful artifact hosers such as Gorilla Shaman, Abrade, and Smash to Smithereens. If you put your lands into play as things that can be attacked directly, people can and will go after them!
Pauper Boros Tokens Deck List - Poyo_Del_Mal
Boros has been a Tier 1 strategy for several years now since the printing of the Monarch mechanic which gave R/W a legitimate card advantage engine to add to its base of sticky threats and great removal. Even when the metagame collapsed around overmatched cards like Astrolabe and Mystic Sanctuary, Boros still remained a consistent performer and held its own and remains a fantastic strategy in the present.
MONO GREEN STOMPY
Stompy has proven itself to be the perier beatdown deck in Pauper over the past 365 days. The key to Stompy’s success is its efficiency and flexibility. It presents fast, consistent pressure to gain an advantage of the board and has outstanding ways to press it’s advantage, either by protecting its threats with Vines of Vastwood or or winning in combat with Hunger of the Howlpack.
Stompy tends to struggle with Boros, and can easily get locked out of combat against a focused Tron start, but the consistency and speed of Stompy allow the deck opportunities to steal games and matches even against its worst match ups. If an opponent ever stumbles in the first few turns, chances are Stompy can capitalize. I’ll also add, that while not a Tier 1 deck choice, Mono Green Elves is a solid deck that gives Stompy fits. Elves v Stompy is one of the most lopsided matchups in the format, in favor of Elves.
Pauper Stompy Deck List - Caio Duarte
The key printing that unlocked Stompy as a Tier 1 Strategy was Savage Swipe from Modern Horizons. The card functions as a Searing Blaze and gives a mono green deck based around cheap 2-power creatures a legitimately top shelf removal option.
I’m also a fan of River Boa making a return to prominence in Stompy lists as a way to combat the various Dimir decks that pack a lot of removal and efficient blockers. If you’re a fan of approaching or exploring a new format from the beatdown perspective, you won’t be disappointed with Stompy, as it’s quite good! The double Burning Tree Emissary draws are a tall order for even Boros to handle!
I hope after reading today’s article that if you were interested in giving the format that you pull the trigger and try out one of these sweet decks! I feel comfortable saying the format has five Tier 1 decks, which is pretty incredible in terms of diversity. Even more amazing that those five Tier 1 decks only combine to be half of the format AND are relatively evenly split in terms of representation.
In terms of what it would take to compel me to buy a Standard or Modern deck and play those formats once again… I’d be interested in playing any format that has a metagame that looks this good for a sustainable period of time, but with Pauper providing gameplay that harkens back to the style of Magic I’ve enjoyed playing in the past and being so much less expensive to play and collect, I would certainly continue to play Pauper as the centerpiece of my MTG dueling experience.