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A Pauper Primer: Wrapping Up

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Pauper is an incredibly diverse format and the primer, to this point, has largely focused on the established decks of the past and present. The decks detailed are ones that you can reasonably expect to encounter during a league. While some will be more heavily represented than others, none of them should be a real surprise.

Of course there’s more to Pauper than the 18 archetypes listed. While Pauper is not the “brewer’s paradise” than many die hards claim it to be, there are still plenty of numerous archetypes that can succeed in the online metagame.

Blue and Red team up to make Izzet one of the more powerful color pairings in Pauper. Before the printing of Peregrine Drake and the subsequent dominance of the value-combo deck there was a midrange deck leaning on Delver of Secrets, Mulldrifter, and Sea Gate Oracle backed up with removal and countermagic. In the wake of the Drake ban two different U/R decks emerged, one more popular than the other.


The one-two punch of Faerie Miscreant into Spellstutter Sprite is a powerful combination. Spellstutter Sprite is one of the more potent tempo plays in the format as it commits a threat to the board while taking away an opponent’s play. Alone it is nothing special but it is one of the best ways to sneak through a Ninja of the Deep Hours. The rest of the creatures should look familiar as it is the Delver shell with Mulldrifter taking the place of Insectile Aberration. In place of many of Delver’s bounce spells and counters are removal like Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash. Where Delver can sometimes be outclassed in the latter stages of the game Izzet Faeries has access to burn to seal the deal.


A less aggressive take on Swiftwater Cliffs Izzet Control wants to eke out tons of value. Rather than pressuring the opponent with small creatures this deck wants to use removal and counters to stay alive until it can start winning in the air with Mulldrifter. These decks also lean heavily on Beetleback Chief as a way to either clog the ground early and create an army late. Izzet Control is also one of the better decks at using Haunted Fengraf thanks to the ability of Harvest Pyre to curate the graveyard.


Jumping to other end of the spectrum is Slivers. While Goblins and Elves play heavily into tribal themes Slivers is the one that most resembles a traditional tribal deck thanks to the abundance of lord-style creatures. Muscle Sliver, Sinew Sliver, and Predatory Sliver all are walking Glorious Anthems that improve the quality of each previous investment. Slivers has the advantage of being able to win with Poison thanks to Virulent Sliver while also being able to play Vines of Vastwood for a combination of pump and protection. Slivers thrives in low removal environments but when Black-based control gets stronger Slivers has trouble winning.


Invigorate was banned in Pauper thanks to the interaction with Glistener Elf but Infect still shows up from time to time. Counting to 10 is much easier than counting to 20 can with powerful pump spells like Vines of Vastwood and Groundswell it is easy to see how Infect can win. The issue is that the creatures are relatively weak and without an Inkmoth Nexus to dodge removal Infect is all in on 1/1 and 2/2 creatures. That being said it can win as early as turn two so it cannot be entirely discounted.


Red Deck Wins started seeing play right before Peregrine Drake hit the format. It plays similarly to Goblins except that instead of tribal synergy it leverages haste. Red Deck Wins wants to take advantage of Pauper when the format leans on Flame Slash and Chainer's Edict. Backing up threats with Lightning Bolt is a good way to end games. As more decks rely on Lightning Bolt this version of Red gets worse.


Token decks all take a similar approach but build there is some variety. The Mono-White list attempts to garner card advantage from playing multiple threats from a single card and winning with a Glorious Anthem style effect. Some versions add Keep Watch as a way to reload — similar to Distant Melody in Elves. Yet another version adds Red for Rites of Initiation, takes those fresh cards and pitches them for even more damage. These decks were popular for their strong game against Delver but Kuldotha Tokens has largely supplanted their place in the metagame.


Thraben Inspector makes an Artifact which goes very nicely with Ardent Recruit and Auriok Sunchaser. This deck, sometimes called Cyborgs, leans heavily on Metalcraft to produce undercosted threats. Some versions have splashed Red for Galvanic Blast but where this deck plays 3/3s, Affinity plays 4/4s. And has Atog. Oh, and Fling.


Blue Zoo asks what a Delver deck would look like if Delver was completely replaced by Cloudfin Raptor. The deck runs a ton of creatures, including offensive powerhouse Dream Stalker, to help grow Raptor to a bird of Dragon proportions. This deck does struggle when it draws its cards out of order which can leave its offense rather anemic.


Carrion Feeder is a strong incentive to attempt a deck based around sacrifice synergy and bursts of damage. Bloodthrone Vampire provides the ability to one shot while Hunger of the Howlpack and Rancor can can pile on the power. Like other two color aggressive strategies this deck can fall to its own draw.


Tribal Flames can end games quickly and with Nylea's Presence it is possible to achieve the full five basic land types on turn two. Presence turns Wild Nacatl and Matca Rioters into serious threats. Domain Zoo has put up respectable numbers for a fringe deck but it is two turns too slow to be a serious contender.


Another deck that leans on the UrzaTron — Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower — R/G Tron is an evolution of a Mono-Green version of the deck. During the latter half of Kaladesh season the deck emerged with a Fierce Empath toolbox to fetch Maul Splicer and Wretched Gryff, on top of the usual Fangren Marauder and Ulamog's Crusher. Eschewing Sea Gate Oracle and Mulldrifter, R/G Tron has the potential to run out of gas in the midgame.


Delver of Secrets is a strong enough threat that it has found a home in a draw-go style Blue deck. Delver MUC — Mono-Blue Control — wants to counter anything that hits the stack. Anything that does hit the battlefield will be blocked by Spire Golem until Delver of Secrets can deal the final points of damage. The slowest Blue deck running Delver it can struggle with trying to come from behind since it lacks any real way to deal with permanents.


Another draw-go style deck, Snow Go relies on Skred to handle larger threats and Mystical Teachings to find the right answer for a given situation. Stitched together with card draw and selection, Snow Go takes threat-light to another level by running a scant two win conditions main in Sprout Swarm and Battlefield Scrounger. Taking out either of these can leave the deck toothless.


When Pauper gets aggressive, Turbo Fog pops up as a way to blunt every assault. Instead of winning through damage the deck uses Accumulated Knowledge and other draw spells to fuel Jace's Erasure. Against unprepared opponents the deck can change the rules of the game. However it does struggle against countermagic and has no way to win outside of milling.



Tortured Existence is one of the few engine cards available in Pauper. The Stronghold enchantment can turn any stocked graveyard into a tool box. These decks tend to be built for the long haul and suffer mightily without the eponymous enchantment. Turning the downside into an advantage requires some maneuvering with Grave Scrabbler but few decks can match Tortured Existence’s late game. These decks are fairly popular but are skill intensive which makes them pop up less often in the undefeated results.

That’s a lot of decks. Pauper, as I’ve said, is an incredibly diverse format. It is sometimes called a “brewer’s paradise” but I think that is a misnomer. At the highest levels Pauper has a well defined metagame and while many options are viable there are still limitations on what might be good. There are tons of discussions on how to “break” some eminently fair card in the hope of finding the next big thing. Yet sometimes things just will not work at the competitive level.

Pauper is struggling to find its footing as a competitive format. Part of this is due to the significant gap between the paper world and digital offerings. I still advocate for a unified card pool based on the Magic Online legality as it is the more rigorously tested of the two. While this would strand some cards outside the bounds of legality it would go a long way toward having a format that could be played the same on a desktop or at a friendly local game store.

The unification could also been a boon for coverage of the format. One only needs to look at the proliferation of Frontier content recently to see how many words could be written on Pauper. With more eyes on the format and more content being potentially produced then it would be a boon for watching decks advance and develop.

Pauper is in a great place at the moment and it exists at the edge of something else. As shown in this series it has a wide variety of viable strategies and a decent amount of strategic depth. Games can end in an eye blink or drag on until the final card is drawn. What Pauper needs now more than ever is more attention. This primer is meant to be an introduction and I hope that it inspires you to sling some commons.


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