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Reaching Beyond Pauper: Upgrading Decks


Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series!

Over the last two weeks I've written articles talking about how to break out past Pauper, the premier budget format for Magic, into bigger, more competitive areas of play, both in paper and online. This week I'm going to cover how to take decks that are competitive and playable in Pauper and work them up to Modern and Legacy. Some of the upgrades we'll be looking at will be budgetary while others are multi-thousand dollar lists.

For a small example of this, you can have a look at my article covering Pauper Burn. Here I not only discuss the archetype in the context of Pauper but what kind of things you should be looking for when upgrading it to other formats. Picking up cards like Grim Lavamancer, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Goblin Guide, and fetch lands show a way to effectively upgrade a deck strategy to fit these bigger formats.

With that said, let's have a look at a couple of the more budget decks that you can pick up. First and foremost is Modern Stompy. The deck has always been a very budget option for the format. While it doesn't run very many cards from Pauper Stompy, it's a great example of a deck where you can slowly pick up pieces you need to build up using a playstyle you're already familiar with.

One thing you might notice looking at this list is it's definitely a considerable amount more than your average Pauper definition of "budget." However, this particular build runs White for some high-impact sideboard cards. As a result, most of the cost lies in the fetch lands and sideboard. If you choose to, you can switch to an even further budget version without the White. I'd still recommend picking up a few fetches to allow Narnam Renegade to continue reaching maximum potential at a decent rate, but it's a personal choice. By removing a large number of these cards, it's entirely possible to make the deck cost under $100, even less so when Steel Leaf Champion rotates. This makes it a great option to jump into the format that you can upgrade over time.

Next up we're going to take a look at giving Izzet Blitz the Modern treatment.

This deck is one that streamer Daniela Diaz, aka h0lydiva, is known for playing. Recently she brewed the Mono-Red Runaway Steam-Kin deck that's been taking the Modern format by storm, but historically, she's loved the list she affectionately calls Bloo. If you're familiar with Pauper Izzet Blitz, then the way this deck works should be very familiar to you. You try chaining spells to make your Kiln Fiend or Enigma Drake huge while disrupting your opponent's game plan. You can also use Thing In The Ice to clear away your opponent's board before beating them to death with your horror from the depths.

The deck ranges up close to $700 as is, but a large chunk of that lies in the Scalding Tarns. While it may not be as effect since you can't grab a Mountain, you can swap these out for more affordable options like Polluted Delta to start, should you choose to do so.

Now let's have a look at another sweet deck and one of my favorites: Affinity.

Affinity in Modern plays similarly to how it does in Pauper in the sense that you're playing a hyper aggressive creature deck based around artifacts. The actual contents are quite different. In fact, the Modern versions almost don't even contain any cards with the Affinity mechanic aside from the occasional Thoughtcast. Part of the reason for this is the overall lack of artifact lands in the format as all but Darksteel Citadel are banned.

Traditional lists ran a more aggressive approach with small artifact creatures, Cranial Plating, and efficient beaters like Etched Champion and Master of Etherium. This deck has long since passed its prime, however, and now the Hardened Scales variety is the better placed list in the metagame. This version relies on multiplying +1/+1 counters in rapid succession for massive creatures to attack hard and fast, albeit a bit less wide than the traditional versions.

Unfortunately, not much transfers over, but it's worthwhile to pick up the staples one card at a time if you enjoy the archetype. You can't Fling Atogs at opponents, but you haven't lived until you kill an opponent for lethal with an Inkmoth Nexus charged up by Arcbound Ravager.

There's a lot of aggressive creature based decks here, and that's because they arguably translate the best to other formats. You can't exactly make Dimir Teachings work in Modern, for example, and the Tron lists in Modern are a far cry from the ones in Pauper. Let's dive over to Legacy for a change instead and see how Izzet Delver looks in that format.

This list is a classic aggro-tempo deck that most Legacy Delver decks have become known for. The Izzet version is considerably more aggressive. Despite this, it also uses cards like Daze and Force of Will in conjunction with its suite of burn spells to cripple the opponent's game plan and wipe them out. If you play Pauper Izzet Delver, you likely already have the namesake as well as Lightning Bolt, Brainstorm, and possibly Daze.

Being one of the best decks in the Pauper format, you can regularly grind one step at a time to staple after staple. Volcanic Islands make up the bulk of the deck's cost (well over two thousand dollars!) but can be swapped using Steam Vents as a budgetary option that you can slowly upgrade to the expensive duals. If you're looking to go even more hard, heavy, and pricey, there's the ever present Grixis Delver and Temur Delver archetypes.

Finally, what would a discussion of upgrading Pauper decks be without me talking about my favorite deck in the format: Elves?

Upgrading to Modern Elves is very different than Legacy and Pauper. While the latter two are somewhat more combo-oriented creature decks, the Modern version is much more aggressive and streamlined. Jeff Hoogland wrote a great piece a few weeks ago about Golgari Elves in the format, but it's only one of many ways to play the archetype. There's also been Selesnya Elves revolving around the Devoted Druid combo, Mono-Green Elves, and even Jund Elves when Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned.

The Legacy version is more in line with the Pauper version, using cards like Nettle Sentinel, Birchlore Rangers (and more importantly its rarer counterpart Heritage Druid), and a slew of mana dorks to generate massive amounts of mana. Using this mana, you can create a chain of card draws using Glimpse of Nature and/or the amazing combo of Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote. All of this ends when you have a large enough of a boardstate to fire off a Craterhoof Behemoth, be it by using Natural Order, Green Sun's Zenith, or just good old hard-casting for massive damage at your opponent's life total.

Thankfully, by playing Elves in Pauper, you already have a large amount of the creature suite, requiring you to just pick up all the other pieces. The majority of this deck's large price tag are the playset of Gaea's Cradles which often goes for roughly $400. While the deck functions best with the full set, you can manage with smaller numbers to start and build from there. You can also, like with the Delver lists, substitute some of the pricey duals with shock lands to help with the costs.

I hope you've enjoyed this series. It's been a pleasure to share it. I'll be back next week with even more Pauper discussion. Until then, may you crush all the games and build up your game to the next level in the best budget format around and beyond.

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