I’ve recently found myself playing Pauper and enjoying the heck out of it. There is a reason why the format has been catching fire over over the past three months—it delivers!
The truth is that I really enjoy playing Magic. If you give me a deck and a format that is fun to explore, well, I’m going to get into it.
Before I jump into talking about the deck that I’ve been playing, I’d like to talk about some of the reasons I’ve found the format so appealing.
1. The cost of entry is dirt cheap. I understand why people get upset when I say Modern is relatively inexpensive to play. The key word being relatively, in the sense that there is no reserve list and the Masters Editions have ingeniously helped curtail some of the cost compared to if this mechanism didn’t exist. I get it—building decks still has a very real cost to the average player.
Pauper? Not nearly as much. You can build most competitive decks in paper for less than $50. From a cost of entry perspective, there is no better format than Pauper.
2. The games are downright decent. I actually enjoy playing games of this format and it doesn’t really matter what matchup I draw. When you are limited to only commons for deck construction, the games can’t help but be interactive. Commons tend to be the most interactive cards: creatures, combat tricks, removal… all the basic building blocks of the game without those pesky mythics and rares to wreck your day!
3. Diversity. Like Modern, the format has a huge, and constantly growing, number of options. Unlike Modern, there tend to be less polarized matchups because there are less absurd cards and every deck has a lot of action and interaction. The games feel a lot like having absurdly good Limited decks, except nobody has a planeswalker to spoil the parity.
The decks are cheap. The games are great. The options are boundless.
Pauper may be the perfect format!
It is also worth noting that the people seem to agree with such a conclusion.
I’m not going to lie—CFB knocked it out of the park when they decided to give Pauper some love by offering side events at Grand Prix. I love it when the individuals with the power shrug and say, “Let’s just give the people what they want!”
The 3-round Pauper side event at Grand Prix Indianapolis had over 200 participants! The Pauper side event at Grand Prix London was the biggest Pauper event in history with over 300 players. For a 3-round event! As a point of contrast, Grand Prix Houston had over 600 players.
A 3-round casual event had half as many players as a Grand Prix on the same weekend. I’m sorry, but that is completely insane! It’s not even a diss on other formats. I think it is an all around endorsement for how much the Magic community is enjoying the format.
People like playing the format because they can afford to build lots of decks and try new things. The average Magic player is able to experience the format in a way that they may not be able to with Legacy, Modern, or even Standard. They are not locked into the same deck because it’s just not worth spending the cash to change or have other options.
As a professional player, I take that for granted sometimes. I am lucky to have a large collection of cards (most of which I’ve accumulated over decades of playing and didn’t have to break the bank over) and a huge network of people I can borrow from. I’d probably be irritated if I had to spend hundreds of dollars to take Storm for a test-drive instead of just having all the cards from drafting.
I get why people are into the format.
O.K., that was my “if you are not playing the format, this is why you should” be speech. If there isn’t a scene for it in your local area, there will be soon. Be sure to tell your local game store that you’d be interested in having a weekly Pauper event.
I’d also like to point out that the cost of being a Magic writer is very, very real. I try to come up with little puns and song quotes for the articles. I think I ruined my favorite Van Halen song for myself and that is real.
Have you ever seen the movie, What About Bob? If you haven’t, it is a must watch. Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray are both absurdly on point. One of my favorite parts in the movie is when Bill Murray’s character is asked by his psychologist (Dreyfus) about why he thinks his marriage ended.
Bob (Murray) responds:
“There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.”
“There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Mystical Teachings, and those who don’t. I love Mystical Teachings.”
Standard Teachings was one of my favorite decks of all time. I enjoyed playing it so much that I kept playing it when Faeries took over the format. The matchup was horrendous and I didn’t win a game for months. I didn’t care because I am one of those people who loves Mystical Teachings.
I was talking on the phone yesterday to my buddy, 2005 Vintage Champion Mark Biller.
“I borrowed a deck and I’m about to play in my first official sanctioned Pauper tournament in about 3 years.”
“What are you on?”
“A little Mystical Teachings brew…”
Long pause. “I’m shocked.”
I could literally hear him rolling his eyes. It’s no secret I love me some Mystical Teachings. There is something really cool about being able to tutor for whatever you want in a game of Magic. Having access to what you need (albeit at a cost) makes for some really satisfying games.
I’ve first got to give due credit to Dan Clark of RIW Hobbies fame for this masterpiece. And I do mean M-A-S-T-E-R-P-I-E-C-E. The deck is a more beautiful Masterpiece than an Aether Revolt Aether Vial.
Why am I even bothering to talk about uncommons in a Pauper article. Who needs them?
I played the deck in exactly one event and went undefeated despite not really knowing exactly what I was doing. I mean, I’ve played Teachings before, but never in Pauper and never with this list. There is always a lot of nuance in a control deck full of tutors. Lo and behold, every time I tutored or went to my sideboard the well was deep and full of sparkling water.
Dan is a pure deck builder. If I had been handed the deck with an hour to tune and make changes in the dark, I would have made several and they all would have been wrong. We laid out the deck after the event and I made suggestions. Every card I wanted to cut he offered a compelling reason to keep. It was refreshing to play a brew where everything had been so well thought out.
The deck is obviously a control deck but it has a ton of action. You win the game by interacting with your opponent and gaining tactical, positional, and card advantage over the course of the long game. The deck can closes the door and then wins with whatever is left over, typically a Gurmag Angler.
A good control deck can cover all the angles…
The deck also has some incidental bodies that can peck away at a subdued opponent:
The B squad.
Most of the games will be won with an uncontested, protected, Gurmag Angler pounding in on the ground.
Justice’s cross is a jam.
It is also perfectly credible to win the game with Evincar’s Justice. It’s there to wreck go-wide decks like Elves and Tokens, but it can finish a game in a pinch by buying it back over and over again.
Gain ‘em ups.
Talisman is a great defensive card that helps to buy you a lot of time and makes Justice a win condition. It helps buy Teachings time to take the game into the late stages where Teachings for Teachings can take over and dominate.
The power of no.
Counterspell is the best card legal in Pauper. I think that fact is one of the reasons why Pauper is such a good format. When the best card is an efficient answer to anything there is no strategy that can ever be too broken or dominant.
I actually like playing Magic where Counterspell is legal. It puts a safety valve on a format. How broken or linear can you be when Counterspell is floating around? Maybe Counterspell is a good guy with regard to format heath… at least in the case of Pauper, it works, and it makes me like the format even more.
Counterspell ports into aggro and control decks too, which is great, and despite being the best card (in my opinion), the format isn’t dominated by blue decks. Blue decks are good, but so are red decks, Infect decks, token decks, B/G decks, Tron decks, G/W decks, Affinity decks, Tortured Existence decks, Reanimator decks, etc. You get the point.
One of the things I love so much about Pauper is the diversity. It would be hard for me to believe that there isn’t a viable deck out there for everyone in this format. I get to play my beloved Teachings again! How cool is that?
If you haven’t jumped into the Pauper pool, I suggest it’s time to take the plunge. The format is growing in popularity, and for good reason—it’s fun. I love the way CFB and other large TOs have embraced the format and have begun offering events. I know that my LGS has been running Pauper as a 1K event for the past few months and has been their largest attended events!
Pauper is not a joke. It’s not a niche. It’s not a casual format. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s not cute.
Pauper is real.
As it stands, Pauper is still technically considered a casual format for the purposes of scheduling and running tournaments. Meaning that under that structure (where these events can only be run as casual events) that there can be no Pauper PPTQ, RPTQ, or Grand Prix.
From what I’ve observed, both in watching the Pauper phenomenon unfold and playing the format for myself, I’m calling it now:
Pauper will be made a real format and there will be a Grand Prix for it one day.
There was a 302-person, 3-round Pauper side event at Grand Prix London. It feels less about “if” than “when.” Why wouldn’t Wizards embrace something that is so obviously great, popular, and full of momentum? It seems like a freeroll.