I have a confession.

Until Grand Prix Hartford I had never played paper Pauper.

After playing in two tournaments I can tell you all with 100% certainty that I regret my decision to wait this long.

How did I get to this realization? It all started with my plans to attend Grand Prix Hartford. I was looking at some local (Northeast Corridor) events to attend as a way to see friends and get some games in. With the announcement of regular paper Pauper events, I decided that I had to make it to at least one Grand Prix this year—impending child be damned. And then I got an email asking if I’d like to be a spellslinger at Grand Prix Hartford.

After a brief discussion with my spouse it was set—I’d be going to Hartford to play some Pauper.

There was just a matter of getting a deck together. After impending child became actual child, I realized that I needed to get my hands on some actual cards. Considering that sleep was fleeting, I decided to go with an old standby to show off some newly downshifted cards.

Pauper Goblins

I absolutely love Pauper Goblins, even when the deck isn’t well positioned. Goblins plays like a typical rush strategy but it can dip its toe into the sphere of Aristocrats with Goblin Sledder and Mogg Raider. Death Spark is a key card in the deck as it can pick off small creatures with ease and allows Goblins to fight against counterspells. If a creature would be countered you can cast Death Spark in response so it will resolve (or not) and end up in the graveyard underneath said creature card. It is at this point that the meager burn spell’s secondary ability—paying 1 to come back in the upkeep—comes into the picture. Considering that I was expecting to see a ton of Delver of Secrets, Spellstutter Sprites, and Elves at Hartford, I felt confident that Goblins with Death Spark would give me a fighting chance.

It also provided an opportunity to test out Frenzied Goblin and Hordeling Outburst in a real world setting. I liked the idea of using Frenzied Goblin to turn off blockers while my Hordeling Outburst pumped up my Foundry Street Denizen. The rest of the deck is fairly standard Goblins fare, with a small Goblin Matron package designed to help give me a chance in matchups that were going to go a bit longer.

The night before I was going to get on the road I had a realization: a lot of the people I was going to be spellslinging against probably wouldn’t have a Pauper deck handy. So I dove into my collection and quickly assembled a bad Tortured Existence deck. I then reached out to my friend (and one of my roommates for the weekend) Mike from the Pauper podcast Color Commontary to pull some cards for the tournaments. Bags packed I turned in for the night.

Once I arrived at the convention center I was overwhelmed. I checked in and sat down in the spellslinging area next to Reid Duke and Pascal Maynard. I was definitely not the attraction at that point, but a few people sat down to play Pauper. If they didn’t have a deck I would pass them Goblins and play Tortured Existence. My first opponent of the weekend went on to make the Top 8—Gene Friedman—and he summarily smashed my face with a red deck.

The rest of the evening was a blur. I played in the bounty event and had some great games (that I lost, of course), before the rest of my room arrived and we ventured into Hartford to find some dinner.

After a decent night’s sleep and a 3.5 mile run on a treadmill (in addition to having a newborn I’m training for a half-marathon because why not) I sat down with Mike to go over the final build of my Tortured Existence deck. We both expected there to be a decent amount of Delver of Secrets decks and anticipated a decent number of Burn decks in the field. That led to some interesting inclusions like main-deck singletons of Gnaw to the Bone and Vulturous Aven. Mike definitely shamed me for not having the requisite number of Jungle Hollows, which forced me to run three copies of Golgari Guildgate. This is the deck I took into battle on Saturday and Sunday.

Pauper Tortured Existence

Tortured Existence is one of Pauper’s few engine cards. It works by discarding a Golgari Brownscale or a Stinkweed Imp and then using the dredge mechanic to fill the graveyard. Once there is a Tortured Existence on the battlefield and a dredge creature in the graveyard, each black mana represents an option. Because of this, Tortured Existence (or TortEx) decks can run a small toolbox of creatures. At the same time there are a few cards that must be present in order for these decks to succeed.

Beyond the dredgers I think these strategies need at least two copies of Grave Scrabbler. Scrabbler is a Gravedigger variant from Future Sight that only raises the dead if it was cast for its madness cost. Using Tortured Existence, this means that for 1BB you can regrow two creatures. Carrion Feeder completes the loop, turning into a large threat while you continue to put Grave Scrabbler where Tortured Existence can get it back.

There are a few other neat interactions in the deck. Access to two copies of Golgari Brownscale and a Tortured Existence means that each open black mana gains 2 life. Horror of the Broken Lands can also get rather large as each open mana represents two power if you have two other creatures.

Deck in hand, I sat to shuffle up on Saturday afternoon. My first opponent was Payden and they were on a blue-red list featuring Spellstutter Sprite, Faerie Miscreant, Mulldrifter, and Harvest Pyre. While I never saw a copy of Delver of Secrets I still played in fear of it. In the first game I stuck an early copy of Tortured Existence and was never under any threat of dying thanks to an early Brownscale. Game 2 I managed to fight through two copies of Relic of Progenitus and secured a win.

My second round opponent, Griffin, was on an interesting build of Elves. They were running Manamorphose to help cast Night’s Whisper. Sadly, they were never able to get anything going game 1 after a mulligan to five. In game 2 I was under pressure from an ever growing Elvish Vanguard. I managed to stabilize with Crypt Rats taking out their team and Stinkweed Imp sitting back on defense. Eventually I hit 7 mana to flashback the Chainer’s Edict I had binned early and took out the mammoth Vanguard before securing a second match win.

The third and final round on Saturday was on Albert, also with Elves. Their build was more traditional and that made it a bit challenging. Game 1 I was short on removal but managed to leave my opponent with no good attacks as I kept trading Brownscales to eventually go past 40 life. Once I showed Albert a Crypt Rats it was time for game 2. I do not remember much about this one, sadly. According to my life pad I never dropped below 20 and my opponent died in only 5 attacks. But just like that I had run the table at my first paper Pauper event.

Sweet.

The next morning I was back at it. The Double Up event started at 12:30 and I ran back the same 75. My round 1 opponent was Benjamin on Boros Monarch. Game 1 was an epic affair where Ben pointed his burn spells at my creatures. While I never had the same board presence as my opponent I was able to get double Brownscale active at 6 life. I ended the game at 34 when my combination of Gurmag Angler and Horror of the Broken Lands had whittled Ben’s defenses to nothing.

We started game 2 with only 17 minutes left in the round. I was able to stick an early Tortured Existence and found two Brownscales once again. This game was a slog as Ben had Prismatic Strands to handle my Crypt Rats activations multiple times. Time was called in the round and I had access to both Crypt Rats and a Horror of the Broken Lands. I had to fade a third potential copy of Strands. Having amassed an audience at this point I went up to 54 life after wiping Ben’s board. Untapping on turn 4 of the bonus I turned my Horror sideways with enough mana open to deal the final 8 points of damage. Ben laid his hand of mono lands on the table and offered the hand.

The second round of the Double Up was against Scott on Elves. I kept a loose hand game 1 and never got off the ground. Scott’s Elven army overcame my staggering offense of Carrion Feeder and it was on to game 2. After nine games I finally experienced mana problems but had clawed my way back into the game. An active Tortured Existence and enough blockers to stay alive against a Timberwatch Elf and an army of 1/1s meant that I had to fade a third copy of Quirion Ranger (Fume Spitter had handled the other two) before I could get back a Crypt Rats and take over. But the Visions card was lurking on top of Scott’s deck and I offered the hand in defeat.

My final round of the weekend was against Jeremiah on a brew. Game 1 started with a turn-1 Stream Hopper wearing Clout of the Dominus. I was quickly dead. Games 2 and 3, however, my removal showed up and I finished the weekend 5-1. Not bad for my first attempt at paper Pauper.

I had an absolute blast shuffling up real cards. I also loved running this deck in paper as the ability to shortcut multiple activations makes things so much easier. On Magic Online, TortEx is a huge clock sink as each activation takes multiple clocks. That isn’t the case here, and I hope to experience floating 5 black mana to gain 10 life at multiple events in the future.