Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending one of the largest paper Pauper tournaments ever at my local game store, RIW Hobbies, in Livonia, Michigan.

I know that there have been Grand Prix Pauper side events that make 100 players look modest, but 100 players for a Saturday Pauper 1K is exciting. Also, and I think this is key, the Grand Prix Pauper side events are simply three rounds of Swiss and pay out by record, whereas this event was eight rounds of Swiss with an actual Top 8.

Building a Vibrant Pauper Scene

Once you get people to play the games, Pauper sells itself. There are a ton of fun decks and the games are interactive. They’re defined by back-and-forth play rather than swingy, game-ending mythic rares. Pauper offers something different than any other format and it’s affordable.

I was knocked out early. I played Tron and faced some difficult matchups with some awkward draws. Here’s the telltale barometer—I was playing after I had been eliminated and I sat down against an opponent who was also eliminated:

“Tough day?”
“Not drawing great but still having a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I’m in a better mood eliminated from Top 8 than I would be at X-0 in a Standard event.”
“My games have all been super close. I didn’t win, but I feel like I’ve played a ton of legitimately good games of Magic.”

The key to building a flourishing Pauper scene is dedication and hard work, and my LGS is lucky to have an individual who has provided both: Jon Wilkerson.

Jon has been building up the Pauper scene for months now and growing attendance the old-fashioned way, but with a few modern twists: social media and promotion are huge. You’ve got to get the word out if you want people to know that your store is the place to find a Pauper game night.

The implementation of a local Pauper Facebook group has created a way to keep players engaged and informed. It’s also a great way to get information about events into the online bloodstream. In addition, Jon has also had success reaching out to visible Pauper community members such as The Professor from Tolarian Academy, who was kind enough to plug the RIW Pauper 1K. There were at least 10 participants who attended the event solely because they heard about it from him.

One group drove five hours from Chicago to play in the event!

Another effective technique Jon has put to great use has been to build extra Pauper decks to loan out to new players who want to give the format a try. The decks aren’t expensive to assemble, so it isn’t unreasonable for dedicated players to have more than one deck without breaking the bank. Lending those extra decks out to new Pauper players so they can take the format for a test drive has been an effective way of building the player base here in Michigan.

Also, never underestimate the value of the little things when growing a community… the store offered a free St. Patrick’s Day taco bar for all participants.

The Cream of the Crop

Here was the makeup of the Top 8:

  • 3 Boros Monarch
  • 1 Burn
  • 1 Izzet Blitz
  • 1 Mono-Blue Tireless Tribe
  • 1 Dimir Control
  • 1 Goblins

Without even looking at the specifics we can learn a valuable piece of information: Extremely aggressive decks performed well. 7/8 of the decks were not controlling at all.

Top 4 Deck Lists

The Top 4 of the event split: 2 Boros Monarch, 1 Tireless Tribe Combo, and 1 Burn.

Boros Monarch

James Harper, Top 4 at RIW Pauper 1K

I’m not surprised to see Boros Monarch doing well in a large event. The deck is aggressive, but also has some grind to it. It has some 2-for-1s that allow it to be slightly more controlling than some of the other more linear aggro decks to not only survive but leverage advantage.

Boros Monarch gets tons of value off of these ubiquitous, cantripping artifacts. It can pick them back up with Glint Hawk or Kor Skyfisher, or sacrifice them for 1/1s with Kuldotha Rebirth. Cool synergy from the Boros aggro deck.

Three copies in Top 8 of a 100-player tournament tells me that this deck is absolutely the real deal as a tier 1 powerhouse.

Let’s round out the rest of the Top 4.

Burn

Michael Russo, Top 4 at RIW Pauper 1K

Pauper burn looks like a Modern/Legacy deck. It loses Goblin Guides and Swiftspears and replaces them with Firebrand Archer and Thermo-Alchemist but the strategy remains the same.

Lots of powerful burn spells to utilize here. Especially:

Another very solid aggro option.

Tireless Tribe

I wrote about the Mono-Blue Tribe deck last week, and given how busted it felt to me, I’m not surprised to see a copy in the Top 8.

J.D. Williams, Top 4 at RIW Pauper 1K

I lost to J.D. in round 2 of the tournament. To add to the daggers he spilled my drink when we were shooting pool Friday night! In all seriousness, it was a much deserved victory. J.D. is a good dude and one of the people who has really helped build the Michigan scene by loaning out cards and decks.

J.D. has also made some nice innovations to the deck. The main-deck Quicksand is gas as a way to stall and defend against other combo decks.

I used to have this recurring debate with my college roommate about what the best Martha Reeves and the Vandellas song was. Two Quicksand in the Top 8 and zero Heat Wave. Just sayin’…

Also, I love the suite of creatures in the sideboard to make the deck more flexible.

Timely reinforcements.

Bringing in more creatures that can control the battlefield makes it difficult to attack the combo. I like the angle a lot. Smart work, J.D..

Top 5-8 Deck Lists

I wanted to feature the other archetypes and deck lists that fought their way into the winner’s circle. They are a great place to look for ideas or just see a well-tuned list of these prominent archetypes.

Goblins

David Polzin, 5-8th place at RIW Pauper 1K

A very solid looking 75.

Hordeling Outburst was downgraded to common in Masters 25, which makes it now legal in Pauper. Already making a splash!

Izzet Blitz

Matthew Grant, 5-8th place at RIW Hobbies Pauper 1K

The Izzet Blitz deck is another format mainstay. The main synergy of the deck is simply to cast a bunch of spells with a creature in play that gains power for each spell cast:

The storm spells may be banned but you can’t keep a good concept down! It’s essentially like casting the storm payoff first, attacking with it, and then casting a bunch of spells. The deck is quick, nimble, and capable of some fast draws.

Last but not least, the only control deck to crack the elimination rounds…

Dimir Control

Russell Slack, 5-8th place at RIW Pauper 1K

I’m not surprised to see a control deck in the Top 8 because I do believe the archetype is strong. It helps that Slack is a capable pilot as well. The deck has the tools to compete, but it is certainly difficult with so many aggressive decks attacking from wildly different angles.

The only good news (if you are a control player) is that most of the good aggro and combo decks revolve around winning with creatures, so removal is the clear direction for control. Good, cheap, and efficient removal.

I’m a little sad not to see my favorite card, Mystical Teachings, in the list but I think this was likely a smart choice. In a metagame dominated by blisteringly fast aggro decks, there is little time to cast 4-mana tutors that do not interact with the board!

Final Thoughts on Pauper 1K

My experience playing Pauper thus far had mostly been with small scale events. The metagame looked a little bit different than I would have expected.

The first takeaway was that aggro decks appear more flexible and resilient than I would have thought. My instinct would have been that the controlling decks would rise to the top, when in fact it was the opposite. Playing Tron appears to have been a misstep.

Aggro is great. I’ll likely focus on aggressive decks in my playtesting over the next few weeks or control decks that are geared toward punishing aggressive decks rather than winning control mirror matches.

The second takeaway was how much I’ve missed well-run, fun, community oriented local events. Over the past few years I haven’t participated in nearly as many as I used to because I travel for Magic, and on the weekends I don’t travel, I tend to do non-Magic activities. It was great to see some people I haven’t seen in a while and play Magic in my own backyard for a change.

Lastly, I’d like to say that Pauper has become one of my favorite formats in Magic and it has nothing to do with it being cute, cheap, or casual. I’ve found the games to be among the most interesting of any format. There are a ton of decisions to be made. Based on what I saw from a 106-player Pauper event, I’d love to see the format opened up to competitive play for PPTQ, RPTQ, or Grand Prix Tournaments.

The grassroots model appears to be working for Pauper here in Michigan, so perhaps some of the tips I’ve laid out can help in your area. If social media isn’t working, I suggest free tacos.