You're reading this on the opening day of Pro Tour Magic Origins, so we're changing up your regularly scheduled programming for a week to serve up our version of a Public Service Announcement.
We're here to chat about Pauper.
For the uninitiated: Pauper is the all-commons format. If Vintage is the Rolls Royce of formats, then Pauper is a '99 Ford Contour: it's the same game, but the user experience couldn't be less alike.
Pauper as an idea is particularly misleading. You hear "all commons format," and your brain immediately thinks, "oh, so it plays like a very good Limited deck. How quaint!" The truth is, Pauper is completely degenerate, with smooth, synergistic decks operating at breakneck speeds. Anyone coming in with an untested brew is likely going to get swiftly chewed up.
Part of Magic's appeal, and its obvious edge over every other card game of its ilk, is its sheer size. The game is enormous, and while that definitely has its drawbacks (for example, Magic Online has to account for a ton of cards that do weird stuff, so it's probably never going to look like the fast-paced Hearthstone-y game we're all dying for it to be), there are upsides to its considerable inertia. The phrase "too big to fail" comes to mind.
Magic's girth is relevant when discussing Pauper because in 20 years and change of cards, there are bound to be some design mistakes – cards that are straight up too good to see print – and it's these busted cards that form the backbone of the format.
To be fair, a lot of the Pauper power-check cards – Cloud of Faeries, Hymn to Tourach, Goblin Bushwhacker - aren't inherently powerful by themselves, but rather context has warped these cards to staple status. The support cards are all really good, and like any eternal format that isn't closely monitored by WotC, the decks kind of all homogenize because of this.
A thing that happens to me a lot is that a new player will come up to me with their deck and say something along the lines of, "HI JON, CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS DECK." Once I get to the part where I start suggesting what cards to cut, every time I'll hear, "no way, that card's great," because of [this], [that], or [the other]. An important part of learning how to play Magic, as opposed to randomly manipulating cardboard, is coming to the realization that most cards are bad, and that the onus is on the card to prove itself good to you. It's tough to get your mind into thinking of cards this way, but the truth is that many cards exist entirely as traps, and if you don't believe me, pick up any preconstructed deck from any time period and check out how uneven the cards are. I guarantee you'll find some life gain card in there, or some other Chimney Imp-tier card that's a disaster if topdecked in a tight game, basically representing a draw worse than a land, with little to no effect on the game. Drawing these terrible cards actually decreases your odds of winning right off the bat – it's akin to your opponent getting a free discard spell. I mention all of this because for all of Pauper's drawbacks, one of its advantages is that it shows players in no uncertain terms that all cards are not created equal. In fact, very few are even playable!
Another advantage to Pauper is the comparatively low cost of entry, especially if you're playing in paper. Here at the TCGplayer offices, we're heading into our fifth Pauper league, and players have really taken to it. A Pauper league does a great job at simulating competitive tournament gameplay at a fraction of the price per deck. What started out as a handful of folks crashing brews into each other has turned full-tilt into an entire office accruing multiple decks, sharing tech in hushed tones, and oh the trash-talk. There are mindgames abound; discussing a deck with someone in the hopes of getting them worried about it is common, and misleading 'Direct purchases specifically designed to get other players off the scent of what deck someone's playing aren't unheard of. It's wonderful.
Paper Pauper is a lot like the online meta, but with two glaring differences: the Hymn to Tourach / Sinkhole tandem, unavailable to online Pauper, do a helluva job at pulling the monoblack archetype kicking and screaming into tier one (I guess Sinkhole is the one expensive Pauper card). Perusing MTGgoldfish gives a good enough idea of what's good in Pauper while still being something of an incomplete puzzle, thanks to the absence of Sinkhole and Hymn to Tourach, as well as some conspicuous absences from most online lists due to MTGO price issues, like Daze or Accumulated Knowledge. It's useful strictly as a rough outline.
Our fourth Pauper League just wrapped – a seven-round tournament played at a clip of a round per week – and I figured this was as good a place as any to dump the Top 8 lists.
8th – RG Infect, by Joe Gentile
Everyone's favorite turn-three Modern deck has its very own Pauper port, with a playset of Lotus Petal as its Pauper-only goodness. Just like the Modern and Legacy Infect decks, the archetype can flip to and from aggression on a dime, rewarding you for carefully picking your spots to "go off" in a flurry of pump spells and opponent tears.
7th – StOmPy, by Ed Forth
This deck's a throwback to the monogreen decks of old, playing at a velocity somewhere in between the old Urza/Masques-era Standard decks and the 10-land Eternal format iterations. It plays a lot like infect but much more honest and with a much more realistic appraisal of its role in the long game if it can't win quickly – build up your hand and pick your spot, wait for your opponent to mess up, and then blow them out.
6th – Monoblack Devotion, by Josh Washington
Oh right, Oubliette! Oubliette rules, but what really puts this deck over the top is the aforementioned Hymn to Tourach. The absence of Sinkhole here isn't even budgetary – Pauper is a format that runs at breakneck speed. It's so fast that even a two-mana Stone Rain is, more often than not, completely irrelevant, as it does nothing to advance your board or put any pressure on your opponent.
5th – UW Tron, by Kyle Nauseef
Kyle entered his first Pauper league on a whim and borrowed a Simic 'Tron deck from a coworker. From then on, Kyle's been completely enraptured by the possibilities granted by the ol' Natural 'Tron, and has twelve lands spoken for in every deck, going so far as to play RG 'Tron in Modern. The rounds in Pauper league are untimed, which gives Kyle plenty of time to set up the Capsize lock and eventually win behind an Ulamog's Crusher.
4th – UR Control, by Kristopher Walters
Skred rules and it's totally a reason to play this deck, dispatching any creature, even Ulamog's Crusher, with ease. This another versatile deck, slowly strangling opponents to death under a ton of card advantage or simply flipping an early Delver and protecting it long enough to burn opponents out.
3rd – Goblins, by Dennis Spiegel
Our resident red wizard, Dennis (or Sped, as he's affectionately known), already won our inaugural Pauper league with this deck. This build in particular goes a long way to illustrate just how fast our local Pauper metagame is; if you draw a Sinkhole against this deck, you're toast. Stabilizing against this deck is a massive challenge in and of itself, and without any life gain you're likely to just die to a topdecked Goblin Bushwhacker.
2nd – Monoblue Delver, by Willis Dell
I love Willis, but I have no clue how he won a game with this. Please ignore it.
1st – White Weenie, by Alex Artese
White's always been an intriguing color to me, as its identity is basically "do everything but do it less efficiently." This sounds reductive on its face, but the truth is that the capability of being able to answer virtually anything is nice. Enter White Weenie, the oldest established deck archetype in Magic. The reason for WW's longevity is simply the fact that it's infinitely customizable, and can be tailored to any metagame. This list is teched out to beat our aggressive metagame; your matchup against Sped's deck is always a good litmus test for how good your deck is, and since Sped is the office's strongest player, his results tend to warp our little metagame. As a result, Alex came packing six Soul Wardens on top of two Suture Priest, which was plenty to pull him ahead in his semifinal matchup against Sped himself.
35 entrants with eight different archetypes represented in the Top 8. Between you and me, the Top 8 results of one tournament don't necessarily speak to the health of a given format, but enough folks out in the world like to cite diverse Top 8 results as a symptom of a "good format" that I figured I'd mention it and let you draw your own conclusions.
Pauper's really great for the competitive player "in recovery." If you've got a bunch of friends that you used to travel to tournaments with, who now have different responsibilities and priorities, and can't travel on a whim to every tournament every weekend, just start a Pauper league. You get to game with a lot of the cards you love (Brainstorm is legal!!), the decks are cheap enough to accrue multiple options, and you can set the stakes at whatever you want.
I hope we got you interested in Pauper, because we've got a lot more all-common goodness where this came from. Stay tuned.
Jon Corporapronounced ca-pora@feb31st