Perfect Guide to Pauper

Dmitriy Butakov

Introduction to the Pauper World

Hey everyone!

Today’s topic is Pauper Format. First of all, 2 things are important to know about it.

#1: Pauper is a very complex format

Players come to Pauper and say “This format is for those who can’t afford themselves playing a real game of Magic: The Gathering”, they even don’t show the format some respect, don’t offer friendship. I think, I kind of understand this, it’s strange to play a collectible card game with a restriction to exploit the full collecting potential. It makes you think your resources become more limited, but that’s merely another perspective. Pauper is a very complex format and I’d dare say it’s close to Legacy in the matters of decision making and sometimes even outstands it.

#2: Games are very long and grindy

Pauper matches are very long and grindy, there is no bargaining here. The decks that provide a quick game are just not powerful enough. I’ve quit Pauper for some time several months ago because Boros Monarch was a tier0 deck and the best way to win a mirror was to time your opponent out. No kidding. It was virtually impossible to kill each other, and more and more players have started optimizing their plays to make clicking, stacking, yielding, etc. as low as possible, while still having to think through the game. It wasn’t a control mirror that favors a better plan, it was more like an Action-per-minute competition. It wasn’t cheating or exploiting, there simply was no other way, I don’t remember a single case of dropping to a red timer in any other format, but in Pauper it was a common thing.

That’s not the kind of Magic I wanted to play at that time, so I’ve decided to take a pause. Now the meta had shifted in favor of the Blue decks and I enjoy the format again, but matches can still be pretty long and no F6 is ever allowed.

Most of the decks can be separated into 3 large groups, let’s have a look at the most popular decks. We’ll start simple.

Aggro Decks

Monogreen Aggro by skrulis

Skarrgan Pit-SkulkBurning-Tree EmissaryHunger of the HowlpackRancor

There was a time a few years ago I had tremendous results with Stompy, but today I won’t recommend you playing it since it’s 100% vulnerable to 《Stonehorn Dignitary》 and 《Prismatic Strands》 soft locks.

Burn by ElYallo

Chain LightningLightning BoltRift BoltSkewer the Critics

Plain and simple, but effective nonetheless, Burn thrives on the slow decks, its game plan is alike to Dredge – you win the first game thanks to opponent’s keep of a bad hand (and there is a lot of bad hands against Burn), then you manage to win one of the following somehow. I don’t see it well-positioned in the current metagame for there are a few problems.

Thermo-AlchemistGhitu Lavarunner

《Thermo-Alchemist》 can be a real deal in a few matches, but most of the decks have some cheap (1-2CMC) removal and will be happy to get rid of it without taking any damage and sometimes 1 mana ahead. 《Ghitu Lavarunner》 suffers the same, but it’s way more likely to do some damage.


Not enough Bolts. All you want is to deal 3 damage for 1 mana, but there are just too few spells that do it, you have to fill the remaining slots with 《Curse of the Pierced Heart》, 《Needle Drop》, and 《Thermo-Alchemist》. I saw people playing 3 《Fireblast》s and can hardly understand it, 《Fireblast》 is why this deck exists. 《Shard Volley》 does exactly what we need, but that would be too much land sacrifice. 《Flame Rift》 is an option I like, 4 damage for 2 mana is good and you’re unlikely to be raced, but then again it’s good only because everything else is worse.

As for the matchups, I’d say only Elves are heavily favored, and they are not popular.

Chain LightningLava SpikeRift Bolt

Concluding this I’d say don’t play Burn yourself, I know it’s represented wide in the tournaments, but that’s not where quantity means quality, after a single league of Boros mirrors you’ll be aching to play ANYTHING that takes less than an hour for a match. Be sure to know how to play against it, keep in mind its sideboard options. There is a fun thing about playing against Burn – it has a strict “prestige” of the spells, i.e. your opponent 《Chain Lightning》s you on turn 1, that means there is no 《Lava Spike》 or 《Rift Bolt》 in their hand, excluding cards like this can give a piece of relatively exact information on their hand.

Affinity by MLupa

Chromatic StarSpringleaf DrumWitching WellProphetic Prism

In building an Affinity deck, 2 common problems have to be solved: cheap artifact count and mana stabilization, without them you won’t move an inch. Some builds use 《Terrarion》, 《Navigator’s Compass》, and 《Chromatic Sphere》, but it pains me to even imagine topdecking a Compass. I like this build for its balanced distribution of enablers and fixing with the metagame calls like 《Dispel》.

There are 2 main paths to victory:

Myr EnforcerCarapace ForgerGearseeker Serpent

Quickly deploying 2 creatures in any combination of 《Myr Enforcer》/《Carapace Forger》/《Gearseeker Serpent》. Have 2 of them start attacking and that’d be likely a game over, there is a nightmare removal spell against Affinity-《Snuff Out》, but only one deck plays it, as for everything else – your creatures are either out of the removal range (《Lightning Bolt》, 《Echoing Decay》, 《Agony Warp》) or at least some condition is required (《Skred》, 《Galvanic Blast》).

FlingAtogTemur Battle Rage

《Atog》+《Fling》/《Temur Battle Rage》. 《Atog》 is local 《Death’s Shadow》. Just like 《Death’s Shadow》 becomes a beast while you’re just doing the basic stuff-playing lands and discard, 《Atog》 can push through blockers consuming 《Chromatic Star》s and the fixing artifacts you no longer need, and it’s very risky for the opponent to let it connect even if you don’t have a showdown spell. Not counting Boros, there is very little tendency for blocking in the format, the only creature that is actually meant for that is 《Augur of Bolas》.

With the sideboard providing a good variety of cheap answers, I think Affinity is the only deck worth consideration if you want to play Aggro.

Control Decks

The second group is the control decks. With Boros as the king of the hill, control strategy experienced some hard times, there was just too much advantage to counter everything. The print of 《Mystic Sanctuary》, however, has given the archetype the second wind and midrange decks learned their 《Tragic Lesson》.

Mystic SanctuaryTragic Lesson

Monoblue Faeries by Mezzel

Faerie MiscreantSpellstutter SpriteNinja of the Deep HoursCounterspell

Monoblue Faeries gives you far more consistent red-zone action, but;

I think Monoblue Faeries is by far the hardest and least forgiving deck to play, it requires a razor-sharp skill and knowledge of opposing deck, but if you’re able to effectively use every mana and evaluate the risks (there are 2 kinds of that: to counter a spell or save the counter, and to leave mana open or tap out), you should be able to sustain enough offense while keeping the opponent’s threats at bay.

Skred Faeries by BlinkmothNexus

Red splash adds a solution to Blue’s 2 biggest problems:

SkredElectrickerySwirling Sandstorm

I’d say Red gives you a wider mistake window and actually makes you able to regain advantage once you’re on the back foot. This build is more control and there are only 12 creatures, but they are all awesome (I’m not a fan of non-Delver 1 drops) and 《Ninja of the Deep Hours》 recharges the others.

Now UR 《Skred》 Faeries is the most played deck on Magic Online and will be a good choice for any level of competition tournament.

Dimir Control

CounterspellDelver of SecretsGurmag AnglerSnuff Out

I’ve recently top4d the Pauper Challenge with it, so I’ll present my list. The deck is all about countermagic and cheap premium spells: 1 mana 3/2 Flying, 1 mana 5/5, free removal. The removal configuration is a personal thing. I don’t like 《Agony Warp》, it’s your only way to deal with a 《Guardian of the Guildpact》, but the deck using it is already a bad matchup, so maybe you shouldn’t care.

Suffocating FumesThorn of the Black RoseStormbound GeistNihil Spellbomb

I was skeptical about 《Suffocating Fumes》 at first, but the card was fine in a variety of situations and can always be cycled away. 《Snuff Out》 is awesome on its own, but 《Thorn of the Black Rose》 makes it a killer – to become a monarch and make sure your crown remains in the same turn is a big step towards victory. I’m not sure about sideboard 《Stormbound Geist》, it’s definitely good against UB, but I’ve never faced a situation I’d like to bring it in myself. 《Nihil Spellbomb》 vs 《Relic of Progenitus》 is another question, I understand just tapping the Relic will be enough most of the times, but I still don’t like its friendly fire if you have to use it.


And the general advice for all control decks – DO NOT underestimate 《Brainstorm》, it’s almost as good as in Legacy, no fetches here, but Scry and land search are more than enough to shuffle the cards you don’t want to see away.

Midrange Decks

Midrange. Just as in any other format, midrange decks exploit powerful mid-game threats, multi-use of some cards, and fast mana acceleration. Let’s go from least to the most popular lists:

Elves by Toastmachine

Priest of TitaniaWellwisherTimberwatch ElfSpidersilk Armor

The access to 《Gaea’s Cradle》 effect is what makes this deck playable, but unlike the Cradle, you need to untap with 《Priest of Titania》, if you do, some serious business is about to happen. Elves inherit pretty much all the strengths and weaknesses of the swarm decks – it’s vulnerable to sweeper effects and removal of certain key creatures, but if left unchecked, your advantage will grow exponentially and within a couple of turns you’ll just drown opponent in cards. Elves are probably not on the same power level as the Fairies and Boros, but they have a good game plan against both these decks and some other Aggro lists, so if you can put the right number of 《Spidersilk Armor》 in your main deck the deck can show some results.

There are usually 3 ways to effectively fight Elves:


ElectrickerySuffocating FumesKrark-Clan ShamanSpidersilk Armor

Sweepers (《Electrickery》, 《Suffocating Fumes》, 《Krark-Clan Shaman》) are the most annoying and are hard to play around, 《Spidersilk Armor》 is your best shot against them. Turn 2 《Timberwatch Elf》 kinda solves that problem too.

Prevent Effects

Stonehorn DignitaryMoment's PeaceHarsh SustenanceViridian Longbow

Prevent effects (《Stonehorn Dignitary》, 《Moment’s Peace》) are best beaten with 《Harsh Sustenance》 (Some people play 《Mob Justice》, but if you have the access to red mana, you have 《Birchlore Rangers》 so you don’t care about colors) if you have the mana flowing 《Viridian Longbow》 will work as well.

《Standard Bearer》

Standard BearerViridian Longbow

It’s more annoying than it looks, both 《Quirion Ranger》 and 《Timberwatch Elf》 are important to the game plan. Just have your Longbow prepared.

Monoblack by ziofrancone

Gray Merchant of AsphodelCuombajj WitchesThorn of the Black RoseDefile

The first appearance of 《Gray Merchant of Asphodel》 shook the Standard once, since then it became a centerpiece of Pauper Monoblack, you could’ve seen Monoblack earlier, relying on 《Corrupt》, but Gary takes it to another level, the thing is your deck is full of devotion already. I don’t change the lists I show as an example (except my own), but I don’t like 3 《Cuombajj Witches》 here, I would rather play 4, like if you expect a lot of X/1s it would be a beast, otherwise, 3 copies of vanilla 1/3 devotion fodder are too much. I’d like to mention a combo of tons of removal and 《Thorn of the Black Rose》. Monoblack has some extremely favored matchups like Affinity and isn’t that hard to master, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary choice.

Azorius Flicker by saidin.raken

Sunscape FamiliarArchaeomancerMulldrifter
Azorius ChancerySnapGhostly Flicker

First things first – it is no 《Temporal Fissure》 Storm, this deck is way less effective. Honestly, I’m no expert on this deck, but if you’re going to mill your opponent with 《Sage’s Row Denizen》, be sure to do some preparations first, even with access to a blinkable 《Mortuary Mire》, it would be sad to have it killed before the first trigger. I’d rather see the Denizen as an alternative win condition, the primary one is a good old 4 《Mulldrifter》 beatdown, if you can get your blinks to work, finding 《Mulldrifter》s won’t be a problem.

Despite my affinity for UB and Elves, I think, tier 1 consists of UR Faeries and the next 2 decks.

Tron by RClint21

Urza's MineUrza's Power PlantUrza's Tower

Any mechanic good enough for Modern is worth a try. The plan is close to UW blink, but Tron has much bigger payoffs, and dealing with lands is harder than dealing with a 《Sunscape Familiar》. Since Pauper is slower than Modern, you have more time to set your Prisms and find the last piece. It may seem Tron is vulnerable to countermagic, but it’s not that bad, only hard counters like 《Counterspell》 and 《Deprive》 will get it done, 《Force Spike》, 《Spellstutter Sprite》 often won’t work. From what I can tell a veteran control player will have a slight edge against an equal veteran Tron player, but that’s close.

And the first prize goes to Boros, there are 2 ways to build the deck.


# 1: 《Battle Screech》 Aggro Version by murilobds

Seeker of the WaySquadron HawkBattle ScreechRally the Peasants

The source of an advantage here is 《Faithless Looting》 and the Flashback cards, generally you want to deal some early damage with a 《Seeker of the Way》, then carefully deploy enough birds to threaten the game, but keep something in your sleeve in case you get hit by 《Electrickery》 or 《Suffocating Fumes》, to fizzle 《Echoing Truth》 or 《Echoing Decay》 just kill the targeted creature. This build would perform better against Tron, but since all Boros is heavily unfavored against it, I’d recommend considering the next one.

#2: 《Glint Hawk》/《Kor Skyfisher》 Cantrips Version

Glint HawkKor SkyfisherProphetic PrismAlchemist's Vial

The source of income in this build is the interaction between 2 mana artifacts that draw you a card and creatures that take something back to your hand upon entering the battlefield. I like this build a bit more because it’s not so dependent on 《Seeker of the Way》, it takes a bit more time for the setup, but with 8 burn spells and 2 《Prismatic Strands》, you should be able to stay alive. The first deck has a fickle chance of beating your opponent down with 《Seeker of the Way》 or unanswered 《Battle Screech》, this one doesn’t, be ready for long matches, be ready to patiently set things up.

Galvanic BlastLightning Bolt

Despite I’ve played the deck for some time I can’t come to any advice other than conserving your burn spells unless you absolutely have to use it, it would be hard for your opponent to play correctly against a possibility of 3 Bolt/Blast barrage. The real game here is about the strategy, you rarely care about what Prism artifact to bounce, but you must have an understanding of how to proceed with the game, it’s kinda hard to explain it in text, but if you’ll try to play the deck (especially the mirror match) you’ll see it quickly.


Concluding this we can see the usual pattern of tier 1 decks in Pauper: Tron beats Boros, Boros beats Control, Control beats Tron, and others are trying to fit the vicious circle.

I hope you enjoyed the read and have found it useful.

See you online,

Dmitriy Butakov (Twitter)

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Dmitriy Butakov A player from Russia who plays mainly on Magic Online. He was champion of the 2012 Magic Online Championship and in the following year, he top 4s the 2013 Magic Online Championship. In 2018, he becomes champion of the 2017 Magic Online Championship for the second time. Also, with his win at the Magic Online Championship, he achieved his prize to become a Platinum Level Pro. Having these tremendous results, in March 2018, he joins the Hareruya Pros. Read more articles by Dmitriy Butakov