This post is written by Andrew, one of the hosts of Princes of Pauper. It’s a podcast that’s all about the MTG format, pauper, and the fun to be had. The Digital Worm syndicates the show on our site to help the POP team expand their reach and we’d like to thank Andrew for contributing this written content. You can check out the first two episodes of the podcast here and here and follow the POP team on Twitter. The handle is @PrincesofPauper.
When I first looked at MTG Arena and saw that Pauper was a format they were offering for the weekend, I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to even give a shot at playing. I spent some time theory-crafting and thinking about what cards would even be good at approaching the format. I assumed it would be a relatively easy format to work through.
But when I first sat down to actually build decks I realized there were about 24-28 obviously playable cards for each deck archetype. The last 8-12 cards were the cards that I had to spend a lot of time thinking about before I was sure what the best deck truly was. I started with just adding a copy of every single playable common into a deck, and removing cards until I was left with a reasonable set of cards that were all something to play with.
This was not as useful as I had originally thought it would be. I had about five cards of each color in a pile and was nowhere close to a competent deck even if I narrowed it down to two colors. That’s where a lot of thinking had to take place.
The Fruits of My Labor
The color I had the most playable cards for originally was white with a small splash of green for a rather reasonable card in the Selesnya tribe.
I knew that one of the first places I wanted to start was with a card that gave me an incremental advantage such as Sumala Woodshaper. This card is a fair rate for what it does. Any value that you can add to an aggressive to midrange deck is something that will bring your deck very far. Which brought me to the second reasonable white creature.
Squadron Hawk never looked so Grey.
This card is not incredibly exciting but it is exactly the kind of thing that a white deck wants as it is access to extra cards inside one card. It’s 12 mana for 8/8 in power, but it’s over the course of three different cards and they find one another. Don’t get too cute with this card. If you have the hand space, just go get all of them. Trust me.
Following the Grey Ogre, I started to see what the best direction for a deck like this would be. The Woodshaper makes us want to play more copies of enchantments and pulls us down the direction of a rather anemic card being playable.
I thought this card would be absolutely terrible. I was surprised when I noticed that Pacifism was fine. Over my seven runs Luminous Bonds was effectively Murder, which is an uncommon. Did you know you can’t play murder in this format? Yeah. (I spent about five minutes trying to figure out why I couldn’t play murder.)
Once I moved past Luminous Bonds I eventually got to the concept that I wanted cards that would be good both early and late. Sergeant-At-Arms and Snubhorn Sentry were the cards that I used to fill those slots. The rest of the deck was rounded out with other reasonable white cards and the following deck brought me to a 5-1 event.
A lot of my considerations for this deck were cut early, like the Healer’s Hawk and Oreska Swiftblade. The problem with these cards is I early was trying to identify the powerful cards for the format. And that’s where I wanted to start. You have to see what the answers in the format are and play a deck that doesn’t lose to a player that just has a few of them.
Remember, cards like Murder aren’t playable in the format. The hard removal in Black doesn’t come down until five. If your opponent is spending five mana to kill your four, you’re heavily advantaged. So we have to identify the cards that the opponents are going to cast against me.
There are some large overlaps between a lot of these cards. Three toughness is a sweet spot as a large majority of these cards can’t kill a three toughness card. The Snubhorn is very good because of this, as it takes four and five mana cards to answer it. One toughness is incredibly dangerous.
I saw early on a lot of decks playing with Fungal Infection but they slowly started to realize that opponents weren’t going to play one-toughness creatures any more as they were just too easy to kill. Either players were swarming me with saprolings, or they were playing larger creatures. Or they were losing. This is where picking your threats is crucial.
Five toughness is the best place to be as a lot of these cards only scale to four. And against a non-black deck, only an enchantment can answer a creature of that size. Important cards like Siege Wurm are the answers to the question of what’s the best creature to combat opposing removal.
This creature is incredibly difficult for a lot of the different decks to handle. The problem is that the surrounding cards in green aren’t on the same power level as the other decks. You have cards like Saproling Migration as a good early and late card, but I didn’t find many other cards that went in that direction. I tried an adventurous Stompy list that looked like the following.
This list got to a 3-2 average finish in one of the events. It seemed reasonable, but that it was lacking something. Talons of Wildwood surprisingly outperformed my expectations but other than that the two mana creatures that play the good early and good late role were relatively difficult to actually use to an efficient manner. Also it was just easy to use the removal I indicated earlier to clean up a lot of what this deck is doing. I think there are legs here but I’m not sure that it can run well enough to be able to win consistently.
Learning what removal there is, and what other decks there are, I started to move to more adventurous decks. While the following deck doesn’t have anything that dodges four toughness removal, I found this deck to be incredibly powerful with some very unique cards.
This sure is a lot of normally unplayable cards. That’s the spirit of pauper. Other than Shivan Fire, this deck is just a bunch of cards that are straight up garbage in a normal constructed deck.
This is the only deck I took to the queue twice. The first time playing direct current over the third and second Izzet Locket. By the way, Direct Current is not that strong. I thought it may be a good card for slower red decks but it is nothing special.
This red deck is absolutely something special. A lot of these cards seem incredibly weak but I found the deck to be able to do pretty powerful things when you draw the mana to do it. I will give that warning, it does not always get the mana to cast its spells easily. And those are the games you’re going to lose.
Orazca Relic is the real deal. This card ramps you and replaces itself. The lockets are similar to it but I find it relatively easy to hit the City’s Blessing and gain the advantage as a deck like this can absolutely take the game late.
Radiating Lightning is also -the real deal. Even with the idea that a lot of players are skimping on single cards with one toughness, there are still a ton of Healer’s Hawks and Saproling Migrations in the format. Because of this, this card is just a one-sided Wrath of God. Not to mention…
I got that pairing. As stated this sure was pretty good. Other than those two powerful cards I want to talk about a card that impressed me the most from this deck.
This card is surprisingly powerful for a deck like this. It is the first couple points of damage early as it is a creature with Menace, and in the late game, it is a powerful Two for One. This card is impressive in this deck and I’m glad it’s a card I looked at when building it out.
Your threats in Sparktongue Dragon and Sun-Crowned Hunters are also rather good. Flying creatures are at a premium in this format and the Dragon is bigger than most of the other fliers. As well as that, the Hunters is hard to block efficiently and therefore is always worth at least three damage to your opponent. This deck really impressed me and the next time we come around to Arena Standard, I strongly suggest you try it.
One deck I did not play but I saw on Twitter from content creator Evan Erwin was Bant Hexproof. He was able to bring this to a 5-1 victory.
You know what dodges 100% of the removal in this format? Hexproof.
There are ZERO edicts in Arena Pauper, and because of this, suiting up a hexproof creature and hitting your opponent is a pretty good way to win the game. Cold-Water Snapper and Soul of the Rapids kill your opponent pretty quick anyways even without an enchantment on them.
I think this deck could maybe play something like the Sumala Woodshaper but I can understand why you would move away from a card like this when your deck is already so heavy. I also think that perhaps Rabid Bite is better than Blink of an Eye but that’s a semantics discussion. But I want to end my article on a semantics discussion I’ve had a few times for this format.
Divination Vs. Secrets of the Golden City
This is a relatively small discussion, but I’ve been seeing the decks that are mostly blue opting to play Divination over Secrets of the Golden City. Yes, 1UU is restrictive in comparison to 2U. But a deck with a manabase that is 66.67% blue shouldn’t expect to have a hard time casting the card. Especially when you’re already expecting to have UU for Blink of an Eye and Soul of the Rapids.
In my games with a blue focus, the games where you can’t cast Secrets on turn three are less common than the games where you get to draw a third card on turn seven. At least what I found in the decks I played with Secrets of the Golden City.
Overall, Arena Standard Pauper has been surprisingly enjoyable! I played 7 events with a total of 35 rounds and I can honestly say that I played against at least 28 decks that were at least 50% different from one another. That’s fantastic! I think this format is diverse and has a lot of play and counterplay to it. I want to be able to explore it more.
I really hope Wizards of the Coast put these unique events like Pauper and Singleton as events that can regularly be on Arena.
Perhaps a weekly cycle where it’s Pauper week, then Singleton week, then Momir week or something similar to that. I want to be able to play these more enjoyable and more “casual” ways to play Magic and see all the interesting decks that people bring.
I love this part of the game, as format exploration is one of my skills. I really hope other players feel the same way about the unique formats like this. I can’t wait until the next time we see it on the rotation.