A Beginner's Guide to the Pauper Format

Kyle Massa
February 06, 2018

I love Mystical Teachings. Problem is, there aren't many places to play it.

Teachings isn't Standard legal. It is legal in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, though it rarely appears in any of those formats. And though I could play one in a Commander deck, I won't settle for anything less than a playset. Because this isn't a crush—this is love.

Fortunately, I found place to play four Mystical Teachings. It's called Pauper.

Pauper is a constructed format similar to many others: 60 card main deck, 15 card sideboard, maximum four copies of any non-basic land card, and a small ban list. So what makes it unique? Pauper is a format composed of only commons. Let's break it down.

A Brief History of Pauper

Pauper started as a Magic Online format. Since then, it's exploded in popularity, both online and in paper. You'll find Pauper events at Grand Prixs or maybe even your local game store.

The Format

Though all-commons might sound unexciting, Pauper is actually a surprisingly supercharged format. Some of the best Pauper cards include Brainstorm, Delver of Secrets, Lightning Bolt, Preordain, Ponder, Counterspell, and the Urzatron lands. And of course, lest we forget, Mystical Teachings. Even four of them, if you'd like.

Furthermore, the sheer diversity of Pauper archetypes is striking. One can play the aforementioned Urzatron or multiple shades of Delver (please not fifty). Other viable archetypes: Burn, Control, Five Color, Affinity, Combo, Elves, and Bogles. If there's a strategy you like, it exists in Pauper.

Additional info and the banned list can be found here.

Homebrew Options

The above are some of the more common decks, but there's still plenty of room for exploration. If you're a fan of Booster Draft, you might find inspiration in some of your favorite draft archetypes.

Example: Aether Revolt's blue-red improvise archetype was one of my favorites of all time. Using Inventor's Goggles to cast Sweatworks Brawler on turn three just feels great, and you'll sometimes elicit a giggle from your opponent when you say "Sweatworks." I wanted to replicate that experience in a constructed format, so I built a Pauper deck around it. The result is surprisingly potent.

If you're a fan of the current draft format, Rivals of Ixalan, try brewing a Pauper deck from your draft chaff. Might I recommend a five color treasure ramp deck starring Sailor of Means and Prosperous Pirates?

The Color Blue

One thing you might've noticed about the format staples: many are blue. As such, it's wise to be prepared for blue-based strategies, like Delver of Secrets or Mulldrifter decks. If possible, consider stocking your sideboard with blue hate cards, such as Red Elemental Blast.

A Note on Legality

Remember how Pauper started as a Magic Online format? That means anything released at common in a Magic Online-only format is legal in Pauper, no matter if you're playing online or in paper.

Beetleback Chief is an excellent example. This card has seen five different paper printings, all at uncommon. Yet it's still legal in Pauper. That's thanks to Vintage Masters, a Magic Online-only set in which the Chief appeared at common. The beetle is truly back.

Downshifts and Masters Sets

Masters sets are a Pauper player's best friend. Thanks to them, cards previously printed at uncommon or even rare find their way into our format. Just take a look at all the uncommons that entered Pauper via the most recent Masters set, Iconic Masters: Crowned Ceratok, Dissolve, Earth Elemental (huh?), Furnace Whelp, Seeker of the Way, Star Compass, Thrill-Kill Assassin, and Wight of Precinct Six.

What's more, roughly once every Masters set, a card previously printed at rare gets shifted all the way down to common. Modern Masters 2015 had Scion of the Wild. Eternal Masters had Elvish Vanguard. Iconic Masters had Ivy Elemental.

If you love Pauper, make sure to pay attention to those downshifts. It could mean a pretty powerful card is now available to you.

Where Can You Play Pauper?

Outside of Magic Online, Pauper tournaments are popping up all over the place. Bring your deck down to your next FNM and ask if anyone wants to play between rounds. Check your local GPs to see if any offer Pauper tournaments. And if you're around East Greenbush, join us at FlipSide Gaming on Wednesday nights at 6:30 for five dollar Pauper. If you see me there, you know what I'll be playing.

Kyle Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living in upstate New York with his fiancée and their two cats. When he's not writing, you'll find him down at the East Greenbush FlipSide store jamming booster drafts. For more of Kyle's work, visit www.kyleamassa.com.

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