Breaking Down Standard Pauper on MTG Arena

Nathan McCarthy
March 15, 2019
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MTGArena frequently runs weekend-only events that feature unique rules for how you play the game. These limited-time events were something I initially dismissed, as I am used to Hearthstone’s Tavern Brawls and assumed these would be similar. For those who don’t know, the Tavern Brawls tend to function mostly the same, where there are unique rules or unique deckbuilding restrictions for a limited time and you are rewarded for trying out this new way to play. The big difference is that Tavern Brawls are rarely, if ever, repeated. This means that they are short-lived and usually not worth it for me to put my time and energy into. 

Arena’s events, however, have proven to be much more compelling. The simple fact that they have continued to cycle through a select few challenges repeatedly means I am extremely interested in figuring out exactly what each of these formats have to offer and itemizing the steps meant for brewing in these formats.

How to Decide What is Good

For this instance of the event, we are playing Pauper with only cards available on Arena. This means only Commons can go in your 60-card deck and only ones printed since Ixalan. For those of you familiar with traditional Pauper, I want to be clear that this couldn’t be further from that experience. Playing with this small of a card pool feels planted smack dab in between Standard and Sealed in terms of power level. Much weaker than Standard but much stronger than Sealed.

 

With this restriction in mind, I started by pulling out every card in Standard that had potential synergies or just a high raw power level and organizing them by color. Some examples of such cards are Skirk Prospector, a payoff for playing a lot of Goblins in your deck, or Moment of Craving, a card that sees Standard play already. This got me a huge list of cards that were potentially playable, but I knew many of these synergies would not pan out.

After going through personally, I eliminated Goblins, White Weenie, Merfolk, Ramp, Tokens/Go Wide, Aristocrats, Artifact-Matters, and Combo. None of these strategies had enough reasons to be in them or enough good payoffs. 

Synergies I determined were worth examining: Pirates, Control, Bogles, Wizards, Rats, Advisors. This list is unfortunately short, but I feel good about where each of these six decks are going and will now go through each one individually.

 

Unfortunately, after looking at all the archetypes and even the multicolored cards, I am of the opinion that you simply should not play Green in this format. I was shocked, as the presence of powerful ramp spells and some large creatures is usually attractive in underpowered formats. However, there simply isn’t anything worth ramping into that I could identify and there’s an abundance of high-quality removal available.

 

Now onto the decks!

Pirates

This tribe is really interesting. It has powerful payoffs in Black, Blue, and Red, but is looking to be aggressive, meaning two colors is a stretch and three is near impossible. The best payoff for Pirates is the powerful card advantage tool of March of the Drowned. This means that I’m at least starting base Black and aggressive. If it turns out there aren’t enough playables there, I will try adding additional colors. If that yields unsatisfactory results, I will know that Pirates is also not worth playing.

Playable Pirates:

Grasping Scoundrel

Fanatical Firebrand

March of the Drowned

Kitesail Corsair

Dire Fleet Hoarder

Goblin Trailblazer

Buccaneer’s Bravado

Headstrong Brute

Pirate’s Cutlass

After actually laying the cards out, it became painfully apparent that this tribe is also a flop. Simply not enough playable cards in one color and an aggressive deck cannot survive with a bunch of tapped lands in its mana base.

 

Bogles

This archetype is the one I had the most success with last time this event ran. This deck isn’t the kind of Bogles you’d see in Modern, where you leverage the Hexproof mechanic to make your threats non interactable, but actually more similar to Jim Davis’s UW Sram deck from when Ixalan first was released. You leverage evasive creatures and pump spells to get under whatever your opponent is doing and get them dead.

 

Here is my preferred list for pants-on-creatures:

4 Healer's Hawk (GRN) 14

4 Rustwing Falcon (M19) 36

9 Plains (RIX) 192

4 Knight's Pledge (M19) 19

7 Island (RIX) 193

4 Skyscanner (M19) 245

4 Silverbeak Griffin (M19) 285

4 Artificer's Assistant (DAR) 44

2 Marauder's Axe (M19) 240

4 Short Sword (DAR) 229

4 One With the Wind (XLN) 64

4 Azorius Guildgate (RNA) 243

4 Kitesail Corsair (RIX) 41

2 Dive Down (XLN) 53

This deck is opting to not run Meandering River, as it can only afford a limited number of tapped lands, and it should still be consistent enough with the basics filling out the mana base. I would recommend this deck if you are in a hurry or if you enjoy customizability. You can add effects like more Dive Downs or Spell Pierces or Quenches if you want to play more like Mono-Blue in Standard, or you can add more lands and more expensive fliers if you want to be more resilient. Mix and match your threats and protection for what you’re coming up against.

 

Wizards

After separating all the Wizard payoffs in Blue and Red, It became clear that the only reason to be playing Wizards as a tribe is Ghitu Journeymage. The options for burn spells in pauper is shockingly slim, particularly because Lightning Strike is an uncommon! Because of this, it is worth playing Journeymage with only Lavarunner and Pyromancer to turn her on. Just like in Standard burn, where you’re still playing Wizard’s Lighting with only the 8 actual Wizards. The rest of the deck is filled out with other generic good burn spells and the premier removal spell of Ragefire.

4 Fanatical Firebrand (RIX) 101

20 Mountain (RIX) 195

4 Ghitu Lavarunner (DAR) 127

4 Shock (M19) 156

4 Spear Spewer (RNA) 117

4 Nest Robber (XLN) 152

4 Viashino Pyromancer (M19) 166

4 Ghitu Journeymage (DAR) 126

4 Pyromantic Pilgrim (DAR) 278

4 Skewer the Critics (RNA) 115

4 Ragefire (RNA) 270

I would recommend this deck if you’re familiar with the play patterns of burn already, as it plays out extremely similarly. Eking out every point of damage with each of your creatures to deal the full 20. Ragefire is also extremely important against the format’s likely most popular deck:

 

Advisors/Rats

    

I am putting these archetypes in the same category because one invalidates the other and they play extremely similarly. Unfortunately for Rat Colony, Persistent Petitioners has the same strength (a fast snowball effect if only a few creatures go unanswered), but provides both 2 more points of toughness and a faster clock. The really interesting thing about this archetype is that it’s correct to run >60 cards. Because of the opening hand algorithm in BO1, you are likely to get enough lands/spells to play out the game effectively, and because all of your spells are the same, you’re not diluting your strategy by playing >60 cards. The reason to play so many is, of course, to win the mirror. Just make sure you play about 1.5 Petitioners for each Island, and you should be fine with this archetype to grind up your promos.

 

UB Control

Now, this is the most tricky archetype to put together. You want to try to beat all the above archetypes and have such high card quality that you likely can. The issue is that the games will, of course, take longer, and finding the right win condition is difficult for the mirror. Options include: a Flash strategy, leveraging Whisper Agent and Wind Strider to make sure you always have access to counterspells (such as the always potent Syncopate) and card draw (like the nearly-standard-playable Dark Bargain), a tactic focused on a few copies of Soul of the Rapids or, more likely, Cold-Water Snapper, or possibly just buffering your own life total with Vampire Neonate and Ill-Gotten Inheritance.

I’m just going to lay out cards that are playable and then my personal preferred build, as describing all of them would be entirely too cumbersome. If you disagree about what mixture of answers/card draw I’m playing, don’t hesitate to try out whatever you’d personally like, as the entry fee for the event is extraordinarily low.

 

Removal:

1 Blink of an Eye (DAR) 46

1 Deep Freeze (DAR) 50

1 Essence Scatter (M19) 54

1 Negate (RIX) 44

1 Quench (RNA) 48

1 Slimebind (RNA) 54

1 Cancel (XLN) 47

1 Capture Sphere (GRN) 31

1 Devious Cover-Up (GRN) 35

1 Run Aground (XLN) 72

1 Totally Lost (M19) 81

1 Syncopate (DAR) 67

1 Dead Weight (GRN) 67

1 Divest (DAR) 87

1 Duress (XLN) 105

1 Fungal Infection (DAR) 94

1 Moment of Craving (RIX) 79

1 Undercity's Embrace (RNA) 89

1 Grotesque Demise (RNA) 75

1 Mephitic Vapors (GRN) 76

1 Eviscerate (DAR) 91

1 Contract Killing (XLN) 95

1 Deadly Visit (GRN) 68

1 Lich's Caress (M19) 105

 

Card Draw:

1 Opt (XLN) 65

1 Anticipate (M19) 44

1 Clear the Mind (RNA) 34

1 Divination (DAR) 52

1 Secrets of the Golden City (RIX) 52

1 Prying Eyes (RNA) 46

1 Mind Rot (M19) 109

1 Dark Bargain (DAR) 83

1 Notion Rain (GRN) 193

 

My Deck:

2 Whisper Agent (GRN) 220

9 Island (RIX) 193

4 Wind Strider (XLN) 88

3 Blink of an Eye (DAR) 46

2 Essence Scatter (M19) 54

2 Cancel (XLN) 47

2 Clear the Mind (RNA) 34

2 Devious Cover-Up (GRN) 35

2 Divination (DAR) 52

3 Syncopate (DAR) 67

1 Fungal Infection (DAR) 94

5 Swamp (RIX) 194

3 Moment of Craving (RIX) 79

2 Grotesque Demise (RNA) 75

2 Undercity's Embrace (RNA) 89

4 Dark Bargain (DAR) 83

4 Dimir Guildgate (GRN) 245

4 Submerged Boneyard (M19) 257

4 Evolving Wilds (RIX) 186

 

 

I chose the Flash build because I feel it has the most play against Petitioners. Unfortunately, Moment of Craving and Fungal Infection are terrible in that match-up but necessary against the more aggressive decks. The real strength of this 60 is the Clear the Mind + Devious Cover-Up combination. As long as one of those resolves and you keep the quantity of Petitioners somewhat under control, you’ll win no matter how many cards are in their deck.

 

Conclusion

Well, hopefully now you know more about what’s important when putting together a deck. I just gave a surface-level overview of the decks presented here, but, once again, my article is already too long. I hope you have fun with the Pauper event and I look forward to trying to break next weekend’s format as well.

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