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How to Win in Pauper

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Jason Moore
Jason Moore

About Jason Moore

Jason Moore is 25 years old, and a resident of Los Angeles California. He began playing Magic seriously in 2010, and has developed a strong interest in MTGO and the Pauper format. He is one of the hosts of the podcast Pauper's Cage, and has covered Pauper on other websites and his YouTube page. His other interests include acting, writing and playing guitar.

How to Win in Pauper

Hello boys and girls!

Welcome to the first installment of Common Ground, a column pertaining to the Pauper format on Magic: The Gathering Online. Despite being restricted to commons only, Pauper has proven to be a powerful, diverse and highly enjoyable format. I’ve been a Pauper advocate for a while now, and have written articles, recorded videos and co-founded a podcast based on various aspects of the environment. Whether you are a Pauper veteran or have yet to be initiated, there is one thing that you will absolutely need to understand: how to win. Today I am going to teach you how to win in Pauper.

As you probably know, there are three primary methods to achieving victory in a game of Magic: reducing your opponent’s life total to zero, dealing ten poison counters to your opponent, and reducing your opponent’s library to zero cards. Of these three methods, the first two are the most viable in Pauper. Why? Because the card pool that exists supports these methods more. While mill as a strategy may one day receive more attention from players and writers alike, it won’t be seriously considered in today’s article.

So how do we win in Pauper? We win by identifying the core strategies of the format, finding the strategy that resonates with us the most and building and playing our deck with that core strategy always in mind. This ensures that we approach each game from a place of both awareness and intent (two concepts that are worthy of full articles themselves), and strive towards giving ourselves the best chance to win at all times. Let’s begin!

There are three core strategies that define the current metagame environment: Playing for the short game with creature and/or direct damage-based aggression, playing for the long game by gradually illegitimating our opponent’s resources, and playing an “unfair” game with degenerate combos. All three of these strategies are valid, and are widely represented in the field. From here we must examine the tenets of each strategy, along with their respective exemplary decks.

The Short Game: Be the Beatdown

Pauper’s aggressive decks share a lot of the same conceptual trademarks. First of all, they tend to be monocolored. This allows for the fastest mana (since all of Pauper’s color-fixing lands enter the battlefield tapped), and therefore the most immediate presentation of threats. They also tend to be creature-dense (usually containing around thirty or so) and highly redundant (many copies and “virtual copies” of threats and effects are present). This institutes consistency between opening hands and in subsequent draw steps. Lastly, the mana curve of these decks features an emphasis on the 1 and 2-drop slots, thereby justifying a higher ratio of spells to lands. Below is an example decklist from December 8th that illustrates the aforementioned trademarks:

AndreyS White Weenie (12/08/2012)

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White
Colors
Artifact4
Land18
White38
Converted Mana Cost
116
220
32
44
Type
Artifact4
Basic Land14
Creature32
Enchantment4
Instant2
Land4

List from a Pauper Daily Event on 12/08/2012 that went 3-1. Featured in Common Ground #1.

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White Weenie has existed in some form or another across many formats for many, many years. It happens to be one of my favorite decks, and AndreyS has piloted various iterations to success on numerous occasions. This deck has the ability to overwhelm some opponents, and also to out-attrition others. The former is achieved by going airborne (and therefore unblocked) very quickly, and being faster than many decks thanks to the damage output of War Falcon and Bonesplitter. The latter is possible due to Doomed Traveler, Icatian Javelineers, Kor Skyfisher, Loyal Cathar and Squadron Hawk all being capable of generating card advantage. A main deck trump exists in the form of Prismatic Strands, which can counteract an opponent’s attack, removal or combo plan.

The strengths of White Weenie are synonymous with those of other aggressive decks. Here is a basic list:

  • Is proactive (doesn’t rely on stopping the opponent)
  • Takes advantage of opponents’ slow starts, flood and screw 
  • Utilizes creature synergies to be more effective 
  • Requires less time and less mental energy per round

Other decks that typify this strategy include:

  • Mono Green Stompy 
  • Mono Red Goblins (featured in the videos below!)

Decks that partially adopt this strategy include:

  • Affinity (aggro-combo)
  • G/W Cloak (aggro-combo)
  • Mono Blue Fae (aggro-control)
  • Mono Green Infect (aggro-combo)

The Long Game: Just Say “No”

The control deck’s method of winning is gradual and calculated. It seeks victory through the creation of a game state that is at once oppressive and irrevocable. In contrast to the aggressive decks, control decks are more likely to be multicolored. This grants them access to a wider array of the color pie (creature removal, counter spells, hand disruption etc.) in order to deal with a number of opposing strategies. They also bolster a higher spell density than the aggressive decks, relying less on creatures to supplement their game plan. Lastly, the best control decks tend to utilize some sort of recursion in order to generate resources (cards, life, creatures or mana) and gain inevitability. Let’s examine a control-oriented deck that also placed on December 8th:

Vagar U/B Control (12/08/2012)

Tags: 
Blue
Black

List from a Pauper Daily Event on 12/08/2012 that went 4-0. Featured in Common Ground #1.

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It is sometimes rare to find a control deck in Pauper that doesn’t utilize the powerful Cloudpost and Glimmerpost synergies. With the aid of cards like Expedition Map, Ghostly Flicker and Capsize, Cloudpost strategies have at times monopolized the control portion of the metagame. The above list takes a different route, adapting elements of Mono Black Control while splashing blue for added utility. The creature base is almost entirely derived from MBC, with Mulldrifter doing a great job as an added source of card advantage. The combination of creatures and spells in the deck accomplishes two primary tasks: eliminating the aggro opponent’s threats and disrupting the hand of control and combo adversaries. By stabilizing the board or mitigating the solidity of an enemy’s combo, we can move towards our control endgame. In the case of this list, that involves utilizing Grim Harvest to get us up on cards with Mulldrifters, or to activate Crypt Rats ad nauseam. Additionally, multiple Cuombajj Witches have the potential to lock creature decks out of the game, and let’s not forget that Raven’s Crime can be cast repeatedly from the graveyard to sabotage combos.

Let’s assess the strengths of a typical Pauper control deck:

  • Draws more cards than most decks 
  • Becomes stronger as the game progresses 
  • Is capable of stopping the opponent’s plan
  • Can be tuned and refined for certain matchups

Other decks that typify this strategy include:

  • UB, UR and Mono Blue Cloudpost
  • Mono Black Control
  • Mono Blue Control

Decks that partially adopt this strategy include:

The Unfair Game: There’s a Storm Coming

Combo tends to frustrate a lot of Pauper players. I think this is because games versus combo decks are very unforgiving, and bear little resemblance to more “typical” games of Magic. One of the great strengths of Pauper combo decks is their ability to steal games, sometimes as early as Turn 2 or 3. Because they are so explosive, it’s hard to predict if/when they can actually kill us (which makes our in-game decisions more troublesome). The common traits of combo strategies include the capacity to generate a lot of mana, or to play a number of cheap (sometimes free) spells in a single turn. There also exists the tendency to search for integral combo pieces via card draw and card selection, allowing decks to “go off” more consistently. Moreover, very few interactive spells are found in combo main boards. This is because these strategies typically don’t care what the opponent is doing, and have little space available to devote to reactive cards. The few interactive items found are usually in place to assure that the combo itself is not hampered by opposition. Below is a type of combo that we can expect to see in most Daily Events:

grapplingfarang Grixis Storm (12/08/2012)

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As seen above, these decks play a notoriously low number of lands. However, we can still generate impressive amounts of mana with Lotus Petal, Chromatic Star, Chromatic Spehere and a slew of rituals. Having two win conditions in the form of Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot makes it difficult for opponents to be truly safe (as holding an answer for only one means they can still die to the other). The two main deck Duress found in this list are powerful tools that provide us with information, and remove an opponent’s safeguard or respective combo piece. The sideboard contains a number of ways to deflect the known countermeasures in the format, and Curfew plus Innocent Blood assist in combating Infect, which is essentially the only deck that is faster than our own.

A typical combo strategy has these strengths:

  • Is proactive (a trait shared with aggressive decks)
  • Can be too fast to interact with
  • Is able to combat “hate” cards
  • Can win the turn it goes off

Other decks that typify this strategy include:

  • Temporal (aka Familiar) Storm
  • UR Storm

Decks that partially adopt this strategy include:

  • Affinity (aggro-combo)
  • BR Tortured Existence (control-combo)
  • G/W Cloak (aggro-combo)
  • Mono Green Infect (aggro-combo)

The Power is Yours!

With the core Pauper strategies in mind, the next steps towards winning are yours to take. One of these strategies will ultimately resonate with you more than others (though you may not know which one currently). You have to be honest with yourself, both about your goals and your abilities as a player. I found through experience that in games where I was the beatdown, I tended to win a hell of a lot more than when I wasn’t. Ultimately I learned that it benefits me to play a proactive, aggressive deck more often than not. This is something I’ve come to terms with, since I also love playing cool creatures and the occasional burn spell! Your preferences may be completely different than mine, but do your best both to identify and cultivate them. Keep them at the forefront during your deck selection and gameplay, and I promise that you’ll be able to win in Pauper.

I have a few questions for you all before we conclude the written portion of this article:

  • Which of these strategies is your favorite (Aggro, Control Combo or a mix)?
  • What Pauper decks would you like to see explored in the future?
  • What kinds of topics would you like me to write/record videos about?

Please enjoy the Goblins deck tech and gameplay videos below, and thanks for reading!

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