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Mana to the Max or: How I Play Pauper


Hello boys and girls!

What should we be paying attention to when we play Pauper?

In a perfect world the answer would be “everything!”And I'm sure the very best Magic players can just about manage to do that. But with so many in-game resources, strategic considerations, probability calculations, mind games etc. at work in a given game, we're going to have to gradually step up our attentiveness before we can get remotely close to joining Pauper's elite tier.

So allow me to rephrase my initial question just a bit:

What should we be paying the most attention to when we play Pauper?

I think a remarkably strong argument can be made for mana efficiency!

Mana efficiency is quite a broad subject within the realm of Magic: the Gathering, and to really do it justice I'm probably going to need more than one article's worth of space. In March of last year, I wrote a piece called “Mana Efficiency Beats Everybody,” and while I hope you'll read it, it contains a brief statement that I'd like to quote here for the sake of explication. Here is a pronouncement to start us off:

Mana efficiency is important because it beats everybody. There is a direct correlation between our ability to cast more spells and impact the game more frequently than our opponents can and our tendency to triumph over said opponents.”

In that initial article I only really covered one or two aspects of mana efficiency, when in reality there are several ways to look at the concept. For instance, a card can be mana efficient in the sense that it can accomplish a number of objectives for what we can intuitively agree feels like a low cost.

This is why entire decks have been crafted around making the card Gurmag Angler cost as little as possible. A 5/5 that has no drawbacks is highly mana efficient at the cost of B or 1B, and still somewhat reasonable at 2B.

By stepping back a bit further we can understand that a deck can similarly be considered mana efficient if it's able to use most or all of its mana during every single turn of the game.

A turn can be mana efficient if we both have the proper resources to invest our mana into during such a turn, and the proper decision-making skills to play such a turn “optimally.”

Lastly (I think), a player like you or I can be mana efficient based on how we construct our decks, sequence our plays and look at the game as a whole.

To hopefully make all of this even more clear allow me to direct you to “Mana Efficiency and Initiative” by Michael Majors, where he states the following:

In the most basic terms, over the average match of Magic, a player will have access to X amount of mana for use in those games divided amongst Y number of turns...One should default to playing the combination of spells in their hand that uses all of their mana every single turn until they no longer can.”

Perhaps it will be useful to consider a couple of commons side by side. Cancel has seen multiple reprints and pseudo-reprint variants, and these have a tendency to get played both in Limited formats and in Standard. Cancel will never see mainstream play in Pauper. This is because it is not mana efficient enough, especially when compared to the other permission options in the format.

Anyone who can fork up the 1UU for Cancel can just as easily pay UU for Counterspell instead. Even with four full slots dedicated to Counterspell, “almost” Counterspell options like Deprive and Logic Knot exist.

I'm not so interested in talking about the efficiency of individual cards today (we'll return to that someday I'm sure) because I'm more interested in discussing the broader ideas of deck construction, in-game sequencing and the general philosophy and mindfulness required to maximize mana efficiency.

Cloudfin Raptor
Gatecrash (Foil)

Aether Swooper
Aether Revolt (Foil)

Let's say I'm a blue beatdown deck. On Turn 2 I can do one of two things: I can either drop a pair of Cloudfin Raptors or deploy the sweet new Vedalken Aether Swooper.

Now there are a lot of possible considerations for us to take into account here, including whether or not our opponent might be playing Electrickery, whether or not they have access to permission for our current turn, etc., but for now let's simply focus on the prospect of being mana efficient versus doing something “cool” (which from what I hear can be dangerous).

It would be cool to get our new 2-drop into play, get our greedy fingers into some energy, and possibly warp our entire Turn 3 around making a 1/1 servo. But there's a very high possibility that this Swooper line ends up doing considerably less for us than the double Raptor line would. Less damage, less resistance to spot removal, less bodies on our side of the board, etc. Again, Swooper may situationally have some upsides, but from a broad, mana efficiency perspective it is just one spell, one early game creature threat, when we could be playing two.

And let's be honest, most of the time our opponent has the Chainer's Edict or whatever for our Turn 2 guy anyway. So that heaping helping of enthusiasm we had for rushing our new card onto the battlefield wouldn't really end up being all that warranted.

It might seem like I'm spending an egregious amount of time on something small, but it's actually not small. It's gigantic. This is the essence of how I figure out 95% of what I'm doing during my Pauper matches. Most of my turns come down to this concept. This mindset. This thing right here! If you've missed it, please go back and check for it again.

In short, during every turn I'm looking to do the most I can, and I'm looking to do the best I can. I'm not making the play that I think earns me style points or “daggers” my opponent if he maybe does Thing X or makes Play Y. Odds are if you're playing against me or watching my videos then you're seeing me try to make the most mana efficient play I can. Even in situations where I don't really know what play to make I will end up defaulting to what I consider the most mana-dense, mana efficient line.

This is nowhere close to being a new concept, nor is it applicable to only the Pauper format. All the way back in 2007 Jeff Cunningham provided us with an “Introduction to Efficiency,” and through the following passages he laid a groundwork that any aspiring deckbuilder or Magic competitor can likely build upon:

A basic unit of power in Magic is mana. Ideally, you want to be using all of your mana every turn. Any mana left unused has gone to waste. Design your deck to use all of its mana...Considered in this way, it's easy to see why simple cards like Sleight of Hand are so useful. Even though their effect may seem relatively marginal, the fact that they are so easy to play (especially if you're not using the mana to do anything else) makes them a good deal.”

Again I return to “Preordain Beats Everybody.” Yes, you guessed it, the precursor to “Mana Efficiency Beats Everybody.” Like Sleight of Hand, Preordain is a “simple” and seemingly harmless card. It gets cast, it has an effect, and if you blinked you probably missed it. But the subtle shift of a game's dynamic tends to occur within the blink of a scry. The Preordain-ing mage is not only cashing in otherwise untapped mana with his Preordain, he's also prepping his follow-up turns to be just as mana efficient as the ones that came before! It's a snowball effect of efficiency that can't be easily fought off or accounted for.

I'll conclude today with more words of wisdom from an outside source. “Mana as a Resource: Grixis Control at GP Charlotte” contains some particularly vibrant gems:

The most successful strategies in Magic’s history have been decks designed to maximize mana efficiency at every stage of the game. This is seen all the time in high-powered formats such as Legacy and Vintage, and occasionally in Standard when the stars align.”

It is my opinion that Pauper belongs in Trevor Holmes' above pantheon of high-powered formats, because it is certainly a format defined by mana efficiency.

In fact, the way I play Pauper is defined by the concept of mana efficiency.

How about you? Are you utilizing your mana to the max? Are you?!

As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy the videos!

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.

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