I’m not a huge fan of Pauper. Conceptually, it’s a lot of fun; but every time I’ve ever sat down for a game, it’s hyper-tuned Delver of Secrets or Presence of Gond combo or some other lockstep deck. Nothing wrong with those decks—I’m a fan of Delver as a strategy—but Pauper can become an iteration loop of de-powered versions of top decks rather than an act of expression and creativity. It’s good to run out old-school, pre-fetch Brainstorms, but that’s my problem with Pauper: it replicates a style of gameplay that doesn’t exist anymore using the vocabulary of that kitchen-table-style without actually speaking the language. Many people find it excitingly innocent and playable under a budget; I find it needlessly restrictive. That said, it’s an intriguing metagame and playing on a level battlefield breaks up the occasional stagnant feeling of other formats, so I’ve been known to play it periodically.

The decks that have spoken to me in the past have always had an engine component to them: they’re neither generally pure aggro nor reactive control, but have always had an operative thesis behind them. I love tempo decks and theme decks and, more than anything, decks that function best when they’re operating outside of card advantage. So this is my Pauper brew, that’s constantly under review and revision.

Bockman Pauper Overdrive

Creatures (25)
Basking Rootwalla
Fa'ayidah Seer
Borderland Explorer
Rotting Rats
Barrow Ghoul
Grisly Survivor
Gorgon Recluse
Twisted Abomination
Gurmag Angler

Spells (12)
Tortured Existence
Raven's Crime
Acorn Harvest
Ichor Slick
Last Rites
Dark Withering
Lands (23)
Ash Barrens
Jungle Hollow

Sideboard (15)
Hymn to Tourach
Psychotic Haze
Faerie Macabre
Gnaw to the Bone
Syphon Life

I built this deck because of a simple truism: Dark Withering is a nutty card, assuming you cast it for its madness cost. The best place for it, then, is obviously a Madness shell, but I wanted something that was a bit more controlling than the traditional Pauper Madness deck. I wanted something that ground out longer games through recursion engines and card advantage—in other words, Tormented Existence. It’s no longer a secret that Tormented Existence is an absolute house, but it’s especially potent in this deck, where it operates closer to Survival of the Fittest. Discarding a Gorgon Recluse to block feels filthy to begin with, but it’s even better when it’s also returning a Twisted Abomination.

Last Rites is your Liliana of the Veil. It taxes your opponents terribly, while still advancing your own strategy. That said, you’ll only want to see one per game, most likely, so we’re sticking to two. Same with Raven’s Crime, which is excellent late-game, but self-perpetuates so that we only need two copies.

Basically, your creatures are bigger than your opponents’—Barrow Ghoul outclasses just about everything on turn three and four—and your Anglers are faster. Many of your cards are only situationally useful, so you’re happy to ditch Rotting Rats against players without cards and Borderland Explorers against card-rich opponents. You’ll get in some chip damage, trade with creatures, and your Barrow Ghouls and Gurmag Anglers will play the Tarmogoyf role.

In the board, you have your Gnaws for Burn decks (side out the Barrow Ghouls against Burn, and focus on filling the yard, Delving away your non-creatures), your Faerie Macabres for anything that futzes with the ‘yard, and the Psychotic Hazes for token decks or hyper-aggressive decks. There’s a set of Hymns in the board—they’re powerful as all get-out, but tailor your deck to your own metagame.

As #mtgfinance has picked up, Pauper has crept away from its initial mission. I’m not specifically talking about Oubliette or other huge-gainers, but about the general cost of acquiring cards that most people never bothered to save in the first place. Learning that the Battle Screeches you used to leave behind at FNM Draft Night back in 2002 are now $10 a playset is not how you want to be introduced into a new format—especially when that $10 of discretionary income could be paying for a Sacred Foundry or half (!) of a Collective Brutality.

There’s a space for a format that runs off of five-dollar rares and forgotten mythics. I don’t see why we should be shackled to rarity as determining budget. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking so—in fact, my local store has started a $100 Modern League to appeal to players who are playing on a budget, but drawn more to strategies over commonalities. We’re still hammering out the rules for setting prices in a constantly-shifting financial landscape, but it was enough of an attractive concept to get me scrolling through TCGPlayer and eBay listings, trying to nail down a decent deck for what (combined with the Modern playables/Standard rotational picks I’ve snagged over the years) is quite a decent budget. It’s an interesting format concept—no Eldrazi, no D&T builds, no Tarmogoyfs or Snapcaster Mages. Manabases are tight—no fetches, few shocks—and mono-colored decks are therefore appealing, as are decks that attack the manabase. For a while, I was considering a G/B Ponza deck that ramped to a turn three Plow Under, but I do have my limits. Instead, I opted to take the deck a different direction. Here’s where I am at the moment:

Hundred Bucks and the Soul of a Troll

Creatures (11)
Elves of Dark Shadow
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Catacomb Sifter
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Spells (25)
Fertile Ground
Search for Tomorrow
Awakening Zone
Journey to Eternity
Death Cloud
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Garruk Wildspeaker
Golgari Signet
Lands (25)
Blooming Marsh
Llanowar Wastes
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Drown in Sorrow
Nihil Spellbomb
Obstinate Baloth
Hero's Demise

Total cost: $98.75

Obviously, this would be better off if we had access to Utopia Sprawl, but it’s $6 apiece, somehow. I think Death Cloud is a viable strategy for a smaller Modern tournament regardless of budget, so run them if you want to adapt for a non-budget tourney.

Awakening Zone is absurd—it provides chump blockers against aggressive opponents until you can Death Cloud, while simultaneously charging up your Clouds and, late-game, being Nissa-buffed bodies. The gameplan is to ramp a bit, drop a Zone and a Planeswalker, then nuke the board and your hands with Death Cloud, leaving you with a land or two, a Signet, a Planewalker, and an insurmountable advantage. This deck is a dream crusher, and sometimes it crushes your own, but it’s a blast to play—and at a relatively cheap cost.

Magic is expensive. We can subsidize the hobby by selling off our chaff, by targeting cards we know we’ll use, or by trading for value, but it’s always going to be expensive to compete—or even to play. So we find ways to cut costs by setting restrictions on deckbuilding or on formats (e.g., Draft will always approximately the cost the price of three packs). I’m honestly not complaining: I didn’t expect to be able to pick up Sinkholes for $5 or Inquisition of Kozilek at $4, but it’s vital sometimes to restrict your budget, see what can be born out of sandier soil.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.