Pauper is a beautiful but flawed format. It’s the place where 26 years of common cards come together to battle, and it’s supported by one of the most passionate subcultures of Magic players. These are the folks that get excited for the last day of preview season, when many commons finally get unveiled. They’re brewers, theorists, and niche collectors who gets excited about foil copies of Reality Acid. We play and love this beautiful format despite its flaws, many of which are inherent to common card design.

Pauper’s problem with lands is pretty basic: multicolor common lands come into play tapped. The backbone of “dual land” Pauper manabases are Dismal Backwater and Boros Garrison. These lands provide much-needed fixing for multicolor decks, but they are slow. Some decks can afford this tempo loss; others can’t.

As a result of this fundamental limitation, a variety of strategies that exist in other formats are not viable in Pauper. Two-color aggro aggro decks, for example. Three-color midrange is also difficult, since it operates in a space between fast monocolor aggro, and slower control decks that easily go over top of them when the game goes long. And when you get down to it, playing a tapped land, unless it’s a well-timed Bojuka Bog, never actually feels good. Magic players want to cast the cards we draw, and having to take a turn off for the sake of a tap land is never an enjoyable experience.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, though. With the increased visibility on Pauper, we’ve started to see some awesome new common designs from Wizards R&D. In spite of this, we’re still caught in the mana problem, and I believe that it holds us back.

Before we go any further, let’s briefly address Arcum’s Astrolabe. For Pauper, it represented what you could call an over-correction to the mana problem. Instead of simply helping multicolor decks fix their colors, it enabled perfect mana with a cantrip bonus. That made it too good to pass up for a lot of strategies, and had even seen play in decks like Bogles and Elves.

Astrolabe was too good, and that’s why it got banned yesterday. Can we find a middle ground? Absolutely.

As it stands now, Pauper decks have frequently used supplemental nonland cards to help fix colors. For instance, Prophetic Prism has seen a ton of play, ranging from filtering colorless mana in Tron variants, to enabling draw engines in Kor Skyfisher decks. Decks like Bogles and Monogreen Ponza use auras to help them ramp and fix, like Utopia Sprawl and Abundant Growth. Blue-based decks use multiple cantrips and fetches to find their splash of a second color. Elves and Slivers use Birchlore Rangers and Gemhide Slivers, respectively. Finally, Orzhov Pestilence and Golgari Tortured Existence jam a bunch of tap lands regardless, because they have been known to have favorable matchups against creature-based aggro decks.

Imagine, for the sake of brewing in multiple colors, that our lands allowed us to move in a new direction. What if these typically two-colored decks could operate smoothly and sometimes splash a third?

Look at any of the other sanctioned constructed formats, and they will all share a common denominator: they can play untapped dual lands. This allows multicolor strategies to flourish, and gives deckbuilders increased space to work with. Without cards that punish greedy mana bases, such as Blood Moon, the format could easily devolve into “goodstuff” decks, which play out like a greatest hits album. However, let’s dive into what might work for an untapped dual land in Pauper.

Though we play only commons, land type is still a consideration in our nonbasic lands. For instance, cards like Snuff Out and Spire Golem care about land type. The Mystic Sanctuary cycle are the newest non-basic lands to include basic types. If we were to have a common dual land that also carried two land types, decks playing the aforementioned cards would experience a bump in power level. If you had a single dual land out with “Swamp Mountain” in the type line, it would allow you to cast both Lightning Bolt and Snuff Out in the same turn, with minimal drawback. Pauper’s spell suite is already stronger than the quality of its creatures—longtime Pauper writer Alex Ullman has explored this at length. I believe that Pauper’s lands are far behind both of those parties, but the Spell versus Creature divide would only be widened with dual-typed lands.

Since the original Alpha dual lands, every dual land after has had some kind of drawback to make it more balanced for gameplay. They range from life loss to carrying charge counters, and everywhere in between. In prior discussions I’ve had on this topic, the idea always comes up to have the Lorwyn Vivid lands, like Vivid Meadow, or something similar. The Vivid lands themselves wouldn’t help the problem, in my opinion, because they would favor slower decks that want to get greedy on colors. Aggro strategies still wouldn’t be interested in playing them, due to the tempo loss, so we’d only be helping one side of the format out. Additionally, flicker loop strategies routinely stay at or near the top of the metagame, so do we really want to give Kor Skyfisher and Ghostly Flicker decks an extra leg up? Similar to the Vivid lands, I was a champion of the Alara/Khans tri-lands for a while, such as Crumbling Necropolis. However, I have since rescinded those feelings, because those lands would only help slower, grindier decks that could get greedy on colors.

Can we really design a new dual land without upsetting the balance of other eternal formats? Perhaps, but it represents another challenge when it comes to providing a good environment for Limited players. Too many dual lands in a Limited environment can dilute it into multicolor good stuff strategies, not to mention cutting down on the amount of playables you’re able to draft. Prismatic Vista and Fabled Passage would’ve been fantastic for Pauper, but unfortunately these fell into the rare slot. While we may be able to get something new in upcoming sets, it’s all speculation at this point.

What if the way to fix the common dual land problem has been staring at us all along?

The Ice Age/Apocalypse pain lands, such as Karplusan Forest, are a smartly-balanced riff on the original dual lands. They blend the speed of being untapped with the compromise of taking damage when activating for colors. Often deemed weaker than the Ravnica shock lands, but more playable than the Lorwyn filter lands; the pain lands would be a great first step toward solving Pauper’s mana problem. They represent a chance to get more colors into aggro decks, while presenting a real cost for slower strategies that want to expand their color options.

But these would only give two-color aggro decks a boost of four untapped dual lands. That’s an improvement, but still not enough to help something like Gruul Aggro really take off. The more pain lands a multicolor deck would run, the more liable they are to losing to aggro, so it helps keep those multicolor decks honest. For two-color aggro to be viable in Pauper, we would need to see at least two different untapped dual land cycles. We have to start somewhere, though.

While we can’t go tossing a full set of ten pain lands into a draft set, I feel that they could be easily downshifted in a Commander product. Not only does that inject more supply into the system, but it also allows Wizards unparalleled flexibility when tinkering with card rarity. Some rarity choices are arbitrary anyway, such as Vial Smasher the Fierce being mythic while Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus is rare. We’re still a ways away from making two-color aggro viable, but we have a chance to boost three-color midrange/combo in the interim. And then we might finally have an answer to the eternal question: “What does Jund look like in Pauper?”

Travis is a Connecticut-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Modern, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t attacking with red creatures, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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