It’s not much of a secret that Magic the Gathering is a money-hole. Playing Magic on a budget can be hard. Standard format especially, with its constant rotation, can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year to keep a viable top-tier deck. But imagine if you could buy a single deck for $30-$40 that would never rotate and was part of a diverse and fun format with cards legal from all of magic’s history. Well you just described Pauper.

But what is Pauper? Well it’s simple: Pauper is a format of MtG where the restriction is that cards can only be common rarity. That’s it.

Playing Pauper helps you see through rarity to the heart of what makes a format fun: gameplay and diverse interactions — and pauper is full of them. This isn’t some cobbled together alternative out of pure financial necessity; it’s a legitimate format with the rarity limitation bringing out a whole new raft of viable decks and staples. Its closest relative in my opinion is Legacy, an environment where pretty much everything you can think of is legal and up for testing in your deck. Pauper also has a pretty small banned list for an eternal format consisting of just:

You can play with literally all other commons in existence. That’s a card pool of around 5658 cards!

side-bidget-1Pauper is mostly played competitively on Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) because of the ease of arranging events with players across the world.  It’s also the place where almost all of the data for the Pauper metagame comes from since sanctioned events tend not to support Pauper. MTGO is not an ideal place for many Magic players — I personally don’t like or use the platform due to  continuing stability issues. Plus I’m just a fan of physical cards.

There is still room for innovation in the Pauper format; it isn’t a “solved” format, as newer cards can have a massive, even format defining impact. Grey Merchant of Asphodel, a card from Theros, is the backbone of one of the most prevalent decks in the format — a deck that only costs a fraction of the price of normal top-tier deck and is already in the hands of standard players.

Let’s look at a quintessential Pauper deck (and a classic Magic deck) Mono red Burn:


Here is a deck that most Magic players will recognize is made up of parts familiar to almost any mono-red or burn player in pretty much every format. The big splashy rares are obviously not here but you still have the full suite of lightning-bolts, shard volley and other staples.

side-bidget-2The ability to make a deck from cards you have lying around is one of the great joys of Magic: it breathes new life into your collection and reduces the burnout many people feel from trying to keep up with Standard. There have even been passionate appeals for Wizards of the Coast to offer some level of support to a Standard Pauper format, with players writing impassioned appeals that Pauper block or limited were not only affordable and workable — but fun. There is a small but very enthusiastic community for Pauper and seeing their passion for the format is very endearing. Pauper feels like the eager, scrappy little underdog of formats. I can’t impress on you just how much fun I’ve had since I discovered it; the restrictions make for really run and creative deck-building and if you want to experiment even wacky old cards are generally only pennies.

Greater support for Pauper could be a great way to get newer and younger players into the game. Re-printing older Pauper staples, even just as promotional cards, would up their visibility, availability and circulation and give people a taste of a truly affordable format with a massive card pool. No one gets mad when Wizards re-prints commons. I know it might be pie in the sky dreams, but a having an GP or event where Pauper got even a little focus would really show Wizard’s commitment to the affordability of the game. I know the large aftermarket brings pressure to focus on just big rares or mythics  but that’s not really what Magic is about. And I think having a cheap, eternal, accessible, competitive and fun format get some much-needed love is good for everyone.

So gather a few friends, crack open that giant box of random commons (you know the one) and start having fun.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.