Magic The Gathering on a Budget: Pauper

Scrumpmonkey is here to talk about a great and affordable format for Magic the Gathering. Pauper is the great little format for players on a budget.


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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
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.
Scroll to top