Pauper Modern When Pauper & Modern Collide; Only Fun Survives


It's no secret at this point that Magic is in the midst of one of the most expensive Standard seasons ever. But instead of writing to lament $75 two-drops and the inevitability of "big bucks" mana-bases, I'd like to focus on something constructive for those of you who like playing constructed. I want to introduce you to Pauper Modern, a budget format for everyone who likes to come out swinging, slinging cards until someone drops.

Ever since I returned to the game, I've felt a longing. Today I'm a limited player at heart —a lover of drafting and cubes— but nothing had captured the thrill and pride of slamming 60 cards, your cards, onto the gym floor, turning them sideways, and then walking away with the win. I'd tried Standard, but between the chase, the near-need to netdeck, and the uncertainty of rotation, it just lacked the thrill. On top of that, most of our playgroup of new and returning players doesn't want to invest in the top-tier decks of the competitive formats.

Enter Pauper Modern

I can trace the origins of Pauper Modern in my playgroup back to a single article right here on PucaTrade! Budget Brewing: Zoo captured my imagination and my interest in the Modern cardpool like never before. I mean look at Wild Nacatl, fresh off the banned list, such power, such grace, such #value—and at common… common?!  Lightning Bolt and Kird Ape and Qasali Pridemage, oh my! The idea started floating around our playgroup, and the first few decks took form.

"Ok, I get it, but why limit my Pauper to Modern?" This is the number one question that comes up, so we might as well address it now.  The short answer is "we don't know; it's just an experiment". The long answer is a theory that combines the improved rules templating, more careful color pie distinctions, tighter creature/spell balance, and massive knowledge pool of modern players. Taken together, Pauper Modern could—just maybe—be the perfect recipe for a budget format that is cheap, powerful, and (notably) accessible. This is where opinions diverge. Commenters will be sure to suggest we just play Pauper, and maybe they're right. But I think there's something to this format, and I challenge all of you to perform your own experiments!

Revealing the Form

We didn't invent Pauper Modern.  It's existed in spurts and sputters (and as a pet format in certain stores) as long as Modern has been around. However, there were no clear rules, no clear guide, and no starting point for interested players. Here we're using the simplest possible criteria: a 60-card 4-max deck, each card must be Modern legal (banlist in effect) and printed at Common ever (even outside of Modern). In addition to being straightforward criteria, this also makes for the simplest possible search in your favorite card search engine—just set it to "Modern" and "Common" and you're ready to go.

But what do the decks look like? Fast. Most of the decks that have been trotted out so far are quite aggressive. Lots of 1 and 2 drops and curves that top out at 3 or 4. There's a version of that Zoo deck we mentioned earlier (potentially several versions). Affinity is a beast with a ton of card advantage, and Cranial Plating is legal though the artifact lands are not (save for Darksteel Citadel). Most of these aggressive decks are looking to flood the board fast and often back up their cheap creatures with some kind of combo finish, or alpha strike—think Mono-Red Heroic or my favorite example: Infect.

Infect (Modern Pauper)

Blighted agent

Creature (18)

4 Blighted Agent

4 Glistener Elf

4 Ichorclaw Myr

4 Llanowar Augur

2 Rot Wolf

Instant (9)

4 Groundswell

4 Mutagenic Growth

1 Vines of Vastwood

Sorcery (10)

3 Distortion Strike

4 Epic Confrontation

3 Gitaxian Probe

Land (23)

12 Forest

8 Island

3 Thornwood Falls

We haven't seen much classic control in our group yet, but control is likely more viable in Pauper Modern than it generally is in Modern. We have seen some punishing decks that are a little more tempo-based. Two players simultaneously built similar U(B) Faeries decks that punish your attacks with bounce spells, counter your critical plays with Spellstutter Sprite, and then punish you in the air with an army of flyers, and maybe a ninja or two. Another interesting deck builds off that oh-so parasitic Kamigawa block mechanic, "Splice". This deck turns nearly every spell it plays into a command (or worse). Bounce, burn, draw? No problem! Filter, bounce, self-mill? Sure! Half the value stays in your hand, thanks to "Splice onto Arcane" Once there is a critical mass of Arcane cards in the graveyard, Ire of Kaminari comes down to end the game.

Arcane (Pauper Modern)

lava spike

Instant (29)

3 Consuming Vortex

4 Dampen Thought

3 Glacial Ray

4 Ire of Kaminari

4 Murmurs from Beyond

4 Peer Through Depths

4 Psychic Puppetry

3 Reach Through Mists
Sorcery (7)

4 Ideas Unbound

3 Lava Spike

Land (24)

11 Island

4 Izzet Boilerworks

9 Mountain

You'll notice I didn't list sideboards today.  We do use a normal 15-card sideboard, but our meta is so formative that sideboards are not really indicative of what a "finished" one would look like.  That means we need more decks: your decks! There's a bunch of existing archetypes just begging to be adapted into this format. Maybe you want to build some flavor of Tron with the good ole Urza Lands? Maybe Soul Sisters is calling your name? One player in our group has promised to build Storm, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Or, brew your own. Pauper has always been known as a good format for brewers, and Pauper Modern is wide open. Almost any deck is going to be under $40-50 bucks, and that's for the really good stuff, in paper. Most are closer to $20-30. There is so much potential here because even with the restrictions, the card pool is still quite large (3733 and counting), and best of all, it's cheap and easy to trade for!

Taking the Plunge

infernal plunge

That's right — I saved the best part for last! This format is a slam-dunk for avid PucaTraders. As long as you add a bunch of cards at once to make appealing trade bundles, you can get piles upon piles of old commons from other PucaTrade members. Why not turn a couple nights' worth of draft rares into an exciting, non-rotating constructed deck? Heck, at that rate you may end up with a whole library of decks! (Yes, deck-building may be addictive.)

I can't underscore enough how much sheer fun we've had playing these decks. This format seems to be about fast-paced and explosive play. I've topdecked a Muddle the Mixture, one turn from death, to search, cast, and equip up a Cranial Plating and swing in for the surprise win. I've watched in horror as one unblocked attacker in a Mono-red heroic build suddenly tallied up 15 damage and the kill. I have dropped 3 Frogmite on turn 3 with my opponent recoiling in horror. And certainly everyone in the group has learned to always block Infect.

If this appeals to you at all, I encourage you to grab a few friends and give it a try. The risk is so low (at the worst you collect a few cards you could put to use in Modern or regular Pauper), and the rewards…  you'll have to experience them for yourself. If you're looking for more info at this point, check out for deck ideas, card search tutorials, and more, or join the discussion over on the Pauper Modern MtG Community on Facebook.

And now the real question: what do I build next? Dredge, Bogles, or Tron? Decisions, decisions.

 Eric Davila is an avid board and card game player with a big soft spot for Magic the Gathering. He helps run FNMs at his local store, and his favorite formats are draft, cubes, and budget constructed. He shares these hobbies with his wife Amber, is unconvinced that he should like singleton formats, and thinks everyone should try Pauper Modern. He also likes dogs, beer, and trees.

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