I tried my hand at the Pauper format last weekend and had a blast. RIW held a Pauper 1K and I split the finals!
Here’s the top 8 photo. Also in the top 8 is PT competitor, Nick Sobczak, and Nick Norman, who won the Pauper Challenge earlier in the day. RIW emphasizes Pauper so it was stiff competition.
If you know anything about my deck selection preferences it wouldn’t be a surprise to see I gravitated towards Dimir Terror. The other finalist was also piloting Dimir Terror. This is a deck to both understand and consider playing yourself in upcoming Pauper events.
Dimir Terror costs about a hundred bucks and is one of the more expensive decks in the format. I could spend effort finding cool versions of cards without breaking the bank. It also meant I didn’t feel guilty single-sleeving my constructed deck. It was weird playing with a deck that wasn’t a bear to shuffle.
The game play of Pauper was great, too. It has been a couple decades since I could hold a Counterspell in hand and let a spell resolve. The other constructed formats have such a high power level that counters need to be fired off immediately as each threat can win on its own.
Today I’m going to cover my current decklist as I have made some changes from the stock list.
Pauper is a thinly played format so there’s room to make meaningful changes to popular archetypes.
Dimir Terror is an aggro-control deck with a tempo disguise. Depending on the matchup I can aggressively fire off cantrips to fuel my big monsters or play it slowly to take advantage of card selection.
Tolarian Terror is the strongest threat in this archetype. The ward cost is meaningful and casting one doesn’t make it harder for the second, unlike Gurmag Angler. The downside of Tolarian Terror is it can be removed by Snuff Out and Pyroblast.
Gurmag Angler pushes us into black, but it’s worth it to have a more diverse deck. A black creature is immune to Snuff Out and Pyroblast. It also allows you to take advantage of lands and creatures milled by Thought Scour and Mental Note.
Together these two creatures define the current Pauper format. They can be removed, but not all kill spells will hit.
Dimir Terror hits in increments of five. Four direct hits will likely win the game, but some dual lands gain life when they enter the battlefield to throw off the math. There are fewer of these lands played as the land cyclers from Lord of the Rings ask for basic land types.
Cryptic Serpent is another consideration for your threat suite. It’s both weak to Pyroblast and Snuff Out so it’s not included. The cost can only be reduced by five instead of six unlike Gurmag and Terror. Mono Blue Delver plays Cryptic Serpent to avoid dipping into a second color.
Snuff Out is the premier removal spell as it can be cast without mana. It misses Gurmag Angler and paying four life is a liability against Mono Red. Don’t be afraid to let the game drag out to hard cast Snuff Out. It can hit artifact creatures, but misses the hexproof threats from Bogles. I was surprised that it was also effective against blue midrange decks as they blink card advantage creatures.
Cast Down is the ancillary removal spell. It costs two mana so I don’t want too many of them, but it kills most threats in the format. This is the answer to Gurmag Angler we deserve.
I don’t want to play Agony Warp in the maindeck because it doesn’t kill Tolarian Terror, Cryptic Serpent, and Gurmag Angler.
Dimir Terror is a “Xerox” deck which means the high number of ways to manipulate the deck creates repeatable game states. The cantrips serve as the glue of the deck to enable quick Anglers and Terrors.
Thought Scour adds three cards to the graveyard for a quick (turn three) Gurmag Angler. If you’re lucky it can hit two instants or sorceries for Tolarian Terror. You can cast a second turn Tolarian Terror with two fortunate Thought Scour effects and maybe a Snuff Out. In general I try to not to focus on turboing out the threats because opposing removal spells can also be played quickly. Establish control and quickly turn the corner with your 5/5s
Thought Scour can target the opponent which can be important in the mirror when it’s clear there aren’t enough threats remaining to close a game and decking becomes a concern. Deep Analysis can also target the opponent.
Mental Note serves as additional copies of Thought Scour. It cannot target the opponent, but is otherwise the same card. Since it has less versatility I cast them ahead of Thought Scour. I don’t play the full four Mental Notes because the cards you draw and mill are unwieldy.
Brainstorm is not only powerful in Legacy, but has plenty of synergies in Pauper. In grinder matchups I can hold Mental Notes to set up the “perfect” Brainstorm where I put two undesirable cards on top and mill them.
I hold extra lands in hand to put back into the deck with Brainstorm, but be mindful that your card advantage spells enable you to flood less often.
Consider is my final cantrip. It can add a second card to the graveyard if you choose to draw a random card.
Preordain and Ponder are also considerations in the cantrip slot, but I prefer instants that add extra cards to the graveyard. I don’t want to have to guess if I should hold up a Counterspell or play a cantrip. Another consideration for when to dig deeper into the deck is Snuff Out can be played without mana.
Fallaji archeologist is played in some lists. The 0/3 or ¼ is a formidable blocker against Mono Red while milling yourself to enable quick Anglers and Terrors. In game one of the mirror it can be a liability to mill yourself should the game point to decking mattering. It gets stronger post board against black decks as it can absorb a Chainer’s Edict.
I prefer to avoid Archeologist because it’s effectively a cantrip I need to play at sorcery speed making it harder to leave up counterspell. I don’t want to draw interaction and reveal it to my opponent.
Deep Analysis isn’t a cantrip, but has flashback making it an excellent mill with Thought Scour. I would prefer not to delve Deep Analysis, but still makes Tolarian Terror cheaper. Since losing three life can be a liability don’t be afraid to board them out against fast decks.
Lorien Revealed is making waves in Legacy, Modern, and Pauper. Since Dimir Terror has a low land count drawing three cards ensures you’re likely to draw multiple spells that can be cast quickly.
The land cycling ability can find every land in the deck as Ice Tunnel and Contaminated Aquifer are also Islands.
Land cycling also enables Dimir Terror to play fewer lands. Fifteen lands is plenty whereas it used to play close to twenty. I can safely keep one-land hands with Dimir Terror.
Counterspell is the gold standard. I will sometimes be more aggressive with casting my Anglers and Terrors and put the shields down on counters because the threats in Pauper aren’t game-ending.
Spell Pierce is a nimble counter in a world of efficient spells in Pauper. It counters removal spells on your Anglers and Terrors, but does get weaker as the game progresses. You can fire off a Spell Pierce that’s losing value to fuel your creatures. They can also remain in hand for a future Brainstorm.
Pierce becomes weaker after sideboard as you gain access to more specific and permanent counters for the matchup.
Psychic Barrier is an Essence Scatter effect that serves as a fifth Counterspell. Shoutout to Oliver Tomajko for finding this particular flavor of Essence Scatter as the life loss is pure upside in a deck filled with Islands.
I’m worried about creatures that can block my 5/5s effectively:
-Guardian of the Guildpact
-Kenku Artificer (makes an indestructible blocker when targeting the dual lands)
Blue midrange decks can also be stopped in their tracks if you counter Mulldrifter or Archaeomancer. I was also surprised it’s so effective against Tron as it’s basically a blink deck in disguise.
The icing on the cake is it counters both Tolarian Terror and Gurmag Angler in the mirror. Games with Dimir Terror will drag out so having more scalable counters is preferable to more Spell Pierce.
Unexpected Fangs rounds out the spells. While it’s significantly weaker than the rest of the Pauper staples in Dimir Terror it serves as a haymaker in the red matchup. I can also race decks that go wide and provide plenty of chump blocks.
Lifelink is relevant in games where I am flashing back Deep Analysis and alternate casting Snuff Out. It can also create a 6/6 in a world of 5/5s against opposing Terror decks. A six-point drain is worth a card in Pauper.
I can keep one land hands due to power of Lorien Revealed. Brainstorm and Consider also see multiple cards to help keep the mana flowing.
There’s a tension between playing tapped and untapped lands. There’s not a hard and fast rule for when to play your duals and basics, but Counterspell and Cast Down is often a tiebreaker. I want to have two untapped mana on the second turn to cast a fair amount of interaction.
It’s also not possible to play a second turn Gurmag Angler making the black mana only relevant by the second turn to kill creatures.
While the Island is a useful attribute to find duals with Lorien Revealed the Swamp enables Snuff Out.
Hydroblast is the gold standard of blue sideboard cards. In general, blue and red decks need to play around blasts in post board games. Hydroblast is technically better than Blue Elemental Blast because it doesn’t need a red target to add fuel to cast Terror and Angler. In practice, Hydroblast will be the best interaction in your deck so this won’t happen 99% of the time.
A Pauper interaction with Hydroblast is you can destroy Experimental Synthesizer on your turn when the opponent is tapped out and they have until the end of your turn to play the revealed card.
The red matchup is good so I’m not spilling into blasts five through eight with Blue Elemental Blast.
Dispel is another counter in the sideboard with plenty of versatility. It exceeded my expectations at the 1K so I added a second to my sideboard. It protects against plenty of removal for Terrors and Anglers, blasts, and other counters.
Annul counters both artifacts and enchantments against Boros Synthesizer. It’s not much, but also serves as a way to slow down Bogles. I have two Psychic Barrier and two Agony Warp for an indestructible threat created by Kenku Artificer making Steel Sabotage less important to bounce a 3/3 artifact land.
A third Unexpected Fangs helps cement the red matchup. Beware of Mine Collapse out of red decks after sideboard.
Thorn of the Black Rose serves as a card advantage engine in post board games that are slower due to Pyroblasts and Relic of Progenitus. The ⅓ deathtouch can not only trade with Anglers and Serpents, but absorb Chainer’s Edict.
Most counters in Pauper focus on blue spells or instants and sorceries. Thorn is able to effectively change the conversation.
Like Psychic Barrier, Agony Warp deals with Guardian of the Guildpact, Kenku Artificer, and Guildsworn Prowler. Dimir Terror is a popular deck and the metagame has adapted with creatures that have protection, indestructible, and are black.
Nihil Spellbomb serves as the graveyard interaction of choice. Since Dimir Terror is filled with counters and quick clocks the graveyard is meaningful to interact with, but not crucial. Three Spellbombs felt like too many, but two was just right.
Chainer’s Edict is a popular sideboard card to kill opposing serpents and Anglers. I don’t like Edict because the mirror boards in Rotten Reunion and can still maindeck Fallaji Archeologist. This is an arms race that doesn’t need to exist.
Edict can in theory kill a large threat out of Bogles, but they have eleven hexproof creatures that are cheap. Cartouche of Solidarity also creates sacrifice fodder and they’re aware it’s part of the matchup.
The rest of the creatures that are appealing to answer with Chainer’s Edict can be killed by Agony Warp.
Rotten Reunion is only at fighting form against opposing Edicts. Pretty narrow and Thorn of the Black Rose is a hammer in the same matchups.
This was my first, but not my last, Pauper tournament. The format is cheap and fun. There are plenty of playable decks that suit most playstyles. I would confidently register the list I discussed today.