Pauper players are everywhere these days, and I’m excited. I’ve always wanted to get into the format, and my local game store runs pretty regular Pauper events. I’ve had a lot of fun watching content like Pauper Ponderings, AnyNewProvince and the MCQ earler this year, and I think I’ve started to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

This wasn’t always the case.

About a year ago my local game store did their first Pauper tournament, so I made a deck and gave it a try. I ended up cobbling something together in about a day from what I owned, without much forethought. What I ended up with was a terrible pile of cards that looked more like a mediocre Limited deck than anything else, something I quickly learned wouldn’t cut it in a surprisingly powerful format like Pauper. I got picked apart by Delver, crushed by Tron, and swarmed by Elves without so much as a chance at beating them. While it was a bit disheartening at the time, it really gave me an appreciation for the format, and also something to work towards.


If you’ve read any of my deck building articles you’ll know that I don’t like to use existing decks; I would much rather lose with something I’ve designed and tested myself than win with a deck list I’ve found online. Of course the ultimate goal is always to win with my own deck, but as I learned with Modern that takes a lot of time and effort to achieve. My big takeaway from my first failed attempt at Pauper was that if I was going to brew something for this format I had a lot to learn about it first.

Here’s the deck I ultimately came up with, but getting to this list was a bit of a journey:

Resourceful Aristocrats

– Rants of Valakut (Ben Iverach-Brereton)


I began my Pauper quest by studying the decks that see play to get a feel for what cards I could expect to face. How efficient is the removal? What’s the typical toughness of a creature? Pauper is a diverse format, but just like Modern you see a lot of the same cards being played from deck-to-deck. If it’s a Red deck it will include Lightning Bolt, while Black decks almost always have a Chainer’s Edict and Gurmag Angler in them. White decks usually have Kor Skyfisher and Thraben Inspector. And so on.

The mana bases usually feature a lot of the same land cycles, too: the Khans of TarkirGain Lands” are a staple of the format, alongside the Mirrodin Artifact Lands. Ash Barrens is also a regular addition in most decks, providing colour fixing and a cheap way of shuffling your library after a Brainstorm. I decided to pick up a playset of some the land cycles I would most likely want to use, and once I had my mana base sorted out I could decide what deck, or decks, I would build. The lands for Pauper were all pretty cheap to pick up, and I liked giving myself as many options as possible.

Once I had my lands sorted out, I dug through my collection to figure out what notable commons I already had to work with. Unlike the first tournament where I just threw a pile of commons together, this time I had done my research and had a decent idea of what I was looking for. My entire collection is admittedly pretty disorganized, so digging through it took a lot of time. Still, with some patience I was able to pull out a decent pile of format staples. There was just one catch: while I had a lot of the cards frequently used in Pauper, they were scattered across several archetypes.

I probably had half the cards necessary for a decent Bogles, Delver, Burn or Boros deck, but not enough of any one deck to actually build it. Still, that wasn’t so bad; all I had to do was pick an archetype and I could easily flesh it out. I wasn’t all that excited about building Bogles or Burn, and I felt I had already explored most of the ins and outs of the Delver archetype with my Modern deck. The Boros Monarch deck appealed to me, given my love of enters-the-battlefield effects, but before I went out and bought cards for one of the most played decks in the format there was one more thing I wanted to try. While looking through my collection for staples I kept coming across cards that might work for one other archetype I hadn’t seen any lists for in Pauper: Aristocrats.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Aristocrats decks. I got into Magic shortly before Innistrad came out, but it wasn’t until the releases of Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored that I really started to sink my teeth into deck building in a big way. My first proper attempt at a Standard deck was a home brewed Black-White Token deck centered around Falkenrath Noble and Blood Artist. I remember the first time I saw the spoiler for Blood Artist; I was ecstatic! Here was a Falkenrath Noble, but for half the mana. I whipped up a list straight away, and the day the set came out I grabbed a playset of the Artists. The deck I built was a clunky 65-card mess, but it was so much fun to play. One of these days I’ll tune that deck up for Modern, but that is a story for another time.

Still, the idea of revisiting one of my favourite archetypes sounded great. My past experience with Aristocrats was actually pretty limited, so if I was going to succeeded at all with it in Pauper I knew I would need to do a bunch more research. How do you build a good deck in this archetype? How many lands does it typically play? What does its mana curve look like? What’s the division between interaction, sacrifice effects and value creatures?

In an effort to answer these questions I looked up some lists from current and past Standards, as well as some Modern lists. These decks wouldn’t translate perfectly to what I was doing in Pauper, but seeing enough of them would allow me to spot some common trends. Hopefully a pattern would emerge, but even if these decks turned out to be vastly different that would be valuable information.

Here are some of the lists I found for comparison:

Mardu Aristocrats
(Ravnica Allegiance Standard)

– MTG Goldfish


Black-Green Aristocrats
(Battle for Zendikar Standard)

Standard Black-Green Aristocrats (Melissa DeTora)


The Aristocrats
(Gatecrash Standard)

Pro Tour Gatecrash Winning Decklist (Wizards of the Coast)


These Aristocrat decks saw significant play when legal in Standard, and while the specific cards in each deck vary greatly, a number of similarities stand out to me:

  • Each deck runs approximately 23 lands.
  • Each deck has around 8 cards that can sacrifice creatures.
  • Each deck can drain an opponent’s life when something dies.
  • Each deck grinds out some sort of card advantage with its creatures, usually with tokens.
  • Each deck can set up one big “combo” turn, whether by attacking with a 20/20 or by pumping up the team.

Even the Modern lists I looked at, and the relatively new Pauper Zombie deck I found, echoed these same properties.

B/W Aristocrats

Deck of the Day: B/W Aristocrats (Eric Froelich)


Pauper Zombies

Pauper Zombies (MTG Goldfish)


I looked again at the Common cards I had set aside, this time with a good idea of what all I would need for an Aristocrats deck. A picture began to form of how the deck would function, but something was still missing. The pile of cards I had were ok, but they didn’t feel like they would do enough in a format like Pauper. I eventually did find a solution with the help of Resourceful Return and the Mirrodin Artifact Lands, but that story will have to wait until next time.

I hope you’ll join me for Part 2 as I go over the original version of my deck, how it did in its first tournament, and why I made the changes that I did. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments how you approach formats you haven’t played before. Do you dive head first into a format with a home brew, or do you prefer starting off with an established deck? Do you like to do any research beforehand, and if so what resources do you use?

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