Let’s Talk Pauper Commander

Pauper is a format that is exploding in popularity, and Commander isn’t immune from the wave of budget-friendly Magic taking the community by storm! Erik Tiernan talks Pauper shop here!

Let’s talk about Pauper. I’ve mentioned my Sivitri Scarzam deck, which became Kathari Remnant. Despite my sometimes hardcore attitude toward winning, the truly best thing in Commander is much simpler to accomplish.

Giggle. To giggle wildly at the fun and wacky things we do.

Commander Hard Mode, bring it! Finding self-imposed challenges and making it work is a big draw to the format for me. Pauper is one of those challenges, and it is incredibly rewarding. If a playgroup uses pauper commanders, then you can adjust the rules accordingly.

Pauper Magic is a format that uses only common cards. Most Pauper games are on Magic Online (MTGO) and allow any card that has a common printing on MTGO, even if a player’s individual card may be an uncommon version. Physical groups often follow the same guideline, where any version of the card is legal, but it must have a common printing.

For Pauper Commander, many players use an uncommon creature as the commander and the rest of the deck is all commons. Players start with 30 life and it takes eighteen (sometimes sixteen) commander damage to kill a player. Other than that, every common is playable. Even stuff banned in Pauper proper is free to run wild because the dynamics change much of the ban-worthy cards. Of course if your group is having a problem, discuss it among yourselves to see if that deck abusing Temporal Fissure should probably be put on the shelf.

Another great thing about Pauper is bringing the deck out against a “real” table and winning. If you think winning on a budget is a thrill, winning with draft rejects is even better. The deck prices are almost always cheap too, so you can save even more money and get cheap sleeves if you need.

However, Pauper isn’t all fun and games. Outside a dedicated Pauper group, the options on effects we take for granted are greatly limited. Like sweepers. Wrath of God and its many, many variants are rare. Also, some quality card advantage is just beyond our reach. But this isn’t a huge problem; we just need to be a little creative with deck construction.

Kathari Remnant does have the cascade mechanic, which normally makes me pause a bit about how disruptive free spells are, but with only commons I’m not as worried. Especially since my plan is to Voltron kill with a four0mana Will-o’-the-Wisp. Easy peasy.

When you want to do something crazy, you need a plan. Equipment are plentiful and there are some solid auras I can use to boost Kathari Remnant. With only commons, I needed to stretch a bit for some ways to pump my commander, and some of those are cards typically associated with being jank like Howl From Beyond.


The gameplan is pretty simple: take out players. The main way to do this is with a pumped-up Kathari Remnant. The other cards are either supporting this gameplan, stalling to live long enough to kill with an 0/1, or digging to find cards that match either strategy. Since the goal is use a Voltron strategy, I loaded up on Equipment and Auras. I also have a couple of pump spells to help ensure I can take out a player.

The common Equipment don’t have the same punch of rare Equipment like the Swords of Value and Stuff or even some uncommon Equipment like Loxodon Warhammer. However, the Equipment cards all help to do the job, and they are usually considered weak enough not be worth destroying. I can run a Strider Harness out and reasonably expect to untap with it the following turn. I even get to run Equipment that has a drawback I can just ignore. Copper Carapace prevents a creature from blocking, but that is not a concern when I am throwing Kathari Remnant at people.

Vulshok Gauntlets provide a huge boost of +4/+2 at the expense of not being able to untap the creature. The workaround? Equipping the Gauntlets to another creature to for defense. A Mnemonic Wall is solid, but a 4/6 version? People aren’t going to attack into that nearly as often. Other Equipment cards are here to help and to make me chuckle. Bone Saw is a pretty dreadful card, but it turns my Kathari Remnant into a 1/1 so I can start booping people. They don’t care about the one to three damage I can cause, but it is a build-up to get to the commander damage I need to win.

The Auras do a surprising amount of work in the deck. Spectral Flight and Mark of the Vampire are straightforward and plain, but they boost Kathari Remnant out of its pathetic power range. Lifelink is always handy too. The bestow creatures have been surprisingly good as long as I don’t cascade into them. But giving Kathari Remnant a little bit more evasion with intimidate is an excellent thing for this deck. Nimbus Naiad and Nyxborn Triton are both able to bestow my commander or be a target for cascade. Sometimes you just need a body on the battlefield.

Helm of the Ghastlord does work! I draw cards, they discard cards, and it pumps Kathari Remnant by +2/+2. Even better, if I’m desperate to draw cards, I can put it on a Stealer of Secrets for two cards or give it to any other blue creature to squeeze out a couple of extra cards.

Evasion is key and you don’t get more evasive than “can’t be blocked.” DIstortion Strike and Taigam’s Strike both boost Kathari Remnant, let it slide past the opposition, and come back twice! Watching my opponents squirm as they struggle to find an answer because they know I will connect again for lethal commander damage is great. Knowing I did it with a pile of commons against a deck like Marath, Will of the Wild or Karador, Ghost Chieftain is a wonderful feeling that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Finally I have Howl From Beyond. This card sucks to cascade into. It’s not pretty. But when you have Kathari Remnant at five power, seven mana, and ten damage against an opponent, it is awesome! Attack, no blocks, they think they are going to fifteen commander damage, you pump +6/+0, and they lose. Boom! Late-game, you can Howl for fourteen or fifteen damage at a time, and when people complain, ask them how different is that card from Xenagos, God of Revels or how much harder you worked for a single kill compared to Derevi, Empyrial Tactician or Godo, Bandit Warlord Voltron decks.

Pet Cards

I love drawing cards. Mulldrifter plus some recursion with Grim Harvest helps keep Mulldrifter churning through cards. Sure it costs 5UBB to draw two cards, but you can break it up over turns if needed and you can do it all the time. No one really scoffs at Whispers of the Muse because we know about late-game flooding. This is the same thing and I love this durdly little interaction. It is even better when a new player figures out how it all works before I walk them through the steps. They then start thinking about some little engine to put into a deck of theirs and how to make it work. Teachable moments keep our format growing.

Two of these cards are held over from the time when this deck was helmed by Sivitri Scarzam; the other is a nostalgia fueled inclusion. Sivitri Scarzam is a bad Magic card. To help make it more respectable I had both Maze Abomination and Maze Glider in the deck. They did work too. Kathari Remnant already flies, so the Glider was cut. But Maze Abomination still helps out my 0/1; I just need to give it a little push first.

Frontline Sage is an underappreciated card in this format. Card selection through looting and a pump for combat-focused commanders? How much more do we need for three mana? Many times Frontline Sage provides the initial boost to get Kathari Remnant into the combat zone or the little bump to get an opponent to lethal. Try this card out.

Telling Time is my last pet card. I first started tournaments when Ravnica: City of Guilds first entered Standard. I thought this card was the coolest thing ever. Even the flavor text is sweet. There was a time when I had four copies of this card in every one of my decks. Pauper Commander gave me a perfect excuse to use this card. Commander games have enough variance that jamming a pet card or a few won’t hurt much, and if we are all playing to just have fun, then why not include some favorites?

Cascade and Card Draw

I tried to keep the deck built with the cascade effect. However, there are some cards you just need to hope not to cascade into. Howl from Beyond is a great card, but that will not help when it’s cascaded into. The X can’t be paid, but fortunately we can put the card back on the bottom. It’s not card disadvantage but it is a whiff. Capsize is a bit sad if you cascade without the mana to buyback the spell, but you can still bounce a permanent.

Fortunately, the only mana cards I cannot cascade into are Kozliek’s Channeler and Twisted Abomination. All the mana rocks are three mana or less. I can also cascade into some recursion with Grim Harvest, Macabre Waltz, and Soul Manipulation. Soul Manipulation provides pseudo-removal if I draw it, and if I cascade it isn’t a blank.

The card drawing spells are also all three mana or less. Some are just very powerful, like Rhystic Study. Some are glorious to cascade into, like Frantic Search. I draw some cards, discard some cards, and turn the functionally free spell into a net of mana. The card drawing spells takes up thirteen slots with Helm of the Ghastlord and Stealer of Secrets not being counted. With a low ceiling for power in the deck, I wanted to see a lot of cards to get to the ones I need at that moment.

Staying Alive

You cannot win a game you lose. You cannot keep playing the game you lose. Staying alive means that you cannot get dead. To that end, I have a suite of removal and defensive cards. Darkness is a common from Legends; hooray, off-color Fog! Reduce in Stature messes up a lot of creatures in the game. Tidehollow Strix and Deathgaze Cockatrice try to keep my opponents from just jamming creatures against me.

Man-o’-War, Aethersnipe, Recoil, Capsize, and Deny Reality help put some creatures back into an opponent’s hand. The other removal is just trying to be efficient with mana and effects. Oblivion Strike, for example, can hit creatures with protection, and it exiles, so Avacyn, Angel of Hope can’t interfere. Scour from Existence is simply a catch-all and a concession that U/B cannot deal with artifacts and enchantments. Bouncing a Mana Reflection does very little against an opponent.

The last bit of the deck has my two remaining haymakers, Ulamog’s Crusher and Eldrazi Devastator. Both of these come down huge and provide backup to the Voltron plan with Kathari Remnant. In time I hope to cut these cards, but for now they do their job of letting me have a backup plan when my 0/1 commander costs fourteen mana.

Next Pauper Commander

I really enjoy building Pauper Commander decks. But I’m not sure what I should tackle next. For regular Commander builds, my functional reprint deck is nearly complete; I just need to get four or five more cards. Glissa Sunseeker had to wait a bit because of work, but she should be built in early September at the latest. I also want to get a Grixis deck built and am leaning towards Lord of Tresserhorn.

But for Pauper I’m not sure what I should tackle next. I have a couple of ideas.

These are what catch my eye to build around. I do not want to make another Voltron Pauper deck; I did that already.

Orzhov Guildmage seems like a good option for a controlling W/B Commander deck. Jund Battlemage give me options and leads to a token subtheme. Nightscape Battlemage can do a lot of cool things and provide some good effects against decks with access to silver and gold expansion symbols. Nulltread Gargantuan seems like a good way to get a lot of enter the battlefield triggers and have fun working around a drawback. Of course, Species Gorger may be a better fit for that deck, since the drawback doesn’t create a tempo loss and will let me loop Mulldrifter and Elvish Visionary all the time.

What do you think of Pauper Commander? Which Pauper deck should I tackle next?