Pauper Deck Challenge: The Best Format You Haven’t Heard Of Yet

PDC means you play with online commons only. It’s such a thriving format that it has two subformats, and a community on MODO waiting for you to join. In an attempt to lure you into the fold, Alex has provided winning decklists, card listings, and strategies – so what are you waiting for? Hop on in!

This is a beginner’s guide to playing within the Magic Online Community known as Pauper Deck Challenge, a.k.a. “PDC.” There is really one interesting rule for PDC: Commons only. If a card was common online, it’s allowed in PDC (with some exceptions; we’ll get around to those later).

How do you get to the PDC? By typing “/join” and then the room name (in this case, “/join pdc”) in any chat window on Magic Online, you will be taken to a chat channel. This is a great way to meet like-minded people and have discussions that are not monitored by adepts. Why play this way? Because it allows more people to be involved. I got involved in PDC because I am a budget player. I love being able to play competitively, but lack the funds to play in the “power formats.” But in PDC, money is less of an object, since most of the top decks can be built for less than ten tickets.

A small disclaimer: Do not come to PDC thinking that we are casual players. Most of us are very competitive and take the format very seriously. People come in with their casual elf deck and are surprised when they see a fully tuned Mono Black Control. This is a warning. That isn’t to say that the people are mean or nasty to those with the wrong idea; most of them are very helpful. But we will pound you and expect no complaints if you bring a random deck.

Right now, there are two main PDC formats: Classic and Standard. As we speak, there is an idea on the table to also make an Extended format, but we haven’t done so yet for one reason: Affinity. Currently, Affinity is so powerful that it has been effectively neutered. Two events have the artifact lands restricted and Cranial Plating banned. The idea on the table is that with the release of older sets on MODO, Classic will become increasingly powerful… And in this format, Affinity with all the Artifact lands will be a fair deck, considering the Fireblasts, Incinerates, Impulses, and other power commons running around. Plating would still be banned. Using Online Extended, the artifact lands would be banned, as well as Plating.

Why ban Plating? Because it is insanely powerful. When it hits the table, it is basically game over.

Standard uses the Standard card pool, but only uses cards that are common in the Standard sets. Because Nantuko Husk is Uncommon in 9th Edition, it is banned in 9th Edition Standard events. The fact that it is a common in Onslaught does not matter in the least.

These are the basic formats. Every four weeks or so, Tournament Organizers (volunteers called Hosts) will throw out a “fun” format. This can be Tribal, Singleton, Vanguard (with the free avatars), Prismatic, or any other “casual” format.

PDC events are divvied into seasons, with each season lasting sixteen weeks. Each event has one winner (twenty-four competitors and above means an event cuts to Top 8, anything less means a cut to Top 4). Each event keeps a running point total for a points leader and holds a championship event at the end of the season.

Unless otherwise stated, all events are open to everyone. The cost to enter is free, but prize donations are welcome. Only championship events require an invite. Every week, there are new players squaring off (and some times beating down on) seasoned PDC veterans.

If you join, please be kind to the Hosts. They are doing this for you. They don’t get paid, and only get the respect that the players give them. Remember, without them, there is no event.

Some game theory concepts apply differently in PDC. Card advantage is very hard to come by. Most commons do not allow for incredible advantage swings – and as such, any deck that can abuse card advantage usually does very well. Decks that abuse this concept in PDC include U/G Madness (classic), Mono Black Control (Classic), and Orzhov Control (Standard). These are just some that use card interactions to help garner card advantage.

The Philosophy of Fire, however, is alive and strong in PDC. Many top decks use it as their path to victory including Top Deck Red (PDC’s version of Red Deck Wins), R/G aggro, and Mono Green Big Men (sometimes referred to as Tango or Bad Date Green). All three of these decks have made appearances in both Standard and Classic.

Aggro-Control decks tend to do quite well in PDC, since they are able to gain card advantage from card interactions. These interactions also often lead to extra damage – for example, Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla. Using Madness to pump the Mongrel, killing a Kami of Ancient Law while getting a free beater is a very basic example, but shows exactly how card advantage works and in hand with Fire in PDC.

This is not to say that pure Aggro does not do well. It does, but don’t expect to pick of a Red Deck and automatically plow through the field. By the same token, Control is also very good. Control decks don’t have access to big splash power cards and often have to win with much smaller, less exciting men… But the idea remains the same.

Personally, however, I would advise against playing a dedicated combo deck. Combo takes up a lot of time and the tutors in PDC are rather slow and narrow (Trinket Mage, Transmute cards). This causes combo to take time to be set up. However, once a combo does get set up, it usually wins. This is more of a personal preference than anything else, but I recommend avoiding combo as a first foray. It may seem like a good idea, but my friend Mr. Mongrel says otherwise.

So now that I’ve discussed the different styles of decks you are likely to encounter, it seems like a good idea to give some examples of PDC deckbuilding. But before I go further, I am going to list the most powerful cards in each color. This is not to say that you will fail in PDC without these cards… But they’re well worth the investment.


Faith’s Fetters
So much has been said about this card, but I’m going to say one more thing: It stops Wild Mongrel, and gains you four life. It also manages to shut down tons of creatures. A good, cheap answer to many threats.

The Invasion Acolytes:
They save your men from dying. They’re definitely good sideboard material, and well worth it if you can find them.

Orim’s Thunder:
A good way to deal with pesky Artifacts and Enchantments, and it only gets better if you’re playing red. Kill two Myr Enforcers for 2WR? Check, please.

The White Counterspell isn’t played nearly enough – but whenever it hits the table, it does the job, replacing itself while saving a dude. Good stuff.

Other than that, White is pretty straightforward. It has good weenies and lends itself to both swarm and control strategies. Honorable mentions include: Circles of Protection, Disenchant, Kami of Ancient Law, Leonin Squire, Mystic Zealot, Noble Templar, Shrieking Grotesque, and Teroh’s Faithful.


Aether Burst:
Bouncing one guy is good. Two is better. Three can win you the game.

I know it’s expensive – but get them! They are totally worth it. There are very few commons that a Counterspell won’t stop.

Exclude/Power Sink:
Both are expensive counters, but they really are helpful. Sink swings the tempo very quickly, while Exclude replaces itself. If you are playing Blue, I highly recommend these cards.

Ninja of the Deep Hours:
If you are playing Blue in PDC and you don’t have him in your deck, there had better be a good reason. He can dodge removal, save a man, and draws a card.

Shimmering Glasskite:
He dodges removal and flies. It’s not unbeatable, of course, but it sure does create a headache for Black and Red decks.

Trinket Mage:
It fetches equipment, Artifact lands, and Cogs. A powerful Tutor in this format.

Although Visions just came out, I am sure this guy will be a total wrecking ball in conjunction with Deep Hours and Blue bounce. PDC can be seen as Limited format that’s all grown up… And in this case, the Jellyfish is a huge help.

One of the best card drawing spells of all time. And it’s common. Wheeeeeeeeee!

Honorable Mentions: Boomerang (remember that it can bounce Karoo lands), Compulsive Research, Condescend, Deep Analysis, Echoing Truth, Jilt, Mana Leak, Probe, Ray of Command, Scrivener, Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Somber Hoverguard, Steamcore Weird, Train of Thought, and Unsummon.


It’s almost unfair how this can steal games when placed in a Black deck. Which is an excellent reason to own a playset.

Crypt Rats:
Mass removal on a stick? Sign me up!

Dimir House Guard:
Decks have been built around him. He fetches you so many things that can help you win. He also has Fear, which can Ninja out some nastiness.

Faceless Butcher:
No, it’s not permanent removal. Yes, it is vulnerable. However, he is still a house and can wreck opponents, letting you abuse come-into-play effects along the way.

And speaking of things to abuse with the Butcher, here’s the Digger! What can I say? He gets you a dead guy. That’s always a good thing.

Last Gasp:
Solid removal. Aside from that, there’s not a lot to add.

Okiba-Gang Shinobi:
While he’s not as powerful as Deep Hours, this guy is still a beating. Against some slower decks, he can be an absolute wrecking ball, knocking out important cards, and he usually allows you to recur some Rats or Gravediggers. Nice.

Rend Flesh:
More solid, if unremarkable, removal.

Stinkweed Imp:
I almost put him in as an honorable mention, but he is reusable removal that enables Threshold and flies.

Twisted Abomination:
Not only does he fix your mana, but he also is a hard-to-kill beat stick. He’s slightly out of favor now because of Fetters, Last Gasp, and Incinerate. However, he is still a daunting adversary in the red zone.

Wail of the Nim:
Surprisingly, this kills a ton of creatures in the format, making it a good combat trick/board sweeper.

Wrench Mind:
If your opponent isn’t abusing artifacts, this can work wonders. Try it, you might just like it.

Honorable Mentions: Chittering Rats, Dark Ritual (although no one has broken it yet, it is bound to be one day), Distress, Duress, Echoing Decay, Innocent Blood, Mesmeric Fiend, Nantuko Husk, Ostracize, Phyrexian Rager, Ravenous Rats, and Vicious Hunger.


Barbed Lightning:
A powerful effect for a reasonable price. It can often be a killing blow, and it also takes out a large number of creatures in the format.

The big dumb Red spell that ends games.

Not as good as its blasty brother, but still a card that does four damage for 4RR. Even though it can only be used at Sorcery speed, it’s still a Red staple.

Hmm… It attacks and kills things? I’ll take four.

Like other Red spells, it kills things dead… But it also stops regeneration. It single-handedly managed to stop people from playing Twisted Abomination.

Kaervek’s Torch:
The only common X spell that deals damage, which ends games more times than Fireblast. Oh, and it’s hard to counter.

Highly abusable repeatable kill that takes out most things in the format. That makes it good in any Red deck running Goblins.

Swirling Sandstorm:
It is the only mass removal card in the set that can take out creatures larger than X/1. I know it is conditional – but you should still have them.

Honorable Mentions: Anarchist, Builder’s Bane, Electrostatic Bolt, Flame Burst, Flaring Pain, Goblin Tinkerer, Hearth Kami, Lava Dart, Molten Rain, Rain of Embers, Shock, Skirk Marauder, Smash, Song of Blood, Talruum Minotaur, Tin Street Hooligan, and Yamabushi’s Flame.


Basking Rootwalla:
He grows, he doesn’t get discarded, and he beats. A great Green card.

Elves of Deep Shadow:
Acceleration is a good thing, and Green/Black style decks are powerful, making him pretty darn good.

Giant Growth:
Blah blah blah – do I really need to elaborate?

Gnarled Mass:
A nice body that doesn’t die to the usual array of popular removal cards. Not in every deck, but a staple none the less.

Krosan Tusker:
For 2G, I can draw two cards, one of which is a land. Awesome.

Llanowar Elf:
See also: Giant Growth.

Nantuko Vigilante:
Destroys that pesky creature buffer or Fetters, and beats for three. Nice.

Phantom Tiger:
Three power for 2G is good, especially when it’s hard to kill.

Sakura-Tribe Elder:
See also: Llanowar Elf.

Wild Mongrel:
I won’t praise him too much. He is quite good, and should be in every Green aggro deck, ever.

Honorable Mentions: Battlefield Scrounger, Civic Wayfinder, Elvish Warrior, Golgari Brownscale, Granger Guildmage, Horned Troll, Kodama’s Reach, Moment’s Peace, M’tenda Lion, Naturalize, Rampant Growth, Silhana Ledgewalker, Trained Armodon, Werebear, and Wildsize.


Armadillo Cloak:
This can swing games in a way few other PDC cards can.

Blind Hunter:
This card does so many things, I won’t even list them all here. Reset him with a Ninja for extra fun.

Izzet Chronarch:
Gets back so many things. Also see: abusable with Ninjas.

Pillory of the Sleepless:
Both removal and kill condition, in a single card; I love that combo.

One of the best card advantage tools. While it shouldn’t go into every deck, you won’t go wrong in getting a full playset.

Skyknight Legionnaire:
It has haste, it flies, it beats for two.

The removal spell, it’s about as hard to find as it gets on MODO. But get them. You will love them.

Honorable Mention: Castigate, Cavern Harpy, Consult the Necrosages, Dimir Infiltrator, Gaea’s Skyfolk, Horned Kavu, Lurking Informant, Mourning Thrull, Perplex, Scab-Clan Mauler, and Wee Dragonauts.

Artifacts and Land

Artifact Lands:
You need these for Affinity.

Cycling Land:
Always a good thing to have late in the game.

They have changed PDC more than any land card, providing a solid acceleration and speeding up the format.

Wait, I get to make my guys bigger? For that little? Yay.

Horned Helm:
I can give them trample, too? Sweet!

Spire Golem:
I feel this card deserves mention because it can stall any game. Combined with Ninjas, it can totally dominate the Red Zone.

Honorable Mentions: Chromatic Sphere, Conjurer’s Bauble, Frogmite, Leonin Bola, Myr Enforcer, Myr Servitor, Pyrite Spellbomb, Steel Wall, Viridian Longbow, and Wayfarer’s Bauble.

This is not every card, but it is a good start. You won’t be able to construct a winning deck just by throwing these cards into a deck… But these are good staples that can fit into a variety of decks.

When building a deck, do not worry about mass removal, as it is very hard to come by. Also, large swingy effects that appear on rare cards are also absent. This lends itself to less flashy games that focus more on skill. It’s kind of like comparing the NBA to the NCAA; the skills are still there, even if it’s not quite as exciting to watch.

If there is one piece of advice to give about PDC deck building is this: Don’t skimp on the lands. Card drawing is much weaker in PDC, and the chances of you finding the right land mix is harder. Taking away pure dual lands also hurts this – so as a rule of thumb, start with twenty-three lands. More aggressive decks can go as low as twenty-one, while control decks almost always want twenty-four. This is a guide, not a law, as Affinity, even with restricted lands, runs about nineteen lands.

Well, let’s take a break. Go build some decks.

Have them? Great, now it’s time to test.

Testing involves going into the “/join pdc” room on Magic Online and asking for games. Be sure to specify the format (Classic or Standard, possibly Extended in the future) and you’re on your way. Asking for Pauper games in the Casual rooms will often lead to people playing with rares. It may be fun to beat down on power decks, but it doesn’t help you prepare for the PDC gauntlet.

The decks to really test against include Red and Red/Green aggro, Affinity, Mono Blue/Black Control. These tend to be the top decks. However there are numerous other decks that people play including Mono Green Aggro, The Rock, Three-Color Control, and R/W Aggro. Also be prepared to face decks based on the Ravnica Block Guilds.

The most important thing is to know how your deck plays. Matchups, for the most part, are fair, and it’s play skill that really makes the difference. That is not to say that some decks don’t have horrible matchups, but the playing field is more level in PDC.

Ah, common gaming.

To find tournaments, ask around. Most people know one or two hosts, and have general information about when they host. Be sure to ask for the event’s home thread, so you know any different restrictions that might be in place. If all else fails, search the Magic Online Player Run Events Forum. PDC is all over the place there.

Here are some other websites that focus on PDC gaming:

A page with articles on PDC, updated with some frequency

The PDC deck database. Full of tournament-topping decks.

PDC home, a forum dedicated to PDC.

Remember that prizes are donated, so if no one donates, there is nothing to win. Most prizes are casual rares and casual uncommons; rarely do we get something that is Tier 1 constructed. But PDCers don’t play for the prizes. They play for the fun. They play for the community. And that is the reason most play. The community is strong, and filled with casual players of all sorts. We all play ‘cause we love the people and the game. Some play because they can’t afford the rares, and some play because they want something new. But the people are friendly and the games are good.

Also, anyone can win. I am an average player, yet I came in at the start of a season two seasons ago, and quickly made a name for myself. It is a fun, ever-changing format. No one thinks about the commons as much as we do… Which is a sound endorsement if I ever gave one.

I want to end this by showing off a few PDC decks. I’ll use mostly mine, but I will also showcase other winning lists. All these decks are pre-Visions. I hope to see you all slinging commons soon!

See you ‘round the aether,
SpikeBoyM on MODO