Pauper Warfare

Jason examines the commonalities between the Pauper format and the strategies and philosophies of war. How well equipped are you to fight the good Pauper fight?

Long live Pauper!

When we last met, I talked to you a bit about the totality of benefits made possible by the existence of Pauper Daily Events. Today I’m going to tackle an even broader topic, one that is more strategic and philosophical in nature. I hope you’re all ready to suit up and lace up your boots because it’s war time!

Before we go to war, there are a couple of things to tidy up regarding our last article. First, I presented the idea of having a Q&A segment to you guys. Unfortunately, there really was no expressed interest in that idea, as no questions were submitted! It will come as a surprise to no one that I’ve chosen to go ahead and scrap the Q&A altogether.

Our second order of business has to do with the realm of paper Pauper. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a number of you have played an active part in expanding your local Pauper communities! This is really awesome, as were your comments on the paper format. Here are a few of them.

Pauper On Paper: Your Thoughts

“The biggest difference in the paper metagame is the presence of Hymn to Tourach and Goblin Grenade. These cards are common in paper but not common on Magic Online, and they make MBC and Goblins much better in paper.”– Thiago Correa Lanza Guimaraes

“I’m glad you’re getting the ball rolling on a discussion of paper Pauper. The most difficult initial hurdle is defining the ban list . . . The Magic Online banned list leaves a lot to be desired in real-life Pauper.” – Dominic Lodovichetti

“We convinced a pretty decent amount of people to pick up a Pauper deck . . . so now we have a weekly sanctioned tournament. Building a community for a format locally is all about getting people excited about playing. Pauper’s low buy-in price also makes it a super easy sell.” – Daniel Garvey

Paper Pauper is something I can see us coming back to in the future, though I’m still not sure how to address the topic in full article form. At any rate, your comments were very much appreciated (as always)!

I think it’s about time for us to transition into our central topic, Pauper Warfare!

Pauper Warfare

The idea of Pauper Warfare lives or dies on a central assertion, one that deals with how we view the game of Magic. Often we hear Magic referred to as a collectible or trading card game in which two or more players take on the role of powerful wizards (known to us as planeswalkers). As far as I’m concerned, that is only part of the picture. Behind the dazzling artwork, fantasy lore, and intellectual depth of this game we’re all so fond of lies a simple actuality.

Magic: The Gathering is a war game.

While both the social and recreational nature of (hopefully all) Magicgames provide players with a cordial and markedly positive experience, the functional constitution of the game itself bears resemblance to if not closely mirrors the dynamic exchange between two or more warring groups (as Merriam-Webter will with any luck illuminate).

War is defined (among other things) as:

“A situation in which people or groups compete with or fight against each other.”

“A struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.”

Now allow me to describe the game of Magic in terms that could easily be reassigned to the subject of war.

In Magic, two or more entities engage in a contest, which (barring some sort of stalemate) will result in one of the entities defeating the other(s). Resolution is achieved not through compromise or reconciliation but through domination. Combat is integral, with multiple attacks and defenses propelling each contest to its unequivocal conclusion. Various resources are utilized, often with the intention of depleting enemy resources, decisively “killing” the enemy, or forcing the enemy to surrender.

Replace the word “Magicin the above paragraph with the word “war” and you should have a wholly sound and transferable depiction. Interestingly enough, in war there is at least the possibility of some peaceful resolution, such as a truce (perhaps Magic’s closest equivalent would be an intentional draw?).

It goes deeper. Both Magic: The Gathering and societal warfare often require intelligence gathering (think “getting a read” on the opponent or using Duress and Gitaxian Probe effects) and misinformation (bluffs, the occasional “Jedi mind trick”). Both often involve “aerial” combat (fliers) and the concept of individual “solider” expendability as a means of achieving large-scale objectives.

Both require the employment of strategy and tactics (in conjunction), and both take place on dynamic ever-changing battlefields. Military technology continues to be adjusted and improved across the world, while wizards throughout the community scour the latest expansions and existing card pools for secret “spicy tech” to surprise their enemies with.

At this point, I think you pretty much get the picture. Great, so how does this concept of Magic as a war game apply to the Pauper format specifically? It all begins with something I like to call the “Prevalence of Attrition.”

Prevalence Of Attrition

Attrition and warfare go hand in hand. Attrition is the prolonged process of “grinding out” the enemy, of dwindling their resources, narrowing down their options, and dismantling their defenses. In the Pauper format, attrition is one of the most prevalent (and perhaps one of the most effective) processes around, as it not only decides a high percentage of games but also serves as the key objective of several strategies.

Here is just one example of a Pauper “attrition deck,” a list that placed in a December 9th Constructed Queue:

With aggressively costed fliers like Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher and a couple handfuls of burn (Firebolt, Galvanic Blast and Lightning Bolt), it’s easy to paint Boros Kitty into a beatdown corner. On the contrary! Boros Kitty is not a dedicated aggro deck, as most dedicated aggro decks don’t concern themselves too heavily with card advantage engines (Ichor Wellspring plus Kuldotha Rebirth, Wellspring and Prophetic Prism plus bounce effects), point removal (Flame Slash and Oblivion Ring) or life gain (Kabira Crossroads plus Boros Garrison and Kor Skyfisher).

An attrition deck, on the other hand, wants all of these things. Life gain and cheap removal can buy the deck enough time against aggro, and refilling our hand in order to present new (and equip-able) threats is a desirable attribute versus control. Boros Kitty can go the distance against various enemies and doesn’t rely on any singular piece to win. It usually will just “get there” eventually. This “jack of all trades” approach could very well be considered a weakness, as a clear concerted focus in a Pauper deck is rarely undesirable.

When observing Pauper under a “war format” lens, we must always factor in our ability to win prolonged attrition matches versus a given opponent. Doing so will inform our mulligan decisions, our in-game choices, and our sideboarding.

Next up is a concept I’ve been putting some thought into and hope to get a solid handle on. Here goes!

Lack Of Calamity

Okay, so this one might be a little harder for me to explain.

What the “Lack of Calamity” boils down to is power level. In a format like Standard or Modern, there can be some very splashy and swingy effects that suddenly and completely change the landscape of a game. The resolving of a single planeswalker, board sweeper, or uber-monster can result in utter calamity for a player who was (up to that point) winning the war.

I think the Avacyn Restored miracle cards are a prime example of calamitous elements making a splash in Magic. Case in point:

Something we will never see in Pauper!

The presence of these calamitous elements affect how players make decisions and fight their wars. It’s not always wise to play out our last three dudes if our opponent has the opportunity to topdeck a Supreme Verdict or miracle a Terminus.

Fortunately for us, the Pauper format is relatively devoid of such calamitous haymakers! For instance, board sweepers are typically pretty conditional. What’s more is that the best ones (Crypt Rats and Rolling Thunder) require a significant mana investment, which means even if our enemy does draw them they might not be able to cash them in for full value.

The Lack of Calamity in our format lets us approach games with militaristic intent, violence of action, and combative tactics. Superior numbers and the overwhelming of opposition on the battlefield can be much more effective here in Pauper since we are punished for “overextending” far less often. We can also press advantages and go for the throat (so to speak) since our opponents have fewer outs (and there’s subsequently fewer things that can go wrong for us).

This Elves deck from a December 7th Constructed Queue leans on the concept of superior battlefield numbers and scoffs at the prospect of swift calamity.

I know what you’re thinking.

That of course assumes the enemy is playing red or that there isn’t a Spidersilk Armor on the table. When those conditions aren’t met, the typical “be explosive and overextend” plan is pretty much solid.

Birchlore Rangers synergizes well with Nettle Sentinel, and Quirion Ranger synergizes with almost every Elf in the whole deck. If a Distant Melody doesn’t bury the enemy in card advantage, then Huntmaster tokens or a Timberwatch Elf activation should be able to wrap things up in short order.

While this deck is without a doubt very cool, I have to warn you would-be pilots ahead of time that Elves can be considerably tricky to pilot because there are so many decisions to consider on a turn-by-turn basis. I’m speaking from experience here, though it’s possible that my decision-making process is a bit more inhibited than yours. If you do decide to play the deck, just make sure that you dedicate enough time to really learn its intricacies and that you can consider all of its decision trees in an expedient manner.

Ten Out Of Ten

This is going to conclude my tenth article here at StarCityGames.com! I consider myself very lucky to be a part of the site and equally lucky to have such great comments and ideas from you guys in response to each new article. Please feel free to let me know how I’m doing so far and what you think can be improved.

When I wrote my first article for StarCityGames.com, I wanted to provide a worthwhile and interactive platform for all of us to utilize and enjoy. I hope that during these ten installments we haven’t strayed too far from that concept.

I’m very open to your thoughts on our progress and where you think we should try to go from here. I want to wish all of you a happy holiday season, and be sure to look for my next article the day after Christmas!