Pauper is a format where only commons are allowed. Pauper, at its core, is the basic level of Magic, and the colors all fill specific roles while maintaining specific weaknesses. This series examines the place each color holds in the color wheel of commons Magic.
When a Magic player talks about being a red mage, a specific image leaps to mind: casting creatures and burn in the mold of Dave Price, Dan Paskins, and Patrick Sullivan. Mountains represent the threat that you might be alive now, but probably won’t be for long. Red swarms with goblins and tokens and doesn’t finish the game with giants, but rather with face-meltingly efficient damage spells. Mountains also afford the opportunity to blow up artifacts on the cheap and offer some of the best land destruction around.
No beating around the bush with redâ€”it likes to use direct damage and does so liberally. Direct damage for Pauper is split into three camps: hits everything, hits creatures, and hits players.
Starting at the end, there are two key burn spells that hit only players: Lava Spike and Flame Rift. These spells, and others like it, see play only in dedicated burn decks. These decks don’t care about creatures on the board, since the goal is to deal 20 before you lose. While not technically a burn spell, Keldon Marauders slots nicely here as well since its primary function is to eat 25% of a starting life total.
Flame Slash is the main player in the creature-only camp. This is entirely because for the low price of one mana it handles just about every heavily-played creature in Pauper. Because it does not go to the face, it sees play in more controlling decks that can afford to put off winning early. Other spells in this vein include Dead // Gone and Magma Spray, but they tend to pale in comparison to the next batch of spells.
Lightning Bolt is iconicâ€”a quintessential red spell. It is the benchmark for all other direct damage. For limited purposes, a significant number of these cards show up at common, and Pauper reaps the rewards. Firebolt sees play thanks to Flashback and the abundance of two-toughness creatures. Fireblast is a go-to finisher for Goblins and Burn alike, as the capacity to remove 1/5th of a life total is too much to pass up. Chain Lightning sees play as Lightning Bolts number five through eight (although they’re risky as red becomes more popular). Searing Blaze is a card people try to make work because six damage for two mana is a bargain, no matter how you slice it. Arc Lightning sees occasional play as a way to fight small armies. Death Spark is an all-star in Goblins (and any deck where creatures die regularly), allowing the controller to eke out extra damage over the course of a game. New to the field, both Geistflame and Brimstone Volley show promise.
Red is the “other” spell color (along with blue). In Pauper, red’s spell theme comes out in the form of effects that generate mana (to play more spells), and two spells with storm (to make use of all the spells previously played).
Storm combo decks feature a healthy dose of Rite of Flame, Seething Song, and Desperate Ritual as the key cards for generating mana. Manamorphose does not net mana, but it does filter colors and replaces itself (ideally with another spell). When paired with cheap blue filtering spells and Lotus Petal, Storm decks can generate a large spell count relatively quickly, which leads to the kill zone.
Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are the kill cards of choice in red. Empty the Warrens can create a lethal army of tokens on the storm turn (and can kill on the same turn if the deck has access to Goblin Bushwhacker). Grapeshot is a more direct approach, but requires more spells to be lethal. As such, more and more storm decks are siding with the tokens.
Artifact and Land Destruction:
These two are hand-in-hand because of their narrow application but explosive efficiency. Red is the best at killing these permanents. Sure, green gets to dabble in the land kill playground, but nothing in Pauper comes close to the elegance of Stone Rain. Molten Rain does the job of punishing decks relying on non-basics (but sees less play due to the awkward casting cost). Raze gets the nod often, but only as a sideboard card to nuke specialty lands due to cost. Earth Rift is perhaps the most ubiquitous spell of this kind and helps in the Cloudpost mirror. Land destruction plays an important role in Pauper, helping to keep the number of Karoo and specialty lands in check. Red lacks a strong LD deck, however, because it cannot power out an impressive threat while also destroying lands (which green is quite capable of doing).
Artifact destruction is a key component of red sideboards. With Affinity a top tier deck, the ability to blow up the machines is a valuable resource. The premier way to do this is Gorilla Shamanâ€”the Mox Monkey. For the low low cost of one, the Monkey can take out any artifact land (Darksteel Citadel aside). Smash to Smithereens also sees play as a Shatter and Lava Spike hybrid. Creatures like Manic Vanal do not see play as they are too expensive the majority of the timeâ€”even Ingot Chewer with its Evoke cost of one is avoided.
Kill All the Small Things:
While white (and to a lesser extent, black) get true board sweeper effects at rare, red gets cards that can pick off small armies at common and uncommon. Usually, the cards that can handle “real” creatures with more than one toughness fall at uncommon (see Pyroclasm, Volcanic Fallout). At common, Red is able to take out random swarms (usually of goblin tokens) with the likes of Sesimic Shudder, Rain of Embers, and Martyr of Ashes.
Goblins, Beserkers, and Giants:
At common, red does not get very many large beaters. Rather, it tends towards small creatures that enjoy attacking (typified by goblins). Next up are the bersekersâ€”the creatures that like to attack and come with a drawback or have a built-in expiration date. Finally, red gets the most limited fodder giants, resembling the Hill Giant of last century.
Goblins are almost always, well, goblins. Arguably the most successful red deck in Pauper, Goblins makes tickets on the backs of the tribal abilities of Mogg Raider and Goblin Sledder. Combined with the oversized cost for Goblin Cohort / Mogg Conscript and Mogg Flunkies, as well as the token-generating Mogg War Marshal, Goblins (the deck) can create a threatening army. With board control elements in Sparksmith and a tribal overrun in the form of Goblin Bushwhacker, is it any wonder why this deck is so popular? Other actual goblins to make appearances in this deck include Mogg Fanatic, Goblin Arsonist, and Goblin Matron. Jackal Familiar and Hissing Inguanar both make occasional cameos. This style of deck is only going to get more options as Magic continues, as goblins are a supported tribe.
Berserkers are typified in Pauper through Keldon Marauders. These creatures want to attack and deal damage, and chances are they’re going to die. Although they see almost no play, cards like Suq’Ata Lancer (wanting to attack) and Ghitu Slinger (wanting to die) also fit this bill. Due to the strength of goblins, many of these creatures are left on the sidelines.
Giants see no play in competitive Pauper. They are simply too expensive. Occasionally a red-based Cloudpost deck will rear its head, running Faultgrinder, but these creatures rarely impact the board in a meaningful way.
What red does: Red is very good at playing goblins, casting cheap spells, and burning things. These attributes tend to overlap in the popular red decks.
Goblins is based upon the ability to play out cheap creatures that interact (thanks to Raider and Sledder). The army is cheap and the burn helps clear the path and finish the job. Combo decks (including burn) just strive to seek a critical mass of spells to lethal an opponent. Even IzzetPost decks use red primarily as a way to take out threats and end the game.
The underdeveloped attributes of red’s game are the land destruction and midrange aspects. The biggest barrier to this is the lack of a cheap (relatively speaking) and durable threat. Looking at decks like Wildfire, Ponza, and Vore (of formats gone by)â€”they were all able to have a threat of one sort that stuck around (or multiple). In Pauper, red lacks such a threat.
What red looks for: Red is always going to be on the lookout for the new burn spell. Sure, it’s going to be tough to top Lightning Bolt. Occasionally, a new spell makes waves (such as Searing Blaze).
Red will also be on the lookout for any and all new goblins (actual creature type or any cheap aggressive creature). Goblins is a top deck, and as a supported tribe, is likely to continue to get playable pests.
Finally, red is looking for ritual mistakes. Cards like Rite of Flame and Seething Song are the backbone of most combo decks in Pauper. The more of these “mistakes” that are printed, the more streamlined these decks can become.
Red’s top ten:
- 4 Goblin Cohort
- 4 Mogg Flunkies
- 3 Sparksmith
- 4 Mogg Raider
- 4 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Mogg Conscripts
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 17 Mountain