Pauper is Magic in a basic form. While all archetypes, including combo, exist and thrive, the effects are simple and elegant. Even before the New World Order (as described by MaRo), commons had to fulfill a few key elements in order to appease players, drafters, and Magicians of all sorts. Commons should, in some way, meet the following criteria:
- Be balanced for limited play (in the context of that limited format)
- Exemplify the color to help instill in new players: “This is what this color is all about”; there is little to no color bleed in commons
- Help demonstrate a block’s theme
This tends to provide us with the familiar reviews filled with the phrases, “This year’s burn spell,” or, “This block’s removal of choice.” While Wizards used to stray often on some of these items (How is Sparksmith balanced? Does Hornet Sting really feel green?), commons tend to hold true to these tenets. In Pauper, this means that colors tend to exemplify the basest nature of their philosophy. From a game design perspective, this makes perfect sense: the cards your consumers, of all varieties, will see the most will do their best to hammer home the concept, the platonic ideal, of each color.
Travel back in time and for the most part, the commons of day one match the essence of the commons in decade two. While bleed does exist, it’s hardly as egregious as Damnation. This is great for marketing and design, but for Pauper it means something vastly different. Entire swaths of the color pie are relegated to uncommon and rare, and for good reason-the effects are too powerful for limited formats. By being boiled down to their essence, colors fall into discrete roles, and due to a relatively flat power level, decks cannot make up for their color’s shortcomings. This is exacerbated by the lack of strong mana fixing.
In “traditional Magic” if your deck has a weakness, you have a number of options. One includes tweaking the mana (when the format allows) for bullets, such as Ancient Grudge in a black deck (not referring to any specific deck, just a general concept). In Pauper, MBC would have a nigh-impossible time splashing something as simple as a Shatter, because the mana just wouldn’t work. Another option could be to overload and attack on a different axis, but this does not always work, even in the world of silver and gold expansion symbols.
Pauper, at its core, is the basic level of Magic, and the colors all fill specific roles while maintaining specific weaknesses. This series will examine the place each color holds in the color wheel of commons Magic.
White comes first, by grace of WUBRG. White has a long history of being the color of swarm decks, removing artifacts and enchantments, and using Pacifism style effects. In Limited, white’s commons tend to fall into the category of combat trick, small creatures (both evasive and not), and temporary or conditional removal. In recent years, the removal has gotten better (just look at Oblivion Ring and Journey to Nowhere) as have the creatures on the low end of the curve (see Doomed Traveler, Akrasan Squire). White also now has creature based card advantage in the form of Sqaudron Hawk and (to a lesser extent) Kor Skyfisher.
Protection: White is the color of protection. Shelter effects act as pseudo-counterspells but are often left by the wayside (except in specific metagames). There are exceptions, however: Benevolent Bodyguard comes attached to a body and can eat a removal spell first; Momentary Blink plays along by flickering and can either be used to save an investment or get more value. Order of Leitbur rises to the top when black decks are prominent (while also dominating most other creatures in combat, provided with a sufficient investment of mana), and Guardian of the Guildpact laughs at most removal (which is a challenge, since it seems to lack a mouth). Hand in hand with protection are white’s prevention effects, exemplified in Prismatic Strands. Unlike shroud or hexproof, white is not good at stopping an assault constantly or against all comers (for the most part), but rather is very good at stopping one axis of aggression, usually related to a specific spell or color.
This aspect of white leads Plains to be used mainly as a metagame color. Order of Leitbur is a fine creature, but shines when MBC is at an apex. Similarly, Prismatic Strands is at its 60 card best (and not 75) when Storm and Burn are rampant as a way to buy time.
Combat Tricks: Cards like Blinding Beam and Feeling of Dread are staples of limited decks but are left by the wayside when it comes to constructed. While these cards can be blowouts in limited, Pauper does not have the same number of complicated and clogged battlefields that occur with some regularity in draft or sealed, so these cards tend to be left on the sideline. These spells also lose utility against a large swath of creature-less or creature-light decks.
White also has access to small-scale, instant-speed Overrun effects. As will be discussed in the creature section, white’s army is designed to win combat phases.
Removal: White has made significant headway in semi-permanent removal. While cards like Pacifism are ignored, Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring see significant play for the ability to exile. As most Pauper decks lack ways to interact with enchantments, these spells are often permanent. Additionally, white has access to “true removal” in the form of Unmake and Sunlance.
In the vein of Oblivion Ring, white can also answer troublesome permanents that are not creatures. Faith’s Fetters, while expensive, could conceivably turn off a troublesome artifact. Until recently, white was the color of Disenchant and as such has access to a significant number of ways to handle both artifacts and enchantments. While this ability has shifted to green recently, it does not preclude cards like Revoke Existence from, well, existing.
White also has the ability to deal with creatures that are either attacking or blocking, as can be seen in Pauper Cube blowouts like Second Thoughts and Judge Unworthy. However, these are extremely conditional and tend to be left on the sideline for constructed play-conditional removal just pales in comparison to other options.
White’s removal gives it the ability to interact with creatures at a reasonable price, albeit mostly at sorcery speed. This means that white is best suited to take a creature out before combat, and then swing in. White’s removal, for the most part, promotes attacking.
Lifegain: Once an afterthought, gaining life has become more valuable. With the presence of extremely aggressive decks such as Goblins and Affinity, gaining life can be the difference between a win and a loss. The ability to buy life is not enough, however, and has to be attached to a creature. This first came to light in the form of Aven Riftwatcher, and more recently Lone Missionary has taken on that role.
Soldiers, Hawks, and Mastodons: White’s creatures tend to fall into three categories. There are the early aggressive creatures that sometimes have evasion, the two- and three-drop creatures with some type of built-in card advantage, and the four and five mana defensive specialists. Soldiers are those creatures that always come down early, and have more recently been relevant late. Icatian Javelineers is perhaps the earliest example of such a creature. Doomed Traveler, Benevolent Bodyguard, Ardent Recruit, Porcelain Legionnaire, and Shade of Trokair all fit into this category. Soldiers are not confined to the ground, as Leonin Skyhunter and Stormfront Pegasus both remain relevant as the game progresses. Glint Hawk, provided it can stick, also falls into this realm.
Hawks are relatively new; first appearing at common with the Rebel mechanic from Masques Block, they were upgraded recently with Kor Skyfisher and the eponymous Squadron Hawk. These creatures sometimes take a bit of finesse to get to work correctly (in the case of Skyfisher), but can provide a huge benefit. Squadron Hawks do a superb job of supplying threats, and previously mentioned life boosters can often provide the turns needed to turn the rest of your creatures sideways for victory.
Suture Priest is a corner case that currently straddles the line between Hawk and Soldier. While cheap, it does not actually attack. Instead, it can generate an advantage just by sitting on the board and provides a strong counter to the potential of Empty the Warrens.
Mastodons tend to be left on the sideline for constructed Pauper. They are expensive and are far better at blocking early and attacking late. Seeing as Pauper is a fast format, attacking late doesn’t do much for us. Cards like Mystic Zealot, Siege Mastodon, and Daunting Defender are great at protecting life totals after turn four, but against a horde of angry goblins or a Corrupt for eight, they are practically useless. The two exceptions to this rule are Guardian of the Guildpact, which while slow is nigh impossible to kill, and Razor Golem, which actually costs three (and has the added bonus of vigilance, making it potent on offense and defense).
What white does: Taken together, this means that white likes to attack. The cards are set up to establish a board presence early and then pick off offending threats while it goes to town on life totals. It has the tools to prolong the game but can afford to buy no more than three turns before it can be overwhelmed.
While white does have access to strong answers for everything (Faith’s Fetters, Oblivion Ring), it lacks the card advantage or threats for an impressive control or mid-range list.
What to expect: In most sets, white is going to get solid one-drops (some better than others), creatures that play nice with equipment, evasive attackers (that sometimes might be undercosted), creatures to clog the ground, a take on the Flicker/Skyfisher effect, combat tricks, and temporary removal. Occasionally, something like the rebellious Squadron Hawk will pop up. The goal is to find the cheapest ones and see if they can be used to win.
White’s Top 10:
- 4 Icatian Javelineers
- 4 Razor Golem
- 3 Benevolent Bodyguard
- 3 Guardian of the Guildpact
- 2 Kor Sanctifiers
- 4 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 4 Suture Priest
- 21 Plains