Last weekend the eyes of the Magic world were fixed firmly on the twin GPs of London and Houston, with Marcelino Freeman and Axel Martinez respectively defeating all-comers and proving their skill in the new Rivals of Ixalan limited format.
But, as ever at Grand Prix, the main event at GP London was just one story amongst hundreds of other side events, and it is on one of these “smaller” events that this article will focus: Against the backdrop of a number of huge constructed events firing earlier in the day, at 12 noon on Sunday 28th January, GP London fired the largest Pauper event of all time. As the final stop on Brian “The Professor” Lewis’ World Pauper Tour, the 302-player three-round finale was certainly going to make sure it went out with a bang.
— ChannelFireball (@ChannelFireball) January 28, 2018
A staple of Magic Online since at least 2008, if you didn’t know already, Pauper is a format played exclusively with common cards. That’s right: no mythic rares, no rares, not even any uncommons – only the lowest rarity of cards are permitted in your Pauper seventy-five.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be quite limiting, perhaps even boring to play, when viewed through the lens of recently-printed common cards and with Maro’s New World Order design paradigm in mind. But when you take into account that Pauper is an eternal format stretching far back into the annals of Magic’s history, where cards like Brainstorm, Lightning Bolt and Gush all sit at common and you start to have an idea where we’re going with this.
With the power level commonly (get it?) described as falling somewhere between Standard and Modern, and a ban-list maintained by Wizards thanks to its online presence, Pauper has developed into a popular format all of its own.
It was likely for this reason Channel Fireball choose to have their Pauper side event played with the Magic Online ban list and legality system (certain cards have only even been printed as common in online-only sets, such as Chainer’s Edict at Common in Vintage Masters, and these are legal in the Channel Fireball paper Pauper events).
From what I could see from my seat during rounds, and from prowling intently between them, the field for the double-up event seemed to be a good mix of “known decks”from across Pauper’s diverse metagame and lesser known brews, piles and pet projects.
For a £25 entry “competitive” constructed event the atmosphere was one of enthusiasm and fun rather than the cut-throat need to win at all costs, it seemed everyone I played and spoke to was participating out of at the very least interest and at the most a genuine love of the format. It felt like a legacy event in that regard, and not just because people were casting Brainstorms and flipping Delvers of Secrets!
My Deck – Mono-Black Control
While my forays into digital Pauper usually end in my playing of some variant of RUG Tron, I had previously assembled a paper copy of a Mono-Black Control shell that I’d hoped to take to Pauper FNM while it was running at my FLGS (a plan that went about as well as any other plan I make that involves building a deck and then never playing it). With a couple of inexpensive updates in advance of the event (a playset of Thorn of the Black Rose) and a few on the more expensive side (a trio of Oubliettes) I was ready to battle with a relatively stock list, based on recent decks that had performed well on MTGO in recent Pauper challenges and leagues!
Mono-Black Control – mazeofrith – GP London Pauper Double-Up Event
Round 1 – vs. GW Hexproof
If you thought you could escape the Bogley menace in the world of only commons . . . you would be wrong.
Game one my start was about as glacial as you would expect from mono-black, and while I could keep the board clear of soldiers from Cartouche of Solidarity to keep my Chainer’s Edicts live, my Sign in Bloods instead found more Swamps. While basic lands are great at powering up a Tendrils of Corruption, they’re not going to stop a suited up Silhana Ledgewalker chunking me to death and I quickly succumbed to the elven beats.
Game two I kept a two land hand on the play, with a Crypt Rat and a Pestilence as my plan to deal with my opponent’s untargetable nasties, but even after a Sign in Blood, and a number of draw steps, my third land was not forthcoming until it was too late. The match was taken in short order by the Hexproof horde.
Starting 0-1 hadn’t been my plan going into the event, but that’s Magic!
Both games I felt I had outs until the concluding turns, but not getting there is just part of Magic you have to learn to deal with if you want the game to not drive you insane.
0 – 1
Round 2 – Ur Skred Delver
While the event had started with the obligatory judge announcements and less-obligatory and more-deserved warm applause for the Professor, before the start of the second round was when we got final confirmation of the size of the event, and an even louder peel of applause sounded through the event hall.
My round two opponent was playing a take on a typical Mono-Blue list, but with Snow-Covered basic lands and a red splash to facilitate the inclusion of efficient non-creature spells, including Lightning Bolt and the deck’s namesake instant in the form of Skred.
Game one started with the advantage bar firmly in the direction of my opponent, with a flipped Delver of Secrets and enough Faeries that Spellstutter Sprite could eat my Sign in Blood without consequence. An uncountered Oubliette finally took care of the Insectile Aberration to stem the bleeding and Gary the Gray Merchant of Asphodel came down to stabilise the board.
Eventually it was my turn to get aggressive, and when a second Gary resolved the game was over.
After board I was able to Duress myself into a position in game two where I could punish a misplay on the part of my opponent to resolve a pair of Cuombajj Witches – and against a deck full of one-toughness threats they were enough to secure my first match win of the event.
1 – 1
Round 3 – URg Tron
In game one a Rolling Thunder for seven swept most of my board leaving me with a solitary Phyexian Rager, but I resolved Pestilence and I had a plan: I moved the game state to a position where my life total was slightly higher than my opponent, and activated Pestilence for a total of 14 damage between my opponent’s end step and my following turn. No Pulse of Murasa in response meant I got there and game one was mine!
Game two my opponent stumbled on lands, which I was able to compound further with a duo of Chittering Rats. The 2/2 beatdown began and between removal and a timely Gary to close out the game I secured a 2-1 record!
While I can’t complain about a positive record and 200 prize tix, I’d be lying if I said that was my primary take-away from the Pauper double-up at GP London. From the energy surrounding the Professor, to the buzz across the tables both between rounds and in the heat of battle, it was clear that we had signed up for something more than just-another-GP-side-event.
For some players it was the only sanctioned event they had planned to play in over the weekend, for others it presented an opportunity to bring a favourite digital format into real life, and for others still an exciting foray in competitive Magic using only the most inexpensive of cards. However you approached the event, I’m sure anyone who participated would agree it was an experience, and it’s something I’m hoping I’ll be able to indulge in at other GPs moving forward.
Like the event, Pauper itself is a lot of things to a lot of people, and while a large question mark hangs over its head as a potential GP format, here’s hoping the Professor’s Pauper Tour has at the very least cemented it in the world of paper Magic for GP side events and beyond!