Gray Merchant of Asphodel

You walk through the door and turn on the light, the adrenaline of tonight’s matches is still coursing through you as you shoulder your backpack to the floor.  Your shoes and jacket are next to go as you take them off and set them in their proper places before picking up the backpack and going to the dining room table.  You open your backpack up and pull out the deck box containing the deck that won you tonight’s FNM draft at your local game shop.  It was hard fought, but in the end you persevered and walked out with mad loot.

After taking a breath or two you begin the practiced art of desleeving your deck, stopping for a few moments as you as you reflect upon the Voyage’s End that bounced Hythonia the Cruel before she could go montrous and wipe out your little army, the Lightning Strike that killed the Disciple of Phenax before the devotion trigger could count it and make you discard your bomb, and finally that Prognostic Sphinx that made your opponent cringe when it hit the board and you had not one but two Flamespeaker Adepts ready to strike!  Ahh, that was a match to remember.

After you finish the chore of desleeving your cards you grab your trade binder and put the Prognostic Sphinx into its new home behind the two or three you already had from drafting the previous weeks.  Quite a collection you have built up, you look at it smiling to yourself before walking over to your bookshelf.  Only there aren’t many books on the shelf.  No, instead there are those long white boxes that we all know and love to use for storage of cards.  You look them over and read the writing that sorts them by set – RTR, GTC, DGM, M14 and THS.  You take the last one off the shelf and open it to find that you don’t have near enough room to put all of these commons you drafted with the rest of your prize winning deck tonight.  So you grab another box, write THS on it and throw them inside probably to be neglected like all the others sitting on your shelf.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are other things that you can do with that abundant collection of commons you bring home every week.  And I don’t mean the usual suspects.  I mean, who of us hasn’t taken a basic Mountain and folded it in half to mark the area of the storage box as being your red section.  Or used a card to mark your place in the book you’re reading, if you’re a book reading sort.  As an aside my personal favorite was Earthbind while reading William R Forstchen’s Magic the Gathering: Arena.  Or maybe you were one of those people that decided that they were going to pretend to be Gambit from the X-Men when you heard that Seething Song was getting banned.  There are many things that we do with the extra commons we have laying around, but hopefully none of those examples beats what I am hopefully about to talk to you about.


For those of you who don’t know the word and just went to Google to search the definition, that’s not what I am talking about.  While it is a decent word to describe the format, we aren’t talking about being poor or impoverished but instead a format of Magic: the Gathering.  You see, a few years ago Wizards of the Coast sanctioned a format exclusively on Magic Online that was spearheaded entirely by the player community.  The format doesn’t officially exist as a sanctioned format in paper, but that’s no reason why you can’t take advantage of the great resource you have sitting in those little white cardboard boxes.  But first I should explain the rules of Pauper.  Now there are two different versions but for the purpose of this article I’m going to focus on Standard Pauper.  But they both work from the same set of rules.

  • each deck is constructed with a minimum 60 card maindeck, with an optional 15 card sideboard, and using no more than 4 copies of any particular spell
  • Standard Pauper uses any Standard legal card that has been printed at the common rarity.
  • Classic Pauper uses any card from the history of Magic that has been printed at the common rarity.
  • All other rules of deck construction are followed.

Now to elaborate a bit on the legality of cards I will use a recent example to clarify the rules with Rancor, a misprint but great card none-the-less.  Rancor was originally printed at common in the Urza’s Legacy, which means that if you are playing Classic Pauper you can use it in any deck you are playing.  However, and this is going back before M13 rotated out, it wouldn’t be usable in Standard Pauper because it was reprinted at Uncommon.  Therein lies one of the main differences between the two formats.  The other is the banlist, which for the purposes of Standard Pauper is none.

I already know what you are thinking.  Why would anybody want to play with just commons?  Well, the first thing I will present to you is that it is a challenge, and if you are playing Magic then I can only assume that you like a challenge.  The second is that it is a gateway and there is no reason why we shouldn’t keep the community growing.

1. The Challenge!

There are a total of 1114 cards currently printed in Standard including mythics, rares, uncommons and commons.  That’s a fair number of cards to work with to make decks.  Not nearly as expansive as Modern or Legacy, but that’s still over a thousand cards to work with to pull together a collection of 60 cards to sling spells with.  Even the best players, teams, and deck builders have trouble finding the best combination of cards within that limitation.  But what happens when you take away everything but the commons?  You are left with 473 cards, a much smaller pool.  Now there is the challenge, build a deck using only the 473 cards available to you AND make it competitive.  Don’t think it’s possible, do you?  Well let me put together a list of commons in the current Standard that can be played competitively.

Mono-Black Devotion for Standard Pauper
Creatures (18)

Spells (19)

Lands (23)


And that folks is a Standard Pauper Mono-Black Devotion deck.  It’s not nearly as powerful as the one running amok on the pro circuit right now and costs well over two-hundred dollars, but it isn’t altogether that bad.  Instead of Hero’s Downfall you have Quag Sickness for removal, you have Disciple of Phenax for hand control in place of Thoughtseize, Deathcult Rogue to deliver near unblockable damage and it increases your devotion count for the most hated common in Standard Gray Merchant of Asphodel.  All in all this deck has the potential to be devastating for a collection which was slated to exist simply as bookmarks or dividers.  And you thought it couldn’t be done.

2. It’s a Gateway.

Ever been at work talking with a coworker about Magic and someone listening in on your conversation asks what it is you are talking about?  Or had a new person walk into your LGS to discover what the rage is everyone is talking about?  Or do you have children or nephews/nieces that are interested in playing?  Why not start them out by building them a deck with commons?  Why not build them a Pauper deck to get them started?

Do you remeber when you started?  What did you buy to get into the game?  Was it a few boosters to see what the game was all about?  Was it a whole booster box or a duel deck?  All of those options are great, but they cost a decent amount for anybody who is just jumping in.  Not every player is going to want to drop anywhere from $20 to $125 to just experiment with a new game to see if it is for them.  So why not take those extra commons you have laying and build some cheap decks for new players to experience what the game is all about before they start investing massive amounts of money with their sites set on playing next to fabled Pro Tour players.  I’ll even throw you a bone and give you another Standard Pauper list to help you or your friends get started.

UW Enchantment Aggro for Standard Pauper
Creatures (24)

Spells (14)

Lands (18)


So there you have two decks to start with, a Mono-Black Devotion deck and a Blue-White Enchantment Aggro deck.  And believe me there are many many more out there.  So instead of using your commons as a bookmark, a divider or even as ammunition think about the challenge of playing without the most powerful cards, or think about making some decks for new players to start getting their feet wet and helping to grow our community.  But whatever you do, don’t let your Friday Night Leftovers go to waste.

– Gerald Knight