A Guide to Pauper on MTG Arena


Traditional Pauper is a great format but recently MTG Arena started running Pauper events too. However, Arena Pauper is based on Standard legal common cards only so it'ss entirely different. Mark still loves it though, so he's here to break down the common archetypes experienced during these interesting limited time events.

Many Arena Pauper decks looks similar to good draft decks, and you can definitely see the draft archetypes many of these decks are rooted in. But obviously, with the ability to choose what commons you want, you can power a lot of these strategies up, as well as create some new ones.  Take Core Set 2019, which prominently featured Black-White Lifegain based around Epicure of Blood and other life gaincards like Skymarch Bloodletter and Daybreak Chaplain, but now you can add cards like Squire's Devotion to power the deck up.

Epicure of Blood Daybreak Chaplain Skymarch Bloodletter

Being a format of common cards and having a reasonable collection, I was able to build all the decks I am going to feature. Below, I'll feature what I feel are some of the better decks in the format. The good thing though is that the format hasn't settled yet and decks evolve with each new set.

Orzhov Lifegain

The first deck is my personal favorite and one that took quite a while to build. I played several decks before I realised that Orzhov decks were the ones giving me the most trouble.

This deck uses the previously mentioned Epicure of Blood life gain synergies, but with one of the most powerful cards in the format. Ill-Gotten Inheritance grinds out victories very nicely. Imperious Oligarch is both an early game threat and defence. It also, incidentally, allows the player to cast Final Payment without any life loss. This is more of a corner case though because of the incidental life gain. I personally like Soul Salvage to return two creatures in the late game, as returning an Epicure of Blood or a Grasping Thrull can be key to taking over in the long run.

Ill-Gotten Inheritance Grasping Thrull Final Payment

Dimir Lifegain

Blue-Black Control is a popular choice in many formats and Arena Pauper is no exception.

It really feels like Epicure of Blood and Ill-gotten Inheritance are lynch pins of the format and Ravnica Allegiance has caused the format to change quite a bit. Previously, Dimir was a great choice and a lot of Dimir decks won through utilising Salvager of Secrets to recur instants and sorceries with Devious Cover-Up helping to recycle the key cards. Undercity's Embrace is a great addition to the removal suite as it can help to deal with a Hexproof threat.

Salvager of Secrets Devious Cover-Up

Autumn Burchett, a two time English National Champion and Mythic Championship winner, had great success with this deck during the holiday season and it was a great deck to play but as they said at the time, you don't win before turn 15 so be prepared for the long haul.

Persistent Mill

Persistent Petitioners is a great and feared deck throughout the format. The following is the version JherandIce Bisconde played to repeated success, confirmed with prize photos:

18Lands 30Creatures 12Other Spells
18Island 30Persistent Petitioners 4Opt
4Thought Collapse
4Blink of an Eye
Persistent Petitioners Opt Thought Collapse

Now, many players of the Persistent Petitioners deck simply play 20 lsland and 40 Petitioners and while this strategy can work, it is not consistent. This version is much stronger and is one I've personally run to great success while testing for this article. The addition of the three spells is the key to the success. Opt allows you to have a turn one play and dig for answers later game. Thought Collapse will break up strategies that can interact with the deck and it mills cards as well. Blink of an Eye is a catch all spell which can be used to save a Petitioner or remove an opposing creature from combat. The deck has no real weakness, but its worst matchup is probably a hyper-aggressive deck with pump spells and/or fliers that can beat it before it can win.

Mono Red

You can usually find a good burn deck in Pauper and MTG Arena is no exception. JherandIce Bisconde played the following version:

I played this deck and it definitely has some great games. However, the current meta has an abundance of life gain, which makes this deck hard to play and some matches feel unwinnable. What I like is the Standard Mono Red core that the deck has, which is quite powerful in a commons-only format.

Skewer the Critics Viashino Pyromancer Ghitu Lavarunner

White Weenie

White Weenie is a popular deck these days and it's nearly as good in Pauper as it is in Standard. Tomasz Kryłowski gave me his list which went 5-1 and 5-0:

Cavalry Drillmaster Luminous Bonds

This list has limited but effective removal with four Luminous Bonds and lots of cheap effective creatures. Along with these creatures, you have Knights Pledge and Squire's Devotion to make these small non-threatening creatures into significant threats. It's very hard to kill anything above four toughness, especially if it flies. Fliers also end games quite quickly. Cavalry Drillmaster has proven to be reliable in traditional Pauper and it certainly excels here too.

I really like the multiple instances of lifelink or ways to give your creatures lifelink which gives some extra time to finish off your opponent.

Rat Colony

There was a time when Rat Colony was one of the most feared decks in the format.  Here is a 5-0 list by Rio Fox from the Holiday Pauper special event over Christmas.

Rat Colony Cosmotronic Wave

This deck was at its peak in the first Pauper event on Arena. Players are much more aware of the deck now and have adjusted by using cards like Mephitic Vapors. Rat Colony decks now also run Burglar Rat to try and disrupt their opponent which works well with the Rat Colony. The cantrips in the deck allow the rats to get past blockers or to just keep up. You will see Rat Colony decks still but much of their power is gone now that people are prepared for them. 

Azorius Hexproof

This deck is a bogeyman of the format and one that can be very hard to interact with. This a list I brewed up from what I've seen online and filling in a few gaps:

Secrets of the Golden City Soul of the Rapids Cold-Water Snapper

This deck seems to have a one two punch that can be devastating. You've enough early life gain to be able to hold on until a Hexproof threat comes out. You can also out race an opponent as a Bishop's Soldier with a Knights Pledge can create a massive tempo swing to your side. A late game Soul of the Rapids can win on its own but is better with a Knight's Pledge just to get past the white decks with multiple flying threats that can also defend when needed. My favorite card in the deck is Sky Scanner bridging the offensive and defensive parts of the deck.

Mono Black Control

This deck has plenty of attractive cards that interact with the opponent really well. I brewed the list below taking inspiration from several opponents online.

Blade Juggler Grotesque Demise Lich's Caress

The backbone of the deck feels strong and plays out reasonably well as you don't usually feel like you're facing a particularly bad matchup. Dusk Legion Zealot sees play in conventional Pauper and Blade Juggler feels like a better Phyrexian Rager with some extra offensive power. However, many of the cards are also seeing play in both Dimir and Orzhov builds, which, even with the drawback of multiple come into play tapped lands, are marginally stronger because of their greater flexibility in the late game.


MTG Arena Pauper is by far my favorite online-only format and part of that fun comes from its limited availability. Because you can only play for a limited time, the meta never really has enough time to settle, and because here are so few sets to work with, every new set completely changes the meta – at least for the time being. The next session will have War of the Spark, so that will spice things up and will hopefully provide a nice shake-up.

I'd love to hear about your cool lists and experiences with MTG Arena Pauper. Until next time, thank you for reading.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

1 Comment

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Adzila(24.05.2019 14:59)

This is a really helpful article as I'd struggled with the arena meta. I'd look forward to a similar update in the future if the arena meta swings