A Beginner's Guide To Pauper EDH

Alejandro Fuentes • March 23, 2024

Pauper EDH Is A Cheaper Way To Play Commander

Damn, I just got wrecked by a lifegain deck at my Lgs. That turn one Serra Ascendant? Brutal. I've got to build one of those decks myself. I crack open my laptop, and hop on Archidekt, ready to construct yet another commander deck. I'll start with that Serra Ascendant, of course, and for the commander - Hmm, I've always wanted to play Karlov of the Ghost Council. That guy looks sick! For the deck, I'll throw in Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Sanguine Bond, which pair perfectly with Exquisite Blood. Beacon of Immortality doubles my life total, and Aetherflux Reservoir practically says win the game, so those will go in...

An hour later, and the deck is complete. It can all be mine for... $600? Ooh. That's quite a bit. Sometimes I can't believe how much these cards cost. Serra Ascendant is good, but is it $20 good? I can't even fathom why people are willing to pay $17 for Authority of the Consuls. Heck, even the seven bucks for my commander is too much for a $30 budget. I hate that I have to buy so many new cards. I've got so many cards in my collection, but they all seem useless. I wish there was a way I could just play with those.

Well, my dear friend, it turns out there is. It's called the pauper format, and it's specifically made so that you can play with the cheapest cards possible. The restriction that defines the format is rarity. Only cards that have been printed at common are legal. No chase mythics, no $20 rares. Only the cards that you get 6 of in a play booster, and in the case of Pauper EDH, one uncommon creature (which doesn't need to be legndary) to lead your deck. The result is $17 decks without even trying. Pauper decks are easy to build, yet still just as fun to play.

Assuming you aren't just playing a pauper deck in a regular EDH pod, there are a few extra rules, but don't worry, they're easy enough to remember. In multiplayer, everyone starts at 30 life rather than 40, which means commander damage is reduced to half that, plus one, just like regular EDH. (Commander damage being only 16 makes voltron decks particularly viable!) In addition to that, two cards, Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora are banned. There's technically a separate ban list for 1v1, but given that pauper is almost always a casual format, it's up to you whether you bother with that. Otherwise, everything you know about EDH, from deck size, commander tax, and the free mulligan, is the same. 

But what's the point?

Alright, it does seem like a decent way to stay within budget. But it seems like PEDH is just a more restricted version of EDH. In fact, it seems like it would be kind of a challenge to build a strong Pauper deck. After all, aren't commons supposed to be bad?

While it may seem like only commons for your 99 is a huge restriction, you have access to almost every card you could possibly want. Out of the 27,000 cards that have been printed in Magic's history, 9,500 of those are commons. Every archetype that's possible in Edh is also possible in pEDH. Lifegain, Artifacts, Sacrifice, you name it, it's playable in pauper. 

In fact, half of the cards you play in your typical EDH decks are pauper legal. If we take a quick look at the top Pauper staples, we see Counterspell, Cultivate, Abrade, Growth Spiral, Feed the Swarm, and every one of the guild signets. The list goes on, and looks remarkably similar to the EDHrec staples list. When constructing a deck, the synergy pieces may require a bit of research, but putting in the interaction and ramp is remarkably easy. 

The top commanders list is also somewhat parallel to EDHrec. According to PDHREC, the most popular pauper commander is Fynn, the Fangbearer, a hilariously easy deck to construct, thanks to the abundance of one-mana deathtouch creatures that have been printed. Zada, Hedron Grinder is another strong deck that uses targeted spells alongside Pauper's abundance of token generation to overwhelm opponents. 

But in additon to the EDH legal commanders, you also have non legendary uncommons. This opens up an even greater swather of commanders than EDH. Soulherder, Risen Reef, and even Spitemare can all helm strong pEDH decks. These entirely playable commanders, paired with Pauper's abundance of Commander staples, make for some perfectly powerful decks. For instance, Ley Weaver and Lore Weaver, one of my favorite piles, helm a combo deck that can win turn five on a bad day. The list continues on, full of strong, unique decks. Some of these decks are strong enough to beat high power EDH decks.

But how do I get into the format?

I built a standard deck one time, and not a single person in my play group wanted to play. It seems even less likely that I'm going to be able to bring an all commons deck, and find someone else to play with.

Well, there's two reasons that Pauper is different. Firstly, a pauper deck with a legendary commander is 100% Commander legal, and even if you're not running a legendary commander, most pods will still welcome a pauper deck. Being only commons is a large enough restriction that it makes up for any advantage you might have by running a commander that's not "technically" legal. 

The second reason is that Pauper EDH is extremely cheap. Convincing your friends to invest $400 or so in a meta standard deck is a monumental task. Convincing them to build a $20 dollar deck that they can play anywhere is much easier. After that, gathering a PEDH pod is surprisingly easy. Heck, even finding people that happen to have a PEDH deck lying around is pretty simple. 

If you still find yourself unable to find pauper players, the PEDH Reddit exists, and makes it extremely easy to communicate with other Pauper players. You can use it to look for players in your area, or if you join the discord, get onto some Spelltable games.

If you want to know more specific details, there's an absolute load of resources you can use to collect information, listed below. 

The Official pEDH Homebase: This is the place to find every rule of the format, from the banlist to the deckbuilding restrictions, which I've already covered. 

The pEDH Reddit: This is the fastest place to get your questions answered, whether those questions are about the meta or the rules. Over 10,ooo Pauper players are eager to discuss every aspect of the format. 

PDHREC: Essentially EDHREC, but specifically for PEDH. The top commanders, the most played cards for each commander, and the format staples are all listed out for you to conveniently gather information. 

Scryfall: Scryfall can be used in the same way you use it to do research for EDH decks, if you just add "legal:PEDH" in the search bar. Given that there is somewhat less data collected by the community on PEDH overall, it's extremely helpful for finding hidden gems. 

Lastly, there's videos of Pauper and PEDH being played all over Youtube. There's also plenty of videos that will explain the meta to you, and show you some fun ideas. I've gotten my fair share of inspiration from the Pauper decks that I've seen on Cardmarket. 

And finally, here's some answers to the remaining questions you might have. 

Is Pauper EDH balanced?

While 60 card Pauper has many of the same problems that formats like Modern and Standard have, where constant bans are needed to keep certain decks in check, Pauper EDH balances itself in the same way that Commander does. Like I said, there's a small ban list, but for the most part, the community is able to govern itself, whether that's through rule 0 discussions, or through set aside games for Competitive Pauper EDH. 

Can a common creature be your commander in Pauper EDH?

Unfortunately, no. Pauper EDH is restricted to uncommon commanders only, and while that may seem a bit off brand, it doesn't affect your options at all. The total amount of uncommon creatures printed still doubles the amount of legal EDH commanders. However, if you really feel the need to play a particular common, rule 0 discussions are still available!

Can I play Pauper EDH competitively?

As always, there's some group of people that push everything to the extreme, meaning that competitive PEDH is in fact a thing. Turn three glass canon decks? Punishing control decks? Midrange combo? Yup, it all exists in PEDH form, and to go with it, there are PEDH tournaments. Upcoming ones are listed on the PEDH reddit, and while they're a bit more rare than standard EDH tournaments, they are possible to get to. 

Command those Commons!

Welp, I'm back at my EDH, and I've build that lifegain deck. My commander? Trelassara, Moon Dancer. Every card I cast makes her bigger and lets me scry. Thanks to the amount of life I'm gaining, I'm able to take massive hits, and when Trelassara gets big enough, people start dying. It's surprisingly strong for a bunch of commons, and the best part about it is that it only set me back $22. It's even got a combo with Presence of Gond and Midnight Guard! What more could I want?

pEDH is a fun, easy way to build a budget deck and potentially enter into a community where the cards you own hold much greater value. By playing Pauper, you avoid the expensive entry bar that many other formats have, and open yourself up to a whole new way of playing the game. If you want to see some examples of the decks that can be made in the format, check out my series, Uncommanders. If you do give it a shot, let me know how it goes!

Alejandro Fuentes's a nerd from Austin Texas who likes building the most unreasonable decks possible, then optimizing them till they're actually good. In his free time, he's either trying to fit complex time signatures into death metal epics, or writing fantasy novels.