Auction of the Pauple

Posted in Feature on February 7, 2008

By Chris Millar

Hello, everybody! I hope you're all enjoying the lovely month of February. It's one of the good ones, despite being the source of blahs of all kinds. Personally, the highlight of the month will either be last weekend's Morningtide release or Valentine's Day a week from today. The jury is still out on that one. Either way, I'm hoping for a swell of courage (and no Fire Juggler).

As you may or may not know, the first week back from our holiday re-runs, I wrote an article about taking four copies of each Lorwyn common and building thirteen, roughly equal decks with them. All in all, it was a fun experiment, a cute stunt that I'm happy to say was very well received—so much so, in fact, that it looks likely that I will attempt to do it again with the commons of Shadowmoor a week or so B.D. (Before "Doughnut").

But that's way in the future. Let's deal with the present (and the recent past) first. You see, there's a whole community of players on Magic Online devoted to the Pauper (i.e. all-commons) decks. One great thing about Pauper Magic is that you can still play all of your favourite formats (Prismatic, Singleton, Standard, Classic, etc.), but you can do it as a budget player or just as someone who enjoys the challenge of building decks with self-imposed restrictions. For me, the appeal of Pauper Magic is threefold. It gives me an excuse to play cards that I wouldn't play otherwise, and it presents two challenges. The first is to build a reasonably good deck using only commons. Combo decks are especially tricky to build, since combo staples like tutors, mass card drawing, "engine" cards (like Null Profusion or Heartbeat of Spring), and finishers are usually uncommon or rare. Of course, this is not always the case, but cards like Ravnica's transmute spells and Time Spiral's storm cards are the exception rather than the rule. Check out this pair of articles to find out how much fun Pauper combo can be when you can make it work.

Three Time Spiral DesertsThe second challenge, and the one that gives me the most satisfaction to overcome, is to beat non-Pauper decks, in a David-vs.-Hamletback Goliath sort of way. My favourite game from last year was when I squeaked out a win against a tweaked version of the mono-blue Guile deck designed by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa with my Pauper white weenie deck. The miraculous part was that I had to fight through the usual wall of countermagic, the powerful finishers, and, worst of all, three Deserts!

My point is that you can play as competitively or as casually as you like with your all-commons decks. For Spikier types, there are actual metagames to examine and cards to break, but for more casual players there are wacky decks to build and weird formats to play. This was made abundantly clear to me by Anthony Ritz (a.k.a. KingRitz), who is one of the community builders and tournament organizers over at PDC stands for Pauper Deck Challenge and the site covers all-common decks, tournaments, and metagame data for just about every format available on Magic Online. After I wrote my Lorwyn Pauper article, Anthony emailed me to say that the Pauper aficionados enjoyed the column and that it's "always great to see Pauper get press from the mothership. More to the point, the decks you presented and especially the idea behind them are really cool. We have been experimenting recently with Auction of the People using Pauper decks, and as soon as your article went up half a dozen community members simultaneously expressed what a great idea it would be to auction off your Lorwyn Pauper decks. Even better, we already have an alternate-formats PDC event, Alt PDC, devoted solely to crazy ideas like this."

Since crazy ideas are very much up my alley (right next to the dumpster), and it's hard to say no to such a cool and unusual event, I happily volunteered to attend.

Auction Time!

For anyone unfamiliar with the auction process, here's Tim Willoughby's recap from this year's Magic Invitational :

The bidding system entailed a pro nominating a deck, and then declaring that they would play this deck with a starting hand size of 8 cards, and 25 life. Sounds pretty nifty, no? At this point each pro in turn would get the chance to bid lower on either cards or life. A bid of 7 cards in hand and 25 life would be considered 'lower' than 8 cards in hand at a single life point—it would be up to the players to decide on the value in life of each of their cards. Historically, having more cards in hand is very good, especially if decks have shaky mana bases, but it is still better to have a good deck than a bad one and sometimes this would mean pushing it a little on hand size.

Trade_RoutesWe did things slightly differently. As Anthony said, "Rather than doing 'turn-based' bidding like WOTC does, we use an open free-for-all auction [like] the /join auction room in MTGO. The speed and simplicity of that method is a big selling point."

Going by the Invitational auctions, you want the decks to outnumber the players by one. With any more leftover decks than that, I think the person going last has an even greater advantage than they already do. With only two decks to pick from, it's more likely that you could end up with a poor deck to go along with the full eight cards and 25 life. That said, with thirteen decks up for auction, we'd need twelve people. Luckily, we had twenty-four people show up to play, enough for two separate auctions. Each twelve-person pod would play three rounds of Swiss and then the top eight players from the total 24 would play off in a single-elimination tournament to decide the winner. For more information on the tournament, including round-by-round pairings and standings, try here. All the decks can be found here.

If the past two Invitational auctions are any indication, the best strategy might be to wait until the end, nabbing a deck at 8/25 and hoping that everyone else bids too much for the other decks. Both Tiago Chan and Rich Hoaen went 3-0 last year and Antonino De Rosa did the same two years ago. Of course, this doesn't work too well if everyone is doing it, but it's something to keep in mind. Another thing to consider is that this set of decks is slow and, in general, mana hungry. There aren't many decks that can win quickly and most of the decks want (or need) to hit four mana as soon as possible. At the very least, I knew I was going to be passive and wait to see how the bidding was going before jumping in. It didn't take long for me to find out.

Once we were ready to start, each pod moved into a separate room and the decks were nominated by the players in alphabetical order. My Magic Online handle is _houseofcards, and as any alphabetician worth his salt will tell you, "_" comes before "a". Consequently, I went first and nominated the Blue-Black Faerie deck. In my column, I claimed that this was the best deck (and it still might be), but the auction is a great balancing mechanism, and I wanted to see what it would go for. Nominating it was like throwing chum in a shark tank. Many players wanted the deck and weren't afraid to dramatically reduce their hand size to get it. The bidding was fast and furious (almost too fast and too furious), and TheTestament won the deck at the full 25 life but with only five cards. Ouch.

For the ensuing decks, I bid here and there in the hopes of getting a bargain, but I decided that there really wasn't one to be had. In no particular order, the next nine decks went to the following players as seen below:

Shadezz0fHades - Mono-Green Elves (7/20)
plainstrider – Red-Black Goblins (7/19)
BlueWurm – Red-White Changelings (7/16)
arachnid1313 – Black-Green Treefolk (7/18)
benbw – Black-Green Elves (6/20)
coolbartbr – Blue-White Merfolk (6/19)
NanofChaos – Red-Green Giants (6/20)
riealan – White-Black Kithkin (6/23)
rickwins1971 – Four-Color Elementals (8/20)

With only three decks left (Red-White Giants, Mono-Blue Merfolk, and Red-Black Elementals), I decided to go for it. Of the three, I felt that the Red-Black Elemental deck gave me the best chance to win. It might have been a worse deck, but it had some cards that I thought were being underrated. For starters, Caterwauling Boggart basically makes everyone in the deck unblockable, or at least makes blocking very awkward. The four Hurly-Burlys were also very appealing. It's the only mass removal in the "format," and considering that the Merfolk, Kithkin, Elf, and Faerie decks had plenty of X/1 creatures and that I had those decks ranked highly, it appeared to be a good metagame call (if, as we shall see, a misguided one). Still, I didn't really want to go below the usual 7/20 to get it. In the end, after a little back and forth, I outbid Cadaeic314 and got the deck at 7/23. Cadaeic314 took the Mono-Blue Merfolk deck at an uncontested 8/25.

_houseofcards – Red-Black Elementals (7/23)
Cadaeic314 – Mono-Blue Merfolk (8/25)

Lairwatch_GiantThe Red-White Giants deck had to sit out this one. The interesting thing about running two auctions is that you can see how differently people evaluate the decks and how aggressively people are willing to bid. Just about every deck was in someone's top four or in someone's bottom four. The aggro decks were highly sought after in our pod, but they went practically uncontested in the other pod. I know I personally overrated the fast decks, because I was only thinking about them in terms of a more general environment, one in which every deck wasn't full of creatures. For instance, the Red-Green Elvish Handservant seemed very good to me, but my testing of that deck involved taking on all comers in the Casual Room online and not against the other Pauper decks that I had built. Here's how the other auction went:

KingRitz – Blue-White Merfolk (8/23)
Lawnmower Elf – Black-Green Elves (8/23)
GravespwnGoddess – Blue-Black Faeries (6/18)
lathspel – Red-Black Elementals (7/18)
53N531 – Mono-Blue Merfolk (6/24)
Bulldog333 – 4-Color Elementals (7/14)
cp70 – Mono-Green Elves (7/21)
jamuraa – Red-White Giants (6/21)
mrjgiles – Black-Green Treefolk (8/21)
R3b3lw4rr10r – Red-White Changelings (7/24)
RaiserUK – Red-Green Giants (6/15)
TheUsualSuspect – White-Black Kithkin (8/25)

Somewhat strangely, despite the fact that the hyper-aggressive decks were largely devalued, the slowest, most-controlling deck (Blue-White Merfolk) was also taken without much of a struggle. The auction was a lot of fun, and I discovered that it was a lot like doing a booster draft: as soon as you're done picking/drafting your deck, you want to start over because you know you'll do it better next time. I invite anyone to try it, with or without Pauper decks. If you can round up X friends, all you would need is X+1 decks and you'd be set to start the bidding.

Tourney Time!

Now that I had a deck, all I needed was a friend. In the first round, I got paired up against TheTestament playing the pre-Fugued Faerie deck. Unfortunately, TheTestament's five-card hands weren't too friendly in either game and the four-card hand was no better in the second game. In the first game, TheTestament simply ran out of gas after a timely Hurly-Burly took out a Nightshade Stinger, Spellstutter Sprite, and Pestermite. The double mulligan pretty much spelled the end for the TheTestament in Game 2, and I won easily on the back of Caterwauling Boggart and some random dudes.

Matches 1-0, Games 2-0

Wellgabber Apothecary
For Round 2, I had a bit of a rude awakening. I was stuck playing coolbartbr, who had the Blue-White Merfolk deck. I thought the matchup wouldn't be too bad. I had the Hurly-Burlys and many of that deck's creatures were 1/1s. What I overlooked was the fact that both an active Kithkin Healer and a Springleaf Drum-aided Wellgabber Apothecary make Hurly-Burly into a dead card. Besides that, my Weed Strangles could be thwarted by Broken Ambitions and I would have to deal damage quickly to outpace all the life-gain. In the previous round, benbw and the Black-Green Elf deck ran out of time against Judge of Currents and company. That was basically the story here, too. I lost the first game because I aimed a Weed Strangle at a Silvergill Douser instead of the Wellgabber that came down on the following turn. A second one soon followed. I took a few hits from the pair them before going into chump-blocking mode. By the time I drew a sufficiently tough creature to block, it was too late. For Game 2, I basically drew all of my removal and had enough lands to play my heavy-hitters and had a Caterwauling Boggart so they couldn't be blocked. I needed a miracle and I got one. The first game ate up most of my clock, so despite having a promising start in Game 3, I lost the match because of time.

Matches 1-1, Games 3-2

The third round was a straight-up race. I was playing BlueWurm with the Red-White Changeling deck. It was full of fliers and had Tarfire as its only removal spell. I can't remember if I won the first game or the second game, but regardless, it was because of Caterwauling Boggart. I lost the other two games to a horde of fliers pumped up by multiple copies of Blades of Velis Vel while my offence was blunted by an Oaken Brawler. BlueWurm finished me off with Tarfire, dropping me to 1-2 and knocking me from Top 8 contention.

Matches 1-2, Games 4-4

Top 8 Time!

Here's how the Top 8 looked, with the top four decks listed having gone undefeated in the Swiss:

plainstrider – Red-Black Goblins (7/19)
Lawnmower Elf – Black-Green Elves (8/23)
Cadaeic314 – Mono-Blue Merfolk (8/25)
KingRitz – Blue-White Merfolk (8/23)
BlueWurm – Red-White Changelings (7/16)
rickwins1971 – Four-Color Elementals (8/20)
GravespwnGoddess – Blue-Black Faeries (6/18)
lathspel – Red-Black Elementals (7/18)

Interestingly, the Red-Black Goblins deck that made the Top 4 wasn't even selected in the other auction pod.

Spring Cleaning
After a couple of quick and bloody rounds (the highlight of which was a game-winning Spring Cleaning that destroyed three Glimmerdust Naps and freed up a trio of Elvish Branchbenders), we were on to the finals between Lawnmower Elf's Black-Green Elf deck and KingRitz's Blue-White Merfolk deck. While I was rooting for the Elves to win, things didn't look too promising after KingRitz crushed everything in his path on the way to the Top 8 and the other Blue-White Merfolk player, coolbartbr, went undefeated in two matches (including one against the same Black-Green Elf deck) before having to drop from the tournament.

It was a blowout. The longer the game goes, the more it favours the Merfolk deck. At one point, with the game going long, KingRitz had a Stonybrook Angler and a Judge of Currents and enough mana to keep using the Angler to untap itself, gaining 1 life each time. By the time he played one of his Plover Knights (a.k.a. Meloku the Clouded Mirror) to take the game home, the life totals were 87-7 in his favour. Yikes. Despite my efforts to balance the thirteen decks, I seem to have created an unstoppable (and aquatic) juggernaut.

Well, I hope you had fun this week. It was a nice change of pace for me, and I think I'm going to try to do some deck auctions with friends at some point in the future.

Until next time, do your own bidding!

Chris Millar

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