The Best Multiplayer Cards in Pauper, or Why Lightning Bolt is a Bad Card
Lightning Bolt is a bad card.
Before I continue, I want to offer some of my credentials – I know you’ll want to see some before I offer more wild claims. I started playing Magic around the time Mirrodin came out, began playing EDH a year or so before the first Commander decks were released, and played exclusively casual multiplayer until I watched LSV’s streams for the first time during M11. Since then, I mostly play Draft and EDH, with occasional forays into other formats when decks looked interesting. I am somewhere between a Timmy and Spike. On one hand, I like Goblins and Dragons, on the other, I like competition. I play for fun, but fun often means a challenging and intense game.
In short, I know my shit.
Lightning Bolt is a great card in single player Magic. It’s the most efficient burn spell ever printed. In multiplayer, Lightning Bolt is a very bad card. It’s relatively inconsequential, narrow, and a card costs a lot more in multiplayer.
Bolt is still a good removal spell in multiplayer, but the reach it provides is practically zero. Assuming you’re playing Pauper EDH with 30 life, a single Lightning Bolt deals 1/10th of the title damage you need done, which compares very unfavorably to the rough 1/7th it deals in a game of Modern. A repeatable Bolt effect is good, but the card itself will rarely get the job done.
In multiplayer games, a single Bolt isn’t going to remove things late into the game, either. Even Bolting the Bird will only hurt one player, and not for long. While Bolt does have options, it’s a card that is dead except in very specific situations.
Finally, a 1-for-1 is excusable in a single-player game, but can never happen in a multiplayer game. Because there are (normally) 4 players in a game, every card you play puts your opponents up 3. So, a Bolt that trades for a creature leaves you at -2 cards. You even begin the game at a deficit. Sometimes, you need to get rid of something, but you should always be looking for more.
With this in mind, we can deduce that a good multiplayer card affects the board significantly, provides options, and presents the opportunity for 2-or-3-for-1. These cards don’t often appear at the common level, so I’ve sorted through some Pauper legal cards to find those that I would expect to perform well in a multiplayer environment.
This list is by no means definitive, I’m sure there are good cards I missed, and there are definitely cards I left off that I would play. If you want to find even more cards like these, you can find them by searching on Gatherer for words like “each,” “all,” “choose,” “whenever,” and “cycling.”
White Multiplayer Cards
Unfortunately for white mages, white doesn’t have a lot of great multiplayer cards. Especially not in Pauper, where it loses a lot of it’s more efficient token makers, prison cards, and card advantage engines. It does keep a few cards that scale well though.
The Soul Sisters (Soul Warden, Soul’s Attendant and Suture Priest) are great in multiplayer games. While they require a little bit of building around for max potential, White often dumps a lot of creatures on the board anyway. Life gain is no better in multiplayer than single player, but cards than gain incidental life over time get even better. You can reasonably expect to gain at least 5 life off of these, and the fail case is an opponent wasting a removal spell on them.
Similarly, Congregate is a multiplayer all-star from the days of old. I’ve seen Congregate gain life in the triple digits, and it will almost always give you an extra turn or two. Wall of Hope is a card that saw a lot of casual play, but has since fallen to the wayside. I’d jam one in most 99's, as it can gum up the ground and buy you a turn against a giant beater.
White also gets a lot of scaling creatures and Auras, which are good heading into the late game. Empyrial Armor looks good on an early Voltron general, and cards like Unruly Mob and dwarven brethren Ninth Bridge Patrol while slowly accumulate +1/+1 counters over the course of a game.
There are also some decent mana sinks in white with cards like Apex Hawks and Dawnglare Invoker. It’s not uncommon to have a lot of mana and very little gas later in a multiplayer game, so mana sinks are nice to have around.
Blue Multiplayer Cards
Being the best at gaining card advantage, Blue can afford a few more 1-for-1's than other colors. Few of its cards scale well into the late game, but instead provide value turn after turn.
One effect I like that does scale into the late game is the one seen on Rakshasa’s Disdain and Circular Logic. Blue will often dump a lot of cards in the graveyard, making these conditional counters function like hard counters in the early and late game, though they do flounder in the mid game when people may have more open mana than you do cards in the bin. Hour of Devastation gave us Countervailing Winds, which also has cycling, meaning the card is never dead.
A similar effect can be found on Spell Syphon, Ixidor’s Will, and Override, though these require some synergy. I like X counter spells like Power Sink, also, though they can leave you with no mana to spend on your turn.
Jace’s Erasure is a good example of the engines Blue provides, as this can eat through a good chunk of your opponent’s decks. Stealer of Secrets and other creatures also work as a one-sided Howling Mine, often dealing a lot of damage and drawing a lot of cards before being eaten or eating a removal spell that would otherwise be aimed at your finisher. Looter il-Kor is a pet card of mine (and many Cube players) but it doesn’t provide card advantage, just selection.
Deep Analysis is a good, repeatable draw spell, which we should never undervalue. There are a few scaling draw effects in Blue, such as Keep Watch, which can refill your hand in the late game. It’s important to note that Keep Watch can be played during combats you would otherwise be uninvolved in. Be wary of effects like Delirium Skeins – while it will sometimes make you some friends, it will often come back to bite you. Similarly, Words of Wisdom is a trap card, despite appearing to break symmetry.
Finally, Capsize is one of the greatest multiplayer cards ever printed. It’s a one card, six mana engine, that buys you time when you’re behind and ends the game when you’re ahead.
Black Multiplayer Cards
I don’t like playing Black if I’m not playing Disciple of the Vault, but it is one of the best multiplayer colors. Tortured Existence, which sees a lot of play in regular Pauper, still does a lot of work in multiplayer, and Sadistic Glee effects will help turn value creatures into hulking threats.
Chainer’s Edict is an edict effect that picks off an annoying creature early and a standalone threat later. Effects like Abyssal Gatekeeper and Innocent Blood are also good in multiplayer games. They sometimes pick off creatures that don’t matter, but if you can time them will or recur them they will seal the game for you. Pestilence is the greatest "Wrath" effect I’ve seen in Pauper, and is a Black auto-include.
Blood Tithe and Syphon Soul are good for 18 and 12 damage, respectively. Syphon Soul has been a multiplayer staple since Alpha, and is still worth considering. We can find this drain effect in many flavors. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was a bomb in Theros limited, Standard, and still sees play in Eternal Mono-Black Control lists, and his effect only gets better with more players around. Urborg Syphon-Mage turns unneeded cards into Syphon Souls. Shepherd of Rot has terrorized players since Onslaught, and is a good play at any turn of the game. Infectious Horror effects are good in multiplayer, as well, allowing you to pick off one player while beating another. Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble turn this effect into a triggered ability, and will passively keep you alive for several turns.
Red Multiplayer Cards
Falling into some of the same pitfalls as White, Red gets the short end of the multiplayer stick. (Dear Wizards, please fix this. Thanks.) What Red does get is repeatable damage. Firebrand Archer is worth a Lava Spike every time you cast a spell, and Ixalan’s Sun-Crowned Hunters can attack for 5 while throwing them around. Hissing Iguanar and Impact Tremors are a bit less efficient, but still respectable ways to get the damage flowing.
Kiln Fiend and Goblin Gaveleer are a good showing of Red’s scaling creatures. While powerful and aggressive, the effect is often temporary and leaves the creature fragile. If you can clear the way or give out first strike, they can both get out of hand.
Red can also make some turns extra explosive with spells like Mana Geyser, Battle Hymn, and Brightstone Ritual. These aren’t repeatable, but are aggressively costed enough to let you do some nasty things.
Green Multiplayer Cards
Green has the best late game in Magic, and more opportunity to get there in multiplayer games.
Green also gets its share of cycling cards with Krosan Tusker and Repopulate. Tusker is a big beater when you want it, and will find a basic when you need it. Repopulate provides graveyard hate for anyone doing too much self-milling, or digs a card deeper if that’s not needed.
Priest of Titania and Overgrown Battlement are mana dorks that like when you have other mana dorks around, allowing you to pump out even bigger creatures. Land will also be a useful resource in a Green deck even if you don’t need the mana. Cards like Grazing Gladehart and Sporemound will see at least a handful of triggers to provide some extra value.
Nullmage Advocate can make friends and get rid of pesky artifacts and enchantment. Fangren Marauder is a big, dumb creature that will gain you some extra life if allowed to sit around. Tribute to the Wild works as an Innocent Blood for artifacts and enchantments, which will usually nab some mana rocks and other utility cards you don’t want sticking around. In contrast, I would never play something like Simplify. While we can almost guarantee each opponent will have either an artifact or an enchantment, we can’t guarantee that each will have just an enchantment.
Green also has a nice package of cards that scale with enchantments around. Aura Gnarlid likes wearing Umbras while having some evasion, and Ancestral Mask makes any creature more gnarl(id)y. Yavimaya Enchantress is smaller, but Legacy playable, and Bramble Elemental can pump some tokens onto the battlefield. These cards won’t go in every deck, but are the type of thing you should look for if they synergize with your commander (Dowsing Shaman, for example.)
Gold and Artifact Multiplayer Cards
There aren’t a lot of great multiplayer cards in either of these categories at common, but there are a few worth discussing.
Skull Rend and Breath of Malfegor can slot into any B/R aggro deck, as they both hit for a good amount of damage. Skull Rend also gains some card advantage, which we can’t neglect. Wee Dragonauts and Nivix Cyclops like when you’re playing a lot of spells, which most Izzet decks will do anyway.
Armadillo Cloak and Soul Link are good sources of incidental life gain, while also beefing creatures up in the case of Armadillo Cloak. It’s important to note that neither of these grants lifelink, making them work as pseudo removal. If you play them on an opponent’s creature, you will still gain the life as the creature doesn’t have the ability – the aura does.
Golem Foundry can slot into any deck playing a lot of artifacts, as it can dump a few 3/3s on the board during the course of a game.
Finally, play Relic of Progenitus.
To summarize, in multiplayer games we want cards that are bigger, more flexible, recursive or can scale with the game. There’s a lot more damage to deal, things to remove, cards to draw, and turns to take. Every card needs to count, and a dead draw can lead to a dead player. Again, these aren’t all the cards worth playing in your Pauper EDH deck, but they are the type of thing you should be looking to do.
Thanks for reading,