Pauper Commander (or PDH) will always feel very different from 60-card Pauper due to multiplayer politics, singleton variance, longer average games, and no sideboard. However, there are still enough parallels that players in either format can find some decks in the other format that play similarly. This article will discuss several of those decks, including reasons to play them, how they are similar, and their key differences. It is also important to note that these decks may not actually be the same archetype as each other. For example, a control deck in Pauper may share many similarities with a combo deck in PDH, while a midrange deck in PDH may have a lot in common with the base mechanics of a Pauper aggro deck.
On the more aggressive side of things, both Pauper and PDH have decks that focus on aggressive threats with abilities that trigger when targeted by a spell. Almost all of these decks focus heavily on using protection spells like Emerge Unscathed to both guard against removal and prevent opponents from blocking. The abundance of rebound, flashback, and cantrip spells at common also give these decks a lot of additional value.
On the Pauper side, this idea takes the form of Mono-White Heroic, with low cost threats like Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Akroan Skyguard. These are paired with powerful auras like Ethereal Armor and Sentinel's Eyes, as well as efficient combat tricks, like Mutagenic Growth. The single-color mana base and low average mana cost makes the deck incredibly consistent.
On the PDH side, Tenth District Legionnaire, Battlewise Hoplite, Phalanx Leader, Hero of the Nyxborn, and Zada, Hedron Grinder all make amazing heroic commanders, but the Legionnaire and Hoplite share the most similarities with the Pauper Heroic deck, so I will focus on them.
Thanks to the influence of red, the Legionnaire is more explosive and aggressive than the Hoplite, with built-in haste and much better combat tricks, such as Temur Battle Rage, Run Amok, Psychotic Fury, and Fists of Flame. Meanwhile, blue makes Hoplite slower and more consistent, with counterspells for additional commander protection and more cantrip auras like Cartouche of Knowledge. Blue also gives better evasion, like Aqueous Form and Distortion Strike. While the two-color mana base and slightly higher mana costs of both decks forces you to run a higher percentage of lands than the single-color Pauper deck, the scry trigger on both commanders makes it easy to consistently scry away extra lands and avoid flooding. Because PDH games tend to go slightly longer, they can occasionally make use of reusable cards like Clockspinning and Seething Anger. These are especially useful against control decks that have successfully removed your commander, allowing you to rebuild your win condition without totally depleting your hand.
The main difference between the Pauper and PDH decks is that the PDH decks have to continue their push for longer, being lucky if they can kill all of their opponents before turn 7 or 8. This leads them to care far more about card advantage and selection, since a cantrip here and scrying away a land there can be the deciding factor in keeping the pressure on against the final opponent.
The reason to play these decks is for a strong, proactive game plan that still gives you flexibility and a lot of choices to make. Aggressive though they are, these aggro decks don’t just leave the math to the blockers.
Pauper Mono-White Heroic by DatabaseError
PDH Battlewise Hoplite by Jules_R
Hexproof (also known as Bogles) is a long-standing, powerful, and popular deck type in both Pauper and PDH. These decks thrive on the low number of board wipes at common, especially since they can produce big enough threats that all the damage-based wipes can't kill them. Both formats’ decks can use lifelink on their large threats to gain big chunks of life, as well.
In Pauper, the deck has to pack a fair number of creatures with hexproof so they can consistently draw one in their opening hand. These usually include Slippery Bogle, Silhana Ledgewalker, and Gladecover Scout. This redundancy also helps the deck have more chance of avoiding or recovering from removal like edicts, which could force them to sacrifice their large, hexproof threat. Because Pauper Hexproof decks are not confined by color identity and can use color fixing auras like Abundant Growth, they can splash any color they need. While the deck is mainly green and white, splashing for sideboard cards allows for some of the most efficient counterspells from blue, sweepers from red, and various other hate cards.
In PDH, there are many decks that use hexproof threats, but the most powerful and consistent usually have a hexproof threat in the command zone, such as Ascended Lawmage, Lumberknot, or Nightveil Predator. Slippery Bogle is also a possible commander, but most players prefer commanders that already contain either evasion or a way to grow larger, since that eliminates the need to spend card slots on evasion or buffs, which leaves more room for interaction. For the rest of this comparison, I will focus on the Lawmage and Predator decks, since they show the most similarities with Pauper Hexproof. The biggest differences between these two PDH decks stems from their color identities. Ascended Lawmage benefits from White's powerful auras, much like Pauper Hexproof decks, and can also use white damage prevention to negate large counterattacks. This allows it to be more aggressive. Meanwhile, Nightveil Predator has to rely more on Black's removal to buy time while it slowly builds and defends an unstoppable threat. It’s also worth mentioning that Nightveil Predator tends to run cards like Viridian Longbow, allowing the Predator to deal one damage to troublesome creatures, killing them with deathtouch.
The main differences between Pauper and PDH Hexproof are that in PDH, infinite combos are more common, lifelink can't save you from commander damage, and the singleton restriction means the deck doesn't have multiple copies of the best buff auras, like Ethereal Armor. These factors force PDH Hexproof decks to play a bit slower and pack more interaction than their Pauper counterparts. In contrast, most Pauper Hexproof decks have zero spells in the main deck that they would cast targeting an opponent's creature.
The reason to play these decks is for a linear game plan that is difficult for typical removal to stop. You build up your large threat, and it's up to your opponents to either kill you fast or derail you with combinations of non-targeted removal. Otherwise, they're going to get hit by a train.
Pauper Hexproof by Tyrannical
PDH Ascended Lawmage by PieGuy396
Flicker Control & Combo
Ever since Ephemerate was printed, Pauper decks that focus around flicker loops (other than tron) have become more popular. This is because the cheap spell makes flicker loops far cheaper, mana-wise, than comparable spells, like Ghostly Flicker. These loops usually target a creature like Mulldrifter for card advantage and a creature like Archaeomancer to get back the flicker spell. The Jeskai, Esper, and Bant versions focus on developing locks with repeated fogs, counterspells, or removal, allowing combat chip damage to finish the game. Meanwhile, the classic WU version (commonly referred to as "Familiars") focuses on getting cost reducers like Sunscape Familiar in play to make these loops go infinite. This works by reducing the cost of Ghostly Flicker down to a single blue mana, flickering Archaeomancer and an island (which re-enters the battlefield untapped to pay for the next casting of Ghostly Flicker), and using a triggered ability like Sage's Row Denizen to kill the opponent.
On the PDH side, Nucklavee, Possessed Skaab, and Warden of the Eye can play in a pretty similar way. These commanders replace Archaeomancer, so that the only specific cards you need to find to start creating loops are the flicker spells. These decks combine the combo finish of Familiars with the higher removal and counterspell use of the 3-color Pauper decks.
The difference between the 3-color ephemerate Pauper decks and the PDH decks is that the PDH decks can’t develop locks on all three opponents simultaneously, so the available interaction in the PDH decks is instead aimed at buying time and protecting the combo. Meanwhile, the difference between the Familiars Pauper decks and the PDH decks is how the flicker combo goes infinite and kills. The most common (and infamous) combo in PDH is the Peregrine Drake combo. Instead of reducing the cost of Ghostly Flicker, the Drake (which is banned in Pauper) simply allows you to make the loop mana-positive by flickering the Drake and your spell-recurring commander. Once you have infinite mana, you can repeat the loop infinitely without flickering the Drake, instead repeating any other EtB effect you have in play. These often cause you to draw your deck, then either mill out all opponents or kill them with infinite damage to the face.
All of these focus heavily on longer, reactive games with repeatable value and card advantage, while maintaining the ability to tell your opponents "No." These decks all have come to power because common cards provide very little card advantage, and using blink and EtB spell recursion loops is one of the most synergistic ways to get card advantage from commons.
Pauper Jeskai Ephemerate by ZAAAAMU
Pauper Bant Ephemerate by Entropy263 (AKA birbman)
Pauper Familiars by NotGood
PDH Warden of the Eye by Podkomorka (AKA Mr. Pod)
PDH Possessed Skaab (with small primer) by LoneSentinel
That does it for this installation. Hopefully this helps both Pauper and PDH players find decks they like in the other format, so both communities can continue to grow! As always, thank you for reading.
@PDH Home Base