Last updated on October 1, 2023
Tatyova, Benthic Druid | Illustration by Mathias Kollros
Commander is a very fun format, but sometimes it can be very pricey thanks to the popular cards that dominate in it. But what If I told you that you can still play Commander on a budget and have access to tons of high-level games and strategies?
Well, that's where Pauper Commander comes into play. I’ve got 20 different commanders you can check to dip your toes into the format.
Interested? Let’s dive right in!
Phyrexian Censor | Illustration by Alexey Kruglov
If you understand how Commander works, you'll know that you have the freedom to select any legendary creature as your commander. Certain planeswalkers can act as commanders, but not all are allowed to unless the card says otherwise.
In Pauper Commander, there's a small difference compared to regular commanders: they don't necessarily have to be legendary. They just need to be uncommon creatures in any set where they were printed.
Pauper Commander uses uncommon cards as their commander. But, your Pauper commander can’t be used in regular Pauper games unless it was printed at common rarity at some point.
For a while, Crackling Drake was one of the best commanders. And don’t get me wrong, it still is. But in its colors, there are better ones that fill up its claws. That said, there's nothing more fulfilling than using Teach by Example on a Fling and potentially killing two opponents in one go with a giant drake in play.
This creature shines in combo strategies where you can chain multiple non-creature spells. The problem with it is that there are scarce ways to protect Guttersnipe from removal, and you’ll mostly rely on cards like Galvanic Relay or Reckless Impulse to generate card advantage.
If you enjoy sacrifice strategies, Mayhem Devil is the commander you’ve been looking for. Black and red are the colors with most removals on them. But more importantly, they're the ones with the most sacrifice engines like Deadly Dispute or Village Rites to refill your hand and incidentally trigger this commander's ability. If you somehow give it deathtouch, you can turn it into a gatling gun that can kill the entire board when needed.
Death and Taxes effects are non-existent in Pauper, but the one with Phyrexian Censor is probably good enough to keep in check all the other decks of the meta. When you pair it with other aggressive creatures, you can pressure your opponents without worrying them going off. More importantly, if you can turn this deck into a pseudo-Voltron strategy, your opponents will have a hard time getting over your plans.
Fynn, the Fangbearer, is another commander focused on aggressive games that you’re aiming to end fast. The deck includes many inexpensive creatures with deathtouch like Moss Viper or Mirkwood Spider that, when combined with spells like Ram Through, can clear the board of enemies. The most important thing is that they help you close games in half the time, thanks to Fynn’s ability.
This particular Pauper commander has gained a reputation for a specific reason: surprising your opponents by defeating them unexpectedly. Even though it might not appear very strong initially, all it needs is a small group of tokens on the battlefield to make the most of cards like Ancestral Anger or Fists of Flame.
These cards serve as ways to draw more cards and as tools to finish the game. While it's true that Zada, Hedron Grinder can easily be harmed by multiple spells, if you can keep it safe and exercise patience, you have the potential to come out victorious in many game situations through determination and persistence.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel, commonly known as “Gary,” is an outstanding commander that can be abused with cards like Undying Evil and Supernatural Stamina to win games along with sacrifice outlets like Village Rites or Deadly Dispute in a board with heavy devotion to black.
Balmor, Battlemage Captain, is an all-star in almost every Commander format it touches. It's very good in Duel Commander and Historic Brawl, and it's no surprise that it also excels in Pauper Commander.
All you need to get it going are a couple of other creatures and a few cheap spells like Ancestral Anger to get things rolling. If your opponents want to interact with it, you can always use cheap countermagic like Dispel or Daze to Foil their plans.
Vizkopa Guildmage is one of those commanders you hate to lose against because it can one-shot entire tables if you let it set up. When you pair it with cards like Crypt Rats, you gain more life than you would lose, and in return, you make your opponents lose the same amount of life you may gain.
Mono-blue commanders are quite captivating. They might not have the same potency as commanders that use multiple colors to address their main vulnerabilities. However, this drawback is balanced by their advantage of having a more consistent and efficient source of mana. In the case of Murmuring Mystic, it serves as a dependable commander that's tough to defeat. It can rapidly fill the entire board with elusive tokens. These tokens can either steadily wear down an opponent's life points or act as obstacles to block attacks. Still, their primary use often involves a special combination of cards that generates endless creatures capable of wiping out the entire game board from one turn to another.
This ramp control deck essentially affects everyone at the table whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell. Even if your opponents deal with it, you can bring your commander back into play almost every turn. This compels them to find a solution each time it returns or dies in the process.
What I like about Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer is that it’s a personal tutor for whatever combo piece your deck may need in the form of a creature. It can set up infinite combos or just better board presence when required, and this “toolbox” kind of strategy is amazing to pull off.
Ethersworn Sphinx is an artifact combo strategy that relies on bouncing your commander every turn and setup infinite combos with cards like Steelfin Whale, Etherium Spinner, and [cardJace’s Erasure[/card] to win the game. It's a fun one to play but a hard one to pull off correctly.
Partner commanders are always great ones to run because they can be mixed up with others that have this ability to come up with crazy strategies. Ghost of Ramirez DePietro is usually paired with Tormod, the Desecrator because their abilities synergize very well with each other, creating a powerful control engine that can out-value your opponents.
This is one of those aggressive commanders that can be cast for cheap very early in the game and deliver tons of damage to opponents. On top of that, thanks to the partner mechanic, it can be commonly paired with other creatures like Dargo, the Shipwrecker, Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator, or Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel to enable different strategies and ways to win depending if you like being aggro or more combo centric.
For a long while and up until this day, Izzet Guildmage has been one of the top combo commanders available. You can save until you are ready to go off with cards like High Tide and Frantic Search to copy these spells and amass significant quantities of mana to finish things off with the likes of Brain Freeze or even Empty the Warrens + First Day of Class.
Third Path Iconoclast is another commander on the combo spectrum with a straightforward plan. What’s different about it is that you play it, and even without combos at hand, it can start generating a lot of value very early in the game, and it forces your opponents to have removal for it. Otherwise, the tokens it creates gradually start taking over the board.
Before Gretchen Titchwillow was printed, Tatyova, Benthic Druid, was the go-to commander for Simic. This is because it has a very similar playstyle to its counterpart because it focuses on ramping to have enough mana to combo their opponents out. Still, the most significant difference is its play pattern because Tatyova’s combos mostly rely on graveyard synergies while Gretchen’s don’t. This is key as the meta has learned to adapt by running main deck answers to it, but more importantly, the introduction of Honored Heirloom as a main deck answer to any Pauper Commander deck, has reduced Tatyova’s power quite a bit. But make no mistake, these “disadvantages” could be diminished in the hands of a good pilot, and it can steal games in the blink of an eye.
Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward, can be built in many different ways thanks to the background mechanic. It most commonly centers around efficiently flooding the battlefield with cost-effective artifacts and creatures that trigger beneficial enter-the-battlefield (ETB) effects, mainly drawing cards upon entering. The deck features an impressive selection of cards costing from 2 to 3 mana, enabling card draw on ETB, and its core strategy revolves around leveraging Abdel's ability to tuck these cards beneath it, generating Soldier tokens.
By continually blinking Abdel using Far Traveler and similar effects, the deck capitalizes on card advantage, a Soldier token army, and powerful units like Celebrity Fencer, Ninth Bridge Patrol, and Flaming Fist Officer. Protective measures like Cho-Manno's Blessing and Ward of Lights safeguard Abdel.
At the same time, a variety of artifact, enchantment, and graveyard manipulation answers can be utilized during blink loops. The deck also features an intriguing infinite combo involving Abdel, Oblivion Ring, and Journey to Nowhere, alongside a notable life gain from cards like Soul Warden.
One of the strongest colors in Pauper Commander is Simic, and currently, the standard-bearer for this color pair is Gretchen Titchwillow. This commander's power level is insane since it's cheap and easy to set up, and it runs a lot of disruption to protect its core plan. The game plan is also very straightforward: search for a Freed from the Real, attach it to a mana dork that can untap lands like Arbor Elf or Krosan Restorer, and as long as you can generate at least 2 mana, you get infinite mana that you can use to draw your entire library if needed thanks to the commander's ability and win the game through your other combos.
Izzet Guildmage | Illustration by Jim Murray
As you may have realized, the possibilities are endless with so many commanders available. It’s almost impossible to name a top 20 of them because many are still rising in popularity, like Gut, True Soul Zealot or Scholar of the Ages, so let’s keep an eye on those.
What do you think? Did I miss one you liked the most and that you usually run? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!
Thanks for reading, and catch you later!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: