Last updated on March 9, 2023
Relic of Progenitus | Illustration by Jean-Sébastien Rossbach
Commander is among the most popular formats out there. Despite being a casual format it isn’t always cheap. Cards like Sensei’s Divining Top are very popular, but also very pricy.
That being said, players are always looking for cheaper ways to enjoy their Magic experience. Today I’m going to go over a format that has the essence of Commander while also being very affordable.
That’s right, I’m talking about Pauper Commander. Let’s get started!
What is PDH?
Lightning Bolt | Illustration by Christopher Moeller
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ryan Roberts, one of the most involved players in PDH who’s always looking for ways to get more players into it.
PDH is the acronym for Pauper EDH, a format that follows the same structure as its regular Commander counterpart. But there’s a catch: you can only play cards that have been printed at common rarity, and your commander can be any uncommon creature.
Here are the rules for the format:
- 100-card Singleton format (only one copy of each card except for basic lands).
- 99-card deck (98 if you’re using partners) and all cards must be common.
- One commander (two if you’re using partners) that must be an uncommon creature but doesn’t have to be legendary.
- All cards in the 99 have to belong to your commander’s color identity.
- Card rarity includes both online and paper rarities. A card only needs a single “printing” (online or in paper) at common/uncommon rarity to be valid.
- Games start at 30 life.
- Commander damage rules apply except you need 16 commander damage.
Any alternate casting cost is also affected by commander tax, which goes up for any future casting costs. Examples of cards with alternate casting costs are Mulldrifter and Brine Elemental. They can be played by any costs from the command zone and are affected by commander tax.
Adventure cards also have alternate casting costs, which can be tricky. To keep it simple both the adventure and the creature are affected by the commander tax. But if the creature is cast from exile via the adventure mechanic then commander tax doesn’t apply.
Does Your Pauper Commander Have to be Legendary?
Your PDH commander only has to be an uncommon creature, legendary or not. That’s great, but what about uncommon planeswalkers?
The easy answer is no, it has to be an uncommon creature. But you can include them as commanders if the rest of your table agrees on it. That said, they aren’t officially allowed.
Who is PDH for?
Common Iguana | Illustration by Brynn Metheney
Robert mentioned that two big groups of players are drawn to Pauper EDH.
The first group of PDH players consists of players coming from Pauper who are already familiar with the card pool and want to use their collection to battle in a multiplayer format. It’s worth noting that Pauper and Pauper EDH don’t have the same banned list, which is one of the greatest appeals of the format. Most of the cards banned in Pauper can be played in Pauper EDH. This gives more room for brewing and leaves some players feeling nostalgic, reminding them of times when their favorite cards were still legal in Pauper.
The second big group of PDH players are those that want to play competitive Magic on a budget, since you don’t need to spend too much money to put together a competitive PDH deck. Competitive decks can go for around $50 to $70 each, and you can build a battle box of six decks for a couple hundred.
Pauper EDH is a great way to introduce someone to the game as it’ll be more affordable, and you get to engage new players with others from the community right off the bat given the nature of the format.
Last but not least, PDH is way more interactive than regular Commander. Counterspells and removal are highly efficient and board states are easier to handle. This is another big appeal to play the format since it feels more balanced.
PDH is an eternal format just like regular Commander, which means that every card in Magic except for silver-bordered cards can be played as long as they’ve been printed at common rarity at some point, or uncommon for your commander.
PDH Banned List
Remember when I mentioned that cards banned in Pauper are legal PDH? That’s true, but even more surprisingly, the format only has two banned cards:
Let’s face the facts: neither of these cards are fun to play against thanks to their tax effect, and even Commander players struggle to handle them from time to time. It’s no surprise that these two are banned in a format with an overall lower power level.
Where to Play PDH?
Crop Rotation | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
The two main ways to play PDH are in-person or via SpellTable.
Sadly other digital options like Magic Online and MTG Arena don’t support the format. MTGA doesn’t have any multiplayer support yet while MTGO can simulate the format if you’re just playing with friends. But accommodating for PDH’s unique set of rules can be tricky on MTGO and just doesn’t feel the same as playing in person.
Most players play with physical cards using SpellTable because of these limitations. This requires you to get some hardware going like a camera, but you should have enough money left over in your budget for a decent one since the format is pretty cheap.
There are other options, like Cockatrice and untap.in, but players prefer SpellTable since it’s the most user-friendly.
PDH events are usually run using Discord and happen twice a week. Some leagues are run quarterly and last six weeks, where players battle in pods of four, culminating in an annual championship. All these events are run based on demand, so the more players get involved the more often the events.
If you’re looking for casual games, joining their Discord servers is the way to go.
As a side note, Ryan mentioned that he likes to run PDH as a Brawl format from time to time. So if you’re looking to test your deck in 1v1 first, he and the community are always happy to take on the challenge.
PDH Commander Tier List
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Tatyova, Benthic Druid is one of the most powerful commanders in PDH. It packs ramp, hand manipulation, interaction in counters and bounce effects, and a commander that benefits from playing lands, which is the same as saying that flood isn’t a concern in this deck.
While that sounds great, the deck’s true power comes from its combo package with cards like High Tide and Peregrine Drake to generate absurd amounts of mana, Mystic Sanctuary and Archaeomancer to rebuy spells, and counterspells to protect your combo. All this while playing lands and drawing the rest of your combo pieces.
Tatyova is considered among the best PDH commanders out there.
Zada, Hedron Grinder
I was surprised to see Zada, Hedron Grinder as a commander here. But it was actually downshifted to uncommon in Masters 25, so it can also be used as a PDH commander.
The fact that its Commander counterpart mainly uses commons to win the game is perfect since all of those cards are also legal in PDH. You won’t get to kill your opponents on turn 3 like you may used to, but this deck can win entire matches by turn 4 or 5 if left unchecked.
The plan is to first create a lot of tokens with cards like Dragon Fodder or Krenko’s Command to later cast cards like Blindblast that cost a single mana and draw a card for each token you own on the battlefield. This can lead to absurd board states.
And before you ask, yes, Empty the Warrens is viable as a common in the format and can end games in the blink of an eye.
Next we have Izzet Guildmage for PDH players who like control decks with combos.
While similar to Tatyova, Benthic Druid, Guildmage can copy any spell as many times as you like, which leads to oppressive card advantages that end up winning in the late game. The more mana you have the more powerful this commander is. And yes, this deck does also have access to High Tide.
If you liked Rootha, Mercurial Artist in Strixhaven Limited, this is your commander.
Last but not least is Crypt Rats, also known as the board wipe with legs.
This deck’s goal is to control the board, an easy task to accomplish since black has the best removal of all the colors. One particularity of this deck is that it has access to graveyard hate in more than one way, which is critical against the other popular decks in the meta.
Rats can also simultaneously kill multiple opponents and prevent you from dying. It’s often paired with the likes of Vampiric Link or Eternal Thirst.
Witherbloom Apprentice Ramp Control
Witherbloom Apprentice | Illustration by Joss Hass
Dimir House Guard
Thorn of the Black Rose
Entourage of Trest
Vines of Vastwood
Grasp of Darkness
Victim of Night
Return to Nature
Weather the Storm
Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty
Succumb to Temptation
Feed the Swarm
Sign in Blood
Read the Bones
Grow from the Ashes
Path to the Festival
Seal of Doom
Cave of Temptation
Golgari Rot Farm
Path of Ancestry
This ramp control deck basically hits the entire table every time you play an instant or sorcery. Your commander, Witherbloom Apprentice, comes down very early and can control any threats pointing at you with its removal package and along with the ramp. And you can recast your commander pretty much ever turn even if your opponents kill it, forcing them to have an answer each time.
Crackling Drake Combo Control
Crackling Drake | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
Augur of Bolas
Sea Gate Oracle
You See a Guard Approach
Red Elemental Blast
Blink of an Eye
Into the Roil
You Come to a River
Muddle the Mixture
Behold the Multiverse
Sleight of Hand
Seat of the Synod
Glasses of Urza
Relic of Progenitus
Letter of Acceptance
Path of Ancestry
Snow-Covered Island x17
Snow-Covered Mountain x7
The second deck (and Ryan’s favorite) is Crackling Drake, a combo control deck with a Drake that can be turned into a massive and almost unkillable threat using Clout of the Dominus.
The deck is filled with cheap spells that aim to fill the graveyard quickly, and the fact that graveyard hate doesn’t interfere with Drake’s ability is the cherry on top. You can also look at this as a pseudo-Voltron deck since almost every spell in the list pumps Crackling Drake’s power.
Getting Started with PDH
The best thing about PDH is that you can start from scratch at little to no cost. But there are some key cards you may want to get your hands on. Most of them can be replaced with similar effects given the format’s vast pool, but these are still good options to keep in mind when you start out.
A solid tip when buying these staples is that you should buy a set if you can. Even though you only use one per deck, you can build multiple decks for very little investment.
Last but not least, here’s a list of all communities where you can find PDH content. Twitter, Discord servers, YouTube channels, you name it! This format has tons of resources at your disposal.
And Ryan is a great guy, so make sure to get in touch with him! He’ll guide you in the right direction if you need a friendly hand to get started.
I highly recommend joining these Discord servers. You can find games with other community members relatively easily, share your decks, and ask for help to improve them.
Decklists & Staples
Crib Swap | Illustration by Brandon Dorman
It’s been very fun to write about this format, and I want to give a special thanks to Ryan Roberts for providing me with tons of PDH info and insight.
What do you think? Did this format catch your attention? Do you want to hear and read more about it from us in the future? Please let me know in the comments down below.
As always, take care, and I’ll see you next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: