"Dive Bombs" - A Chat w/ Play Away's Weekly Pauper Tournament organizer


For the diehard paper players out there in the pauper scene who perhaps don't dabble in Arena, or grind online in MTGO, this past year of lockdown in the midst of the pandemic has been a rough one for the "gathering". Many of the local game stores have either closed permanently, (rest in power) or boarded up their doors indefinitely until instructed otherwise by local city and state legislation. Even though things are hopeful for physical events as Covid restrictions are slowly being lifted in certain places, there's still uncertainty within the player base as to what will happen to the future of the paper magic scene.

Fortunately, this past year a non-insignificant number of pauper players came together to help create a socially distant online paper solution through the use of webcams and community-driven matchmaking on Discord and other VOIP apps. You've probably heard of the MTG@Home and Play Away MTG Discord communities via Reddit and YouTube. I have been a weekly participant in most of the Sunday tournaments with the Play Away League and I wanted to speak with the one responsible for bringing the community together each week rain or shine.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Phunlife who is the current tournament organizer for Pauper League Sundays which is a weekly Pauper tournament consisting of 3 rounds of Swiss played over webcam on the Play Away Discord Server, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today!

Absolutely! Glad to be talking some Pauper with you.

First and foremost, What you do is incredible for the community and I want to call that out. It's a real pleasure waking up Sunday mornings and cutting my fingers by slicing paper up with some of the most casual, yet professional players around for weekly pauper on the Play Away server. What motivates you to continually volunteer your time to run such an awesome event every week?

Hey, I appreciate the recognition. And at the end of the day, I'm really just a guy who enjoys Pauper; it's my favorite sanctioned format hands down and no others even come close. I certainly wouldn't organize tournaments for a format that I didn't play, and Pauper is a format that needs some support in that area.

Unfortunately for me, the Pauper scene where I live (Central Illinois) is pretty much nonexistent. This was the case even prior to the pandemic. There are two gaming stores that host Magic events in my area: one that has weekly Pioneer, Modern, and Commander events, which I don't attend; and another that hosts only Limited and Commander at which I occasionally play. Most folks here are pretty hesitant to the concept of getting into a format that's not hosted by the shop. There's one guy who has a Pauper Zubera Storm deck at my LGS, but it's like his quaternary format, and he'd rather play Cube or Commander nine times out of ten. I'm hoping to organically grow a Pauper scene here by way of my Battle Box when in-person events start firing up again. Fingers crossed.

Anyways, as you can guess, this is where the Play Away Discord comes in. Every Sunday, I can reliably play a 10+ person Pauper tournament that fires every week with a super chill, positive community that plays for the love of the game, if nothing else. And since the Admins allow TO's to play in the tournaments they run, I get to put my paper Pauper decks to use!

Pauper Magic over Discord via Google Meet &

It's great that so many people seem to agree. How did you get started as a TO and what did the beginning of this community look like? What do you most look forward to about organizing Pauper events for the Play Away server each week?

So when I first joined the MTG@Home Discord Server (the server that Play Away was derived from), Pauper was essentially dead. For weeks on end, I and one other person were the only people who signed up for the Pauper weeklies. Tournaments barely fired, and when they did, there were two to three people participating. One week, after one of the Pauper tournaments had concluded, I made an offer to one of the Admins to organize a Pauper tournament if they wanted the weight taken off their shoulders (the Admins take the role of Tournament Organizer if none are available). Everything fell into place from there. To be quite honest, I never really planned to be the guy who TOs every single week; I would really prefer to share the duty with someone else, but as that one Futurama poster states: You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do.

I look forward to seeing what intriguing and spicy decks people are bringing to tournaments every week. As you may already know, Pauper is a format that is very brewer-friendly, and we have a number of brewers on the server, including myself. I take up the responsibility of collecting decklists at the end of each weekly league tournament and post them on, so we get a firsthand look at what everyone is jamming.

For me, one of the most attractive things about the events you host is how thorough your process is. There's a lot of analysis within the Pauper community and the Play Away Sunday League has become an awesome source for contributing weekly data to the pool.

That being said, by running these events on a continual basis you must have a unique perspective on the state of the meta and the general pulse of the format. Where do you think Pauper is headed? Any trends to look out for? What are your thoughts on the health of the format currently?

Pauper, in terms of the meta percentage of decks that rely on it, is becoming more variance-based. Not to say that it wasn't variance-based before, it's just that there are more decks that thrive on drawing the right cards. I don't think that's necessarily a good or bad thing. It's just becoming more of a feature of the format, and will have to be something we will have to become more accustomed to. Examples being the various Cascade builds that rose to prominence with Commander Legends, Walls Combo that became more competitive with Zendikar Rising, Moggwarts, Cycling Storm, and many more.

For example, a Goblins deck took first place in a weekly a couple of weeks back is nothing you'd call top tier by today's standards, but it is competitive nonetheless, and was able to get lucky in terms of matchups and topdecks. As long as you draw the right cards, face the right matchups, and are well-studied on your deck, you can find competitive success in a tournament.

Would you agree with that evaluation, that Pauper is becoming more variance-based?

I feel that's accurate. I think there are many brewers and content creators like Caleb Gannon, Deluxicoff, and Max from Snap Bolt who are always pushing the boundaries on what can "get there" in the format. Especially with the latest pieces coming out of Modern Horizons II like Chatterstorm and Sojourner's Companion, it's never long before a new list is trending.

I noticed there wasn't a prize raffle in this week's Sunday tournament, are you tired of taking Sharpies to playsets raffled to me this season at my personal request yet?

Heh! No, I'm not tired just yet. Two reasons:

First, I'm out of toploaders. I never skimp on packaging when it comes to sending people Magic cards in the mail because I don't ever want to be that guy who sends you a card that ends up getting folded in half because they neglected to throw it in a toploader (If anyone reading this has any Toploaders they want to donate to the cause, hit me up on Discord!)

Secondly, I originally did raffles as a way to garner more attention for the Pauper weeklies back on MTG@Home when there were only like 3 people signing up and I wanted a more sizable amount of people to come out and play. I suppose my original plan worked, since more folks on Play Away are attending weeklies on a consistent basis.

Did you enjoy the Hooting Mandrills art I attempted?

I did! You definitely delivered. My favorite touch was how the Mandrills were each individually numbered and seemed to get progressively less chill! I've got a nice little collection started and I look forward to adding more of these hilarious momentos in the future.

Any special plans for the future of Pauper on the Play Away server?

Not in particular. We'll have our next Pauper Invitational streaming next week on the Play Away Twitch Channel! It's a tournament featuring the top 8 players on the Pauper Leaderboard who will compete in a bracket-style event. It'll be July 3rd at 12 PM EST, so mark your calendars.

Pauper Invitational

Congrats on your previous invitation to Pauper's Season 3 finale. Was this your first time attending this event?

I appreciate it. Yes, this was my first time! Usually, in the Pauper weeklies, I sit out if there's an odd number of entrants in weeklies, as not to create byes early on. But last season I figured since people are going to drop anyways, I might as well compete in every weekly event. So I said "screw it" and participated in every event last season.

How would you say your experience was while competing and what was your overall impression of the event? Are you looking forward to competing again this next season?

My experience overall was great! The Play Away Admins always do a solid job of putting on the Invitationals every season. And because they take care of organizing the event, I'm able to play in it. Right now I'm in the top 8 of the Season 4 Pauper leaderboard, so I'm in the running for the invitational, though that may be subject to change. Getting into the invitational isn't too much of a priority for me; I play with the objective of winning every game I play, but at the end of the day, I just play with the purpose of having a good time.

Well said. What were your thoughts on the metagame for the invitational? Can you tell us more about the deck you chose to pilot, 80 Card "Megatron"? It was very unexpected to see an 80 card list in such a competitive environment.

I was expecting a pretty diverse meta at the invitational, so I wanted a deck that could reasonably handle any deck I came across.
Flicker Tron is a deck that seems to fit the bill. Tron is a deck that already plays a ton of 1-ofs anyway, so I thought it would be intuitive to play a deck with a bunch of silver bullets for any given situation. Therefore, I decided to build the deck similar to 80-card UB Teachings; play multiples of my key cards i.e. Mnemonic Wall, Ghostly Flicker, and Ephemerate, and play every 1-of instant spell that'll fit in the deck.

80-Card Megatron was more of a political statement than anything. I wanted to prove that the Urza lands are so absolutely dummy powerful that you can play any combination/quantity of cards in your deck and still find competitive success so long as you have a Flicker Tron shell.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Urza lands as they pertain to Pauper, and I think something from that deck should go.

Were there any specific lines of play that were extra memorable for you? Was there anything that you were surprised to see that may have been unexpected on the battlefield?

I got an insanely lucky opener against DirtyOl'Harry92 in my third game against him. He played a Rakdos Carnarium on turn 3, and then on the following turn, I assembled Tron and landed a Dinrova Horror targeting his Carnarium, which was his only land out at the time. Returning his only land to his hand and then forcing him to discard a card was absolutely brutal and set him back quite a lot. I already had the surplus of mana from the Urza lands, which was plenty of justification for him to scoop it up and give me the match. I, quite literally, did DirtyOl'Harry dirty.

Mtg Origins

Take me back to the beginning. When did you first learn to play magic and what attracted you to it?

I've been playing Magic since 2011. I learned to play in high school through my older brother and a bunch of buddies in band class. Having a portable card game that would take up a small amount of space in my backpack was very appealing to me at the time, since I had to walk around with so many textbooks. I've been hooked ever since.

Were there any notable MTG sets that were out when you started playing? Did those sets feature any mechanics that left an impression on you or potentially affect how you play the game today?

I started playing casually around when Innistrad released, but I didn't have the means to go to my LGS or buy any booster packs because I was an awkward 15 year old who didn't want to waste my money at the "sketchy card shop" as we called it back then (we weren't wrong about the sketchy part).

I started around when the Modern format became a thing, and it was the format whose name would get thrown around a lot at the high school lunch table. Eventually, that got me to look into the format and build my first deck in 2014. I was a huge Modern player before I got into Pauper, and I think that gives me a unique perspective on how I view the Pauper format, and game in general. Modern helped me discover what kind of deck archetypes I prefer (combo, hyper-synergistic decks, big mana) and those I don't (midrange, blue decks, prison).

When did you begin exploring Pauper as a format? What would you say most attracted you to it in contrast to other formats you played like Standard or Modern?

I was attracted to Pauper for two reasons:

One man's trash is another man's (my) treasure. The cards that see play in Pauper are valued by literally nobody else. Whenever I go through someone's collection and notice, for example, a playset of Okiba-Gang Shinobi, I see a playset of format staples, whereas they may just see a pile of commons. I find it kind of comedic when I'm like "Oh cool! You have a playset of Okiba-Gang Shinobi!" and they're like "Okay..." After a night of Limited at my LGS, I can quite literally find Pauper playable cards within piles of draft chaff on the tables for FREE. It's very clear that Commander, Modern, and even Limited players (who play with commons all the time) don't care, and I appreciate that big-time from a card accessibility standpoint. The cards are overall easy to acquire, and I can have 7 fully assembled Pauper decks all for the price of your average Pioneer deck.

Additionally, I like the low power level of the format or at least compared to other sanctioned formats. After years and years of playing Commander and Modern with all these dumb Mythics and Planeswalkers, it's quite refreshing to duke it out with a bunch of cards that aren't those. Commons generally don't have the ability to singlehandedly take over a game as Mythics and Planeswalkers do, and that's a characteristic I like about the format.

Absolutely. I think the lack of Planeswalkers, Sagas, and high rarity game-winning cards really captures the feeling of what Magic felt like in the mid to late 90's. It's a pretty cool time capsule and in that way, a winning match feels more unpredictable and ultimately earned. Tell me a bit about your ideal game of Pauper, what are the two competing decks and what makes this matchup so compelling?

I know it sounds rather masochistic of me to say that one of my favorite matchups is against a blue deck, but my favorite matchup would probably be UR Foundry (my own brew) vs. UB Faeries. The matchup is even-ish due to some reasons which I will elaborate on here. Faeries has a lot of counterspells and kill spells, which can deal with my swarm of Artifact creatures. But their inability to deal with Golem Foundry itself once it's resolved can be an interesting point in the matchup. They're in blue and black, two colors that are not geared to deal with Artifacts. Also, the deck doesn't blow up lands or take 700 years to win, which is a win in my book.

On the flipside, the power and toughness of 5/5 on Gurmag Angler is a weird number for my deck. I can't kill it singlehandedly with one Galvanic Blast, so I almost always have to waste two cards on it, whether it be a Galvanic Blast + a creature Galvanic Blast + Pyrite Spellbomb, or block with two creatures, such as a Frogmite + a Golem token. Especially when I block with two creatures, I need to keep in mind that the UB Faeries player might also have a kill spell in hand to keep their Angler alive in the exchange. Additionally, the Monarch coming from Thorn of the Black Rose and Azure Fleet Admiral can be an uphill battle, but one that is beatable for me. Overall the matchup is fairly back and forth, but the satisfaction of being able to beat an authentic blue deck (like one with counterspells and kill spells and all the annoying stuff) with your own brew is very satisfying.

So What's Good?

Other than obviously letting new and current Pauper players know where they can participate in the weekly league tournaments every Sunday (2pm EST on the Play Away Discord Server) is there anything you would like to call out or share with commoners out there?

I'd like shout out; the site where I post decklists from the weekly events.
I recommend the site over MTGGoldfish 100% from a functionality and customer service standpoint. The guy who runs the website is super humble and is always looking for input, or at least he's been very receptive to mine. I've had nothing but a positive experience working with him. If you ever want to be a Tournament Organizer one day and are looking for a place to submit decklists for your event, I'd recommend MTGDecks.

(This is not sponsored, they're just really freaking good!)

Final Thoughts

For fun I asked you to choose from a list of topics for the final segment so now I have to ask... If you could design your own card for this format, what would you like to use in play and why? Which list would most benefit from this addition?

I think the Pauper format overall would benefit from this addition, because, uh... reasons.
Just trust me on this one!

There's nothing subtle about the anti-Tron sentiment and jokes aside, I'm sure there are more than a few players who would agree with you on this one. A Tronless landscape being possible with a well-placed Dark Ritual sounds like an interesting gamechanger in the format.

Phunlife, thank you again for spending the time to chat with me and sharing your perspective. I'm looking forward to hopefully placing in the Top 5 and having the chance to match up with you in the next Pauper Invitational. Until next time, godspeed friend and keep up the great work in facilitating such a great weekly Pauper event.