Pauper is a format in flux. As the calendar turns from 2013 to 2014, the common format is coming off a banner year for participation and attention from Wizards of the Coast while also going through one of its largest rough patches. In the wake of Wizards removing Pauper from the Daily Event rotation, it’s easy to forget exactly how far Pauper has come in the past twelve months. Two rounds of bans and some love in Modern Masters (albeit hidden) and suddenly maybe the change in Pauper offerings no longer looks like termination but rather a reassignment.
January: Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, & Invigorate Banned
Prior to these bans, Pauper had become a format where having your silver bullet mattered more than the deck you were playing. Empty the Warrens was the easiest to answer between Echoing Decay, Echoing Truth, Holy Light, and Electrickery. Even green was in on the fun with Sandstorm! Grapeshot, on the other hand, was far more challenging to answer. Only Benevolent Unicorn was an outright foil to the common storm kill spell, and it was incredibly easy to handle being a creature and all.
Despite a general consensus that combo was good for the format, these two cards needed to be removed. Storm remains a mechanic that cannot be answered at common. The easiest cards to acquire also have to be the most accessible; printing answers to storm at common has never made sense, and the New World Order has not changed that. Commons serve to paint a picture of the world and provide the backbone of Limited—an answer to one of the most busted mechanics in the history of Magic doesn’t jive there. It’s a shame that Pauper never was able to make use of the sweet new Modern Masters art for these two.
Invigorate is another story altogether. Rather than being broken unto itself, it was the combination of a "free" pump spell with infect creatures. The life-gain rider on the alternate cost was effectively negated by winning through poison. Glistener Elf or Ichorclaw Myr in concert with Lotus Petal meant that the Infect deck could win as early as turn 2. Without effective and narrow removal (such a Curfew), the game was over.
Unlike the storm cards, there was no easy print it and fix the problem card for Invigorate. It was a casualty of Eternal Magic—unintended interactions from cards printed over a decade apart. The card created an oppressive environment for any deck unable to answer a creature on turn 1. Invigorate had to go in order to allow other decks to prosper.
These bans had an immediate impact. The format slowed down significantly, which allowed more creature-based decks to emerge as contenders. Decks like White Weenie and Rats (based around Unearth) came into their own in the wake of the January bans.
However, removing the aforementioned cards from Pauper unleashed something far more insidious. As it turns out, Infect and traditional Storm were keeping the powerhouse duo of Cloudpost and Temporal Fissure under control. But more on that later.
Modern Masters gave Pauper a few new tools, none of which have made a huge impact yet. I am of the mindset that the new art on Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot were in part gifts for Pauper. While these cards see play in other formats, they were dominant in Pauper during the development of Modern Masters. Of course, these cards were surgically removed before we could appreciate the new art, but I still want to believe that the new art was a nod to common mages.
September: Cloudpost & Temporal Fissure Banned
After the first round of bans, the format looked like it was getting healthier. That was not the case. Infect and Storm were not good for the format, but they kept the critical turn of the format low enough that Cloudpost was kept in check. Without these limiting factors, the mana engine from Mirrodin was able to flourish. The Loci came in two flavors. First, there was the "fair" dominant control deck of Izzet Post taking the best counterspells and red board control elements to force other control decks out of the format. An endgame of Rolling Thunder or a Capsize lock was simply better than anything the other colors could offer. This was one way to exploit Cloudpost.
The other was to cycle Ghostly Flicker through Cloud of Faeries and Mnemonic Wall to generate an arbitrarily large storm count to cast Temporal Fissure on every opposing permanent. This led to a metagame where Auras or Hexproof was a reasonable deck and where the one-shot kill of Nivix Cyclops became a go-to beatdown strategy. Wizards had apparently examined Temporal Fissure as a potential ban in January but passed over the card in the hope that it would not prove to be as dominant as its tempestuous relations.
Removing these cards from the Pauper pool made the format less hostile to decks that play out on the board. White Weenie and Rats—decks that initially saw play after the January bans but had issues fighting Temporal Fissure—made a comeback. While Delver decks continued to be at or near the top of the format during the year of Storm, they were not so potent as to prevent other decks from seeing play starting in October. Now it’s unknown exactly what the best deck is since there are no Daily Event results to be dissected and examined.
The Current State
As I said before, Pauper is a format in transition. When Wizards declined to return Pauper Daily Events and instead started offering eight-person single-elimination queues and Premier Events with a 65-player minimum, it altered the landscape of viewed results. Now instead of over three dozen decklists a day, we only get to look at eight during the week and the Top 16 from Premier Events. Only two Premier Events have fired so far (and aside from Standard and Theros Sealed, all Premier Events have had issues getting the requisite number of participants). While there might be multiple contributing factors (the holidays, Holiday Cube), it appears that fewer people are playing Pauper.
Pete Jahn hits the nail on the head in this article. Pauper can be seen as an introductory format. The robust payouts from Daily Events meant that fewer new players (and dedicated Paupers) were succeeding in the format and instead the game of common Magic was helping supplement grinders (Pete does an excellent job of breaking this down in his piece). The problem is a solution has not been presented. So I thought I might as well offer some ideas.
Pauper In 2014
In the coming year, there are many things I would like to see offered for Pauper. I feel these suggestions will help cement Pauper as a competitive Constructed format for Magic Online while also acting as a gateway to more rare-heavy 60-card piles.
Offer Swiss eight–person Pauper queues: Forking over money just to lose in the first round feels awful. One of the attractive elements of Daily Events is that they are short enough to play in an evening or afternoon while also offering the chance to test out a deck. While I’m sure many people would drop after their second loss, the opportunity to continue to play and try out different decks is definitely enticing to newer players. Offering Swiss pack-per-win queues for Pauper could reduce the feel bad while also allowing players the chance to get in multiple games with their pet decks.
Reduce the player minimum for Premier Events: Pauper Premier Events have routinely been attracting over 30 players (enough to fire a Daily Event). While Daily Events used to attract well over 100 players, the structure of Premier Events makes it far more difficult for people to sit down and complete the event. This is probably the biggest request since it appears Wizards wants to offer the most play options with the fewest number of tournament structures. Given the incidents around the major crashes in November, I imagine that having a static size for events is ideal given the current push for stability. Once the client is stable, I hope that Wizards takes a look at making it so Pauper events go off as scheduled.
Return Daily Events: I do not think Pauper will ever get Daily Events in the same way that they had before due mostly to financial considerations. I do think that there is a benefit to having four-round Swiss events with solid payouts, notably keeping new players engaged and allowing people to play their deck in a competitive setting. If Daily Events were to return for Pauper, I would like to see the prize payout reduced and scaled with a lower cost of entry. Additionally, these events could be offered once or twice a day as opposed to the three or four for other Daily Events.
Offer sanctioned Standard Pauper and link it to the paper world: Classic Pauper is an awesome format. When balanced, it can be high powered and degenerate with a ton of play to the games and matchups. It’s not a great toehold into Constructed Magic (unless new players are going to be jumping right into Legacy). Standard Pauper is similar to supercharged Limited, and at a full eight sets (two core sets and two full blocks) it has as many decks as healthy Block Constructed.
Standard Pauper is far more accessible to new players since all the cards are current and there are fewer overtly powerful things to be done. Classic Pauper also has some legality nuances (due to the online-only Master’s Editions), but Standard Pauper would have no issue in this respect. Making it a Paper format as well would allow for a better transition from Limited to Constructed.
If this is the road taken, I would also like to see Wizards rotate the large Pauper events (Daily and Premier Events) between Standard and Classic Pauper. This would help keep the formats fresh while providing enough of a break for the small format of Standard Pauper (which could suffer from being solved too quickly).
Offer a Pauper Championship: Having an annual invite tournament that people would have to qualify for is a great incentive to get people to participate in a format (I wonder where I got this idea . . . ). Having the Premier Events, both Standard and Classic, help qualify players for a Pauper Championship would help to grow the format while also adding a level of prestige to succeeding. And hey, no reason Magic Online can’t do this for other formats.
Alex In 2014
I won’t lie—this past year was very good to me. I was able to continue to write for SCG and to produce content in many ways. I started a Facebook page for mostly Pauper-related content, including real-time metagame updates. I used my personal blog to start examining the design of different commons and how they relate to Pauper. Finally, I started a Pauper Podcast with my friend Mike, giving me a new way to actually speak with the audience.
In 2014, I want to continue to provide Pauper content and start examining how modern design influences the Pauper format. I also want to engage more with you, the reader, and learn more about what you want to read. As for playing, I want to continue to improve my game and branch out. While I will never stop playing and writing about Pauper, I want 2014 to be the year I play some real-life Constructed Magic that doesn’t involve 99 cards and a general. I have an awesome local community, so here’s hoping I see you at some Northeast PTQs this year.
But let’s start this off right—what do you want to see from me and my articles in 2014? Want more rogue decks or Standard Pauper?
Happy New Year, and keep slingin’ commons!
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
Discuss Pauper on Twitter using #MTGPauper!