Why You Too Should Take Pauper More Seriously
- Karol Guzy
The pillars of today's competitive Constructed compendium are, without a doubt, Standard and Modern. A little bit lower in hierarchy we find Wizard's new babies, Pioneer and Historic. Then there's Commander, Legacy, Vintage, and the topic of this article: Pauper. What makes this format so unique and interesting?
Pauper has evolved over many years to its current state, providing high-level gameplay and a diverse metagame that can easily match or even outmatch other formats. There's a thriving community, interest is growing month after month, and there's been increased support from Wizards of the Coast themselves. There's a bright future ahead for Pauper, so it's a great moment to take an interest in it now.
On June 27, 2019, Pauper became an officialy sanctioned format. This means that your local game store could host Pauper events just like any other tournament of the aforementioned formats. The move went along with a unification of the various lists of legal and banned cards floating around before, and support from Gatherer followed on July 9. Unification added around 400 new cards, which required an instant ban of three of them: Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach, and High Tide. All this summed up was a gargantuan step for Pauper and brought a lot of new faces to the community. The next step, once paper play returns, is to get a Pauper Grand Prix. If the development of the format continues on its current trajectory, slowly pushing forward, I really believe that will be possible.
New Sets Target the Format
For a long time we could see printings of new interesting commons, much anticipated downshifts in rarity or long-awaited reprints. At first, it was only speculation and conjecture, but with the release of Commander Legends, it became fact. Wizards confirmed that they print cards aimed specifically at Pauper. Gavin Verhey, senior game designer, is a big Pauper aficionado and probably our biggest ally at Wizards' headquarters. He was enthusiastically previewing cards directed at Pauper, and he was happy to answer questions from community.
Of course, most of the cards at common rarity are made to fit Limited, but getting even a few new playables in each set is keeping the format fresh. In Kaldheim, we can already see cards that have a chance to enter the format. Of particular interest is the snow duals cycle, which can replace the current tap lands and will find a place in various decks.
Regular Updates to the Ban List
We all know that, when it comes to pushing cards for a format, sometimes Wizards overshoot the mark. For Pauper the most recent offender was Fall from Favor, which proved way too powerful. However, unlike with the big mythic rares that dominate Standard and other formats, Wizards have no qualms about taking swift action and banning cards from Pauper as necessary. Fall from Favor fell from favor quickly and was banned earlier this month. On top, people who invested in the card only lost out on cents rather than euros.
Overall, Pauper seems to be under close observation by Wizards. However, like many Eternal formats, there are some sacred cows that no one has been willing to slaughter … yet. Lots of players are still unhappy with the presence of Urza's Mine, Tower, and Power Plant in the metagame. It's a touchy subject with opinions far divided, and difficult to resolve. But I believe they are going to fix the problem soon, and I'd expect that to happen within the current year.
It's Hard and Skill Intensive
How can that be possible when you only play with commons? There are many factors that influence this. First of all, the format contains fewer and weaker threats, and a lot more answers to them, both in number and in power. Removal and countermagic are especially strong compared to creatures, and there are no planeswalkers. To truly threaten your opponent, you need a well thought-out strategy and plan instead of randomly dropping bombs and relying on them to carry the day for you. That brings us to the next aspect, which is the long and grindy games. Every mistake here has long-term consequences that are hard to make up for with card quality.
The lack of overpowered effects also means that topdecks decide far fewer games than elsewhere. This is not the "haymaker Magic" of mythics. It all adds up to an interesting battle in which making a small mistake or gaining a small advantage can ultimately have a snowball effect and lead to the final victory. Of course that's not the only way to win. The format is full of hyperaggresive decks that aim to end game around turn four and several interesting combo decks. It's not just the typical aggro, midrange, control triangle that's present in every format.
Escape from Other Broken Formats
When things don't go well in other formats, Pauper always welcomes players seeking shelter. Not so long ago, Pauper's popularity rose because of a series of terrible balance issues plaguing the rest of Magic. Hogaak, Oko, companions, Uro, Omnath … All of them impacted a majority of Constructed formats and dominated metagames. All those are not commons though, so they're unable to impact Pauper.
A lot of players migrated to Pauper to experience something fresh and free from the bogeymen of future ban lists. Granted, we do have our own bogeyman in Urzatron. But at least all of those high-ticket attention grabbers from the latest sets always avoid our format—for obvious reasons.
Magic Online doesn't discriminate against Pauper. You can earn invites, there are Challenges, the whole gamut. It's true that the Pauper community is waiting for prestigious events like a Grand Prix. But people aren't waiting idly. They organize their own high-stakes tournaments that resemble those officially organized by/for Wizards. The most popular of them is Paupergeddon, which takes place in Italy and brings together hundreds of players not only from Europe, but from others parts of the world as well.
The Pros Play Pauper Too
And they enjoy it! This may not be an argument unto itself, but it's a testament to all the points raised above. There is literally no other reason for members of the MPL to play Pauper other than their pleasure. And they admit it. Great players such as Andrea Mengucci, Luis Scott-Vargas, Luis Salvatto, or Dmitriy Butakov do play Pauper, and it seems they all have thoughts about the format similar to mine. They all produce content about Pauper in the form of articles or videos. With a bit of luck, regular players can meet them in Pauper Leagues or Challenges on Magic Online. Of course they are not alone; a lot of Twitch streamers and YouTubers fancy Pauper as well.
As you can see, Pauper is not a fan-made fringe format anymore. It's knocking on the doors of competitive Magic, and sooner or later, everyone will have to accept its presence. The community is strong and developing its own ideas, in which they often get support from Wizards themselves, and 2021 will be a key year in terms of Pauper's development. As for gameplay, I think the format is ready to compete with all the others. The only respect in which it may be lacking is prestige—people should stop thinking of it as a budget format with weak cards—and that's the main reason why I wrote this article.
Dont get me wrong; Pauper is not ideal. It suffers from its own problems and still needs some more care. There also is no need for Pauper to replace any other present format. I think all of them offer something that attracts their players. Pauper just deserves a place next to them, and everything indicates that soon it will find this place permanently.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.