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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jul 20 2015 11:00am
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At some point in the first half of 2015, I crossed the ten year mark of my involvement with the Pauper community. In the second half of 2016, I will reach the moment where I will have been involved with Pauper for more than 50% of my entire Magic playing career.

That is a lot of commons. 

My few weeks away gave me time to reflect  on the past and look to the future. Here are some of my thoughts:

I got started in Pauper because I wanted to compete. I was a college student living on a budget. Leagues (yes, leagues) existed but I wanted to build decks and test them in a tournament setting. I was not a strong enough player to win 8-4 drafts - the only kind back then - with any regularity and the constructed formats of the day were out of my budget. I tried to purchase the cheap standard decks of the day but I was easily frustrated. I did not like to lose (still don’t) but what really held me back was the fact that due to my limited finances I was not able to simply go out and get new cards for my deck. 

Keep in mind this was before real Legacy or Vintage existed on the client and Extended was quite expensive due to the relative scarcity of key Invasion block cards. 

In early 2005 I remember sitting in my apartment and racking my brain for a way to combine my desire to play tournaments with the resources at my disposal. Something clicked in my brain and I recalled an article on the Mothership. Some quick google introduced me to this edition of Into the Aether  and the world of the Pauper Deck Challenge (PDC). 

I became a fixture on the PDC chat room (oh for the days of /join PDC) and the official Wizards forums (the main information hub back in the day). And did I ever brew. The format was far more casual back then - prizes were donated and usually consisted of Invasion block commons (winning was how I got copies of Armadillo Cloak and Exclude) and people routinely published their decklists in event threads. I managed to win the first PDC event I entered with a red deck and I was hooked. 

For the next several years I was heavily involved in the community, helping to host events, providing deck feedback, and generally doing my best to promote PDC as something worthwhile. Something must have worked because I got invited to the first Community Cup and PDC eventually become the recognized and sanctioned Pauper format. 

I came for the chance to compete and brew, I stayed because of the community, and then everything changed. 

The addition of significant prizes forever altered Pauper. While Player Run Events persisted, the sanctioned events created a more cutthroat metagame and bifurcated the community. There were those who scoured published lists to get an edge and an equally dedicated group trying to claim the next user designed trophy. Both played Pauper but they were playing drastically different games. 

The division, in some ways, continues to this day. Pauper is the largest it has ever been but still not large enough to have dedicated casual and competitive forums. Compounding this is the fact that Pauper largely exists in Daily Events, relatively low stakes tournaments that reward consistency over innovation. An unintended consequence is that innovation is largely relegated to the more casual end of the continuum while the results look relatively stagnant (although the format remains rather diverse). 

On top of this Pauper is gaining more traction in the physical realm. While on the surface this is a Good Thing it has created another issue: certain cards are common in Paper and not on Magic Online (like Hymn to Tourach, High Tide, and Goblin Grenade) and the inverse is also true (Death Spark and Hunting Cheetah). While other formats have some differences between the tabletop and the desktop (release dates, bugs) and online Legacy and Vintage are missing some cards from their analog siblings, these cards are low impact. High Tide and Hymn to Tourach could cause massive shifts in the metagame. And this doesn’t even deal with the fact that there was a time where cards on the uncommon sheet were actually common. 

Pauper’s current problems stem from its popularity and growth. Don’t get me wrong - I would much rather have issues take root in success than failure. If the growth trend continues I believe something should be done to better articulate between Paper and Digital Pauper. I do not know where the solution lies. Adding the paper commons to online in a Special Pauper Pack may help the issue, but it does not make the paper world problems go away. Having a list of legal cards may help, since Eternal formats already maintain ban lists, and players manage to keep the list in mind. While not the most elegant solution it would solve the problem of having two communities playing different formats under the label of Pauper. 

Magic Online could also provide more support for Pauper in the form of increased event offerings. Daily Events are great but the current schedule makes it difficult for certain time zones to participate. The lack of meaningful on-demand events also makes finding meaningful games difficult. While single elimination queues proved ineffective I hope that eight-person constructed Swiss queues become an option in the not too distant future. 

Other persistent issues - the dominance of blue decks and lack of tools to fight combo- are slowly being addressed through new releases. While this may not be obvious at first, recent advances in set development for Limited have gifted Pauper with an influx of high impact cards. 

The past few years has seen Development shift towards clearly defining what each color pair is trying to accomplish in a given limited environment. In order to help forward this agenda the number of uncommons for each set has been increased. However commons are the driving force of limited. The same pieces that make up Pauper have to power up multiple limited archetypes. Consequentially commons are increasingly powerful to help enable fun draft and sealed play. Combine this with the idea that many Magic players are not heavy investors and commons are used to provide repeat play value, it appears that moving forward each set will have commons that exceed the threshold to make a dent in Pauper. 

Looking back at recent sets we can see this trend realized. Nivix Cyclops, Battle Screech, Triplicate Spirits, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Goblin Heelcutter - these were all key cards in various limited decks for their respective formats. The increased pressure on commons to provide strong synergy will only benefit Pauper. Pauper tends to play up core elements of where the colors overlap. Over time this will create a critical mass of cards for certain strategies that, when combined with the existing cardpool can help to enable fringe strategies. One only needs to look at Gurmag Angler to see this idea in action. 

As we look forward to the start of Magic Origins Pauper once again is at a crossroads. The format has been here before and has luckily taken the correct path time and time again. I am optimistic this trend will continue. 

Keep slingin’ commons-

-Alex
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