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By: gwyned, gwyned
Apr 08 2013 11:05am
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I. Introduction

Last summer, I wrote a series of articles (found here and here) about why Wizards of the Coast should support Standard Pauper as an official format. Eventually, thanks to the tireless support of the Standard Pauper community, Wizards responded and the format became officially supported with an online filter for Magic Online. This was a major accomplishment for the community, and one that not only shows the power of individuals making their voice heard but also serves as another tangible example that Wizards listens and responds to their player base.

This week, as I was browsing at PDCMagic.com, which hosts a variety of Player Run Events for various Pauper formats (including Standard Pauper, of course!) I came across this post by user underdog83, linking to an online petition asking Wizards of the Coast to fully support Standard Pauper by adding official sanctioned events for the format. Meaning, of course, that in addition to being an official format supported by an in-game filter, Wizards would add Constructed Queues and/or Daily Events in the Standard Pauper format. The author of the petition makes several good arguments for his case, and I would encourage you to read what he has to say.

For this article, I want to examine the pros and cons of this issue from both the perspective of Wizards of the Coast and the Standard Pauper player base. Then, having weighed in on the topic, I will voice my own verdict on this matter.

II. Pros and Cons

Pro #1: Standard Pauper as a sanctioned format is good for Wizards because it will increase their revenue.

All other things being equal, at the end of the day Wizards of the Coast, as a business, is out to increase its revenue. There is nothing evil or short-sighted about this; if a company wants to exist and be successful, it's got to make money. So, if Standard Pauper is going to be a sanctioned format, it needs to make more money for Wizards of the Coast, plain and simple. I believe that it will. Here's how:

- While I don't claim to be an expert at the economics of Magic Online, it stands to reason that the biggest revenue source for the company is players who regularly play Standard and Limited. These formats have the bulk of the events, get the most attention, and have the highest number of participants. If it were up to them, I'm sure Wizards would love for every player on Magic Online to regularly invest money into these formats. But the new player has to start somewhere. These formats have a high learning curve. They are expensive, challenging, and draw some of the best competition in the world. So how can Wizards increase the number of people who participate in these events?

Simple. Create pathways that ease the transition to new players and funnel them towards more profitable formats. And Standard Pauper is the perfect gateway for this path. It's much less expensive, it's got lower complexity, and it naturally leads player towards both Limited and Standard, since it combines elements from both. As players experience success in Standard Pauper, they will naturally want to try the more mainstream formats. Playing Commons gives them a natural understanding of Limited. Playing Standard helps them understand its complex metagame. It just makes sense that players, over time, will transition out of Standard Pauper and into these other formats.

- Wizards also stands to make a profit off the increased number of players paying into Constructed events. I know from personal experience that there is a large number of hobby players who would gladly dip a toe into Sanctioned Events if there was a cheap way to do so. But even Classic Pauper isn't cheap enough. It's complex, with cards that are expensive, hard to find, or both. Wizards should expect to see an increase in its revenue from the upswing of new players trying out sanctioned events for the first time.

- Finally, if Standard Pauper becomes a sanctioned format, I predict that the value of Booster Packs will increase. With the Commons at Standard in higher demand, the price will increase on these Commons. Now Wizards will still sell these boosters for the same price. But the buyers will get more value out of their pack. While the exact economics are probably an article all to themselves, I would hazard a guess that if these boosters are more valuable, players will buy more of them, putting more money in Wizards' pockets.

Con #1: Standard Pauper as a sanctioned format may split the player base, taking revenue from other formats

This is a common argument against creating a new sanctioned format. Right now, Classic Pauper is arguably the cheapest sanctioned format to play. But if Standard Pauper gained Constructed Queues or Daily Events, some number of these players would stop playing Classic Pauper and move to Standard Pauper. Now some of this is inevitable. If all one wants is to minimize investment and maximize profit, Standard Pauper *might* be a better choice than Classic Pauper. Of course, that all depends on how it's structured. There are probably several ways that Wizards of the Coast could mitigate this risk. For starters, they could easily limit the number of events, give out lesser prizes, or increase the cost of entry. These or other strategies could help keep both formats alive and healthy.

Additionally, I would argue that the most skilled players would, over time, play more Classic Pauper than Standard Pauper. As the power level and complexity of a format increases, the more skill tends to matter. The most skilled players probably have a better edge over lesser players in Classic Pauper than in Standard Pauper. This fact alone could be enough to mitigate the effects of having two sanctioned Pauper formats.

Pro #2: Standard Pauper is a  cheap, competitive format.

Probably the best part of Standard Pauper becoming a sanctioned format is that it is cheap to play while still being competitive. For around $10, one can construct 2-3 of the top decks in the metagame, and still have change left over for tweaking as you go. In fact, with a little effort, a new player can gather some of the playable cards for free either from one of several freebots available on MTGO or as donations from veteran players. Yet, despite this low price tag, Standard Pauper is still an interesting, competitive format where skill matters more than just random luck.

Con #2: If Standard Pauper becomes sanctioned, prices will increase.

Unfortunately, one of the likely results of the format becoming sanctioned will be an increase in demand for the playable Commons, which will in turn increase the price, perhaps dramatically. Currently, excluding foils and promotional cards, there is not a single Common in Standard that is worth more than $1.00. In fact, the most expensive cards in the format are around 15 cents each, with the average probably less than 5 cents. But I would not expect these prices to remain this low. Although the supply will continue to be quite high for these Commons, I would guess that the best cards could easily clear the $1.00 mark. Still, compared to other formats, this would mean that Standard Pauper would still be much cheaper than any other format.

Pro #3: Standard Pauper has a diverse and varied metagame.

Despite what some will say, the metagame for Standard Pauper is and almost always has been rich and diverse, with a variety of different decks rising to and falling from prominence over the course of season of Standard. In fact, in the past four Standard Pauper Player Run Events, no less than 13 different deck archetypes have made the playoffs, with no particular archetype appearing more than three times in the playoff rounds over the four events. Out of those 4 or 5 are probably the top contenders currently, with repeated success by different pilots over the course of the season. And even now months after the release of Gatecrash, there is still room in the format for experimentation, with no set list for any particular archetype, much less any agreement on which deck is the best. On this evidence, I would argue that Standard Pauper's metagame is at least as rich and varied as any other sanctioned format on Magic Online.

Con #3: With sanctioned events, the metagame would evolve or even "be solved" much faster.

With increased play, and especially with a much larger number of players competing for prizes, the Standard Pauper metagame would garner a lot more attention. Over time, this would tend to diminish the rich metagame that exists. I would not be surprised to see the top two or three decks become the clear choice for a particular metagame, with less experimentation and more uniformity among players. However, it must be said that the format itself makes it unlikely that it will ever be "solved" in such a way that one or even two decks become so dominant as to push out all others. With a much flatter power curve, the difference in power level from one deck to another is much less. Skill, and to a lesser degree luck, are probably more important even that deck choice in Standard Pauper, all other things being equal. Of course, this is not to say that any random 60 cards will win. It's just that the difference between two strong decks in the format is much less than in other formats.

III. The Verdict

Based on these arguments, do I believe that Wizards should make Standard Pauper a sanctioned format with Constructed Queues and/or Daily Events? It's not as clear cut as I would like, but in the end I would say that yes Wizards should. There is no question in my mind that at the end of the day this would be a money-maker for Wizards of the Coast and Magic Online. While there undoubtedly will be some effect on Classic Pauper, the positive should outweigh these potential negatives. For the community, there will be some changes to the format. It will no longer be quite the budget-friendly, casual format that so many are used to. Prices will rise, competition will be fiercer, and the metagame tighter and less diverse. But overall, Standard Pauper is an awesome format, and one that I still believe is good for Wizards and good for you.

So, I would encourage you to open up the online petition right now and sign your name. Let Wizards know that you, too, want to see Standard Pauper become a sanctioned format for Magic Online.

IV. Conclusion

Thanks for reading my perspective on this great format. Let me close by reminding you that you can check out my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. Let me also remind you that you can also get a sneak peek at my content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. You can also now follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. See you next time, and I hope to see you soon on the other side of the virtual table in Standard Pauper Constructed Queues!

15 Comments

Good job as always . having by joekewwl at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:15
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Good job as always . having events for std pauper would be just awesome! Lets hope Wotc continues to listen to us.

I am all for Standard pauper by Malum at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:30
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I am all for Standard pauper Events as more chances to play is always good.

I am happy whenever we get by grapplingfarang at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:55
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I am happy whenever we get new options for Sanctioned Magic, but I really really doubt Standard Pauper will become a sanctioned format anytime soon. It goes against basically any of the recent history WOTC has shown. For 16 Players in a Daily Event WOTC takes in 96 tickets and pays out 35 packs. So WOTC is basically selling these packs for 2.74 in these events. Most of these packs either get drafted with, or sold to drafters. I would think this makes them less money, although maybe it causes some people to draft that would not otherwise, but I doubt that it is enough to make up the 1.26 WOTC is not getting from the store each time.

Most Constructed formats make up for these low pack prices by people needing to get singles, and therefore encouraging people to draft/open more packs. This is why Standard, Modern, Block get the most events. To see this even further look at the history of Pauper. It got sanctioned when they were releasing older sets like Mirage and Tempest were released and not selling very much compared to new sets. One of the draws of these sets became that you could open expensive commons due to them being used in Pauper. Look at how WOTC has treated Pauper since they were done releasing these older sets. They have cut 8-man queues and Premier events completely, and cut the amount of Daily Events nearly in half. What does Standard Pauper help sell? Are people going to open more new sets to get more of the commons that people that draft often have a hundred of?

I don't mean to be such a downer, the more options for competitive Magic for people the better I think. I just don't see how sanctioning Standard Pauper makes any sense from the actions of WOTC over the last few years. The only way I could think it would go with that at all is if they made it as a 2-man queue only format, so it is used to sell a pack basically.

Yeah, this is the key by longtimegone at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 18:46
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Yeah, this is the key problem.

Wizards has introduced formats with a lower cost and a similar payout before, the most recent one I can remember was the first introduction of cube, when it payed out in regular packs.

The result was almost immediate, pack prices started to crash, and took a while to go back up afterwards, this is what led to the change in the payout for cube events.

The reason for this was sort of illustrated in the main article, Commons are just too common to be worth anything.

Even the most highly desired commons in standard are worth less than a buck, and that's the most popular format, with the highest demand for any playable card. A fringe format like Standard Pauper isn't going to add a drop in the bucket to these numbers.

Modern sets are just printed too much for the common cards to be worth anything. No matter how many new Standard Pauper players you might get, the drafters are opening so many commons that they will have far more cards than can ever actually be needed by players as play sets.

If you want further proof, look at the cost of cards for Classic Pauper. Even for cards that are played all the time and haven't seen print in years, it's the exception rather than the rule for a card to cost more than one ticket.

Delver has ~5-6 cards in the whole deck that cost over 1$.
Affinity has 2-3
Mono Green Stompy has 3-4
WW has 1 or 2

Why is that such a problem?

The MTGO card economy relies on a certain amount of trading between drafters, who want packs but not cards, and constructed players, who want cards but not packs.

When you have a constructed format that doesn't need to buy anything of value from drafters, you are adding more packs to the system, without adding additional demand for cards in those packs.

That's been a recipe for falling pack prices every time.

you have to keep in mind that by aloehart199 at Thu, 04/11/2013 - 14:29
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you have to keep in mind that it is not possible for them to lose money on adding a sanctioned event.

The prizes are digital which means there is no production cost other than maintaining equipment.

Tickets have to be purchased, regardless of what happens in the game. Tickets are the currency to buy packs from players, to pay entry fees, and to buy singles.

even assuming there were a small elite group that won every single tournament for a sanctioned event in the game, there are still 96 tickets that leave the game. If the players sell those prizes they sell them to players not WoTC so the tickets required to purchase the packs from players had to come from WoTC at some point.

its hard to keep in perspective that this entire game is fictional, nothing we do online is anything but data on a server. All the money that is spent on the game by anybody and everybody goes to WoTC somewhere down the line simply because you can't get tickets from WoTC without paying cash and tickets are the currency to spend.

edit:
in the event pack prices crashed in real life, wizards would collapse from lack of income. but the difference is they get paid regardless of what players charge for packs online. Tickets have to come from them. They print the money. It would not be physically possible for the entire player base to play and purchase packs without givnig money to wizards even with the tournament system for the simple fact that eventually someone has to buy tickets to do anything.

:you have to keep in mind by longtimegone at Thu, 04/11/2013 - 16:55
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:you have to keep in mind that it is not possible for them to lose money on adding a sanctioned event.

Of course they can lose money.

Your assumption only works in a vacuum. They are already making X dollars from these customers now. It is very much possible that people will choose to play a new cheaper format with their limited time instead of an existing one, spending x-y dollars, and costing wizards money.

You also seem to not know why low pack prices are a problem.

Again, there is a certain constant amount of sanctioned play on MTGO, and all that play pays out in packs. When the value of those packs are down, that means that the prizes are lower, but the entry fee is the same. There are a lot of people that simply do not play in sanctioned events when pack prices are low, because the payout isn't worth it. That's yet one more way that wizards loses money when pack prices go down.

Opportunity Cost by grapplingfarang at Fri, 04/12/2013 - 04:14
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They lose money by players using these won packs instead of buying packs from the store when they enter a draft. I'm sure if every added event helped maximize WOTC's profit, they would add a lot more.

They wouldn't lose money by aloehart199 at Fri, 04/12/2013 - 05:31
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They wouldn't lose money they'd lose potential money. It would cause them to make less than they could, not less than they already do. It would be money not spent on packs by players, at a certain point they have to buy tickets. Even if a player goes infinite their ability to go infinite forces other players to continue spending money. There is no realistic scenario where people continue to play in tournaments and Wizards loses money.

Wizards is a company that seems to seek customer satisfaction fairly regularly, so doing something that would have little to no impact on their income but would have a fair impact on their customerbase, I would think they might try it. Afterall, they did make standard pauper an officially supported format online. Sanctioning it is just the next step. Even if it's just an occasional TNMO it would still have an impact on the game.

So you would be fine if your by longtimegone at Fri, 04/12/2013 - 17:39
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So you would be fine if your paycheck this week from work was $100 less than last week, because you only lost potential money, not real money, right?

Standard pauper seems a by Bazaar of Baghdad at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 16:41
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Standard pauper seems a little too restrictive. Why two block rotation, not three? Why commons, not uncommons? Other than tradition, these breaks are mostly arbitrary. I think I would like it more if it expanded in one of these directions, especially just after the release of the fall expansion when the card pool would be very small.

Having tried to play the by Psychobabble at Mon, 04/08/2013 - 16:56
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Having tried to play the format immediately post RTR (when there were 5 expansions in the set), I agree with this. The number of interesting commons in a standard format, particularly in the fall, is just too low to make for a good format imo.

also agree with grappling's economic point, I doubt this'll happen. They already decreased support for classic pauper in the last calendar update, I doubt they'll be adding a MUCH less supported format to the calendar any time soon.

Classic Pauper 8 mans by Monk1410 at Tue, 04/09/2013 - 03:31
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Personally I would prefer to see classic pauper 8 mans. Outside of the 1 daily per day in my time zone you cannot play it competitively. Obviously there are 2 mans but they are almost impossible to make a profit.

Don't the 8-person queues by Psychobabble at Tue, 04/09/2013 - 08:08
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Don't the 8-person queues have the same EV as 2-person? 2 person is 4tix entry, 1pack payout (4:1). 8-person is 8x6=48 tix entry, 5+3+2+2=12 pack payout (4:1). It should be just as "almost impossible" to make a profit on the 8-person queues as the 2-person ones, even if it psychologically feels different somehow.

The key with those 8 man by shwagpo at Tue, 04/09/2013 - 19:42
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The key with those 8 man queues is that 5 pack for a win. If you consistently 1 and 2, you can go over the hump in pack per ticket. For instance, in 2 mans, 2 tix wins 1 pack. In an 8 man, you can win 5 packs for 6 tix. 2nd place's 3 packs is the same as winning 3 straight heads up matches.

Honestly... by shwagpo at Tue, 04/09/2013 - 19:48
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I think they should give the community power over some supported events. Just note the tourney price and number of players, mtgo spits out a prize pool, and go. Then, if we can set our own filters, we can have any format we want, launch any tourney we want, and go. I mean, seriously, there's little room if any for abuse, as the client would run the ticket collecting and prize generation, all you'd need then is a proper filter put in place by the host, and MTGO is selling tix for whatever format people want to play, and providing packs of the latest(Or even tix) for the prize pool, all handled server side. The only thing anyone would have to do is set up the event and send out invites, and people could run their deck against the filter and register, again, in client. Either way, people can play their own tourneys, PREs get prize support, and everyone is buying tix and some are winning packs. Playing what they want, when they get a group together.