The Case For Standard Pauper
Ask why three times.
I do not recall where I first heard this axiom or the purpose it was designed to serve but I put it to good use in my job. The underlying principle is this: understand the reasoning for any action. It can be as simple as:
Q: Why are you going to the store?
A: Because I am hungry.
A: Because I have not eaten since breakfast.
A: Because I have been in meetings all morning.
Asking why three times gives you far more information than just asking once. Here's a more Magic related example:
Q: Why are there more people playing Pauper on Magic Online this week?
A: Because the queues have just started paying out in M13 instead of M12.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: M13 can be sold for a greater profit than M12 was selling for in July.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: Because M13 is a relevant draft format so the price of packs is higher. Pauper is seen as a fairly easy way to stock on packs to feed drafts.
With this increased exposure comes increased scrutiny to the format. It is during this time that the greatest innovation is seen in Pauper which often results in a few new cards and rarely a new archetype. This is partially due to the large card pool but also to the firmly entrenched and proven decks.
So why does Pauper use the Classic card pool on Magic Online?
Back when Pauper was a player run format major changes to the format (such as banned and restricted lists) were determined by an online meeting of players in the Magic Online chat interface. All players had a voice and those who could not attend could register their vote via proxy or in a forum. This was before the pre-Invasion sets had been released and the "largest" format on Magic Online was old Extended. When the announcement was made that Mirage was going to be released the Pauper community had a decision to make: keep Extended or move to the newly announced Classic format.
The logs are lost to history but I remember that the move was contested. I spoke in advocacy of Classic with fond memories of Dark Ritual powering out Carnophage and Dauthi Slayer. Eventually my side won out and Pauper Classic as we knew it was born. There was a side effect: more player run events sprung up dedicated to Pauper Extended and Pauper Standard. However the largest community was Classic. When Wizards decided to sanction Pauper they stuck with Pauper Classic.
Since the ratification of Pauper Classic a lot has changed. All post-Mirage sets have been released online and the Masters Editions have been released changing the rarity of certain cards from paper to reflect modern design and draft needs. Pauper has become a successful if niche recognized format on Magic Online and the design New World Order has been implemented.
Why does all of this matter?
Pauper Classic is an eternal format—cards only leave if they are deemed too powerful and are banned. However design does not cater to this format. Pauper is a fan-supported format but unlike Commander where splashy legends can be put at mythic rare or rare and balanced for limited play Pauper requires commons. Similarly as each block has different themes it wants to play up in Constructed and Limited these sets must have cards that support these ideas at common. This makes it rare a card can break through and leads to stagnation. This is not a bad thing in it of itself except for Time Spiral.
I do not mean to disparage Time Spiral block. I loved the nostalgia and found the format to be intricate and exciting. However it brought back storm. At common. And then never provided a common answer.
And how could it? Storm is an incredibly complex ability and even under old design principles a common answer for Storm would feel out of place and be a dead card in a significant number of drafts.
This is one of the problems built into Pauper: threats are printed at common for Limited purposes but reasonable answers are slotted at higher rarities for the very same reason. Cards that can be considered answers have been moved out of common for Masters releases (Sinkhole and Hymn to Tourach would make running combo a much scarier prospect although not invisible).
Maybe in this case asking why is not the answer. Rather: does Pauper have to be an Eternal format?
In order for Pauper to thrive the answer has to be no.
I do not think Classic Pauper needs to die. Rather I think Wizards should implement an additional Pauper format. The choice comes down to Modern and Standard. The big plus to these formats is that both are perfectly reflected in the paper world. As fantastic as Master's Edition has been for world of Magic Online it has created a sharp divide between paper and digital Pauper. Moving to either of these formats would remedy this.
Looking at Modern first this card set would provide another Eternal format for people who like to play with all the cards. However broken mechanics are both present in Affinity and Storm. Modern handles this by banning some of the best enablers (artifact lands and Rite of Flame). However does every common banned in Modern need to be banned in Modern Pauper? Is Affinity as dangerous with artifact Lands but without Cranial Plating (as it is in Classic Pauper)? Is Wild Nacatl so dangerous? This lends itself to a similar problem that Classic has in that the format can be explained "Well it's just like this format you know all the rules for except that there are exceptions."
Maybe the same banned list can be maintained without any huge loss to the "fun" level of the format. Eventually the threshold for new cards to enter will be as high as it is in Classic where 1-5 cards from a new set make an impact. This can lead to a stagnation of decks (barring a drastic influx a la Delver of Secrets). Unlike Legacy there are no broken pieces at rare to base new archetypes around. If I understand the New World Order correctly we are no longer going to see build-around-me commons like Tortured Existence. Modern Pauper would eventually grow to resemble Classic Pauper in all the ways people are critical of the existing format.
That leaves Standard Pauper. Standard has one significant disadvantage and that is the severely limited card pool. Currently Pauper Standard would hold 695 cards—Innistrad block has access to 666. This is mitigated to some degree by new sets being added on a quarterly basis but the format has the potential to grow stale. That being said the influx of new cards every three months could do a lot of legwork in keeping the format vibrant and fresh.
Standard is also perfectly synced with the paper world. Magic has come a long way since the days when commons needed to be banned so the chances for a Modern style situation where some cards are on the big brother banned list that would not affect the world of black expansion symbols are slim.
Standard is perhaps the easiest format to play in paper as well. Look around any shop at the end of the night and you are likely to find stacks of discarded commons the remainders of drafts gone by. These cards often get trashed or sorted into bulk sale bins. But what if people built decks from these and kept them in the store? What if that same new player from before eager to get into Constructed could borrow a deck of all commons from the store maybe even buy it for a reasonable price and play that deck every few weeks?
Then that player gets involved in drafts and can add new cards all without shelling out a significant amount of money to play in events. Maybe this player will progress to normal Standard and beyond and maybe he or she will drift into other formats. However Pauper still can act as a great gateway to tournament play while also providing an increased value for cards most often used as bookmarks.
A shift to Standard would also give new mechanics a chance to shine in Pauper. Even though stagnation is a fear with a smaller pool it is also a problem in Classic Pauper. As I have mentioned new cards have to be pretty darn good to make an impact. This prevents all sorts of sweet cards from seeing play in Pauper (and other formats I suppose). For example: in the days of Kamigawa/Ravnica Standard Pauper player run events (as all Pauper events were back then) were dominated by a black/white attrition decks that featured a dose of arcane spells splicing Blessed Breath and Soulless Revival onto a Rend Flesh for blowout potential. Such a deck could never even make a dent in Classic Pauper.
Even today some members of the PDCMagic.com community are dedicated to both Standard and Modern Pauper events to explore these formats. What their work has shown is that the formats are diverse and healthy. I believe this would hold true in both the paper and digital world.
Why should this matter? Pauper is a niche format after all. Sure it has a following but it's nowhere near that of more popular formats. To me Pauper is the stepping-stone between Limited and Constructed. It allows players to make that first step with a relatively low investment point. It provides a new deckbuilding challenge for players burnt out on Standard. If Pauper with the Standard pool became a thing the play value of each card how much mileage someone could get from a draft would go up by a non-zero amount. Magic is the greatest game; this would just be another feather in its cap.
I love Classic Pauper and I think support for it should continue on Magic Online where its esoteric list of legal cards is easy to litigate. Introducing Standard Pauper would allow the Magic Online and paper Magic world to line up creating a greater sense of seamlessness. Standard would also provide a format where currently the threats and answers line up in rarity (thanks to balanced Limited formats).
So when it comes right down to it is there any great reason to not introduce Standard Pauper?
If you support this disagree with me or have other opinions let me know in the comments!
Keep slingin' commons-
SpikeBoyM on Magic Online
The Colors of Pauper: