It depends on your definition of “dying.”
For those of you expecting a quick and easy answer to the question posed in today’s article, that’s about as quick and easy as I can get. Aside from that, there’s a lot to consider when responding to the number of claims I’ve seen flying around on the Internet regarding the health, validity, and sustainability of Pauper these days.
Before we get to the heart of the matter, I’d like to express my gratitude for those of you that enjoyed the video content from my last article. As it turns out, I was in the process of making more content along those lines, but the MTGO downtime unfortunately got in the way (curses!). You can expect to see a bit more video content from me in the future, though I’m not entirely sure how much or how often. It’s probably for the best, since the issue of Pauper’s vitality has been clamoring in the back of my mind and certainly deserves our attention (other Pauper writers out there, I’m looking at you!). So where were we? Oh right, those Internet claims about Pauper!
To sum things up, the claims all sound pretty much exactly like this:
“Pauper is dying.”
As someone who has promoted the format for over two years now, creating video content on YouTube and writing Pauper columns for three different websites, I am of course slightly disheartened by these kinds of statements. Pauper has been the primary outlet through which I’ve been able to enjoy, explore, and talk to people about the game. And yet it’s clear that things have shifted drastically, not only in terms of how players are able to experience Pauper, but also with respect to how columnists like myself are able to gather information in order to produce content. The once heralded “Golden Age of Pauper Content” has likely come and gone. This is not to say that the state of Pauper content has gotten worse, but rather that Pauper content has undergone certain dynamic shifts. Faces have changed, new sites have been born, and most of all, Pauper has gone from one of the most celebrated online Constructed formats (second only to Standard at one point) to being the red-headed stepchild of MTGO.
But how and why did this happen? Didn’t Wizards of the Coast appreciate Classic Pauper and its supporters? They went as far as to promote Pauper last year in articles like this, where Jacob Van Lunen summarized the format as follows:
“Pauper is one of the most popular Constructed formats on Magic Online; the decks are, for the most part, easy to acquire and the game play is Legacy-esque complex.”
Wizards even recognized Standard Pauper, a niche offshoot of the format, by providing players and deckbuilders with an online filter (thus making it a selectable/playable format on MTGO) in 2012. This came about due to many player requests (yes, your voice does matter!), and you can read more about it in gwyned’s article on PureMTGO.
And then it happened.
December 10th, 2013. For all intents and purposes, it was Classic Pauper Judgment Day (I know, epic right?). The official Wizards announcement made little fuss about decimating the Pauper Daily Events, having just this to say on the matter:
“Pauper and Momir Basic remain as eight-player queues, and we are introducing both formats into the Premier Events rotation. We want to focus our Daily Events on formats that more closely reflect our face-to-face Magic organized play experience.”
You may be getting the feeling that this article is turning into an “I’m mad about what Wizards did” kind of rant, but I assure you that I’m not and it isn’t. However, the loss of Pauper Daily Events was felt on several fronts. Many people left the format, and in some people’s eyes the environment has reached a frustrating level of stagnation.
“The one thing that can be taken away from this experience is easily the importance of Daily Events to the MTGO community. We’ve seen fewer people playing, prices dropping, and more importantly, how it has impacted contributors. I’ve said it once if I’ve said it a million times, but because Pauper is an entirely online format, it is a bit more fragile than other formats…the only events that are sanctioned by Wizards are those played in client. Without Daily Events, there is a struggle that goes on behind the scene for contributors. Some may sit back and scoff at this, but it has an impact over what is discussed.”
As a reaction to the December 10th decimation, Pauper elder Alex Ullman recorded a timely episode of Common Cause, putting the announcement in perspective by correlating the history of Pauper as a format and the possible motives behind Wizards’ decision. In his written article for SCG, Alex reported some of the decision’s repercussions:
“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…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.”
On the subject of Premier Events, Chris Weaver (cweaver) and David Shaffer (shaffawaffa5) released a helpful podcast offering that broke down the Premier Event experience. You can check it out right here!
Both Chris and David have put forth a lot of effort in terms of Pauper coverage, and (while I don’t want to presume) I feel like they too are a bit dispirited by the current condition of the format. Perhaps we should explore this further by taking a closer look at the world of Pauper content.
“I feel like I probably can only bring meaningful content to my readers until about February or March unless PEs fire regularly or DEs are brought back…I am acutely aware that 8-mans alone provide insufficient data for content production, because the results are statistically irrelevant.”
Without enough metadata my ideas will become stale, and without a cost effective and competitive venue to test my lists out, I will eventually run out of funding to provide properly tested lists.”
Recently, David announced that he would be bowing out as a Pauper penman:
“Come April, I will be leaving Pauper writing…Think of this announcement as my three weeks’ notice. I appreciate all the great feedback and comments I’ve gotten along the way. You all have helped me grow as a writer, designer, and thinker. Thank you all for reading me for so long.”
I was pretty sad to hear this news. Personally I found David’s articles to be quite refreshing, as theoretical discussion and writing about core concepts is something I think the two of us both enjoy. To help out with my Azorius Kitty article, David gave me a few piloting tips on the deck and generously answered a number of interview questions.
Do yourself a favor and check out some of David’s material sometime, and be sure to let him know that his work has been appreciated!
Sadly, David hasn’t been the only Pauper writer to sign off post-Decimation Day. Preceding him was a loss that hits a little closer to home…
Alas, poor JustSin! I knew him…
It’s really a shame that more people in the Pauper community haven’t spoken up about the absence of JustSin and his content! The guy poured so much of his own time and energy into offering up lengthy, data-filled write-ups (yes, I’m linking him twice!) on Pauper, and even put together a Pauper competition called JustSin’s Team League. If you were to tell me that his Introduction to Competitive Pauper is the best thing written on the format, ever, it would be difficult for me to argue with you.
As someone who chatted with, played against, and recorded a couple of podcasts with the guy, I can tell that he was pretty upset with contemporary Pauper happenings. I suppose his words sum it up better than mine can, however:
“The limited number of events that we now get is not something that I think will be enough to fuel the continuation of this series as it now stands. What little information we have been given from the guys behind the scenes at Wizards has shown no indication that there is a change on the way or that they have any desire to bring back Daily Events to this format we all love.”
So here we see not one but two dynamic Pauper writers scooping, both of whom have cited the lack of meaningful or satisfactory data from Event results as a primary catalyst. Just think of all the players who have similarly walked away the format, affecting the community on an equally large (albeit less public) scale.
Pauper Content Rising
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about and putting together Pauper content, I can say that there have been some positive strides. In spite of the format shifts I’ve been putting out as much content as ever, and feel pretty happy about the fruits of my labor, particularly an article like this one or this one (though ultimately your opinions are what count!).
Alex Ullman has done a lot to increase his own output, firstly by regularly updating his facebook page, secondly by starting a podcast, and thirdly by writing about his Pauper Cube for GatheringMagic.
What I think we might be seeing right now is a shift from the Spike-centric and Events-focused aspects of the format to a more general, and sometimes more casual side. While Magic is an old game and Pauper is far from a young format, there are always new cards and new players coming in. It stands to reason that Pauper content will always need to cater to that in some way.
In an article about Pauper Zombies, Chris Weaver came to a somewhat related conclusion:
“I should have realized long ago that Pauper is a casual format. I immersed myself in the format and it became my Magic identity…Furthermore, at some point Pauper stopped being fun and I became overly concerned with value and fair treatment of events. I have realized the error of my ways. Time to move on.”
And with that, it’s time to move on from the discussion of Pauper Content (for now at least!).
You Haven’t Even Answered the Question
I know. Wait. What was the question again?
Is Pauper dying?
Oh, right. The truth is: I don’t know how to answer that, at least not as eloquently as I’d like to. For me Pauper is not “dying.” Pauper has changed. If you want to look at it from the perspective of “old Pauper has died,” then you’re welcome to. Death is a form of change, but change is not necessarily death, so blah blah blah, let’s not even try to get deep on this. Pauper is what it is now because it has changed, and at the end of the day change is a good thing.
But Delver of Secrets is Destroying Everyone in 2014!
Is he though? Is he really? Not long ago Alex Ullman was trying to tell you people that Delver isn’t nearly all it’s cracked up to be. Did you believe him? I mean, maybe he’s wrong. Maybe Delver of Secrets is the new Pauper menace. Maybe it should be banned. But it shouldn’t be banned right now.
Do you want to know why?
Selesnya Tokens by SwingLow (2nd Place Pauper Premier)
Look at this deck. Look at it. This deck makes 1/1s. It has hardly any ways to boost the power of those 1/1s. It plays 12 lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Alternately it can kill you with a Regal Unicorn enchanted by a crappy Trollhide. It plays 12 life-gain creatures in the maindeck and still has three Circle of Protection: Red in its sideboard.
And this deck took 2nd place at the current highest level of Pauper competition! Granted, Delver took first, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make here. Even if that deck’s showing was somehow a fluke, look at the Top 8 of that same event. Only four copies of Delver of Secrets total.
You think Pauper is dying? Do you think it’s stale? Look at this.
Domain Zoo by singer_from_sengir (6th-Place Pauper PE)
Look at this card. You can play this card in your five-color snow-themed beatdown deck and Top 8 a Pauper Premier.
I don’t intend to seem (too) cheeky or in any way malicious here when referencing these decks. We all know that I’ve built and piloted much worse in my time and will probably continue to do so. I’m just trying to make a simple and enthusiastic point: right now, Delver of Secrets isn’t ruining a thing.
This is Pauper. It’s your party and you can Wring Flesh if you want to.
This article is dedicated to all the Pauper contributors, past and present. Thank you for keeping Pauper alive(?), witnessing its changes, making it better and making us better.
If you’d like to chime in on the question of whether not Pauper is dying, has died, is in ICU, is going to need a bigger boat, or anything else for that matter, please do! The community is a big part of what makes Pauper the format it is, so let’s, you know, commune and talk shop.
As always, thanks for reading, and please comment!