Dime a Dozen #42: Is Pauper Dying?

Hello everyone!

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.

Decimation Day

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 Academy’s beloved JustSin (whom I’ll have more to say about later) illustrated the importance of Pauper Dailies in an article called “What Now?”:

“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.

Losing Contributors

In a December iteration of his Pauper column, David Shaffer expressed his concerns with a Daily-less Pauper, and actually prophesied his own retirement as a writer:

“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?

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.

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.

End Step

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!

  1. I feel like pauper would be more popular if there was a smaller card pool, maybe standard or modern or some group of sets unique to the format. As it stands the card pool is just too deep. If people could brew standard or modern common only decks I think it would take off.

  2. Selesnya Tokens-styles are no joke vs. Delver. Gain enough life and they simply can’t win. Like ‘bonesplitter’ is to affinity, lifegain is to delver…the weapon the pilots don’t want you to know about lol…(sounds like some cheesy AM radio commercial)

    Great article – love all the props given out to all those who greatly deserve it, and are keeping the formats interest up. I have a fantasy of putting up ProTour sized money to all pros and making our own pauper pro tour – be cool to see what Finkel/Sam Black etc.., would brew up…

  3. Justin – I’ve never thought about it that way, you could be right…I think the current card pool has a lot of appeal to some of us though!

    deluxeicoff – It’s a nice fantasy, I too would love seeing more pro involvement with the format!

  4. Thanks for the shoutout, I have changed my outlook on Pauper as you highlighted. I don’t know what I specifically said about it in that episode, but I had been pretty salty before and came to terms with reality of the format.

  5. So if Classic Pauper is relegated to ‘casual’ now, then my hope would be that Standard Pauper is given the chance to become the new competitive Pauper Format of choice. It’s so easy to get new players into it and it requires getting new cards and staying current with the game with each set release. As a bridge between limited and constructed, I find Standard Pauper to have the least barrier to entry and it’s an easy way to get players to try their hand at brewing, deckbuilding, analyzing metagames, hemming and hawwing over the last sideboard slots, all that good stuff. I was a limited only player until I dived into the Standard Pauper format. Since then picking up Standard and Legacy decks has not been nearly as difficult as I thought it would.

  6. I can only speak for myself, but in my eyes Pauper is dead. Without Dailies, Pauper has no competitive outlet. It makes me sad because this format was the first place I went on the “going infinite” train, and I know it used to be recommended by many as a good, cheap format to dip your toe into the competitive corner. Now, the “cheapest” format is probably Block Constructed, and some of those cards are hardly inexpensive. As for myself, I’ve moved on from Pauper to Modern. Of course, to help do this, I sold all my Pauper cards and haven’t played a single match since. Goodbye Pauper. :-(

  7. Wizards took the intentional step of killing pauper by removing daillies. This was a revenue boosting move, because it forced new players to purchase more tickets.

    Personally, I love the format because it has a large card pool but lands and mana bases are not totally busted. Yes, an occasional mono-colored deck makes a splash once in a while in legacy, but its an exception rather than the rule.

    That said, the fixing that is available in the format is fair and imposes a real cost. It slows your deck down, so tempo/aggro decks can’t really go multi-color. (Domain Zoo is really controlling/midrange when you get down to it) It is also limited enough that control decks that don’t mind their lands coming into play tapped risk stumbling against aggro builds and getting overrun.

    Although the control mirror is boring, (basically in comes down to who can resolve the most mulldrifters) this is true of any magic format. Alas, we must strive to keep pauper alive! Its still a blast playing for a few hours in the tournament practice room, even if you know you will never have time to play a premiere event!

  8. Wizards saw the opportunity to take down pauper dailies when the tournament structures on modo were redone (due to the uproar against the unstable big tournaments ignited by Brian Kibler.)
    They did this because pauper dailies were the cheapest way of profitably playing constructed magic online. The decks are waay cheaper but offer the same payout as the other format.

    So with that in mind it makes sense that they temporarily took daily events down too, although they werent affected by the stability issues at all.
    They used a totally unrelated incident to get rid of pauper dailies.

    Basic politics i guess…

  9. DrChrisBakerDC – That’s an interesting thought! Hopefully Standard Pauper can get some more PRE representation in order to grow?

    D4fault – I appreciate your viewpoint. However, going infinite is not everyone’s goal when it comes to Magic. Hope to have you back one day!

    Mike Fellman – Let’s do it :) Long live Pauper!

    bilocan – Seems kinda shady LOL…

  10. Appreciate the shout out man. As a writer its always nice to hear that what you had to say was at least meaningful to some. I like to think I was one of those people who put a ton of time into writing and I think my continued pauper guide was (hopefully) a great example to people as to the passion and effort I put forward on the format. While I know I am at odds with several people (including Chris’ above comments) on my feelings on the format one thing is clear; it isn’t changing. Not only has the change of the format removed me from the scene, but it has actually gone as far as kill my interest in the game itself. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point, but I know for sure Pauper won’t be going back to what it was and I won’t be involved in it.

  11. Of course we can hope that Wizards starts to realize that pauper is dying and cares enough to reverse their policy. My guess is they were hoping it would be fine without dailies. As for card pool, I think it is easier to convince people to play a format with a wider card pool than desired than it is to convince people used to playing good cards to play a format where you have a small number of relatively bad cards to choose from.

  12. I’m sure it is easy to get 4-5 local players interested in paper pauper standard. That is the definition of casual magic. The draw to pauper online was tied to being able to play competitively in a fashion that didn’t continually force good players to spend money. I don’t see competitive online players having any kind of real interest in standard pauper – if anything, that takes away from the already dwindling group that is interested in playing.

    On a separate note, if you want a significant # of people to be interested in a format it has to either be sanctioned at a minimum (paper) or have a reasonable chance of at least pseudo going infinite for serious players (dailies).

  13. I quit Pauper for a long time after getting sick of Cloudpost. After the Banning I was just about to return to it, but removing the dailies put a stop to that. I really dislike 8-mans and 2-mans are such terrible value that I’m not just motivated anymore.

  14. ramela – I agree that the value is quite bad. Sometimes I wonder if Wizards could’ve just raised the price (entry fee) of Daily Events a little bit?

  15. As someone who has been supporting a similarly “dead” format, I actually envy the amount of participation that Pauper still gets. Classic is a format that has always struggled to get enough people to participate in just a single 16 person event each week, and now it finally has an expiration date (i.e. Vintage Masters release).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if anything, Pauper is simply evolving. It no longer is the superior “plus-EV” format on MTGO and there is nothing wrong with that. I believe that Pauper can remain relevant in far more significant ways than my beloved format Classic has ever been. It’s hard to stem the tide of negativity, but that will be Pauper’s downfall, not anything that WotC has, or ever will do. Keep up the good fight!

  16. Jason Moore – I definetly think they could have increased the entry fees a little for the constructed dailies, propably limited ones too. At least I would not have batted an eyelash.

    That is what they have done with the Phantom Events like Cube too, after all…

  17. i think one problem with the format was the banning of cloudpost… yes the post decks were good, but they allowed for a legitimate control deck… without cloudpost, you just have a bunch of aggro/tempo decks in pauper, which a lot of players don’t particularly enjoy.

  18. ramela – I don’t think it’s a bad idea personally…

    zac – I think that MUC and Izzet Control are legitimate, even MBC. The format is by nature very creature-based, and you’re right, it has become even more so as a result of the bans.

  19. Also, playing Tempo decks is fun and while playing against Tempo decks is not the most fun, it is more fun than playing against Post decks…

  20. Hey Jason, sorry I’m writing in so late! Somehow I missed this article during my regular cycles. First of all, thank you for writing such nice things about me, and thank you for the plugs! I really appreciate the work you do, and your willingness to help the community even now that DEs are gone.

    Second, I want to address my view on the “death of Pauper.” Pauper originated as a casual, unsanctioned format, but WotC allowed it to grow into a competitive format. It started with PEs, and 8-mans, but Pauper really exploded when we got DEs. Once this happened, I, like a lot of people, joined in with a grinding mentality. But when WotC chopped off the competitive subsidy our community, unsurprisingly, began to revert to pre-DE levels. I don’t think Pauper is evolving as one commenter mentioned, instead I think it is devolving to where it was before DEs. As such, I don’t think Pauper itself is dying, but how I – and apparently a lot of other people – interact with Pauper is. In that sense, my departure was carved in stone on Decimation Day.

  21. I would like to point to point out that singer_from_sengir did not mean to add Wring Flesh to his domain list. I confronted him about it as soon as I saw the list. He told me that he was scrambling to put together his final deck before entering the tournament and ended up submitting a list containing wring flesh by mistake. Singer may be a madman, but he’s not THAT much of a madaman.