After a brief hiatus due to personal matters, my recaps are back.
In a fashion.
I don’t want to take too much time wrapping up the Modern Horizons 2 season as it was dominated by Affinity, Storm, and Dimir. Those three archetypes took down over 67% of the Top 32 finishes and over 75% of all Top 8 slots. These decks were dominant to the point where the next most played deck – Burn – accounted for 5% of the Top 32 metagame. The gap between the 3rd most played archetype (Dimir) and Burn was over 12%. By comparison the most popular archetype during Strixhaven season was Dimir Faeries and it only accounted for 14% of the Top 32 metagame.
I’m also not going to spend too much time talking about the July 10 and July 11 Challenges except to say that Affinity and Storm continued to rule the roost. The card to make the biggest splash from the latest set is Celestial Unicorn, which showed up in three decks across the weekend.
Instead I’m going to talk about last Tuesday when Gavin Verhey from Wizards of the Coast stopped by the #MTGPauper Discord for a chat. Gavin stops by a few times a year to check in on the format, take the pulse of people there, and answer some questions. One question and answer in particular has set off a segment of the community, and I want to address it separately.
You closed the last fireside-chat with the question: What should Pauper be? The community still feels divided to me. I’m curious what your opinion/perspective is currently. Ideally that could be used as the starting point for some conversations within the community across social media to get you a legitimate answer.
And here’s Gavin’s response (emphasis added):
I do think that ultimately a lot of this is on the players to figure out. Pauper has always been a format by the players, for the players. I remember playing in fan-run Pauper events on MTGO 12+ years ago with my homebrew Teachings decks! But I will say this: the Pauper community isn’t large, and dividing yourselves isn’t going to get you the critical mass you need. Working together is going to be important. I know there are many different opinions out there on format health, and what should be banned, and so on, but making this an inclusive community where everybody feels welcome, even if you (respectfully) disagree on aspects of the format or what decks are best is crucial to earning that larger seat at the table. We’re about to enter back into a brave new world of in-store play and a whole new generation of players who came to Magic during the pandemic. Be the landing place for them as they try playing paper. Work with your stores to run events. This is, in some sense, your chance for a whole new generation of Magic players to find a home here. Create the Pauper community you want to see in the world, and success will follow
I am going to hold off on my personal reaction to this and instead try to paraphrase some of the discontent around the answer. Pauper, at the moment, is not in a great place. Some in the chat felt that this response (and others – the conversation is preserved) was trying to sidestep the issue at hand by saying that it was on the Pauper community to drum up interest in a format that currently kind sucks. Some took this as a Catch-22: if you want people to pay attention to the format (and as a result get more eyes on it), you need to get more people to play it while it is “not fun”.
That, understandably, is not great. The people in the chat are highly engaged and if they heard “we can’t fix the format until more people are interested” that is not a great message to receive. But taking a step back I think this reading of the response is disingenuous.
The way to get more attention on any format is to get more eyes on it and more people playing it. People wouldn’t play Pauper and be invested in its long term health if it weren’t, on some level, fun. Pauper (when healthier) presents a unique puzzle.
And yet, the only time the format enters the wider conversation of Magic is when something is broken in the format OR the certain elements of the community are hostile to people who do not play the format regularly.
To me this is what Gavin was trying to hammer home. If the community wants more people to care about the format and to help prevent problems like the current metagame from dragging on then we need to do the work to make the format an attractive and welcoming community. We cannot just get up in arms when things are terrible. People need to be out there making content and talking about the format when things are going well.
I know I fall into this trap too – I didn’t get my reputation as ban-happy for no reason. But if there’s one thing I know it’s that people will remember all my negative comments far more than my positive reviews. I think that Strixhaven season was one of the healthiest in recent memory and said as much…but that doesn’t drive the same engagement as when I say “Gush is broken”. And so it’s on us – the Pauper community – to make enough noise that when things are good that we are impossible to ignore when things get bad.