Pauper Under Pressure

Normally I would be using this space to write about what happened over the weekend in the Pauper Challenges. I won’t be doing that today since there was a pall cast over the format due to a bug that impacted Faerie Miscreant. Instead of requiring a copy already on the battlefield, Miscreant simply drew you a card regardless. As of today, Miscreant will be temporarily banned in Pauper until the Crimson Vow release on November 11. This will impact Delver but in my opinion the ban is necessary to maintain the integrity of Leagues and Challenges, including the Showcase Qualifier on November 6, until a fix can be implemented with Crimson Vow.

The Faerie Miscreant issue frustrated a large portion of Pauper players, with numerous format regulars upset about yet another problem with the format. And I understand this feeling. Over the past two years Pauper has felt neglected with regards to format health. Today I’m going to talk about some of the persistent issues with the metagame and what, if anything, can be done to alleviate the issues.

The current slate of problems began in earnest in May of 2019 with the so-called Blue Monday bans. Daze, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush were all banned. These bans neutered blue combo decks (Izzet Blitz, Tribe Combo) and hampered Delver strategies. I heavily advocated for a Gush ban but was not expecting the other two bans. I still believe banning Gush was correct, but I know there are folks who disagree. In the wake of these bans Arcum’s Astrolabe was released which turned the metagame into Astrolabe-Monarch vs Astrolabe-Tron. Astrolabe was banned in October 2019, right as Mystic Sanctuary was emerging as a threat. Sanctuary created a “lock” with Deprive – one where Delver decks could ignore the drawback thanks to a low curve. It wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that Sanctuary was banned and some action was taken to rein in Tron – Expedition Map was banned (we’ll come back to this later). The format was doing better until Commander Legends hit and Fall from Favor exposed the problems with Monarch once again. Even though Fall from Favor was expected to cause issues it remained legal until early 2021. Once it was banned, a vibrant and healthy format emerged until the release of Modern Horizons 2 released Chatterstorm and pumped up Affinity. Then a few weeks ago Chatterstorm and Sojourner’s Companion were banned, giving us the current state until the Miscreant Situation.

Some of the issues from the past – namely Tron and Monarch – have been wallpapered over by newer issues, but there exists a worry that if steps are taking to fix the format that the old problems will emerge anew.

So let’s break this down.

First up we have the sheer number of problem cards that have been banned in the past two years. Outside of Mystic Sanctuary, the bans after Blue Monday have all come from non-Standard sets. These sets have different needs that Standard releases for draft and both Fall from Favor and Chatterstorm (as well as the Bridges, which I will address later) served important roles for their Limited environment. However in both those cases it was suspected that these cards would cause issues in Pauper and, spoiler alert, they did.

Second, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the format works. I know the folks in Play Design have tins to worry about and truth be told, it does not make good business sense for them to spend a lot of time focused on Pauper. Still, the Expedition Map and the Sojourner’s Companion ban display a lack of knowledge about what makes those respective decks tick. Expedition Map may have helped Tron be more consistent, but the problem with that deck wasn’t achieving an early Tron but rather the mana advantage that rendered non-Monarch midrange and other control options irrelevant. Worse, the Map ban prompted people to move to Crop Rotation which made Tron more consistent in locked out aggro strategies. The Sojourner’s Companion ban displayed an error in understanding what allowed Affinity to be a reasonable part of the metagame – the risk of the mana base. Affinity has long had undercosted threats – Myr Enforcer, Carapace Forger, Gearseeker Serpent – and having another one wasn’t the problem. The problem was (and remains) that indestructible artifact lands remove the risk of playing Affinity, which was a core component in allowing it to be a reasonable part of the metagame. Affinity needs to be Pauper’s Dredge.

These two issues, when combined, leads to a feeling of neglect. The format is forced to live with problematic cards and interactions for extended lengths of times while experiments in power levels are printed (correctly) for Limited but end up ruining the play experience. The reality is this neglect makes sense in that Pauper is not a high priority despite its passionate player base.

All of this is well and good, but what can be done? Simply put, Wizards needs to listen to the people who play the format most often. However the people who play the format also need to be as respectful. I have seen far too many folks decide that because Wizards hasn’t done what they expect that the folks who make the game are “incompetent” or other worse insults.

To those people: what the hell are you doing? Do you really think calling the people you’re trying to influence stupid or bad at their job is going to endear them to your position?

In the past, a Pauper version of the Commander Rules Committee has been suggested. I think a better idea would be a Pauper version of the Commander Advisory Group. While I do not think that this group should have final say on bans, I think they should advise Play Design about the format and what the problematic cards/interactions are. I also think that Play Design should be more willing to ban suspected problem cards quickly instead of letting the format languish for months in the hope things might improve.

But these are just my thoughts – what do you think should happen to maintain a healthy and long-lived Pauper format?

Published by Alex Ullman

Alex Ullman has been playing Magic since 1994 (he thinks). Since 2005, he's spent most of his time playing and exploring Pauper. One of his proudest accomplishments was being on the winnings side of the 2009 Community Cup. He makes his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.

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