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New World Order and Pauper

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Grapeshot
When the Professor from Tolarian Community College reached out to me about a collaboration I was ecstatic. I love getting different perspectives on the format, and the Professor has a unique style and approach that is so different from my own that I could not wait to work with the man and see what we could do together.

Of course that did not happen. Life got in my way and I kept putting off the Professor. If there’s one thing you should learn from my experience it’s this: never procrastinate an assignment because it’s just going to increase the level of difficulty.

So when the Professor reached out to me a second time I swore up and down that I would actually get it done this time. I wracked my brain for a good topic. At first I was going to talk about some sweet new deck but then Eternal Masters hit and everything changed. Suddenly my well tuned decks were largely useless as Peregrine Drake had supplanted the established way of things. In the wake of Drake I spent many hours on /r/Pauper involved in discussions about the health of the format and what strategies might work moving forward.

One topic I saw over and over again was that Wizards needed to print commons to handle the problems of Pauper. Disregarding that this runs counter to the a core of the format, making do with what is printed at common, it also asks that the rest of Magic is beholden to a relatively small population of players. Being realistic, I imagine that the number of people in the world who Draft or play Sealed far exceeds the number of Pauper players. The statement of this would often bring about a common refrain: that New World Order was bad for Pauper.

And suddenly I had something to share with the Professor.

New World Order is a design principle that is discussed in this article. The story goes that Magic was having an acquisition problem and one of the issues was barrier to entry. Simply put, Magic is an incredibly complex game. Players who are not heavily invested, those that purchase packs sporadically and play kitchen table games, have the bulk of the collection made up by commons. When these cards get too complicated it may cause the player to turn away. As a result, Wizards decided to limit the complexity of commons in a given set. While some cards could be more involved, the overall level of comprehension for commons would have to remain low in order to help new players acclimate to the game.

Frantic Search
Because of this some Pauper players perceive that the power level of their pieces have plummeted. If the video above does not indicate my thoughts on the matter let me be clear: I do not believe that to be the case. Rather, New World Order has changed how commons affect Pauper in a way that is overall beneficial to the format.

In order to understand the current crop of cards we first have to understand what came before. Pauper’s ban list is full of cards that are simple but buck the power level. Frantic Search, Grapeshot, Temporal Fissure, Cranial Plating and others are not hard to understand cards. These commons have broad deck-building implications but they are all rather straightforward in what they do. Yet what they do is still too strong for the format as evidenced by their presence on the banned list. Treasure Cruise, a decidedly post-New World Order card also resides in permanent exile. There are cards from similar eras as these that currently see heavy play but if printed today would not be common. I can think of no better example than Quirion Ranger.

Quirion Ranger
Quirion Ranger sees play in both Stompy and Elves. It’s ability to reset land drops and untap creatures is on the high end for a common. Where it crosses the line of New World Order, however, is how it increases the number of decisions on any given turn. While using it to untap your own creatures may seem easy to grasp the consequences of that and the additional opportunity to play a land can compound the difficulty level of a given turn. Considering the presence of cards like Groundswell and Shinen of Life's Roar the complexity that Ranger creates is much higher than a card like Nettle Sentinel. Sentinel itself is a tough card on the field of play since it can untap at a moment’s notice adding another layer to combat.

Instead the cards that get to buck the trend today are those that are vital to Limited themes. In order for certain strategies to be viable in 40-card formats, Wizards occasionally has to push a few commons to make sure those decks are viable. In a vacuum this is fine as these commons do not disrupt Limited but rather simply help grease the wheels of particular strategies. We’re not talking about Sparksmith’s, we’re talking about Kiln Fiends.

Having cards added to Pauper by way of Limited means that over time certain themes and archetypes are going to have get meaningful additions. There are only so many different styles of play that can be supported in Draft. In order to make these decks dynamic and interesting certain key cards, namely commons, will need to help to facilitate the strategies. Let’s look at some recent examples:

Khans of Tarkir Gain Lands:

Thornwood Falls

While not revolutionary for Pauper, the Guildgates already existed, this take on dual lands were needed to give multicolored decks a chance. These cards helped to facilitate multicolored play. In Pauper these lands made it easier for two and three color decks to take a turn off for mana development thanks to their life boost.

Thraben Inspector:

Thraben Inspector

A simple execution of Investigate that helped G/W in Draft, the Inspector has shown up repeatedly in Pauper in both Mono-White decks, Token strategies, and W/R decks featuring Kuldotha Rebirth.

Thermo-Alchemist:

Thermo-Alchemist

The latest in a long line of cards meant to aid a U/R spells deck. Thermo-Alchemist has already put up great results in Burn and comes from a Limited Lineage that includes Kiln Fiend, Nivix Cyclops, Slip Through Space, and more.

Eldrazi Skyspawner:

Eldrazi Skyspawner

A card in the “Wind Drake” slot, this card was key in multiple strategies for Limited. Devoid made it important in Colorless Matters while the token helped in go-wide decks. The Skyspawner has found a home in Pauper decks as a way to fight Chainer's Edict.

There are more, of course. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was pushed for Limited to give heavy Black decks a payoff and Gurmag Angler was a reward for Delve. Recent Limited is littered with cards that served an important role while also finding a home in Pauper.

So then, why are there complaints?

Invigorate
In my observation the main issue Pauper players have with the current crop of commons is that they do not fix the problems of yesterday. There is a segment of the Pauper community that really enjoys doing broken things. Decks like Storm Combo and Invigorate Infect are incredibly powerful and dominated the format while legal. They required intense mulligan decisions and careful side-boarding. They were also far and away better than anything else one could be doing in Pauper.

From what I have seen the people who want stronger commons also want a smaller banned list. They want to be able to play with all the commons. Who wouldn’t? These cards are sweet! But at the same time it becomes hard to answer a card like Grapeshot or Temporal Fissure or Cloud of Faeries within the current design philosophy.

And commons should not be complicated. The most abundant game piece should not have text that is narrow. Bad cards are fine but mostly useless cards are dangerous. Commons cards are more important than Pauper, and I say this as someone who has carved himself out a nice corner of the community thanks to the format.

Pauper is a non-rotating format. Over time new cards will enter that interact in overpowered ways with those from five, ten, maybe even twenty years ago. When that time comes it is important to look at where things are breaking down and fix the problem through the ban list. By not banning cards the format levies an implied ban on hundreds of other cards that could never otherwise see play.

New commons are going to keep entering the format. Over time the sheer number will eventually force new decks to emerge. It is unlikely we will see a new Delver or Stompy anytime soon but that does not mean they will never come to be. I keep my eyes peeled for draft decks and new mechanics to see what could come up. You never know when New World Order cards will make a serious splash.


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