Last week, Twitter was abuzz with the concept of a potential Pauper Grand Prix. The topic made the front page of the Mothership and the Magic world at large was exposed to the amazing world that is Pauper. Of course, if you go back and check my Twitter history you will see that at the onset of this avalanche I initially disagreed with The Professor (of Tolarian Community College) as to the merits of a Pauper Grand Prix.
Don’t worry. I’ve come around.
Today, I want to look at the challenges and opportunities that come with a Pauper Grand Prix. I want to use this as a jump off point for deeper conversation around what the event would mean to Pauper.
With that out of the way, I want to start at the beginning. Before any tournament can take place, a fairly large wrinkle has to be ironed out: what is legal. This was, perhaps, my biggest trepidation with any sort of large scale paper Pauper tournament. Despite the growing paper community Pauper was fostered on Magic Online. In and of itself, this is not a huge issue, or rather it would not be if not for the release of four different Masters Edition, Vintage Masters, and Tempest Remastered on the digital platform. There are also a few cards printed at common in Paper that have not be released as such online, including Hymn to Tourach, High Tide, Sinkhole, and Desert. Many Paper events are run with the rider of “Magic Online legality” and the website Scryfall has an accurate Pauper filter. Yet, this is not an official declaration from the powers that be. How would I go about fixing it?
In my opinion, it’s already fixed. The Pauper legality list, as defined and played, is any card printed at common on Magic Online. Full stop. These rules have been used for more Pauper events than any other and have endured the repeated stress test of being subjected to event after event.
No doubt this will cause some confusion. The Pauper legality list is not the most intuitive of rule sets. There are a lot of cards that would be legal in Paper that have never been physically printed at common. It would be one thing if these were niche options, but many of them are key to the format like Chainer's Edict or Battle Screech. The best way to overcome this is a step ChannelFireball is already taking. In January, they will be running side events at four Grand Prix featuring the Online Legality list. By having visible paper tournaments, it helps to reinforce the notion of what is legal it creates a bank of knowledge upon which people can draw.
Wizards can do their part by publicly announcing that the Online list is the one true Pauper list. They could also make an effort to push Pauper legality live in Gatherer, which would do a lot to clear up issues. These two steps are vital because the last thing we need is for players to show up with a deck they think is legal only to be told otherwise. In the intervening time, I think that all Paper events should adhere to the Magic Online rule set.
I brought up the notion of a “stress-tested” format before and I want to elaborate on what this means for Pauper. Despite the attention I pay to the format Pauper has never been subjected to the same rigors of testing as a format like Modern or Standard. The highest stakes there are for Pauper regularly are weekend challenges. While a number of stores are now running tournaments with high prize payouts, this is nothing when compared to the value some place on pro points. Putting Pauper on the Grand Prix stage will subject it to the best minds Magic has to offer. In this case I have a legitimate concern that the player pool could break the format.
First off, Pauper has access to Gush. A uniquely powerful card, Gush is already a feature in many top strategies. Give someone like Luis Scott-Vargas and opportunity to play with the card and maybe he proves it’s the best. Pauper players, by and large, are not of the caliber of LSV, and when you give the best players the best cards, chances are the most broken thing could happen. Let’s not forget all the Artifact Lands are legal as well. In this way Pauper is a lot like Legacy. There is a good chance that if the format was played as heavily, and with as high stakes as Standard, a card like Brainstorm would have to be removed from the available card pool. If Pauper becomes a regular feature it could be subject to the same scrutiny.
On the other hand, how cool would it be to see Luis Scott-Vargas play a Gush deck? Or maybe we could see Reid Duke play a Tortured Existence build while Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa gets to play his preferred Faeries again. And could you envision a world where Guillaume Wafo-Tapa doesn’t play Mystical Teachings? In the wake of the announcement a few players chimed in that playing Pauper on the big stage would be a welcome reprieve. Despite being well established the format still has plenty of niche decks that could suit different play styles and pilots. Given the nature of Pauper, it would not surprise me to see some professional players and grinders pick up established decks while others try to innovate.
It is actually this high power level that gives me another pause. Ask many Magic players about Pauper and I would be willing to bet that quite a few of them would think it is similar to Limited and defined by cards like Runeclaw Bears. If a player has this preconceived notion and shows up to the Grand Prix only to get blown out by Nivix Cyclops and Temur Battle Rage, well that leaves a bad taste. Heck, even if you’ve been playing the format for years, losing to that combination can leave one wanting to flip the table.
Many of these issues can be ameliorated with one thing: exposure. Pauper is a format that exists in the shadow of others. If Wizards puts it on the front page and gives us legality in Gatherer, if Magic Online has more high profile Pauper events, if stores consistently hold events, all of these could help lower the barrier of entry while also helping to educate the potential player base as to the rules of the format. Magic is a hungry beast and this push could help expose the audience to new content creators and give those who already write and make videos something new to talk about. As someone who creates content let me tell you that this would be a wonderful reprieve.
For the existing Pauper player base the potential of a Grand Prix is not all upside. Some staple cards can be quite expensive — Oubliette already commands around $25 — and increased demand could increase those prices. Despite the fact that Pauper is affordable it is not a budget format by definition. Rather Pauper is competitive Magic using only commons and the low price point is ancillary to using the most frequently appearing game pieces. If Pauper takes off as a format that gets played beyond its current hardcore fan base then the players should expect prices to rise.
While this may be hard to deal with initially it could be a boon long term. By virtue of being made up entirely of Commons, Pauper gets to dodge something that dogs Eternal formats: the Reserved List. The Reserved List prevents certain rares from being reprinted. Commons are certainly not rares and, as such, everything is fair game for reprints. If Pauper has sustained success at the highest level it could mean that these hard to find cards could see new printings (perhaps even with new art). On top of this the success of Pauper could encourage Play Design to look for ways to add cards to Standard legal sets as plants for the format. There is precedent set for this with Legacy and Modern and if Pauper becomes popular I doubt it would be far behind.
A Pauper Grand Prix is far from a sure thing. At this moment in time, however, there is a real chance of it happening. I for one hope that those of you going to play in the Pauper side events in January tell your friends and bring them along. The best way to keep this going is to show that there’s a demand and fill these events. So tell me, are you going to play in a paper Pauper tournament?