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Reaching Beyond Pauper: A New Level

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Be sure to check out parts one (Paper), two (Online), and three (Deck Upgrades) as well!

Last week I rounded up my “Reaching Beyond Pauper” series in a way that left me satisfied. I talked about pushing your game to new limits through the Pauper format in paper, then online, and finally ways to advance to higher levels by taking your favorite archetypes into entirely new formats. Everything seemed perfect and I moved on to bring you some fresh updates on the ever popular Elves archetype. Mere hours after finishing and submitting that piece, however, Wizards dropped a massive bombshell on the community:

Yup, you’re reading that right. Competitive Pauper Leagues are now on Magic Online. This is a huge game changer for the format and in a way, Magic at large. Up until now, we’ve largely had to rely on staple formats like Standard, Modern, Limited, and, once in a blue moon, Legacy to be able to qualify for the Pro Tour. That’s all changing with the new way Wizards is structuring competitive play online, which you can read about here. Now you can get there by playing formats like Pauper and Vintage as well!

Eyes on the Prize

The article lays out a number of ways to reach this achievement, but they by and large revolve around the new Competitive Leagues. If you finish all five rounds with one or no losses, you’re awarded a certain number of MOCS (Magic Online Championship Series) Qualifier Points and Format Points. Both of these offer different paths to reaching the Magic Online Championship tournament at the end of the year, which is a major pathway to the Pro Tour and some serious prizes.

The first is the classic Qualifier Points, or QPs for short. Once upon a time you could get these points by playing the current Friendly Pauper Leagues only if you achieved a perfect 5-0 rating. That changed when Wizards began implementing the current prize payout of Treasure Chest boosters. When they phased out QPs from Leagues, there was quite literally no way to earn any playing the Pauper format for a number of months.

Finally, in the middle of 2017 they started the Magic Online Format Challenges, full Swiss tournaments complete with cut to Top 8 for every non-Standard format. This included Pauper, much to the excitement of the format’s passionate player base. Up until now, if you had a strong showing and made the Top 8 in those events, you would earn a number of Qualifier Points. The amount you would get would range from 3 for those who lose in the quarterfinals to 6 for whoever comes in first place. Given that you need 35 of these points to enter one monthly MOCS Playoff event, it wasn’t really feasible to get enough points to join an event without months and months of grinding.

Now you can earn QPs with the Pauper format once again thanks to the Competitive Leagues. By winning four of your five matches, you get one. If you go undefeated, however, you earn three. By playing the newly introduced leagues regularly in addition to the updated weekly Challenges, you can earn the needed 35 without much hassle. The playoff events are often formats like Standard or Modern but in the event you haven’t opted to pick up a deck for either format, there’s sometimes Limited events instead, meaning you can just build a deck and play on the spot. These playoff events all allow you to qualify for the MOCS quarterly finals event and you can even qualify for the Pro Tour by winning. If you win, you also qualify for the actual end of year Magic Online Championship event with some of the best players in the world.

A Format of Champions

With this major announcement also came the news of this new things called Format Points (FPs), as mentioned before. You’re unable to earn these for a few weeks, but starting on December 2nd you’ll be able to get Format Points in addition to the usual Qualifier Points. With every 4-1 record, you’ll earn two FPs and you’ll get five with a perfect league record. When you have 35, you’ll qualify for a quarterly Format Playoff. If you play in the Pauper Challenge that happens every week, you can win all 35 points in one go by taking home 1st place. Even if you don’t, though, every participating player will walk away with at least one FP and more are given depending on placement at the end of the round. Do note that these points won’t show up if earned between December 2nd and the release of Ravnica Allegiance until after the set itself drops. Wizards will track your progress and award actual objects when that time comes.

When the Format Playoff rolls around every three months, it’ll allow you to play for access to the Format Championship at the end of the year. The Top 8 from each Playoff automatically qualify. Each Championship offers significant prizes, with 1st place walking away with both a Pro Tour invite and invitation to the Magic Online Championship! Each Format Championship comes with its own special avatar specifically for the event in question, so there’s lots of reasons to get involved and up your game for that extra bling.

You can earn Format Points for every non-Standard Constructed format that Wizards supports at a competitive level as well. If you want to you can take some of your winnings from the Competitive Leagues and pick up decks for Modern, Legacy, or even Vintage. If you do, you can grind out FPs for even more opportunities to qualify for the Magic Online Championship and the Pro Tour. Oh, and don’t forget the glory and fame that comes with it.

Let’s Get Competitive

So now that we’ve got you up to speed about exactly what’s at stake here, let’s check out what these all new leagues have to offer us. First and foremost, it should be noted that entry is considerably higher and keeping yourself going on a regular basis requires a lot more skill. When entering Friendly Leagues, it only costs 8 Event Tickets or 80 Play Points and you can earn part of your entry back even with a negative performance. With Competitive Leagues, however, you need to put forward 12 Event Tickets or 120 Play Points to enter. And the prizes?

These prizes are a whole different animal from the ones you get with Friendly Leagues. Unless you win a whole three matches at the very least, you get nothing. You lose. Good day. Even going just 3-2 gives you barely over break even, which can be a little off-putting when there’s so much on the line. However, when you get into the 4-1 and 5-0 territory, things get really spicy.

A 4-1 record pays out 8 Treasure Chests, the same amount as you’d get for a fully undefeated record in the Friendly Leagues. There’s more still, though. It doesn’t just pay back your entry like a 3-2 record does. It actually gives you a whole half of an entry as well! Going positive twice like this will give you a whole entry to keep your grind going. On top of all that, you get a single Qualifier Point and starting December 2nd, as previously mentioned, you earn Format Points. With an undefeated record here, you get a mighty 16 Chests, 180 Play Points, 3 QPs, and 5 FPs. That’s a ton! It’s hard to get there, but if you can manage, the rewards are more than worth it.

Figuring Out The Metagame

Now comes the all important question: “How do I win?” These leagues are going to be considerably more difficult than the Friendly Leagues ever were. In those, you could reliably bring untested brews because there’s so little on the line. Even if it doesn’t perform quite as well as you’d have hoped, you can still get part of your entry back. Because this mindset is so prevalent, you can run into multiple players running rogue lists meaning it gives you a bit more of a leg to stand on, even if you can’t quite beat the top dogs of the meta.

When it comes to the Competitive Leagues, people are going to be bringing their A-game. Because they can’t afford to lose, things get way more cutthroat. You stop seeing the brews, the jank, and the mega budget lists quite as much. The format becomes net decks: the metagame. Only a handful of brews will make it in from time to time, as we’ve seen in the past year with decks like Boros Bully/Tokens and Mono-White Heroic, but they’ll be far and few between.

My first article under the CoolStuffInc.com banner was an overview of the Pauper format. It’s still a pretty overarching look at what’s going on right now in the realm of the format’s top decks. I did, however, fail to mention the Boros Monarch archetype that is also at the top of the heap. It revolves around slowly working your way to a boardstate with lots of small creatures to wear away your opponent while giving yourself lots of card advantage. When you look at the deck on paper, it’s hard to see or explain how it even really functions, but it works. I’ve seen it described as a deck that does a lot of nothing for five turns and then kills you.

Boros Monarch, alongside the arguable format kings Izzet Delver and Murasa Tron, are what you can expect to make up the core of the new Competitive Pauper metagame. There’s definitely more in store, but these decks have made the biggest splash in major events in the past and will continue to do so moving forward. But what other decks might show up around it?

In the first few weeks, I expect the competitive landscape in the Pauper leagues will be very similar to what we already see in Friendly Leagues. People will jam what they have and hope it sticks. Unfortunately it won’t, but some decks will see lots of success. Elves, for example, is a deck that historically performs well against Tron and Boros lists and can hold its own quite well versus Izzet Delver and especially its Mono-Blue counterpart. The little green men have been held in check up until now by the overabundance of Burn and Mono-Black Control lists showing up in Friendly Leagues. Because these decks aren’t quite as competitive at higher levels all the time and show up en masse largely because they’re so budget friendly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Elves make a renewed comeback here.

Just as well, fast decks like Inside Out Combo and Izzet Blitz move in so quickly they can blaze past decks like Tron and Elves to get in easy wins. They can sometimes struggle with the removal suites of Delver and Boros, but are still something you should prepare for all the same. Bogles, another quick aggressive creature deck, can be difficult for every one of the aforementioned lists to handle as well. However, it can also be stopped by well placed countermagic and can very easily lose to itself as well. Still, if you get a Slippery Bogle down and suit it up with an Ethereal Armor and Rancor quickly enough, it rapidly becomes too difficult for any Delver player to take you down.

Affinity is also poised to do well with lightning fast attacks and difficult to remove creatures, but can easily fold to the artifact hate that many players bring to the table. Stompy might even show up as well, especially with its history of taking down Tron and Delver players before they can stop the onslaught from hitting them. Lastly Dimir lists will also likely show up, however I’m not quite as sure as to how well they’ll perform with some of their best matchups like Mono-Black Control unlikely to show up quite as much.

It’s entirely possible the format doesn’t shake out this way and leans to some more interesting decks showing up instead. This is merely speculation, after all, that can be gleaned from prior major events and a deeper understanding of how people play Magic. A lot of this dynamic has shown true between Friendly and Competitive Leagues in Modern and Standard and will likely show in Pauper as well. How the format and its meta shakes out will likely become apparent over the next few weeks and I will likely revisit it to see how things are looking in roughly a month’s time.

So with all of that having been said, it’s now time for this final chapter to come to a close. Despite that, it’s the beginning of a bold new chapter for many players who dream of reaching that lofty goal of finding themselves at one of the absolute highest planes of Magic play. Will you be the one who makes it to the Pro Tour, or will you use the format’s new level of competitive play as a launch pad to bigger and better things? No matter which way you go about it, Pauper, and Magic as a whole, is going places I could hardly imagine up until now. I can’t wait to see who hoists the Pro Tour trophy next and maybe, just maybe, the coveted piece finds itself in the hands of someone who worked their way all the way up from a format full of commons.