Magic: The Gathering is not a singular game, it is a vast ecosystem of related game formats for every type of gamer. Some of these formats, such as Vintage, Modern, and Commander, are perhaps better known than others. But the Magic community is bigger than ever, and even traditionally smaller formats are getting bigger and bigger and more influential. This year, publisher Wizards of the Coast decided to draw attention to the Pauper format.
Pauper was first introduced in 2009 as an unofficial fan-made format which quickly grew in popularity. On Monday, Wizards of the Coast announced it was backing Pauper with its own panel of experts. Here’s what that means and how things will play out throughout 2022 and beyond.
Pauper is a unique Magic format where all cards used to play must be common—cards that are both plentiful (less rare) and therefore relatively inexpensive to purchase on the secondary market. It includes cards from all Magic sets that have ever been released. Similar to other Magic constructed formats, players may have up to four copies of a given card in a 60-card Pauper deck (with the option of a 15-card buffet if desired). Likewise, there’s a ban list curated by Wizards of the Coast that shows which cards you can’t play because they’re too powerful for the format to handle.
What makes Pauper such an exciting Magic format is the sheer number of cards available. You can create a Pauper deck using only the remaining cards from a booster box, or use the now-opened cards from the last draft you played at your local game store. Alternatively, you can buy the cards you need online or in a physical store, often for a fraction of the price of a deck needed to compete in another format. More importantly, Pauper upends the idea that rarity alone dictates a Magic card’s power, as some of the most powerful Magic the cards are common or uncommon.
While Commander is often considered a casual or entry-level format Magic, Pauper players tend to be some of the most experienced, and that experience often surfaces in the form of intense talk online. In such situations, the Magic player community is sometimes asked to help and offer advice on organizing these formats in a healthy way.
The best example of Wizards of the Coast stepping in to elevate a community format is the Commander format itself. Commander was originally created in the 1990s by Adam Staley, and it was quickly endorsed in 2011 by Wizards of the Coast with the release of the Commander pre-built decks. Through this approval, Commander is overseen by the Rules Committee and in 2019 the Commander’s Advisory Group was formed. Their role is to give their point of view on the format to assist and advise the Rules Committee. These two groups are made up of players and Magic personalities to discuss the health of Commander. Most notably, they exist to deal with any problematic cards to ban, or to unban any cards to help cultivate the format in a healthy way. These conversations would be discussed accordingly with a decision announced through official channels for Magic players to adhere to. Although most of the time not much needs updating, it’s safest to leave the health of the Commander format to those who are willing to give it the time and attention it needs.
The Pauper Format Panel is led by Gavin Verhey, senior designer at Wizards of the Coast who helped curate the commons-only format 15 years ago. Alongside Verhey, six Magic players and Pauper community figures help discuss the health of the format, and they’re Alex Ullman, Paige Smith, Ryuji Saito, Mirco Ciavata, Alexander Weber, and myself. The Pauper Formal Panel will also provide recommendations for action to Wizards of the Coast’s Play Design team. When discussing calls to action, those actions include deleting or canceling cards, to ensure that Pauper remains as attractive as possible to those who play it. According to Verhey, “the people who normally ban cards aren’t the ones who have the time and expertise to create Pauper the way Pauper players would really enjoy” – who admits Wizards of the Coast is unable to to provide expertise. As such, the Pauper Format Panel exists to help bridge that gap between its players and Wizards of the Coast.
While it can be scary to leave the responsibility for a delicate gameplay format in the hands of the players themselves, the committee members have the same passions and concerns as the publisher, which means they will be able to take a collective decision. This suggests that Wizards of the Coast has the confidence to invest trust in a select few to help resolve issues, and while this level of care is not required for all Magic game formats, Pauper is one of few who could do the most. Judging by the collective effort of the Commander’s Rules Committee and Advisory Group, Pauper’s future looks bright.