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Magic: The Gathering’s Pauper format is having its moment

The all-Common card format gets royal treatment from Wizards of the Coast

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Artwork from the Counterspell card from Magic: The Gathering Image: Jason Chan/Wizards of the Coast

Magic: The Gathering isn’t a singular game, it’s a broad ecosystem of related gameplay formats for every kind of player. Some of those formats — like Vintage, Modern, and Commander — you may know better than others. But the Magic community is bigger than ever before, and even traditionally smaller formats are growing ever larger and more influential. This year, publisher Wizards of the Coast has decided to shower attention on the Pauper format.

Pauper was first introduced in 2009 as an unofficial fan-made format which soon grew in popularity. On Monday, Wizards of the Coast announced it is supporting 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 of the cards used to play must be Common — cards that are both numerous (less rare) and therefore relatively inexpensive to purchase on the secondary market. It includes cards from every Magic set that has ever been released. Similar to other constructed Magic formats, players can have up to four copies of a given card within a 60-card Pauper deck (with the option of a 15-card sideboard if desired). Similarly, there is a ban list curated by Wizards of the Coast which indicates 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 build a Pauper deck using just the leftover cards from a box of booster packs, or use the now-opened cards from the last Draft you played at your local game store. Alternatively, you can purchase the cards you need online or at a brick-and-mortar store, often for a fraction of the price of a deck needed to compete in another format. Most importantly, Pauper upends the notion that rarity alone dictates how powerful a Magic card can be, as some of the most powerful Magic cards are Common or Uncommon.

Whereas Commander is often seen as a casual or an entry-level format of Magic, Pauper players tend to be among the most experienced, and that experience often surfaces as intense discourse online. In situations such as these, the community of Magic players are sometimes invited to assist and offer advice to curate these formats in a healthy manner.

The best example of Wizards of the Coast stepping in to elevate a community-driven format is the Commander format itself. Commander was originally created in the 1990s by Adam Staley, and it soon became endorsed in 2011 by Wizards of the Coast with the release of the Commander pre-constructed decks. Through this endorsement, Commander is overseen by the Rules Committee and in 2019, the Commander Advisory Group was formed. Their role is to give their perspective on the format to assist and advise the Rules Committee. These two groups consist of Magic players and personalities to discuss the health of Commander. More notably, they exist to address any problematic cards to ban, or to unban any cards to help cultivate the format in a healthy manner. These conversations would be discussed accordingly with a decision announced through official channels for Magic players to adhere to. While a lot of the time little needs to be updated, it’s safer to put the health of the Commander format into those who are willing to it give the time and care.

The Pauper Format Panel is led by Gavin Verhey, a senior designer at Wizards of the Coast who helped curate the Commons-only format 15 years ago. Alongside Verhey are six Magic players and personalities from the Pauper community to help discuss the health of the format, and they are Alex Ullman, Paige Smith, Ryuji Saito, Mirco Ciavatta, Alexandrew Weber, and myself. The Pauper Formal Panel will also provide recommendations of action to the Play Design team at Wizards of the Coast. When discussing calls to action, these actions include removing or unbanning cards, this is to ​ensure Pauper remains as engaging 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 craft Pauper in the way Pauper players would really appreciate” — which admits that Wizards of the Coast isn’t able to provide the 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 of a delicate gameplay format into the hands of the players themselves, those on the committee harbor the same passions and concerns as the publisher, meaning they will be able to come to a decision as a collective. It suggests Wizards of the Coast has the confidence to invest trust into a select few to help solve problems, and while this level of care isn’t required for every Magic gameplay format, Pauper is one of the few that could do with it most. If the collective effort of the Commander Rules Committee and the Advisory Group is anything to go by, then the future of Pauper is looking bright.