This happened at Grand Prix Las Vegas:
Mark Rosewater just asked me, "So what does Pauper need?"
I told him, "Paper Pauper Legality, Pauper on Gatherer, and reprint Oubliette."
"I mean from ME." he replied. "What kinds of cards do you wish we'd DESIGN for Pauper?"
I spent 10 more minutes urging the Oubliette reprint.
— Tolarian Community College (@TolarianCollege) June 18, 2018
Oubliette aside, this is a meaningful interaction. Here we have the head designer of Magic asking what he can do for Pauper. It is clear that Wizards of the Coast believes, in some meaningful way, in Pauper. Otherwise, the folks that make the game would not be asking what they could do to help the format. Pauper already has a decent amount of support from the folks at Wizards but this… this is on another level entirely. With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on what the fine folks in Design can do to help foster a healthy Pauper environment.
For the time being, it appears that no cards are going to be joining the Pauper banned list. I made my feelings on this subject known a few months ago and while I still think something could go, I have no idea what it could be. Taking away the powerful cantrips of Ponder and Preordain just means that Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand slot in. Still, I wrote that article not thinking the conversation posted above would ever take place.
Now that it has, that changes things.
Pauper needs ways for non-blue colors to smooth out their draws and increase the consistency of core strategies. Faithless Looting, Night’s Whisper, Gods Willing, and Adventurous Impulse are all examples of cards that fit the bill, although some—looking at you green and white—could use a boost in power.
So what would this look like? Let’s look at Commune with Dinosaurs. This is a pretty neat card that was clearly designed to facilitate a Dinosaur deck in that it finds you mana to cast your big monster or the monster itself. But there are next to no playable Dinosaurs in Pauper. Designing this card to look for a creature with a power of 4 or more would take away some of the flavor but do wonders for the card’s viability in Pauper. While design cannot pull focus from the backbone themes of their sets, they can help make workhorse commons a bit more backwards compatible.
Speaking of themes, I think design could stand to do a bit more pushing at common. Historic was a main throughline of Dominaria. Yet at common there was only one style of payoff in artifacts. Sagas, a main feature of the set, were deemed “too complex” for the lowest rarity. Trying to find a way to put foundational elements of sets at common could help Pauper. A legal Saga, for example, might never see play but people would still attempt to build around the card. Eventually, it could become playable.
Momentum vs. Inertia
Pauper is an entrenched format. The top archetypes are well established and it is hard to make inroads. Overcoming this inertia at the apex of the metagame will take nuanced designs that can give decks new tools without making them overpowered. Blue might not need another new filter spell but finding ways to give these decks new options is vital.
Let’s look at Metallic Rebuke. Affinity has been a top deck for years and it has evolved very little in that time. Temur Battle Rage may have replaced Fling in some builds but it is still largely unchanged. Metallic Rebuke gave Affinity an on-theme counterspell that is not a staple of the archetype but instead provides a new option. This came on the heels of Gearseeker Serpent, a new card that built on an established mechanic.
For every deck that has its place there are many more vying to make it to a high tier. These decks tend to align closely with various repeated Limited themes. Izzet Blitz is one such deck. After years of having blue-red be a “spells-matter” deck, the Gush combo was very close to being a tier 1 strategy. With every release the deck got another card and the printing of Temur Battle Rage put it over the top. Knowing what these decks are, what they need to take that next step, and designing cards to fill those holes would be a true boon to Pauper.
Enhancing Game Play
Pauper has some awesome game play. It can also be miserable. The format lacks a good catch-up mechanism for slower decks—there are no board wipes and very few efficient 2-for-1s, so falling behind can be a death knell. At the same time, there are decks that can absolutely stonewall attacking based strategies in a way that can drag out games and give the beatdown player no way to punch through. It is not that these strategies should not exist but rather they need reasonable counterpunches. Again, this is another tough nut to crack as you need to design somewhat narrow cards that need to play well in the wider world of Magic.
Don’t Design for Pauper at the Expense of Magic
A lot of discussion in Pauper circles centers around seeding cards in sets like Conspiracy or Commander. Some have asked for a Pauper specific release to get cards into the format that would otherwise be verboten. I’m not a huge fan of the special product scenario as it subverts a key element of the format: that it is Magic, using only commons. Instead, I would like to see an effort put into making Standard legal releases more applicable to Pauper. I’ve outlined some ideas in this piece but I am not a designer—the folks in Renton are.
Pauper is defined by what it lacks almost as much as it is defined by what it has. The restriction of using only commons is intrinsic to the format. Subverting that in anyway, to me, would do more harm than good.
Official Rule Set
One more thing: Give Pauper an official format. Right now it’s sanctioned on Magic Online and almost all major paper events use the Online legality list. Please Wizards, just give the format an official rule set (and I am of the mindset of using the Online legality list).
These are just some of my ideas for what Mark Rosewater can do to help Pauper. What do you think? What are some reasonable steps that Wizards can take to help improve Pauper, both from a design perspective and in terms of support?