17, Oct, 23

MTG Unban Being Considered for Controversially Fast Format

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Yesterday, a ban announcement was scheduled to take place. Unfortunately, while no changes were made to any format, virtually no information regarding the decision-making process from Wizards of the Coast was mentioned. This lack of insight provided regarding why no changes were made, especially given the prevalence of Rakdos Scam in Modern, left a lot of players perplexed.

Interestingly, though, the Pauper Format Panel that’s responsible for overseeing Pauper and making their own ban decisions gave a much more in-depth explanation for why no changes were ultimately made to the format. The Pauper Format Panel was designed by Wizards of the Coast employee Gavin Verhey in 2022, with the intention of advising the Play Design Team at Wizards of the Coast of potential changes that could help the Pauper format as a whole. For a format that is often overlooked, having a dedicated team to oversee the format is certainly a reasonable idea.

The decision to not take any action in Pauper is certainly a controversial one. With a detailed description of why no changes were made in the end by the Panel, it’s important to delve deeper into whether this was ultimately a good decision and how this affects the format moving forward.

Deck Diversity

It was extremely clear from the video about the overall state of the Pauper format that the number one reason why no action was taken is that enough different decks are routinely featured as top performers in major tournaments. While blazingly fast red decks featuring Monastery Swiftspear are definitely a huge part of the metagame, decks like Affinity, Azorius Gates, and blue-based Tolarian Terror decks are all capable of taking down a tournament. This doesn’t even include decks like Familiars, Gruul Ponza, Golgari midrange, and more that still show up regularly in the top 32 of Magic Online Pauper Challenges.

In this sense, it makes a lot of sense not to ban or unban any cards. Unfortunately, though, things aren’t always that simple. Just as important as the diversity of a format are the play patterns within that format. There’s a strong argument that the play patterns that regularly happen in Pauper are somewhat toxic, leading to less decision-making for players during the course of each game of MTG. Let’s take a look a closer look at some of these underlying issues.

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Balance Doesn’t Always Equal Healthy

One of the important things mentioned in the State of Pauper video is the overall increase in the speed of the format. Notably, this is something the Pauper Format Panel will continue to monitor. A big reason why this is important is that, as a format speeds up, there are simply less opportunities on average during games for players to make meaningful choices on how to sequence cards and game actions.

Take the above match, for example. In game one, the mono-red player was able to win on turn three, thanks to an unimpeded string of “Name Sticker” Goblins. This provided enough mana for a bunch more spells to be played, including Goblin Bushwhacker to give all their Creatures Haste and a buff. Then, in game two, the Affinity opponent cast All that Glitters with Metallic Rebuke backup on turn two, effectively ending the game even through a damage-based removal spell.

Matches like this are obviously not completely representative of the format, but showcase that, even in a diverse metagame, play patterns matter. Multiple decks, especially mono-red, can create polarizing games that feel like, even if you played optimally, you got run over and there was little you could do to stop it. This also further emphasizes the importance of the play/draw dynamic, with players that win the die roll having a pretty big advantage.

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Warping the Metagame

This increase in both overall format speed and polarity can also warp the metagame in a relatively unhealthy way. Take a look at the sideboard of this Gates deck from MTGGoldfish that made top 8 of a recent Magic Online Pauper Challenge. The entire sideboard is made up of blue and red Blast effects and Affinity hate. This type of approach is not uncommon. Almost every deck that has access to blue mana runs at least 5 blast effects to help avoid getting run over by quick Monastery Swiftspear draws from mono-red.

“To me, an impact of the speed is that the format favors powerful opening hands too much. If you have to mulligan against a red hand with multiple swiftspears, you’re likely hosed. That kind of play is hard to balance, but unfun in a tournament/league.”

@Pighway

Additionally, an increase in speed to the format puts a ton of emphasis on players’ opening hands, as players will get less draw steps in general. Because of the potential for extremely fast starts in the format, players will feel obligated to mulligan for early interaction. Simultaneously, mulliganing a lot really hurts against red decks that have access to Wrenn’s Resolve and Reckless Impulse, as well as Affinity decks with access to Thoughtcast.

Gavin Verhey mentioned in the State of Pauper video that there was consideration to unban Prophetic Prism to help allow decks like Tron to interact more favorably in the early turns. While this may help diversify the metagame a bit more, it showcases just how much speed matters in the format currently. In this sense, not banning anything from mono-red or Affinity is definitely controversial. With the Pauper Format Panel checking in again before the end of the year, it will be interesting if anything changes moving forward.

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Additional Unfinity Questions

“I think “Name-Sticker” Goblin is simply a symptom of a more basic problem, which is that the Unfinity team was way too aggressive in making stickers legal in eternal formats. They had to invent a whole set of rules to make stickers work in constructed formats, they don’t play well or make any sense in languages other than English, they don’t play well when a card with a sticker on it changes zones, and “Name-Sticker” Goblin couldn’t even be implemented in digital form without actual functional changes to how the card worked.”

@zealousdemon

Beyond the overall health of the format, though, there are also some questions revolving around whether having “Name Sticker” Goblin online is the correct thing to do. After all, the card is functionally a little different in paper than it is on online, as stickers couldn’t be added as intended for online play. Given that Pauper sees a lot of its play on Magic Online, it is certainly strange having players utilize essentially a different card.

As zealousdemon points out, though, simply reconstructing how the Goblin works online doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Pauper is still played in paper, and the Goblin supposedly sees noticeably less play there than online. Most of this is unlikely to be based on a power level discrepancy, though. Instead, lots of players probably just don’t want to play with cards that utilize stickers. They’re somewhat clunky and the set of rules that revolve around stickers can be quite confusing.

It wouldn’t surprise me if action is taken on the Goblin in some regard, regardless of overall power level and impact on the format. There are certainly different angles the Pauper Format Panel can take at the end of the year, and only time will tell if any action is taken.

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