Thursday, March 7, 2013

Some Standard Pauper Theory

As I was going through my daily web crawling for interesting videos and strategy regarding Standard Pauper, I made two interesting finds that I thought were worth further consideration. The first one was an article written by Pro Tour Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa on what makes for a good article on Magic the Gathering.
Even if you're not planning on doing any writing yourself, it's well worth a read. One of the points that stuck out to me is the value he finds in articles about Magic theory. Rare indeed is the writer who can articulate theory on this great game in a way that is clear, compelling, and accurate. And while I would hesitate to present myself as being worthy of such a task, I do believe that, at least when it comes to Standard Pauper, I have at the least a good understanding of what makes that particular format tick.

While I was still thinking about PV's article, I came across this post on the Standard forum. Let's take a look at the opening post:

Essentially, vandergus is stating that Standard Pauper is not as interesting as other formats like Classic Pauper, simply because games come down to simple one-for-one trades between opponents until one or the other has a stronger draw than the other and goes on to win. He bases this declaration on the fact that the distribution of power among Commons is so flat that they are almost equivalent one to another. He contrasts this with Classic Pauper, in which the power level is high enough that players are each attempting to pull off some larger effect in order to the win the game.

If you're interested, you can read the responses his post generated here.

Vandergus' analysis is a nice piece of theory regarding Standard Pauper. While he doesn't deal with much in the way of examples, he accurately portrays some of the flow of a typical Standard Pauper match. Nonetheless, I think his analysis is somewhat flawed. Here's why:
  1. While the distribution of power is more even compared to Uncommons and Rares, there is certainly still a big difference between good and bad cards in Standard Pauper. For every Delver of Secrets or Seraph of Dawn, there are corresponding Bellows Lizard and Battleflight Eagle.
  2. Different archetypes rely on distinct strategies to win, some of which go beyond simple removal and creature combat. Infect, Flicker-mancer, Mill, and Hexproof are all recent examples of strategies that go beyond simple creature-based attacks. Additionally, most Standard Pauper decks can be measured along the axis of Aggro vs Control, much like decks in other formats.
  3. The best players win more consistently than lesser skilled players, even when playing equally strong decks. When the same players make Top 8 or better in event after event, one cannot conclude that winning is simply a means of whoever top-decks first.
But the main issue that vandergus puts his virtual finger on is correct: Standard Pauper is a more subtle format. It rarely does anything big or flashy. Nor does it have the tools to have large swings, where one player, then the other, takes over control of the game. Instead, successful players in Standard Pauper build their advantage slowly but surely, making the best use out of their cards to secure their advantage. This advantage can come from a strong combination of cards (like the aforementioned Gravedigger + Kor Skyfisher combo of the past), or from summoning creatures faster than an opponent can remove them, or even from overwhelming card advantage using cards like Amass the Components. Or, as was already mentioned, players turn to alternative win conditions, playing an entirely different game than their opponent to secure victory. These effects are subtle, true, but no less skill-based and interesting than their equivalents in other formats. At least, that's my opinion.

So what do you think of vandergus' argument? Do you agree with my analysis? Or perhaps you have a different take on Standard Pauper theory altogether? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!


  1. you forgot luck. lol some players are born with it. Even those that are very good players,
    I love std pauper, granted there are at times where it seems sluggish but for the most part its AWESOME!

  2. I think standard pauper has made me a better player because I'm learning how to work with limited resources. In other words I'm thinking more about how I play than just having the best deck. I'm still a noob, but this format is great because of course you can build a good deck for $5 instead of $200.
    This leads to more games, more decks and more activity in general.

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