Pauper is most likely the cheapest sanctioned constructed format on MTGO. Its concept is rather simple--only commons are authorized. If a card has been printed as a common in any set it is Pauper-legal, even if it has been reprinted at another rarity level in another set. For instance, Gush is Pauper-legal and is a common in Mercadian Masques and an uncommon in Vintage Masters.
Besides a few bans, Pauper doesn't have any other sort of restrictions--all commons from all sets are legal. Interestingly enough, Pauper is the last eternal format where you can play a playset of Ancestral Rec... I mean Treasure Cruise alongside with a playset of Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual and Phyrexian mana spells.
Pauper was a fairly popular format on MTGO in the past, but the online competitive activity seriously dropped about a year and a half ago after the disruption of Daily Events in Fall 2013. Nevertheless, it seems like Pauper lobbyists finally got heard as more Pauper daily Events have been programmed since last week. The fact that such a change in the Daily Event schedule is "due to popular demand" bodes well for us speculators--a player demand is already there.
Speculating with commons may not seem like it but it could be a serious business. Pauper staples have reached pretty high prices in the past, as high as 10 Tix. The reigning champion--Daze-- is currently sitting above the 27 Tix mark and is simply the forth most valuable card of Mercadian Masques block. Several highly playable commons in Pauper are from older sets with a very low supply on MTGO. Even a moderate demand would be able to drive prices of key commons from a few cents of Tix to several Tix.
Especially for small bankrolls this is an opportunity you want to consider. Specs have low entry prices and very decent returns can be expected. In this article I'll discuss potential speculative targets, pros and cons of investing in Pauper positions.
The Pauper Environment
Pauper is a world of commons. However that doesn't prevent this format from being competitive and rewarding winners of Pauper Daily Events as in any other formats. The big difference with Pauper compared to any other constructed format is that for the cost of two drafts, or ~25 Tix, you can buy a competitive Pauper deck and play as many Pauper tournaments as you want. The most expensive decks, including sideboard, cost around 100 Tix, mostly because of a few copies of Daze.
Being an eternal format, Pauper constitutes a great incentive for players on a budget to play competitive Magic--buy your deck once and for all. Depending on the deck choice a 4-0 in a Daily Event could be enough to cover the cost of the deck. What other format can beat that?
The Banned List
Seven cards are currently on the Pauper banned list. Even with only commons, some decks were getting too strong and/or too dominant, including Storm and Infect decks that easily can kill you as fast as turn three.
With Empty the Warrens, Frantic Search, Grapeshot and Temporal Fissure out for Storm and Invigorate out for Infect, Cranial Plating was judged too strong of an equipment in Affinity decks. Although the plating is banned, Pauper Affinity decks still have access to the five artifact lands.
As with all eternal formats having access to all cards of Magic: the Gathering, Pauper is dominated by blue.
Mono-U and U/R Delver decks are the most common decks in this format. The Mono-U version relies on cheap and fast creatures backed up by cheap draw spells and some disruption. The U/R version contains fewer creatures but has access to spells such as Lightning Bolt, Flame Slash and Pyroblast in the sideboard.
Stompy and Infect are two decks of choice of green players. Both decks present a very aggressive strategy. The Stompy version relies on swarming the opponent with powerful and evasive little creatures such as Nettle Sentinel, Silhana Ledgewalker and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. Infect plays the usual suspects Glistener Elf and Vines of Vastwood. Rancor is a must in both archetypes.
Mono-Red decks are divided into at least two different builds. The Burn version usually doesn't play any creatures maindeck but takes advantage of the fact that the best burn spells are mostly commons--Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Chain Lightning and Fireblast to name the most popular ones. The mono-red creature deck is Goblin- and token-oriented. Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Bushwhacker and Krenko's Command in combination with Raid Bombardment do wonders in this deck.
Control decks exist in several forms. Mono-Black Control counts on heavy creature removal such as Chainer's Edict, card advantage with Phyrexian Rager and life draining abilities such as Corrupt and Gray Merchant of Asphodel to steal the game.
Finally a deck named Familiar is more combo-oriented with Nightscape and Sunscape Familiar to combo with Cloud of Faeries, Snap and karoo lands. This deck kills with repetitive Capsizes, Sage's Row Denizen or when the opponent gets bored.
In addition to the above decks, Bogles, Affinity, Slivers, Elves and more recently Turbo Gurmag Angler have a shot in a format that is fairly open.
Pauper Speculative Targets
If Pauper again becomes a popular format, demand for commons, and especially old commons, will represent a serious speculative opportunity. Commons are obviously the cards on MTGO with the most supply in comparison to uncommons, rares and mythics. However commons from old sets with very limited supply can actually be pretty rare in comparison to commons from recent sets.
Commons from the most recent sets, even as heavily played in Pauper as Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration for instance, may not hold enough potential. Nonetheless you probably know that the Phyrexian mana spells, starting with Gitaxian Probe, are priced way above the average common value. Commons from second, and especially third, sets could be good targets, especially if these commons are in demand for other formats such as Modern, Legacy and Vintage.
I'll review here some of the best potential targets to look for in Pauper.
Since Pauper has been a competitive format online, several commons have constantly appeared in decklists of this format. Because they are from under-drafted sets, or never printed as a common, these cards were once pretty expensive thanks to Pauper and should be (re)considered now.
Serrated Arrows is a Pauper-legal card only printed as a Timeshifted card in Time Spiral. In other words, Serrated Arrows is a rare. This artifact was priced between 6 and 10 Tix in a not-so-long-distant past. From a 2 Tix floor its priced has already jumped to almost 4 Tix with the announcement of more Pauper Daily Events. Serrated Arrows might as well be on its way back to 8 Tix.
Exclude, Moment's Peace, Diabolic Edict, Lotus Petal and Unearth are not among the most played cards in Pauper at the moment--which is why they could be among the best targets now. All five of these cards have only been massively printed on MTGO in their original set, not in Modern Masters, Vintage Masters and not even in a Commander set. As the supply is low even a small demand would significantly push the prices.
Other old commons currently out of favor you may want to consider for speculation include Wellwisher, Tortured Existence, Innocent Blood, Timberwatch Elf, Birchlore Rangers, Quirion Ranger and Spidersilk Armor.
The following cards see a fair amount of play in current Daily Events. There might not be a lot to gain here but these are sure values in the short run. The degree of potential gains is conditioned by the success of Pauper in a near future.
Cloud of Faeries, Snap, Firebolt, Rolling Thunder, Crypt Rats and Cuombajj Witches, in addition to the Mirrodin artifact lands, may be worth the investment. These cards are played in winning Pauper decks these days and should keep gaining value as the number of Pauper adepts grows.
When printed in different sets, always pick the least expensive version. Although not always true, prices of the same card from different sets usually tend to converge. This is even more true is they have the same art.
As for any eternal format every new set may introduce new archetypes in any given format. Pauper is no exception. Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged introduced several constructed-playable delve commons. Treasure Cruise is still playable as a four-of in this format. Along with Cruise, Gurmag Angler stars in the Turbo Angler deck in Pauper.
What's more is that unplayed cards may suddenly gain value because of their synergy with new cards. In connection with delve cards, Thought Scour has already been put to work in Modern. In Pauper, the common from Dark Ascension is paired with Mental Note for an identical effect.
Despite being from a relative recent set Thought Scour could be a good target. However Mental Note has been only printed in Judgment. It already rose form zero to 0.3 Tix--the potential for a higher price is real.
Similarly to common Phyrexian mana spells, commons from second or third recent sets have the best potential to explode if exploited in Pauper. Reviewing playable and once-printed commons from recent second and third sets could put you ahead of the curve as the Pauper format evolves. How about Faithless Looting, Abundant Growth, Mutagenic Growth, Vapor Snag, Steel Sabotage, Soul's Attendant, Qasali Pridemage, Unmake?
Pros of Speculating With Pauper
Speculating with Pauper cards could be pretty rewarding. Some commons have the potential for spectacular price increases if Pauper attracts more players. Price history showed us how high prices can go. Things have been moving up recently and it might be only the beginning.
Pauper speculations are also perfect for small bankrolls. Many great targets are currently valued under 2 Tix.
If Pauper is here to stay we can expect to see prices fluctuate similarly to Modern ones. As for every eternal format cycles of ups and downs are to expect with Pauper prices. If these cycles happen to be true it will make Pauper speculations in the future even easier.
Cons of Speculating With Pauper
It would appear that Pauper is still a niche market. Prices are high mostly because of the relative rarity of some commons, not necessarily because of huge demand. There are no Grand Prix or Pro Tours to encourage people to buy and play Pauper, and no camera action to fuel crazy spikes. This means that the price growth of some cards may be slow or even non-existent.
More than any other cards, reprints of commons are a real threat to Pauper speculation. VMA totally crushed the price of pricy commons such as Gush, Chain Lightning and Cloud of Faeries. Prices may bounce back but are unlikely to reach their previous heights.
Flashback drafts can also do their toll of damages on common prices. Although not as devastating as the release of draftable sets such as Modern Masters and Vintage Masters, flashback drafts can easily bring the price of Pauper commons down. You want to be prepared to sell rapidly if you don't want to lose months of growth. On the positive note, flashback drafts are actually a good period to pick up commons that see play in Pauper, or any other formats.
Last Minute Edit: Tempest Remastered has been announced yesterday. This MTGO-only set will regroup 269 cards from the Tempest block. With this scheduled to be released next May, speculating on any common printed in Tempest, Stronghold and Exodus such as Lotus Petal and Tortured Existence for instance should be avoided.
Thank you for reading,