A very merry Christmas to each of you! In the spirit of Tiny Tim, this week I'd like to take a look at the Pauper format, a format which has become a hot button topic in Magic ever since Channel Fireball announced that it would host Pauper side events at Grands Prix in 2018, with the possibility of having an official Pauper Grand Prix in the future should these side events prove popular. No doubt you already knew that...
“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don't mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
But what you might not have known is that there are several underlying financial indicators that Pauper is picking up steam, both online and in paper. In paper, a little more than a year ago, several cards used exclusively in Pauper saw dramatic (and heretofore sustained) price spikes. Quirion Ranger, once mired below $1, now holds a value above $2. Standard Bearer, once below $0.20, now rests over $0.50.
These are just two examples, of which there are many more, of cards used exclusively in Pauper, and not in Commander, Legacy, Vintage, or Modern, that have gone up in price over the past one to two years. This can mean only one thing – there is some real demand for Pauper out there. Perhaps the across-the-board price increases of cards like these is what gave Channel Fireball the confidence to undertake such a bold shakeup with their flagship tournament events.
Although it can be hard to profitably speculate on Pauper cards in paper due to the increased cost of doing business (for discussions of speculating on Pauper cards in paper, see Adam Yurchick's QS article and a Youtube video I did with Rogue Deckbuilder), speculating in Pauper on MTGO can be a lucrative practice. Although it takes a little more MTGO-specific knowledge, there is no time like the present to take a look at Pauper and think about investing in the format. Ever since the release of Ixalan, Pauper has been growing in popularity online, and there are now over 850 people in the Pauper League, which I believe constitutes a record high. Further, Pauper staples have seen significant gains in recent months, rising in value from $40 to $60.
What I'd like to do below is arm you with some knowledge necessary to get you started in investing in Pauper. Investing in Pauper is a lot more like investing in Legacy than in Standard or Modern.
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
I. The Treasure Chest Exclusives List
(1) It is very important to know what cards are on these lists, and at what frequencies. Bookmark this page. It is also important to know the difference between these lists. Most have heard of the former but not the latter. The Treasure Chests Exclusives list is composed of cards that have only been released through treasure chests on Magic Online. Most of these are cards that were released in a supplementary product in paper, sets like Conspiracy, Portal: Three Kingdoms, or Commander 2017. Cards on this list are rarer than cards on the Curated Card list, which is why cards like Palace Sentinels are so expensive. The reason cards on this list are rarer is that this list is given a slot in your treasure chest 5.00 percent of the time, compared to 9.83 percent for the Curated Card list. And in general, Pauper cards on this list would have made for great long-term investments.
Investing in Palace Sentinels and Thorn of the Black Rose would have made for great investments back when the Monarch mechanic was still an unproven commodity in Pauper. The Monarch mechanic is the primary way nowadays that non-blue decks grind out value. Last month, Entourage of Trest was released on MTGO, giving green a way to ascend the throne in Pauper.
Although the card has not caught fire yet – it does cost one more than its white and black counterparts – the card will likely reach 10.00 tix if it manages to work its way into the metagame. I'm looking to buy the card under 1.00 tix, but I think anything under 1.75 tix is reasonable. Several other cards on this list intrigue me, notably the following:
At their current prices, I'm very tempted to speculate on Borderland Explorer and Energy Tap. Both are pieces that could enable new archetypes to flourish, and both are at such low supply that their reward potential is astronomical. At minimum, I see no reason not to use excess bot credit to buy a few of them.
II. The Curated Cards List
Many Pauper staples are on the Curated Cards list, and many are at extremely high frequencies, so you need to be careful when you invest in these cards. If a card has a curated frequency greater than six or 12, I recommend only short-term speculation. If a card has a curated frequency greater than 20, I recommend avoiding speculation on the card altogether (at that point they are a liability to merely own them, a problem that several articles have recently shed light on, including one by our very own Brian DeMars). Below is a helpful list of Pauper staples on the Curated Cards list. Also ignore Cuombajj Witches and Serrated Arrows, since those cards are in the Player Rewards Packs. Bookmark this page if you plan to invest in Pauper.
I don't love any of these cards at their current prices. However, if the Pauper League reaches 1,000 players in the coming months, some of these begin looking better, so in my mind investing in cards from this list amounts to a vote of confidence in the growth of the format. Daze, in particular, would likely reach the $20 to $25 range. Moment's Peace could continue to rise to $5 to $7.50, and several of the black cards like Pestilence and Evincar's Justice are appealing since black control is no longer a core part of the metagame. At the end of the day, though, there are many Pauper playables and staples not on this list, and in general that's where I'd look to place my bets.
III. Use the Natural Rhythms of Pauper Cards to Your Advantage
The last piece of knowledge I'd like to give you today is that many Pauper cards exhibit a very cyclical rise and fall. One very simple (and conservative) Pauper investment strategy is to identify and invest in staple cards that are at lows and wait until they go back up to sell them at modest gains. This sounds so simple, but this isn't something you can really do with any consistency in Standard or even in Modern. This is much more of a phenomenon to be cognizant of in Pauper.
Pauper has a healthy metagame, meaning that various decks supplant each other at the top of the food chain, and this reverberates down through the whole format. Thus decks like Affinity fall in and out of favor, which causes prices of cards like Atog to rise and fall with regularity. So the best thing to do is to just browse the metagame on Goldfish and look at cards to familiarize yourself with the format and its cards. And sometimes you'll come across cards that exhibit this cyclical pattern and make a note of it and perhaps set a Goldfish price alert for it. When this article goes live, it is likely I will have invested in Exclude, a card that has exhibited this very pattern and which is at a low point right now.
Signing Off: When to Pull the Trigger?
I think a good time to jump in on appealing Pauper targets will be in the coming weeks once Rivals of Ixalan spoilers begin, and especially once Rivals of Ixalan has been released on MTGO. Especially for expensive cards like Daze, Nettle Sentinels, Hydroblast, and Pyroblast, it is best to wait a few weeks before purchasing them, since those are the very cards that a lot of people will sell in order to draft the new set.
As always, leave your comments and questions below and I'll get back to you. There's a lot of information here, and I'll be happy to field any questions and clarify anything. The current state of my portfolio can be found here.
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”