The Pauper format has taken Magic by storm over the the past few months. It has gone from an MTGO time waster to community darling format in a drop of a hat. It's not just the shock novelty of something shiny and new, either.
When Pauper started to boom, I incorrectly assumed it was just people chasing the rush of the latest, greatest fad. Standard was rubbish at the time, and when this happens, people look for alternative ways to get their Magic fix. We saw a similar phenomenon last year, when Frontier saw a short-lived surge in play.
Pauper Is Not a Fad like Frontier
I have nothing against Frontier. It's a decently fun format and I enjoy formats that are not solved. The problem that holds Frontier back is that it really isn't anything special. It's simple math:
Standard + Modern ÷ 2 = Frontier
The issue isn't that the games aren't good, because they are fine. The issue is that the flavor doesn't really blow anybody away enough to become deeply invested. No matter how you pour it, Frontier is either Modern Lite or Standard IPA. It's not really that unique.
Pauper, on the other hand, is unique. There is no other format in Magic like it with regard to what the format looks like or how the gameplay unfolds. Pauper has caught on for a combination of two reasons: it's both affordable and fun. Once you start playing, you want to play more. It's a function of the format and the games being interesting in a way that is completely different from other formats.
I've spent enough e-ink on selling Pauper. Whether you like it or don't, it is undeniable that the format is absurdly popular and continuing to gain momentum. From a finance perspective, it makes a lot of sense to use that information to our advantage.
Pauper Cards Are Good Value
Imagine a format that is growing in popularity and has a legitimate shot to become a real competitive REL format. Now think about the potential of format staples for that format if that format were made real. It's a huge upside.
Pauper singles have already asserted themselves in the marketplace. Cards that I wouldn't even have bothered to pick out of bulk two years ago now hold $5 price tags! Standard Bearer is now worth more than most of the rares in Standard.
The crazy thing is that Pauper isn't even a competitive format – yet. We've already seen a boom in Pauper prices over the past half year, but if we begin to see more large Pauper events, especially Competitive REL events, there will be another bump. That fact alone gives Pauper singles a huge upside that other cards don't have: the potential for a huge surge in tournament play. People who don't play Pauper now (because there are no Opens or Grand Prix) would now be buying cards.
The format is also expanding into new markets. As Pauper has picked up steam and more people are trying it out, it makes its way into more local game stores weekly. Pauper is a growing format and growing formats have rising single prices.
Bulk Is the Best Place to Buy Pauper Singles
I do a lot of the sorting and bulk-picking at my LGS. I can tell you that since Pauper has grown, that bulk is the absolute best value in Magic finance. It's not even close. There are a couple of reasons why this is true.
First of all, unless a player is intimately familiar with the Pauper metagame and what the decks are, it is difficult to know which cards are Pauper staples. Many of the chase Pauper singles are not cards that have been played in competitive Magic in any format before. In fact, I basically needed to learn Pauper in order to properly do Magic finance!
As the format gained in popularity the store was selling out of completely random singles. Well, not so random in the sense that they are Pauper staples. However, to the untrained eye, it seemed random: Goblin Cohort, Mogg Flunkies, Spore Frog, Tortured Existence, Tireless Tribe, Prophetic Prism, and the list goes on.
These are not what I would ever have considered "good cards." In fact, we were selling out of cards that I'd never sold a single copy of in fifteen years!
I learned the decks and cards of Pauper because it was necessary in order for me to acquire the cards the store needed. However, if I didn't have that affiliation with the store, and didn't learn Pauper, I would have had no idea these cards were desirable, playable and/or valuable.
Which leads me to my next point: the majority of Magic players have no clue about Pauper singles. Sure, people know that Gush and Pyroblast have gone up. Ask a non-Pauper player to tell you about Pauper staples and they'll just stare blankly at you. Either people know, or they don't, which creates a very uneven playing field and a lot of opportunities.
The best way to get ahold of this value is simply to buy bulk commons. The reasons is that most people don't know the Pauper singles well enough to properly pick all the value out. Most people know to pick out the good commons and uncommons: Brainstorm, Ponder, Lightning Bolt, Expedition Map, etc. People know because these are all-stars in the more widely played Constructed formats like Modern and Legacy.
New formats have new staples, and until the greater part of the community catches up and learns the format, it is an uneven playing field that favors those in the know. Pauper has seemingly doubled the number of $1 commons in the past few months, which means there are twice as many potential cards of worth to be found in bulk. The other key difference is that when it comes to the new half, many people don't know to pull them out before they bulk them out!
I could also see the price of bulk starting to trend up as more retailers figure out that bulk is a great place to find Pauper staples. This means that now is the perfect time to be picking up bulk, since you'll be able to potentially "double dip." In other words, we can buy bulk now, when it has a higher probability of not being searched for the Pauper staples (which also have the upside of spiking if the trend of large Pauper events continues), and then sell the searched bulk for a better price if it is in higher demand later.