What’s up Pauper friends! Today’s article is going to be a fun one, and centers around a conversation I had in a Pauper group chat a couple of months ago. The fact that it was such an interesting conversation, and has stuck in the back of my mind all this time, suggests it’s a topic other Pauper fans might like to weigh in on. One of the primary ways Magic and its many formats undergo change is through new printings and releases, but in Pauper the legality of individual cards also depends upon a unique criteria of rarity. If a card that was previously a rare or uncommon is reprinted as a common in a new release, it is suddenly thrust into the mix and we call this phenomenon downshifting.
We’ve already seen examples of downshift that have made an impact on Pauper in recent years:
Foil, for instance, will be long remembered as the downshift that broke the camel’s back and for better or worse, started a chain of meta events that culminated in the Blue Monday bans. Many other downshifted cards have impacted the format in less dramatic but interesting ways. Some cards like Seeker of the Way, Lead the Stampede, and Elvish Vanguard are fixtures of top decks. A card like Fire // Ice provides great utility and flexibility for U/R decks. Other cards, like Mortician Beetle, Arrogant Wurm, and Dimir Guildmage have seen fringe play and are attractive options for brewers.
In general, I’m a big fan of downshifting and its capacity to shake up the format, and overall I’ve liked how it has been used thus far.
Today’s article includes my short list of cards that I think would be sweet to see interjected into the Pauper metagame at some point. I wouldn’t necessarily want to see all of them in one big lump downshift, but these are all cards that would earn a big smile on my face if I saw them on an upcoming Masters or Horizons spoiler.
Rules for Downshift
The point of today’s article is to get players thinking about how the format works and what types of game pieces they’d enjoy adding to the equation.
My picks tend to fall in line with effects that one would traditionally expect to see in an Eternal format that are not currently available in Pauper. The other criteria I used to inform whether I felt my picks were even realistic was “is this a card that could potentially be printed at common in a set” with regard to Limited.
As sweet as Inferno Titan is… I can’t imagine a world where it being a common in Limited makes much sense, and thus it doesn’t qualify as a card I’d specifically want to be legal in Pauper!
Also, keep in mind that what can or can’t be a common is subjective and has clearly changed over time.
These are examples of commons that were on par or better than most uncommons and rares in their day! So, there’s clearly some wiggle room to talk about the types of cards we’d like to see in Pauper one day.
8. Flames of The Blood Hand
Chances are, fans of Burn in Pauper know well the aches and pains of trying to Weather the Storm…
Weather the Storm is clearly fantastic against Burn and would continue to be so even with a card like FotBH in the format. The key element it would add is counterplay to powerful life-gain spells.
The correlation between drawing WtS and defeating Burn is high, and red mages don’t currently have much say in the matter! Last fall, I chatted Pauper with Burn expert and PPL champion Chris Van Meter, and from the Burn side, he said that Skullcrack was likely way too good, which is why I went with Flames. The extra mana goes a long way toward assigning an actual cost to countering a life gain spell. Maybe Flames is still a bit on the strong side, but it’s worth thinking about.
Whether Flames is too good or even a good dynamic is debatable, but the card does add a new dynamic.
7. Pyroclasm (and Friends)
I personally enjoy the impact that the serious lack of quality mass removal has on the format. Players are not punished merely for trying to play with creatures. Despite the lack of quality sweepers, I still don’t think creature-based strategies are dominant, or even the most powerful strategies in Pauper, which is why such an effect isn’t high on my list.
On the other hand, it’s always something that gets kicked around and I wouldn’t be doing the conversation due diligence to not bring it up as an area to explore!
To say Pauper doesn’t have decent mass removal is false:
It’s also true that black has the best and most plentiful options, and it declines quickly from there.
There are options across a broader range of colors for sweeping up 1-toughness creatures which creates interesting interplay with +1 toughness boosters like:
I respect the balance, but I’d be open to other options:
‘Tog is probably the most controversial card on my list, and is clearly pushing my notion of what a Limited common can and does look like. Nonetheless, there is something sexy about playing a Psychatog deck in Pauper…
Let’s party like it’s 2001…
There are a lot of nice pieces for a Tog shell already in play. The fact that Dimir Control generally lacks a way to win and feels like a durdle deck is also true.
Of note, the Combo and Tutor element of the Tog shell is absent from Pauper:
Without the combo flare, is it possible that a fair version of ‘Tog would be a great fit for Pauper?
It’s also of note that:
There are lots of answers to a powerful blue spell that hit Psychatog but earn a shrug from Gurmag Angler. So, it’s possible that Psychatog’s return could range anywhere from the real deal to all hype!
5. Zuran Orb
You first-picking this? Me either. Zuran Orb is a card I could see at common and adds some interesting dynamics to the format.
Everything I can think of that “breaks” Z-Orb are decidedly “not common” types of cards.
Maybe you can think of something busted, in which case I’ll concede to it.
Zuran Orb’s most attractive attributes are costing 0, being an artifact, and giving all colors access to efficient life gain at the cost of sacrificing lands.
Land drops are of great value and importance in Pauper, and repeatedly cheating extra lands into play isn’t exactly easy without set-up cards like Courser of Kruphix, Exploration, or Oracle of Mul Daya.
Thinking about things to do with Zuran Orb is interesting, but I can’t come up with something that feels more significant than “mediocre with potential” at best, which leads me to think this Ice Age classic would be fun to have around taunting brewers to find a way to harness its power.
4. Field of Ruin
I know… It just got reprinted at uncommon in Theros Beyond Death, which means isn’t likely happening soon. Still, what a great card this would be for Pauper!
We have narrow Stone Rains, but not much else to fight powerful nonbasic lands.
Ghost Quarter would also get the job done. Strangely, the deck most likely to play Field of Ruin or Ghost Quarter would be Tron as a hedge for the mirror. Anything that causes the “best deck” to weaken itself against the field to fight itself is fine by me.
3. Beast Within/Generous Gift
Part of the reason Tron is so strong in Pauper is there are only a few narrow ways to fight its biggest asset, its mana engine.
Flexible answers that can be turned against a land are rare in every sense.
Cards like Beast Within and Generous Gift would allow players to go after the mana engine in the early stages of the game but also break up the flicker loops in the later stages of the game at instant speed.
2. Dance of The Dead
DotD is the spiciest and most powerful card on my list by a wide margin and would be the riskiest card to downshift.
The problem (or correct balance, depending upon your point of view!) with Reanimator decks is that they only have one payoff card, Exhume. The strategy lacks the redundancy to build around and consistently execute.
It’s also relevant that the best target is:
Since Dance of the Dead returns a creature to the battlefield tapped and requires an upkeep of 1B to untap, it creates some interesting balance. Enchantment removal covers bases against Dance of the Dead, which provides an out to hexproof creatures like Striped Riverwinder.
1. Withered Wretch
Withered Wretch seems fine at common, and it’s exactly the kind of card I find myself wishing existed. It checks a lot of boxes without being inherently OP.
It’s a Zombie for tribal decks. It’s devotion for midrange decks. Its combat stats are modest and its ability provides a lot of utility.
Even outside of the obvious graveyard powerhouse of:
The incidental application of a main-deck Withered Wretch is worthwhile across the color pie:
And that’s just off the top of my head. Obviously, I love my mono-black decks, but the thing I love about the card is that it can be used to add grind to aggressive decks, or add body and beats to a controlling build without sacrificing the cohesion of your strategy.
Well, that rounds out my list! I’m sure there are dozens of other fun cards that already exist that would be sweet to see in Pauper some day. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, or your thoughts on some of my picks. Which card would you most like to see downshifted for Pauper play in the future?