Talk to any Pauper player for long enough and the subject of what Uncommons they would like to see downshifted is bound to come up. To me, this stems from two very different places. The first, more common version, is a desire to see the format go up in power level. There is a segment of players that somehow believe that Pauper is “less than”, and the only way to ameliorate the issue is to make it more like other formats. To me this is less than ideal as it runs contrary to the core of Pauper: playing Magic with only commons. I find it far more rewarding to try and figure out what cards could be commons that would benefit my preferred mode of play.
I do not think this discussion is completely without merit. Pauper occupies a weird space where the rarity restriction severely impacts what sort of cards could see print. We are beholden not only to the black expansion symbol but also to the health of Limited play. Part of what makes these conversations enjoyable is attempting to work within the constraints of the common slot. These are the discussions I enjoy most — what cards could reasonably be shifted down that would have a positive impact on the format.
Sets like Modern Masters and Eternal Masters has shown us exactly how hard Wizards is willing to push. Augur of Bolas, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Dinrova Horror are all cards recently shifted down that have had a massive impact on Pauper. Looking back, cards like Atog and Battle Screech were part of Magic Online only sets but have had their reverberations felt for years. With two different Masters sets coming in the next calendar year — Iconic Masters and 25th Anniversary Masters — I figured now would be as good a time as any to discuss some cards I would like to see enter the Pauper format.
A few caveats before I begin. First, I am going to be honest in saying that these are my opinions of what I would like to see. I am making these suggestions with the health of the format in mind. Second, I am also going to be pulling on what we know about these two upcoming sets to inform my guesswork. Given that one set is based around large rare creatures and the other is based around the entire history of the game, their potential range of inclusions is at once wide and narrow. With that in mind, let’s go.
We are going to start with a card that is not so different from the available suite of spells. Ulcerate is a powerful spell that is just a hair above the average strength of the Pauper removal suite. Not quite Lightning Bolt and not quite Disfigure, the closest comparison may just be Snuff Out. Snuff Out is stronger than Ulcerate but comes with a hefty drawback for its alternate cost — having a Swamp in play. This is a massive liability as the format trends toward multicolored decks with Dismal Backwater and its kin seeing more play. While Ulcerate is not as final as Snuff Out, it still handles plenty of early threats in the format at a reasonable cost, both in mana and life. The advantage of being castable off of the format’s best dual lands also matters as it provides a better early defense for multicolored Black decks.
Currently, aggressive strategies have an edge in Pauper. While far from a dominating force, beatdown decks have a significant advantage as far as card pool goes. There are more cheap creatures available at common than there are game changing late game cards. Wall of Omens would not stop these assaults entirely as cards like Rancor, Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, and Flame Slash would not suddenly vanish from the format. Instead Wall of Omens would give slower White decks a reasonable card to play on turn two that would not only absorb some damage but would also keep the cards flowing. Thraben Inspector is likely a better card and has not wrought havoc — Wall of Omens should be fine.
But if we have Wall of Omens should we not also have Wall of Blossoms? Of that I am less sure. Green needs this effect less between Sylvan Ranger, Elvish Visionary, and others. Green also has access to Wall of Roots and Overgrown Battlement, giving it another avenue for early defensive plays. While Wall of Blossoms would no doubt see play it is not as needed to fill a void that currently exists in the format.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might be familiar with conversations I was having prior to the release of Modern Masters 2017. I believed that given the abundance of common creatures with three toughness, as well as the potential for Burning-Tree Emissary draws, that a two-toughness sweeper would be reasonable. While Pyroclasm would have pushed the envelope a bit too much, these two options seem a tad more likely at common in a Masters set. The question becomes which one. While I like Infest for its ability to hit every creature, it is probable that Rolling Temblor may be better balanced for Pauper as it puts a hurt on ground creatures but leaves flyers alone, giving it a vulnerability. Claws of Wirewood does exist thanks to Vintage Masters and has seen some sideboard play to mop up an air force, as it were. Yet the Flashback may be too much, so then we are back to Infest.
Would either of these break the format? Doubtful, as Evincar's Justice is already a card that sees heavy play. As was the case with Wall of Omens, control decks need help to get to the middle stages of the game and these two cards would accelerate the opportunity to clear the battlefield a turn earlier. And even then, neither would push creatures entirely out of the format as Stormbound Geist, Kor Skyfisher, and Young Wolf all populate the battlefield early and often.
These four are interesting cases in that they are all already common. Except they do not have common printings on Magic Online. None of these cards would shake the format to its core but they would go a long way toward bringing the Paper and Digital world in line. Forked Bolt would be the best out of all of these as it would allow decks a chance to catch up on the draw. Custodi Squire is a fantastic midrange card that could rival Mulldrifter on five. The other two, well they would be nice to have but are less likely to have an immediate impact.
This is just a small list of cards I would like to see added the Pauper by way of downshifts. There are more styles of cards on my wish list. A second reanimation spell, one to supplement Exhume, would be fantastic. While I would love to be able to cast Reanimate in Pauper I think Zombify is more likely (but really, I’ll take Necromancy).
I would also like to see a better payoff for ramp strategies. Ulamog's Crusher is nice but there is no top end that can recoup cards while also doubling as a threat. Shriekmaw and Avalanche Riders and other smaller enter the battlefield creatures would be interesting but tough to balance for the health of the format. But those are the cards I want to see — I want to know what cards you think would benefit Pauper at large. Sound off in the comments.