After Ultimate Masters dropped in late 2018, I was worried that we wouldn't get any real meaningful downshifts to help juice up the all common format of Pauper. Yeah, we get some from time to time, like the handful that showed up in Core Set 2020, but they're just not the same as that hit you get from Masters sets. I'll never forget the first time I saw the Foil downshift and it hit me just how stupid the card was in conjunction with Gush or how Lead the Stampede made me lose it over how perfect it was in my signature deck of Elves.
Imagine my surprise when Wizards of the Coast dropped the announcement of Double Masters completely out of the blue. My hype levels went through the roof, as did those of Pauper players the world over. Other players get excited about more reprints becoming more accessible thanks to the set. Pauper players, on the other hand, get excited because of the changes these sets tend to bring thanks to the slew of rarity downshifts. It may have taken a bit longer than I'd have liked for them to drop the new cards, as WotC indicated they wanted to focus on all the rares because there were so many more in Double Masters, but we finally got our set of new downshifts.
I'm here to talk about each and every one of the sweet new twenty-five cards entering the Pauper format as a result of these shifts. Let's check them out!
We kick things off with a bang with this incredible downshift. Abrade offers a TON of flexibility in gameplay and can act as either creature removal or artifact removal. Pauper has no shortage of either one of those, and so I have to imagine this will see quite a fair bit of play in decks like Boros Monarch, Boros Bully, and maybe Tron.
This is one of those weird niche cards that shows up from time to time and can be tough to evaluate. At first glance, you might think this card isn't all that spectacular, and for my money you'd be right. Still, I think there's something to be said about being able to give your creatures lifelink to help stabilize yourself and keep you in the game against certain matchups. It's the kind of thing that's probably better than it looks in certain situations, but isn't worth looking at most of the time.
Ancestral Blade feels simultaneously awesome and yet unexciting. It's basically a bear that can allow you to split up its power over multiple turns. I can't see it making much of a splash in the format - especially when something like Flayer Husk already exists - but I definitely think that Pauper Cubes will love this forever.
Argivian Restoration is a really awesome card that hasn't seen a reprint since Duel Deck Elspeth vs. Tezzeret. It's a pretty great choice as well, being well cost and touching on some design space we haven't really seen much before in Pauper. Thanks to the limits of the format, however, there aren't really much by way of juicy reanimation targets. As such, it might not see much play any time soon outside of people perhaps testing it in their Myr Retriever combo lists for the time being. The effect is very good, though, and is something to keep in mind as future sets bring more new artifacts into the format.
Remember that time when Balduvian Rage shot up to $7 last year thanks to Feather, the Redeemed? I remember. Ultimately this is a really cool downshift that probably won't do much. There's been some cute Red Prowess decks in the past that this might benefit, but I don't think it really fits well into anything Pauper currently has to offer.
Bone Picker is no joke. There's not that much to say about this card, really. It's often times just going to come down as a 3/2 flier for 1 mana, especially in a format that cares so heavily about creature removal as Pauper. This gives the many Black decks in the format a new way to attack and fight for the win and I expect it to show up quite a bit going forward. Aside from the Myr Retriever combo decks, which I'll get to shortly, this seems to be the one getting the most people brewing and seems to be one of the strongest downshifts so far. Expect to see this one a ton going forward.
All right, now I know what you're thinking because I've heard it everywhere in the last few days:
"Cast Down is broken in Pauper."
The logic here is that because Pauper has no legendary creatures - barring the bad Legends ones that aren't played - it just straight up kills any creature in the format. That's gotta be insane right? Well, yes, but not really. We already have a lot of great removal spells that more often than not are absolutely capable of taking out any creature the format has to offer. It's one thing that's made Skred and Defile so powerful in their respective decks.
Cast Down is the kind of card that fills the role things like Doom Blade and Victim of Night did previously in Black decks. It kills all the same creatures, plus a few others. The creatures that you can now kill with this over those includes Gurmag Angler, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Chittering Rats, and so on. By and large, this more or less just makes Black mirrors - where you would expect to see this - less miserable and filled with dead cards pre-sideboard.
Cast Down is great, make no mistake, but it's only a step up to make some truly awful matchups better rather than bringing a mindblowing card into the format. It's a great one, a powerful one, and will be a big roleplayer, but it's just not quite broken as some people want to think it is.
This just feels like a downshift for Limited and is fighting for space in the format with the likes of Savage Swipe and Epic Confrontation. It's important to note that this ability isn't an outright fight but rather more of a Rabid Bite with a pump for an additional mana. I can't see this making it into the format in any way, really, but might be a reasonable option for Pauper Cubes looking for more of this kind of effect.
Oh man do I love this card. Five mana is a lot, but for decks like Tron, Elves, and Wonderwalls, it's not as difficult to get on the field as you might think. And once it's on the board, it's a 4/4 that can handily beat face. Mono-Green Elves especially loves this, as one of the biggest strikes against that particular build of the deck has long been that it lacks potent sideboard options that can be found with Winding Way and Lead the Stampede. The best artifact and enchantment hate the deck often had was Caustic Caterpillar, and as you can imagine it's quite weak. This packs a punch and might even be maindeckable as a one-of in certain metas. Expect to see this one quite a bit going forward.
Now this is some premium removal. For as good as White's removal is in other formats, it's always been a bit lacking in Pauper. The best is obviously Journey to Nowhere and sometimes Oblivion Ring, but past that it's basically Sunlance. This fights with Journey and O-Ring (which already barely shows up except for occasional appearances) but I think there's still likely to be certain metas where this card ends up showing up and being relevant.
Crusader of Odric
Remember the first big downshift in a Masters set, Scion of the Wilds? Yeah, that one kind of sucked. It showed up in some brews involving Sprout Swarm, but generally speaking Green just has way more ways to go tall that are just better. As such, it never really made a big splash. White on the other hand doesn't have quite so many great ways to go tall. Crusader of Odric might just be what the doctor ordered for go-wide White decks to have a big beater. It unfortunately doesn't have any evasion, which is a big strike against it. That said, it's still a heavy hitter that I expect to see make an appearance when players bring their Mono-White Tokens decks to the table.
Everflowing Chalice is another one of those downshifts that made people's eyes bulge when they saw it. It's gotta make ramp decks great right? ....right?
The reality is it's probably not as good as you might think it is. In truth, a lot of the times when you're looking to cast Everflowing Chalice is on turn two for the extra mana bump. You might be able to pour more into it the later into the game you are, but usually you only kick it once. The problem is this often makes it a Signet that only taps for one colorless mana. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have the colored mana myself.
There was a meme deck in Dreadmaw Stompy that sought to ramp quickly into a Colossal Dreadmaw and other big creatures once upon a time. This might be worth it somewhere like that where you might want to kick it multiple times. Usually, though, Tron's just better. At least for now pending further bans if it turns out - as some grinders claim - Expedition Map wasn't enough.
Keep an eye on Chalice showing up in the future, but just be aware that it's probably not quite as good as you might think it is in the context of Pauper.
It's a bit impressive that we just saw this at uncommon in Throne of Eldraine and it's already downshifted here. It kind of makes sense, though, when you consider Kasmina's Transmutation already exists at common. In fact, for the context of Pauper - which really doesn't care too much about creature types in most cases - they might as well be more or less the same. There's a few fringe cases where you can make certain tribal interactions worse for your opponent as this replaces the creature type as opposed to adding to it. Most of these aren't really all that notable, though, as one less elf for Priest of Titania or Timberwatch Elf usually won't be a dealbreaker. Still, like Kasmina's Transmutation, this is a solid card that will show up every once and a while in sideboards, but won't make a massive splash in the format.
Equipment decks aren't really a thing, but for any deck that does happen to be around, Golem-Skin Gauntlets is big game. Multiples of these can grow creatures exponentially as well, and it could mean some decks try a heavier equipment strategy as a result. Outside of those specific strategies, however, this is often worse than even Darksteel Axe, which already sees no play in favor of Bonesplitter - which also happens to see little to no play these days. I expect we'll see players try this card from time to time, but that it won't really ever make the impact it wants to.
Let's be real here - Ixalan was just a pretty powered down block. It wasn't as powered down as something like Masques block, Kamigawa block, or even Theros block, but the drop off from Kaladesh and Amonkhet was really noticeable. When fellow CoolStuffInc.com writer Zvi Moshowitz wrote his Core Set 2021 review, there was one line that stood out to me and many others of, "We need the second Mercadian Masques." To a lot of people who saw that line, Ixalan was just that - a noticeable power shift after some absurdly potent blocks. As such, a card like Heartless Pillage was fine at uncommon, even, when it was just a slightly better Mind Rot - which is a common in many sets. Here it's a common, as it probably would be in many sets, and given its status as just a better Mind Rot, it probably won't see much play at all.
Iron League Steed
Iron League Steed is really a Limited card, as there's not a whole lot that wants a four mana 3/3 haste creature or two artifact creatures for the same price. Don't expect this to show up much outside of Pauper Cubes - and even there you'd only want it if you have a really heavy artifact theme.
Kazuul's Toll Collector
Now this is my kind of card. This is the sort of thing that sets off the brewer bells and I've had a few people talk to me about this card. Now, I'll be real with you: this definitely isn't a competitive card by any stretch of the imagination. It's slow and extremely difficult to make work, not to mention it dies to just about any kind of removal. But when it works, it works. You can put a Whispersilk Cloak on this thing and its ability will still get around the shroud granted by the Cloak. It might not be something that makes waves, but I'd be surprised if I don't lose to this at some point or another. It's a great downshift option.
Sure is a pity Bonder's Ornament came to Pauper just a few months before this one, huh? I just can't see a world where I'd play this over the Ornament, which offers straight card draw and taps for colored mana. It's a great card, but just feels outclassed for Pauper now.
Myr Retriever was one of the cards leaked early and it set the Pauper world ablaze. The card image that popped up was blurry and it made it hard to tell if it was actually downshifted or not. Then when last week's Magic Online update dropped, players tested its legality and found the leak was real and set to work brewing up some combo-oriented shenanigans. The combo on everyone's mind? Two Myr Retrievers + Ashnod's Altar + Disciple of the Vault, Reckless Fireweaver, etc. Assembling this combo just ends the game on the spot and is just the kind of thing something like Ashnod's Altar has been waiting to come along all this time.
Early reports of this deck are saying it's somewhat inconsistent and might not have staying power, but it's also possible we haven't seen the best build yet. Some people thought of going Izzet for the card pool, some thought more Rakdos or Dimir, and others still have tried to go full Grixis. It's hard to say exactly where this card and the combo is going to land within the format as time goes on, but for now it's a solid addition that opens up the possibility for new decks to arise. As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly the kind of thing that should be welcome in the format. If it's too strong, ban it, but otherwise see how it works in the format and if it has a place in the metagame.
If Orcish Vandal had better stats and didn't die to quite literally every single piece of removal imaginable, I'd say it had a solid shot in the format. There's a number of decks that play artifacts and would love to sacrifice them. Ever played Affinity and just get flooded on lands with nothing to do with them? Or have too many Prophetic Prisms in Boros Monarch? It feels really close but being so vulnerable makes me think it's not good enough. There may be some places where this kind of effect could be reasonable (think Fog Tron decks that aren't as reliant on spot removal) as a way to close out games, but I wouldn't want this against a lot of the decks in the format. Very much sideboard material if it's played at all.
Pauper has very few dragons. In fact, there are only six in the format: Dragon Egg, Dragon Hatchling, Furnace Whelp, Lightning Shrieker, Scion of Ugin, and Sparktongue Dragon. None of these are particularly great. Furnace Whelp was awesome once upon a time, but that time was over fifteen years ago now! Rapacious Dragon feels like a good space for common dragons by being solid stats with an ETB effect in case it's killed out of the gate. Five mana for a 3/3 flier still feels like a lot, however, so I can't imagine this being played competitively, but it's still a really sweet card to get downshifted.
Sanctum Spirit costs a lot but has a lot of the right stats and abilities that could make it work in the right sort of list. Four mana is a lot, but in an artifact-heavy deck you could swing reliably and turn extra unneeded cards into extra life and even removal. The problem apart from mana, though, is that the White artifact-heavy decks tend to be very low to the ground aggro decks. This kind of card doesn't fit there, which means it likely won't find a home anytime soon - even if it is a really sweet addition. I'd have to imagine other brands of Pauper (Cube and EDH, for example) might like this one quite a bit.
Everything about this card is just too expensive to make work in a meaningful way in Pauper. Tron would be the only thing that would even consider this and there's no way that deck would want this. This feels more like a Limited downshift than anything and there it shall remain.
Surge Node and Vedalken Infuser
Charge counters aren't really a thing in the Pauper format and there's not many cards that can make meaningful use out of them. The best one I can think of here is probably Golem Foundry. Cards like Pentad Prism, Shriekhorn, and Tumble Magnet are solid but don't really play in any kind of meaningful way with the format. Even with Golem Foundry itself, both of these cards feel somewhat mediocre.
Surge Node is quite decent with Golem Foundry because it can trigger the Foundry on entry and give it another one right away. It's a reasonable engine, but probably a slow one. Vedalken Infuser, on the other hand, is just downright terrible in the context of Pauper. Too expensive, middling stats, and doesn't do anything the turn it comes down. Even at three mana it still probably wouldn't be good enough despite stats that make it an excellent blocker. That said, I have to imagine it's likely for us to see more charge counter cards in the future, so these may be worth watching for more future interactions that come down the pipeline.
And that's it for all the new cards in this Masters set, and hopefully this signals the return of these sets on a more regular basis so that we can have new powerhouse cards enter the Pauper format. For now, though, we have tons of sweet new toys to play with. I can't wait to see what happens in Pauper in the coming weeks. What cards and decks are you excited to play with now that this set is live online?
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