With so many new sets being released, downshifts are a constant point of discussion among Pauper players. The type of cards that could be downshifted to common to enter the format aren’t going to be catch-all solutions for whatever deck is at the top, but they can be a way that Wizards of the Coast injects new energy into the format. Supplemental products are proving to be a solid way of downshifting cards into Pauper, and 2021 should be no different. Set designers have to be careful with not warping limited environments, but with things like Commander decks, rarity is fairly arbitrary. Recently, we’ve seen the likes of Abrade, Bone Picker, and Myr Retriever shift down to common, generating new excitement from fans and brewers alike.

Last time, we talked about ten uncommon creatures that could find their way into Pauper. Today, we’ll discuss my top ten Instants and Sorceries. These cards are picked to either fill a gap in the format, or to bolster an under-served archetype.

Electrolyze has seen tons of play over the last fourteen years. Whether it be in Limited, Modern, or Cube, Izzet players love the flexibility it brings. In a world of Uros and Okos, though, this three-drop has faded from the spotlight.  Could it make a return in Pauper? Fire // Ice saw play in late 2018 after Ultimate Masters came out, but has largely faded from view. However, Electrolyze might have more staying power in Izzet Faeries, the premiere blue-red deck of the format.

Infect is no stranger to the world of Pauper, but it operates on the fringes of the metagame. Skillful players can occasionally 5-0 a league, but this hasn’t been enough to make the deck a steady player. With the amount of one-mana spells the deck runs, there may be space for Become Immense. It can give Infect players a top-end mana sink, and a way to steal games from opponents that let their guard down. Fetch lands like Misty Rainforest make Become Immense much easier to cast in other formats, but with the right build in Pauper, this card may have a home.

Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are staples in blue-heavy metagames. Base-green decks would love to join the party. Guttural Response is just narrow enough to be a common, but still be easily playable in Pauper. It offers a good check for blue decks, while still being stopped by Spellstutter Sprite. For Elves players, this could be a way for pushing Lead the Stampede through a Counterspell. Bogles can protect their Ancestral Mask turn, and it could even see play in Walls Combo. Despite being a good way to resolve threats in green decks, I don’t think it would move the needle for Monogreen Stompy, since it’s a reactive card that doesn’t pressure your opponent’s life total.

White removal in Pauper is mediocre at best. Why Condemn it to remain that way? White in Pauper leans heavily on enchantments like Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring. They are great at answering Gurmag Angler, but they’re sorcery speed and easily disrupted or removed. While there are non-enchantment options like Celestial Flare and Sunlance, they only see fringe play in monowhite decks. Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile would be too good, but the low cost and restriction of Condemn could fit inside the power level of Pauper. It’s a way of removing attackers, but restrictive enough to not jam four copies in every white deck.

Reanimator is a fickle archetype in Pauper. Either you play a fragile Rakdos Eldrazi list, or a more Midrange Dimir list. Either way, both decks would love another reanimate spell to join Exhume in the two-drop slot. Life // Death just might make Reanimator a more competitive archetype, since Rise Again isn’t doing us any favors. A Turn Two Ulamog’s Crusher or Striped Riverwinder can put a new form of pressure on Tron and Boros Decks, which take more time to set up than most. It could see play in Golgari Tortured Existence or Aristocrats as well, since you could either reanimate a creature or go all-in by attacking with your lands.

Modal cards are widely loved across formats, and Pauper is no exception. Return to Nature is one of the newer staples on the block, and Pauper players love its flexibility in a variety of matchups. Selesnya Charm would be the first of the guild charms to join the format. It lands right around the middle of the ten, when it comes to power level and playability. It can exile Gurmag Angler, Ulamog’s Crusher, or whatever your Elves opponent targets with Timberwatch Elf. Bogles or Slivers might use the combat trick mode, when trying to push a big creature through a sea of chump blockers. Finally, the token mode can protect your bigger things from Chainer’s Edict, or a way to put more threats on the board.

Orzhov Pestilence is a methodical and grindy control deck. While it packs lots of removal already, it can struggle against go-wide aggro decks that get under it. For this, Zealous Persecution can buy them time to stabilize. It also offers a way to push through a few more points of damage. Mardu Monarch decks might also be interested in this card, since it can break parity in the air, when it comes to Faerie decks or the mirror.

Pauper already has a diverse suite of countermagic, but Spell Snare would fill some gaps. Blue players can enjoy countering Kor Skyfisher, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Prophetic Prism for the low price of one blue mana. This trade gets even better when the caster is on the draw and behind on lands. Spell Snare also allows a way to break parity in a mirror match, since it’s a cheap way to get out of a counter war when Spellstutter Sprites and Counterspells are flying out. But since Pauper has a wide array of converted mana costs, it’s unlikely that Spell Snare would be egregious. In other eternal formats, it has lived as a one- or two-of in blue decks. Cheap to cast, but challenging to play well; a great puzzle for players to figure out.

It’s no secret that Pauper is in need of a good, dependable board wipe. For now, we’ve used cards like Crypt Rats, Evincar’s Justice, and Swirling Sandstorm; they all have a variety of restrictions and shortcomings. While we’re not in the realm of Day of Judgement, Infest is a way of skirting around Prismatic Strands and Wrap in Vigor. The two black pips keep it in the neighborhood of base black decks, instead of those that want to splash black through Prophetic Prism. Infest won’t remove everything on board, but it could be the way that Monoblack Control stabilizes against aggro. A player could go Turn Four Infest into Bone Picker, which would be a big change in momentum for the game. Control decks lack a consistent sweeper that allows them to turn the corner and recover, so Infest could be a great addition to the format.

The number one spot goes to a perennial request from Pauper players. Skullcrack looks simple at first, but it can be a safety valve for a lot of the nonsense that happens in Pauper. Burn players want to push damage through opposing lifegain, but everyone wants to get through Prismatic Strands. That is, everyone but the player casting Prismatic Strands. A well-timed Skullcrack can give an aggro player just enough momentum to close out a game, before their window closes. That can help keep Monarch decks more honest, making them less likely to tap out and put all their eggs into the Prismatic Strands basket.  Decks like Affinity, Bogles, Elves, and even Slivers can splash red for it. There’s a Skullcrack-shaped hole in the format right now, we just need to see it come down to Common.

Moving Forward

It’s difficult to say where the next downshifts will happen, but we can count on a few relevant ones each year. To reiterate, talking about downshifts doesn’t solve the challenges that face our current strategy. Rather, they offer a look into what the future might look like for us Pauper fans. With power levels shifting upwards, it’s only a matter of time before we see that reach Pauper. I’m excited to see what WOTC has up their sleeve for Magic’s original budget format.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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