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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Dec 21 2016 1:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! This is the final format of the Year of Modern Flashbacks, and I have plenty to talk about after covering it, so let’s end on a relative low note.
 
Magic 2014 is one of the strangest of the new core sets, and unfortunately one of the most unbalanced as well. The colors were generally underpowered, with the exception being blue’s dominance. The format is much slower than normal, to the point where Opportunity is one of the best cards in the set and Elixir of Immortality was actually playable. Finally, instead of a returning keyword, Magic 2014 returns a creature type: Slivers!
 
Mechanics:
Slivers:
Slivers return for the first time since Time Spiral block, but with a number of controversial changes. This isn’t the place to talk about the art changes, but the major change is that Slivers were changed to align with all other lords by only affecting your own creatures (though to make math easier they also affect themselves, so all the +X/+Y Slivers look worse than they are). The other big change was that to make limited better the Slivers were focused in Naya (RGW), with only Sliver Construct and a couple of rare Slivers as exceptions. This is another reason the format is slower than average: Slivers are either worse creatures than average or require critical mass in three colors to be great.
 
Colors:
White:
Another core set, another round of Pacifism and Serra Angel, though this is actually the last year for both. Following those two are the good removal spells Celestial Flare and Banisher Priest, but the key slowdown is from Dawnbringer Paladin (and to a lesser extent Stonehorn Chanter—why are two cards that are so similar in the same set?). One more important card is Angelic Accord, but we haven’t seen the tools for it yet other than the lifelink creatures (you aren’t getting there with Divine Favor or Congregate).
 
Blue:
So why is blue so much more powerful than the other colors? First of all there are so many good fliers, from Nephalia Seakite and Messenger Drake at common to Warden of Evos Isle and Air Servant at uncommon, combined with Trained Condor to improve your ground creatures. Next, Sensory Deprivation and Claustrophobia are both high-quality common removal spells, and Essence Scatter is better in a slower format. Finally, it’s hard to overstate just how much raw card advantage you get from Opportunity if you have time to use all the cards.
 
Black:
Yes, Doom Blade moving to uncommon is a sad day for efficient removal, but Liturgy of Blood is a decent approximation if you can use the extra mana. Instead we get more slower cards like Corpse Hauler (another underrated core set card I like, even though it can lead to repetitive board states like other Gravediggers) and Deathgaze Cockatrice. Up at uncommon, Sengir Vampire has obvious power, but the more-interesting card is Blightcaster: it’s clearly a setup card for Theros, but doubling up on Pacifism, Sensory Deprivation, or Quag Sickness seems fine.
 
Red:
Your main removal spells are Shock and Chandra’s Outrage, but don’t overlook Pitchburn Devils’s ability to two-for-one an opponent. There are also a lot of high-power creatures with Marauding Maulhorn (which does not need Advocate of the Beast to run) and Regathan Firecat (which is best when trading up). However, there are a lot of dead cards: two artifact removal spells (Smelt and Demolish), under-statted creatures (Canyon Minotaur, Cyclops Tyrant), and conditional cards (Seismic Stomp, the Slivers). The important standouts uncommons are important because they aren’t splashable: both Volcanic Geyser and Shiv’s Embrace are now reasons to be red rather than reasons to splash.
 
Green:
Green has so many good creatures, from the return of Deadly Recluse and a one-drop mana elf (Elvish Mystic) to the midrange Rootwalla and Rumbling Baloth. Plummet and Hunt the Weak mean you don’t have to completely give up on the removal either, and the combination of Giant Growth and Ranger’s Guile for combat tricks is nice as well. The one minor thing is that there isn’t a great ultra-high end: Sporemound and Woodborn Behemoth require more lands, while neither Groundshaker Sliver nor Howl of the Night Pack is exciting for seven mana (assuming non-mono-green for the latter). Of course, the main theme here is the Slivers, as Predatory Sliver is one of the few Slivers you want multiples of at the same time (and the only common), but being a 2/2 for 2 with upside makes it difficult to get those multiples.
 
Colorless/Land:
After the reprieve in the last core sets, the life gain cycle of artifacts wasting your uncommon slots is back with the Staffs. However, as I’ve mentioned before, this format is much slower than average, and getting lifegain off both spells and lands is meaningful in the right colors (still don’t play Staff of the Sun Magus unless you’re mono-colored). We can also see the signs of a slower format here: Millstone shifted to uncommon is a viable win condition, while Elixir of Immortality works well if you’re drawing through your deck with Opportunity and will actually see those spells again. Bubbling Cauldron is also much better than you would think for two reasons. First, unlike previous combos with specific cards (mainly the Empires cycles in M12), Festering Newt is not only a common but one not every deck wants. Second, 4 life is the magic number for Angelic Accord, and that is a deck itself (if for no other reason that you can sacrifice the Angels you get to give them Vigilance while gaining life). Finally, your options for splashing aren’t great here: Sliver Construct takes over the colorless common slot, so you’re left with Darksteel Ingot and Shimmering Grotto at uncommon, neither of which is great (and Manaweft Sliver is better than either, even as just a Utopia Tree variant).
 
Archetypes:
White/Blue:
I could copy/paste UW Fliers one final time, but all the good removal makes it work at a much slower pace, which is good in a slower format.
 
Blue/Black:
Another controlling color pair, but there are surprisingly few creatures (only 19/40 commons, and that’s before you remove unplayables like Shadowborn Apostle and Merfolk Spy. Again, the removal means that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since black has a decent number of reasonable fliers as well.
 
Black/Red:
Even RB has a controlling angle to it, as Pitchburn Devils and Corpse Hauler are just better cards in the abstract than Blur Sliver or Undead Minotaur.
 
Red/Green:
This is clearly the midrange color pair, as signified by the pairing of Advocate of the Beast and Marauding Maulhorn. Slivers could also work, as the pairing of Predatory Sliver and Battle Sliver gives the most power, and it also has the most Slivers period.
 
Green/White:
This is where I’d start with Slivers, as four of the top five non-rare Slivers are in these colors. This color seems like it doesn’t have enough good removal though, especially if you don’t open a Pacifism or two.
 
White/Black:
This combination is pretty boring: decent cards, but not much synergy—maybe I’m starting to run out of steam after a year of articles?
 
Blue/Red:
The combination of the slowest and fastest colors really doesn’t work here; the strategies are just incompatible unless you’re able to just use red for removal spells.
 
Black/Green:
The classic BG “Rock” midrange deck isn’t seen as often as some other standard archetypes, but it seems well-positioned here since green has ramp, both green and black have decent creatures, and the format is slow enough to make big creatures matter.
 
Red/White:
The third Slivers color pair, but the lack of Predatory Sliver hurts a lot and there isn’t room in this format for a generically-aggressive archetype.
 
Green/Blue:
The slow style of blue in this set makes GU a dark horse, as green’s creatures will win the late game (even if the top-end isn’t that great in this set).
 
Conclusion/Future Plans:
Well, this is a day I thought would never come at the beginning of the year: we are done with the Modern Flashback Series for 2016. As of this writing Wizards of the Coast has not announced any plans for the extension of the series into the remaining sets of Modern, so it appears this series is done. However, I’m certainly not going to disappear; here’s what I’m planning to do for the time being:
 
Limited Articles:
If nothing else, I still plan on writing articles in this style (Overview → Mechanics → Colors → Archetypes) for the new sets, starting with Aether Revolt in January. We also got our first look at the 2017 special event schedule last week, which mixes together Cube Drafts, Throwback Standard Gauntlets (which is very interesting), and Flashback Favorites in-between set releases (which will count the Masters set this time). The current schedule goes through the Modern Masters 2017 break (April 12th) and includes two Flashback drafts, which is clearly a decrease in the number of Flashbacks, but there should hopefully be fewer “dud” formats like the core sets in the mix. Other than the change in the number of Flashbacks, the format has changed, moving to a League format with double-elimination. The prizes follow a similar path (non-Phantom, only reward is Play Points), but while they look much worse than the Year of Modern Flashbacks, the double-elimination format means that both cases have a 50% rake: the Year of Modern Flashbacks was 800 PP In → 400 PP out, while the Flashback Favorites are 1920 PP In → 960 PP Out (you need two pods to resolve everyone’s draft).
 
As for the Flashbacks formats themselves, the first is triple-Zendikar the week of January 4th, which doesn’t seem like a favorite (unless we’re including reasons other than playability, in which case I request triple-New Phyrexia as a Flashback Favorite). I’ve already done an article on this, so presumably I’m not supposed to resubmit the same article—maybe I can follow-up and go deeper (or at least fix the hovers), or xger can just link the article if he continues his financial analysis of Flashbacks? The second Flashback is much more interesting: Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse the week of March 1st. That wasn’t part of Modern, so I’d need to write something on it, but starting with the full block throws a wrench into my “set-by-set” review philosophy, especially since IPA isn’t the simplest format to comprehend. My choices are either write multiple articles, write a super-long article, or go into a lot less detail on individual cards than I want to—I have a feeling it’ll probably be the latter, since most of the cards in pre-Modern sets are awful, and maybe I’ll be able to finish it in three-thousand words.
 
Reprint Set Articles:
My Modern Masters 2017 work still remains on track, though I want to find some time to do more testing to supplement the data from other reprints (for example, Past in Flames was in Commander 2016). In addition, I now have another source of continual reprint coverage: the Treasure Chests (as if nothing else, the curated list will have to be updated every three months to add the new Masterpieces). My plan is to put out the MM17 article shortly after my Aether Revolt review and tie it with the Treasure Chest updates. After that, I’ll have the standard Reprint Set Report Card/Limited article on MM17, but what is my plan after that? The 2018 Spring supplemental set (assuming the between-blocks slot is where the reprint set will go now) is still unknown (Eternal Masters 2 certainly isn’t a guarantee, as much as leaving out Rishadan Port implies it), and while I’ve done theoretical work on Modern Masters 2019 (trying to see if a gold-heavy set based around three-color archetypes can work), previous experience has shown that PureMTGO isn’t the place for work based on speculation.
 
Other Articles:
What other articles do people want me to write? I’ve always felt like Cube coverage should be a natural outgrowth of my Reprint Set articles, but the format doesn’t appeal to me that much (I prefer the control of a format with multiples). On the other hand, I have plenty of store credit from MTGOTraders due to this series—maybe it’s time for me to actually start playing Magic competitively, either in Limited or Constructed (dirty little secret: I don’t actually play as much Magic as I want to, either in paper or on MTGO, and a lot of my Magic enjoyment is theory-crafting these days). There are also other weird articles I might want to write (for instance, I’ve been formulating ideas for a “What Makes a Good Format” article to piggyback on the debate around Frontier), but again, PureMTGO might not be the best place for those articles.
 
Regardless of what happens, it’s been fun guiding you through the Year of Modern Flashbacks, even as I stumbled through a near-weekly content schedule (Ninth Edition is the only set I missed through the whole year, and that was only due to getting off-schedule during Kamigawa block). I’ll see you in January for Aether Revolt, if not earlier.
 
Vincent

 

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