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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 13 2017 11:00am
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HASCON has come and gone, and left with the best-case scenario for a Magic/Hearthstone crossover (which will hopefully get a lot of intelligent coverage from the Magic side, or I might have to throw my hat in the ring), some neat Ixalan spoilers, the only reason to buy Unstable (which hopefully will come to MTGO in a reasonable time frame), and a very interesting Masters set. I’ll obviously be covering that Masters set today, but before we get into the set itself let’s take a second to talk about finding information about the set itself. The set was first revealed when packs were opened at 1 PM local time (though even that was slightly bungled by the 25th Anniversary panel showcasing some of the highlights), and thus everyone not there was scouring social media for pictures. While some of the pictures were very high quality, there were others that were less so, and other than the highlights (mythics, rares/other valuable cards, and notable rarity downgrades), most of the other random commons/uncommons were either incidental spoilers or came through the few pool/playfield pictures that exist. Thankfully the full visual spoiler was released on Monday, so let’s start the article proper.
 
Looking at Iconic Masters from a big-picture perspective, it’s easily the strangest Masters set so far. A lot of that comes from the lack of a clear goal. Look at the other sets: the Modern Masters sets want to reprint Modern staples, Eternal Masters reprinted Legacy/Vintage staples, and Vintage Masters wanted to print Conspiracy cards and the Power Nine (and notice how that set had the least cohesion, even if that was mostly caused by the non-Modern limitations in some aspects). Meanwhile, Iconic Masters feels like WotC was told about HASCON ~18 months ago (or less) and was told to do something special. As such, WotC rearranged the schedule a bit (notice how there are supply problems for Commander 2017 in paper, even though there are fewer decks (and thus presumably more of each deck) and WotC should have known how popular Tribal would be), threw together a Masters set based on a relatively flimsy premise of “iconic” creature types (more on that in a bit), and broke the “in case of emergency” glass guarding Mana Drain and Mishra's Bauble. That’s not to say this is bad—I haven’t played it yet (and even their bad sets like Coldsnap are worth a draft or two, which is what most people will get of a Masters set), and there certainly is value here, but the set just feels a little unpolished compared with WotC’s usual standard. As such, before I get to the value analysis everyone’s waiting for (and note: I’m not doing detailed Limited analysis yet; that will be saved for the actual release), I want to talk about what feels off in terms of the design.
 
Design of Iconic Masters:
Iconics of Iconic Masters:

Apparently I shouldn’t have tried to balance the five Iconic tribes, as Iconic Masters clearly didn’t. Dragons are by far the most populous (3 Commons/3 Uncommons/9 Rares/1 Mythic), and while a lot of that comes from the BR Dragons archetype (one of the most surprising choices, but works perfectly here after a lot of aggressive downgrades), it still feels a little excessive (especially the non-BR Kamigawa Dragons). Angels (2/2/3/2) are next, as they’re the only iconic tribe to get multiple mythics and tie in well to the WB Lifegain archetype. Demons (0/1/3/1) are a clear step down, though the downshift of Indulgent Tormentor to uncommon is shockingly aggressive. However, the real problem I have with this is how badly Sphinxes (0/1/1/1) and Hydras (0/1/2/0) were treated. It’s not just their low numbers, but how the slots are clearly there and just aren’t the specific creature types. A green XG creature was downshifted from rare to common … but it’s Ivy Elemental (though I did warn that Feral Hydra might be too strong for the slot). There are two big expensive fliers in blue that were downshifted … but they’re both Djinns (and Riverwheel Aerialists and Mahamoti Djinn are stronger than Horizon Scholar and Cerulean Sphinx respectively). I get that you don’t want to warp the list too heavily, but when Praetors would tie for third in the ranking of iconic tribes, I feel like something went wrong. I also wish there were more “iconic” non-creatures—putting Channel + Fireball is a nice touch, and finding a Mox is difficult, but having Lotus Cobra as your only Lotus is strange when Lotus Bloom, Lotus Petal, and/or Gilded Lotus are right there.
 
Iconic Masters as “Commander Masters”:

For the most part, I feel like this set went bigger like I predicted it would, and that’s mostly shown in all the downshifts—even a normal Masters set wouldn’t dare move (Heroes’ Bane) and Bladewing the Risen to uncommon, or Jace's Phantasm and Duskdale Wurm to common. The nice part is that there’s a ton of ramp to let you get to those big creatures: three 2-mana mana rocks at common, Palladium Myr and Thran Dynamo at uncommon (along with two more 3-mana mana rocks), the combo of Wall of Roots and Overgrown Battlement in green (along with Search for Tomorrow), and the bouncelands (which let you run more mana overall). The other part is that most of the smaller creatures grow over time in some way: Outlast and Renown creatures, the large amount of Prowess, even cards like Jace's Phantasm and Borderland Marauder. However, the other part of “Commander Masters” would be reprinting cards for Commander, and I’m not sure Iconic Masters does that as well. The mythics do this well (minus the Vintage staples, and it’s not like Commander doesn’t want Mana Drain), and many of the “iconic” creatures fit as well. The problem is that the spells aren’t that tied to the theme—cards like Flusterstorm, Thoughtseize, Anger of the Gods, Mishra's Bauble, and Glimpse the Unthinkable are focused towards 60 card decks (mostly Modern), while Commander staples like Doubling Season and Demonic Tutor are nowhere to be found. They clearly had to include some competitive cards to make the value balancing act work and spark interest in the set among competitive players beyond the draft format (my build had Glimpse the Unthinkable, Flusterstorm, and Ancestral Vision like the actual build, along with other choices like Living End, Mox Opal, and Daybreak Coronet), but when cards that make perfect sense in the set are ignored in favor of cards that can go in any Masters set it’s disappointing and goes back to the lack of polish theme I keep reinforcing.
 
Archetype Overlap:

This isn’t the Limited Review for Iconic Masters, but since this is partially a design review of the set, I want to talk a bit about the archetypes of the set. I don’t have a clear list of the archetypes at the moment, but here’s what I can see based on the setlist and the signpost uncommons of each color pair:
 
* WU Prowess (lots of Rebound)
* UB Mill (attached to permanents, so not just 10 Tome Scour.dec)
* BR Dragons (lots of ramp, Dragons-matter spells)
* RG Ramp (emphasis on X spells)
* GW Counters (focus on Renown/Outlast)
* WB Lifegain (with the Bogbrew Witch trio and Angelic Accord among others)
* UR Spells (explosive with Kiln Fiend and Guttersnipe)
* BG Toughness Matters (cards like Sultai Flayer, along with Assault Formation and a Defender theme)
* RW ??? (signpost is Lightning Helix, no other clear signs)
* GU ??? (signpost is Jungle Barrier, seems like a slow control deck?)
 
These archetypes are mostly clear, but there are a lot of strange overlaps and out-of-place cards in the colors. The counter colors are GW, but black has Mer-Ek Nightblade and a lot of Unleash creatures. The toughness-matters cards are in BG, but its signpost uncommon is Corpsejack Menace and the two common Defender-matters cards are Vent Sentinel and Doorkeeper. I feel like this set wants the default to be 3-color even more than the normal Masters sets (aka not Modern Masters 2017, which was explicitly shard-based). There is a lot of fixing, and some of the three-color pairings are even clearer than the MM17 archetypes (Jeskai Spells, Abzan Counters, Sultai Mill, Jund Ramp, and Esper Control just to name a few). Presumably we’ll have a couple of WotC articles to confirm some of the uncertainties before the set releases, and I’ll be here when it does.
 
Value Analysis:
Mythics:

Before we get to the individual card analysis, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: Iconic Masters has no Planeswalkers. While I’m assuming WotC will talk about that decision in detail later, from experience I know that finding good Planeswalkers for the set is difficult (my design had Nahiri, the Lithomancer and Ral Zarek) so I understand it. It’s just weird now that Planeswalkers are the new normal, even in Eternal Masters (the set you’d exclude planeswalkers from if given the choice). There also aren’t any gold or colorless mythics: each color gets three and that’s it. Now to the choices:
 
Archangel of Thune:
My first mythic hit, and a clear choice considering the iconic creature type, the Lifegain archetype, and that it’s never been reprinted. It’s valuable as well, which helps.
 
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite:
Our first Praetor, and it’s surprisingly still expensive despite its Modern Masters 2015 reprint.
 
Avacyn, Angel of Hope:
Another clear choice, especially when you consider that its From the Vault: Angels reprint didn’t move its price that much. I’m surprised they didn’t give it new art though (MTG Goldfish has an MTGO promo in its database that doesn’t appear to have been distributed, and that has unique art).
 
Consecrated Sphinx:
Probably the biggest mythic lock, I’m surprised it hasn’t been reprinted by now (other than its Invocation printing).
 
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur:
I thought this would have been lower, since it sees virtually no competitive play and seems to skew on the “unfun” side of Commander, but this is its first reprint, and that’s seemingly all that matters.
 
Mana Drain:
The glass has been broken, and now the upper price limit on cards that can be reprinted by Masters sets moves to the $200 range (from the $150 range of Karakas and Mana Crypt). That means Imperial Recruiter is now reasonable (though surprisingly the Judge Foil is that price; the English P3K version is around $275), as is Grim Tutor ($210 after a slight decline recently).
 
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen:
This is widely considered to be the “Comet Storm” of the set, but it’s not anywhere near that bad (except on MTGO): it’s still $7 (which admittedly is less than the price of the pack, but that doesn’t include the good uncommons or a possible foil). I think this is a perfect choice (which is why I picked it): It’s never been reprinted, is a notable member of an iconic tribe, and has Landfall (which limits where it can be reprinted).
 
Sheoldred, Whispering One:
Another surprisingly expensive Praetor, especially since I thought its value was tanked forever by the Prerelease promo (and even that’s still $15).
 
Necropotence:
Now here’s the card that feels like Comet Storm. I get that it’s “iconic”, but not only is 90% of that the original art, it was just reprinted in Eternal Masters. Would it really be too good at rare, considering the higher power level of Iconic Masters? Even so, this is still around $8, so WotC clearly has gotten the message that players don’t appreciate dollar mythics (at least in paper—sorry MTGO).
 
Thundermaw Hellkite:
Another close miss—I thought the mythic dragon would be more casual than competitive, and that Thundermaw Hellkite would be saved for a Modern Masters set (where good red mythics are very hard to find—more on that in a moment). I’m also surprised at how low it is: it’s in the same range as Ob Nixilis, the Fallen, and yet no one is complaining about it (it was even a highlight at the 25th Anniversary panel alongside Mana Drain and Horizon Canopy … and the Kamigawa Dragons, but I digress).
 
Urabrask the Hidden:
I wonder in what percentage of cycles is the red member clearly the worst? To be fair to Urabrask its abilities are fairly boring, which means it isn’t as unique as the other Praetors. It’s also still around $9, which isn’t too bad a choice.
 
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker:
Kiki-Jiki has now been in three Masters sets (over half, if you don’t count Vintage Masters). Just let that sink in, especially since it’s still over $10. At what point does it finally reach the tipping point Tarmogoyf did?
 
Primeval Titan:
I know people want this a lot, but this really should be a Hydra. I get that Khalni Hydra doesn’t really fit the set and there aren’t other good choices (though the answer was probably to put Monstrous in the set for Polukranos, World Eater and Domesticated Hydra), but it discounts the “iconic” theme when all but one gets a mythic. At least its recent MTGO spike adds some value there that was sorely lacking.
 
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger:
Another Praetor I thought would err on the side of unfun, but apparently people in Commander like to do that. Green has too many good cards to reprint—what are the chances of “Simic Masters” in the next five years?
 
Channel:
Oh wait, here’s the Comet Storm, but I seriously have no clue what to do about it—it’s way too good for rare, and even the From the Vault version would be the worst mythic in the set. Maybe it should be unbanned in Commander for a couple weeks so it could spike and people could sell it?
 
Overall:
Here’s the price chart for the mythics:
Card Paper Nov 15 Paper Nov 16 Paper Sept 17 MTGO Nov 15 MTGO Nov 16 MTGO Sept 17
Archangel of Thune $15.30 $22.10 $24.60 18.7 11.8 6.0
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite $12.40 $18.00 $28.00 2.2 2.2 3.6
Avacyn, Angel of Hope $25.60 $23.40 $29.40 4.7 6.9 3.6
Consecrated Sphinx $14.30 $19.80 $26.90 4.2 1.7 1.8
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur $9.10 $12.90 $17.40 2.4 1.1 1.4
Mana Drain $221.70 $200.00 $187.00 4.8 3.3 4.4
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen $6.60 $7.00 $7.00 1.6 0.1 0.1
Sheoldred, Whispering One $11.00 $17.50 $21.00 1.3 0.8 1.1
Necropotence $8.20 $7.60 $8.00 0.1 0.1 0.7
Thundermaw Hellkite $9.20 $7.50 $7.10 7.0 3.0 4.0
Urabrask, the Hidden $6.40 $9.00 $8.80 1.2 0.6 1.6
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker $12.50 $13.80 $11.90 1.7 1.3 1.4
Primeval Titan $9.20 $9.20 $10.00 8.0 8.0 20.1
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger $17.00 $20.40 $28.70 3.3 1.8 1.8
Channel $0.30 $0.30 $0.30 0.1 0.0 0.0
Total $378.80 $388.50 $416.10 61.3 42.7 51.6
Average Mythic $25.25 $25.90 $27.74 4.1 2.8 3.4
Value Added per Pack $3.16 $3.24 $3.47 0.5 0.4 0.4
Percentage of Pack 31.57% 32.38% 34.68% 7.30% 5.08% 6.14%
Overall the paper values seem fine, if slightly low (I generally aim for ~40% of the pack’s price in mythics, but slightly lower is fine when you have (Mishra’s Bauble) and good rares), but the real problem is the MTGO prices. Unfortunately you’re never going to do well there (I aim for 10%-20%, and hitting that requires MTGO-focused picks), but ~5% is shockingly low—hopefully the rares can make up for it:
 
Rares:
Let’s start with the price chart:
Card Paper Nov 15 Paper Nov 16 Paper Sept 17 MTGO Nov 15 MTGO Nov 16 MTGO Sept 17
Serra Ascendant $17.00 $16.80 $18.80 4.2 4.1 2.5
Auriok Champion $26.90 $30.00 $23.90 26.4 13.0 5.4
Restoration Angel $6.70 $8.50 $4.20 6.7 6.3 2.8
Yosei, the Morning Star $4.80 $5.10 $5.00 0.2 0.1 0.1
Austere Command $7.10 $10.70 $11.00 0.8 0.2 0.4
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir $13.20 $13.50 $13.40 3.4 0.3 0.1
Keiga, the Tide Star $3.70 $4.30 $4.70 0.2 0.1 0.2
Cryptic Command $26.70 $20.50 $33.70 6.3 5.0 9.4
Ancestral Vision $8.00 $47.90 $50.00 4.0 22.3 16.7
Flusterstorm $60.50 $72.00 $96.00 3.1 4.8 5.5
Bloodghast $12.10 $25.60 $23.50 5.5 6.3 6.3
Kokusho, the Evening Star $10.80 $16.60 $16.50 0.5 0.6 1.0
Rune-Scarred Demon $5.80 $6.00 $7.30 0.1 0.2 0.2
Thoughtseize $19.90 $12.20 $21.90 6.2 4.0 6.6
Night of Soul’s Betrayal $6.30 $9.40 $7.00 5.1 2.3 0.5
Magus of the Moon $26.60 $25.00 $32.20 16.0 9.1 11.8
Scourge of Valkas $3.60 $3.50 $3.60 0.9 0.5 1
Anger of the Gods $1.70 $2.70 $4.30 0.5 1.9 1.7
Lotus Cobra $10.90 $13.00 $13.40 6.7 1.0 3.2
Obstinate Baloth $2.20 $5.00 $4.70 2.5 2.8 2.2
Genesis Wave $6.00 $7.00 $8.10 0.5 0.4 0.5
Supreme Verdict $3.80 $4.70 $7.50 1.5 1.5 3.7
Glimpse the Unthinkable $27.00 $33.30 $32.50 6.0 4.2 3.1
Knight of the Reliquary $14.90 $10.00 $10.00 6.1 3.8 5.6
Oblivion Stone $29.00 $22.50 $19.00 24.6 15.4 9.4
Aether Vial $38.10 $44.50 $47.20 5.6 6.7 8.1
Serum Powder $3.10 $3.30 $2.90 7.8 3.7 3.4
Nimbus Maze $5.40 $16.10 $9.30 0.7 0.7 0.3
River of Tears $7.60 $9.30 $8.00 1.2 0.8 0.6
Graven Cairns $7.00 $8.20 $8.20 0.8 0.4 0.3
Grove of the Burnwillows $59.00 $59.40 $44.00 33.4 26.8 22.0
Horizon Canopy $58.50 $68.60 $90.90 26.8 22.5 38.5
Bulk x21 $0.30 $0.30 $0.30 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total $540.20 $641.50 $689.00 216.4 173.9 175.2
Average Rare $10.19 $12.10 $13.00 4.1 3.3 3.3
Value Added per Pack $8.92 $10.59 $11.38 3.6 2.9 2.9
Percentage of Pack 89.18% 105.91% 113.75% 51.04% 41.01% 41.32%
Well, that explains why the mythics were slightly underwhelming—the rares make up the 120% guideline I use for value almost single-handedly! It’s amazing how much value is packed into the Future Sight land cycle (even Graven Cairns, the one that was reprinted). They also put multiple cards I predicted at mythic at rare instead (Ancestral Vision and Lotus Cobra), as well as the first booster print for Flusterstorm and key lifegain cards Serra Ascendant and Auriok Champion. Part of this is that I loosened my guidelines for what is bulk slightly (normally it’s half the pack on either platform, but I lowered it to about a third, which added some borderline cases), but I lowered my bulk value to compensate, and it isn’t that big of a difference either way. Don’t forget that these calculations don’t include any commons and uncommons: Mishra's Bauble and Thran Dynamo are the ones that seriously tip the scale (being worth more than many rares), but cards like Swords to Plowshares, Sanguine Bond, Burrenton Forge-Tender, Windfall, Monastery Swiftspear, Assault Formation, and the bouncelands add up over time (and MTGO likes Sandstone Oracle, since it was a rare in the Legendary Cube prize packs). Overall, considering the extremely low expectations of “Commander Masters”, I’m pleasantly surprised at how much value was packed in—now hopefully the play experience can be good as well.
 
Grading My Design:
Overall I did about the same as I did with Modern Masters 2017, getting 24/249 cards correct (29/249 if you include rarities I had different), or about ten percent correct. I did my best with the actual iconic creatures, getting three of the five mythics and nailing shifts like Furnace Whelp and (Heroes’ Bane). I also did reasonably well on the archetypes, correctly guessing WB Lifegain and UB Mill (and getting most of my non-iconic hits from them) and getting partial credit on GW Counters (I had a GU Counters archetype). If you want the comparison details (or any other stats I didn’t cover here) my spreadsheet is here.
 
Conclusion:
It’s weird to finish a review for a set we won’t be playing for two more months—it’s like when Judgment was leaked six weeks in advance due to MTGO beta testers, only official this time. It’s interesting what their aggressiveness in reprints in a “filler” Masters set means for Masters 25, the showcase of their vast history, as well as my predictions for it (which I’m still planning to release this year, probably after Iconic Masters’ release). At the very least, I need to update my “never reprinted” lists—I have a table of my new reprints from each set I’m filling in as I work on the set, and despite only having about half the table filled at this point Iconic Masters managed to snipe three cards from me (Blizzard Specter, Diminish, and Amass the Components).
 
Iconic Masters may be done for now, but that doesn’t mean my schedule is letting up anytime soon. My next two articles will be the Treasure Chest Update for Ixalan (assuming the information gets released in a reasonable time—it was very early last time, which was nice) and the Limited Review for Ixalan, which will both be interesting. After that, I’m planning a “grab bag” article on reprint sets, including another section on never-reprinted cards for Masters 25 (focusing on supplemental sets) and my From the Vault: Transform predictions (which are more interesting now that Ixalan has unique double-faced cards), among other things. After that, November will bring the Limited Review for Iconic Masters, as well as the Treasure Chest Update that will debut Commander 2017 on MTGO. Other than that, I’ll still be watching for Flashback drafts (they’re probably saving the triple-Innistrad redo for Halloween at least), and as I mentioned above I want to get my Masters 25 predictions out there soon. See you next week!
 
Vincent

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