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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Apr 21 2015 12:00am
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For the first two sets I've designed in this series (Modern Masters 2015 and Tempest Remastered) I've been working with a known quantity: something we know is coming since it has been announced by Wizards (or at least have a very reasonable assumption is coming, in the case of early Modern Masters 2 design). In this instance, we're moving into uncharted waters by designing a set that may never be released: Mercadian Masques Remastered.

 

Rishadan Port Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero Waterfront Bouncer

On one hand, if we assume Tempest Remastered is going to be at least a partial success (and both the initial popularity of Tempest and the Wasteland lottery should assure that at least), Mercadian Masques feels like the logical place to go, if only based on reprints alone: the experiment with the Mercadian Masques block packs was a failure, and as such not only are two of the top three most expensive cards on MTGO from Mercadian Masques (Rishadan Port and Misdirection), Daze is worth around $25 despite being a common! The biggest problem with this is that Mercadian Masques is an awful format on multiple axes. To start with, the block as a whole was deliberately underpowered to avoid the problems brought on by the absurdly overpowered Urzas Block, and while that doesn't affect limited as much as constructed, it does mean that the power (and value) is concentrated in a couple cards and the rest of the set is completely undesirable. Next, the two main mechanics that persisted through the entire block were Rebels/Mercenaries and Spellshapers, which are both mechanics that promote stagnant, repetitive board states. Finally, the unholy trinity was completed by Prophecy, easily one of the worst sets of all time, and I'll go into detail on that in a moment. When you combine that with a lot of minor issues (such as the one named mechanic in the block, Fading, meaning “your stuff goes away after a while”), you can understand why Mercadian Masques block is one of the lowest lowlights of Magic's history.

 

Avatar of Woe Coastal Hornclaw Veteran Brawlers

It's hard to understate everything that was wrong with Prophecy, especially if you're just looking at it from the top down. The set was sold as a Timmy set, and looking at the set, cards like the Legendary Spellshapers, the Avatars, and the Winds sell this feeling well (even if they are underpowered by today's standards). Similarly, you see a lot of mechanics based on lands, and everyone loved Zendikar, right? The problem is that these themes took two forms: sacrificing lands and “tapped/untapped lands matter”. These mechanics wouldn't be shining stars in a normal block, but why were they put into a set where you're supposed to be casting big things? I seriously feel that if Prophecy wasn't released that Mercadian Masques wouldn't be as poorly remembered as it was—Kamigawa had many of the same problems as Mercadian Masques (underpowered due to following Mirrodin, repetitive gameplay due to Splice), but even though Saviors of Kamigawa's “hand size matters” theme often turned into “don't play spells”, at least the theme didn't actively stop you from doing so. In addition, a lot of the “tapped/untapped land matter”-cards don't function very well anymore due to the removal of mana burn—something like Citadel of Pain isn't quite blank, but it certainly isn't worth a slot.

 

While those are the big-picture problems with the block as a whole, a lot of them I can't really do anything about—I can't just remove all the Rebels from the set, for example, and I can't completely ignore the cards from Prophecy (though I certainly can try). However, there are a lot of smaller problems that don't come up as much when playing the set, but instead are more rooted in the design of the set. Some of these aren't even problems as much as they are just quirks of the design I have to take into account while making my design skeleton.

 

  • No multicolor cards, few artifacts

The block having no multicolor cards isn't that much of a surprise (considering Wizards was saving them all for Invasion block), but it means I have more colored slots to fill. The more surprising thought is that there are relatively few artifacts in the set, and none of them are common! In addition, a lot of them are bland and aren't worth their slots at higher rarities (such as the Tooth of Ramos cycle, which were originally rare and could easily be common these days). Thankfully Henge of Ramos easily fills the 101st common slot, but other than that there are very few colorless cards in the set (and thus more colored cards).

Hickory Woodlot Fountain of Cho

  • No dual land cycle

While there are 20 non-basic lands in the block, ten of them are tied up in two cycles: the storage land cycle (Fountain of Cho) and the depletion land cycle (Hickory Woodlot), neither of which is especially good for limited. Right now I have the depletion land cycle in the set, but choosing the storage land cycle is a possibility, as is neither (and putting in another cycle of colored uncommons).

Fresh Volunteers Pious Warrior Jhovall Rider

  • Too many Rebels

Mercadian Masques block has 58 White creatures: 28 are Rebels, and 30 are non-Rebels, which is almost a 50/50 split. This is even worse at lower rarities; 13 common creatures are Rebels, while 12 are non-Rebels (and one of those is a Wall). In addition, a large portion of those non-Rebel commons are Spellshapers, a mechanic I want to limit at common as much as possible, as well as other NWO-violating cards like Crossbow Infantry and Troubled Healer. In this version I've leaned heavily towards keeping Rebels at high numbers (especially since most of the non-Rebels in the set are bad), but I have managed to keep the numbers at common relatively even (6 Rebels vs 5 non-Rebels), which is most important for limited.

Molting Harpy Skulking Fugitive Spiteful Bully

  • Too many bad Mercenaries

On the surface, Mercenaries in Black look similar to Rebels in White: 28 Mercenaries vs 33 non-Mercenaries. However, the problem is even more severe at common: 15 common Mercenaries vs 9 common non-Mercenaries. In addition, Mercenaries are much worse than Rebels for two main reasons: they search down the mana curve (while Rebels search up), and the costs are a lot more unbalanced. For instance, Cateran Persuader can only search for two possible cards: (Molten Harpy), which is good but with a drawback, and Rampart Crawler, which is close to a vanilla 1/1 if I remove all the Walls from the set (which admittedly isn't a solid conclusion, considering Tempest Remastered kept in more Walls than I expected). My balance of Mercenaries to non-Mercenaries is kinda bad right now, especially at common (7 Mercenaries vs 3 non-Mercenaries), but my options are really bad. For instance, my best common option for a non-Mercenary two-drop is the bad Whipstitched Zombie, though Plague Fiend might be okay even considering the “Rhystic” element (more on that in a bit). Conversely, there are a decent number of options for non-Mercenary 3-drops, but I need all three Mercenaries I use, though maybe Phyrexian Driver isn't supposed to be common.

Keldon Berserker Rhystic Scrying Samite Sanctuary

  • Prophecy's themes aren't NWO-friendly

I covered Prophecy in detail in my general overview, but the “tapped/untapped lands matter” theme takes a lot of different forms other than just specifically calling them out (on cards such as Branded Brawlers and Keldon Berserker). The first way is with the “Rhystic” mechanic, which as shown on cards like Rhystic Lightning and Flay, gives you an undercosted effect unless your opponent pays some amount of mana. These aren't actually that bad (in the context of Masques block at least), and though I have mostly kept the mechanic out of common and removed a lot of the more-lopsided effects (notably the Rishadan Cutpurse cycle), I could put some of that back if I wanted to. Instead, the real problem is the multitude of permanents with abilities that any player can activate, such as Flailing Ogre, Squallmonger, and Samite Sanctuary. To be fair, these cards were spread throughout the block (though only Prophecy was crazy enough to put them at common), but that doesn't change the fact that except for rare occasions where it makes sense (multiplayer-focused cards like Feral Hydra or one-time costs like Lethal Vapors) these are unprintable on the level of the Licids. As such, that's over 20 cards that can't be chosen for the set, over 3% of the cardpool.

Battlefield Percher Charmed Griffin Wandering Eye

  • Flying is weirdly positioned

This is hard to explain, but Flying is just not as you would expect in this block. It goes beyond the numbers as well; Masques block has 39 common and uncommon creatures with the word “Flying” on them, compared to 40 in Urza's block and 35 in Tempest block (and 39 in Theros block, but that's a different issue). The main difference is the number of actual Flying creatures (or creatures that can give themselves Flying): Urza's block has 35, while Masques block has 32. A lot of those creatures have drawbacks as well, including the sub-theme of “high-Flying” (like Cloud Sprite) as well as other creatures like Charmed Griffin, Pit Raptor, and Wandering Eye. The only generic Flying creature is the underpowered Misshapen Fiend (and even that's a Mercenary). This means it's a lot harder to fill the holes on the creature curve.

Snag Tidal Bore Downhill Charge

  • Many, many free spells

Masques block has 44 different spells you can cast without paying any mana, and these spells are all cast in many different ways:

  • A cycle of pitch cards (Unmask)

  • A cycle of “discard a land” cards (Abolish)

  • Two cycles of enemy-color hate: one of creatures, one of spells (Saprazzan Legate, Massacre)

  • Five “tap an untapped creature you control” cards in White (Ramosian Rally)

  • Five “return Islands to your hand” cards in Blue (Gush)

  • Three “sacrifice creatures” cards in Black (Mind Swords)

  • Two “pay life” cards in Black (Snuff Out)

  • Five “sacrifice Mountains” cards in Red (Pulverize)

  • Three “other players gain life” cards in Green (Invigorate)

  • One “reveal your hand with no lands” (Land Grant)

I have no clue how many of these I want to keep—obviously I need to keep a lot of them since they're constructed-worthy (as free spells tend to be), and yet having all 44 in the set feels like a really bad idea. At this point I'm leaning towards keeping a lot of them, though I did make some cuts, notably the cycle of free enemy-hate creatures.

 

Even through all that adversity, I have managed to get a first draft of the set done:

Set List

Detailed Spreadsheet

For my first draft of the set I had three goals:

  • Figure out the look of the design skeleton

  • Balance the creature curves of each color

  • Control complexity at common

At this point I've done that, but not much else. This is a first draft though, suitable enough for preliminary testing. There a lot more things I'm ready to do right now (mainly balancing Rebels and Mercenaries, as well as putting a bit more “Rhystic” back at common), but I'm at deadline now and need to get this article out. I also need to start work on the archetypes, though that might wait a bit until I can start drafting Tempest Remastered itself and get an idea of where those archetypes ended up.

 

Before I go though, there is one more thing I have to cover: my mythic distribution. These choices felt a bit simpler than Tempest Remastered, but they're still worth covering, especially since we have a reference point now:

White:

Yes, I'm using another cycle of legendary creatures for my mythic slots, but the legendary Spellshapers feels a lot more mythic than the random legendary creatures I picked for Tempest Remastered—not only are these appropriately flashy effects, something like Mageta the Lion probably isn't a good card to put at rare these days regardless.

This feels like a fairly obvious inclusion for all three factors: flashiness, Limited power, and price.

Blue:

Another appropriately flashy effect that's actually worth something—and no, before you ask, Misdirection was never considered for this slot, both because of the pitch card cycle as well as the precedent set by Force of Will in Vintage Masters.

Black:

The Winds are in a really weird place in this set: they certainly feel flashy (especially compared to the rest of Masques block), but these effects have been at rare before (even recently—compare Plague Wind to the rare In Garruk's Wake from M15). Right now I have a couple at mythic and none at rare, mostly due to lack of options (though here I could put in Cateran Overlord to parallel Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero).

Red:

This Wind feels even less mythic than Plague Wind, but there aren't as many options in Red (just like in Tempest Remastered). An easy way to fix this problem would be to put the Avatar cycle at mythic, but I feel they fit the set better at rare (especially since I want all five Avatars; something that isn't necessarily true of the Winds).

Green:

This is one of the mythics I'm most-iffy about, since I'm not sure it's a mythic-enough effect. Ironically, considering the prior discussion, the best choice for this slot is probably Vitalizing Wind, especially since it isn't currently in the set and would let me remove a marginal Green rare when I downgrade Food Chain (probably Clear the Land).

Artifact:

An easy one for once: extra turn effects will always be mythic.

Yes, this is primarily an price concern, but this isn't a fun effect for Limited either.

Land:

Yes, this card needs to be mythic: it's not a universal card like Wasteland is, and it's not a good card for Limited either. Wizards could put this at rare if they wanted to be really nice, but I feel like keeping Misdirection at rare is nice enough for one set.

Of the three lands at mythic, this one feels the most out of place. Obviously repeatable land destruction isn't a fun limited mechanic, but it actually isn't that good in this set now that I've removed all the storage lands. Still, it needs to be reprinted for price concerns (though Wizards clearly doesn't just care about that, as shown by Ensnaring Bridge not being in Tempest Remastered), so putting it at mythic is the best case scenario.

Another easy mythic, as shown by the precedent set by Volrath's Stronghold in Tempest Remastered.

 

That's all for Mercadian Masques Remastered for now. I plan to come back to this eventually, but not for a while (since I have a lot of Modern Masters 2015 coverage coming, as well as the start of a new series). Even though I have some ideas of what I want to change already (as mentioned above), in order to actually start developing the set I need to actually get some drafts in, which probably won't be the easiest thing to do, since most people don't want to go back to Masques block.

 

Next week the plan is to do a retrospective on all the versions of my Modern Masters 2015 design, including my final version update (which should be a minor update, barring a breakthrough in the next couple days.

 

Vincent

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