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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Oct 17 2016 12:00pm
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It’s been about four months since the last Masters set, and as such it’s time to start talking about the next one already—due to the new block paradigm changing the “between blocks” time to March rather than May, we are less than six months away from Modern Masters 2017’s release. The earlier release didn’t leave me completely unprepared, as I’ve had an initial design complete since June 2015 that was stored in the mothballs for being too early (though, as I say in that article, it was certainly being designed by Wizards at that time). Of course, there have been a lot of developments since then that I couldn’t have known about—Eternal Masters is the big one (as it used many of my ideas—and if any people from Wizards are reading/allowed to read this, feel free to use any/all of my ideas if you wish), but Magic Origins also made an impact as it evergreened Scry.
Introduction to Designing Reprint Sets
For those people new to the Designing Reprints Sets series, I have two goals here, which often work together. The obvious goal is to predict what Wizards will do in the set, and while other people want to predict the mythics and other expensive cards, I take just as much pleasure in correctly guessing an interesting rarity shift, or making a limited archetype that can actually work. However, the much more interesting part of the column is designing a set that can actually work well in limited. I even try to test-draft these formats with other people online when I have the time (though the process is inherently cumbersome). The key is to make these sets just like Wizards would make them, which involves following a bunch of rules:
  • Sets have a
  • For Modern
  • There is no hard
Limited Archetypes
When I’m designing a Masters set, I start with the archetypes, as it’s harder than you would think to come up with ten distinct archetypes covering all the color pairs, especially now that this is the fifth Masters set. The introduction of Eternal Masters (which will probably be a staple in the off-years for Modern Masters now) also complicates things, as some archetypes are better with all sets available. Let’s see where they stand in this first edition of the set:
White/Blue: Merfolk
Merfolk is in a strange place, as while the deck itself is more of a Legacy fixture, the creatures are mostly all Modern-legal, especially if you want the white Merfolk to put the deck neatly in an archetype. I also don’t particularly like the tapping sub-theme of the Lorwyn Merfolk, but again, virtually all of the white Merfolk use it. Still, something like Veteran of the Depths is an interesting common downshift even if Summon the School is the only tapper other than attacking. Moving Cursecatcher to rare is an unfortunate numbers issue (though Mausoleum Wanderer justifies it somewhat), and while Master of the Pearl Trident would normally get the nod over Lord of Atlantis due to the new template, Lord of Atlantis needs the reprint more (especially online, where it only has two printings).
Blue/Black: Zombies
This is mostly an Innistrad port, particularly the blue Stitched Drake creatures (though the set could use a third, after I removed Skaab Goliath as an impulse reaction to Magic Origins taking it). However, I supercharged it by adding a couple more mill cards (notably Hedron Crab and a couple of Dimir’s “grind” cards), as well a bunch of Unearth cards.
Black/Red: Vampires
Another Innistrad port, but this one I’m much less happy with—yes, adding the Zendikar Vampires is interesting (even if I don’t actually have many “bloodied” Vampires other than Bloodghast), but the red Vampires are boring at best and awful at worst. This is probably the archetype I’m most-actively looking for a replacement for—put any suggestions for a BR archetype in the comments.
Red/Green: Landfall
This is similar to my MM15 Landfall deck, just moved from RW to RG. Again, the key to this deck is that I don’t want it to be just a ramp deck, but instead to focus on the Landfall triggers. Unfortunately RG doesn’t have quite as many aggro components (mainly Plated Geopede), but instead we add a lot of value-oriented cards from green. In particular, both Sporemound and Vinelasher Kudzu (downgraded to uncommon) get the Landfall ability word—I assume Wizards could do that, like they ability-worded all the Domain cards when Conflux reprinted Worldly Counsel. What I’m worried about here is that I’m pushing it too much—there are three rare to uncommon downgrades for the archetype (Vinelasher Kudzu, Into the Wilds, Seer’s Sundial) and green has both Ondu Giant and Cultivate at common.
Green/White: Auras
Yes, Eternal Masters took the basics of this archetype from me (including details like downshifting Yavimaya Enchantress), but since EMA could lean on non-Aura enchantments (like the Seals and Hondens), I’ve pivoted to focus more on Auras. Sure, I have a couple of repeats (Abundant Growth and Faith’s Fetters), but I want to reprint Spider Umbra and Hyena Umbra for Bogles anyway, and Gatherer of Graces is a neat downshift. Of course, the key is avoiding non-interactive games—there’s no Hexproof (though Slippery Bogle was at uncommon for a while before numbers forced it out), and that makes me possibly want to add a bit of power to the archetype (maybe one more common average pump aura).
White/Black: Exalted
Like how the RB Bloodthirst archetype in Modern Masters 2015 was mostly a port from Magic 2012, the WB Exalted archetype here mostly comes from Magic 2013. This is really boring, and I’m afraid it’ll be underpowered (even after adding Akrasan Squire and Sigiled Paladin to the good M13 cards like Servant of Nefarox—maybe the deck needs Sigiled Paladin moved down to common?), but as I’ve discussed before, there aren’t many good choices for WB archetypes, and you have to take what you can get. Besides, it’s another chance to get Noble Hierarch reprinted, and that has to be worth something.
Blue/Red: Storm
While Storm was mostly comboed with Suspend during its appearance in the original Modern Masters, the Storm deck here is fairly traditional: Pyretic Ritual, Goblin Electromancer, and lots of cheap card draw. However, what are the three Storm spells going to be? Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are obvious choices (though I’m moving Empty the Warrens to uncommon for safety purposes), and while Storm Entity is an interesting downgrade to common, it doesn’t technically count. Instead of something boring like Dragonstorm (as Modern Masters did), I’m going with an interesting choice: Haze of Rage. Yes, that means I’m putting Buyback in the set, one of the most-degenerate mechanics ever (up there with Phyrexian Mana and the “free” mechanic from Urza block). However, my choices seem fine—Mystic Speculation doesn’t need to cost a card regardless, Reiterate is a fine rare, and while Whispers of the Muse was great in its day, it isn’t at its best in a format without a “draw-go” control deck. Overall this is interesting, and hopefully it can work while not being overwhelming.
Black/Green: “The Rock”
Another archetype I’m not that happy with—after Elves got all their reprints there aren’t many other choices, and while Infect is the obvious choice, it is very hard to balance (so much so that Wizards punted on it for Modern Masters 2015). So instead, I’m going with a generic midrange deck: efficient creatures combined with recursive effects. This is another boring deck I need to try, as it’s harder balance something that’s just a bunch of good cards without many obvious synergies in a high-powered environment.
Red/White: Swarm Aggro
This is one of the first archetypes I figured out (that wasn’t just a port from my MM15 design), and it’s in a weird position. On one hand, this is very similar to the RW Swarm deck from Eternal Masters (which itself was a port of the Vintage Masters archetype). On the other, Battle Cry and Battalion work so well together, even if I’m massively pushing it with a lot of downgrades (four uncommons to common, and that doesn’t even count Kiln Walker).
Green/Blue: +1/+1 Counters/Evolve
This is the only direct port from MM15, though I’m thinking the addition of Evolve as the main force rather than Proliferate makes the archetype more interesting. The key is that the archetype is a combination of the small Evolve creatures with big Graft creatures (including Vigean Hydropon, one of the reasons I wish Masters sets would include gold commons) and creatures with counters. I’m worried there isn’t enough synergy (especially without Proliferate), but it should work.
Mythic Rares:
Looking at the rest of my design, there aren’t that many structural concerns with the set. The main one is that while the number of rarity shifts is similar to the other Masters sets, black only has a single one (Slum Reaper from uncommon to common), and that feels really bad. Of course, what everyone wants to see are the mythics, and I do what people want:
Hero of Bladehold:
A boring card to start off on, but it’s certainly strong enough for mythic, and Battle Cry allows the reprint.
Archangel of Thune:
The “Angel slot” will probably be taken by either this or Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and it’s going to be a money balancing choice. I like Archangel of Thune since it has a more-obvious place in Modern right now (as part of the infinite combo with Spike Feeder), but it could be either.
This one probably surprises a lot of people—it’s only $15 in paper now (which makes sense for a playable mythic only printed in a single core set), but it spiked to almost $40 right after the MM15 release for some reason. That makes it a reasonable choice for a reprint, but maybe it would be better in a casual-focused set, like Conspiracy, or even a Commander deck (that seems crazy, but Wurmcoil Engine was in Commander 2014 when it was above $20).
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage:
I’m fitting three Planeswalkers in the set, and Tamiyo is easily the most-boring of them. I actually made this decision in the original design, before Tamiyo reappeared in Eldritch Moon—does that make this more or less likely?
This is probably one of the cards in the set that’s most-likely to get banned in the gap between design and release, and I still think it fits Eternal Masters better, but it could fit in either, and there aren’t many good choices for black mythics…
Liliana of the Veil:
...except for the obvious card that was probably the first one put into the set (and crazy people were putting into both MM15 and EMA, despite being part of the goals of neither). There isn’t much else to say—this is probably in Modern Masters 2019 as well.
Thundermaw Hellkite:
The first good mythic dragon is a good choice for a “boring” mythic slot, even if it isn’t really played anywhere these days.
Past in Flames:
This is like Hero of Bladehold: average Mythic, block mechanic, works well with an archetype.
Lotus Cobra:
An interesting choice, as while it’s a fine choice for a set where Landfall is supported, I was actually trying this at rare for a while. That seems fine, but as we’ll see in a bit, I needed to cut some money from the rares, and moving this up to mythic (replacing Avenger of Zendikar, which was here before its reprint in Duel Decks: Zendikar vs Eldrazi)) was an easy way to do so.
In the initial (unpublished) article, I said that I didn’t want to repeat things that had been in both previous Modern Masters sets except “essential pieces like Cycling, Changeling, and Tarmogoyf”, and while that was a joke, for better or worse Tarmogoyf has become a fixture of Modern Masters as a concept. I honestly think that Wizards doesn’t want a creature who is “just” undercosted to be the most expensive card in Modern—Liliana of the Veil was the highlight of the original Innistrad’s story, while Tarmogoyf was just a last-minute design mistake. As such, if we see it this time around (now that Liliana can reliably take its place as a flagship card), I expect to see it in every Modern Masters set until demand is finally satisfied and the paper price goes under $100, or even $50.
Voice of Resurgence:
This is one I missed the first time around, instead choosing to reprint Geist of Saint Traft in that slot (before the Duel Deck reprint) and reprinting Rhys the Redeemed as a rare. With the removal of Elves as a theme, I instead chose to go the obvious route and print the only valuable card from Dragon’s Maze.
Maelstrom Archangel:
This is a relatively-boring mythic, and even though there’s basically no reason for it to be reprinted here, there isn’t a better place to put it (it would be perfect for Commander but there are no five-color decks, and 5-Color isn’t something that can be supported easily in a Conspiracy set—maybe put it in Nicol Bolas’s Archenemy deck?).
Oblivion Stone:
This is as good a place as any to start talking about Masterpieces, as I expect this to show up in Aether Revolt (clearly things are turning bad in the story, so it fits there better). Also, these two artifact slots were the original Swords in my first version, but I pulled them because of the Masterpiece printings (and to re-balance the value of the set a bit to add Voice of Resurgence). I don’t know how the Masterpiece versions are going to affect reprint sets, and we’ll have to see what happens—my thought is that you can afford to overlap on a couple cards (notably how Eternal Masters and Kaladesh both had Mana Crypt), but not too many.
Eldrazi Monument:
Conversely, this probably isn’t going to be an invention (unless Wizards ruined another interesting plane by finding even more Eldrazi), so it’s a much safer reprint here.
Karn Liberated:
This is interesting, as it’s the only repeat from Modern Masters 2015 other than Tarmogoyf, but it’s generic enough to fit in here as a desirable planeswalker.
Money Analysis:
Now let’s spend a bit of time with the financial balancing, starting with the mythics:
Card Paper Mar 15 Paper Mar 16 MTGO Mar 15 MTGO Mar 16
Hero of Bladehold $8.50 $8.30 3.8 3.1
Archangel of Thune $14.50 $32.00 7.8 35.2
Omniscience $16.60 $16.50 20.3 8.5
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage $17.00 $19.00 4.5 6.0
Griselbrand $17.00 $13.30 44.4 34.5
Liliana of the Veil $90.60 $114.00 81.5 92.1
Thundermaw Hellkite $9.10 $8.80 12.5 5.3
Past in Flames $5.00 $11.00 12.6 13.2
Lotus Cobra $7.30 $16.90 5.6 8.3
Tarmogoyf $200.00 $153.90 64.5 54.0
Voice of Resurgence $18.00 $43.20 16.6 44.1
Maelstrom Archangel $11.00 $11.10 2.0 1.7
Oblivion Stone $12.30 $36.00 14.6 17.6
Eldrazi Monument $10.00 $8.10 2.7 4.5
Karn Liberated $46.50 $51.00 34.0 17.0
Total $483.40 $543.10 327.4 345.1
Average Mythic $32.23 $36.21 21.8 23.0
Value Added per Pack $4.03 $4.53 2.7 2.9
Percentage of Pack 40.28% 45.26% 38.98% 41.08%
This was actually pretty well-balanced—I aim for about ~40-50% of the pack value being represented in mythics, and that worked out nicely despite including Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, and Karn Liberated. However, the rares look more troubling:
Card Paper Mar 15 Paper Mar 16 MTGO Mar 15 MTGO Mar 16
Kor Spiritdancer $6.30 $15.50 2.5 3.4
Austere Command $6.60 $9.70 1.3 1.4
Daybreak Coronet $33.60 $9.30 2.6 13.9
Cursecatcher $7.30 $15.30 1.5 1.4
Snapcaster Mage $47.50 $61.00 13.3 15.5
Lord of Atlantis $7.50 $10.80 10.6 13.6
Cryptic Command $58.30 $28.00 19.4 7.2
Gifts Ungiven $6.50 $11.20 4.4 4.3
Gravecrawler $6.10 $6.00 2.4 3.5
Bloodghast $10.50 $15.00 8.8 11.4
Kalastria Highborn $2.80 $5.00 0.2 1.8
Captivating Vampire $6.60 $7.50 0.4 1.0
Death Baron $12.10 $13.50 1 1.6
Night of Souls' Betrayal $4.00 $11.30 2.5 4.3
Goblin Guide $19.90 $42.10 6.7 6.6
Reiterate $3.00 $13.80 0.1 0.1
Pyromancer Ascension $5.60 $8.10 2.6 5.0
Noble Hierarch $63.00 $47.00 30.3 15.8
Primal Command $7.50 $4.80 3.7 6.3
Scapeshift $24.00 $48.50 14.6 33.5
Glimpse the Unthinkable $24.60 $30.00 8.0 7.0
Abrupt Decay $12.00 $13.50 5.9 4.8
Defense Grid $7.20 $7.00 3.0 3.6
Gemstone Mine $7.00 $8.00 8.8 8.2
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle $2.70 $8.40 0.4 1.0
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds $8.00 $22.30 12.0 13.2
Bulk x24 $1.00 $1.00 0.2 0.2
Total $424.20 $496.60 171.8 194.2
Average Rare $8.00 $9.37 3.2 3.7
Value Added per Pack $7.00 $8.20 2.8 3.2
Percentage of Pack 70.03% 81.99% 40.52% 45.80%
While 80% of the pack’s value looks high, that actually isn’t that bad—it was at 120% when I started the money analysis. Looking at the rares, they can generalize into four categories:
  1. Chase rares, ones worth more than many mythics ((Snapcaster
  2. Good rares, worth around the price of the pack (Gifts Ungiven,
  3. Average rares, hovering around the “half the price of the pack”
The biggest problem is that I feel like I stuffed it with all the “obvious” rares that the set needed, and a lot of them just don’t fit. Sure, Scapeshift with a Landfall archetype or Glimpse the Unthinkable with self-mill makes sense, but a Cryptic Command, or Goblin Guide doesn’t really have a reason to be here other than “it’s expensive hard to obtain”. Another part is that some of the cards took unexpected jumps between March 2015 (where I’m assuming the set started being designed, more or less) and March 2016 (around where the important cards needed to be finalized, especially ones with new art): sure, Oboro, Palace of the Clouds going from $8 to $22 makes sense if Merfolk wants it and it’s hard to reprint (except here where I want another interesting Landfall enabler), but why did Reiterate go from $3 to $13? As I mentioned above, this is actually version 1.1 of the set, where I made a couple changes to remove some of the generically-good cards that don’t have a particular synergy with the set (and a couple that would fit better in a casual set), cutting around a third of the total value of the rares (though most of that was just Damnation—I didn’t realize that was $60 already, even if my guess is that most of that price is scarcity-based (like Mana Crypt and a black Day of Judgment in a supplemental set would probably drop that price a decent amount). Again, 80% is high, but looking at Eternal Masters (the only set I’ve done money analysis from so far), that had 60% of the value of a pack in mythics and 60% in rares, so while 40% in mythics and 80% in rares is a different distribution, it still adds up to the same value (120%, which is fine before the inevitable decreases in price post-reprints). If you’re interested in the specifics, I have my entire design spreadsheet here, which has the entire set, as well as all the changes I made from my original design.
That was a long article, but I finally got through it—honestly I needed the week break from constant articles.  Hopefully my articles benefit from it--yes, this one is (too) long, but it should look a little better than some of my previous ones.  I plan to revisit this set in the future, though a lot of that is dependent on getting some testing in—hopefully I’ll get at least one more update done before the release (though it’ll probably come next year). Next week we’ll return to the Modern Flashback Series with Innistrad.
@CheaterHater1 on Twitter


Missing bulleted lists again? by Cheater Hater at Mon, 10/17/2016 - 19:18
Cheater Hater's picture

What the heck? Something is happening to my bulleted lists and cutting them off. I just double-checked, and this isn't happening when I paste the articles in--maybe it's something with the hover script? Anyway, here's a paste of those bullets, as they're a lot longer this time--first, the rules for reprint sets:

* Sets have a specific skeleton, a certain number of cards per rarity, and balanced colors. Modern Masters 2017 has 249 cards like most recent large sets (minus the basic lands), which is set up as 101 commons, 80 uncommons, 53 rares, and 15 mythic rares. There are places to explore at the margins though—my design is a bit heavier on colored cards than the previous two Modern Masters sets (as there’s no artifact archetype), I’ve went back to two uncommon multicolored cards for each color pair (Eternal Masters had only one), and I’ve finally given up on the cycle of common multicolored cards. Eternal Masters also wasn’t quite as strict on color-balancing as other sets (mostly in “gold-adjacent” cards, like (Rally the Peasants:EMA) and (Kird Ape:EMA)), and I’ve taken that tool and ran with it.

* For Modern Masters sets, every card not only has to be legal in Modern (which excludes both old and banned cards), but not too new either. For MM17, this upper limit is Magic 2014, and the limit has consistently been about four years old. Importantly, only the original printing of the card has to be in this range; the card could have been reprinted in a Standard-legal set more-recently (culminating in multiple MM15 cards still being legal in Standard at the time).

* There is no hard upper limit on complexity (as the product isn’t sold at mass-market outlets and is a premium price), but efforts are made to avoid spreading the set too thin. In particular, the main visible limitation is that any keyword/ability should appear on at least three cards. This constraint is one that Wizards has been following less and less recently (and I call them out on it every time), but I follow it rigidly.

Now, the types of rares, from the money section:

1. Chase rares, ones worth more than many mythics ((Snapcaster Mage:ISD), (Goblin Guide:ZEN))
2. Good rares, worth around the price of the pack ((Gifts Ungiven:MMA), (Death Baron:ALA))
3. Average rares, hovering around the “half the price of the pack” cutoff for the list ((Kalastria Highborn:WWK), (Obstinate Baloth:M13))
4. Bulk ((Sygg, River Guide:LRW), (Renegade Krasis:DGM))

Hopefully if it's a bug in the hover script it can be fixed, otherwise I'll try to avoid lists, I guess?

You know, oddly enough, it by Procrastination at Mon, 10/17/2016 - 23:22
Procrastination's picture

You know, oddly enough, it might be the hover program: When I inspect this article, or even Pete's recent SotP, all of the sections are broken into DIV html. If I go look at my SotP, that didn't get the hover program, all of the html is still how I wrote it - p blocks for text, div just for tables and such.

Hmm, interesting. I wonder if the script I had for the Judge Q & A toggle messes with the hover script and vice versa?

For what it's worth, try leaving the formatting off of the lists until AFTER you paste them, then use the editor to apply it. That might help any other odd interference from erasing out text?

I will keep that in mind. by JXClaytor at Tue, 10/18/2016 - 02:35
JXClaytor's picture

I will keep that in mind.