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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 09 2020 12:00pm

After the resounding (and surprising) success of Amonkhet Remastered, the line of Arena-specific sets continues with an actual Masters set. I wish we had more information on the timeline of these digital-only sets, as it couldn’t have been in development for more than a year (as that’s when Pioneer became a format and priority for Arena), but the timeline presumably is more compressed without the necessity of actually printing cards. I wouldn’t be surprised if the set isn’t 100% complete yet as I’m writing this. Still, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Masters set with a limited range, so presumably it’ll be easy to predict. 

Before we get started, I want to lay down some ground rules I’ll be following. I’m going to assume everything in this set is Pioneer-legal and not already on Arena. I’m also specifically excluding the remaining Amonkhet block cards, as well as Kaladesh block (as I’m assuming it’ll get a Remaster sometime next year). Complexity is also a concern, so I’m limiting the number and complexity of mechanics, especially for those with functionality not already on Arena (stuff like Morph, Bestow, and Meld probably won’t appear in a Masters set until they appear in a Standard set) and focusing on the mechanics needed for important Pioneer cards. Finally, the precedent of Amonkhet Remastered means I don’t have to stick to the standard set size, though I’ll remain around the size and proportions of that set. Let’s get started with the mechanics I’ve chosen, and the pools they fit into:



Already Exist: Constellation, Convoke

Exist Unkeyworded: Heroic, Ferocious

These are the easiest categories, as presumably it won’t take much work for these to go on Arena. Each also has important cards to put on Arena: Constellation has Eidolon of Blossoms, Convoke has Chord of Calling, Stoke the Flames, and Return to the Ranks, Heroic has Favored Hoplite and Akroan Crusader, and Ferocious has Stubborn Denial and Wild Slash.


Appear Easy: Scavenge, Populate, Exploit, Converge, Escalate, Spell Mastery

Most of these are easy, either doing things that are natural (activating abilities from a graveyard, cloning, sacrificing) or things Arena already has an interface for (Converge is just a variant of Adamant, Spell Mastery isn’t too different from Undergrowth, and if Arena can handle Sublime Epiphany it can handle Escalate). This is also where I use things more for Limited: while Escalate (Collective Brutality) and Converge (Radiant Flames, Painful Truths, and Bring to Light) are important, Populate (Sundering Growth) and Spell Mastery (Dark Petition and Gather the Pack) are edge cases, while Exploit and Scavenge don’t really have Pioneer staples.


The Tricky Ones: Delirium, Delve

At their face, these don’t seem too bad; Delve is just Escape and Convoke, and Delirium is another graveyard counting mechanic. However, Delve needs to modify the cost as well in hand and do interesting things (as it’ll be one of the most played mechanics), and Delirium needs to be clear while handling the edge case of Emrakul, the Promised End as well. This obviously isn’t a situation like Morph or Bestow, but it’s not trivial, which is why I didn’t have too many (say, pairing these with Overload or colorless mana in costs)



White/Blue: Fliers

One of the surprises that while this archetype has a decent number of Spirits it’s not an explicit tribal archetype. For that we can thank Jumpstart, as it picked out Rattlechains and (Nebalghast Herald), leaving only Mausoleum Wanderer as a relevant tribal card, which wouldn’t even fit well when I already have Judge's Familiar (in an aggressive downshift to common as part of the common hybrid cycle I’m stealing from Ultimate Masters), so it can be caught up by an Anthology. Instead, this archetype has good fliers and only Thunderclap Wyvern as an explicit synergy.


Blue/Black: Zombies

The only tribal synergy here is the one meant to work with Amonkhet Remastered (and as a bonus isn’t one that will work with the new Innistrad sets, which will release around when I’m guessing Pioneer Masters 2 will launch). The biggest problem is that there are just so many zombies—even other archetypes’ cards like Grim Guardian, Thraben Foulbloods, and Nantuko Husk are just zombies as a bonus. I also have most of the synergy cards from Shadows Over Innistrad block, and that meant others got left out like Risen Executioner and Empty the Pits.


Black/Red: Sacrifice

Yes, Rakdos doesn’t have many good Limited archetypes (especially since I didn’t want to make Arena add Madness just for Limited), so I went with the default. I did try to limit free sacrifice outlets by putting Gnawing Zombie at common and Nantuko Husk at uncommon. Honestly, the most interesting decision is the downshift of Dreadbore to uncommon.


Red/Green: Ferocious

Another boring archetype, but at least this time “power 4 or greater” is keyworded. There aren’t too many quality ways to jump the curve, and there’s isn’t a big payoff either, so maybe this is underpowered? There isn’t much else to do with just one and a half sets of payoffs though, though Elemental Bond is an okay bleed.


Green/White: Tokens

Of all the archetypes, Selesnya Tokens is one that’s an obvious pick yet doesn’t have much that’s important for Constructed—Voice of Resurgence doesn’t require a tokens deck, while Populate cards like Sundering Growth and Druid's Deliverance are fringe at best. I’m also not doing much innovative here other than adding back in some of the M15’s Convoke cards. Overall I don’t like it, but the other GW deck is a +1/+1 counters deck, and I already have one of those.


White/Black: Enchantments

Conversely, the strength and synergy of all the Orzhov Constellation cards along with the enchantment-matters cards in Magic Origins (even if Jumpstart took Blessed Spirits) and Return to Ravnica lead to a deck that I’ve tried in multiple Masters sets, even ones with a larger card pool. The lack of Bestow does hurt, but the downshifts of Aegis of the Gods and Fate Unraveler to uncommon help fill out the number of enchantment creatures (as does the extremely versatile Security Blockade downshift to common). There’s also a surprising amount of green support, with Oakheart Dryads and Strength from the Fallen both helping Delirium.


Blue/Red: Spells

Another relatively boring archetype, but there are a ton of important reprints here: Monastery Swiftspear, Bedlam Reveler, and Pieces of the Puzzle among others. It also benefits from the blue Delve spells, as they’re best when you’re cycling Expedites and Jeskai Sages. If I’m saving the artifacts/colorless archetype for the next set, this is the best of what’s left.


Black/Green: Delirium

This is one of the trickiest archetypes to get right, as it means not only do I need the self-mill enablers like Vessel of Nascency and Rakshasa's Secret, I need to balance types overall. The enchantment theme in black (and green to an extent) helps, but notably I don’t have many artifacts in the set. I’m also trying to balance a handful of Delve spells and Scavenge as well, so this is by far the trickiest to play as well. Of course, part of it’s that it has a ton of Constructed cards, with essentially all the Delve cards, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Emrakul, the Promised End, and some of the enablers like Gather the Pack, so it needs to be here.


Red/White: Heroic

Another “by the numbers” deck, this is almost exactly the same as the Ultimate Masters version of the archetype, but less aggressive in its downgrades other than moving Anax and Cymede to uncommon. One benefit is that Escalate cards Borrowed Hostility and Blessed Alliance work well in Heroic (while giving me Collective Brutality for free), though it might mean I’m pushing it a bit more than necessary.


Green/Blue: Evolve Counters

The “+1/+1 Counters” archetype is interesting, as there are distinct versions in both Selesnya (an Outlast-focused version) and Simic (an Evolve-focused version). However, all the Outlast cards are bad, while Experiment One is a Constructed card, so that tips the scales for Simic, especially since the other Simic decks either are complex (Morph) or don’t fit the best here (a ramp deck would want a lot of Emerge creatures, and ideally I’d want to save that for the set with all the other colorless cards). Still, cards like Hardened Scales and Avatar of the Resolute fit in either archetype (though Jumpstart stole Inspiring Call), so it isn’t just a Gatecrash deck. It’s also helped a bit by Scavenge as well.


Other Important Cards:

Starting with the rares, the biggest question is which of the four rare land cycles (not counting the banned fetches) I should use, though the large number of rares mean I can safely have ten lands. They actually fit well into two pairs: enemy creature lands and shadowlands or painlands and tangolands. Painlands fit the best with the colorless-in-costs cards that will be in Pioneer Masters 2, so creaturelands and shadowlands is the choice here, along with Mana Confluence as a good untapped land. The other rare oddity is that I stuck the important Converge cards (Bring to Light, Radiant Flames, and Painful Truths) without much support—maybe they’d fit better in the other set (where I’ll likely be supporting five color Slivers and/or Allies), but the rest of the Converge cards are so bad they’d probably get cut entirely. I have 70 rares, only slightly under Amonkhet Remastered’s total.


As for mythics, the obvious big problem is having all of the planeswalkers. I have seven here: one in each mono-color along with Domri Rade and Nahiri, the Harbinger which seems like way too many, but Amonkhet Remastered also just had seven. The crunch is going to be even tighter in the second set (as it’ll have to fit in the five TDFC planewalkers along with a bunch of other ones), but it isn’t awful. Otherwise it’s mostly cards that need mechanics, with some filler in the mono-color slots to keep colors mostly balanced. I have 24 mythics, which means there’s a bit of room for additions, though there isn’t much to add that isn’t balanced, other than maybe the cycle of Khans of Tarkir legends, or maybe the other four Dragonlords (only Dragonlord Ojutai is in the set). If you’re interested in my full list you can see it here.


The Big Picture:

First of all, before I talk about my plan overall, I’ll lay out my outline for the “other” Pioneer Masters set:

White/Blue: Spell-Focused Control?

Blue/Black: Mill or Inspired

Black/Red: Colorless Aggro

Red/Green: Landfall and/or Dragon Ramp

Green/White: +1/+1 Counters with a Human subtheme

White/Black: Lifegain

Blue/Red: Artifacts/Colorless Synergies

Black/Green: Elves and/or Midrange

Red/White: Wide Aggro

Green/Blue: Morph or Emerge Ramp?


Between the two sets most of the important cards are picked up (either because most of the relevant mechanics are used or because two sets have enough rares and mythics, especially with the expanded sets on Arena), but there are some chokepoints. The most obvious one are tribal synergies, particularly Slivers and Allies that take a lot of space to be good and don’t fit neatly into an archetype. Devotion is also hard to design around, especially since the important cards are mythics (Master of Waves a couple gods). It’s also annoying when a difficult mechanic has only a single relevant card or two, like Hidden Strings or Whisperwood Elemental. Overall I’m very interested in what Wizards does with it, and we don’t have long to wait.



Announcement Day has arrived, and there’s good (multiple new planes are interesting), bad (I don’t mind a D&D collaboration on its face, even in black-border, but I don’t like it being a Standard-legal set, especially replacing the core set), and ugly (it was confirmed that the double-Innistrad doesn’t mean Standard’s getting bigger, but pushing sets out faster is not what this strained Play Design team needs right now, especially with another Modern Horizons in the queue as well). However, the obvious most exciting part of the announcements for me and this column is the confirmation of Time Spiral Remastered. We know it’s a paper set (so normal set size by default), but it also includes a “timeshifted” sheet of its own with random old-border cards. Expect the DRS article for that soon enough, though I can already tell you I’m not even going to try to predict the timeshifted sheet. Otherwise next from me should be the Limited Review for Zendikar Rising.



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