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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 19 2018 1:00pm
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Welcome back to Designing Reprint Sets! Before we get to the main event, I want to apologize for the lack of Flashback Draft coverage. I mentioned last time that I didn’t have much more to say about Innistrad, but I did plan on writing a Time Spiral block article before the incredibly compressed timescale of Ultimate Masters surprised me. For that matter, this article isn’t going to be nearly as comprehensive as my previous articles, as it’s a monumental task to design any full set, and Ultimate Masters is a strange thing to just drop out of nowhere. Doing hype over the weekend (framed as an apology for an awful experience with Guilds of Ravnica: Mythic Edition), revealing the set with all of its best cards, and releasing it in a month. Of course, the sad news is that the Masters line is being shelved after this, which takes out a major portion of my writing, as well as what I personally enjoyed most. As such, it feels appropriate that my “final test” in predicting the set comes with virtually no theme, but also a lot of information from the first 20% of the set. 

Before I start predicting the set, it’s worth it to recap everything we know. The main structural differences with this Masters set is that it has 20 mythics instead of 15, and also a higher MSRP in paper (but not on MTGO). The extended-art box-topper accounts for a lot of this, though they’ll be shuffled off to Treasure Chests on MTGO. Otherwise everything is the same: typical large set distribution, 15 card packs with a foil, and presumably designed for Limited play.


The other part we know are the cards themselves. The obvious point is that these are good cards and are going to be a lot of the value of the set. However, we don’t know how much else there is: two-thirds of the rares are still missing, as are most of the uncommons, and they could either be junk or just as good as the rest of the set. The second part is that the mythics (and box-toppers in general) are very color-imbalanced: there’s only one red mythic and no “white” mythics other than Sigarda, Host of Herons and Karakas. Conversely, black has three mono-color mythics and two gold mythics, and over a quarter of the box-toppers (and more if you count lands). Third, knowing 41 cards (the 40 box-toppers and Entomb means there are 41 numbers filled on the number crunch sheet, which constrains a full-reprint set a decent amount. Finally, nine mechanics were revealed (ten if you count the Tribal card type), which adds a lot of structure to the set if you consider the “three cards per mechanic” rule of thumb. As such, let’s start with the limited archetypes, assuming they have them (unlike Masters 25):


White/Blue: Spirits

The Azorius are by far the color pair we know the least about from the initial spoilers, as of the three cards we know in the color combination the earliest is Snapcaster Mage (with the only “white” card being Karakas) and they’re here only for financial concerns. As such, I’ve returned to a stalwart: UW Fliers, but with a Spirits twist hinted at by the two Splice cards. I haven’t leaned too hard on the Spirit synergies, with only a bit of Spiritcraft, no Soulshift, and only Drogskol Captain as a lord. I don’t like this archetype, but it’s fairly simple.


Blue/Black: Control

When I originally conceived this archetype it had more of a graveyard bend using Delve cards along with things like Forbidden Alchemy to power them out, but I’ve pulled back from that since two of the other three black archetypes are graveyard-based. That’s the problem with the imbalanced box-toppers: we know by far the most of black, and it’s heavily pointing towards a graveyard theme with things like Dredge, Delve, and various reanimation spells. Otherwise, it’s still a basic control deck with card draw, counterspells, and removal.


Black/Red: Ponza

This is another archetype I don’t like that much, because like Infect I don’t know how much you can push it. I only have three land destruction spells at common plus Chandra's Revolution and there isn’t much else to put in this archetype. I didn’t want to do another graveyard archetype though, otherwise BR Madness may have had its swan song.


Red/Green: Ramp

Ramp is an archetype that was locked from day one, as you might expect when the Eldrazi titans and many other colorless cards are in the set. The biggest problem is that doing an Eldrazi set (along with other comparable threats at low rarities like Ripscale Predator and Walker of the Grove) is that it warps the removal suite, making it closer to a normal set (fewer Murders at common and more things like Death Stroke and Violet Pall). As for the ramp itself, it’s obviously the perfect place for Kodama's Reach to be reprinted, but there are also more interesting cards like Generator Servant and Quarry Beetle.


Green/White: Stompy

Strangely Selesnya didn’t have much representation in the mono-color cards, but both of its gold cards were locked down, and neither Kitchen Finks nor Gaddock Teeg strongly points to a theme. I thought about going full Maverick with a taxing/hatebears theme, but outside of a few stragglers like Mana Tithe and Ghostly Prison it’s reverted to more of a midrange theme. I don’t like this at all, but the lack of the direction given by the gold cards feels like it’s saying the archetype should be more generic.


White/Black: Reanimator

When both Reanimate and Goryo's Vengeance are at rare there’s obviously going to be a reanimation theme, though it could conceivably be in any of the black color pairs. I chose the Orzhov since it has the signature downgrade of Obzedat's Aid to uncommon, along with a needed reprint of Debtors' Knell. I’ve biased the targets toward more value creatures than big creatures to separate it from the ramp deck, but I feel like it’s in a good place.


Blue/Red: Card Draw

This is the most unique of the archetypes: one that makes the opponent draw cards, then punishes them for it with cards like Runeflare Trap and Cerebral Vortex. There’s also a mill sub-theme with Sphinx's Tutelage and a couple other cards that can stand alone. I have no clue if this deck is good, but most of the pieces like Vision Skeins and Winds of Change seem decent on their own.


Black/Green: Graveyard Value

This is basically a deck full of cards that get value from the graveyard with Delve, Dredge, and other things like Jungle Creeper and Soulless Revival. This is another fairly generic deck full of good cards, but I don’t feel as bad about doing this now that Masters 25 had basically no themes.


Red/White: Tokens

This is the real reason WotC stopped doing Masters sets: it realized it didn’t have many other good Boros themes other than a generic aggro deck. Battle Screech does need a reprint though, and it’s a reliable deck for a reason. I am worried about it since I’m being really aggressive with my downgrades and feel like I’m missing a sweeper or two, but I’m out of time to tweak it and each of the individual choices seem reasonable.


Green/Blue: +1/+1 Counters

And now we end with a classic: using the two Simic mechanics together combined with other creatures like Clockwork Hydra and Floodchaser. I feel like something is off about this though: I chose not to use Proliferate or Modular (if the latter was in the set Arcbound Ravager would be in the box-toppers) and I didn’t have room for Hardened Scales, one of the main reasons to do the theme. The crunch was probably overall the meanest to this archetype, as while I like Vigean Hydropon (even if the forced upgrade to uncommon is bad), Vorel of the Hull Clade is a bad choice.


Other Set Notes:

This is my first time designing to a crunch, and while it helped in some aspects (notably narrowing my options under intense time pressure), it is weird and something that doesn’t really help my overall design skills. One of the more notable early casualties was a WB Exalted archetype I wanted to use, but both Duskmantle Prowler and Duty-Bound Dead are crunched out. The crunch also helped figure out how many of each color there are, and while I got to decent numbers, there are still weird patches, like the large number of artifacts before E, or virtually forcing more colorless cards after Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. There are guaranteed weird things already in the crunch (mostly the large number of lands), so I just accepted it once I got to numbers that worked. If you want to see the full set I designed it’s here, though it isn’t quite finished as of press time—I still have to finish white, but hopefully it’ll be done by the time the article is published.


(The Lack of) Money Analysis:

In one way, the finances of this set is one of the most interesting parts, as while the MSRP was increased in paper (but not on MTGO), it clearly has many more expensive cards, even considering the five extra mythics. However, with my lack of time I’ve done virtually nothing other than a basic look at the mythics. This also means that while I have worked in some more expensive rares, I don’t know how to balance them—something like (Kira, Great Glass Spinner) that fits with a theme is more likely to stay than a random expensive rare like Vexing Devil, but I have no clue what the target value of a pack is. Then again, there are much better resources for finances, and I just used it as a necessary part of the calculus for a reprint set.


Overall Ultimate Masters is going to be very interesting, and I feel like I did well considering I did in under two weeks what it takes WotC about a year to do. Of course, the most interesting thing is that this is the last Masters set for the foreseeable future, meaning after the Ultimate Masters Reprint Set Report Card, this part of my Magic article series will be at an end. While this was always my pet project, I’ve drifted a bit away from Magic and MTGO in recent months and gotten busier. The current plan is to keep doing Limited articles, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have for that, and I’ve done most of the good Flashback formats regardless. Whatever happens, I’ll see you next time when Ultimate Masters is fully revealed.



@VincentSIFTD on Twitter



Really? I've been calling by Cheater Hater at Mon, 11/19/2018 - 14:40
Cheater Hater's picture

Really? I've been calling the Reckless Wurm downgrade for years and the year I decide not to do it they finally do it? At least it seems like the Madness archetype may be RG instead of the RB one I always call. Not a horrible set of Day 1 previews for my predictions otherwise, though I clearly underestimated the quality of reprints here (but note that Phyrexian Tower and Phyrexian Altar are low supply cards that will tank like the Imperial Recruiters and Temporal Manipulations). Also, split cards (and what appears to be a cycle of gold commons) are a strange way to fill that big gap I assumed would have a bunch of artifacts.