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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Oct 09 2019 12:00pm
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It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Flashback article—if you don’t count Battle of the Planes it’s been almost a year. Fortunately we’re about to start on a unique set of Flashbacks: the original Masters Edition quartet of sets along with Vintage Masters, though I’ll be focusing on the first four since they’re new to this series. For those of you that didn’t play Magic Online (or Magic in general) back in 2007, I’ll also provide a brief history lesson. When MTGO launched in 2002, the oldest set originally on Magic Online was Invasion, leaving the first ten years of Magic missing. While every expert-level expansion from Mirage-forward eventually made it onto the service, the sets prior to that (along with the three Portal sets and Starter 1999) had various problems, whether it was cards that were impractical and/or impossible to code (Camouflage, Contract From Below, Chaos Orb), cards that aren’t representative of what Magic should be today (Stone-Throwing Devils, Alaborn Zealot), or cards that are boring and/or awful (the Laces, the legendary “bands with other legends” lands, the tons of vanilla creatures from the Portal sets) that made it not practical to port the sets wholesale. While some of those cards eventually showed up through unique methods like some early promos and the Coldsnap theme decks, Wizards R&D decided to make four sets entirely of cards from sets not scheduled to come to MTGO, and the latter three sets have their own distinct themes, focuses, and cult followings.


However, we’re not here to talk about the latter three Masters Edition sets, but instead the original, and oh, boy. The original Masters Edition was only designed for drafting in the loosest sense—heck, it was originally designed to be drafted primarily alongside Tenth Edition after release events! The set only has 195 cards (basically a pre-mythic small set with 60 rares, 60 uncommons, 60 commons, and 15 basic lands, though I don’t believe the lands are in the packs normally), and we know how well drafting triple-small set works. Furthermore, the set wasn’t designed for Limited as much as it was for reprinting iconic cards like Armageddon, Force of Will, and Lightning Bolt. If you’re drafting this set you’re primarily doing it to open packs that could have valuable old cards in them, not because the playing experience is particularly fun. However, if you’re opening those packs you still want to maximize your winning percentage, and that’s why I’m here. Let’s get to the strategy, starting with the mechanics.




Banding is one of the most infamous mechanics in Magic’s history, as it’s both extremely confusing and extremely powerful. Essentially, creatures you control with Banding can join together with up to one creature without Banding, and while they can only block or be blocked as a unit, you decide where your opponent’s combat damage goes. Essentially this means you can either shove all the damage onto a single weak creature or distribute the damage such that none of your creatures die. There’s a lot more to it, so I’m going to link the wiki page so you can reference it if you have any questions.


Cumulative Upkeep:

Cumulative Upkeep cards have you pay an ever increasing cost to maintain a card in play. This cost adds up, especially for cards that have an upkeep of more than a single mana per turn. Still, don’t be afraid of it, especially if it’s a creature with okay stats.


Technically I should be covering some of the old evergreen mechanics like Regeneration and Landwalk, but let’s be honest: if you’re interested in this set you’ve probably been playing long enough to know what those mechanics are. Now onto the cards, and while I normally would move to archetypes, there isn’t enough of a basis for them, so I’ll go old-school and look at the colors in-depth, then try to form archetypes out of them.




White in Masters Edition 1 is defined by the trio of commons with Banding (Benalish Hero, Mesa Pegasus, Knights of Thorn), as they dominate combat. You also get a pair okay removal spells at common with Exile and Holy Light, though note they both only work on non-white creatures. Order of Leitbur is also a great creature, and Icatian Lieutenant has two other Soldiers at common in white to help. However, the uncommons are mostly garbage, as gems like Thunder Spirit and Icatian Town are surrounded by lots of color hate and complete garbage like Hallowed Ground.



Somehow blue’s biggest strength in ME1’s commons is its creatures, as you get Phantom Monster, Giant Tortoise, and River Merfolk, and you even get the support of Sunken City at uncommon. You also get Word of Undoing and Telekinesis to get opposing creatures out of the way, and Arcane Denial works best in a tempo deck. Even Psychic Venom might be good enough if you’re aggressive enough. At uncommon, Illusionary Forces has obvious strength, but Psychic Purge might be good enough when you consider black has Hymn to Tourach. I also think Homarid Spawning Bed might be good enough, especially when you consider Sunken City and Cumulative Upkeep cards.



As you would expect, black is the color of removal with Cuombajj Witches, Feast or Famine, Oubliette, Paralyze, and Phyrexian Boon. You also get decent creatures with Erg Raiders, Hyalopterous Lemure, and Mindstab Thrull. However, the biggest benefit of black is that it doesn’t have many dead cards, as your worst cards like Blight and Thrull Retainer are just mediocre rather than the blanks in the other colors.



As good as Lightning Bolt at common is, red doesn’t have much depth beyond that. Brothers of Fire and Fissure are good rewards for dedicating to the color, and you get decent creatures like Mountain Yeti, Granite Gargoyle and Dwarven Soldier, but otherwise there are a lot of blanks in the color. Even Dwarven Catapult is a pretty bad X-spell (which makes it in the top tier of cards here, of course, but Lightning Bolt is better).



Fyndhorn Elves and Nature's Lore are a great start to a ramp deck, but you don’t have much to ramp into other than Thicket Basilisk and Shambling Strider, though note you can easily run the latter without red. Instead, you get a lot of removal with Roots, Thorn Thallid, and Singing Tree, while Winter Blast is the kind of effect you don’t expect in green. Don’t overlook the power of Wyluli Wolf, and while Wanderlust looks awful it’s better than you would expect in extremely slow formats (though I’d much rather sideboard it in).



The gold cards will remain extremely unbalanced for a while, as you see garbage like Energy Arc next to bombs like Fire Covenant, and that does influence your colors a bit. As for colorless, when you’re desperately looking for good creatures, moderate ones like Dragon Engine and Onulet are better than you would expect, and uncommons like Walking Wall, Phyrexian War Beast (remember it doesn’t get hit by Feast or Famine), and Clockwork Beast are a high priority.



Having not looked at the set for a while, the creatures and removal are better than I expected, mostly since each color has at least some decent creatures and removal. However, the one thing that I didn’t clearly get across is all the color hate. Even beyond the obvious cards like Hydroblast and Spinal Villain, a lot of creatures just have Protection naturally, which makes the artifact creatures even more important. There also isn’t any fixing, so even though there are great things to splash like Lightning Bolt and Feast or Famine, it’s difficult to do so. If I had the choice I would probably go with some kind of UR Tempo deck, but in reality you’ll pick what good commons you see (as most of the rares aren’t that good) and go with that.



It’s an interesting task to go back to a set that wasn’t really designed for standalone Limited play at all. Thankfully things do get better, as next time things get cold as we examine Masters Edition 2.



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