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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 20 2019 12:00pm
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We’re up to the final set in the Masters Edition tetrology, and if Masters Edition III dipped its toe into the theme bucket, Masters Edition IV goes all-out. On its face it seems like ME4 would be a weak set, as it primarily takes cards from Alpha/Beta, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities, and the cards are either really bad or broken (and the broken cards are rare and/or aren’t in the set). However, we have another set with Portal filling the gaps, and lots of rarity shifts push the relevant spells down and the color-hosers and absolute garbage up. And then you look at the land slot and see not a basic land but instead an Urza land. This makes colorless an easily draftable “color” and gives those Ebony Rhinos, Obsianus Golems, and Staff of Zegons a role in the format. Now let’s look at a surprisingly small list of mechanics:

Mechanics:

Regeneration:

This seems like a strange mechanic to call out at first, as while it’s been depreciated for a while now, it was an evergreen mechanic for a while. However, Masters Edition IV not only has nine things that regenerate or regenerate other things (including Elephant Graveyard and Clockwork Gnomes which do a surprising amount of work), Gravebind and Lim-Dul's Cohort are two decent commons that hose regeneration. The riders on Detonate and Crumble become important here as well, especially since the large number of good artifacts makes artifact removal generally playable.

 

Tribal:

Masters Edition IV takes a light approach to its tribal themes, and it’s not really worth building around any of them. Goblins has the most support, but there you have bad support (Goblin General, Goblin Shrine, Goblin Caves) propping up mediocre creatures (Goblin Bully, Goblin Cavaliers). Zombies only have Zombie Master to prop them up, but at least its body isn’t horrible and there are slightly more creatures to buff with better abilities. Finally Elephant Graveyard only has two Elephants to prop up, but it’s a low cost to include and both Southern Elephant and War Mammoth are fine cards.

 

Colors:

White:

White is very monotone, as while Spotted Griffin, Wild Aesthir, and Wild Griffin have meaningful differences they feel the same. The monotone nature helps with the aggressive theme, as you have Righteous Charge at uncommon and Angelic Voices and Serra Aviary at uncommon. White also has a strong anti-artifact theme with Divine Offering at common (remember you’ll be killing big artifacts from the Tron deck) and Dust to Dust at uncommon. Finally the removal is fine, as while Swords to Plowshares is the gold standard you have the clunkier Serra Bestiary and Just Fate at common. There isn’t much here beyond the aggressive plan and some splashable removal, but the plan definitely can work.

 

Blue:

White was streamlined, but blue is clunky, and beyond the pair of great counterspells False Summoning and Counterspell you have to rely on the fragile fliers Cloud Spirit and Phantasmal Forces. Unlike in ME3 there’s no card draw here, just some cyclers and looters at common Symbol of Unsummoning, Owl Familiar) and Theft of Dreams at uncommons. The silver rarity makes things a lot better in general with good creatures Air Elemental and Water Elemental and the advantage machine Talas Researcher (though remember it’s Portal timing so use it right away each turn, and unlike most of its brethren it’s splashable), but if you’re reliant on the uncommons that’s never a sign of a standout color.
 

Black:

Black feels like it’s hurt by its restrictions a lot more than normal, as most of its spells have meaningful downsides. Yes, black’s “non-black” restriction on its removal spells is a regularity at this point, but Terror’s non-artifact restriction hurts in the set with a lot of big artifact creatures. The whole five common creatures are really bad, as while (Lim-Duls Cohort) and Prowling Nightstalker are fine and Hasran Ogress is better than that downside would have you believe (reframe it as Wishful Merfolk with upside), Foul Spirit is recklessly aggressive. The uncommons are better and the removal is still worth it, but I’m not prioritizing it without a strong uncommon base.

 

Red:

Red is a mess. The only common removal is Lava Flow and Rockslide Ambush, and while both are fine they want you to go heavy red to make them useful, which means dipping into the sub-standard Goblins and their support that dominates common. Ogre Taskmaster is fine and you’d play Goblin Firestarter even without the support, but the good commons dry up quickly after that. Uncommon gets much better (and more splashable) with Fireball, Detonate, Fire Imp, and good creatures and artifact build-arounds, as well as no blanks. There’s a good artifact deck with Atog and Orcish Mechanics, but other than that, Goblins, and splashes I don’t think you can regularly play red in a deck.

 

Green:

Green feels like it comes from a different era from the other colors with how good it looks. First, Southern Elephant, Ironhoof Ox, and Elite Cat Warrior leave the creatures of other colors in the dust. Second, Citanul Druid, Argothian Pixies, and Scavenger Folk are great at hating out the artifact deck, to say nothing of Argothian Treefolk and Gaea's Avenger at uncommon. And third, while Giant Growth is a powerful trick and Sandstorm is a unique trick, Alluring Scent is a powerful effect for common—obviously the creature is vulnerable to removal, but the only common ways to get blown out are Divine Offering, Just Fate, Terror, and Sandstorm, and all but Just Fate can be worked around relatively easily. The main downside of green is that a lot of the uncommons are bad and there aren’t any bombs on the level of Serra Angel or Fireball, but I’d rather have consistency at common than bombs at uncommon any day.

 

Colorless:

Colorless is by far the biggest category as there are 22 uncommons and 20 commons (not counting the Urza lands, as they appear in their own slot). However, even with the Urza lands making all the expensive cards not awful there are a ton of blanks—not even with an artifact theme should you be playing Urza's Chalice, Glasses of Urza, or Library of Leng. There are also other random cards that I’m not sure are good like Oasis and Coral Helm. Other than that the artifacts can be split into two groups.

 

The first group that looks more obviously playable at first are the cheap artifacts with reasonable rates: the Aesthir Gliders and Dragon Engines that fill curves and the powerful midrange creatures like Juggernaut and Clockwork Swarm. These are fine in any deck, but they’re hurt by the artifact hate everyone is running. They’re at their best when you can overwhelm the opponent’s removal, and the best deck to do this is the red artifact deck I mentioned above.

 

The second are all the expensive artifacts the Tron decks exist to enable. You can top your curve with one if you like (especially one of the most powerful ones like Book of Rass, but multiples require the Tron pieces to be salvageable. The problem is that there isn’t anything that can get you the Tron pieces reliably and only Basalt Monolith and Planar Gate help ramp you, so you have to rely on multiples for the deck to work. That means investing lots of early picks to pick the lands, just so you have the chance for Turn 3 Ebony Rhino. Yes, powering out big threats (or even multiple small threats) is powerful, but if you don’t get Tron you’re either going to get run over by the aggressive decks like (Goblins) or out-statted by the green creatures and uncommon bombs. You also have to hope at most one other player is trying to draft the deck so you both get a reasonable number and distribution of Tron lands (though it’ll be interesting how many get hate-drafted and/or “value”-drafted, since I believe this is the first time ME4 has been run as a league). Overall the Tron deck is high-risk, high-reward.

 

Conclusion:

Traveling through Magic’s ancient past as filtered by the design guidelines of ten years ago has been an interesting journey, and the good decks have managed to ebb and flow over the four sets—I’d recommend green/white, a red artifact deck, or a blue control deck here, archetypes we haven’t seen in other sets. Next is Vintage Masters, but as I’ve already covered that relatively recently I won’t retread my steps—just draft RW and hope to open power.

 

As for what’s next for me, obviously Theros: Beyond Death is coming in January, but there are two more product categories that are more interesting for me. The more splashy product is the Mystery Boosters, and while it’s designed to be extremely random, it’s technically a reprint set. However, beyond the logistical problems with reviewing a nearly 2,000 card set, it appears it’s not coming to MTGO even though the non-convention version should be extremely easy to port online with straight reprints (rather than the planeswalker symbol versions). However, the other exciting news came from a surprising source: the monthly Arena update. Beyond updates on Historic and social features, the Arena team says it’s working towards Pioneer but not with full set re-releases. Instead, remastered sets are coming back! As I started my article career with Tempest Remastered, this is a great way for me to get more design articles out as the Masters sets are on hiatus. To be fair, we don’t know much about these remastered sets—it appears they will be Arena-exclusive, and we’re not even sure if they’re going to be full sets—but it’s enough to get me to start my baseless speculation. Right now I’m going to start working on the four obvious remasters (Return to Ravnica, Theros, Tarkir, and Magic 2014/2015/Origins) and will put out the articles when I’m happy with them, have the time to write the articles, and/or get confirmation on which one’s coming first, but that won’t be for a while most likely. Until then, I’ll see you next time with Theros: Beyond Death.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter