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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 21 2017 4:58pm
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The release schedule for Iconic Masters has been so weird—we hear nothing about it forever (most of the Masters sets had teasers through promo art if nothing else), get the whole set revealed in September, and then nothing else about it for two months before we get a rare November set release sandwiched between a ton of other things. The set itself is also weird: other than Mana Drain the majority of the value is in the rares (and I'll do an update on that after the Limited Review), and the themes are ones you wouldn't find in the average set, even one with as much of a Modern focus as this one (and not the easiest to find, as you saw in my initial coverage). However, no matter how different the set is, it's still a set for Limited, so let's get to analyzing it!



As a reminder, this is a Masters set so it's going to have a lot of mechanics in it, and some will be more important than others.



After putting in basically every single Masters design, Landfall is finally here, and unfortunately it doesn't do too much. The only non-rare is Jaddi Offshoot, and otherwise the selections are ramp targets and/or cards for Constructed (and Emeria Angel, I guess). The one notable part of this is that those Landfall cards are in a format with both Evolving Wilds and bouncelands, so they'll be even stronger than you expect.



A strange pick, and one of the few mechanics we're almost certain never to see new cards from again (due to disinterest in the mechanic and a lack of design space), but it works well in a set with multiple counter themes (GW and BG). It's focused mainly in white (three of the four cards, as well as the one common), though Mer-Ek Nightblade helps the black counter decks. I am surprised green didn't get any (Tuskguard Captain would have been fine at common even), but maybe they were trying to differentiate the two decks.



While Rebound is focused towards the WU Prowess deck, it’s one of the few universal mechanics: every color gets at least one (and all colors but red get one at common), there are nine total, and all of them are non-rare. Furthermore, these are very strong, since most of them are from Rise of the Eldrazi instead of Dragons of Tarkir (seven of the nine total) where they were powered down. Finally, there are a lot of rarity changes here from those ROE reprints: four were downshifted and two were upshifted, so you’ll see more combat tricks and less removal (as is the trend recently, so there’s no real surprise there).



Another surprise return, this mechanic defined Magic Origins Limited but only makes a cameo here on three cards. All three are non-rare, though only Stalwart Aven is common (and Topan Freeblade was moved up to uncommon where it belongs). While it was your basic combat mechanic in Magic Origins, here it works as a counter source for GW Counters, and isn’t much else.



Seven cards here, and other than the needed reprint of Ancestral Vision it’s mostly the same as it was in the original Modern Masters—seriously, of the RG suspend cards, only Keldon Halberdier wasn’t in MMA. There aren’t nearly as many shenanigans here though, as the cards they chose mostly serve as one-drops for the ramp deck, rather than doing things like suspending multiple cards to get a Empty the Warrens for 4 or Fury Charming out a Pardic Dragon.



Here is the real cameo mechanic, as Storm is here to get Flusterstorm reprinted in a (paper) booster set and little else. Hunting Pack isn’t an awful ramp target (and might do some of the Suspend shenanigans I dismissed earlier) and Wing Shards is a great removal spell (especially in a set with big creatures), and those are the only cards with the mechanic.



This isn’t that strange in context—black needs more creatures with counters for BG Counters, and Unleash is one of the few sources of them—but the execution is unique, as all four cards are common and reasonably efficient.


Two-Color Archetypes:

White/Blue: Prowess/Rebound

We start with one of the themes of this set: bringing together both halves of the Tarkir timeline to get a high-powered Limited deck. The combo of Jeskai and Ojutai gives us a deck with a lot of Prowess creatures, as well as the Rebound spells and cantrips to fuel them. There actually aren’t that many Prowess creatures (five creatures with Prowess proper, and three others that reference non-creature spells), but other than Skywise Teachings (and Monastery Swiftspear) all of them are common, and there are a lot of aggressive downshifts (Seeker of the Way most notably, as Riverwheel Aerialists doesn’t really fit the low curve of the deck). I mentioned all the good Rebound cards earlier (Distortion Strike being the most notable—there’s a reason it’s uncommon here), but you have other good tricks like Guided Strike and Diminish. Overall this deck seems really good, but it has to be really fast or have a lot of ways to break through all the big creatures in the format—you don’t have much outside of common, as the bombs don’t really help and your gold cards are Azorius Charm (fine, but not archetype-defining) and Supreme Verdict (irrelevant for the strategy, though obviously still playable).


Blue/Black: Mill

Finally! The archetype that exists only to reprint Glimpse the Unthinkable has finally showed up, and you might expect me to be jumping for joy because of it. However, I feel like there’s something off about this version of the archetype, and I’m skeptical of its chances for success. In my designs of the mill archetype, I always made it very defensive: cards like Merfolk Mesmerist, Hedron Crab, and Undercity Informer were the core, backed up by defensive creatures and a bunch of removal. While Doorkeeper and the removal are here, there is a lot of attacking in this archetype: cards like Shriekgeist and Trepanation Blade would have never showed up in my designs. Furthermore, there’s a lot of dual-win condition cards with Mindcrank and the downshifts of both Wight of Precinct Six and Jace's Phantasm, and that’s never been a good approach. To be fair, I understand why they did this: requiring attacks makes the strategy interactive, which allows WotC to balance it. I just don’t know how well an attacking mill strategy will do overall.


Black/Red: Dragons

The craziest of the archetypes, and the one most in-line with the Iconic Masters mission statement of the “iconic” creature types. So how did they make “Dragons” a viable limited archetype? To put it simply, a lot of downshifts: six uncommons to common, three rares to uncommon, and even a mythic to rare. There are three Dragons at common, as well as three support cards, and while they’re all good, I’m not sure if that’s enough raw Dragons to make a deck. Uncommon helps by giving three more Dragons (including Bladewing the Risen, one of the craziest downgrades I’ve seen in a Masters set) and three more powerful support cards (as well as (Kolaghan's Monument), which straddles the line), and of course you have plenty of rares to help. While the low as-fan of Dragons at lower rarities is concerning, I’m also afraid of people taking your cards: the rare Dragons are mostly good in any deck, while Draconic Roar is the best red common removal spell (and only trails Grisly Spectacle overall) even without the Dragon rider. I feel like this deck has to be explosive to work, and while the ramp pieces are there, I’m worried this is a rare-dependent deck. I hope this deck works though, as it’s one of the few times I see an archetype that I know I’ll never see again.


Red/Green: Ramp/X-Ramp

At first glance, this looks like your average ramp deck, just with with a lot more artifact mana than usual. However, then you look at the gold section and see the RG uncommon: Rosheen Meanderer. Then everything falls into place: Fireball has a greater purpose than the nostalgia of Channel/Fireball, the multiple Hydras (and should-be-a-Hydra Ivy Elemental) work well, and even Heat Ray looks a lot better. Overall this looks like the most generic “cube-like” deck in the format: pick big things and the mana to play them and you should do well.


Green/White: Counters Midrange

The two counter decks are so weird since there’s so much overlap and I can’t find much to differentiate them. The GW deck seems to be more of a midrange deck, with a focus on growing your creatures with Renown and Outlast then getting minor advantages with cards like Inspiring Call and Chronicler of Heroes. The creatures themselves seem more durable as well, as cards like Stalwart Aven can actually block.


White/Black: Lifegain

Another throwback, but this time to a strange place: Magic 2014. Yes, the whole Bogbrew Witch trio is back (with the namesake downshifted to uncommon), as well as Angelic Accord for the combo. What’s new here is that there’s a lot more incidental lifegain so you aren’t reliant on the combo: lots of Lifelink, bonus lifegain on cards like Radiant Fountain and Angel of Mercy, and Ajani's Pridemate works better with those cards. Of course, the craziest payoff is that both Sanguine Bond and Vizkopa Guildmage are in the set at uncommon, giving those cards a direct payoff. If such a grindy deck is anywhere near viable, this feels like it’ll be the best deck by a country mile.


Blue/Red: Spells

Another half of a dual-archetype (with WU Prowess), but this is much less defined than either counter archetype. The problem is that there aren’t many exclusive payoffs, just Guttersnipe, Monastery Swiftspear, and Electrolyze (and all of those are uncommon). This feels like the escape valve for if you fail at getting a WU Prowess deck more than an archetype you actively want to be in.


Black/Green: Counters Aggro

The BG counter deck is a lot more aggressive, as most clearly shown by Unleash. However, the real key to this deck is its signpost uncommon: Corpsejack Menace. While this is nice on the Unleash creatures, I feel like you want to use it on the Hydras (or Phantom Tiger) more, and it’s a good creature on its own as well. I feel like the counter decks are another place I would want to start in the format, especially BG based on the power of Corpsejack Menace alone.


Red/White: Pump Attackers

All of these interesting archetypes like mill, Dragons, and counters, and RW gives us...a typical deck where weenies want to attack. Lack of creativity aside, this deck is trying to stand out by having a theme of pumping your attackers with cards like Infantry Veteran and Battle-Rattle Shaman, while Doomed Traveler ensures you’ll always have a body to pump. There’s also an aspect of going wide with Trumpet Blast and Great Teacher's Decree (and Coordinated Assault to a lesser extent)—I guess you get a bunch of pumpers to force bad trades, then mass pump once you get a board advantage? I’m staying away until someone else tells me what I’m missing.


Green/Blue: Toughness/Defenders

This deck makes sense once you know it’s there (and in these colors), but I feel like it has problems as well. At its heart the deck is simple—play Defenders and other creatures with high toughness to get value (notably with the mana ramp combo of Wall of Roots and Overgrown Battlement, as well as the cantrips Carven Caryatid and Jungle Barrier), then win—but getting to the “win” part from the value part seems unclear. The easiest way is probably to splash a couple of Vent Sentinels (and no other deck wants them, unless there’s some Vent Sentinel/Dragon Egg deck I’m not seeing), and there’s probably a mill plan with Doorkeeper as well, but maybe you’re just supposed to ramp out a bomb super-early? Or will the Assault Formation (the one rare to uncommon downshift I disagree with, since that effect is both special and not good in multiples) plan work in a Limited context?


Three-Color Decks:

More than any other Masters set, this set feels like it’s naturally setting up three-color decks without explicitly allocating archetypes/cards to the shards/wedges. As such, I want to cover the ones with clear synergy here, though the large amount of fixing means that any number of three color decks and/or splashes should work.


Jund (Black/Red/Green): Dragon Ramp

How much ramp does the Dragon deck need? There is a lot of artifact ramp, but if the Dragon deck is too slow, the combination of Search for Tomorrow, Wall of Roots, and Overgrown Battlement will certainly make it faster. The problem is that all the black Dragons and Dragon-adjacent cards are all double-color: Noxious Dragon, and Bladewing's Thrall are double-black, Furnace Whelp and Hoarding Dragon are double-red, and Bladewing the Risen is both. You do have the time to play bouncelands and Search for Tomorrows, but the green you’re producing is of limited value (and it’s not like you want Jugan, the Rising Star that much even in Dragons).


Abzan (White/Green/Black): Counters

As I mentioned in their respective sections, I like the green and white counter creatures a lot more than the black ones, but Corpsejack Menace is such a strong card to pair with those creatures I feel it’s worth splashing for. The WB Lifegain theme doesn’t do that much, though if you have enough incidental lifegain Ajani's Pridemate does use +1/+1 counters.


Jeskai (Blue/White/Red): Spells/Prowess

The one good thing that red gives to a spells deck is a sense of inevitability, since both Surreal Memoir and Guttersnipe will win a game eventually. The removal is also important, as the main weakness of WU is a lack of removal (your Pacifism variant is Guard Duty, and otherwise you have Blinding Mage and Diminish, but not much else). The problem is that the Prowess deck wants to be the most streamlined, so I don’t like splashing in it, even for cards as good as Staggershock.


Sultai (Black/Blue/Green): Defender Mill

Remember how I said I wanted to have a bunch of defensive creatures in my mill decks? Hey look, green has a ton of defensive creatures! The cantrips defenders are massive here, and Doorkeeper gets a big upgrade from “Merfolk Mesmerist that’s slightly harder to kill” to knocking out four or more cards an activation. This also feels like the deck that wants to pick a bunch of bouncelands, both because you have the time and to help the multiple Jaddi Offshoots you’ll play in the deck. I actively want to play this deck, and think it’ll be good unless the bombs overpower everything else.


Temur (Green/Red/Blue): Vent Sentinel Defenders

I mentioned this above, but am just adding it in the three-color section for completeness. I hope that once the MTGO run of Iconic Masters ends we could get stats on how often Vent Sentinel is played in the Defender decks—I feel like both the Sultai and Temur Defender decks are much better than the GU version without other support.


Other Important Cards:

As I mentioned in passing the removal in this set is great: common has the premium Grisly Spectacle and Draconic Roar alongside relatively less-powerful cards like Reave Soul, Pillar of Flame, and Hunt the Weak, while uncommon has the all-star trio of Doom Blade, Swords to Plowshares, and Staggershock. Conversely, there are a lot of bomb creatures downshifted like Mahamoti Djinn, Indulgent Tormentor, and Heroes' Bane (alongside classics like Scion of Ugin and Serra Angel), so you have to save that removal. The combat tricks are also higher power than you would expect: cards like Virulent Swipe, Prey's Vengeance, and Emerge Unscathed aren’t awful before the Rebound, while Wildsize, Guided Strike, and Bewilder are similar since they’re cantrips. Overall everything in the set looks much more powerful than even an average Masters set (especially Modern Masters 2015 and 2017), which means this evaluation could be wildly off in new ways, so don’t be afraid to experiment, or keep doing something that’s working even though it doesn’t seem like it should be.


Financial Update:

As I mentioned in the opening, Iconic Masters is in a strange place, as we haven’t seen a set with this release schedule before. As such, I’m going to take the opportunity to update the financials:

Card Paper Nov 15 Paper Nov 16 Paper Nov 17 MTGO Nov 15 MTGO Nov 16 MTGO Nov 17
Archangel of Thune $15.30 $22.10 $13.00 18.7 11.8 7.3
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite $12.40 $18.00 $16.60 2.2 2.2 2.2
Avacyn, Angel of Hope $25.60 $23.40 $17.90 4.7 6.9 2.5
Consecrated Sphinx $14.30 $19.80 $13.40 4.2 1.7 1.7
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur $9.10 $12.90 $8.50 2.4 1.1 1.0
Mana Drain $221.70 $200.00 $100.70 4.8 3.3 2.4
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen $6.60 $7.00 $4.40 1.6 0.1 0.1
Sheoldred, Whispering One $11.00 $17.50 $12.00 1.3 0.8 1.0
Necropotence $8.20 $7.60 $5.20 0.1 0.1 0.1
Thundermaw Hellkite $9.20 $7.50 $5.00 7.0 3.0 0.6
Urabrask, the Hidden $6.40 $9.00 $4.50 1.2 0.6 1.0
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker $12.50 $13.80 $6.50 1.7 1.3 1.0
Primeval Titan $9.20 $9.20 $7.00 8.0 8.0 7.2
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger $17.00 $20.40 $14.50 3.3 1.8 1.8
Channel $0.30 $0.30 $2.60 0.1 0.0 0.0
Total $378.80 $388.50 $231.80 61.3 42.7 29.9
Average Mythic $25.25 $25.90 $15.45 4.1 2.8 2.0
Value Added per Pack $3.16 $3.24 $1.93 0.5 0.4 0.2
Percentage of Pack 31.57% 32.38% 19.32% 7.30% 5.08% 3.56%
Card Paper Nov 15 Paper Nov 16 Paper Nov 17 MTGO Nov 15 MTGO Nov 16 MTGO Nov 17
Serra Ascendant $17.00 $16.80 $10.00 4.2 4.1 1.0
Auriok Champion $26.90 $30.00 $10.60 26.4 13.0 8.5
Restoration Angel $6.70 $8.50 $2.80 6.7 6.3 1.8
Yosei, the Morning Star $4.80 $5.10 $4.10 0.2 0.1 0.0
Austere Command $7.10 $10.70 $7.00 0.8 0.2 0.3
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir $13.20 $13.50 $5.50 3.4 0.3 0.2
Keiga, the Tide Star $3.70 $4.30 $3.40 0.2 0.1 0.0
Cryptic Command $26.70 $20.50 $24.50 6.3 5.0 8.4
Ancestral Vision $8.00 $47.90 $22.80 4.0 22.3 6.8
Flusterstorm $60.50 $72.00 $36.80 3.1 4.8 4.7
Bloodghast $12.10 $25.60 $11.50 5.5 6.3 5.3
Kokusho, the Evening Star $10.80 $16.60 $10.20 0.5 0.6 0.6
Rune-Scarred Demon $5.80 $6.00 $4.00 0.1 0.2 0.1
Thoughtseize $19.90 $12.20 $17.50 6.2 4.0 5.9
Night of Soul’s Betrayal $6.30 $9.40 $1.50 5.1 2.3 0.2
Magus of the Moon $26.60 $25.00 $14.70 16.0 9.1 5.8
Scourge of Valkas $3.60 $3.50 $0.90 0.9 0.5 0.5
Anger of the Gods $1.70 $2.70 $2.20 0.5 1.9 0.8
Lotus Cobra $10.90 $13.00 $5.90 6.7 1.0 1.6
Obstinate Baloth $2.20 $5.00 $1.50 2.5 2.8 0.6
Genesis Wave $6.00 $7.00 $4.00 0.5 0.4 0.2
Supreme Verdict $3.80 $4.70 $4.40 1.5 1.5 2.5
Glimpse the Unthinkable $27.00 $33.30 $13.30 6.0 4.2 2.0
Knight of the Reliquary $14.90 $10.00 $6.00 6.1 3.8 2.6
Oblivion Stone $29.00 $22.50 $7.90 24.6 15.4 7.6
Aether Vial $38.10 $44.50 $35.00 5.6 6.7 6.8
Serum Powder $3.10 $3.30 $1.40 7.8 3.7 0.9
Nimbus Maze $5.40 $16.10 $3.50 0.7 0.7 0.2
River of Tears $7.60 $9.30 $3.00 1.2 0.8 0.7
Graven Cairns $7.00 $8.20 $4.20 0.8 0.4 0.3
Grove of the Burnwillows $59.00 $59.40 $19.80 33.4 26.8 8.1
Horizon Canopy $58.50 $68.60 $44.03 26.8 22.5 31.9
Bulk x21 $0.30 $0.30 $0.30 0.1 0.1 0.1
Total $540.20 $641.50 $350.23 216.4 173.9 119
Average Rare $10.19 $12.10 $6.61 4.1 3.3 2.2
Value Added per Pack $8.92 $10.59 $5.78 3.6 2.9 2.0
Percentage of Pack 89.18% 105.91% 57.82% 51.04% 41.01% 28.07%

We haven’t looked at any financial information for a set after its initial reveal, so it’s still surprising how much prices have dropped over the last two months. I’m using actual presale prices for paper which show most of the initial drop, but I’m falling back on old versions for MTGO since prices appear to mostly be placeholders as of this writing (I wonder if anyone will actually get a foil Horizon Canopy at 0.1 tickets), so those might fall further. In paper, the rare slot falling to 80% of the pack value makes sense: it doesn’t include all the good uncommons or the foil slot. The same theoretically applies to MTGO, but dropping down to 30% is rough. Then again, the much lower spread of MTGO (both in sell/buy prices and draft prizing) makes this slightly better, though the math says you should stick to phantom drafts unless you get really good at the format (or value the QP a lot).



Overall, Iconic Masters is a very interesting set, both in terms of its design and what it means for the Magic schedule as a whole—for instance, now that we know that HASCON 2 is coming in 2019, can we expect another old-school zero-information pre-prerelease again? Or will WotC realize that you shouldn’t shove so many releases into a year? As for me, my long stretch of set releases is done, unless you really want me to do a Limited Review of Unstable despite it not appearing online—surprisingly the set seems pretty close to black border on its face, where most of the crazy stuff like dice, Contraptions, Augment/Host, and watermark tribal are clearly in-game (before we get to the literal functional reprints and other black border in silver clothing cards), as opposed to stuff like Gotcha and dexterity cards, which you can’t really strategize for. Instead, I’m hoping to fulfill my plan of getting a full design for Masters 25 out before the end of year. I’m mostly done with it (the commons and uncommons are virtually complete with only rares/mythics left, and most of the new reprints have been filled), though I’m a lot busier than I was when I made that plan (I’m curating articles for a gaming site called SIFTD), so no promises. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll still be back with Rivals of Ixalan coverage (both the Limited Review and Treasure Chest update), so until then.



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Another stupid by Cheater Hater at Tue, 11/21/2017 - 16:49
Cheater Hater's picture

Another stupid mistake--Stormchaser Mage isn't the UR uncommon, Electrolyze is.

Fixed. Which shows just how by JXClaytor at Tue, 11/21/2017 - 16:58
JXClaytor's picture

Fixed. Which shows just how much I know about iconic masters.