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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Mar 14 2018 1:00pm
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Masters 25 is probably the most interesting Masters set Wizards of the Coast has produced since I started covering them, and that's saying a lot since they've gotten crazier with every release. In fact, I have so much to say about it that I have plans for three articles on it: the Limited Review (what you're reading now), my design review (that will also talk about the financial aspect of the set), and a retrospective on WotC's choices to fill the "one of every set" criteria. For now, let's talk about what's most pressing: the Limited format.

 

Looking at the initial card list as I filled in my spreadsheet, I had one overarching question: where is everything? Where are the 20 mechanics I expect from expert-level sets? Why aren't the signpost uncommons actually telling me anything? Where are the on-rails themes most Masters sets have? Overall that's the clear message that's coming from this set for the Limited format: draft good cards more than decks. Granted, there are clear archetypes you can see for some of the color pairs after looking at the set some more, but overall you're going to be looking more for combos between cards in your deck than the decks themselves, as explained by Gavin Verhey on the mothership. This also fits with the few mechanics there are:

 

Mechanics:

Morph/Megamorph:

Score one for my predictions, as Morph (and the two Megamorph creatures; I'll just use "Morph" to represent all of them) is a good way to cross multiple blocks (every set with a Morph creature is represented), but here it works as a way to help fix your colors somewhat (as you have a lot of colorless creatures) more than an actual archetype. Morph goes through all the colors (though white and black only get one a piece) as well as the colorless Zoetic Cavern. The set also follows the "Morph rule" (the Morph cost needs to be at least 5 mana to "eat" an opposing Morph creature) with the exception of rare Vesuvan Shapeshifter, which needs another big creature to violate the rule. There are also a lot of downgrades to Morph creatures, with three moving from uncommon to common and two moving from rare to uncommon.

 

Overall, there are 7 common Morph creatures, and three of them are free Morphs: Dragon's Eye Savants (seems underpowered in this environment unless you really want the 0/6), Fathom Seer (probably won't unmorph as a combat trick until the late game), and Ruthless Ripper (very relevant, though note it's the only black Morph). Once you get past five mana, the most impactful Morphs are thankfully uncommons: Karona's Zealot (a natural two-for-one that doesn't leave behind an awful body, though it's telegraphed by being the only white Morph), Brine Elemental (effectively Time Walk, and it's the easiest Morph to hide since blue has so many playable ones), and Krosan Colossus (keyword "big" strikes again, though it's a big commitment to unmorph it). The final Morph you need to watch out for is Skirk Commando, which somehow wasn’t upshifted despite its obvious strength, though the Morph rule helps avoid a lot of those blowouts (and almost singlehandly makes blocking the default move against a red deck). Those are the most important Morphs to know about below rare, though if you want to play the format I'd recommend knowing the list of Morphs so you don't look stupid when your opponent turns over a Fortune Thief or something.

 

Cycling/Landcycling:

Another mechanic that spans multiple blocks (though none of the Alara block cyclers were reprinted), Cycling picks up the slack as the main smoothing mechanic, as strangely the only appearance of Scry is on Gods Willing. The bulk of the smoothing comes from the venerable cycle of Scourge Landcyclers, with support from Krosan Tusker and Ash Barrens. The other important cyclers are the trio of Renewed Faith, Choking Tethers, and Dirge of Dread which all have good effects when you cycle them and meaningful effects when you cast them (notably the latter two, which can break through a board stall). The other important cards are the pair of black cards Horror of the Broken Lands (still efficient, and the cyclers and discard outlets are better here than in Amonkhet) and Undead Gladiator (a contender for riskiest downshift that isn't one of the Legendary Creatures).

 

Fear/Regenerate/Landwalk:

Should these count as returning mechanics? I guess they're technically not evergreen, but I feel most people will know them. For that matter, the recently revealed “Hexproof from (aspect)” seems like an easy replacement for Protection (and Protection was covered in the release notes for Masters 25 despite still being deciduous as far as we know).

 

Mana Fixing:

This has been one of the most important categories for Masters sets, and even more so here in a set where the archetypes aren't as well defined. However, since I already covered the Landcyclers in the Cycling section, we've actually covered most of them. Green has the amazing Cultivate at common, as well as Pauper/Modern reprint Utopia Sprawl at uncommon. Colorless gets its own ramp with Myriad Landscape at uncommon and Prophetic Prism is a dedicated slot for five-color at common, but that's actually it below rare: no large land cycles and no endless mana rocks. This means your deck will have fewer picks overall in it unless you pick a lot of colorless utility lands like Haunted Fengraf and Quicksand, which is an interesting dynamic for a "good cards" format.

 

Color Pairs:

I'm going to do things a bit differently since the archetypes aren't really linked to the color pairs as strongly as in other sets. I'm going to start by going over each archetype and the color pair it's pointing towards. After that, I'm going to go over the big picture archetypes as I see them, as well as the important cards.

 

White/Blue: Blink/Fliers

Cloudblazer clearly wants to be triggered as much as possible, but the surprise is that you don't have much to blink things with: just Cloudshift and Whitemane Lion unless you want to use Man-o'-War on your own creatures. There also aren't as many targets as you would expect, as while Fiend Hunter seems great (and has the old Oblivion Ring-style wording to remove creatures permanently), Urbis Protector seems fragile and the Court Hussar downgrade seems perfect for the archetype but is actually a nonbo with Cloudshift (as it doesn't recognize you paid U once you blink it). Of course, you could just go with fliers, but as efficient as Geist of the Moors, Ghost Ship, and Murder of Crows are I don't know if you don't want to go that basic in a Masters format.

 

Blue/Black: Tempo

Shadowmage Infiltrator is so close to the Saboteur archetype I predicted, but instead it feels like a tempo-focused deck: play small meaningful creatures (Phantasmal Bear, Vampire Lacerator, Nezumi Cutthroat), get opposing creatures out of the way (Man-o'-War, Disfigure, Murder), stop your opponents from doing things as long as possible (Arcane Denial, Counterspell), then force through the last points of damage any way possible (Mystic of the Hidden Way, Coralhelm Guide, Choking Tethers, Dirge of Dread). Notice how all of the cards I mentioned except Finkel himself are common? That's why I think this deck could be in a good position to start the format, though tempo strategies generally get countered later into a format.

 

Black/Red: Discard/Sacrifice

Unfortunately Blightning doesn't signal an archetype full of Megrims and Hellfire Mongrels (as they want the anniversary celebration to be fun—I should have thought of that before I made land destruction a subtheme in my design), but there are two possible ways I can see the Rakdos going. When the set was being spoiled, I thought a discard theme would be in the set thanks to downgrades like Balduvian Horde and Undead Gladiator, and while the pair of Amonkhet stars Horror of the Broken Lands and Thresher Lizard still support it, I don’t think it’s the main theme for the color pair. Instead, the full spoiler unleashed the classic pair of Act of Treason and Nantuko Husk Phyrexian Ghoul at common, with Enthralling Victor and Fallen Angel providing support at uncommon. When you combine that with Zulaport Cutthroat, traditional fodder like Dusk Legion Zealot, cards that want to be sacrificed like Death's-Head Buzzard and Humble Defector, and all the non-convoluted removal in RB (including the bonus value you get off Skeletonize), this looks like one of the leading contenders of the format.

 

Red/Green: Ramp

Stangg is a strange choice when it’s just representing a slightly efficient pile of stats (that dies to a Chandra's Outrage no less), but otherwise the ramp deck looks interesting. I already talked about how good Cultivate is (and it’s even better when you Arbor Elf to play it on turn 2), and the cyclers that get you land are much better when you can regularly cast them. The problem I’m seeing is that most of the big creatures (even at rare) are just vanilla creatures on the battlefield, meaning they get chumped most of the time. Soulbright Flamekin and Wildheart Invoker might help with that somewhat, but I have a feeling you might be trying to splash in this deck or just trying to ramp to Cinder Storms.

 

Green/White: Stompy?

The prize for least exciting signpost has to go to Watchwolf (especially after Call of the Conclave was downshifted in Modern Masters 2017), and that goes for the color pair as a whole: no real direction and nothing that really pulls you to the Selesnya. I think they’re trying to pull a Stompy build with efficient small creatures like Nettle Sentinel, Savannah Lions, Fencing Ace, and Knight of the Skyward Eye and buffing them with cards like Rancor, Lunarch Mantle, and Ordeal of Heliod, but I’m not seeing an Aura-based strategy working with all the good removal in the set. I’d stay away and go with other pairs if I wanted a tokens strategy.

 

White/Black: Blink/Value

While Pillory of the Sleepless doesn’t signal an archetype at all (other than being just a good card), I feel like this is the real Blink archetype. The key is that while blue didn’t add much to the core of Cloudshift/Whitemane Lion other than Cloudblazer, black gives you another blink effect in the form of Supernatural Stamina as well as good targets like Bloodhunter Bat, Dusk Legion Zealot, and Ravenous Chupacabra (which I’ll have more to say in the other articles in this series). There is so much value in this archetype that I think it’ll be the favorite of the average drafter early in the format, so I wouldn’t try to force it, even though I think there are enough good cards to make it playable.

 

Blue/Red: Untap Combo

Quicksilver Dagger looks like one of the most unusual choices for a signpost ever, at least until you look over the set again and see Horseshoe Crab and Freed from the Real. Yes, we’re doing one of the Timmiest combos ever, though I’m not sure they hit the execution just right. The biggest problem is that Horseshoe Crab and Freed from the Real are the only things that untap your creatures (unless you count Act of Treasoning your own creature) while there are more enablers like Retraction Helix and Heavy Arbalest. As such, it feels like Horseshoe Crab shenanigans are more of a side story to whatever the main UR plan is (which probably is a Counterburn strategy based on overall card quality), but whatever it is will probably be the most fun you can have in the format.

 

Black/Green: Rock/Graveyard

I’ll admit that Baloth Null isn’t what I think of from Oath of the Gatewatch, but it clearly points towards a midrange strategy with graveyard synergies. While Vessel of Nascency is the traditional way to fill your graveyard (though it’ll certainly be much weaker here in a non-Delirium format), don’t forget that cyclers will do so as well, so you should always have two targets for Baloth Null or a big creature to reanimate with Zombify. Otherwise you just have efficient creatures and great removal, so the relatively light synergies are good enough.

 

Red/White: Tokens

Fun police time! While Boros Charm isn’t an actual signpost, this tokens deck really doesn’t need it. All of the downgrades like Hordeling Outburst, Promise of Bunrei, and (Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon") supercharge an archetype which already has “normal” cards for the archetype like Dauntless Cathar and Trumpet Blast, as well as the pair of 2/1’s for 1 at common Savannah Lions and Jackal Pup (with Frenzied Goblin playing a role as well). The most interesting card is (Valor of Akros) which seems more than good enough with all the token making (as well as tricks like endlessly bouncing your Whitemane Lion), but it’s still a four-mana card that does nothing the turn you play it—compare it to the great Griffin Protector which does many of the same things on a 2/3 flier. Add in all the removal in both white and red (the latter of which can go to the face) and this seems like the deck to beat for the format—what is it about eternal Masters sets that have overpowered RW tokens decks?

 

Green/Blue: Draw/Untap

Lorescale Coatl points towards a deck that wants lots of card draw, and while the card itself is obviously going to be great in a format with Brainstorm, Sift, and lots of Cycling and cantrips, there aren’t really any other payoffs to going all-in on the concept. Instead, it feels like this is a slightly better place for the Untap cards, as there’s both another creature that untaps (Nettle Sentinel, though it obviously isn’t nearly as good) and another good thing to tap your Horseshoe Crab (Presence of Gond). The color pair feels a bit scatter-brained, so I wouldn’t start here, but all the pieces appear to be in place.

 

Other Important Cards:

There are surprisingly few colorless cards, but one neat aspect is the trio of Assembly-Worker tribal cards Assembly-Worker, Self-Assembler, and Mishra's Factory—what, no Urza's Factory? Self-Assembler being able to find Assembly-Worker is nice though. As for the other artifacts, Perilous Myr, Primal Clay, and Treasure Keeper are all fine creatures, and I wouldn’t bother with the Equipment unless you have enough Horseshoe Crabs/Nettle Sentinels for Heavy Arbalest. The colorless lands are all very high quality, with the only concern being the relative lack of mana fixing—though in that case you can just put them in spell slots.

 

The biggest card I’ve missed through my color pair look is Brainstorm, as while there are no fetchlands to pair it with (not even Evolving Wilds), between the landcyclers, the pair of collect-me creatures Squadron Hawk and Self-Assembler (remember, you can still search/shuffle even if you know there aren’t any more in the deck), and random other cards like Treasure Keeper and Fierce Empath it’s a lot closer to Ancestral Recall than in the average Limited format. Pyroclasm also seems stronger here than normal thanks to all the token effects, as well as its ability to kill Morph creatures. The pair of Genjus (Genju of the Falls and Genju of the Spires) are unique since they’re essentially unkillable creatures, limited only by your land count—they’re a priority target for your Disenchant effects, and note that it only counts if the land dies (not if it’s exiled or blinked). (Deadly Designs) (which is actually new to MTGO) is a neat Conspiracy: Take the Crown selection, and remember that you can activate the ability to trigger it early if you have no (good) creatures to kill. Spikeshot Goblin may not have much Equipment to pair with in Masters 25, but it’s still a pinger and can turn a pump spell into a burn spell. Finally, everyone knows about Kavu Predator plus Invigorate, but don’t forget Path of Peace as well (though I don’t think you should go so deep as to Congregate your opponent).

 

General Archetypes:

Blink:

The core of a Blink deck involves way to replay creatures along with creatures that benefit from being replayed. The majority of Blink cards are in white with Cloudshift and Whitemane Lion, but black has Supernatural Stamina (and Hell's Caretaker does similar things at rare), while Strionic Resonator copies abilities without recasting the creature. The simplest way to benefit is through “enters the battlefield” abilities, and while Masters 25 has plenty of strong options in that space like Fiend Hunter, Ravenous Chupacabra, and Cloudblazer, there are other options as well. Cloudshift and Supernatural Stamina can unflip Morph creatures, which can lead to a surprise Krosan Colossus or Akroma, Angel of Fury on Turn 4. Humble Defector and Loyal Sentry are also nice to blink after activating/triggering their abilities, and Enthralling Victor is stronger when you Cloudshift it as it becomes an instant Threaten effect—and speaking of Threaten effects, Cloudshifting a stolen creature keeps it under your control permanently. Finally, don’t be afraid to only get minor value off a blink spell (say, blinking a Dusk Legion Zealot or an Ambassador Oak) or to use them only to save a creature from a removal spell or unfavorable combat, and similarly be weary of being two-for-one’d when you try to blink something (which is a case Whitemane Lion excels at).

 

Sacrifice:

The two parts of the sacrifice deck are sacrificing creatures you’ve taken from your opponent (turning Threaten effects into removal) or sacrificing your creatures that either you don’t care about or actively want to die. Of course, you need sacrifice outlets first and both Phyrexian Ghoul and Fallen Angel fit that mold well, while Jalira, Master Polymorphist is an interesting option in blue and Lunarch Mantle in white if necessary. If you want to steal creatures, Act of Treason and Enthralling Victor are your only options, but they’re high-quality ones. There are plenty of creatures that want to sacrificed, such as Humble Defector, Perilous Myr, and Treasure Keeper, while the “fodder” category includes various tokens and other cheap creatures like Dusk Legion Zealot, and Zulaport Cutthroat helps everything run smoothly. Otherwise, be careful about going all-in on a sacrifice creature if your opponent has mana up, as there is a lot of instant-speed interaction in this format.

 

Untap:

Yes, Horseshoe Crab is powerful enough to power its own archetype when it’s paired with Quicksilver Dagger, Retraction Helix, and Presence of Gond. The problem is that there aren’t many other ways to go off (just the slow Nettle Sentinel and uncommon and highly-prioritized Freed from the Real, so it’ll be difficult to build a full deck around it unless you’re the only person who wants Horseshoe Crab, and the pieces just aren’t that great in isolation.

 

Ramp:

As I mentioned in the RG section, there just aren’t that many good ramp targets even at higher rarities, so instead you’re either ramping out midrange creatures like Ember Weaver or Iwamori of the Open Fist early (which requires either Arbor Elf or Utopia Sprawl), ramping a “vanilla” creature out very early, or getting lucky and opening something like a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, or Sundering Titan to fully use your Cultivates and Myriad Landscape.

 

Tokens/Aggro:

The RW Token deck is pretty prescribed, but there are plenty of ways to make lots of tokens in green, such as Ambassador Oak, Presence of Gond, and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher.

 

Along with those special archetypes, don’t be afraid to go for a generic aggro, control, or midrange archetype. As most of these “combo” cards have a low floor, you can try to just draft good cards alongside a combo that might happen and your consistency might be what gets you through, especially since there are so many removal spells in this format. Don’t be afraid to experiment—this is a unique experiment in an age of mostly on-rails draft archetypes.

 

Mini Treasure Chest Update:

Right after Masters 25 was revealed (and before Dominaria was “actually” spoiled), the customary MTGO event article was published, alongside one of the meatiest lists of Treasure Chest changes to date. A bunch of Standard Commons/Uncommons were replaced by special (untradeable) Avatars, and the chance of a curated card increased by 0.5%. And speaking of curated cards, I’m pretty sure this is the largest change I’ve covered, if not the largest total (especially ones not including the Treasure Chest set). The article said 265 cards were added and 133 are leaving, and when combined with the card whose curation numbers simply changed there are a total of 459 entries in the list of changes (though that number is inflated somewhat since there are a lot of version swaps, like the VMA version of Demonic Tutor being swapped for the Duel Deck: Divine vs Demonic version at the same frequency). Almost certainly because of the large number of cards added, the total number of cards in the curated pool increased by 737, a first for a set without Masterpieces.

 

The article also mentioned some of the thoughts on the curated list changes for the first time in a while. The big highlight is the From the Vault: Transform cards being added for the first time on MTGO (at a frequency of 6 each)—the messaging on the set has been messy for a while, so it’s good to have clarity. There are also changes that focus on cards from Standard and Pauper, and some cards that have recently rotated have rejoined the curated list. Finally, some cards are “rotating out to keep the contents fresh and exciting,” though we haven’t seen that much in previous updates (though the length they go to euphemize “tanked in value” with words like “whose popularity has waned” is always fun).

 

And there we get to the crux of why this is a mini update despite the large amount of changes: I don’t have the time to do a full analysis, especially since I’m writing so many other articles. In particular, I feel like the price analysis took too much time for the value it provided—I just looked up every price manually since I didn’t have a better way to do it, and it’s not like I calculated the entire change to the list every update (so the data was incomplete anyway). I was able to do a bit of analysis, but it mostly confirms things like the version swaps and other things said in the article. If you’re interested I’ve put up my sorted version of the update list so you can do more with it. I’m also willing to do more with it, though I think my packed schedule means it wouldn’t come until the (presumed) Dominaria Treasure Chest update.

 

Next time I’ll be here with my design and financial review of Masters 25—it’s later than normal (especially since Masters 25 is launching early due to the Dominaria leak), but hopefully it’s still relevant.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter