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By: Francis Law, Frankie Law
Nov 06 2014 1:00pm
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Master the Whuh..? Master the Way? You want to play Ribbons of Night in Standard?

Once the king of Theros, Master of Waves' fall from grace has left it all but forgotten, famed only for stepping on the phonetic toes of a draft uncommon. Why then the loss in popularity? Certainly its rag-tag posse of Flying Men, maindeck hate-cards and Plated Seastriders are no longer with us, but does this banish Master to the bulk rares bin, retiring to a life a fringe Modern playability?

tidebinder mage frostburn weird thassa, god of the sea

Mono Blue Devotion was the perfect storm for Master of Waves, benefitting from a strong feedback loop between Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea on one hand, and a bunch of goofy enablers on the other. The two drop enablers particularly sent the power levels of Master and Thassa through the roof, but we no longer can invoke their services. Without these enablers Thassa, God of the Sea is likely off the table, but history has shown that Master of Waves might not need so much dedicated help.

Indeed, Master has some track record of playing in a less focused shell. Lee Shi Tian's "Blue Moon"  Modern deck that he took to Pro Tour Born of the Gods is the demonstrative of this.



Here, Master of Waves is used very differently than its old Standard application. Gone are the redundant cheap devotion creatures in favour of a textbook R/U control shell containing a relatively small package of resilient devotion enablers in Threads of Disloyalty and Spreading Seas. While Lee Shi Tian rarely had the bevy of elemental tokens often seen in the Mono Blue Devotion mirror match, he was able to reliably cash in a 2 or 3-for-1 that evaded opposing Lightning Bolts and Abrupt Decays and was resilient to his own Anger of the Gods out of the sideboard. Though seemingly vulnerable to Path to Exile, the Blue Moon deck relished the additional land to leverage its Cryptic Commands, Vedalken Shackles and Batterskulls, meaning that playing Master of Waves was very rarely punished.

Okay, so Master has some pedigree in control shells (so long as our enablers are resilient), as well as beatdown. Let's have a look at how we can apply this knowledge to current Standard.

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Master of Waves Beatdown

Let's have a quick look at the removal being played in Standard. Online 47% of decks run Lightning Strike, 28% run Stoke the Flames, 27% Magma Spray and 18% Magma Jet. Half the decks are red, and they get walked all over by the Master. Most of the non-red decks are Abzan Charm decks, and, no matter how many times you read that card, none of the modes kill Master of Waves. So long as out deck can put pressure on Bile Blight and Hero's Downfall, Master of Waves should be cleaning up consistently.

Unless we're willing to come to battle with Triton Shorestalker (we most certainly are not), we're going to need to dip into other colours. This isn't an issue as we aren't so reliant on double blue "pip" permanents, considering we're resigned to not playing Thassa, God of the Sea. Having one or two blue pips in play when Master of Waves hits is often more than enough. With this in mind, let's check out the potential aggro enablers:



Jamming four of all the best cards can only be so bad. This is not a dedicated aggro deck by any means, but it makes up for the turn it loses in tempo with efficiency, resiliency and evasion. Slower aggro decks like this have traditionally had a soft spot to powerful Planeswalkers, but with access to Lightning Strike, Icefeather Aven and Savage Knuckleblade, we are specifically well positioned against those cards. Not many decks in Standard can boast curves such as Kiora's Follower-Lightning Strike+Icefeather Aven- Prognostic Sphinx, while also being able to effectively play the control role with cheap reactive spells, Dig Through Time and card filtering. Clever Impersonator is the last piece of the puzzle, increasing the number of devastating double Master of Waves draws, while also providing in-built resilience against haymakers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion at much lower opportunity cost than the haymakers themselves. Indeed, Clever Impersonator's lack of impact on Standard is likely more to do with a lack of proactive blue decks than it is damning of the cards power level. Brian Kibler said that the perfect hand in his Temur Monsters deck had four Savage Knuckleblades in it, and Clever Impersonator can make that dream a reality.

Alright, so the level one deck is out the way- time to go a little deeper.  Out of this deck's ten total separate non-land cards, five have barely graced the tables of Standard since their printing, so they require a little justification. First come the heroic creatures- Battlewise Hoplite and Artisan of Forms. Artisan fills the same role as Clever Impersonator did in the RUG shell, while also providing devotion for the Master if it's yet to be triggered.  Battlewise Hoplite plays the part of the efficient clock that can ship redundant lands to the bottom as the game progresses. Alongside the eight efficient heroic enablers come the oddballs Winterflame and Cone of Flame, which, as well as being a serviceable removal/tempo spells can backdoor as enablers for your heroic guys. Jeskai Ascendency brings the deck together, filtering draws, providing a consistent source of devotion and granting a global buff to your multitudinous element tokens. Daxos of Meletis deserves a mention as being a close analog to Nightveil Specter, a proven powerhouse of old standard. It's not unfair to say Daxos has been forgotten by many, and we could see his popularity increase if Lightning Strike decks become less popular.

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Master of Waves Control

If we learnt anything from Lee Shi Tian's list, it's that if our devotion enablers are sparse, our blue pips better be on resilient permanents. We don't have the luxury of cantripping "free" enablers like Spreading Seas, so if we want to play Master of Waves it will require a dedicated shell. The options being...

ashiok, nightmare weaver prognostic sphinx kiora, the crashing wave  keranos, god of storms dictate of kruphix font of fortunes



Looking at our enablers, it's clear that our strongest enablers are centred in the colors black, blue and green. However, before jumping into the full Sultai, it's worth looking at how far we can push a more consistent two colour deck.

B/U control decks have already proven themselves as able to tussle with the format's top tier at Pro Tour KtK, and this shell shares many of those decks' common inclusions: Hero's Downfall, Bile Blight and Dig Through Time. Though a card like Omenspeaker may seem like a step down in power level, "scry 2" is a lot more powerful in a deck that has little interest in lands 7-10 than it might have been in a U/W control deck from last season, for example. With many people choosing to play small creatures like Goblin Rabblemaster and Hordeling Outburst, a 1/3 body can be critical to prevent you from falling behind, affording the deck the luxury to hold up Dissolve from turn 3. Jace, the Living Guildpact is added as a tentative one-of with a nod to his ability to activate our expensive delve spells.


So we've looked at the safe bet, but with the addition of Sultai Ascendency and Kiora, the Crashing Wave we unarguably become a better Master of Waves deck. The question is by how much, and is it worth it for a shaky, painful mana base.

I think we may have to conclude that the answer is no. Sultai Ascendency has strong synergy with our various delve spells but really steps on the toes of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver- there are only so many slow three-drops a control deck can afford to run. It's worth noting that although Underworld Connections defined old Standard, it never say maindeck play in dedicated control decks and Sultai Ascendecy shares similarities with the powerful draw engine. Kiora, the Crashing Wave is the real reason the venture into green, but again comes with its own problems. Not be able to curve neatly into Master of Waves goes down as a strike against its name and though strong against the likes of green fatties Polukranos, World Eater, the aforementioned popularity of token producers doesn't bode well for the four mana Planeswalker.


I firmly believe that Master of Waves is poised for a comeback to our Standard tables, ready to put a beating to the format's popular tempo and burn decks. What form his return will take is yet to be seen, but as a Devotion card, Master of Waves' power level will rise as a function of the size of Standard. It's possible it may only take one card from the upcoming Fate Reforged to launch Master back into tier one, so keep your eye out come spoiler season. In the mean-time go cast some Font of Fortunes!

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Bonus Deck: R/W Tokens

I've been running this deck through the MTGO standard queues for the past few days, and it hasn't disappointed. Indeed, I wasn't planning to include the list at the end of this article for fear that it would look tacked on, nonchalant and unnecessary. The problem is...

This deck doesn't lose.

I can say with a great deal of surety that this is the best Monastery Swiftspear deck in Standard. That's not to say that it's better than say Brad Nelson's R/W "MAC" deck, or Craig Wescoe's token deck. It is to say that my one-drop's damage output starts at three and is frequently as many as... twelve.

When I realised the interaction between Bestow and Prowess (Bestowed creatures count as non-creature spells on the stack, thus triggering Prowess), I thought it was cute, without realising that it was a quintessential constructed interaction. Low opportunity cost. Sweet upside. How does a beatdown deck that only has 8 maindeck cards that don't trigger bestow but runs 24 creatures sound?

This is that deck.

Most aggro decks quake in their boots at the name Courser of Kruphix. With this list, you'll be happy to see the card.


We start with four Monastery Swiftspear. What looked to me like a bit of a pipe dream as the 5-8th one drop in Modern Delver decks during spoiler season, has made itself felt across all competitive formats. A four-of in mono red to R/W "MAC", Swiftspear has proven strong enough with even cursory consideration to spell count. Here, we're playing with a Modern spell count in a Standard deck, and it's as brutal as it sounds. If you have a decent hand with a Swiftspear, expect to be killing by turn five pretty consistently

Seeker of the Way is the only other spell in the deck that doesn't trigger Prowess. Luckily, he has prowess. Though I was reluctant to play the card originally due to fearing losing some of the deck's strength against point-and-click removal, it has consistently proven to be the perfect bestow target in race situations. Get used to winning aggro mirrors on 30+ life.





Keeping a high enough creature count without playing real creatures predictably puts pressure on card choices. Hordeling Outburst is the perfect answer, being efficient enough to not be embarrassing on its own, while having powerful synergies with the Prowess and Bestow creatures in the deck- particularly with Eidolon of Countless Battles. Raise the Alarm serves a similar purpose and as a much need two drop. Often it will be correct to play Raise the Alarm over Seeker of the Way to get a tempo advantage over Jeskai Wins which often leaves open a burn spell on trun two.

Talking of Eidolon of Countless Battles, the incidental interaction with Chained to the Rocks is the real deal. More times than I can count, I've ripped Eidolon in a top deck war and had my Bestowed goblin token attacking for five due to a couple of copies of Chained to the Rocks hanging around in my lands row. 2 Evolving Wilds are included solely as enablers.




4 Defiant Strike: Strike in a deck without heroic? and four? When I threw together the initial list, these were the cards I had down as the first to cut. Then I realised that this card does literally everything. A lot of decks like this fold to Drown in Sorrow, but with a board of Monastery Swiftspears and Seeker of the Ways, this effectively counters Drown and draws a card- all for one mana! Good luck blocking my Seeker of the Way with your Courser of Kruphix too...

Without Defiant Strike we flood less and have better openers, but I think that'd be giving up too much against the green decks. Often simply combining with a prowess guy to create a makeshift "Shock" + cantrip simply feels much more powerful than what the format's more straightforward beatdown decks are trying to do.

4 Mogis's Warhound: This is the real innovation. Brad Nelson's been on Raise the Alarm in B/W midrange, Craig Wescoe found Eidolon of Countless Battles, but leaving the Wingmate Rocs at home in favour of the leaner (Mogis Warhound) really changes the dynamic of what we're doing here. Noteably, the curve of Seeker of the Way into Mogis's Warhound creates a ten point lifeswing on turn three, which often proves too much for any opposing Stoke the Flames decks.

3 Magma Jet: With a deck playing as many token makers, you'd be fogiven for slamming four Stoke the Flames in burn spell slots. It turns out that with the powerful bestow creatures, we can expect to compete in the late game with even green midrange decks and magma jet is critical for not flooding. We're running "one too many" lands to make sure we don't stumble and Magma Jet is the card that allows this.

4 Raise the Alarm  |  4 Eidolon of Countless Battles   |  2 Stoke the Flames | 23 Lands (see text file)

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I think that should about do it. It's been a while since my last article due to moving and having a comedy of internet problems, but more frequent articles can be expected from this point forward.

Due to the break, I felt that this was a good time to reboot the series, hence the numerous new features- picture decklists, text file decklists, bespoke cover art, original card art extensions etc. I'd love to know what people think of these. Should I stop playing on my graphics tablet and concentrate on the content? Am I being different for differents sake? Or is it all gucci? Hit me up in the comments.


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Decklist Text Files

BU Master of Waves | BUG Master of Waves | R/W Tokens | RUG Master of Waves | Jeskai Master of Waves

Previous Articles in Series

1 | 2 | 3


Presentation comments: The by Paul Leicht at Thu, 11/06/2014 - 16:39
Paul Leicht's picture

Presentation comments:
The graphics based lists are a great idea if a bit small. Id go for making them 20-30% bigger. The text list links are good in theory but I would host actual text files if I were you so that people can just save them to disk and import them. Also where you posted "see text file" I probably would have linked to it right there. Having the links below the graphics list would help to.

Content comments:
Very nicely put forth, would have loved to see some video of the tourneys you are winning with the R/W tokens deck. Maybe some for each deck you run in tourney settings. I too, have been eying Master of Waves as an underutilized card though my uses are far more casual and fun than yours. (Pumping elemental creatures, acting as undying rocks amidst the anger of the gods, etc.)

Cheers once again for taking by Francis Law at Fri, 11/07/2014 - 12:16
Francis Law's picture

Cheers once again for taking the time to provide constructive comments. The decklists can easily to made larger in future, but the quality of the images aren't great, so I'll have to see how big I can go with degrading the quality.

I would need to look into the hosting of text files- I'm not very tech savvy but I'll look into it.

I also tried out using your decklist generator for the article, but had problems pasting in the CSS to the source code. Am I supposed to do something more complicated? Please forgive me if this doesn't make sense- I have no programming background.

Ah I suppose I should include by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/07/2014 - 22:02
Paul Leicht's picture

Ah I suppose I should include some sort of "how to" with it.

Basically html requires tags to do anything. In this case the css needs <style> open and close tags </style> on either side of the "rules".

so for example
Body {color:#000000}
.deckList {text-align:center;}
... more stuff below

which I place at the very top of the article in the source view.

The HTML generated from the deck generator then goes below somewhere. (Wherever you want the deck list to appear in the article.) And then you can adjust the text inside the deck lists after you see how it looks, via the normal Rich Text view.

Really well done article. by country hillbilly at Fri, 11/07/2014 - 00:21
country hillbilly's picture

Really well done article. How long did the formatting take? I love the layout and wherever you got the alt art pics from. Also appreciate the organic way you slipped in the decklists.

High-Quality work man - 5 stars.


Thanks Zach for the kind by Francis Law at Fri, 11/07/2014 - 12:15
Francis Law's picture

Thanks Zach for the kind words. The article actually took an entire week to write, edit and format, though that was partly due to the fact that I was trying a lot of new features.

As for the extended art, I do them myself in my free time. Expect more in the future!