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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 03 2023 10:34am
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Dang, it’s been a while! It’s weird what it means to essentially skip a set, both in terms of writing and engagement overall. Meanwhile, it feels like Wizards is trying to gloss over Commander Masters to an extent, as while a premium-priced set targeted to a subset (rich people) of a subset (Commander-first players) was always going to fly under the radar, putting some of the top selling points of the set like Smothering Tithe and Doubling Season not only in Wilds of Eldraine’s bonus sheet but in the first look preview before the set is even out seems like a strange decision. What isn’t a strange decision is “cheating” the partner requirement for Commander draft sets by giving all mono-color (and colorless) legends partner, and combined with some of the most aggressive downshifts we’ve ever seen this will be a strange draft environment. Of course, I’m not going to be giving the same kind of Limited advice I would in a normal Limited Review here (hence the title not being a Limited Review), but I’m still going to frame my look at the set in terms of the color pairs and their archetypes.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Artifacts

One trend you’ll find with these archetypes is that they all want a lot of “stuff” on the battlefield, as the affinity deck’s downshifts are mostly focused on a wide archetype (even if it ends in one tall threat) like All That Glitters, Filigree Attendant, Myrsmith, and Losheel, Clockwork Scholar. However, there are surprisingly few artifact creatures the set beyond simple staples like Myr Sire, Pilgrim's Eye, and Burnished Hart (and other Commander-focused staples like Geode Golem and Sandstone Oracle at uncommon), so you’ll be filling your artifact quotient with the multitude of mana rocks. There’s also a flash subtheme with Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage as the signpost uncommon and Shimmer Myr downshifted to uncommon, which is neat. Strangely there aren’t really any high-value reprints connected to this archetype, unless you count things intended for other archetypes like Champion's Helm, the Medallion cycle, or The Immortal Sun.

 

Blue/Black: Graveyard/Reanimator

Another archetype where the Pauper downshifts are the immediate attention-grabber (and I’ll be shocked if the combo of Dread Return and Lotleth Troll doesn’t get something banned in the near-future), but there’s a lot of value overall with cards like Corpse Augur, Isareth the Awakener, and Taigam, Sidisi's Hand. It’s very telling that there’s no graveyard hate in the entire set, so no one can stop you from reanimating your Goliath Sphinx. Yet again though, there’s no real high-value connected to this archetype outside of reanimation targets like Archfiend of Despair, Sun Quan, Lord of Wu, and The Scarab God.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice

Another traditional archetype that has been super-charged, with lots of cheap sac outlets at lower rarities like Makeshift Munitions, Witch's Cauldron, and Yahenni, Undying Partisan, fodder like tokens (including Eldrazi Spawn/Scion that can sac on command), Serrated Scorpion, Squee, Goblin Nabob, and Impulsive Pilferer, and payoffs like Judith, the Scourge Demon (an insane downshift) and Blood Aspirant. Meanwhile you even get Grave Pact and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed as high-value cards connected to the archetype, so even “traditional” archetypes are good here.

 

Red/Green: Power Matters

The Gruul “big power creatures” archetype generally hasn’t been good in normal sets, but here there’s enough juice that just casting a Krosan Tusker off a Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma can get there at times. There’s also enough support with cards like Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Furious Rise, and Surrak, the Hunt Caller at lower rarities, while there are neat rares like the first booster appearance of Zilortha, Strength Incarnate, Ghalta, Primal Hunter, and The Great Henge that tie into it as well.

 

Green/White: +1/+1 Counters

Another traditional Selesnya archetype that’s been juiced by downshifts, but this feels like it’s been pushed by the Commanders: Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Alharu, Solemn Ritualist, Mowu, Loyal Companion, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, and Hamza, Guardian of Arashin are all crazy choices. There’s also a lot of redundancy of “put counters on things” cards, most obviously with Courage in Crisis and its juiced Horizons cousin Unbounded Potential. Of course there are plenty of counter-specific high-end cards, with The Great Henge, Doubling Season, and Heliod, Sun-Crowned being the stars.

 

White/Black: Tokens

While this isn’t seen quite as often as other regular archetypes, it’s still been juiced, starting with another strong downshift in Aryel, Knight of Windgrace. The Orzhov take is more aggro-based, with Intangible Virtue and Battle Screech focused on attacking, while Bastion of Remembrance and Nadier's Nightblade are more of a finisher. You also get some high-end, though cards like Grave Pact and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed aren’t really targeted towards an aggro token deck.

 

Blue/Red: Spells

Yet another traditional archetype, the downshifts are bringing this into overdrive, and while Cryptic Serpent, Murmuring Mystic, and Shipwreck Dowser are mostly old cards being brought into modern power bands, Guttersnipe is a defining threat, while Kaho, Minamo Historian and Melek, Izzet Paragon are extremely powerful legends that provide a bunch of card advantage if they stick around. However, there aren’t that many efficient spells, and the main source of card advantage is Deep Analysis, with a side of Reverse Engineer and Fact or Fiction and some red clasm effects (Slice and Dice and Pauper-defining Sulfurous Blast). The one downside is that Dragon Fodder is the only spell creature outside of rare (or Resculpting a mana rock), so the balance is difficult. Of course, there are a bunch of expensive instants and sorceries, whether it’s the commander free spell cycle (of which Deflecting Swat and Fierce Guardianship are the most expensive), Cyclonic Rift, Bribery, Tempt with Vengeance, or more.

 

Black/Green: Slow Tokens

Like most Golgari archetypes, this is a weird one, but at least it has tools to grind out opponents. Unfortunately the Saproling theme is very uncommon-focused, though many of those are downshifts. Green’s additions to the token deck also include more of a focus on the graveyard side, with downshifts to Crawling Sensation and Rot Shambler, along with Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter as a powerful commander. Craterhoof Behemoth is the obvious high-value standout here, as well as Arachnogenesis.

 

Red/White: Equipment

Unlike most other attempts at making Equipment work in Masters sets, there aren’t that many Equipment creatures (just Ancestral Blade, Dwarven Hammer, and maybe Meteoric Mace). Instead, there are a lot of high-power synergy creatures (including downshifts to Kemba, Kha Regent and Akiri, Fearless Voyager, as well as the return of Spikeshot Goblin to common), and decent cheap equipment in general—the downshift to Brass Knuckles does a lot for your density, Hero's Blade and Forebearer's Blade let you cheat the Equip cost, and cards like Explorer's Scope and Lightning Greaves naturally have cheap Equip costs. And while there aren’t any super-expensive high-end cards, Nahiri, the Lithomancer, Steelshaper's Gift, Champion's Helm, and Puresteel Paladin are all decent pulls.

 

Green/Blue: Ramp

Another Masters set, another Simic Ramp deck, another set with Tatyova, Benthic Druid as the signpost. The expensive cards are no surprise, especially with Goliath Sphinx and Crash of Rhino Beetles getting the double-downshift to common, and plenty of expensive legends (and even Eldrazi) help as well. However, there’s almost too much ramp, especially in artifacts with five three-mana rocks (along with Prismatic Lens and Firemind Vessel) at common and even more at uncommon (including the first time since Revised you can play with multiple Sol Rings in one deck). That puts green in a strange position, as beyond Elvish Mystic and Ilysian Caryatid (along with blue’s Deranged Assistant it’s focused on card advantage with its ramp: Skyshroud Claim and Kodama's Reach getting multiple lands and Beanstalk Giant and Krosan Tusker giving you either a card and/or a creature alongside your land. Obviously any big creatures are acceptable high-end here, but there are also ramp cards like Wayward Swordtooth, Tooth and Nail, and Finale of Devastation.

 

Other Important Cards:

The biggest difference from previous Commander draft sets to this are the sweepers. Not only does common get Drown in Sorrow and Sulfurous Blast, uncommon gets multiple actual wraths! Yes, Kirtar's Wrath and Extinguish All Hope are six mana, but it’s still an effect you didn’t get below rare before. The fixing is also interesting, as the Thriving cycle makes its first draft set appearance (after the success of the gates in Baldur’s Gate), along with three Command Tower-style lands, Terramorphic Expanse, and Myriad Landscape. Don’t forget all the five-color mana rocks as well, and there’s a ton of fixing here. Finally, it seems like there isn’t as much single-target removal as you might expect, though at least it’s spread between all the colors (even if it’s expensive and/or conditional).

 

 

Design Review:

In a vacuum, this set seems like a fine design, with a lot of reprints and downshifts that cause a lot of flash. However, there are two wider considerations with the set in the larger Magic ecosystem. The large number of impactful downshifts feels like a mistake on all sides of the equation (except ironically for the rare to common ones): the new Pauper cards are probably going to result in bannings (one of the graveyard pieces almost for certain, and All that Glitters is setting off alarm bells as well), all the uncommon legends feel like they’re burning a lot of flash, and there’s a surprising amount of reprint equity being set on fire with cards like Scourge of the Throne, Skyline Despot, Nemata, Grove Guardian, Wakening Sun's Avatar, Zacama, Primal Calamity, and the planeswalker cycle. Of course, that latter point is compensated for by the other problem: the price of boosters. The packs have been juiced, but it’s not clear yet if they’ve been juiced enough to compensate for that—this is only the third double-rare Masters set, and the first two Double Masters sets weren’t as aggressive as Commander Masters in the downshift department.

 

The other difference comes with the fact that this set actually has new cards in it, but they aren’t in the main set, just the decks (and non-draft boosters). The new cards themselves seem fine, minus a few FIRE-related pushed cards (Rise of the Eldrazi might push Cloudpost to a new level, while Hatchery Sliver might be good enough combined with Virulent Sliver). The problem is the rest of the decks, especially for their cost again. Yes, it’s not Wizards’ fault that speculators pushed the Silver and Eldrazi decks sky-high, but there are a lot of strange choices, whether it’s the lack of Sliver Hive in the Sliver deck, or the Planeswalker deck having relatively few planeswalkers (even “bad” ones that wouldn’t affect the EV much).

 

Conclusion:

Masters sets are in a strange position now that most sets apparently have a bonus sheet now, which are a much more dramatic way to use reprint equity than a limited print run Masters set. I still think Pioneer Masters is coming next year to Arena and paper/MTGO (I’m writing this before the GenCon presentation). Remasters are also an interesting way to use equity (we’re due for a new Ravnica in the next year or two, and that could lead to an interesting remaster, assuming nine sets plus some oddities is enough cards), and we’ll see if Wizards tries to make more proxies after the Magic 30 debacle. Meanwhile, I’m still not sure what my future is, but it’s strangely refreshing to write an article after so long off, so I think I’ll do a Limited Review for Wilds of Eldraine next, so until then.

 

Vincent