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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
May 13 2015 12:00pm
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The full spoiler for Modern Masters 2015 has been released, and I'm feeling very conflicted. I have a lot of thoughts about this set, and it's going to take more than one article to cover it. In Part 1, I will be looking at the big picture of the set, the draft archetypes. These ten choices are the backbone of the set, and I will be looking not only at their design, but at some first impressions for Limited as well. In Part 2 (which hopefully will come later this week), I will focus on the design of the set, looking at individual cards. This will not only contain the final comparison of my design to the final design, but other statistics such as mechanics, rarity changes, and out-of-range reprints.

The archetypes this time are an eclectic bunch, ranging from the obvious picks (Eldrazi Ramp) to the once-rejected (Spirits by Wizards, Elementals by me), to the repeated (Artifacts, 5-color). I'll admit I wasn't the biggest fan during preview season, but now that we have the full spoiler I'm starting to appreciate it more. Let's go through each of the ten color pairs and their archetype, one by one:

 

Court Homunculus Somber Hoverguard Rusted Relic

WU: Artifacts

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C W Court Homunculus
C A (U) Gust-Skimmer
C A (W) Glint Hawk Idol
C A (W) Blinding Souleater
C U Faerie Mechanist
C (down) A Rusted Relic
C A Frogmite
C U Somber Hoverguard
C A Myr Enforcer
C U Stoic Rebuttal
C U Thoughtcast
U W Myrsmith
U (up) WU Ethercaste Knight
U (up) WU Glassdust Hulk
U U Qumulox
U W Dispatch
U (up) A (B) Cranial Plating

As I mentioned above, I don't like how this was just repeated from MMA1—surely Wizards could have figured out a way to make RW Artifacts work (even if it involved some more reprints than I was willing to use). In addition, the design article mentioned that this version of the archetype was able to played at multiple speeds, unlike the MMA1 version which was all aggro—did they play the same MMA1 I did? The successful artifact drafts I did all revolved around Sanctum Gargoyle and Esperzoa recursion more than Arcbound Worker and Frogmite aggro, which always turned out to be a trap in my eyes (since the other archetypes either did bigger things than you or buried you in card advantage).

 

The other thing I don't like that feels off about the Artifacts archetype is the larger quantity of artifacts—counting colored artifacts, MMA1 had only 15 artifacts at common, while MM2015 has 19. In addition, a lot more of the colorless artifacts are directly tied to the Artifacts archetype (through either colored activations like (Gust Skimmer) or by mentioning artifacts like Rusted Relic) and most of the artifacts intended for other archetypes (like Cathodion and Sickleslicer) work just fine in Artifacts as well (unlike Runed Stalactite and Arcbound Wanderer in MMA, for example). Because of this, my first impression is that Artifacts is always going to be open, and it shouldn't be hard to activate Metalcraft at all (which might explain how Wizards was able to reprint Smash to Smithereens at common—could that really be maindeckable in this format, at least in red aggro decks?)

Thrummingbird Sickle Ripper Instill Infection

UB: Wither/Proliferate

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C B Sickle Ripper
C (down) U Thrummingbird
C (down) U Vigean Graftmage
C U Helium Squirter
C U Steady Progress
C B Grim Affliction
C B Instill Infection
U B Scavenger Drake
U (down) U Novijen Sages
U U (C) Tezzeret's Gambit
U (up) B Spread the Sickness

This is one of the least-defined archetypes in the set, and almost nothing was spoiled from it during preview season (just Necroskitter during the last part of previews, and a rare generally shouldn't define an archetype). In addition, it feels like there are some pieces missing: only three cards at common place -1/-1 counters, and only one of those is a creature with Wither. My guess is that Smoldering Butcher was a late pull from the set (notice how Black has no common 4-drops—seriously, that surprised me too while working on the spreadsheet), and that Blight Sickle was in the set for a while until someone realized how crazy it was with all the creatures with Double Strike (even if it was upgraded to uncommon, probably in the Darksteel Axe slot). The biggest problem is that Blue has no creatures with Wither, and almost nothing with -1/-1 counters overall (only Infect creatures, penalties like Unstable Mutation, and the insanely powerful Vedalken Anatomist). Still, it feels like they could have done a bit more—Lockjaw Snapper's pseudo-Proliferate feels like a missed opportunity, and Serrated Arrows is a glaring omission (probably for power-level reasons).

Goblin Fireslinger Bloodhunter Bat Gut Shot

BR: Bloodthirst Aggro

 

C R Goblin Fireslinger
C B Vampire Lacerator
C B Duskhunter Bat
C R Blood Ogre
C R Gorehorn Minotaurs
C R (C) Gut Shot
U R Stormblood Berserker
U B Daggerclaw Imp
U B Vampire Outcasts
U (down) R Skarrgan Firebird

This is probably the simplest archetype, and it's even simpler than the RW Landfall Aggro archetype in my design that was positioned similarly. This archetype is a good idea, but I think it could have been polished a bit. The common curve seems a little weird—ignoring the enabler Goblin Fireslinger, the curve goes Vampire LaceratorBloodhunter BatBlood OgreGorehorn Minotaurs, which is a little color-imbalanced. Vampire Lacerator also feels a bit out of place outside of the “bloodied” theme from Zendikar (and when BR Vampires seems like an obvious theme for MMA3), but there isn't much on a similar power level for the aggressive deck—maybe an evasive creature like Nightshade Stinger would have worked?

Nest Invader Dragonsoul Knight Wayfarer's Bauble

RG: Ramp/5-Color

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C G Nest Invader
C G Gnarlid Pack
C (down) R Dragonsoul Knight
C G Matca Rioters
C (down) A Alloy Myr
C G Kozilek's Predator
C G Kavu Primarch
C A Skyreach Manta
C C Ulamog's Crusher
C R Tribal Flames
C R Fiery Fall
C G Rampant Growth
C G Sylvan Bounty
C (down) A Sphere of the Suns
C A Wayfarer's Bauble
U (down) R Worldheart Phoenix
U A Etched Oracle
U G Pelakka Wurm
U C Artisan of Kozilek
U RG Vengeful Rebirth
U RG Savage Twister
U A Everflowing Chalice
U (up) A Expedition Map

Everyone expected some sort of way to ramp into Eldrazi, and most people figured out Eldrazi Spawn would factor into it somehow. What wasn't as expected was to move 5-color into this combination, and I'll admit I wasn't convinced at first (and still am not to an extent). When the Ravnica Bouncelands were first spoiled, I was very, very negative—Bouncelands mean five-color is really easy to draft (even if they were upgraded to uncommon), and I feel like the mana in a set shouldn't always be so easy obtain. In addition, Alloy Myr, Evolving Wilds, Sphere of the Suns, and Wayfarer's Bauble are all common colorless color fixers to encourage splashes, and Expedition Map is at uncommon (thankfully—imagine that being able to fetch your bounceland at common). Still, at least they're taking an interesting path with 5-color; while stuff like Skyreach Manta is still in the set, the red 5-color cards from Conflux are an interesting way to take it (even if pushing Worldheart Phoenix down to uncommon feels very aggressive, especially when the only permanent solutions to it are Arrest, Pillory of the Sleepless, and Necrogenesis outside of rare—a Nihil Spellbomb or Hinder would make me feel more comfortable, especially with Skarrgan Firebird also at uncommon).

Raise the Alarm Scatter the Seeds Fortify

GW: Token Swarm

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C W Raise the Alarm
C G Nest Invader
C (down) G Scion of the Wild
C G Kozilek's Predator
C G Kavu Primarch
C G Scatter the Seeds
C (down) W Conclave Phalanx
C G Sundering Vitae
C W Fortify
U GW Selesnya Guildmage
U W (C) Spectral Procession
U G Bestial Menace
U G Root-Kin Ally
U GW Sigil Blessing

I have to be blunt with this: this is the biggest miss in the set by far, especially since it fails in three distinct ways. The first way is that it feels like it's exactly the same as it was in Ravnica—the only innovations were a couple Eldrazi Spawn producers and Raise the Alarm. Generally, even transplants from other formats evolve a little—for example, WB Rebels had relatively few options, but both adding Avian Changeling and moving Bound in Silence to common made that archetype play somewhat differently, and moving Dampen Thought to common made UR Arcane actually an archetype.

 

Second, this is mostly a Green archetype, and White doesn't add that much to it beyond Fortify, Conclave Phalanx, and the gold cards. If the reasons to go into a token swarm strategy are mostly green (Scatter the Seeds, Kavu Primarch, Kozilek's Predator, and Overwhelm), why not just be BG and add some sacrifice outlets to increase the power level of your deck?

 

Third, we just did this in M15! Raise the Alarm and Overwhelm are two of the main forces behind the Convoke deck in M15, and both are filling the same role here. I'll have more thoughts on all the out-of-range reprints in Part 2, but needless to say you shouldn't be reprinting the exact same archetype twice in less than a year.

 

The complete failure of the design of the GW archetype is compounded by the fact that there was an obvious archetype for GW already in the pool: GW Auras. I'm assuming that Wizards had Auras in this spot at one point, but it led to a negative interaction with all of the Double Strike creatures for the Equipment archetype. Still, it feels like this problem wasn't that unsolvable, especially if you skewed towards small Auras like I was doing in my design. Sure, putting Hyena Umbra on a Skyhunter Skirmisher is strong (if a bit anti-synergistic), but is it that much more powerful than Darksteel Axe?

Waxmane Baku Nameless Inversion Thief of Hope

WB: Spirits

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C B Plagued Rusalka
C W Kami of Ancient Law
C W Waxmane Baku
C (down) B Thief of Hope
C B Ghostly Changeling
C W Moonlit Strider
C B Scuttling Death
C W Terashi's Grasp
C W Otherworldly Journey
C B Death Denied
C B Waking Nightmare
U WB Restless Apparition
U (down) W Hikari, Twilight Guardian
U (up) B Devouring Greed

I mentioned above that Spirits wasn't well-placed here, but that applies only to the timing—the design itself is fine, and my Johnny sensibilities love the idea of Soulshift-ing into Nameless Inversion. My first impression is that the density of Spirits is a little low, and there could be one or two more Soulshift cards, but the selection of Soulshift cards is surprisingly thin—most of the remaining Soulshift cards are either awful (Crawling Filth, Kami of Lunacy) or clearly rare (He Who Hungers), but a Kami of the Palace Fields wouldn't feel out of place. Similarly, the “Spiritcraft” cards vary wildly in playability, though Kemuri-Onna at common feels like it could be fine (and Tallowisp would fit well with the missing GW Auras archetype).

Smokebraider Inner-Flame Igniter Aethersnipe

UR: Elementals

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C R Smokebraider
C R Soulbright Flamekin
C U Cloud Elemental
C (down) R Inner-Flame Igniter
C U Aethersnipe
C R Blades of Velis Vel
C U Wings of Velis Vel
U (down) R Incandescent Soulstoke
U R (BR) Ashenmoor Gouger
U U Water Servant
U UR Shrewd Hatchling
U U Air Servant
U U Mulldrifter
U R Spitebellows

As I mentioned above, this archetype showing up is a surprise—what did I miss? At first glance, it looks like a lot of my choices were used (Soulbright Flamekin, Cloud Elemental, Incandescent Soulstoke at uncommon) other than Ceaseless Searblades, and I see the same problems: it just doesn't do anything. Sure, adding some powerful Evoke cards gives the deck raw strength it was missing, but it doesn't have any synergies. Ironically, adding Ceaseless Searblades and at least one generic Firebreather would give the deck some direction, since it would work well with Inner-Flame Igniter and Water Servant. Other than that, I wish some of the more aggressive Evoke creatures were added (Inner-Flame Acolyte and Glarewielder), since I feel like the mechanic isn't worth the slots otherwise.

Plagued Rusalka Bone Splinters Kozilek's Predator

BG: Token Sacrifice

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C B Plagued Rusalka
C G Tukatongue Thallid
C G Nest Invader
C B Bloodthrone Vampire
C G Kozilek's Predator
C B Dread Drone
C B Bone Splinters
U B Reassembling Skeleton
U A Mortarpod
U G Algae Gharial
U G Bestial Menace
U BG Drooling Groodion
U BG Necrogenesis

Of all the non-obvious archetypes, this one fits the best, since it not only gives you a use for all of those Eldrazi Spawn (that's a lot more intuitive and general than Furnace Celebration) but allows you to reprint cards like Creakwood Liege. Still, other than the overlap with GW Token Swarm, the worst part of this archetype is that they could have gotten a lot more inventive with the reprints—cards like Sengir Autocrat, Mitotic Slime, and Myr Sire feel like they would have worked perfectly in the set, and the lack of Grave Pact feels like a missed opportunity to reprint a valuable card (though it might have been just too good, even with just Eldrazi Spawn). When that's my biggest complaint, that has to be a big success.

Viashino Slaughtermaster Sunspear Shikari Sickleslicer

RW: Equipment

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C A Flayer Husk
C W Sunspear Shikari
C (down) R Viashino Slaughtermaster
C W Skyhunter Skirmisher
C A Sickleslicer
C R Brute Force
C R Blades of Velis Vel
C R Goblin War Paint
C W Mighty Leap
C A Kitesail
C A Copper Carapace
U W Kor Duelist
U B Bloodshot Trainee
U W Taj-Nar Swordsmith
U A Darksteel Axe
U (up) A Cranial Plating

This is one of the more surprising archetypes, but the basic concept is pretty simple: creatures with Double Strike plus pump effects, with a side-helping of Equipment-specific cards (like Sunspear Shikari). In addition, adding Equipment with Living Weapon allows the deck to run more pump effects than usual. Unfortunately, this is one of the archetypes where availability really hurts it—Viashino Slaughtermaster is one of the only cheap creatures with Double Strike in the range (and would be fine as a french vanilla creature in this deck), and the activated ability feels completely out of place. Still, considering all the other structural problems with the set, this isn't nearly as bad as it looks at first glance. Other than that inconsistency, this looks like a really fun archetype.

Simic Initiate Gnarlid Pack Steady Progress

UG: Graft/Proliferate

 

Rarity Color Card Name
C G Simic Initiate
C G Aquastrand Spider
C G Gnarlid Pack
C (down) U Thrummingbird
C (down) U Vigean Graftmage
C G Kavu Primarch
C U Helium Squirter
C G Thrive
C U Steady Progress
U (down) G Cytoplast Root-Kin
U G Algae Gharial
U (down) U Novijen Sages
U U (C) Tezzeret's Gambit

Finally, something I can call an unqualified hit! I got the majority of this archetype right, from most of the common lineup of counter creatures, to the Thrummingbird rarity downgrade to common, to every single Graft creature in the set. My main misses here were at the edges: instead of Fertilid, Spike Feeder and Reinforce cards we have Gnarlid Pack, Algae Gharial, and Thrive. I'm also surprised at how much the Graft cards were pushed—Novijen Sages was underwhelming in my playtests and is almost certainly safe, but Cytoplast Root-Kin was surprisingly strong at uncommon; so much so that I pushed it back to rare eventually.

 

Looking at the archetypes overall, one of the main differences between MM2015 and the original Modern Masters is that there is a lot more overlap between the archetypes. Sure, the concept of overlap between archetypes isn't new—it existed in MMA1, but was mostly limited to Changelings (including Avian Changeling, star of both WB Rebels and RW Giants) and generally good cards (sure, Tromp the Domains was only getting full domain in the GU Sunburst deck, but even just being Overrun was great for GW Thallids). In contrast, there are two separate instances of two different archetypes relying on the same set of cards: both UB and GU want the Blue Proliferate cards (with the only difference being what they're proliferating), while both GW and BG want the Green token-makers (either to sac them or pump them and attack). In addition, there are a lot of common artifacts that are made for a specific archetype (Cathodion, Sickleslicer, Skyreach Manta) that also let you fall back on UW Artifacts.

 

What does all this overlap mean for draft? In the original Modern Masters, there were a decent number of cards that were either independent of the archetypes (Imperiosaur, Blinding Beam, Errant Ephemeron) or fit well into an archetype while being a different color (Hana Kami, Executioner's Capsule). While these kinds of cards still exist in MM2015 (Oblivion Ring, Mulldrifter, Dismember), they've mostly moved out of common. Instead, if you're looking to stay flexible in your choice of archetype (and are unlucky in your uncommon and rare selections), you might want to take a card like Thrummingbird or Kozilek's Predator that is a strong card in multiple archetypes, and thus will probably be harder to get if multiple people end up in the aligned archetypes. Another example of this (even it probably isn't a high pick) is Kavu Primarch, since it is synergistic with each of the Green archetypes: Convoke means it goes with both token strategies, costing 8 mana when kicked means it isn't a horrible ramp target, and entering with +1/+1 counters means that you get value when you Proliferate.

 

That's all for Part 1 of my review. I'm hoping I can get Part 2 up later this week—I have been mostly positive this so far but as we move away from the archetypes to the details of the design, I certainly have some critiques to come.

 

Vincent

@CheaterHater1 on Twitter

1 Comments

Corrections/Addendums by Cheater Hater at Wed, 05/13/2015 - 19:03
Cheater Hater's picture

Since I had to finish this article very quickly in order to get it out in a reasonable time after the spoiler released, I made some errors, which I can group into a couple categories:

1. Both Plagued Rusalka and Sickleslicer are actually rarity downgrades--I'll cover the rarity downgrades in more detail in Part 2, but that's an error in my tables.

2. I missed a couple important parts of each archetype, mostly from cards not directly in the main colors. GB TokenSac gets a lot of help from both Runed Servitor and Cathodion, and while RW Equipment not only needs Boros Swiftblade and Hearthfire Hobgoblin, a card that helps it a lot is Mutagenic Growth, which isn't obvious.

3. I only mention that the set review will be two parts, but it turns out I have even more to say than I thought. In fact, this will end up being a three-part review, with Part 1 (above) being the archetypes, Part 2 (coming out soon, hopefully Friday if I can and end up submitting it tonight) covering mechanics, rarity shifts, and out-of-range reprints, and Part 3 (next week, hopefully getting back to the normal Tuesday timeslot if Part 2 does come out this week) being the comparison with my design and the wrap-up.