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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 29 2018 1:00pm
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Well, this has been interesting—if this is the last Masters set for a long time, it’s certainly a unique one to go out on. When I started compiling the set it looked like a mess, with lots of color imbalances and no clear archetypes, but I eventually figured things out and I think it’s a success at what Masters 25 was trying to do. However, I have a lot to cover with both the Limited Review and the Design Review, so let’s get started with the archetypes.


Limited Archetypes:

As I mentioned above, the archetypes aren’t tied to the colors, but they’re clearly there unlike Masters 25. As such, I’m going to cover the archetypes in groups, based on their core concept, then sub-dividing them into more specific archetypes. Don’t get confused, as there are a lot of overlaps within the big groups, and even some between the groups as some archetypes don’t fit neatly within a category.


Graveyard Value:

As we expected with all the graveyard-themed box-toppers, there are a lot of graveyard-focused decks in this set.


Self-Mill Combo: (GUb)

Spider Spawning makes its grand return here, and it brings along some of its Innistrad friends like Deranged Assistant, Boneyard Wurm, and a downshifted Laboratory Maniac, while cards like Sultai Skullkeeper and Satyr Wayfinder help fill in the gaps. The biggest change is that you can’t go infinite easily anymore: while Stream of Consciousness and Vessel of Endless Rest give you a bit of recursion and I’m sure you could do something with Mystic Retrieval, all of these spells reduce the creature count and don’t let you Spider Spawning every turn. The random creatures are better though, and you can afford a couple of Delve spells to do something early.


Recursion: (GB)

If you don’t want to go full-Spider Spawning (or if it gets massively overdrafted, as everyone expects), you can go into a more value-oriented take on a graveyard archetype, getting things back with cards like Pulse of Murasa, Death Denied, and Dredge cards and playing more good cards instead of every single self-mill card you can draft. However, looking at the rest of the set I’m worried that playing a couple Gurmag Anglers and Wickerbough Elders isn’t going to be enough against the rest of the set, even if you get value off a Golgari Brownscale or Moan of the Unhallowed.


Delve/GY Control: (UBg)

I’m not sure how distinct of an archetype this is, but there clearly is a more controlling graveyard-focused archetype to go along with the combo and midrange versions. Rune Snag is a nice choice, and you can probably run a couple Treasure Cruises if you have enough random self-mill, but it feels like there aren’t enough controlling elements. In particular, the Forbidden Alchemy upshift to fit with the cycle (more on that later) hurts a lot, and the removal isn’t great (by Masters set standards) other than Last Gasp because of the focus on big creatures in other archetypes. Then again, the Dimir Guildmage downshift seems bonkers, so that might be good enough for control to work.



This is one of the archetype categories that surprised me; I didn’t think there was enough room for Aura-focused archetypes with all the focus on the graveyard in the set.


Wide Heroic: (RWg)

Here’s the classic formula for a Masters set archetype: take a successful archetype from a recent block (RW Heroic from Theros block), add the stars of the archetype (Wingsteed Rider, Akroan Crusader, Phalanx Leader), a couple key downgrades (Arena Athlete, Tethmos High Priest), and better enablers from other sets (Conviction, Undying Rage, Reckless Charge) and now it can compete with other all-stars. Akroan Crusader means there’s a lot of overlap with the Tokens archetype, though Rally the Peasants is probably good enough in any aggressive RW deck.


Big Heroic: (GW)

Was GW Heroic really a good deck even back in Theros block? Yes, the Hero of Leina Tower downshift and addition of Travel Preparations (even upshifted) and Conviction is a big deal, though the worse removal compared to the average Masters format is probably more important. Another thing that’s easy to overlook is that the trio of Persist creatures Safehold Elite, Kitchen Finks, and Scuzzback Marauders are decent to buff as well, especially with Travel Preparations and Shed Weakness. Boar Umbra and Snake Umbra both being uncommon hurts though.


Hexproof Auras: (UWg)

While the Heroic decks want to generally buff their creatures with cheap things, the Auras deck wants to use expensive things like Mammoth Umbra and Flight of Fancy. While the “Hexproof” part of the archetype name may scare people, the only Hexproof in the set is the awkward Whirlwind Adept, the upshifted Slippery Bogle, and the killable Shielding Plax, and you also have maindeckable options like Crushing Canopy and Ronom Unicorn to defend against the archetype. Iridescent Drake is also a nice way for the deck to come back, and Sovereigns of Lost Alara is fine even if you don’t get an Eldrazi Conscription. I just don’t know how much this overlaps with the Heroic decks—notice how all three have white as a primary color.


Small Creatures:

If all the decks are trying to do complicated things, of course there’s going to be one person who wants to ruin everyone’s fun by running them over with weenies, and there are many ways to do so.


Tokens: (RWb)

While the obvious RW path of creating a lot of tokens and buffing them technically exists, there aren’t many pure token producers (just Molten Birth, Icatian Crier, and technically Sparkspitter) or mass buffs (Rally the Peasants is back to uncommon, and that’s all), so you have to get creative. The clear path is for this deck to be a Raid Bombardment deck, though the lack of small creatures in RW makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be better as RB—Moan of the Unhallowed and Ghoulcaller's Accomplice seem great there. Otherwise you can pivot to a related archetype, either by going Heroic with Akroan Crusader or Sacrifice with Hissing Iguanar.


Sacrifice: (RBu)

Here’s another Masters set staple, but normally your payoff’s aren’t as good as Hissing Iguanar, Magmaw, and Furnace Celebration. That last one is important, as it expands the pool of synergies beyond random tokens you sacrifice to Bloodflow Connoisseur—you may remember Terramorphic Expanse if you tried to build Furnace Celebration with fetchlands back in Standard, but did you realize Shriekmaw is sacrificed if you Evoke it? Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker (and relative Garna, the Bloodflame) is also another way to build the deck, as while Fume Spitter is the obvious combo, someone will go off in a WB deck with Martyr of Sands. Finally, that blue may seem out of place, but Stitcher's Apprentice is custom-made for this deck.


Spells: (UR)

This may seem out of place in the “small creatures” category, but two of your main payoffs for lots of spells are Young Pyromancer and Rise from the Tides, and Molten Birth is one of the few repeatable spells you want (though annoying as a coin-flip card at common). Of course, Thermo-Alchemist is probably the best payoff, but the chip damage from weenies can’t hurt. The big question is if a Rise from the Tides self-mill deck can work. I don’t think so since the majority of the self-mill enablers are creatures, but it still seems okay as a finisher in a normal spells deck.


Big Creatures:

This category is one of the most obvious, as both the Eldrazi titans and many ways to cheat them out have been known since the box-toppers were revealed.


Ramp: (GUx)

Surprisingly there isn’t that much ramp support in this set. Obviously Kodama's Reach is great, and Devoted Druid and Prismatic Lens are good at uncommon, but I feel like WotC is leaning a lot more on Verdant Eidolon than they should. The ramp targets are fine, with Eldrazi, Walker of the Grove, and Penumbra Wurm alongside some rares. It also doesn’t need blue, but Aethersnipe, Urban Evolution, and Mahamoti Djinn are nice bonuses.


Reanimator: (BWx)

Another archetype I nailed, though my Obzedat's Aid downshift pales in comparison to Angel of Despair at uncommon. Otherwise the deck hit most of the same beats as me, though I’m surprised there’s no common black reanimation spell (and swapping Breath of Life for Resurrection just annoys me—I’m counting it as correct, just like them printing Terramorphic Expanse instead of Evolving Wilds). I’m also surprised there aren’t that many reanimation targets in the colors outside of the angel, the Eldrazi, and Ancestor's Chosen. Then again, I did call the “reanimate creatures with spell abilities” subtheme, and cards like Emancipation Angel and Apprentice Necromancer point towards it.


Madness: (BRu)

The Madness deck doesn’t really fit in the same category as Reanimator and Ramp, but getting out Reckless Wurm and Twins of Maurer Estate for cheap fits the spirit of the category (and it doesn’t fit anywhere else). If you’ve been reading this article series you know I’ve been trying RB Madness for years (including the Reckless Wurm downshift that shocked everyone who doesn’t know what’s in Vintage Masters), and my first impression is that there are almost no payoffs. Then again, no one else wants the five-drops or Grave Scrabbler, and there are a ton of enablers across all five colors.


Other Important Cards:

One of the most important things about this Masters set is that other than Kodama's Reach, Prismatic Lens, and Vessel of Endless Rest there isn’t much fixing, which means despite the openness in each archetype you’re probably going to be two colors. The removal at common is pretty bad as well, with the best being Unholy Hunger and Faith's Fetters for big things and Fiery Temper and Last Gasp for small things. Answers to the various Aura decks also seem important, and cards like Ronom Unicorn, Crushing Canopy, and Aethersnipe are much more likely to be maindecked than in other formats. Finally, the graveyard hate is very relevant, though I’d prefer instant-speed answers that do something else like Beckon Apparition and Offalsnout.


Overall, I’m not sure where I’d recommend people start in this format. Reanimator seems like the level one strategy, at least until people realize they need to be playing and picking graveyard hate highly. I like the Madness deck, but I’m worried it can’t go over-the-top of all the other strategies people are playing. Then again, the various Aura decks are probably going to run over everyone trying to do cool things.


Design Review:

As I mentioned above, I really like what this set is doing. The one concern I had was with the color balance in the uncommons (which ranges from 11 to 14 per color and is seemingly random in the gold cards) but it actually makes sense: each color gets 11 uncommons (counting Mistveil Plains and Dakmor Salvage as part of their colors) and each color pair gets two uncommons, but the off-color Flashback cards like Forbidden Alchemy and Travel Preparations count as gold cards here unlike in Modern Masters 2017 and other Masters sets. The rares are more concerning, as red gets shorted a rare and only half the color pairs get a rare (counting Desolate Lighthouse), though the gold rares are color balanced (they’re actually the Return to Ravnica guilds). I’m also going to complain about printing Garna, the Bloodflame six months after its first printing, but that’s my pet peeve.


As for my predictions, I did okay, getting 27 of the 213 cards we didn’t know before preview season correct (31/213 counting shifts). What’s more interesting is how similar this is to my unfinished take on a graveyard-centric version of a Masters set—that’s where I lifted my WB Reanimator theme from, and it also included a version of my tried-and-true BR Madness and a Self-Mill Spider Spawning deck. That’s the main reason I’m disappointed in the discontinuation of the Masters sets: there are still plenty of interesting designs left for draft formats you would never see in Standard sets. Maybe WotC can make a new set focused on draft that isn’t multiplayer-focused now that there are more spots on the release schedule. As I’ve said before, cube is meant to fill part of that gap, but I prefer a format with multiples and more consistency—yes, technically cubes can have multiples, but most don’t.


Treasure Chest Update:

As I expected (and waited on submitting this article for), we have a new Treasure Chest Update to go along with Ultimate Masters, and there are plenty of changes. Before I dive into them though, I want to thank WotC for dividing the list into sections for additions, removals and frequency changes, which made my work a lot easier. The one minor headache is that the removal list doesn’t have the old frequencies, so I have to estimate them (since I don’t have time to cross-reference them), but that isn’t too bad since the removal list isn’t too long this time.


New Cards:

There are a lot of new cards, with the obvious headline being the addition of Commander 2018. The release follows the same format as Battlebond: a 40% chance in the third slot and commons/uncommons, rares, and mythics are 10/3/1 respectively. The surprise is that for the first time since Commander cards were shifted to Treasure Chests in 2016, every single card made it to MTGO. There wasn’t much outlandish or multiplayer-specific in the set (maybe Sower of Discord or Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle), but it’s still a nice bonus. As for other cards, the curated sheet has the Game Night and Gift Box-exclusive cards at a frequency at 3 each, while the Chinese Intro Deck cards are a frequency of 1 each.


Promos and Other Special Cards:

There were a surprising number of promos this update. Obviously the UMA Box Toppers are the star (and many were compensated for by removals), but this also includes the 2018 Comic-Con promos, the GRN Mythic Edition Planeswalkers, and the new-art cards from Signature Spellbook: Jace. All of these are at a frequency of 6 except for the Jace Brainstorm at 12, but there are also two unknown promos: an Ancient Stirrings at 12 and a Jokulhaups at 1 (though the latter could just be the 5ED art, which I believe isn’t on MTGO yet).


Other Changes:

As you might expect, most of the other changes are compensating for the Box Toppers and other promos, though a strange choice is Nourishing Shoal and Golgari Grave-Troll being added to the curated pool despite the reprint. Otherwise it’s the typical shuffle of supplemental set cards and random old cards, though there was also more culling of cards that rotated a couple months ago. As for the totals, 718 cards were added, and we know 148 were culled through frequency changes. Estimating an average of 6 for each straight removal, another 492 were culled, leading to a net addition of around 78 cards—not much of a change, but most TC changes end up in a net decline, though the net addition coming alongside a bunch of “Masterpieces” makes sense.



As I said, this Masters set is a great note to end of if the series is going into hibernation. I just hope whatever replaces it is as good, and ideally is able to come to MTGO as a full set rather than in Treasure Chests months later. The Treasure Chest Update was also nicer than expected. As for me, my next article will probably be the Limited Review for Ravnica Allegiance in January.



@VincentSIFTD on Twitter



Thank by arianapham at Sun, 12/02/2018 - 23:06
arianapham's picture

I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article

You're welcome--I'm just glad by Cheater Hater at Sun, 12/02/2018 - 23:14
Cheater Hater's picture

You're welcome--I'm just glad there's a comment that isn't spam these days :)

This is actually spam too. by JXClaytor at Mon, 12/03/2018 - 17:20
JXClaytor's picture

This is actually spam too.

of all the things I wish I could do, it's being able to ban users.