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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 02 2017 12:00pm
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Masters 25 is a hard set to think about, especially when I’m writing about it before seeing what direction Iconic Masters took as a Masters set with no range. I’m still assuming Iconic Masters is “Casual/Commander Masters” so that leaves Masters 25 as a “best-of” all of Magic—but what does that mean? I don’t want to go that deep before getting that Iconic Masters data point, and I’m pretty burnt out after my difficult Iconic Masters design. However, the marketing for Masters 25 has revealed one specific piece of information: the set will include cards from every Magic set. Now that’s something I can work with.
While the limited marketing for Masters 25 has only confirmed that cards from every set will be Masters 25, I’m going to take a step further and assume it means that a card from each set that hasn’t been reprinted before will be reprinted. My main reason for this is that the one precedent we have for this is 8th Edition, which was the original set to include at least one card from every set released at that point that had not been reprinted before. This was massive, as it included not only all the expansion sets, but things like the Portal sets (though strangely not Starter 1999), the promo cards, and even Unglued (before border rules forced it out). This also means I don’t have to worry about most of the supplemental sets—theoretically “every set” could include stuff like Duel Decks, From the Vaults, and the old core sets among others.
Reprinting a new card from each set is clearly possible, but very difficult for many reasons. First of all, the simplest problem is set size: 8th Edition had 330 slots to work with, while Masters 25 has the typical 249. The second and most-obvious point is that there are a lot more sets now, not just with expansions but supplemental sets like Conspiracy and Commander—8th Edition had 34 total sets, but Masters 25 would have 77 expansion sets (going through Rivals of Ixalan), 12 core/beginner sets (including Starter 1999 this time, along with the Portal sets, Alpha/Beta/Unlimited, and the new core sets), 6 Commander sets (counting Commander 2017), and 4 other sets (the promo set, the two Conspiracies, and Planechase 2012), for a total of almost 100 cards. The final, more subtle point is that Wizards of the Coast does a lot more reprints than it did fifteen years ago—obviously the Masters sets are the standout, but what about Duel Decks, From the Vaults, Commander sets, various promos (notably Judge foils), and all the other supplemental sets WotC does? Do online-only sets like Vintage Masters and the Masters Edition sets count? What about the Anthology sets? The one benefit is that since Masters 25 isn’t a core set, it doesn’t have to worry about some of the concerns that 8th Edition did like complexity and the color pie, making the Reserve List the primary constraint (along with the Masters set rules on minimum mechanic density).
The main relief I’m going to allow myself is that I’ll be looking at cards that have only been printed once on each platform. This means for early sets (and supplementary sets that weren’t released on Magic Online like the Conspiracies) I won’t be excluding cards for being printed in the Masters Edition sets, or things like the Legendary Cube Prize Packs/Treasure Chest set. I’m also not going to count the Anthology collections, since they’re literally card-for-card reprints (and thus not that much different than giving the set another printing). I’m not sure what to do about the case where cards are reprinted with the same expansion symbol—on one hand the Coldsnap Theme Deck reprints of Ice Age block cards shouldn’t disqualify them (as in-universe they’re reprints from the old set, even if they’re updated with modern borders/templating), but that logic means that Chronicles shouldn’t count as a reprint set (which is crazy), and there are other fringe categories like Battle Royale and Anthologies. Foreign sets are also strange, as while Renaissance doesn’t matter (since its entire reason to exist is to reprint cards going into Chronicles and/or Fourth Edition), Salavat 2005 and 2011 are a strange piece of Magic history with many unique reprints (and first/only-time Modern borders) that almost no one knows about—Salvat 2005 is in in French and Italian, but Salvat 2011 (which is only in Spanish) only appears to be on the Magic Librarities page I linked earlier (which isn’t easy to cross-reference). Then again, Masters 25 won’t even be printed in those languages (only in English, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese), so maybe I should just ignore them. One final special case I’m ignoring is Tempest Remastered—Tempest block has almost nothing else after removing those cards, and it kinda falls into both the Anthology category and the online-only reprints category, so I feel like I’m justified in removing it.
Overall there are three categories of sets I’ll be looking at. The hardest will be sets that don’t have that many options, either because they’re hamstrung by the Reserve List (and/or all of their good cards were already reprinted) or because they were mostly reprint sets (Commander/Conspiracy mostly), and I’ll be going into their relatively few options in detail. On the other end my analysis of the newer sets/blocks will be focused on themes, as my hope is that these looks could hopefully guide the themes of the set (ideally they’ll have a lot of “best-of” ideas, like what Eternal Masters did). The hardest part will be the early blocks (as well as Portal) where there are a lot of possible reprints but the themes aren’t well-defined, the good cards have already been reprinted, and they’re hamstrung by the reserve list. Obviously since there are a lot of sets (and most of them have a lot of non-reprinted cards, and some haven’t even been released yet), this will be multiple parts, and I’ll try to group the sets into logical groups. For this first article, I’ll be talking about the earliest sets (ones that precede the block model) and the beginner-focused sets (the Portals and new core sets).
Early Sets:
Going by the strictest definition, ABU has only two cards: False Orders (a little confusing, but reasonable) and Camouflage (a rules/MTGO nightmare). However, adding in the Masters Edition cards gives you both Ice Storm and Copper Tablet, and while both are reasonable, Ice Storm feels almost certain.
Arabian Nights:
Arabian Nights is by far the hardest set, since by the strict definition there are only four possibilities: two that are blackballed for cultural reasons (Army of Allah and Stone-Throwing Devils) and two that focus on Deserts (Camel and Desert Nomads). However, when you add the Masters Edition reprints you get Ydwen Efreet, but more importantly Oubliette, which is an important Pauper reprint and probably the biggest lock of the set (though it’ll obviously be uncommon, like Ancestral Mask).
This is interesting, as there are eight possibilities (eleven if you count the three cards with multiple MTGO printings), but everything has something to do with artifacts, almost certainly cementing one of the archetypes being artifact-based. Of those choices, Argivian Blacksmith is a nice choice to support artifacts, Argothian Treefolk helps defend against them, and Priest of Yawgmoth could enable some combo shenanigans from a new-to-MTGO card.
A gigantic set (310 cards) leads to a total of 87 cards that have never seen reprinting, but unfortunately a lot of them are garbage, including the “highlights” of the Glyph, Undertow, Touch of Darkness, and Adventurers' Guildhouse cycles and an endless number of overcosted vanilla/mostly vanilla Legends. Of the non-garbage, Reset is the standout card you’ve heard of, but there are other interesting cards. Enchanted Being could matter if auras are a theme (I considered it for my Iconic Masters design), Demonic Torment is a nice Gaseous Form variant, Wall of Tombstones could support a graveyard theme (even though it’s underpowered by a lot and has memory issues), Blazing Effigy is a perfectly playable new-to-MTGO card, there are multiple Kobolds, Hyperion Blacksmith is another artifact support card, Rust should show up on MTGO sometime (though it’s another underpowered card when cards like Oxidize exist), Sunastian Falconer could work in a ramp deck, and Urborg has a relevant activated ability (unlike Hammerheim and Tolaria)
The Dark:
Thirty-four choices here, and the pickings are slim. In terms of cards you’ve heard of, Amnesia is an old-school all star and Eater of the Dead has had combo potential with various versions of its texts, but neither makes that many waves now. Instead, I like Tangle Kelp, which looks like an awful Claustrophobia but is very interesting at just one mana. You also have the pair of minor color-haters Holy Light and Riptide if the set chooses to go in that direction.
Fallen Empires:
This is Magic’s first tribal set, and while tribes like Soldiers and Goblins have stood the test of time, tribes like Orcs, Thallids, Thrulls, and Homarids have not. There are 37 possibilities, and if you don’t want to jump on those tribal themes, Basal Thrull seems like the best possibility in some kind of combo build. Other than that, Spore Cloud is a good Fog variant and Farrel's Zealot isn’t an awful creature.
Homelands, the set so bad even its original block wanted nothing to do with it. Thirty-eight choices here, and most of them can be describes as a bad version of something else. There are some possibilities if you look hard enough—Leaping Lizard is a reasonable creature, Retribution is an interesting removal spell (and maybe should have gone in Iconic Masters’ Punisher theme), and Clockwork Gnomes could support artifacts—but even those aren’t exciting like an Ice Storm or Tangle Kelp. You do get (Ihsan’s Shade) if you exclude Anthologies though?
Promo Set:
Of the six cards originally printed as promos, only three are left: Sewers of Estark is strange (and pretty bad), Nalathni Dragon has Banding (and technically was printed as two separate promos), and Windseeker Centaur is a generic creature whose only crime is being off-color (and slightly underpowered). Congratulations Windseeker Centaur, you win by default!
Starter Sets:
Despite seeming like an awful set mostly filled with reprints, a full 70 of the 200 cards haven’t been reprinted (in paper), and of those I noted 26 as being interesting, reasonable cards. Of those, a lot of them are reasonable french vanilla creatures (Starlit Angel, Arrogant Vampire, Cloud Dragon), worse versions of above-average cards (Omen, Assassin's Blade, Sylvan Tutor), or even functional reprints of recent cards (Highland Giant, Symbol of Unsummoning). The obvious answer is probably to get more copies of Personal Tutor in circulation (it’s almost $15 now), but some interesting choices for Limited include Fire Imp and Jungle Lion (though the latter actually was reprinted in an MTGO Theme Deck, and I still haven’t decided if those are worth disqualifying a card for), though my personal favorite would be getting Mercenary Knight and/or Thundering Wurm online.
Portal Second Age:
Portal 2 expands on the first and attempts some actual theming (though some of that includes the infamous “guns in Magic”). Of the 155 cards, 55 haven’t been reprinted (a higher percentage than Portal 1) and I noted 15 as being interesting. Temporal Manipulation is the obvious choice, but it actually got multiple promo printings (and I’m counting those as reprintings). Otherwise we have a lot of decent Limited cards, including False Summoning, Alaborn Musketeer, Talas Air Ship, Talas Warrior, and Predatory Nightstalker. Of course, Bear Cub should be reprinted on principle, even if it isn’t anywhere near the expected power level for a Masters set.
Portal Three Kingdoms:
Shocker: the set with specific real-world flavor has the highest proportion of non-reprints so far. The set only has 180 cards, but 125 have not been reprinted—even after throwing out the 30 Horsemanship cards and 10 cards with Portal-timing (activated abilities you can activate “on your turn, before you attack”) you still have 85 choices. The biggest problem is the immense scarcity involved, as you aren’t getting Capture of Jingzhou (almost $400) and even something innocent like Dong Zhou, the Tyrant (which would be a neat rare, or even a reprint in a Commander deck) is $65. The problem is that P3K is the Karakas/Mana Crypt problem in massive scale where anything that isn’t limited trash is massively inflated in price. If you’re looking for reasonable unique cards, Hunting Cheetah is a nice card (and might be upgraded to rare already before considering the $12 price tag), and False Defeat could help a WB Reanimator strategy. If you want more limited cards there are a lot of decent removal spells, including Fire Ambush, Eightfold Maze, Corrupt Eunuchs and Wei Assassins, while Taoist Hermit could support an Auras strategy. I have a personal affinity for Corrupt Court Official as well, as Ravenous Rats is fine for current sets (though I’m not sure they want a $5 common, even if most of that is scarcity).
Starter 1999:
Starter 1999 has 158 cards, but only 26 were new at the time. As of now, there are 11 choices, and while I want Stream of Acid online, there are two standouts here. Grim Tutor is the one everyone knows, but a card over $230 might be too much for any set (at least until a judge promo gives it an initial dip, ideally to the $150 range Mana Crypt and Karakas were at before their Eternal Masters reprint). Instead, Goblin Settler is an uncommon over $50, and while it would certainly be upgraded to rare, that seems more reasonable.
Magic 2010:
The start of the (old) modern core set laid a groundwork for what was to follow, and thus only 33 cards haven’t been reprinted since. The star here is Hive Mind, but the sleeper is Master of the Wild Hunt, which has quietly stayed above $10 (and could easily fill a “meh” mythic slot). If you’re looking for limited cards, Zephyr Sprite and Dread Warlock are nice evasive creatures, while Gorgon Flail is a simple equipment that I’m surprised hasn’t been reprinted yet.
Magic 2011:
There are 39 cards here, and I’m surprised at how many should have been reprinted already. I used Serra Ascendant and Pyretic Ritual in my Iconic Masters design, but there are so many other interesting choices: Limited likes Stabbing Pain (a personal favorite) and Ember Hauler, Commander likes Mystifying Maze and Brittle Effigy (a nice downgrade candidate), and there are even some possibly-competitive cards like (Liliana’s Caress) and Fauna Shaman.
Magic 2012:
Despite having more non-reprinted cards than any core set so far (50 total), it’s unfortunately mostly Limited fodder (though some is good for Limited like Devouring Swarm and the Mage cycle). The main exceptions here are Timely Reinforcements and Vengeful Pharaoh on the competitive side, while Commander likes Rune-Scarred Demon and Adaptive Automaton.
Magic 2013:
We have 59 cards here, but if we throw out Exalted (something I’m not willing to commit on) we still have 52. There are a lot of swarm cards here (Crusader of Odric, Captain's Call, Healer of the Pride), but if you want more-generic Limited cards you have Bloodhunter Bat, Talrand's Invocation, and the rest of the Flinthoof Boar cycle. The flashiest rare is Master of the Pearl Trident, but Rhox Faithmender could top off a lifegain theme of some kind.
Magic 2014:
Magic 2014 has 72 non-reprinted cards, but even though the “mechanic” of Slivers could fit well in a 25th anniversary set, I don’t know how you fit them in the set (and if WotC is willing to mix old and new Slivers, even in a Masters set), so let’s ditch them so we’re left with 60. We have even more Limited fodder here, but a Messenger Drake or Corpse Hauler can do a lot, and we should focus more on Limited filler as we get to newer sets.
Magic 2015:
We’ve moved past the range of Modern Masters 2017 with Magic 2015, and the number of non-reprints has ballooned to 112 (90 if you ditch Convoke and the Slivers). We of course have nice generic Limited filler like Frost Lynx and Radiant Fountain, but we also have some support for UR Artifacts (one of the archetypes I’ve filled in at this early stage) like Scrapyard Mongrel and Ensoul Artifact.
Magic Origins:
This wasn’t really a reprint set, and that combined with being very new makes it have 152 non-reprints. That decreases to 118 once you throw out Renown and Spell Mastery, but that’s still a lot. We have more UR Artifact support from the plane of Kaladesh, but I think the card from here is going to be more generic, like an Eyeblight Assassin, Hydrolash, or Suppression Bonds.
This article quickly grew out of control—I was planning on covering the supplemental sets in this article too, but it’s three thousand words even after cutting that. My hope is that the normal expansions can focus on possible themes, or maybe I’ll just talk about sets with relatively few (playable/valuable) options. I don’t know when that will be—these articles take a while, and I don’t want them to interfere with my normal coverage (Flashback drafts, Iconic Masters, Ixalan). I said last time I wanted get out a full Masters 25 design by the end of the year, and that hopefully is still the plan—I haven’t done much design, but the research for this series helps, and I have a couple of archetypes penciled in. Until next time.
@CheaterHater1 on Twitter


A quick correction: by Cheater Hater at Thu, 08/03/2017 - 18:19
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A quick correction: Bloodhunter Bat was actually in the Welcome Deck 2017, so it isn't eligible for the category.

Ugh. Who knows what are in by JXClaytor at Thu, 08/03/2017 - 21:01
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Ugh. Who knows what are in those things? by AJ_Impy at Thu, 08/03/2017 - 22:43
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I do believe our dear editor by Paul Leicht at Thu, 08/03/2017 - 23:29
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I do believe our dear editor was being rhetorical. IE: Who bothers looking up the welcome decks?? (Also rhetorical so don't say you do.:p)

I blame this solely on me not by JXClaytor at Fri, 08/04/2017 - 01:07
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I blame this solely on me not playing paper magic anymore, and therefore forgetting that the Welcome Decks are a thing that actually exist.

Funnily enough, I came across by AJ_Impy at Fri, 08/04/2017 - 08:26
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Funnily enough, I came across them accidentally myself due to Crested Sunmare. "Horse tribal? But there's only those two black shadows filler horses, aren't there? (Checks) Wait, why is Nightmare standard legal?"

The irony is that I was the by Cheater Hater at Sat, 08/05/2017 - 16:17
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The irony is that I was the one who should know it, since I looked it up for another one of my articles (though I can't find where I wrote about it, since it was just at the end of another article).

BTW, the reason to look at the Welcome decks is that sometimes they put reasonable cards in them--Welcome Deck 2016 was notorious for this, with cards like Cone of Flame, Borderland Marauder, and Soul of the Harvest being reasonable choices. Then pros complained about those cards being in a random set, and now the cards are mostly unplayable (signified most-clearly by Wing Snare being included instead of Plummet--though ironically that Wing Snare is the only modern-frame black-border version of it :p )

The weird sets no one's ever by Cheater Hater at Sat, 08/05/2017 - 16:06
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The weird sets no one's ever heard of is part of the reason why I switched to using Scryfall for my searches for this series (that, and the nice ability to remove cards that were reprints in the set as of its release, saving me a bit of grunt work).