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May 12, 2015

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Modern Masters 2015: What Could Have Been

On May 8th Wizards of the Coast released the full spoiler for Modern Masters 2015, a set designed to increase the supply of cards in high demand for modern play, but also to create an exciting (albeit short-lived and expensive) limited format. While the first 50 cards spoiled appealed to players looking for relief from high priced modern staples, the last 200 spoiled cards were almost exclusively for limited play and will be headed for the bulk bin immediately after a limited event.

This is a poor balance. The set is called “Modern Masters” and while I can appreciate balancing it for limited, there’s no reason the limited environment can’t be built more strongly around the actual modern format with modern playable cards. Ideally a new player could do a couple Modern Masters drafts and get a feel for an actual modern deck like Merfolk or Zoo while also picking up some pieces of the actual deck should they want to build it for modern play. If tribal giants and spiritcraft were a bit disappointing in the first modern masters, the common mechanics of Modern Masters 2 – and especially the major spillover of bulk rares into the rare slots, is significantly worse (I’m looking at you Inexorable Tide).

It’s nothing new for players to think they could have done a better job than Wizards of the Coast at set or card design, but in this case I take issue with the very implementation of the set’s objectives. Rather than use modern staples as the core and building a limited environment that’s at least something of a microcosm of actual modern. the set was built with a limited environment that’s almost completely independent of the cards that modern players care about in any way shape or form. Because lets be honest, you’re not casting any of those Eldrazi titans in draft, and you’re probably not twinning a Kozilek’s Predator or living the dream of Daybreak Coronet on a Goblin War Painted creature.

Just off the top of my head, these are some of the things that could have been done to better blend modern and limited together into one set like MM2:

An eldrazi/ramp/lands theme that includes tron lands at common:

While I’m assuming the tron lands and eldrazi will be wed in the upcoming Eldrazi vs Zendikar duel deck, this still seems like such a natural fit that it should have happened in MM2. Tron and the eldrazi are actually played together in modern! Why wouldn’t we put this “experience” together in the set called “modern masters”? You even have Karn at mythic! This opens the door to other tron enablers like Sylvan Scrying and Ancient Stirrings – which crosswalk with other possible mechanics like splashes and artifacts. Tron lands at common would presumably make for interesting draft decisions, the same way tri-lands at uncommon did in Khans of Tarkir. It would also open the door to disruption like Ghost Quarter, Spreading Seas and Blood Moon, and some tangential overlap with needed reprints like Scapeshift, Aven Mindcensor, and Azusa, Lost but Seeking.

Using the artifact theme to justify more useful reprints:

There are a lot of playable modern artifacts that it wouldn’t hurt to reprint, and just having metalcraft as a mechanic could be all it takes to create synergy in limited. Mishra’s Bauble probably spiked too late to be considered for the set, but if Wizards had their eyes open this should have been noticed as an interesting metalcraft enabler at mana cost 0. Genesis Chamber and Blasting Station are getting harder to find and would work with any tokens or sacrifice themes while also enabling metalcraft. Crucible of Worlds is in dire need of a reprint even if it would basically be useless in limited without something like Gemstone Mine or Ghost Quarter. I would also rather open an Isochron Scepter than an Etched Monstrosity or Precursor Golem in the rare slot. I draw the line at an Ensnaring Bridge reprint, as I cannot imagine anything good coming from this card in limited.

A Merfolk Tribal Theme:

I guess wizards doesn’t care about $7 Cursecatchers as much as I do. We got tribal giants in MM1, which is not remotely modern playable, but we can’t help get players interested in the format by throwing them some cheap Silvergill Adepts, Cursecatchers, and Spreading Seas? Maybe a lord or two? Wouldn’t Phantasmal Image at rare make for some interesting game decisions? While a Lord of Atlantis at rare wouldn’t cover the cost of the booster by any means, at least I’d be looking at a relevant playable card instead of an Inexorable Tide.

A Soul Sisters Theme:

The modern lifegain deck isn’t particularly expensive anyways, but its trivial to drop this into the set with a Squadron Hawk here and a Martyr of Sands there. Open some rare slots for needed reprints of Serra Ascendant and Ranger of Eos, maybe drop Proclamation of Rebirth to uncommon, and Bob’s your uncle: a bunch of relevant modern cards instead of junk like Conclave Phalanx. Like merfolk, you’re giving players an actual modern-esque experience with this and some cards they can actually play in a real deck in the format. The 1cmc themed cards would also play nicely with the next theme idea:

A Zoo Theme:

Whenever you finally accepted that Serum Visions was not on the spoiler, the next omission you probably noticed was Goblin Guide. While I have faith it’ll be reprinted in either Origins or Battle for Zendikar, it really should have been in this set as its the main barrier to playing burn in modern. Wizards could have gone for a naya aggro theme with some support from Wild Nacatl and Kird Ape and we could certainly use a reprint of the $2 common Qasali Pridemage – which would incidentally help keep artifacts and auras in check for limited: win/win! Maybe we could even round this out by conceding that uncommon pump spells shouldn’t cost $7 (Might of Old Krosa) and tossing us a Forked Bolt and Grim Lavamancer to round it all off? Too obvious? Was it too important to do $0.50 Spikeshot Elder instead of $6 lavamancer?

An Aura theme:

While I’m perfectly fine without this one, it’s glaring that Daybreak Coronet has only one real enabler in the set (Goblin War Paint). I’m surprised there wasn’t at least a minor aura theme with something like the Galvanic Arc / Flight of Fancy cycle and some stuff like aura gnarlid and Kor Spiritdancer. I’d be cautious about gamebreakers like Rancor and Spirit Mantle, but with the right balance of common answers these could also see a reprint. And if we’re down with both auras and merfolk, we can’t reasonably keep Threads of Disloyalty out of a rare slot can we? Again, I draw the line at the actual bogles – hexproof and auras are very dangerous in limited and almost certainly not worth trying to balance. But at least a potential bogles player could pick up a couple staples if MM2 had gone just a little deeper on the theme.

Don’t skip the no-brainers:

There is simply no excuse not to put Serum Visions in this set. I don’t care if it’s the August FNM promo or if its in Origins, it’s a $10 common played in top tier decks. Having Telling Time instead of visions is completely inexcusable… unless visions is under active consideration for banning – which would be a different kind of inexcusable.

If we can have All Is Dust at rare, why can’t we have the much more expensive and conceivably much more relevant (to UB control players at least) Damnation at rare? Or how about having it at mythic in place of Dark Confidant considering bob’s price has already dropped by about 100% from its peak and sees play in approximately 1 competitive deck (Jund)?

Why not throw a bone to casual and modern mill players and give them a Glimpse the Unthinkable reprint? It can either be unplayable in limited or be a janky way to enable reanimator or flashback if you don’t want to include an actual mill theme.

And am I the only one that saw this obvious rare allied land cycle?

Horizon Canopy
Grove of the Burnwillows
Celestial Colonnade
Creeping Tar Pit
Blackcleave Cliffs

If not the cycle, at least Horizon Canopy – I don’t see this card becoming a full cycle, nor going through standard, and a supplemental product printing isn’t likely to drop the price that much. This was the time to print the canopy and probably the grove – the others are cheaper and more feasible for a standard legal reprint.

Parting Thoughts

On one hand, modern players can’t really complain about this set as it will reduce the cost of some important cards like Cryptic Command, Leyline of Sanctity and Noble Hierarch. We’re better off with it than without it no matter what. On the other hand, there were numerous obvious and easy inclusions that would have made this a huge win for the format instead of earning the disdainful moniker of modern “meh”sters from a number of players. With the 2-year buildup of expectations, I know I was hoping for more than a $30 Noble Hierarch.

But here’s hoping the limited format knocks it out of the park and we all come to see that it was critical to have Telling Time instead of Serum Visions. If not, I’m sure Damnation will see a reprint in modern masters 3… or 4…

– Darcy