Context in Limited – Dragons of Tarkir vs. Modern Masters 2015

In an ideal world we could deconstruct each archetype, but due to the short period in which MM2015 is available we won’t have the time to do so. We can, however, look at overarching keys to success. One word you’ll hear in every discussion about MM2015 is “synergy.” Almost every archetype is built on the back of cohesive strategies that maximize the power of cards through surrounding context. Today I’d like to explore how these synergy decks look within the macro archetypes of aggro, midrange, and control, and compare those to DTK decks to get a sense of how focused MM2015 decks can look very different than typical Limited decks.

Aggressive Decks


This RW deck from DTK doesn’t have the glut of 1-drops you’d expect from a true aggro deck but does hit a nice mass of 2-drops, which means it is quite consistent at deploying an early threat. Additionally, it has cheap removal to back up those threats and some solid ways to close the game with War Flare and Flamerush Rider for a ton of damage out of nowhere. The deck doesn’t have much in the way of synergy outside of a general game plan. In fact, this deck has a pretty bad nombo in the form of Herald of Dromoka and Dragonscale General. The deck manages to cobble together the best pieces it can at each point on the mana curve and hope that’s enough to keep the opponent off balance throughout the game. Let’s compare to MM2015 aggro decks:


First off you’ll notice a more condensed curve. There are three solid 1-mana plays in this deck, and that’s on the medium-low end for aggressive decks in the format. Additionally, this deck thrives on 2 mana, and has even more plays than our DTK example. There are plenty of combinations that give the deck a fast punch as well as staying power. Glint Hawk Idol functions as an early creature, and the deck features enough artifacts that it can often curve out while hitting for 2 in the air every turn. Sunspear Shikari is an absolute all-star in the deck and maintains pressure but also helps prevent losing a race. This deck is even capable of curving Copper Carapace into Shikari into equip which is a powerful but simple sequence that can result in easy wins. Finally, there are powerful curve toppers at 4 and 5 mana alongside evasive damage from Mortarpod and Kitesail that can take down a game right as the opponent starts stabilizing. Next up, we have an Rb deck:


This deck has a really nice 1-drop suite though fails in the 2-drop department, which really holds it back from curving out consistently and therefore makes it a weaker aggro deck. Additionally, Goblin Fireslinger isn’t incredible later in the game but it is still relevant—this deck pushes the bloodthirst theme more than other RB decks but it’s a nice way to see what happens when you lean hard on a single plan. Comparing this deck to the DTK deck, we see a more focused game plan, and less of a fail-safe in case things go poorly. The RW deck could play a more midrange role if it fell behind early because its cards are much more generic. Pacifism works to stabilize or help keep the pressure on, whereas this RB deck will end up playing 3/3 Gorehorn Minotaurs when it’s losing. Synergy is both a benefit and a drawback given the circumstances of any given game.

Midrange Decks


GR is the quintessential midrange archetype of DTK because it tries to establish formidable and combine the right answers and threats until it wins a bit later in the game. Our deck list here matches that description quite well, and you can see that there’s no cut-and-dried sequence of plays the deck aims for before the games start. Bathe in Dragonfire is a great flexible removal spell that’s great turn 3 or turn 8, and morph gives the deck flexibility as well. Once again, despite the fact that the deck is all about options and reacting to the opponent’s development, this deck doesn’t have a ton of inherent synergy. Compare that to more MM2015 decks:


This deck has a clear plan. Building a big early Scion is plan A accompanied by a sacrifice engine backup plan when that fails. The deck shows off what midrange is all about in that it’s not pushed as a tokens deck or a sacrifice deck. Rather, it plays the middle ground quite well and can plan and sequence according to what’s needed, while still hopefully maintaining a highly synergistic plan. I say hopefully since clearly the deck can draw Scion of the Wild with Kavu Primarch and Bone Splinters, or Tukatongue Thallid without sacrifice enablers, but the overlapping ideas between all the cards makes these scenarios unlikely. When you do have differing synergy plans within a deck, aim for these overlaps. With 18 creatures, there’s both plenty of fodder and sheer numbers to make Scion a legitimate threat.


Again, this midrange deck thrives on choices in the context of high-synergy payoffs. Smokebraider is an absolutely absurd engine here and leads to completely broken starts like turn 3 Thunderblust into turn 4 Aethersnipe, or turn 2 Soulbright Flamekin into turn 3 Smokebraider for a turn 4 Ulamog’s Crusher. More often, though, the deck will play an Early elemental and then decide to press the advantage or wait for a better opportunity later on. Water Servant clearly fills this role, as does Aethesnipe which can bounce a blocker for enough of a tempo gain to continue down the path to victory, or merely bounce a threat and use its 4/4 body to help catch up. Even Thunderblust isn’t embarrassing on defense due to persist. But the king of flexibility here has to be Banefire. Sometimes it acts as a simple removal spell on turns 3-5, and other times wins a game targeted straight at the opponent’s dome for 10+ damage! It’s the perfect encapsulation of a midrange plan in a single card.

Control Decks


Ah, good old UB control! The UB exploit engine is quite a big departure from the other DTK archetypes because when it fires on all cylinders it seems completely unfair, while a good UW deck in DTK just looks to play its cards well and doesn’t rely as much on synergy. In fact, I’d argue that drafting UB is very similar to drafting most of the archetypes within MM2015 in that good versions with all the synergy, such as the deck shown here, are on a completely different level than similar decks that are lacking a couple pieces. Replace the two Palace Familiars with two other good blue cards, say an Ojutai’s Summons and an Ojutai Interceptor, and you can clearly see how much worse the deck would be. Let’s see if the synergy MM2015 is known for holds up in its control archetypes:


Sometimes the WB Spirits deck can get off to a fast start and win the game before you know it, but that is the exception than the rule. The deck thrives on soulshift which has been discussed ad nauseum, but the card advantage generated this way makes the deck play out very similarly to the UB deck above. WB could even be labeled “WB card advantage” which might be a more accurate descriptor than “WB Spirits,” though the linear nature of the deck does demand a critical mass of the tribe. As a control deck it looks to keep the board stabilized through a ton of small spells rather than one giant haymaker. Kami of Ancient Law is very much the Palace Familiar of the deck since it enables all your future soulshift as well as your Plagued Rusalka. Card advantage generated through synergy is the name of the game and is what allows WB Spirits to get away with a lower curve than a typical control deck.


…and throw that curve right out the window! 5-color control is the least synergy-driven deck in the format, and actually preys on the others by dismantling their synergy with removal. This 5-color deck lacks somewhat in that department but pushes hard on sweepers with All is Dust and Savage Twister. Sweepers are the best way to tell if a 5-color deck is good, since without them the deck can often fall behind on card advantage if you’re 1-for-1’ing and topdecking Rampant Growths. Another way the deck avoids card disadvantage is going much bigger than anything else in the form of singular threats. Who needs synergy when you can just play 5/5 flyers, 7/7 tramplers that gain a ton of life, and 10/9 reanimators? Because the deck is so much less linear it’s the fail-safe of the format, but that doesn’t mean you should draft it just because you often can. A good 5-color deck is night-and-day from a bad one, and if your deck is missing bombs and sweepers, you’ll have a tough time defeating the highly synergistic plans.


DTK decks tend to focus much more on a general game plan, and less on individual interactions than MM2015 decks. With good draft fundamentals, you’ll often end up with a good deck in DTK, but those alone won’t help you win in MM2015. Getting the right synergy cards in MM2015 is the key to success, especially in aggressive decks that need to start attacking from the very first turn. Midrange decks in MM2015 care less about a singular focus, but instead tend to include a more diverse set of options to approach games from different angles, and good versions include types of cards with enough cross-synergy to ensure some redundancy. The control decks move away from synergy even more in the case of 5-color, which tries to go bigger than the opponent, while WB Spirits plays the control angle through resource depletion with Spirit synergy as an avenue for that goal.

Formats will dictate what can be successful and what cannot. The best synergy will often be able to overpower many of the power cards in a format, which is why it’s so important to build a synergy driven deck in MM2015 draft, and why UB control is one of the best decks you can draft in DTK when done right. Use the archetypes as a guideline when looking at formats to see what’s possible, and then decide how focused those archetypes need to be to maintain a high success rate.

Join me at twitch.tv/channelfireball from 4-8 p.m. PST on Tuesdays! See you there.

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