Modern Masters 2015 is clearly different from a normal set, so I’m going to review things a little differently. Like Modern Masters 2013, this set has way more synergy-based archetypes than any other Limited format, and reviewing cards just on a 0 to 5 scale seems less useful than talking about how they fit into the set as a whole.
As such, I’ll be dividing cards into the following categories:
Synergy – These are cards you won’t play unless you have specific combinations or in specific decks. They should often be treated as unplayable or filler if they aren’t properly supported.
Power – These are cards you will play in most or all decks.
Filler – These are cards that aren’t great overall, but you may need to play some number of.
Using the following scale, assume all filler cards are 2.0 or less, with all power cards getting a rating from 2.5 to 5.0. I’ll rate all Synergy cards individually as well, though the lower-powered ones will likely be lumped in with the filler.
5.0: The best of the best. (Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte. Wingmate Roc.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Butcher of the Horde. Savage Knuckleblade. Crater’s Claws.)
4.0: Good rare or top tier uncommon. (Triplicate Spirits. End Hostilities. Necropolis Fiend.)
3.5: Top tier common or solid uncommon. (Lightning Strike. Woolly Loxodon. Suspension Field.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Debilitating Injury. Mardu Hordechief. Flesh to Dust.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Glacial Stalker. Bitter Revelation. Hunt the Weak.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Dragonscale Boon. Defiant Strike. Cancel.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Scout the Borders. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Ranger’s Guile.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Tusked Colossodon. Bronze Sable. Oppressive Rays.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Naturalize. Feed the Clan. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Search the City. Pyxis of Pandemonium.)
It’s entirely possible that a card I think is a synergy card ends up being powerful enough that most decks will want it, or a card I think is powerful ends up being more of a filler card, but this is my initial read based on my experience with these cards (I’ve played every set that goes into Modern Masters 2015) and my assumption about the color pairs being pushed.
For reference, here are the 10 color pairs and the decks associated with each. Bear in mind that these aren’t hard and fast rules—you can draft black/red control even if “the black/red deck” is bloodthirst.
This is a holdover from the first Modern Masters, and is basically just all the artifacts and all the cards that care about artifacts. It tends to be aggressive, looking to attack with Rusted Relics, Court Homonculi, and Somber Hoverguards, and the addition of Cranial Plating is a big one.
White/Black Spirits and Arcane
A throwback to one of my favorite blocks, this archetype looks to accumulate value by combining Spirits, Arcane spells, and cards that trigger off them. Soulshift is a very powerful mechanic if you have enough Spirits, and a good WB deck should have a lot of staying power.
This is a slightly looser theme, in that cards that pump creatures and creatures that want to have high power can combine with many different cards. The main idea is to pile a bunch of stuff on a double striker or card like Bloodshot Trainee, and go from there.
Using cards from every set with convoke, WG looks to amass an army and grow that army, which is about as simple as it gets. It also doesn’t really care whether the creatures are tokens or not, but token-making is the easiest way to hit critical mass.
This is one of the least-themed color pairs, which actually sounds right. It does have a lot of cards that pay you for proliferating -1/-1 counters, but this is really just a value-based deck, and as such, can swap out cards freely. Some UB decks will be heavily themed, but others will just have removal and card draw and not play into any specific synergies.
The Elemental deck looks to be based in these two colors, but Smokebraider being the common engine card means that you can easily draft this deck in a more colorful fashion. Just about every Elemental also stands on its own, meaning it’s low investment to start down this path, as you end up with a playable deck even if you don’t go really deep on synergy.
This is more synergistic than the blue/black version of the deck, as it has a bunch of graft creatures making it more cohesive. It’s still a deck based on playing efficient creatures and attacking, but the proliferate/graft combos give it a bit more reach and power than it would otherwise have.
Here we have another non-linear deck, with most aggressive cards being fairly interchangeable. Bloodthirst does incentivize some cards like Goblin Fireslinger, but for the most part this deck drafts based on its curve rather than for synergy.
Rise of the Eldrazi makes its presence known with a rerun of the token theme, and I still like it. It combines cards that make little dorks with cards that want to devour or otherwise utilize them. It’s a synergy deck like WG, with high rewards for synergy but plenty of cards that work as long as you have a lot of creatures, not specifically just tokens.
This archetype looks to be base RG, but will splash more often than not. Cards like Tribal Flames, Matca Rioters, and sunburst artifacts give the deck incentive, and Rampant Growth, Evolving Wilds, Sphere of the Suns, and Wayfarer’s Bauble give it the means. It can also just forgo a splash and play ramp into big cards, which makes this one of the less focused archetypes.
For more on the archetypes, check out these articles by Pascal Maynard and Neal Oliver:
All right, let’s get to the cards!
First, the cards that you want in any deck. These are great high picks because they are both powerful and versatile, making them less of a commitment than some of the more focused cards. It looks like this Modern Masters set is less powerful than the previous one, which means that most cards that were good in their original sets are still pretty good, since this is closer to a normal Limited format in power level (though still higher).
Arrest deals with even the trickiest creatures, but decks with sacrifice themes and cards like Apostle’s Blessing and Otherworldly Journey make it into more of a liability than it has been in other formats.
Even in a high-power format, a 4/4 flier that attacks as a 5/5 lifelink would be good, and this does more than that. It has an effect as soon as you play it, and you can often get a solid hit in regardless of whether your opponent has a removal spell on their turn. It also plays very nicely with pump spells in the RW deck, though taking this lets you play any white archetype.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Seven mana is a lot, but Elesh Norn is just about the best thing you can ever cast for that much mana. I would tend toward trying to draft ramp or control if I took Elesh V, but even if you are aggressive you should probably take this and play it. Elesh Norn ends the game, and aggro decks playing 17 land can still afford a lone 7-drop (not to mention taking Elesh gives you incentive to switch from a pure aggro strategy). For many reasons, this is one of my favorite cards to open.
Hikari, Twilight Guardian
In non-Spirit decks, this is a 4/4 flier for 5, which is still a solid card. I’d be happy playing this in any white deck, though it does get much better if you have some cheap arcane cards to protect it.
Likewise, Indomitable Archangel is not really a metalcraft card as much as an aggressive flier, and I barely count the text as incentive to draft artifacts. It’s clearly a bonus, but even in an artifact deck it’s likely this is the card getting targeted first, mainly because it’s a great flier at a great cost.
Double strike and protection from multiple colors is powerful enough to make this a great addition to any deck. It does get much better in RW, so I would lean in that direction, but Mirran Crusader is good enough that you shouldn’t feel locked into drafting cards that combo with it.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of playing with Mirror Entity, let me explain how absurd it is, since it may not be obvious. You cast this, then you untap, then you win. All your creatures become 5/5s or greater every turn, and that’s that. It is worth noting that this is a Spirit, and as such it’s even more insane in a Spirit deck that can soulshift it back, though once again this is so good that you should always take it if you are in white. It’s even worth splashing in a creature-heavy deck, though I’d be less inclined to do so in a removal-based control deck.
When you absolutely have to remove something, no questions asked (even if that thing happens to be Magic Online).
This is a classic example of a powerful card that any white deck wants that also happens to get much better in certain archetypes. Don’t expect to pick these up late when you are in the tokens deck, but do be happy when you do. Procession realistically costs 2WW, and it’s still great at 4 mana.
Efficient removal is always welcome, even if it doesn’t hit every single card you want. I wouldn’t look to splash this, but I’ll always start it if I’m playing white.
These are cards that you want to pair with specific cards/decks to really make them shine, and that’s the scale on which I’m grading them. Assume that the number grade corresponds to the scale shown above in the situations I mention. That last part is important, as a Dispatch can range from Swords to Plowshares in the right deck to completely unplayable in a “normal” deck. Some of these cards do have wider utility, and I’ll do my best to mention that too.
This is at its best in the RW deck, given that your goal in that deck is to build an unstoppable monster. Be aware that it can cause equipment to fall off, but otherwise you should be good to go when using this to either protect your creatures or make them unblockable. This is playable in any deck that has good creatures to protect, but most archetypes don’t have that many high-value creatures.
When convoked out, the Phalanx does a great job of keeping you alive. It’s not a payoff card for drafting tokens, exactly, but it’s a solid role-player once you are in the deck. Gaining a bunch of life reduces your vulnerability to evasion, and gives you time to draw your Overruns.
This I would never play outside of a heavy-artifact deck (12+ artifacts or so), but in a dedicated affinity deck it is quite good. It lets you get on the board and start attacking while also powering out your more expensive affinity cards. This is one of the reasons to draft heavy white, or at least play a lot of Plains.
One of the payoffs for drafting affinity is that you get a good removal spell that nobody else wants. If you can reliably metalcraft this, it’s awesome, and it’s a big incentive to go all-in on this deck.
Even in a token deck, this is borderline filler, but there’s few other places where I’d want it at all. If you are completely unable to find other Overrun effects, feel free to Fortify, but it’s a last resort sort of card rather than one I’m happy to play.
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Iona costs too much for any but the most dedicated ramp deck (and Eldrazi Spawn count as ramp too). She is incredibly powerful, but normal Limited decks just can’t cast her, so consider her a finisher for decks that are capable of generating tons of mana.
Kami of Ancient Law
Kami is perfectly playable in every white deck, but I mention it here because it’s incredibly important for Spirit decks. Soulshift heavily incentivizes low-drop Spirits, and Kami was an excellent addition to every Spirit deck back in Kamigawa block. It comes back off of every soulshifting Spirit, and as such can draw you a couple extra cards over the course of the game. It’s also a 2-mana 2/2 with a good ability, so other decks will take and play it (unlike the more expensive soulshift cards).
The starting power and toughness doesn’t matter a ton for double strike creatures, so this being a 1/1 to begin isn’t a big deal. The challenge is making sure it’s equipped, at which point it’s exactly the creature that RW is trying to build around. Equipment is colorless, so don’t be afraid to Cranial Plating this up in a UW deck, but this only earns its rating once you have 4+ good equipment, and preferably other supporting cards.
This is a passable combat trick in many decks, but only becomes mighty once you are making double strikers leap into the air and kill the opponent.
Assuming this brings back a Spirit even half the time, this is an excellent card. Its got good defensive stats, can save another creature or make one unblockable, and bringing back a low drop makes it hard for the opponent to kill this without losing cards. Non-Spirit decks will still take this card, so grab them early.
Raise the Alarm
Cheap token-makers are always good, and Raise is good enough that a number of decks will play it. It’s good with equipment, in token decks, and even in random white decks that are lacking 2-drops, though it doesn’t get great until it has support.
Myrsmith isn’t the most aggressive card, so it’s not exactly the payoff the affinity deck is looking for, but it does provide fuel for Cranial Plating and company. Nobody else is likely to want it, so I wouldn’t prioritize it.
The effect here is generic enough that many decks could play this, but the real value is in triggering cards that care about arcane spells. Bear in mind that this can also remove a problematic blocker, though it will come back even stronger. This also brings to the forefront the timing rules, so be sure to acquaint yourself what “at the beginning of the next end step” means. If you want to use it as a way to make your creature bigger, casting it during your opponent’s second main phase means it will be able to attack on your turn, and if you want a creature out of the way on your turn, casting it on your opponent’s end step will do just that.
Skirmisher does exactly what the RW deck wants to do, as it has both evasion and double strike built in. It’s the perfect blank canvas for all the power-boosting spells and equipment, and is very much a high pick once you are in that archetype.
This might not strike twice, but lifelink does mean that it leads to a life swing that’s twice as big, which is similar. Like Kor Duelist, the range of cards that work with this is narrower, but the payoff is there if you can reliably equip it. This also is at least a 2/2 for 2 if you can’t, making it less of a risk, and potentially worth playing with only 1-2 equipment if you just want 2-drops.
If you have two good, cheap equipment, this is a great way to see them reliably. Copper Carapace and Darksteel Axe are the go-to cards for the RW deck, though in a good affinity deck I wouldn’t mind playing this just to get Cranial Plating. With one target, this isn’t great, and with zero it’s just unplayable.
Allow me to wax eloquent on the best common from Betrayers of Kamigawa. Waxmane Baku is like a reusable Cryptic Command in the decks it’s best in, and drafting a ton of Spirits and Arcane spells is not an impossible dream. Better yet, it’s just a Grey Ogre for non-Spirit decks, which means that you can realistically get these late, which is a huge incentive to be in the Spirit decks. Even with 5-7 ways to trigger this, it has value, especially with soulshift adding bonus triggers, and once you are at 10+ it’s nearly a bomb.
These are the cards I’m not happy ever playing, or that are strictly sideboard material. Leyline is unplayable, Coronet is only good if you pick up lots of Goblin War Paint, and the other two are fine to sideboard in.
Daybreak Coronet, Celestial Purge, Leyline Of Sanctity, Terashi’s Grasp
It doesn’t make a ton of sense to do a top list for commons either, because so many of the cards are divided into archetype-specific ones. I’m not sure which archetypes are best yet, though I do expect a gentle curve among them (in MM1, they were mostly close together with a few exceptions). You can’t really go wrong starting with Arrest, and past that, you are making some kind of commitment to a deck.
I’ll continue with blue next, and go through each color by the end of the week!