Modern Masters 2017 Edition Mailbag

Posted in Latest Developments on March 10, 2017

By Sam Stoddard

Sam Stoddard came to Wizards of the Coast as an intern in May 2012. He is currently a game designer working on final design and development for Magic: The Gathering.

Hello and welcome to another week of Latest Developments! Today, I will be answering your questions about Modern Masters 2017 Edition. I have been bowled over by the amazing responses to the set, and I am glad you all are as excited about it as I am. Without further ado, let's get onto the questions.

Modern metagame is certainly a part of it. I think one of the mistakes Modern Masters 2015 Edition made was focusing too many of the reprints on cards that had low availability, but many of them were not cards you would generally consider Modern "staples." The goal of these sets is to feel like it is full of Modern staples, because. . . well, it should be. And there should (hopefully) be enough of those staples at low rarities that they come up in Limited. In an ideal world, someone who is looking to get into Modern will be able to get something useful in every pack—even if it's not for the particular deck they want to build.

Merfolk were, in fact, in an early version of the set. Modern Masters 2015 also played around with them as a color-pair theme, in white-blue. It was cool, but it was very siloed, and the more we moved toward a multicolor format, the less a directional tribal theme made sense. We also just don't really have a ton of white Merfolk to make it work. There is a lot of very fun things going on with the tap/untap triggers in Lorwyn, so I imagine they will get tried again at some point—my guess is a time when we have enough synergies with that mechanic in white that it can stand on its own.

The development on the set ended about a year ago, but there was some time to change cards in there as we waited for art to come in. So, many of the timely reprints are either us predicting what might happen, or just good luck. Some of the decks, like Death's Shadow, were less tier 1, while Might of Old Krosa was more timely with how strong Infect was at that point. We try to put more than just the top-tier cards in the set so that we can catch some of these decks that pop up, but we got luckier on this one than say Modern Masters 2015.

I had Glimpse the Unthinkable in the set at a point when blue-black was about milling, but it felt better to hold off on that reprint for a set where mill was a big theme. Then it would be a really exciting rare to open for an archetype and less of a random spell that didn't do much in Limited. Ultimately, there are a lot of goals for the set, and both of those cards just didn't fit into this one. Don't worry; they will get into a set at some point in the future.

It's actually kind of a nice fit here because it matters. Even though the card is a bit miserable, I am happier with rares like this that need availability for Modern and can impact Limited in interesting ways. Playing a beatdown deck that plays Blood Moon against the four- or five-color Gates deck is Magic like Richard Garfield intended. Not that every match should work like that, but having a few come up is good overall.

We have a limited number of slots for new art in the set. There are two separate passes that happen:

The development lead goes through and picks out the most exciting cards in the set, then gives that information to the art team, who use those to prioritize which cards they put new art on.

The art team also picks out cards that they feel are either below our current bar for art (which decreases each year as we reprint cards with new art), cards that might not look as good in our current frames, or cards where the original concept can be improved. We then use those lists to figure out which cards get new art.

Ultimately, the art lead on the set gets the most say, but if the lead developer has a really good reason for why something should get new art, they are free to make their case and push for something.

We have talked about this in the past and have decided that we do not want to print cards just for Modern or to reprint cards into the format. I can't say for sure we will always do that, but we are much happier with Modern coming out as a format that evolves from Standard than a format where we make a big splash in the format every so often with a Masters set that shakes up the format a ton. There may come a point where the format needs those kinds of things to shake it up, but so far, the normal release of Standard-legal sets has been enough to keep Modern pretty diverse.

Very different. First, we have no need to match Standard themes (though, we should try to dodge things that are close to make sure we don't make the Standard set feel like a watered-down version of the Masters set). We also have a lot more room to work with complexity. We have a lot of rules for Standard-legal sets because we expect that they will be some number of players' first experience. Not so much with a Masters set where we expect it to really be for the highly enfranchised players. Also, obviously, since we don't have to worry about how strong the card is in Standard, we don't need to make a lot of changes late in the development of the set because a card was too good in the Future Future League (FFL). For a lot of Limited formats, one color being too weak can be a result of a card getting nerfed late in FFL, after we can't really rebalance the Limited environment.

One of our rules is that we want to have at least three cards with a mechanic before we put them in a Masters set. Noble Hierarch has exalted, and because we just printed that in Modern Masters 2015, we avoided that mechanic and went with other cards. Some of the reason for it not appearing in this set is that exalted didn't make a lot of sense in the set as a mechanic because it doesn't line up very well with any of the other mechanics in the set. I assume if we end up putting infect in a Masters set, exalted will be a really good mechanic to overlap with it.

Like the above question, we are dealing with a mechanic that needs some support (persist) as well as introducing -1/-1 counters to the set. Our rule for Standard is you can't mix +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters in a set, but that isn't a total deal-breaker for a Masters set. Ultimately, like Noble Hierarch, we didn't feel like adding Kitchen Finks to the set was worth it without a lot of interesting persist synergies. I am sure that we can find a good overlap in a future set.

That is a pretty dangerous precedent to set for ourselves. We could do it, but we would be doing one of two things: Deciding a year-plus ahead that we want to unban a card, meaning it either stays banned for longer than it needs to be, or we have to lock in that decision without the ability to change it if the metagame adjusts in the meantime. It's way more likely we would try to include a card we unbanned as a late add to a Masters set (perhaps after most of the typesetting—finalizing how text fits on the cards—is done but before it gets printed), rather than making a called shot.

The first cards in the set were Tarmogoyf, Damnation, Liliana of the Veil, Goblin Guide, Snapcaster Mage, and the fetch lands. Those were the cards I knew I wanted to make sure made it through to the end because they needed reprints for Modern. Beyond that, most of the rest was up to what felt like would fit best in the set, with the knowledge that there are a lot of cards that we can reprint, but we would not be able to fit them all in here.

Trying out a gold set with ten color pairs was just too much. It turns out if you have that concentration of gold cards without some biasing on some axis, you end up making a lot of mostly identical five-color decks rather than a lot of interesting two- or three-color decks. By focusing the format on shards instead, there was a higher percentage of gold cards in the five ally color pairs, and it was easier to create coherent two- and three-color strategies rather than good-stuff soup.

That's it for this week. Next week, I'll be talking about Standard.

Until next time,

Sam (@samstod)

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