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What Took So Long?
Reprints can be tough to manage. We often work on sets years in advance and can't change the cards over a year before they see print. We also must balance the needs of one product against the needs of other products.
In addition, we are often reactive when it comes to reprints. When working on a reprint set, we look at tournament results; do market research on how popular cards are; and, most importantly, actively listen to feedback from the community. Much of this information drives our discussion of which cards to put in Masters sets and other sets with reprints.
The story of Damnation begins with From the Vault: Annihilation. The card was originally slated for that From the Vault, but then Magic 2015 wanted to try out Damnation. Damnation was in the Magic 2015 file for quite some time, past the point when From the Vault: Annihilation could change.
As M15 was being put through its paces in the Future Future League, Theros was released in the real world. You may remember that Standard was infested by a Pack of Rats, and Mono-Black Devotion was generally considered the strongest deck in the environment. Naturally, we felt it was unwise to release a very strong card that would power up the strongest Standard deck at the time. So we pulled Damnation from Magic 2015.
Shortly after Magic 2015 wrapped up, we decided to experiment with different design space with Wrath effects. This led to Languish in Magic Origins, meaning that Damnation had to look elsewhere for possibilities to reprint.
Modern Masters 2015 Edition also had Damnation for a brief time. Once we unbanned Bitterblossom in Modern, we knew that we wanted it in the set. We weren't sure what impact Bitterblossom would have on Modern. If it was a format-defining card, then we wanted to make sure that players could obtain the card.
Internally, we tried to reprint Damnation many times, but it kept getting removed for a variety of reasons. However, once each product was released without Damnation in it, player outcry grew stronger and stronger. After all, it is a sweet card. It's easily the most iconic card from Planar Chaos, and a very heavily played card in Modern, Commander, and a variety of other formats.
When Modern Masters 2017 Edition started design, I had a chat with Sam Stoddard, the lead designer, and insisted that he put Damnation in the set. Fortunately, he was on the exact same page, and it was on his radar as a high-priority card.
Even Modern Masters 2017 had its challenges for Damnation. There are quite a few mass-removal spells in the set, and many of the ones not included fit set themes better than Damnation. For example, Supreme Verdict fits the set themes better, but is not in the set because it provides a very similar effect to Damnation. Damnation needs to be in a Modern Masters set, and needs to be printed regardless of set themes. The Damnation memes are very funny, but I've gotten tired of them. Thankfully, this will hopefully put that to rest. For at least a while.
About Those Set Themes
Modern Masters 2017 is a bit different from previous Masters sets. Modern Masters, Modern Masters 2015, and Eternal Masters were set up with ten color pairs, with archetypes (Black-Green Elves and White-Blue Artifacts, for example) built into those color pairs.
The biggest difference with Modern Masters 2017 is that it's a heavily multicolor set. Specifically, the set is built around the five ally color pairs, each with their own strategy:
- White-Blue Blink—Use creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities and ways to reuse these abilities
- Blue-Black Instant Control—Use lots of instants and counterspells to control the board
- Black-Red Unearth—An aggressive deck that uses creatures with unearth to keep attacking
- Red-Green Go Wide—Make tokens and use cards that make them all bigger
- Green-White Populate—Take advantage of the populate mechanic from Return to Ravnica
There are also three-color cards in the "shards" (green-white-blue, white-blue-black, blue-black-red, black-red-green, and red-green-white), as well as two-color enemy cards. When drafting the set, the focus will be on multicolor cards. To help you cast these multicolor cards, there is a healthy amount of mana fixing, including two sets of color-fixing lands:
Developing Modern Masters 2017
Sam Stoddard was the lead designer on the set, and he built a fantastic set. Sam and his team handed over a set that had all the important structures in place. In my opinion, the biggest feature of Sam's design was that his team built the set in a multicolor manner, with ally color pairs feeding into ally three-color shards.
My biggest job was to expand on Sam's initial vision and build the set so that a variety of strategies were supported. One of the biggest challenges to a multicolor set is allowing players to play anywhere from two and five colors. On the low end of the spectrum, two-color decks often have a very focused theme. For example, you might draft green-white and take every populate card and token maker you see. You don't need to draft outside of green and white to take all the populate cards. However, you might find this awesome red-green multicolor card that you want to splash. We want that to be a possibility as well.
To allow three-color decks to thrive, we needed to build a set where the color pairs overlap strategically. For each color, the two-color pairs have a significant overlap. For example, blue-white takes advantage of enters-the-battlefield abilities, while green-white is a populate deck. When you are playing all three colors, there are creatures that create a token when they enter the battlefield (more on those later this week!). They provide the strategic overlap that allow you to play three colors.
Finally, we want you to be able to play four- and five-color decks. This means not having so many super strong themes that you can't find your own synergies. If there are a bunch of cards that only work in a red-black deck, then it's hard to use them in a four- or five-color deck, even if you are playing both red and black. There's also the mana-fixing aspect, but the tri-lands I just previewed are only one piece of the equation. I assure you, the mana in Modern Masters 2017 is much stronger than the mana from Shards of Alara. There's enough so that the one person at your table that just takes mana-fixing over everything can't even draft it all. Everybody knows that person. Sometimes, I'm that person.
I'm incredibly proud of the work we did creating Modern Masters 2017 Edition, and I can't wait for you all the play the set yourselves when it releases on March 17!