True Mastery

Posted in Feature on August 8, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Welcome to Old Favorites Week! This week is dedicated to reprints and other old favorites, and linking that to Magic Online wasn't hard. As you may have heard, on September 10 Masters Edition will go on sale. Masters Edition is a Magic Online only set containing some of the greatest cards from Magic's past. All 195 cards in the set have appeared in pre-Mirage Magic sets and will appear with their original artwork and old-style frames. This set does not affect paper Magic in any way; it is just something special for the online players. It is only available for Magic Online and it is not redeemable. Offered as a booster-only product, Masters Edition will be on sale for a limited time (probably until about the end of the year) and then removed from the product offering (a one-month warning will be given in advance).

Masters Edition cards will be legal in the Classic format and any format that uses Classic to define card legality, such as Prismatic and Singleton. Masters Edition will not affect Standard or Extended. Release events for Masters Edition, including leagues, premier events and draft queues, will begin on September 14th. Release events may well include 3x Masters Edition drafts, and afterwards draft pods will run with two Tenth Edition boosters and one Masters Edition booster. The set was designed with Tenth Edition and Limited play in mind.

Why Masters Edition?

I emailed Brand Manager Worth Wollpert and R&D Director Aaron Forsythe and asked two quick questions that sprang to my mind in response to the announcement of Masters Edition.

FK: Who came up with the idea for Masters Edition; where did come from?

WW: Many Magic Online players used to play Magic way back, so Masters Edition would offer a bunch of nostalgic cards that people recognized as cool and fun from their Magic playing past. It was really a collaborative effort between brand and R&D. The genesis of the idea started with Bill Rose and Aaron Forsythe in R&D. I was pulled in as the third guy in the process to help flesh out the idea and run with some of the tactical stuff that was more brand/marketing focused.

FK: What criteria were used to select cards to include? Who is the target audience?

AF: The target audience is (a) people who play Classic, either competitively or just as an "everything is legal" casual format; (b) people who play Singleton and Prismatic; (c) people who like to draft weird formats. We wanted to include a lot of stuff that would add to all of those formats. We know Classic won't be the same as Legacy because of how slowly we plan to release Tempest / Urza / Masques blocks, so we didn't try to hard to include every old card that is currently good in Legacy. I hope Classic can grow into its own format with its own metagame.

I think Aaron's answer is particularly interesting. Aaron underlines that Masters Edition is not made to allow people to test for real-life Legacy, and that the set was not designed with that in mind. That makes a lot of sense. Even if all relevant pre-Mirage cards that you would need would be included, you would still miss important cards that fall in the gap between Mirage block and Invasion block (those sets have not been released online yet). This includes important cards like Goblin Lackey, so testing Legacy online isn't going to work well anytime soon. The online Classic (which allows you to play all your cards online in a supported format) will be decidedly different from the paper eternal formats and will get an identity of its own.

What is in Masters Edition?

The entire card list is still secret. It will be released sometime near the start of the beta of Masters Edition. In the meantime, however, the Card of the Day feature on has been dedicated to Masters Edition; every day a great card from Magic's past is shown that will be in Masters Edition. So far, 17 have been spoiled, with 11 more to come. Some cards (like Force of Will) will shake up the Classic format, but not every card in set will be a tournament staple. Other cards (like Juzám Djinn) are not as powerful as they were in the old days, but their coolness lies in their nostalgia value. I will give my first impressions on all cards spoiled so far, particularly with regard to Constructed applications.

Force of Will
Force of Will. This is easily the most influential card spoiled thus far. It provides an answer to the degenerate turn-one Flash-Hulk kill that is warping Classic, while at the same time easily finding a place in said Flash deck as well for combo protection. It is a powerful tool that can balance the format somewhat. Force of Will is a must-have for serious Classic, Singleton, or Prismatic players, and it has been on the wish list of many players for a long time.

Juzám Djinn. It's very nice to see him again and think about how Magic has evolved. Ten years ago, a 5/5 creature for four mana was truly something special. In the present day, the Block Constructed decks don't even bother with Plague Sliver and Calciderm. Nevertheless, I expect that this card will be popular with the casual crowd.

Armageddon. This is a very solid, tournament-worthy card. I remember it saw play in certain Legacy decks, and I am sure it will find its way into Prismatic or Singleton decks. Armageddon is at its best in creature decks that can establish a favorable board position quickly (with a couple quick efficient creatures) and then reset the opponent's development completely for only four mana, before they have a chance to take control.

Lightning Bolt. This is one of the best direct damage cards ever printed, and it is a nice incremental boost to red decks. I don't think I have to explain that Lightning Bolt is vastly superior to Shock and Incinerate. Burn used to be more efficient back in the day.

Berserk. This is a very solid addition to Psychatog and Affinity decks. I played Berserk-Affinity a while ago at the Legacy Grand Prix in Lille and experienced quite a few turn-three Atog plus Berserk kills. It's nice to have access to this card.

Mirror Universe. It used to be a win condition of choice, but it suffered a lot from the Sixth Edition rules changes. In particular, the way life totals worked was changed. Before Sixth Edition, you could go down to zero life and you would not die until the current phase ended. So a popular strategy was to mana burn down to a low life total, then use City of Brass in the upkeep to go down to zero, and swap life totals with Mirror Universe to win the game. Under current rules, this is no longer viable. Mirror is an old favorite, but the old tricks don't work anymore.

Thawing Glaciers. The Sixth Edition rules changes also allowed players, briefly, to get a double use out of Thawing Glaciers. You had to use it during your opponent's end step, when the "at end of turn" triggers had already passed, then untap during your turn and use it again, before the trigger would strike in your own end step. It was given errata shortly after Sixth Edition rules came out—immediately before Pro Tour–Chicago 1999—in order to make it work the way it was supposed to work (one basic land per Glaciers drop). That said, it is probably a bit slow for the current environment, but still great in control mirrors and playable in Prismatic.

Moat. This card is better as an enchantment than as a 0/3 (Magus of the Moat), since most decks pack more creature kill than enchantment removal. It is a great addition to any white control deck, as against some decks it is effectively a Wrath of God for their entire deck. Moat might just stop all creatures in an average red-green aggro or blue-black-white Fish deck. Same goes for Affinity or Goblin decks.

Sylvan Library
Sylvan Library. It's somewhat similar to Sensei's Divining Top, so combining it with shuffle cards will work well. The iconic Sylvan Library combo is with Abundance (which is conveniently reprinted in Tenth Edition). This trick works like this. Abundance replaces your draws (your regular one and the two Sylvan draws) with its own effect. Sylvan Library doesn't see any cards being actually drawn, and thanks to the way it is worded, it doesn't ask you to lose life or put cards back. So in the end you reveal three cards with Abundance and get to keep them all!

Goblin Grenade. Try explaining to a Goblin that they should actually throw grenades ... never works. They just blow themselves up. This is the card that inspired Shrapnel Blast, and in aggressively minded Goblin decks it is an easy inclusion that allows for some very fast kills.

Khabál Ghoul. A 1/1 creature for three mana with a marginal ability is not going to make it into competitive tournament play. Then again, you can certainly make a casual combo deck with Enduring Ideal and Wild Cantor to make the biggest Khabál Ghoul ever.

Serendib Efreet. A very solid deal for just three mana. It is certainly an old favorite and was one of the top creatures back in the days. If this creature with these stats would be printed nowadays, it would easily cost four mana. I can imagine this going into Prismatic Zoo decks and the like.

Forcefield. It is a nice card, but there are not many decks out there that attack with hard-hitting creatures, and it doesn't compare well with a Circle of Protection. But it might be solid in Masters Edition draft.

Lim-Dûl's Vault. This is a great search card for combo decks. Two of the Flash-Hulk decks that finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix–Columbus played it. It just takes a couple points of life to find your combo piece with Lim-Dûl's Vault and then you win the game.

Yavimaya Ants. To me, this one doesn't have the nostalgia value that other cards have, but perhaps this is an old favorite for some of you. It is just about as good as Giant Solifuge, so it is not a bad card, but probably not good enough for the Classic formats.

Lake of the Dead. I remember a deck that used Lake of the Dead to power out big Drain Lifes from the time when I started playing Magic (about 10 years ago... Has it really been that long?). Lake of the Dead would fit nicely in mono black decks, if it weren't for Cabal Coffers.

Ball Lightning. Turn four Ball Lightning, Fireblast you. That is how red decks liked to set fire on the opponent back in the days. With the advent of Masters Edition, it may become quite attractive to make a viable mono-red Singleton deck featuring Lightning Bolt, Goblin Grenade, Ball Lightning and so on.

Nevinyrral's Disk. The most iconic and most effective board sweeper of all time. This one hasn't actually been spoiled through Card of the Day, but Dangerlinto from Classic Quarter has previewed it for the Classic community.

That's all the cards so far, and there are certainly quite a few gems in there. There are fine upgrades for many decks, like Force of Will and Berserk for Psychatog control. But what I like even more about Masters Edition is that old famous decks can—to some extent—become possible again, like Mono-Red Burn, Library / Abundance, and this one:

Kyle Rose's RWg Geddon

Download Arena Decklist

This predecessor of Boros Deck Wins also hinged on cheap aggressive creatures and efficient burn to clear the way—notice the Lightning Bolts in that deck; they're back—and a turn-four Armageddon to seal the game. Fortunately Geddon is available again (Boom was way too expensive for a decent beatdown deck). Love or hate land destruction, but the iconic card is back! Looking back at the above decklist, I find it quite amusing to see how back in the days the spells were all ridiculously powerful compared to now, while most creatures were all hideously underpowered (see how Suq'Ata Lancer made it in the above deck).

Let's Add Another Old Favorite

I still have fond memories of the first PTQ I played in. It was – if I recall correctly – in 1999, a qualifier for Pro Tour New York. Those were the times where PTQs were just 9 rounds of Swiss, no Top 8, and the winner was sometimes decided on tiebreakers. If you registered a 59-card deck you would be disqualified; if you screwed up a step in resolving Time Spiral you would get a game loss; and heaven forbid you had a scratch on your sleeves. Penalties were much harder back then. I didn't come close to winning, but I enjoyed the tournament and posted a fine record (6-3 I think). I vowed to get better and qualify for a Pro Tour someday, which I did a year later.

But the best thing about that PTQ was the deck I played. It was one of the most powerful combo decks that I have ever held in my hands. It was very resilient because it contained many counters and great card drawers, and it would never miss a land drop due to Thawing Glaciers. And it could easily generate infinite mana and combo out with Stroke of Genius. This deck was, of course, based around an innocent instant from Fallen Empires. The card?

High Tide2

Yup, High Tide will also be available in Masters Edition!

I tried finding a representative list from that era, which was harder than I thought because not everyone had access to internet back then. I found the following, though:

Kai Budde's High Tide

Download Arena Decklist

You stall your opponent with Force of Will and Counterspell, get an Island in play on every turn, and then go off around turn four. This is even before the storm mechanic was introduced. Start with High Tide, then Frantic Search and Turnabout to make lots of mana. Impulse into another High Tide, Frantic Search into more gas, and so on. I loved doing that and calculating all steps of the puzzle. I also like Kai's sideboard with 11 one-mana Blasts. We might just see those in Masters Edition as well; they were so simple yet so effective.

Then the years moved on, formats changed, and High Tide took a seat on the bench. The last time I saw High Tide was in the Legacy Grand Prix in Lille, where High Tide plus Reset killed quite a few players in their own turns. You may wonder if High Tide has enough to work with on Magic Online, without access to Reset and with the current online card pool. Well, to be fair, High Tide combo decks won't come close to the power level of the old days as long as Urza block is not released online yet. You need Turnabout and Frantic Search to give the deck the required tools, and we will have to wait a while before Urza block makes its advent on Magic Online. Once that happens, I will be sure to piece together a good old High Tide deck again, get four Islands in play, play two High Tides, and then go nuts with Palinchron for infinite mana. For now, you could make a deck with Rude Awakening, Early Harvest and High Tide (using Breeding Pool and some fetch-lands) in order to create a High Tide combo deck online that feels nostalgically similar to the High Tide decks from 8 years ago. Early Harvest only works with basic lands, so you'd need basic Forests and basic Islands, but it can also still work.

High Tide will certainly make its way into blue-green Heartbeat Storm combo decks in Singleton. If you like combo decks, then such a deck is definitely recommended. It is challenging and a blast to play. It will only get better with High Tide in the mix, since Singleton decks always have trouble finding a Heartbeat of Spring to combo in time. Adding High Tide will make the combo more consistent and it will spice up your storm count better than any other ritual. I can refer you to an old article by Bennie Smith to get a general idea about this deck.

The Online Classic Metagame

Classic is obviously affected the most by Masters Edition. Therefore, let's take a look at the recent online Classic events. The defining deck of the format is still Flash-Hulk. This is the winning decklist from the recent 3x event Top 8, by Winston Smith.

Winston Smith's Flash Hulk

Download Arena Decklist

You make Protean Hulk hit the graveyard via Flash and then you pull out 20+ life loss from Disciple of the Vault. The deck is so dominating because the combo is fast (turn two is the benchmark), consistent (it has enough tutors to ensure you will always find the combo pieces), and it also has some room for disruption (to counter opponent's disruption, mostly).

Of course, the metagame is in flux and a few decks have sprung up that hate on the Flash decks. What beats Flash? Well, cards like Stifle, Spell Snare, Duress, Meddling Mage, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, and Leyline of the Void certainly work.

Blade's UWB Fish

Download Arena Decklist

Blade finished in second place in the Top 8 of the same 3x event with his build. The main strength of this deck is that it has the cheapest 1-mana and 2-mana hate cards against the combo decks to control their plans, while at the same time applying lots of pressure. The creatures that actively disrupt the opponent (Meddling Mage) or help you to draw disruption (Dark Confidant) will attack valiantly and leave your opponent with little time to come back. Blade lost to his fellow Classic Quarter clanmate Winston Smith in the finals, because of multiple mulligans into mana screw turn and because of a turn-two kill including Chain of Vapor to take out his Leyline of the Void, but he had defeated many Flash Hulk decks on the way to the Top 8.

Many others decks are seeing play in the Classic metagame, most of which are reminiscent of Extended decks. Many players simply join the event with an Extended deck since they don't have a Classic deck, and those direct copies usually don't work well. However, some Extended favorites can be ported semi-successfully to the Classic format with some updates. There is TEPS (with Dark Ritual), Aggro Loam (sometimes you misclick and enter with a pure Extended deck), Affinity (with Skullclamp and Disciple of the Vault), blue-white-black CounterTop (with Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares), and Boros (with Meddling Mage and Stifle, sometimes getting similar to the Fish deck). I'd still prefer the Flash Hulk or Fish deck I just showed, but if you really want to play an Extended variant, I'd go for the Counterbalance plus Sensei's Divining Top lock deck. It has the best chance of succeeding, since the average mana cost in the Classic format is quite low so Counterbalance is at its best, and it has countermagic to answer a turn-two Flash.

The few Classic players that I spoke felt that Masters Edition will help the Classic community a lot. It is a really nice extra. Right now Classic is the shadow of Extended, but Masters Edition will change that with cards like Force of Will and Berserk that will add to the separate identity of Classic. Later on, with the Extended rotation in 2008, it is expected that Classic will take off as the only format where people can play all their online cards. Worth Wollpert has hinted about possible restrictions in Classic coming around the release of Masters Edition, which would also have a big impact on Classic. Perhaps limiting Flash or Vampiric Tutor to one copy each would squelch the power of the Flash-Hulk kill somewhat, but that is just speculation on my part. We'll have to see.

Some Random Thoughts to Conclude

Serendib Efreet
Personally, I rarely play the Classic, Prismatic, or Singleton formats, because I often have other Constructed formats to worry about with big events coming up. But I'm still looking forward to Masters Edition, mostly because I think it will be a lot of fun to do some drafts. Masters Edition draft will probably not turn out to be the best and most skill-testing draft format ever, but it will almost certainly be a wacky one. Constantly opening overpowered cards and playing in a Limited format full of bombs seems like lots of fun to me, and choosing between picking Serendib Efreet, Force of Will, Lightning Bolt, Juzám Djinn, and Nevinyrral's Disk should be a whole new experience (I think it is a fair assumption that most of those will be rare, but one can hope).

The Tenth Edition release events begin this Friday. If you would like to do an online league or Premier Event with Tenth Edition product, be sure to join in! Check here for details. I'll go over the new Vanguard avatars next week.

I am also looking forward to the Magic Invitational "Storyteller" vote starting this Friday. That special ballot should be really cool, so be sure to check it out. I know Gerard Fabiano is eligible, and right now he has the largest chance of being my pick for storyteller. He can make stuff up out of nowhere, from a story about a high-level cover-up of a fistfight between teammates as an explanation for a delay in Pro Tour–San Diego to a detailed account of how we went to a Hillary Duff concert while I stayed at his house for a week in 2005 (to date nobody knows whether that actually happened or whether it is another exquisite lie).

Finally, I cannot let Old Favorites Week pass by without mentioning Shandalar. Does anyone remember this old Microprose computer game? It's about a decade old and it played like an RPG where you begin the game with an awful Sealed pool on the plane of Shandalar. Then you can walk around on the world map, and there are towns where you can buy new cards, dungeons where the power cards are hidden, and many opposing mages (all played by the computer) that you will have to battle if you hit upon them. The games against those mages are all for ante. The real addictive part was that you would find new cards all the time (in dungeons or in ante matches) and that there were no restrictions. You would always end up with ridiculously powerful decks featuring multiple Black Lotus, Moxen, and Contract from Below in the end, and you were still trying to improve your deck. It was certainly a great game, and many players I know still like to play it occasionally in their free time (if their computer can support it). Take a look at this picture, taken on a stopover in Dubai airport, while we were traveling from GP–Athens to PT–Kobe a year ago:

The picture is a bit blurry, but if you look closely you will see writer Quentin Martin on the right with his laptop... playing Shandalar! Such old favorites.

Latest Feature Articles


June 24, 2022

Double Masters 2022 Release Notes by, Jess Dunks

Compiled by Jess Dunks Document last modified April 4, 2022 PDF Download Links:English | 中国话,汉语;中文 | Français | Deutsch | 日本語 The Release Notes include information concerning the relea...

Learn More


June 17, 2022

Social Play Opportunities in D&D and Magic: The Gathering by, Wizards of the Coast

We're back, following our third and final Office Hours for the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate set. We recently welcomed our final set of guests, Game Designer Ellie Rice, Sen...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All