First Look at Modern Masters 2017 Edition

Posted in How to Play Limited on March 6, 2017

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

It's time for our first pass at Modern Masters 2017 Edition! First, let's talk about how reprint sets like all of the Modern Masters work from a Limited perspective. Then we'll look at some of the things that stand out to me about this latest iteration.

The way the Masters series have been designed typically involves taking chunks of cards from different blocks of the past. Cards that work well together and even some cool combinations of mechanics that end up working well together will show up.

An example of this would be from Eternal Masters when we saw both flashback and retrace in the same set. This enabled sweet sub-strategies like Burning Vengeance decks to be built around two mechanics that you wouldn't typically see together.

So it's up to us to find the mechanics that work well together and see how they fit in this new environment.


One of the other big question marks that surrounds a set like this are how many colors we can expect to play. Typically, a set designed for Limited like this will have the players draft two-color decks, with the option for a third if the stars align. After looking at the card list a lot, I can tell you that there is ample fixing in this set and that you'll often be playing more than two colors.

Check this out:

Signets are here! Signets are incredibly powerful in formats like this because they serve two distinct roles:

  1. They ramp your mana. By casting a Signet, you are actually ahead on mana since they produce mana themselves.
  2. They fix your colors. Since they produce two different colors and only require generic mana to activate, you get the benefit of color fixing as well.

One thing we have to note here is that the signets are uncommon in Modern Masters 2017 Edition, up a rarity from their normal slot of common. This is particularly interesting—it's pretty typical for cards to have rarity shifts in sets like this, but normally they shift down in rarity, not up. You'll see cards that were originally printed at rare, but are now uncommon or even common in some cases. But bumping the rarity up from common to uncommon happens far less often.

Why is that the case here? It's pretty obvious after you've played with the Signets much at all: They are kind of overpowered.

I know, it sounds weird that a little mana artifact could be considered overpowered, but they are. They are just cheap and efficient at what they do.

The other reason, and perhaps the more important of the two, is that they are colorless. This means that every color gets access to cheap, efficient, mana ramp and mana fixing. This isn't something you would typically have access to in your blue-black deck, for example.

So the solution is that you bump them to uncommon and really make people decide if they are worth picking early or not because they'll know that the Signet they pass is never coming back to greet them on the wheel. (Wheeling a card is when you pass it early in the draft, nobody takes it, and it's still in the pack when it comes back around again.)

What other clues do we have that this is a three or more–color format?

How about these:

The Guildgates are back, too. These are very reasonable ways to fix your mana, and they are common, so you'll often be able to get the one(s) you want. They aren't nearly as valuable as Signets, but you'll see a lot more of these around, and they do a fine job of fixing your mana.

A side-note about taking lands in Draft: It's pretty awesome. In Cube Draft and reprint sets like this, you are almost never lacking playables as the cards have all been hand-selected to be good cards in the environment. What happens is that by the end of the draft, you end up with a sideboard full of playable cards that just didn't quite make the cut for one reason or another.

Every time you take and play a land, you are maximizing your picks in the draft portion by actually using more of those picks than your opponents are. If you play 23 spells and four lands in your deck, you have effectively used 27 of your picks in your deck. If your opponent just takes 23 spells and zero lands, the extra cards they drafted just sit in the sideboard.

So if you have a deck that could use fixing and see a dual land of some sort, it's often correct to take it over a fringe-playable as getting enough playables is so rarely an issue in sets like this.

But wait there's more!

These are uncommon as they were before, but the tri-lands are some of the best fixing ever printed. Entering the battlefield tapped is annoying, but it's an easy price to pay for all that mana fixing. If you are playing a deck with three or more colors, tri-lands are an absolute boon and should be taken quite highly.

Okay, so I've shown you that we can play at least three color decks, and I'll absolutely be playing five-color decks in this format as well thanks to all this fixing. What kind of strategies should we look at, though?

Let's look at a couple of strategies that stood out to me as I went over the card file.

White-Blue Blink

Let's get this out of the way right now: I. Cannot. Wait. To draft white-blue in this format.

First they gave me this:

Then they gave me this:

Now, you'd think I would be happy there, but the gifts just kept on coming in.

You get the idea here; play a creature that has a valuable enters-the-battlefield effect, then either return it to your hand or "blink" it (the term we use for exiling a creature then having it come back into play) and garner value. By using this approach, you can rack up serious amounts of advantage. The only downside is if your opponent starts killing your creatures in response to them being blinked. You must be careful playing a deck like this.

If you can set up properly, however, you will reap the rewards of a sweet archetype like this one.

But I'm drafting this deck, leaving none of the sweet stuff for you to pick up. What to do?

You could try some good, old-fashioned graveyard shenanigans.

Black-Red Sacrifice/Graveyard

My gut tells me that this archetype will not be limited to just black and red but will also include other colors like blue for Grixis or green for Jund.

Either way, you have two synergistic things going on here.

  1. You have cards that care about sacrificing creatures or otherwise getting creatures into the graveyard.
  2. You have the unearth mechanic, which lets you get a creature back for a turn for one last run at glory before being exiled forever. You also have other cards that get cards back from the 'yard.

Here are a couple of examples of cards that care about creatures going to your graveyard, for value:

Bone Splinters can kill creatures and Scorched Rusalka can kill players, all while stocking your graveyard with creatures. Delirium Skeins is interesting because you can try to break the inherent parity of the card if you make your opponent discard a bunch of cards they can no longer get value from while you discard cards that you can get back from the graveyard.

Mortician Beetle was printed at rare in its original form, but it's all the way down to common here. This is a flag that shouldn't be ignored! Someone made this decision, and they did it for a reason. Mortician Beetle is the kind of card I want to explore in a deck like this.

With all this sacrificing and discarding, you'll end up with a bunch of creatures in your graveyard.

How to profit? Looky here:

As you can see, cards like Dregscape Zombie, Scourge Devil, and Grixis Slavedriver all have unearth. You only get the creature back for one turn, but if your opponent is getting their creatures killed or discarded in the process, you will come out ahead in the long game. Cards like Recover and Pit Keeper reward this strategy as well.

Parting Thoughts

There is obviously a lot more to explore in the new Modern Masters set, but that's all the time we have for this initial look.

A few things to keep in mind before we part ways:

You can play a lot of colors, and my guess is that the format will break down into three options.

The first option is good old two-color decks. You want a very linear archetype if this is your goal. Be picky!

The second option will be the shards from Shards of Alara block. They generally go together well, and the fixing is there to make them work.

The last, and perhaps best, option will be "five-color nonsense," as we like to call it. This is basically where you take super powerful gold cards and bombs along with mana fixing. Then you jam it all together and hope your opponent isn't playing an aggro deck.

I know which one I'm trying first.

Until next time!


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