Modern Mastery, Part Two

Posted in Limited Information on May 29, 2013

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.

I started the last column by claiming that Modern Masters is a real Draft format. When I first got wind of the product, I assumed the card choices would be mainly based on the Modern Constructed format. Anything relating to the Limited format would be brushed aside. Secondary.

I was not correct in this assumption.

While some slots were undoubtedly predetermined, Modern Masters has 229 cards in it. This left a lot of wiggle room for the developers of the set to work with. Since the team members chosen were primarily hardcore drafters, they really maximized that space.

Art by Kev Walker

One thing you will see in almost all current Limited environments is some sort of crossover between color pairs. Two-color decks are the default for almost every Limited environment. There are exceptions, but for the most part they comfortably support two-color decks and have a system of diminishing returns as you climb up the color ladder.

The more colors you run, the less consistent your deck will be. Since R&D incentivizes us to play two-color decks, they also have to take special care about any crossover between the color pairs.

In Modern Masters, each pair has its own theme or identity. Some are more pronounced than others. You will definitely see crossovers between color pairs. Let's take a look at two more color pairs and some preview cards from each.

I showed you this card last week:

While a reasonable addition to a blue-black faerie deck, it hints at more artifacts being present in the set. A natural crossover would be for some blue cards to either care about artifacts or to even be artifacts.

White-Blue Affinity

If you draft the white and blue color pair in Modern Masters, you will be greeted by an old acquaintance: affinity. Not that the archetype is affinity only, but it's artifact-based, and there are some cards that have the affinity mechanic in them. Like this one:

If this is your first time laying eyes on Myr Enforcer, it probably seems slightly underwhelming and kind of cool. If you have long-forgotten memories of Myr Enforcer now creeping up from the depths of your psyche: breathe easy. In Limited, Myr Enforcer is a sweet card—not broken—but potent enough to play, given enough artifacts in your deck.

What other types of cards can you expect to help push along the artifact theme?

This little two-drop does a lot to help power out big artifacts:

Etherium Sculptor acts like a mana Elf, but for artifacts. It can help cast cards like Myr Enforcer two turns early and can lead to some insane lines of play for the deck. A 1/2 for two mana isn't exciting, but it's a reasonable body given how much mana it can generate in the right deck.

What if someone uses a removal spell on it or another key artifact?

A classic example of a usually-two-for-one creature, Sanctum Gargoyle leaves behind an impressive 2/3 body with flying. Essentially drawing any artifact that has made its way to the graveyard is a very solid upside that is fairly easy to capitalize on.

Setting up a trade with an artifact creature, or using a sacrifice outlet, are two easy ways to get something back with Sanctum Gargoyle. Sometimes, our opponent will aid us in this process by using precious removal on an artifact or artifact creature.

Something to note about both Sanctum Gargoyle and Etherium Sculptor is that they are both colored and artifacts. This means that spells that affect creatures of their respective colors will affect them. It also means that any spells that care about artifacts will consider these creatures.

I have one last preview card from the white and blue color pair. Remember the stuff I said about Myr Enforcer? It all holds true for this guy, too:

Arcbound Ravager is one of the most innocuous-looking powerhouses ever printed. It's essentially a 1/1 for two mana, with a marginal upside. That's how it reads, at least. In reality, it's a flexible and scary tool that can end games. It heavily rewards those who have a critical mass of artifacts.

The key is that you can attack with multiple artifact creatures and sacrifice all of your other artifacts to the Ravager, and then the Ravager to itself to move all of those counters to one (now massive) artifact creature. It makes combat difficult for the opponent and can win games out of nowhere, even in Limited.

White-blue is a color pair that cares about artifacts. Some of the colorless spells in the set fit beautifully into the archetype, and some don't. Either way, in a world where affinity for artifacts is present, the idea is normally to draft as many artifact cards as possible. Every artifact in your deck powers up the affinity cards and increases your synergies overall.

Red and White and Giant All Over

My first guess as to what the red and white color pair was trying to do was something like, "Borosy stuff." As it turns out, I'm not a game designer. Sure, it would be pretty standard to have cheap, effective, white creatures and some haste creatures and burn spells for the red-white color pair. But that just wouldn't be Modern Masters.

No, in this world, we get giants. I mean that literally. Creatures with the creature type of Giant.

Like this bad boy, for example:

Countryside Crusher packs one heckuva wallop for a three-drop. A 3/3 for three mana to kick things off is impressive. Usually, I think of much bigger creatures with much higher casting costs when I think of Giants. Still, this particular Giant doesn't stay a 3/3 for long. As you can see, he gets bigger. And quickly.

While a potent threat for only three mana, it also exerts some interesting pressures on our side of the table. First, it basically says, "You will never draw another land again." If you have sufficient mana to work with already, this is an insane bonus. Clearing away all those unneeded lands and turning them into counters for the crusher is very powerful.

However, if you need to make additional land drops, or if our opponent finds a way to neutralize the Crusher without removing him from the battlefield, you can find yourself locked out of future land development.

Still, it's all worth it, as Countryside Crusher is one of the more potent three-drops you can play in Limited. He has skulls hanging from the back of his massive battleaxe, for crying out loud. What's not to love?

As if fans of Giants didn't have enough to celebrate, there is more:

Tribal Sorcery – Giant! That's right, the tribal mechanic is back in Modern Masters, too. This one is a strong spell and an interesting place to put six mana. Gaining 10 life is pretty significant, but not playable on its own. Tossing in a massive 5/5 Giant Warrior creature token changes the equation significantly.

You only get the creature if you have more life than your opponent, though. This, of course, is calculated after the gain of 10 life, so it's not incredibly difficult to get a game state where lifegain and Giant tokens rain freely.

Just when we thought things couldn't get any more Gianty, we take a look at the gloomiest Giant of them all: Thundercloud Shaman.

I suppose I would be grumpy, too, if I had a literal thunderstorm following me around every day. At uncommon, though, it's effect can be profound. It deals the damage to all non-Giant creatures, though, including your own. Again, we see heavy incentives to move in on a particular archetype.

But not all things that care about Giants are actual Giants:

As a reasonable 2/1 for two mana, once this Soldier has a Giant standing next to it, it becomes a real problem for our opponent. A 3/2 with first strike for two mana is very strong. Since Kithkin Greatheart is a common, it means that loading up on a bunch of these could be pretty easy.

I can imagine some aggressive starts involving a few Greathearts into a huge Giant spell; 3 power and first strike that early in a game can be difficult to handle. It's also nice to see cheap creatures that support the Giant theme, as Giants tend to cost more mana on average.

Divided by Two

Two-color pairs are important in Modern Masters Draft. As we have seen already, they can lead you down significantly different paths, however. We have gone from suspend and storm to affinity to Giants, of all things. We have seen tribal matters, artifacts matter, and number-of-spells-previously-cast-this-turn matters.

The format is diverse, deep, and interesting. It's also fun. And complex. It has a lot of moving parts, but it seemingly has something for every type of drafter.

In our next installment, we will look at yet another archetype and even more preview cards. Don't miss it!


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