May 06, 2015

Modern Masters 2015 Edition Previews

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The original Modern Masters stands as one of the greatest Limited sets in recent memory.

I still have an unopened booster box of Modern Masters sitting on my shelf. You know why? I still haven't found an occasion important enough to warrant drafting it.

Maybe when I get married.


2015

Modern Masters 2015 Edition is right around the corner, and its goals are aligned with the original. Wizards of the Coast releases products aimed at the different strata of Magic players. You'll see products aimed at newer players, Constructed players, Commander players, and so on. Modern Masters 2015 Edition is aimed at us.

It's aimed at people that sit in their cubicle, or worksite, or classroom, or conference room, or wherever, thinking about drafting. Agonizing over whether they should have moved into black in pack two last night. Envisioning the perfect three-card open of Dragonlord Silumgar, Dragonlord Silumgar, and Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Wondering if this is the one time it's correct to go to fifteen lands.

And that's where Modern Masters 2015 Edition is pointed. It's no-holds-barred, let's-go-deep, full-on Limited awesomeness. This week in the column, we'll be taking a look at some of the exciting cards in this new set. Based on what we see here, we can make some logical conclusions about some of the directions the set will take as well. At the time of this writing (on an airplane on the way back from Grand Prix Toronto), these are the only cards I've seen from the set myself.

We even got a rare this time around! This should be interesting.

Let's dive in.


SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

If you didn't get a chance to draft the original Modern Masters, the set broke down into two-color pairs. Each pair had its own distinct archetype built in, but with the option of some cool sub-archetypes as well.

For example, the red-green deck was primarily a ramp deck that could make big creatures, and even draw some cards. But if you were Brian David-Marshall, it was a pure storm deck—abusing the storm and suspend mechanics, and ultimately flooding the board with a bunch of Goblin tokens thanks to Empty the Warrens.

This new version of the set seems to follow this trend. We'll be looking at some clues for two of the ten color pairs today. The first has to do with spirits.


WHITE-BLACK SPIRITS

Drafting white-black in this new set means drafting a Spirit deck. Spirits were a mechanic, way back in the Kamigawa block, and you'll see some of them chosen here.

Like this one:

Hikari, Twilight Guardian

Let's start this off in true Limited Information fashion; with a little (French) Vanilla Test. Hikari showed up to this particular test with a sharpened number-two pencil and a good night's sleep. A 4/4 with flying for five mana, with a relevant ability? Yes please. How many of these can I get? As it turns out, more than you used to be able to. More on that in a bit.

What we have here is an "Air Elemental" (the original 4/4 flying creature for five mana) with upside. Let's take a closer look at said upside. Whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane spell, Hikari gets exiled and then comes back at the beginning of the next end step. Assuming we have a relatively high number of Spirit and Arcane spells in our deck, how does this play out?

Sometimes it just reads "Vigilance". You'll attack with Hikari, get in for 4 damage, and then cast a Spirit on your second main phase. This will trigger Hikari, who comes back untapped at the beginning of your end step, ready for blocking duty. (We'll note here that the ability is a "may" ability—you don't have to do it if you don't want to).

Other times, your opponent tries to cast a spell which would kill Hikari. In response to this rather rude gesture, you cast a Spirit spell (we are previewing an instant which is also a Spirit spell) or an Arcane spell. Hikari jumps out of the way, and is ready to rumble shortly thereafter. Given what a great threat Hikari is, your opponent won't have much of a choice but to try to cast that removal spell sooner rather than later.

There's also the possibility that having a creature (or maybe a Spirit) enter the battlefield could trigger something beneficial, and Hikari could do a good job of that as well.

I mentioned above that you'll be casting Hikari more often than you did before. Did you see why?

Rarity shifts! Rarity shifts are when card developers in R&D change the rarity of a card to augment an archetype in a Limited environment. In this case, Hikari used to be a rare in Champions of Kamigawa, but is now uncommon. This is a big shift! Getting a rare-quality card (and this is definitely that) at uncommon is as big a boost as you'll see far more of these flying around the tables than you did in Champions.

Let's go a bit deeper down this whole white-black Spirits path.

Waxmane Baku

Now here is a Spirit-centric card. First thing to notice is that it is a Spirit itself, so it will satisfy any other "whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane spell" requirements. So if you get the right build, the counters will be flowing on and off this little guy.

You'll also notice that it doesn't exactly crush the Vanilla Test. We may be used to casting 2/2s for three mana as of late, but this stat line doesn't hold up well against the current crop of creatures you see in Limited. The good news is that the ability it has turns out to be very strong.

Luis Scott-Vargas lists the Kamigawa block Draft format among his favorite of all time, and has told me before that Waxmane Baku is the best white common from that set. It has that much upside.

You'll have to support it to get the ki counters going by playing a lot of Spirit and Arcane spells, but my guess is that if you stick to white and black, that won't be a problem.

You can use it as a tapper, which is one of the more powerful abilities in Limited, assuming it's cheap to activate (which this is). Or you can use it to buy yourself some time by tapping down their whole team in one big hit, which of course could also set you up for a big alpha attack to finish off the opponent.

You've been warned: Don't overlook this card if you are in the Spirits deck!


Next up we have a card that kind-of reminds me of a more recent mechanic, extort.

Thief of Hope

First up: Thief of Hope doesn't have flying. I know, it doesn't say anything about flying on the card, but it's just one of those cards that looks like it should have flying based on the artwork. Maybe it's just me.

Carrying on: remember the extort mechanic from Gatecrash? Remember how we had to pay a black or white mana for it, and how that kind-of made curving out awkward? Well Thief of Hope doesn't make you pay anything at all to get the effect, as long as the spell you're casting is a Spirit or Arcane spell. The effect seems minor, but if history is any indicator, it adds up quickly and is more annoying than it seems.

Thief of Hope also used to be an uncommon, but now it's a common. That's another sign that this card is going to be good in this set. Why would a developer purposely change the rarity of a card downwards if it wasn't an attempt to boost an archetype? Deductive reasoning wins again.

Oh, and it has soulshift too. Soulshift is a properly grindy mechanic that lets you get Spirits back when other Spirits die. The Spirit you get back costs one mana less than the one dying, and you can keep a nice chain going if you have enough soulshift creatures and Spirits.

Every time you get to soulshift a Spirit back, you get to recast it, which can re-trigger cards like Waxmane Baku and Thief of Hope. You can see where things go from there.

Speaking of two-mana Spirit cards to get back with soulshift…

Nameless Inversion

Nameless Inversion is back! It's a weird card if you haven't seen it before. Basically it's a two-mana, instant-speed removal spell in most cases. It can't kill everything, only things with 3 toughness or less, but it's still a solid removal spell you'd play in every black deck.

They put a few twists on it. First: it's not -3/-3 until end of turn, its +3/-3 until end of turn; making it a quasi-pump spell in some scenarios, and adding an extra layer of complexity to the card.

But the really cool thing about Nameless Inversion is that it has changeling, which means that it is all creatures types at all times. Weird right? But it works. If you can search for a Goblin, or Elf, or whatever, you can search for this.

And if you have soulshift going on, and your Thief of Hope dies, you can even get Nameless Inversion back from the graveyard! How cool is that? It also counts as a Spirit when you cast it, triggering the cards we've previewed today (and presumably others in the set as well).

Come for the removal spell, stay for the Tribal Instant — Shapeshifter.


Last on the list for the white-black Spirits deck is a card I've seen Commander decks built around:

Ghost Council of Orzhova

If you wanted a reason to go for the Spirits deck, Ghost Council of Orzhova may just be the card to open. It's a very powerful card (I'll let you browse the text box and piece together just how good it can be) but it does come with a warning: Even in a strictly white and black deck, that mana cost is rough! You won't often have the right mana to cast it on turn four.

The good news is that you don't need to cast it on turn four to make it good. Keep it in mind when building your deck, as WWBB is problematic even in a two-color deck.

But still run this card, it's great.

That is going to do it for Spirits this week, but there is one other archetype we'll take a peek at:


GREEN-WHITE TOKENS

Green-White has had a token bend to it for a long time. We've got two cards to give you a feel for what this deck may be up to in Modern Masters 2015 Edition.

First up is a good friend of mine that I'm quite happy to see reprinted:

Nest Invader

Nest Invader was a card I picked a lot in Rise of the Eldrazi. Getting a free creature to accompany my 2/2 for two mana is fantastic in so many ways. Especially when that creature makes extra mana down the line for you. Nest Invader is just a cheap, compact card that develops your board directly and indirectly.

If you need the mana, just sacrifice the Eldrazi Spawn token and keep moving up the chain. If you don't, you can use it to chump block later, or even pick up some Equipment or other pump abilities. It makes your opponents "edict" effects (effects that force you to choose and sacrifice a creature) much worse.

There are all kinds of things you can do with tokens, even ones this small.

This next card is an example of that:

Scion of the Wild

Let's get this out of the way right now: Scion of the Wild was rarity shifted from rare to common. Rare to common! That's a massive shift.

I will say that a card like Scion of the Wild would be more likely to see print at uncommon these days, making the full effect of that rarity shift a little less pronounced. But still, this has to be something we pay attention to as we grade the card.

And how good is this card, anyway? The answer is that in the right deck, it's very good. Even a normal curve of two-drop, Scion, four-drop has a 3/3 Scion attacking on turn four. That's respectable while perhaps not being too exciting.

But if you put this thing in a token deck, it gets really big, really fast. Like if your two-drop is a Nest Invader, your three-drop is a Scion, and your turn-four play is just another Nest Invader, you are attacking with the Scion for 5 damage on turn four. That should give most any deck in the format a handful of trouble.

Remember that the power and toughness fluctuate as the number of creatures you control fluctuates. I see it every time with cards like this: Someone attacks with their big Scion, it gets blocked but survives. Then they sacrifice a spawn token or something and their Scion shrinks down enough to die. Oops. Don't let that be you.

Instead, be the one to take a rare at common, get a whole bunch of them, and then surround them with as many token-making cards as you can.


HYPE

I don't think I need to spend any words being excited about Modern Masters 2015 Edition. If you were familiar with the previous version, you'll have an idea of what we are in for in this new one. We'll go on the journey of discovery together as more cards are revealed from the set. And for that, I am very excited.

Until next week!

@marsall_lr



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