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Modern Masters 2017 Limited Review

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The biggest date in the Magic world during the last couple of weeks was definitely March 13th, the day when most of us expected a new wave of bans in Standard. They didn't happen

While GP Utrecht might have given some hope that Standard might evolve out of the dull state it is in, GP Barcelona certainly showed us that there are only two decks in the format right now, and that just can't be something good, even if you happen to play one of those two. So, as I've seen many people say on social networks: "The best way to enjoy Standard right now is by not playing it." The next logical choice for a constructed player is obviously Modern, a format that is getting less and less attention from WotC. There was even some talk about the possibility that WotC is considering killing Modern and introducing Frontier in its place (thus the removal of the Modern Pro Tour), but then, the Modern Masters 2017 spoiler appeared and everyone forgot about Standard, the possible death of Modern and just stood there in awe. Spoiler season for Modern Masters 2017 was short, and that was a good thing, since it was easier to digest all the information in one short burst, rather than waking up every day with another money chase-rare being spoiled and keeping me (or us) in a constant state of shock. I am no monetary expert and will not be bringing you the analysis of how much a pack is worth on average, or what the chances are for you to crack a foil Tarmogoyf, but I will tell you this - this set is full of money. I guess most of you knew as much already and ordered booster boxes, cases, or trucks full of sweet, sweet Modern Masters 2017 packs, and I'm not here to judge you, I'm here to tell you what to do with those.

...well, not really, you can do whatever you want with your packs, crack them, build a fort out of them, rub  them all over your body... ok, maybe not the last one, but whatever rocks your boat! You know what rocks mine? Drafting. What a funny coincidence, since you already have some packs, Drafting is something you might consider doing with your friends or with those guys at your local gaming store you don't really consider friends but you need someone to play Magic with so you hang. Yeah, I know your fingers are itchy and you want to crack ALL the packs, but hear me out - you might be missing out. Remember Modern Masters limited? Remember Modern Masters 2015 Limited? Yes? So you remember those were not really a whole lot of fun and weren't very well balanced and expect the 2017 version to be the same? Wrong.

Or at least that is what I tell myself in anticipation of the set's release.

I am well aware that all of these 'special' sets are more or less a blatant money grab by WotC, but since Eternal Masters was an enjoyable Limited experience, I have high hopes that the future 'special' sets will only get even better. Modern Masters 2017 is just the first one in line that has to prove the theory.

First Impressions

A first glance at the full spoiler left me with more than a few doubts and a few question marks. Out of these, my biggest issue was the fact that the set seems rather poorly balanced, with blue, white and to some extent green seeming far stronger than red and black. First impressions are important, but I have been wrong before, and I might be wrong now, but this is my reasoning:

Momentary Blink (at common, really?), Ghostly Flicker, Aethermage's Touch, Vanish Into Memory, Mistmeadow Witch, Deadeye Navigator, Graceful Reprieve, Flickerwisp, Restoration Angel all together in two colors and in a Limited format together with some of the best enters-the-battlefield creatures in Modern? And this is all without counting cards like Kor Skyfisher or Cackling Counterpart.  It would be wrong just to say this is a lot of cards that ensure multiple ETB triggers from Lone Missionary and Mist Raven (which were Limited powerhouses on their own), it would be right to say this is an absurd number of 'blink' and 'flicker' effects that actually have multiple purposes. These are so numerous it is hard to imagine anyone going for this strategy will be missing them, no matter how overdrafted it might end up.  If this wasn't enough, there are other things that look a bit pushed in Blue, like Tandem Lookout at common or Cyclonic Rift, but then again, the whole set seems a bit pushed, almost like a Cube set.

I have placed Green just below Blue and White since it, as usual, has the best creatures, and it has some great Momentary Blink targets. Since neither Blue nor White look amazing creature-wise (probably winning by attacking 10 times with Mist Raven/Kor Skyfisher) I wouldn't be surprised at all if Bant (uwg) was one of the most popular color combinations.

People like drafting three colors, and this set certainly encourages it. Since many people will be looking to play three (or more) colors, it is paramount to pick up fixers a lot and early. There is a whole cycle of ten Signets and Gates, but make no mistake, those are to be picked highly, and the same goes for other nonbasics (if you needed a reminder to pick up Fetchlands). Since the set is so pushed, you shouldn't be worried a whole lot about the lack of playables if you pick up lands early. It's pretty much the same story as when drafting cube - pick up lands early since the best way to lose games is by not being able to cast those bombs you picked up in the first few picks of each pack. This is also why I placed Green above Black and Red initially - it has some fixing - Sylvan Ranger and Avacyn's Pilgrim at common are both pretty good picks if you are in the Bant flicker deck and need some fixing. This is certainly much less fixing than what we are used to from Green, but that only means Signets, tri-lands (Arcane Sanctum etc.) and Gates are even more important pickups.

There is also one important hint that tells a lot about the set - Vithian Stinger got upgraded from common to uncommon. Just after a quick count, I realized there are well over thirty different creatures in this set with one toughness, and this is not counting token producers like Dragon Fodder or Lingering souls. This fact not only makes Vithian Stinger one of the most powerful uncommons in the set, but it also increases the value of cards like Pyroclasm, Fiery Justice and lessens the value of cards like Wall of Denial or Grisly Spectacle, which are not great when dealing with a lot of smaller threats. Since I mentioned dealing with a lot of threats, it is good to keep in mind that there are Terminus, Bonfire of the Damned, Mizzium Mortars and Damnation in the format, as well as the aforementioned Cyclonic Rift and Pyroclasm, leaving only green without any sort of board wipe. Always be careful when deploying your hand, in sets like these, many games are ended with one decisive board cleaner. On the other hand, if you are the one holding the board wipe, do not be too greedy, there are quite a few cards that grant a lot of reach (Thunderous Wrath at common!) as well as some tricks that can rob you of quite a lot of life in one turn (Teleportal, Craterhoof Behemoth, Dynacharge, Strength in Numbers). Winning these small mind games will be crucial, so always try to present your opponent with options you don't have - like counting if you have enough damage to kill him this turn even though you know you don't, as this can make him cast a premature board wipe. Use everything you can to gain an advantage, in this format, everyone will have good cards, so games will be closer than in a normal Limited format most of the time.

Colors

It is hard to do my usual thing where I comment on each color separately since this is more than clearly a multicolored set with almost fifty multicolored cards, which forces me to discuss guilds, and to some lesser extent the tri-color combinations. It might seem like a bit of a jumble, but I hope the picture is more or less clear once you are done going through it.

Azorius

Well, this is the color combination I talked about the most in the impressions part, so you get the idea. There is a ton of blink and flicker effects and a whole lot of enters-the-battlefield creatures that do something relevant. At common, you can get a whole suite of effects, Mist Raven and Lone Missionary are just the tip of the iceberg, there are also Sea Gate Oracle, Sensor Splicer, Augur of Bolas, Kor Hookmaster... You get the point. The problem of this combination is the fact that most of its creatures have pretty weak numbers which means that grinding out your opponent might take a while and that there is no lack of removal in the set, which might make you play a bit more conservatively with your blinks.  Key to drafting this combination is picking up good creatures early and leave blink effects for last, I believe those are quite numerous. Azorius is best complemented with green, mostly for extra power and toughness, but also for the great Bant multicolored cards. Going for black as your third color can also bring some beef with cards like Tower Gargoyle or Drinova Horror, but many of the other black cards you might want to play are double-black costed.

Selesnya

Selesnya's sub-theme is (shockingly) tokens. The Populate theme is nothing new, and we see many Populate cards making a return. I never really liked Populate a whole lot, but sometimes when it worked, it worked amazingly. Even though the strategy behind this color pair might not seem like a great deal, Selesnya probably has the best multicolored cards. Advent of the Wurm and Unflinching Courage are absurdly strong, even in a format where Mist Raven is present. Another card some of you might underestimate is Bronzebeak Moa, and it is reasonable, who wouldn't underestimate a duck? Well, suit it up with Fists of Ironwood and watch your opponent sweat. I don't see much reason to go into a third color here, since neither blue nor red (which are your shard colors) bring much to the Populate plan. Splashing red for some removal might not be a bad plan if you already have some fixers.

Rakdos

I had to rewrite this block of text a couple of times - that is how Rakdos feels - pretty chaotic. No surprise from the mad revelers, they are rather colorful and sport many different tactics and approaches. The main themes are Unearth and sacrifice which are somewhat synergistic, but it can also play more of a control-ish route since it has tons of removal. Rakdos can also just go super aggressive with cheap efficient creatures and/or tokens combined with cards like Dynacharge or Carnage Gladiator. The fact that this combination is so versatile makes it a decent drafting choice, no matter the fact that this might be the pairing of the two 'weakest' colors. It would not be the first time nobody wants to pick Rakdos, but then Rakdos wins every other draft. Rakdos can be paired with Blue, which is a pretty good option if you are going for that more controlling route, or with green, which is complementing the sacrifice theme rather well with tokens. Jund was never a shard that could be underestimated, and it looks pretty good in this set as well, but picking up Sylvan Rangers is the key.

Dimir

Believe it or not, Dimir has no mechanic whatsoever. I mean, you could make a case for 'self-mill' with Forbidden Alchemy and Unearth/Flashback, but I think that doesn't even count.  I have to admit that I see little to no appeal for playing this color combination as the only two colors. It seems to me that blue and black have little real synergy other than control elements, and those are best presented in a three-colored combination with either red or white. Staying just U/B feels like missing out, and while the mana might be somewhat of an issue, if the game goes long and you pick up enough gates and signets, even Cruel Ultimatum is castable. With a blue/black base you can have a decent set of card advantage/control elements and then white or red multicolored cards give you something to go over the top.

Gruul

Bloodrush, the most R/G mechanic ever is making a comeback in Modern Masters 2017 and no one is happier to see it back than me. Landing random creatures and just attacking with everything every turn is what makes Limited fun, and Gruul really has the tools to make games fun. For you, not for your opponent. There are quite a few trample creatures and several ways to grant trample to a creature so blocking will be even more of a nightmare than before. What I noticed as the biggest flaw of this particular combination is the fact that there are too few strong 2-drops, and that the deck will rely too much on 1/1s or Mogg Flunkies to somehow deal damage early, which is not a great prospect. A card that I must warn you not to underestimate is Gruul War Chant, which might not seem like much, but I remember it being one of the strongest uncommons in the set when it was printed for the first time. Multiples aren't great, but having a one-of is amazing.  Combining Gruul with white makes a bit more sense than Selesnya with red, but take care, since really aggressive decks want a stable mana base and few lands that come into play tapped. On the other hand, going for a black splash is something that might make your deck less explosive but certainly more powerful. When going for a third color always consider what you are giving up and what you are gaining in the process!

Enemy Color Pairs

It really feels like most of the enemy color pairs are here more or less to 'glue' the shards together rather than actually be great standalone options, but hey, I am sure there will often be an odd enemy colored two-color deck at the draft pod even though none of those actually have any strong synergies that does not combine the third color of the shard. There is one rare, two uncommons and one common for each enemy color pair, so it is far from unrealistic for those to be open and even wheel the table, so being in an odd color pair in a draft just might pay off. More realistically, three-color drafters will pick up stray multicolored cards to splash into their friendly-colored decks, rather than vice-versa. If you have a choice in draft, start off with an allied color pair, since that way you have 'access' into two shards, while if you start with an enemy color pair, you can only 'expand' to one other color. For instance, starting with Boros makes Green your only other option, since this set only supports Naya as the color combination for red and white, while starting with Gruul lets you choose between Jund and Naya.

Sure, there is a third option of just going completely wild, ignore the three-colored cards and tri-lands and just do your own thing and draft Jeskai, but let's be real, that won't work as often as you would like it to. Talking about third options, there is always the (best) option of just drafting EVERYTHING and picking all the fixers you can find, but I advise you don't go that route until you get at least a few drafts under your belt. If you really want to try this strategy out, my advice is to go for it when you open a mass removal spell in your first pack, since these types of decks usually need to reset the board at some point.

Conclusion

I can't say for certain, but if I was a betting man, I would say that Modern Masters 2017 is the best Limited Modern Masters set so far. Competition wasn't too harsh, but this still means something, so if you were thinking about running or joining a draft, I encourage you to do so! If not, good luck cracking packs!

Good luck and have fun!

Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan Sucic

About Stjepan Sučić

Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.

During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.

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