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Modern Masters 2015 Limited Set Review – Black

Modern Masters 2015 is clearly different from a normal set, so I’m going to review things a little differently. Like Modern Masters 2013, this set has way more synergy-based archetypes than any other Limited format, and reviewing cards just on a 0 to 5 scale seems less useful than talking about how they fit into the set as a whole.

As such, I’ll be dividing cards into the following categories:

Synergy – These are cards you won’t play unless you have specific combinations or in specific decks. They should often be treated as unplayable or filler if they aren’t properly supported.

Power – These are cards you will play in most or all decks.

Filler – These are cards that aren’t great overall, but you may need to play some number of.

Using the following scale, assume all filler cards are 2.0 or less, with all power cards getting a rating from 2.5 to 5.0. I’ll rate all Synergy cards individually as well, though the lower-powered ones will likely be lumped in with the filler.

5.0: The best of the best. (Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte. Wingmate Roc.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Butcher of the Horde. Savage Knuckleblade. Crater’s Claws.)
4.0: Good rare or top tier uncommon. (Triplicate Spirits. End Hostilities. Necropolis Fiend.)
3.5: Top tier common or solid uncommon. (Lightning Strike. Woolly Loxodon. Suspension Field.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Debilitating Injury. Mardu Hordechief. Flesh to Dust.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Glacial Stalker. Bitter Revelation. Hunt the Weak.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Dragonscale Boon. Defiant Strike. Cancel.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Scout the Borders. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Ranger’s Guile.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Tusked Colossodon. Bronze Sable. Oppressive Rays.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Naturalize. Feed the Clan. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Search the City. Pyxis of Pandemonium.)

It’s entirely possible that a card I think is a synergy card ends up being powerful enough that most decks will want it, or a card I think is powerful ends up being more of a filler card, but this is my initial read based on my experience with these cards (I’ve played every set that goes into Modern Masters 2015) and my assumption about the color pairs being pushed.

For reference, here are the 10 color pairs and the decks associated with each. Bear in mind that these aren’t hard and fast rules—you can draft black/red control even if “the black/red deck” is bloodthirst.

Blue/White Artifacts

This is a holdover from the first Modern Masters, and is basically just all the artifacts and all the cards that care about artifacts. It tends to be aggressive, looking to attack with Rusted Relics, Court Homonculi, and Somber Hoverguards, and the addition of Cranial Plating is a big one.

White/Black Spirits and Arcane

A throwback to one of my favorite blocks, this archetype looks to accumulate value by combining Spirits, Arcane spells, and cards that trigger off them. Soulshift is a very powerful mechanic if you have enough Spirits, and a good WB deck should have a lot of staying power.

White/Red Equipment

This is a slightly looser theme, in that cards that pump creatures and creatures that want to have high power can combine with many different cards. The main idea is to pile a bunch of stuff on a double striker or card like Bloodshot Trainee, and go from there.

White/Green Tokens

Using cards from every set with convoke, WG looks to amass an army and grow that army, which is about as simple as it gets. It also doesn’t really care whether the creatures are tokens or not, but token-making is the easiest way to hit critical mass.

Blue/Black Proliferate

This is one of the least-themed color pairs, which actually sounds right. It does have a lot of cards that pay you for proliferating -1/-1 counters, but this is really just a value-based deck, and as such, can swap out cards freely. Some UB decks will be heavily themed, but others will just have removal and card draw and not play into any specific synergies.

Blue/Red Elementals

The Elemental deck looks to be based in these two colors, but Smokebraider being the common engine card means that you can easily draft this deck in a more colorful fashion. Just about every Elemental also stands on its own, meaning it’s low investment to start down this path, as you end up with a playable deck even if you don’t go really deep on synergy.

Blue/Green Proliferate

This is more synergistic than the blue/black version of the deck, as it has a bunch of graft creatures making it more cohesive. It’s still a deck based on playing efficient creatures and attacking, but the proliferate/graft combos give it a bit more reach and power than it would otherwise have.

Black/Red Bloodthirst

Here we have another non-linear deck, with most aggressive cards being fairly interchangeable. Bloodthirst does incentivize some cards like Goblin Fireslinger, but for the most part this deck drafts based on its curve rather than for synergy.

Black/Green Sacrifice

Rise of the Eldrazi makes its presence known with a rerun of the token theme, and I still like it. It combines cards that make little dorks with cards that want to devour or otherwise utilize them. It’s a synergy deck like WG, with high rewards for synergy but plenty of cards that work as long as you have a lot of creatures, not specifically just tokens.

Red/Green Ramp

This archetype looks to be base RG, but will splash more often than not. Cards like Tribal Flames, Matca Rioters, and sunburst artifacts give the deck incentive, and Rampant Growth, Evolving Wilds, Sphere of the Suns, and Wayfarer’s Bauble give it the means. It can also just forgo a splash and play ramp into big cards, which makes this one of the less focused archetypes.

For more on the archetypes, check out these articles by Pascal Maynard and Neal Oliver:

Modern Masters 2015 Draft Archetypes Early Look

Modern Masters 2015 Draft Guide – Allied Colors

All right, let’s get to the cards!

Power

Bitterblossom

Limited: 4.5

The only thing that keeps Bitterblossom from being totally absurd is that it’s not a great topdeck when you are behind. It’s straight-up unbeatable on turn two, and still awesome even in the midgame if you are at a healthy life total and aren’t being attacked for tons of damage. Playing it and taking a hit or two before stabilizing with your new army of Faeries is not that hard, and if you see a Bitterblossom, you should take it.

Daggerclaw Imp

Limited: 2.5

Even if this is a good fit in the aggressive bloodthirst deck, plenty of black decks won’t mind taking and playing a 3-power flier for three mana. Control decks are less inclined to do so, but midrange decks still want to kill the opponent.

Dark Confidant

Limited: 2.0

Dark Confidant is usually overrated in Limited. It’s an OK aggressive card, but the drawback is real, and flipping a 4- or 5-drop is not a good feeling. Control decks definitely don’t want this, so if you take Bob (say, for “reasons external to the draft”), an aggro deck is where you want to play him.

Death Denied

Limited: 2.0

There isn’t a specific synergy that you need to make this good besides “lots of creatures,” but this does get better in a grindy deck with sacrifice outlets or with lots of soulshift. I also like this as a sideboard card against control decks.

Dismember

Limited: 4.0

Every color wants Dismember, and every color should take it. It’s clearly better in a black deck, but it’s a great card even if you have zero Swamps. Killing a creature for 1 mana is incredible, especially on a turn where your opponent can’t predict it. The presence of this will annoy me when I’m trying to plan out turns, as the opponent could technically always have it.

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

Limited: 3.5

A 5-drop that promises an army of Thrulls if you untap is a fine card in any deck that has creatures, even if it’s better in decks with sacrifice outlets. Managing the number of Thrulls is not even that important, because if you are getting so many that they overthrow Endrek (which is what I assume the flavor is), you are probably quite far ahead.

Grim Affliction

Limited: 3.0

Even with absolutely zero combos, this is a decent removal spell. As such, non-proliferate decks will snap it up, regardless of how much better it is to be built around. Don’t consider this a reason to draft that deck, just consider it a bonus if you end up there.

Instill Infection

Limited: 2.5

Instill Infection is basically just a slightly worse version of Grim Affliction. It can be better in some decks, and in general is a fine inclusion just about anywhere.

Midnight Banshee

Limited: 3.5

The casting cost is a bit tricky, but Banshee does a good job of chewing through the opponent’s team if it survives. As far as expensive finishers go, this is a pretty good one.

Nameless Inversion

Limited: 3.5

Lightning Strike for creatures is a great card, and every black deck will play as many as they can get. It’s absurd in Spirit decks, and I do think it is a large incentive to draft soulshift cards, but taking Inversion doesn’t commit you in any way. This is one of those rare cards that’s high on both power level and synergy, and as such won’t remain in packs for long.

Necroskitter

Limited: 3.5

Horned Turtle never has been this dangerous. Necroskitter is a tough creature to fight even without the second ability, and that ability is so powerful that your opponent will do their best to keep this off the board. Like Inversion, this gets better in the right deck (proliferate, in this case), but is good enough that any black deck will want it.

Profane Command

Limited: 5.0

Profane Command is just one of the best Limited cards of all time, no big deal. The reason it’s so awesome is that it’s always awesome. If you are behind, it can kill a creature and bring a creature back, helping you catch up. If you are ahead or the board is stalled, dealing X to them and giving a bunch of creatures fear will almost always end the game. There are very few board positions I can create where this isn’t fantastic, which is really all you can ask of a card. It can take as little as 4 mana to 2-for-1 the opponent, so this isn’t even a 7-mana card (though it’s great at 7 as well). The two main combinations are the ones I described here, but other permutations will come up from time to time.

Puppeteer Clique

Limited: 4.0

I love Puppeteer Clique. Playing it in Faeries was incredibly fun, and the number of tricks you can do with it is vast. The most common use case is to cast this and hit them for some damage with their biggest creature, which leaves behind a very good value flier, but once enters-the-battlefield abilities start appearing on their creatures, things get crazy. Clique does get stronger with sacrifice abilities, as triggering this midcombat for surprise blockers is great, but if you can cast this, you should probably take it.

Sickle Ripper

Limited: 2.0

This is pretty close to Hand of Silumgar (though a fair bit worse), and will do a decent job filling the curve regardless of any other synergies.

Sign in Blood

Limited: 2.5

If you can cast this reliably (9+ black sources), it’s a good card. It’s cheap enough that aggro and control decks are both interested, and finishing the opponent off does sometimes happen.

Spread the Sickness

Limited: 3.0

Sorcery-speed 5-mana removal isn’t my dream, but I imagine it will be my reality. This is playable in every deck, but gets a fair amount better once you care about proliferating. Playing cards like this is ugly, but you have to kill things somehow.

Synergy

Bloodthrone Vampire

Limited: 2.5

Bloodthrone Vampire is kind of funny. It hits for 1, then 1, then 1, then… 20. It doesn’t do a ton of damage until it wants to do a ton of damage, but the opponent has to respect that even if you weren’t going to go for it. This is a great finisher in a dedicated deck, and basically unplayable otherwise.

Bone Splinters

Limited: 3.0

Bone Splinters is an important part of the tokens/sacrifice deck, and has the advantage of being fairly unappealing to anyone else. It’s pretty bad value to sac a random creature you cast to kill even a good creature, but once you are sacrificing Eldrazi Spawn, you end up feeling very satisfied.

Devouring Greed

Limited: 2.0

I remember finishing people off with Devouring Greed back in Champions days, and it was good times. It’s hard to deal 20 with this card, but it’s not that hard to deal 10, and Devouring Greed was a great way to win races in a Spirit-heavy deck. It’s clearly unplayable in most decks, but when it’s good, it’s very good. You can probably wheel this, but if it’s a bomb in your deck, don’t get too greedy.

Dread Drone

Limited: 3.0

Dread Drone is a core part of the black/green deck, but it’s also a solid card even without all that much support. I expect some number of non-token decks to take this, even if it doesn’t become awesome until you are doing something special with the tokens.

Duskhunter Bat

Limited: 2.5

In the dedicated bloodthirst deck, this does exactly what you want. It’s a 2/2 flier for 2 in your good draws and a bloodthirst enabler in your slower ones. Non-aggro decks need not apply.

Ghostly Changeling

Limited: 3.0

The main utility of this is that it’s a Spirit, but it provides enough of a mana sink that non-Spirit decks may pick it up later in the pack. It’s not thrilling without synergies, but it is playable. Cards like this also let you cheat on synergy, by letting you play a very minor Spirit theme without committing. Two or three Spirits plus a Scuttling Death does work, and this is one of the ones you would want.

Plagued Rusalka

Limited: 3.5

When fully enabled, Plagued Rusalka is very strong. That rating is only true in the extremely dedicated tokens decks, but it gets pretty close in the great Spirit decks too. A Spirit that comes back from anything is very valuable, and it’s awesome that this card bridges the gap between these two archetypes. Rusalka looks innocuous, but I think this is one of the better cards you can have for multiple archetypes.

Reassembling Skeleton

Limited: 3.0

Assembling this with Bloodthrone Vampire or Plagued Rusalka is pretty filthy, and this makes Bone Splinters essentially Terminate. This even blocks big ground creatures all by itself, and overall makes enough other cards better that I’d be happy to take it early. The disaster case of just playing it really isn’t that bad, and the upside is large.

Scavenger Drake

Limited: 2.0

You do have to kill them somehow, and Scavenger Drake can do so rapidly in the right deck. This is a lot of work to build a 3/3 flier, but sometimes it can get out of control, and does a decent job of closing out the game. This is also passable in a removal-heavy deck, but not exciting.

Scuttling Death

Limited: 3.5

Scuttles is back! I drafted SO many Scuttling Deaths the first time around, and I hope to draft many this time too. Scuttling Death is a solid creature that draws you a card when it dies, can pick off small utility creatures, and can even throw himself into the graveyard if you badly need a cheaper Spirit. This is one of the bigger payoffs for drafting lots of Spirits, and soulshift scales very well with cost, so Scuttling Death can bring just about anything back.

Thief of Hope

Limited: 3.5

Thief is another big reason to draft Spirits. Draining the opponent for 1 a couple times is good value, and if you can draft enough low drops that this reliably brings one back, it’s hard to beat the efficiency of the Thief. I’ve won games without attacking via multiple Thieves into Devouring Greed, and that seems like a realistic plan here.

Vampire Lacerator

Limited: 2.5

I was never in love with Vampire Lacerator but it plays its role in a beatdown deck. I wouldn’t play it outside of that, so if you put this in your deck, be sure you are the beatdown.

Vampire Outcasts

Limited: 3.5

The Outcasts are very aggressively costed if you can reliably trigger them, and incredibly hard to race. You don’t need to be playing an aggro deck for Outcasts to be good, but be sure you have enough evasion that it will enter as a 4/4 most of the time.

Filler

Deathmark, Shrivel, Surgical Extraction, Waking Nightmare

These are all fine sideboard cards, with the exception of Surgical Extraction. Don’t put this card in your deck, please. I’ve said this so many times, yet it still happens, so I’m not going to try and call out the exceptions: do not play it.

Black has a lot of appealing themes going on. Proliferate is both the least linear and the one whose cards will be stolen by other players the most often, making it the most “normal” of the decks. Spirits and tokens have some strong overlap, and it will be interesting to see how often those two look like each other. Overall, black seems like a fine place to start a draft, and I know I look forward to drafting Spirits and accumulating tons of value.

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