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Modern Masters 2015 Limited Set Review – Blue

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

Aethersnipe

Limited: 3.0

This gets better with Smokebraider, but is just a solid card in its own right, and even moreso in the absence of Vedalken Dismisser (which was also in MM1). It can even be used at 3 mana in an emergency, which is not irrelevant.

Air Servant

Limited: 3.5

Air Servant clocks the opponent while stopping anything that challenges its air supremacy, which is a fine set of abilities. Remember that it’s an Elemental, but be satisfied with it in any deck.

Argent Sphinx

Limited: 3.5

Solid stats make this an auto-include in blue decks, but this does get a lot better with metalcraft. It’s powerful enough to live in this category, and even has a relevant bonus if you do end up in the right archetype.

Cloud Elemental

Limited: 2.5

Cloud Elemental isn’t super powerful, but I wouldn’t call it a synergy card either (and it is slightly above filler). I’m not taking this early, and I won’t always play it, but it does wear equipment and it does work in the Elemental theme.

Cryptic Command

Limited: 3.5

This is easily a 4.0 on strict power level, as Cryptic Command is so versatile, but the triple-blue cost is steep. That makes it harder to fit in decks, harder to cast even when it is good to play, and sometimes not online soon enough to make a difference. If you expect to have 12+ blue sources, this card is incredible, and it is a reason to slant your deck in that direction. Getting an easy 2-for-1 off counter + draw is great, and tapping down the opponent’s entire team is even greater.

Guile

Limited: 3.0

6-drops aren’t high on my list of priorities, so in decks without Smokebraider this is more a decent finisher than a true bomb. If you can cast this on turn four, it is very good, but it’s a good enough way for UB Control to end games that I can justify including it here. The synergy with counterspells is cute, but it’s not likely to come up all that often (though if it does, I feel like you should be required to say “Sonic Boom!” as you cast the counterspell).

Mana Leak

Limited: 3.0

A solid interactive spell for almost the entire game is nothing to scoff at, and Mana Leak does a good job of making sure you can disrupt the opponent starting on turn two. These don’t stack particularly well, so I wouldn’t want three or four, but the first couple are good.

Mulldrifter

Limited: 4.0

No jokes, Mulldrifter really is this good. I’m not even saying that because I love drawing cards (though I do), but because it’s a legitimate 3-for-1 that has the option of being cast as a 2-for-1 for 3 mana. It even synergizes with cards like Otherworldly Journey or bounce spells to truly crush the opponent, and it’s splashable. That this was a common in Lorwyn is about as ridiculous as it sounds.

Narcolepsy

Limited: 3.0

This has all the downsides of Arrest without turning off all activated abilities, though it’s still a good way to stop something from attacking. Bear in mind that you must tell the opponent to tap their creature every turn, as it’s technically your trigger and you are allowed to miss it (which honestly is a reason to not reprint this).

Remand

Limited: 3.5

I love Remand, and think it’s a great card in any deck. It lets you trade 2 mana for more than 2 mana at no card cost, which I’ll always be happy about. It punishes expensive spells, so waiting to cast it until later can be advantageous, though if you don’t have a 2-drop you can also just run this out at the earliest opportunity.

Repeal

Limited: 3.0

I’m not going to claim that this isn’t one of my favorite cards, but even setting aside my rampant bias this is a solid inclusion to any deck. It’s slightly mana inefficient, but it kills tokens dead for 1 mana (and zero cards), and being able to bounce equipment and the like makes it a great card against a number of archetypes. It can also save your creatures from removal, and the versatility plus power here makes this a good card.

Stoic Rebuttal

Limited: 2.0

This is borderline in all three categories, as it’s not really powerful, not really synergy, but slightly better than filler. The factor that makes you want a Rebuttal most is how controlling your deck is, not how many artifacts you have, and I wouldn’t play it unless I was heavy blue and had a good late game. It is a good sideboard card against bombs, and it does get better in Sealed.

Telling Time

Limited: 2.5

Telling Time is mostly air, but it does help give you a little card selection in a deck that’s trying to combine certain cards. I would never prioritize this, but with enough blue mana in your deck it’s not going to cost you much to play it.

Tezzeret’s Gambit

Limited: 3.0

I love me a Divination, and a colorless Divination that has additional bonuses is even better. The 2 life matters, but being able to cast this without having a specific color of mana means it’s a safe early pick and can be cast even if you are color-screwed. It’s certainly better in a proliferate-themed deck, but even decks that don’t have a single color are likely to pick this up.

Vapor Snag

Limited: 2.5

Snag ranges from decent to very good, depending on what archetype you are facing, and goes up in value in an aggressive deck. It’s not quite as much value as Repeal, but it still fights tokens, equipment decks, and helps push through attackers.

Vendilion Clique

Limited: 3.5

Despite being a Constructed all-star, Vendilion Clique is merely a solid card in Limited. It has 3 flying power for 3 mana and provides minor disruption, but is still a creature that can just get killed. This is slightly less than an actual bomb, though I’d always play it (and let’s be real, anyone who opens this is taking it in any draft where you keep your cards).

Water Servant

Limited: 3.0

Water Servant brawls well enough to be appealing to most decks, though it is fairly mana-intensive. It’s a high enough quality card that even synergy decks probably play it, though the more focused decks don’t have a ton of room for random creatures like this.

Synergy

Artifacts and proliferate are blue’s major themes, and there are some tantalizing rewards for committing to them.

Faerie Mechanist

Limited: 3.5

Mechanist may seem a little slow for the aggressive affinity deck, but it does a few things the deck wants. It rewards you well for a high artifact count, it digs to your good artifacts and equipment (like Cranial Plating), and is a creature with evasion to use that equipment. Fliers are more important than before in this deck, and Mechanist has gone up in value as a result. The lack of Sanctum Gargoyle also gives this less competition, another reason it has gotten better.

You need about 8 other artifacts to have a 50% shot of drawing a card with Mechanist, and I’d be willing to play it even with 6 or 7.

Helium Squirter

Limited: 3.0

This is another card that could have easily gone in the power category, as it does justify itself in most decks. It gets much better with proliferate/graft synergies, so I stuck it here, as it is more of a build-around than something like Tezzeret’s Gambit. At 5 mana it shouldn’t be a high priority, but this card is not a bad way to finish the game.

Novijen Sages

Limited: 3.5

You can really go deep on Sages and proliferate, and even alone it’s a 4/4 you can cash in for multiple cards. With Sages in play, all your creatures with counters get value against removal, and you can even use them to dig for more graft creatures, fueling the cycle. Control decks won’t mind playing these either, as they are a powerful late-game play.

Qumulox

Limited: 3.5

The payoff here is quite high, as a 3- or 4-mana Qumulox feels like cheating. I like that this is a huge flier that can end the game by itself, as the affinity deck sometimes has too many tiny creatures, so putting this at the top of your curve is optimal.

Somber Hoverguard

Limited: 3.0

I like mini-Qumulox a little less, even though I’ll happily play both. Somber Hoverguard is vulnerable to more cards, and doesn’t close out the game quite as fast, which makes it a lower priority. I still don’t like either card without a good number of cheap artifacts.

Steady Progress

Limited: 2.5

Steady Progress doesn’t usually do a ton, but it doesn’t cost much either. Cycling means that it’s an easy include in decks that have a few synergies, assuming you have the space. It steadily gets better the more cards you have that reference counters, and once you are up to 6 or more, it becomes an actual card you want.

Surrakar Spellblade

Limited: 2.0

Spellblade isn’t strongly supported here, but it’s still a powerful engine. Throwing this in a deck with good removal spells can win games with minimal effort, but you do need some good ways to get this through or it won’t do much. It’s only slightly smaller than you’d expect for 3 mana, and has such dangerous text that your opponent can’t help but respect it, so I’d lean toward including this in decks that have removal.

Tezzeret the Seeker

Limited: 3.5

With enough targets that cost 4 or less, Tezzeret is a powerful card. You really need things to fetch that can defend him, but given adequate defenses, Tezzeret will provide you with a ton of advantage. Untapping your attackers isn’t irrelevant either, and Tezzeret is the kind of high end I want in Affinity. I don’t think he’s quite good enough to just snap off over something like Mulldrifter, but I’d gamble on taking Tezzeret over Aethersnipe (at least until I have drafted enough to satisfy myself that it’s wrong).

Thoughtcast

Limited: 2.0

While I do like drawing cards, Thoughtcast is a lot of work for only a medium payoff. It’s great in great decks, but it is pretty bad in the medium affinity decks, as it really punishes you for not quite getting there. Don’t prioritize these, but be happy to take them later in the pack. For an aggressive deck to want this effect, Thoughtcast really has to cost 1-2 mana most of the time, and that takes 15+ artifacts.

Thrummingbird

Limited: 3.5

Thrummingbird might be the best blue engine card. It’s the card that gets the most absurd in the right deck, as it can essentially be +1/+1 to your team every turn, while finishing off all opposing creatures with -1/-1 counters. Drafting the blue/green graft deck is exactly what you want to do with an early Thrummingbird, and blue/black as a backup plan is a solid option. I think this is worth taking early, as the payoff you get for drafting around it is big enough to go for.

Vigean Graftmage

Limited: 1.5

The Graftmage is almost unplayable in a non-synergy deck and not even great when it does come together. Given enough Thrummingbirds, I will still play this, but I’m not particularly excited to do so.

Filler

I find it amusing that affinity randomly gets hosed by the desire to reprint Hurkyl’s Recall, so if you end up with one in your sideboard, you have that to thank. Flashfreeze is a clear sideboard card, and I don’t think that Inexorable Tide or Wings are that exciting. I don’t remember Tide being playable in Scars of Mirrodin draft, and unless you have some kind of ultimate graft deck, it’s unlikely to be playable here either.

Flashfreeze, Hurkyl’s Recall, Inexorable Tide, Wings of Velis Vel

Blue has a good mix of power and synergy. The synergy cards are less focused than those in white, but the power cards are better, and you can start blue without locking yourself into any particular archetype. It seems like blue-based control will be viable, which makes taking controlling blue cards a fairly safe place to start.

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