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Modern Masters 2015 Limited Set Review – Red

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

Banefire

Limited: 4.0

This is essentially Blaze in Limited, but that’s still pretty hot. I actually like X-spells more in this format than normal, because generating a ton of mana is a real possibility. Everflowing Chalice can routinely be cast for 3 or 4, and proliferate helps it grow even greater. Additionally, Eldrazi Spawn add up, and Blazing the opponent for 20 is a plausible way to finish the game.

Brute Force

Limited: 2.0

Even though this is at its best when cast on a double striker, Brute Force is efficient enough that any generic aggressive deck won’t mind playing it.

Burst Lightning

Limited: 3.5

Burst Lightning is awesome. It’s efficient at 1 mana and powerful at 5, which is exactly what you want out of a modal spell. Take as many of these as you can get.

Comet Storm

Limited: 5.0

Well, nobody said Modern Masters wouldn’t have powerful cards in it. Most sets don’t get a 5, much less two, and I’m not even through the whole set yet. Comet Storm is a little pricey but it kills EVERYTHING. This is kind of a confusing card to read, but basically you want to pay X for the minimum that kills their biggest creature, at which point the multikicker lets you deal that much to as many creatures as possible. For seven mana, you get 3 damage to three different targets (including players), and that’s just absurd.

Fiery Fall

Limited: 3.0

Even in a 2-color deck, Fiery Fall helps fix your mana while fighting against mana flood. Landcycling cards are deceptively powerful, and I am always happy to play the first two.

Gut Shot

Limited: 1.5

Gut Shot is borderline filler, but being free and colorless is pretty nice. I don’t have a read on how many appealing 1-toughness creatures are in the format yet, and so far I’ve leaned toward not starting this. Maybe it belongs in the sideboard section, but at the very least keep an eye on it, because it might be a fine maindeck card.

Hellkite Charger

Limited: 4.0

Smashing for 5 instantly makes this good already, and it hits for 10 by itself the turn after. That is not a small game, and once you add another creature it gets even better.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Limited: 3.5

The casting cost here is a bit tricky, but the effect is powerful. There are no instant win combos, but Kiki + anything is good value, and when that “anything” has an enters- or leaves-the-battlefield effect, the game ends pretty soon after.

Lightning Bolt

Limited: 4.0

Maybe this isn’t a 4, but it’s better than Burst Lightning and so efficient that I’d take it over almost any rare just because of how easy it is to cast.

Spikeshot Elder

Limited: 3.0

In the RW equipment deck, this jumps up dramatically in value, but any red deck will play this as a solid pinger. It’s cheap, it impacts the opponent’s plays, and once you hit 6-9 mana it starts gunning down bigger targets.

Spitebellows

Limited: 3.0

This may look like a 6-drop, but it’s really a 3-mana Roast (that hits fliers and deals 6 even), which makes it a solid card. It also can be cast as a 2-for-1 for 6 mana, and combos nicely with various Elemental synergies and bounce spells.

Splinter Twin

Limited: 2.0

The power level here is similar to Kiki-Jiki, but the risk is higher. That makes it a less appealing card, and given how inflexible it is, I wouldn’t play this unless I had a few creatures that I specifically wanted to target. I’d also sideboard it out against anyone with a decent amount of removal.

Thunderblust

Limited: 3.0

Thunderblust is a 2-for-1 with a couple damage attached, though the two cards it trades for could be pretty small. I don’t know how great this is in a world of soulshift and tokens, but there are matchups in which it is absurd. This is another card that rewards you for working with it, but is powerful enough to play straight up if your mana base can support it.

Wildfire

Limited: 3.5

Wildfire doesn’t fit right into any of the 2-color archetypes, but it is a card you want to build around. Casting Wildfire with mana rocks like Everflowing Chalice is a combo, and casting it with a 5-toughness creature in play is even better. This is an incredible card if you build your deck to take advantage of it, and a pretty bad one if you don’t (having all creatures that die to it being one example of what not to do).

Wrap in Flames

Limited: 2.0

Dealing 3 damage and messing up blockers is versatile enough that most decks will want access to one of these, and it gets much better if you happen to face a token strategy. The second loses value pretty quickly unless you are aggressive, so just take one and call it a wrap.

Synergy

Blood Ogre

Limited: 3.0

This is the bread and butter of the bloodthirst deck. Delicious, bloody bread and butter. As a 2/2 first striker, Blood Ogre can often attack on turn four to enable other bloodthirst cards, and if you can make it a 3/3, it’s a solid payoff.

Bloodshot Trainee

Limited: 3.5

Ground Visara is one of the better reasons to play the RW equipment deck. Bloodshot Trainee can dominate the game when he is sufficiently pumped up, and does very little otherwise. I’d play this with two permanent ways to grow his power, or with four or so temporary ones, but wouldn’t play this otherwise.

Dragonsoul Knight

Limited: 2.0

Dragonsoul Knight is a fairly medium 5-color incentive. It’s never awful, as a 2/2 first striker for 3 is decent, but domain decks don’t really want such things, and even when you go off you still don’t necessarily get a huge bonus. There are generally better things to do if you are playing 5 colors, but this will finish the game if you need a finisher.

Goblin Fireslinger

Limited: 3.0

As innocuous as this looks, there is no better way to get and stay bloodthirsty. All the broken bloodthirst draws start with this, but don’t let that fool you into playing it in a non-bloodthirst deck. 1 damage a turn isn’t really enough to justify this if you don’t have 6+ good bloodthirst cards.

Goblin War Paint

Limited: 1.5

Even in the RW deck, I don’t endorse painting the town or any of your creatures red. It’s just too vulnerable and too weak to really build a deck around. If you desperately need pump spells, this can fill in a slot, but I’m not happy playing this even in a synergy deck (and won’t play it outside of one).

Gorehorn Minotaurs

Limited: 3.5

In the right deck, this is a 4-mana 5/5, and that’s certainly above the curve for red. This is also a different format than Modern Masters 1, and a 5/5 on turn four does a lot more. Gorehorn Minotaurs is one of the payoffs for playing bloodthirst enablers, but is also powerful enough that it’s a good fit in any aggro deck.

Incandescent Soulstoke

Limited: 2.5

Soulstoke is a decent way to get value from Elementals, but you are playing it more for the Glorious Anthem effect than the Sneak Attack. The Elementals in this set aren’t so expensive that you can’t just cast them, though it is nice to have the option. Once you have 7+ Elementals I like this, but I wouldn’t be too excited with fewer.

Inner-Flame Igniter

Limited: 3.0

Igniter is a combo piece for both the Elemental deck and for tokens decks, which makes it a solid card to pick up when you aren’t sure which direction you are heading. I like this card because it’s got a high ceiling in the super-dedicated decks while being pretty good in decks that didn’t quite get there. Don’t be afraid to play this in any deck with a good number of creatures.

Skarrgan Firebird

Limited: 2.0

Firebird is a bit expensive for aggro decks, but that’s really where it needs to end up in order to reach its full potential. That puts it in an awkward spot, even though it’s a very powerful card. As the top of the curve, it is a way to win games in a beatdown deck, but you don’t really want two. It does fit in creature-heavy midrange decks, but I don’t know how prevalent (or good) those are going to be.

Smokebraider

Limited: 3.5

This is an engine all right, and earns a high rating when it’s a part of a very dedicated Elemental deck. It’s unplayable outside a deck with 8+ Elementals you want to cast, and insane in decks with 10 or more. Casting Aethersnipes and Spitebellows on turn four is just awesome, and activating Soulbright Flamekin to cast gigantic monsters is even better. If you can get two Smokebraiders early, feel free to go nuts, but be aware that when you take this it might end up in your sideboard.

Soulbright Flamekin

Limited: 2.0

As a 2/1 for 2 with the ability to ramp you to 8 mana from 6, Soulbright Flamekin is a solid filler card. It gets better in mana-hungry decks and Elemental decks, archetypes which often overlap, so it gets a spot in the synergy section despite being a solid card for most decks.

Stormblood Berserker

Limited: 3.0

The dreaded turn-two Stormblood Berserker is one of the best starts bloodthirst can get, and even a turn three or four Berserker can put in some work. This is quite bad if it doesn’t get the counters, so make sure you have sufficient ways to damage the opponent before adding this to your deck.

Tribal Flames

Limited: 3.0

Some decks will play this as a sorcery that deals 2 damage, but the potential is so much higher. Once Tribal Flames is reliably dealing 3 damage, it’s great, and if it has outs to hit 4 or 5, that’s even better. You don’t need to be full domain for this to be good, but it’s not exciting until you get there.

Viashino Slaughtermaster

Limited: 2.0

It’s funny that this is at its best in a deck that can’t activate the ability, but that’s what having the RW equipment deck floating around does. Once you are in the market for double strikers, you aren’t passing this one up, and this is a passable 2-drop in most aggro decks. It can be as good as a “3” in the right RW deck (lots of Darksteel Axes is key), but will mostly hover around the rating I gave it.

Worldheart Phoenix

Limited: 2.5

This rating is completely predicated on having access to all 5 colors, because this is very bad otherwise. Having just one Phoenix in your deck means that you have a solid recurring threat for when the game goes long, and if you are playing 5 colors, that’s usually exactly what you want. I don’t put a huge priority on slow win conditions, but the payoff for having one instead of zero is pretty big.

Filler

Blades of Velis Vel, Combust, Smash to Smithereens

I have never liked Blades, and the other two are strict sideboard cards. Hooray!

Red is burn-heavy, as one might expect, and has some very ridiculous rares. I’ve come to expect that too, and am interested to see if the synergy decks can fight the power of the rares once the format starts is explored more.

Next up is green, after which I’ll tackle all the gold, artifacts, and lands.

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