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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
All right, let’s get to the cards!
All Is Dust
At 7, All Is Dust is right at the border of being playable without any special means. It’s a powerful card, and normal 17-land decks can cast 7-mana spells, so as long as you aren’t playing aggro you are good to go. As usual, just having a card like this incentivizes you to draft a more controlling deck, but I wouldn’t mind tossing this in a random midrange deck and calling it a day. It is funny that this does very little against affinity, and could even be an awesome finisher in such a deck.
If you are playing white, this is an auto-include. If you aren’t, you need to be aggressive for the ability to be worth it. Paying life to tap down blockers is fine; doing so to stop attackers is not.
Cathodian doesn’t do anything particularly exciting, though it is cute to sacrifice this on your main phase and use the mana profitably. In general, this is just going to be a slightly undercosted body, and should be drafted as such.
If you don’t intrinsically care that this is an artifact (i.e., you aren’t playing affinity), then Chimeric Mass is a combination of threat/finisher that most decks are going to be happy playing, if not excited. It doesn’t block all that well, so I’d rather be interested in attacking if I were to play this, but it does have “X” in the cost, so a threat-light ramp deck could use this as a mana sink. Where I really don’t like it is in defensive midrange/control decks that have adequate finishers already.
Plenty of decks will be happy with a 5-mana 5/5, even if that 5/5 only becomes awesome once all five colors are combined. In a domain deck, this card is easily a 4.0, but you can’t count on it slipping past all the normal decks that just want it as an efficient creature.
This is a half power/half synergy card, as it becomes much better in a dedicated ramp or proliferate deck. Still, any deck that is playing cards that cost 4-6 mana won’t mind running the Chalice, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s playable without jumping through any hoops.
The only reason I don’t have Karn higher on the list is that it can’t handle multiple threats all that well. It’s still an incredibly powerful card, and will often be able to just +4 until reinforcements arrive, so don’t go thinking this is anything less than a gold-plated bomb (silver-plated?).
From Vintage to Limited, in which formats is Lodestone Golem not great? Well, Standard and Modern, I guess. In any case, this is one of the formats where Lodestone Golem shines, as it’s a big, cheap creature that makes your opponent unable to cast their big threats in time. You don’t need to try and synergize with the ability at all either, as your cards being more expensive matters a lot less when you are hitting them with a 5/3. It’s better in an artifact-heavy deck, sure, but don’t go thinking that’s in any way necessary for Lodestone Golem to be a strong card.
Mortarpod is a fairly innocuous-looking card that sits there accumulating tons of value over the course of the game. First, it kills any 1-toughness creature without doing anything special, and you may even get a chump block out of the deal. Then, it makes your creatures a little bit tougher, a little bit harder to kill, and when they do die, you get to take a shot at anything—even your opponent. You can also sac and equip multiple times in the same turn to kill bigger things, or move this around postcombat to finish them off. Mortarpod does a lot for not much mana, and as such I’d be glad to snap this up in any deck.
While the Precursor Golem blowouts do exist, if the opponent doesn’t have a Nameless Inversion or Lightning Bolt handy, that’s usually game. 5 mana for 9/9 worth of stats is a great deal, and there’s no deck that doesn’t want it. It is cute to play and sacrifice Precursor Golem before the opponent can target anything, as you are left with two 3/3s with no drawback and a bonus from whatever ate the Golem, but don’t think you need to even go that far to make this great.
Spellskite is one of the most annoying cards to play against in the format, even if it’s not insanely broken or anything. It just sits there, turning off tons of removal and activated abilities, and does so until the opponent finds a spell that can kill it (at which point they have to use it on the ‘Skite, even if you have better targets). This is a card that tests your ability to remember your abilities, since I’ve seen many a spell resolve with a Spellskite out that should have been redirected but wasn’t. You also in no way need blue mana for this to be good, even if it is a little better if you do.
Sphere of the Suns
Three uses is often enough to get you where you want to be, and the value of a colorless mana fixer is high enough that I’m willing to play one with a short life span. This is also a truly free way of getting off-color mana for sunburst, as Sphere is quite playable in a 2-color deck that wants to ramp to 4+ mana. These do get worse in multiples, as part of the idea is to tide you over until you find non-Sphere mana sources, but that won’t often be an issue.
Bauble is the real deal, as it’s ramp and fixing that costs colorless and never runs out. The same “wants to get to 4+ mana” caveat applies, but the power level here is high enough that I’d only rarely leave this in the sideboard. It’s worth noting that affinity decks will sometimes leave this on the board uncracked to increase their artifact count, so look out for that play if you are piloting such a deck.
There are three main synergy decks supported by artifacts/colorless, though two of them blend together a bit. Ramp/domain are different sides of the same coin, as getting to five different colors of mana has the odd side effect of often getting you to 7+ mana total, so many cards are appealing to both those decks. Affinity is the other deck, and it is what keeps the filler list of artifacts so small. Given enough Frogmites, Myr Enforcers, and Cranial Platings, any cheap artifact has a use, even ones with very minor effects.
Alloy Myr is what ramp/domain decks settle for when they can’t get good fixing, and is what affinity decks settle for when they didn’t get good artifacts. It’s fine in all these decks and spectacular in none.
Artisan of Kozilek
In a deck that can reliably produce 9 mana, Artisan is fantastic. It does exactly what you want a huge spell to do, even in the face of counterspells, and is the perfect card to end games. At 9, it’s also out of reach of “normal” decks, meaning you can legitimately pick this up 5th pick sometimes.
Copper Carapace is quite bad unless you are Affinity or RW Equipment, at which point it’s serviceable but not exciting. A slightly high equip cost and a real drawback make it not ideal for decks that don’t have additional benefits to playing it.
In the best affinity decks, Cranial Plating is the nuts. It makes all your creatures hit incredibly hard, equips cheaply, and can occasionally move at instant speed if you end up with black mana lying around. It’s also very unplayable in a non-affinity deck, so getting passed this is plausible. Keep in mind that you need a good amount of evasion and 16+ artifacts before this is awesome, and ideally closer to 20. It’s still a good card with fewer, but my rating is predicated on it being placed in the optimal setting.
I like sacrificing creatures for profit, but the gains here are slow enough that I’m not all that excited. This still does what you want it to do, but at a rate that is not spectacular. I do like siding this in against removal spells, as it can take over a slow game.
I’ll continue my vain attempt to get people to not put Darksteel Axe in every single deck. It’s a good card in the right deck (Affinity or RW Equipment, and maybe tokens), but it’s not an auto-play otherwise. I’m not saying it’s unplayable, but it’s nowhere near a 2nd pick, and if my experiences with this and Bonesplitter in the past are any indication, that’s about where it will go. Play this if you have the rewards (artifact counts, evasion, and double strike), but be aware that you won’t see very many due to other people overvaluing it.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Even for a ramp deck, 15 is a serious mana cost. Some really dedicated ramp decks will get there, but most won’t, and a good rule of thumb is to leave this in the sideboard.
There is a significant reward for getting this online, and any self-respecting affinity deck should be able to do so. Etched Champion also really likes presents, specifically ones that make it powerful, so try and grab some equipment while you are at it.
Speaking of the Etched tribe, this one rewards you for drafting a colorful deck. It’s not the worst to cast this as a 4-mana 3/3, but clearly the payoff comes when it’s a 4/4. At that point, the opponent has to either deal with a 4/4 or die, and if they use a removal spell, you get to draw some sweet, sweet cards. Sometimes you will just crack this open to find a removal spell, but most of the time I prefer to make the opponent do something first.
1-mana artifacts are affinity’s bread and butter, and this even comes with a marginally useful creature and equipment all in one.
This is the weakest of the cards with actual affinity, but still helps get you there in the deck that’s headed that direction. If you want Myr Enforcer, you definitely want Frogmite, and if you don’t want either you probably didn’t end up with a great affinity deck. This needs to reliably cost 0-1 mana to be good, and 2 mana to be mediocre.
Glint Hawk Idol
Glint Hawk Idol is perfectly playable without white mana in a dedicated affinity deck, and perfectly playable without artifacts in a dedicated white beatdown deck. If you happen to be both, the card is great. It’s an efficient flier that dodges sorcery-speed removal for only 2 mana, which is as solid a deal as they come.
No me gusta unless you are really scraping for artifacts.
Kitesail does a decent job of helping your creatures to get through, so the real challenge is making sure you have creatures good enough that you want them to get through without being so good that they don’t need the help. RW decks often fall into this category, and sometimes affinity decks do, but otherwise I’d pass on this.
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
10 is enough more than 9 that I’d rather have an Artisan, but Kozilek will butcher your opponent if you get to cast it (and that’s the truth). The normal caveats about being dedicated ramp apply.
This is one of the better payoffs for playing affinity, and is one of the cards that would put me in the deck from the start. It’s also a fantastic combo with equipment, which can be tapped with no cost, and plays exceedingly well with Cranial Plating.
In the heavy Spirits deck, there’s nothing long about the games this leads to, nor will they be easily forgotten by your opponent. Once you have 10 Spirits, this card is great, especially since your Spirits keep coming back, and as a bonus, it makes your arcane spells a little cheaper too.
This is one of the most extreme affinity cards, as it is broken or (mostly) useless. Even without metalcraft, it still technically counts for affinity, but if you don’t have metalcraft that’s probably not taking you too far.
Myr Enforcer is the rock upon which many affinity decks are based, though it needs a fair amount of help to get there. It’s a good test of how good your affinity deck is: if you can’t play Myr Enforcer for less than 5 mana, good luck!
This is really the dregs of playable artifacts, but at 2 mana this still does something. Also, despite the card seeming to indicate as such, this is NOT a sacrifice combo piece.
Rusted Relic and Myr Enforcer go hand in hand, and both do a good job of giving the affinity deck some punch (while both being equally dead if you don’t get there). With these in your deck, try to avoid making unnecessary trades or you might find yourself with a useless hunk of rust.
This isn’t powerful enough to be great in RW or cheap enough to be good in Affinity, so it has to settle for being passable in each.
Manta is solid if you can reliably cast it as a 3/3, and great if it’s a 4/4 or bigger. As such, it’s a staple for any reasonable domain deck.
People go nuts for this card despite the hideously expensive cost, so really be careful about when you are putting this in your deck. If you have multiple good instants and are both red and white, it’s fine, but that’s a narrower category than people seem to think.
This is another card I feel is perennially overrated. It’s good in a fast game, and has decent affinity/proliferate synergies, but you should be doing something aggressive before this makes it into your deck.
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
As with Artisan of Kozilek being better than Kozilek, Kozilek is better than Ulamog. The extra mana at each cost is so impactful, so prioritize accordingly.
The Crusher does as its name implies, and if you draft a ramp deck, this is how you should plan on closing games out.
Poor little Map, all alone down here. At this point, it would be faster to just review the Map, but we have a system and we are sticking to it.
Artifacts are way more themed than normal in this set, supporting both affinity and a variety of multicolor archetypes, as well as the random 1-of for other decks here and there. That makes some of the artifacts more committing than normal, but there are plenty of strong ones that don’t push you in any given direction.