For Gold/Lands, I’m going to skip separating them into categories. Gold cards by nature are narrow, as you need to be two specific colors to play them, and they do line up nicely in this set with the archetypes in which they are meant to appear (ie, Spirits in BW, X spells in RG, etc). Plus, gold cards are almost universally powerful, meaning that if you can cast them, you probably want to (and if this isn’t the case, I’ll mention it).
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:
Additionally, my rating assumes you can cast these cards without much issue. Agony Warp, for example, is a great card if you are blue/black, but a somewhat risky pick to take first because it’s multicolored. I’m rating the cards as if you were already in those colors, so just keep in mind that first-picking them in draft doesn’t mean you will get to play them (though the ratings are accurate to Sealed, where you get to decide exactly what colors you are playing).
Speaking of Agony Warp…
This is one of the easiest 2-for-1s you will ever find, and I’ve even had fun playing with this in Constructed. Shrink an attacker’s power, kill another one, and block the first with some creatures and you have a deal. Alternately, you can just give a creature -3/-3, which is also good.
The apocalypse is now, or whenever you cast this. It’s mana-intensive, but not so mana-intensive that it will rot in your hand, as casting it for X=3 is acceptable if you are in dire straights. Just having that option on an awesome 7-drop makes it stronger, and this is already a powerful card.
For this to be great you need to be in both black and red (or mono-color in either) and be interested in attacking. If you meet both those conditions, Ashenmoor Gouger is great, and offers a ton of power at a mana cost that is definitely not a gouging. This is one of the more limiting cards to take early, even among gold cards, so I would be wary of that.
If this is what you are into, Boros Swiftblade is your guy. He’s a double striker in the colors that reward double strike, though you do need to pump him up to get good value.
In straight green/black, Creakwood Liege is awesome. The less dedicated to Golgari you become, the harder to cast and worse the Liege becomes, so I probably wouldn’t snap this up too early. The power level is great when you end up in this neck of the woods, but that’s a hard place to get to, and you will often have to go another way.
I love this card. It’s easy to cast, powerful, and gives you an advantage in a slow game. All those are things I like, and it’s not difficult to imagine taking this early and often.
As the BG sacrifice enabler, this really doesn’t impress me. Drooling Groodion, despite sounding powerful (or something) is kind of slow and expensive, and even in the deck where it’s supposed to be great it isn’t the best card ever. I would play it in BG if that’s what I was drafting, but this isn’t a reason to go into that deck.
Shockingly, this is another card I value highly. It’s just great at any point, and sometimes you get to live the impossible dream and get the full 3-for-1 off it. I like splashing this, and love how little it commits you if you take it early.
If you are in both of these colors, there’s a good shot you are Affinity, in which case Ethercaste Knight is awesome. It’s an artifact, it makes a flier hit for more, and most importantly, it’s cheap. The mana cost isn’t colorless, but it’s still exactly what Affinity decks want. If you are blue/white and somehow don’t care about artifacts, this is still efficient enough to be good.
Yes, killing bouncelands is awesome. No, that doesn’t mean Fulminator Mage is great. It’s fine, but it’s not a bomb, and I wouldn’t be excited about maindecking this (though I would side it in against someone with multiple bouncelands).
Ghost Council of Orzhova
Not only is this efficient and hard-to-kill, if your opponent does kill it, Scuttling Death brings it back! Black/white decks will always be happy to play this, and Spirit-heavy decks most of all.
As a cheap cycler and a powerful lategame threat, Glassdust Hulk kind of does it all. Neither mode is super exciting, but the option of having both is, and I would gladly play many of these if I was in Affinity.
I like this a lot more than Boros Swiftblade, as the extra point of power makes this a 4/2 instead of a 2/2, as well as letting it beat 2/2s in combat. You still want to play this in a deck that can make it large, but it’s a little less necessary than it is with other double strikers.
Horde of Notions
You have to play the full 5 colors, which makes this a very narrow card. Smokebraider can help you cheat, but you can’t count on it living, and in general this is a weaker way to get paid off for domain than the various Etched cards (Champion aside, of course).
This grows quickly enough to be efficient at any point in the game, even if it is better the earlier it shows up. Combining it with card draw is cute, and completely unnecessary to make the card good.
An Ambush Viper that can ambush spells and creatures has to be busted, right? Mystic Snake is pretty great, and a good way to make sure your opponent doesn’t go over the top. I would always play this in UG, and it would nudge me toward those colors if I saw it early.
Necrogenesis is deceptively powerful. It wins any kind of stalled game at very low cost, and is efficient enough to be good even in the fast-paced ones. Add a sacrifice card or two in and you have a real winner.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Assuming you can weather the prohibitive cost, Niv-Mizzet is everything you can possibly want out of a finisher (besides resilience). If Niv-Mizzet lives, you will win the game easily, and 6 mana is a small cost to pay for such a promise.
Nobilis of War
A 5/4 flier that is permanently blasting on a trumpet sounds like the perfect card for RW, so if you are those colors, I’d suggest you take this. The cost restricts it to pretty much only RW, but that’s good for getting this late if you are the only person drafting the color combination.
Pillory of the Sleepless
Pacifism that pings your opponent sounds like the most annoying card possible to play against. As someone who has done so, I can confirm that it is.
This is one of the best reasons to be in the UG graft deck to begin with, and is good at any point in the game. Remember to give opposing creatures shroud if your opponent tries to cast Auras or pump spells on them, and remember that you paid 3 mana for a 3/3 with multiple good abilities (the second part is only so you can feel smug—it has no game play benefit).
First they fight this, then they fight it again, then it comes back because a Moonlit Strider died, then they quit the game in frustration. The Apparition is a very powerful card without any help. Add in soulshift and you have a game winner.
A splashable Wrath of God that lets you tailor-make it so your big creatures survive is a rare (uncommon) gem, and Savage Twister very much lives up to its name. I am going to go out my way to play this, and due to all the good fixing, that usually doesn’t end up being much work.
One of the first “mythic uncommons” (named so because of power level), Selesnya Guildmage builds an army, then makes that army enormous. That’s an absurd deal for only 2 mana, and this doesn’t even require that much in the way of fixing. Take this if you see it and you won’t regret it.
Affinity makes this a little less effective than it would be otherwise, but Jonny Magic still knows how to draw a card or two. Removal helps, and this is right at home in a controlling blue/black deck, though it fits into any deck that can cast it.
Easy to cast in any red or blue deck, Shrewd Hatchling does a good job of chewing the opponent to pieces if you can cast any number of spells. Once it’s a 5/5 or 6/6, the opponent has to deal with this or die, and blockers don’t help.
I hate Giant Growths, and even one that pumps your team isn’t on my good list. It’s a fine addition to most GW decks, but you can’t make me like it.
Swans of Bryn Argoll
Swans is a very odd card. It’s a 4-power flier for 4, which is good, but if your opponent damages it, things go very wrong for you. On the other hand, damaging it yourself is awesome, so the ability isn’t a strict downside at all. Imagine casting Savage Twister with this in play—just don’t think about the reverse. Overall this is a good card, but you may have to side it out against burn-heavy decks.
I have had only good experiences with this card, both in this format and in Shards block, and can recommend it highly as a way to crush the opponent in the late game. It’s powerful, splashable, and gives you card advantage while still affecting the board. Sounds like a winner to me.
If you are green/white, there’s almost no better card than this. It’s cheap, giant, and makes your team even bigger—all things that combine very nicely. It even hoses discard, though that’s unlikely to come up very often.
All this wanted was to break your walls (and other creatures, and lands). It succeeded at all three, for the low cost of 4 mana. Killing bouncelands with this is a delight, even if you will aim it at creatures most of the time. This is easily splashable and good in many different decks.
Everyone has been trumpeting the praises of bouncelands since they were revealed, so I imagine most people are sick of hearing about it. Regardless, I am going to reiterate: bouncelands are awesome, they are 2-for-1s, and you should pick them early and play them. I’ve played half on-color bouncelands almost every time, and even completely off-color ones if my mana requirements aren’t too harsh. They really are that good.
An extra artifact that can pick up a Plating and smash is an incredible ability to get from a land, and Blinkmoth Nexus feels as close to a 2-for-1 as you get without actually being one. I’d also gladly play this in non-Affinity decks, as it is a spell plus a land at very low cost.
The better your deck is, the more you want this. You should ideally be drafting affinity decks that can and want to play this, which is to say decks with lots of artifacts, few colored cards, and plenty of actual affinity cards.
If you have decent mana and two Eldrazi cards, this is worth the trouble. I wouldn’t play it for just one card unless I really didn’t mind a colorless land (which won’t be most decks).
This is better here than most formats, as there are more 3+ color decks. Don’t expect to see this floating around late.
Eye of Ugin
It’s not often that you will have a deck with multiple cards that work with this, so I’d ignore this until I already have that deck.
This set is about as heavily-themed as it appears, so it made a lot of sense to me to break it down the way I did (though funnily enough, not in this exact article). Let me know if that worked for you, and enjoy playing with Modern Masters 2015!