This past Friday, Modern Masters 2015 was spoiled a full two weeks before release (which is normal these days, though there’s no prerelease this weekend). Months and months of excitement have built up to this moment. I loved the original Modern Masters and knew that the second iteration might not be as awesome as the first (ideally, it’d be even better). I knew I might be a bit disappointed and surprised by the spoiler. But what I didn’t expect was to be upset and angry. And what I didn’t expect was a Limited format that looks to be pretty damn bad.

I’m going to set aside any talk about the financial aspect of MMA2015. Plenty of folks have already committed digital ink to digital paper on the subject. Sure, I’m not happy paying $45 a draft or worrying about the product’s scarcity, but those matters aren’t what I know best. My specialty, and my favorite form of Magic, is Limited.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s why I think Modern Masters 2015 Limited might suck.

Disclaimer: Nothing substitutes for playtesting. I recognize that my opinions are conjecture based on my impressions of Modern Masters 2015 and my experience with other Limited formats. I expect and hope that my opinion of the set will likely change (ideally for the better) once the set releases. However, if I thought my opinion had no basis in reality or would not be proven through playtesting, I wouldn’t be writing this.

Dismal Failure

What Makes a Good Limited Format?

We need to answer this question first to evaluate MMA2015. ‘Goodness’ isn’t easily quantifiable and isn’t universal—there’s no Magic formula for what makes a set good and no unanimous agreement on which sets are good or ‘the best.’ Every Limited format is beloved by some and behated by others.

What I can do to answer this question is defer to what made some of the most popular Limited formats good. To the best of my knowledge, Innistrad is among the best (and most popular) Limited formats ever, so let’s start there.

soul of innistrad

Innistrad had strong, generally clear archetypes. In draft, you were rewarded for identifying the open archetype and going in. It was more important to have a synergistic deck than to take all the best cards and make a ‘good stuff’ deck.

This led to a dynamic pick order, one where you didn’t always draft the objectively best card in your color, but often drafted the best card for your deck. For example, you’d happily take Stitched Drake over Claustrophobia when in UB Zombies or might even take Geistflame over Brimstone Volley when in UR Burning Vengeance.

At the same time, these archetypes weren’t rigid; one could make a viable ‘good stuff’ deck (this was often seen when people splashed Brimstone Volley). This is unlike Lorwyn, where if you didn’t commit to a race or class, your deck was likely to be awful.

Every two color pair had an archetype, though not all were equal in power or support. There were no color pairs that just wouldn’t work.

Finally, it had weak fixing, so it was impossible to jam all the best cards into one deck.

As a refresher, these are the ten archetypes in Innistrad, sorted by color pair:


UB—Zombies, self-mill




WB—Human sacrifice (further explored in Dark Ascension)

UR—Burning Vengeance

BG—Graveyard-matters (usually with blue)

RW—Token aggro (the least-supported archetype)

GU—Self-mill (usually with black)

Aether Spellbomb

Looking at the previous Modern Masters, we see much of the same.

It had strong, clear, archetypes. You had ten options, one for each color pair. Six were tribal (counting Robots as a ‘tribe’), two were spell-based, one was five color, and one was red-green (which really wasn’t the Storm color combination it was purported to be). These archetypes were:




RG—Storm…? Creature beatdown.






GU—Five color Kodama’s Reach

These archetypes weren’t rigid. Many of the strong commons worked in at least two decks. Avian Changeling fit into all six tribal decks (enabling the awkward, but viable WU/Esper Faeries and Mardu Goblin/Rebel strategies) and was a fine Wind Drake in Affinity. Glacial Ray was at its best in UR Splice, but was still a Shock in every deck (and combined very well with multiple copies of itself). Even the humble Faerie Mechanist, which was clearly meant for WU Affinity, could at least serve as filler in UB Faeries (and help it dig for Executioner’s Capsule).

Modern Masters, unlike Innistrad, had strong fixing. Each color had a basic landcycler and Terramorphic Expanse at common, plus the vivid lands at uncommon. This led to decks being much better at splashing cards like Lightning Helix or Path to Exile. However, this fixing was not so strong that decks could easily play 3+ base colors (without Kodama’s Reach).

Thief of Hope

Why doesn’t Modern Masters 2015 seem a Good Limited Format?

It took me some time to identify all of the apparent archetypes in Modern Masters 2015. I concede that tribal sets, like Modern Masters 2013 and Innistrad, tend to have clearer archetypes than most sets; it’s unsurprising that MMA2015 will be a bit more muddled. However, many of its color pairs seem to lack synergy, power, and identity.



BR—Bloodthirst aggro

RG—Five color…?





RW—Double strike/equipment


Some of these archetypes are thin; there aren’t many interactions to take advantage of, or are few enablers. UR Elementals seems to hinge on exactly one card: Smokebraider, with blue contributing zero ‘elementals matter’ cards (granted, Magic has none, but then why have UR Elementals be an archetype in the first place?). GU Graft, while gushing with proliferate synergy, appears to require one to be able to consistently hit one’s opponent with a Thrummingbird (in a format where Gut Shot is a common). Some of these archetypes, notably UB, RG, and BG, seem to lack any strategy other than ‘play good cards.’

With thinner archetypes and less synergy, there is a less dynamic pick order. Most decks of any given color will value the same cards about the same (this is the same complaint I had about Rise of the Eldrazi). This leads to a more rigid pick order. Sure, Nameless Inversion is one of the best common removal spells and will be drafted highly (just like Glacial Ray and Dead Weight), but won’t all green decks want Nest Invader to bolster their white tokens, black sacrifice, or red ramp theme? Will the green component of a green/white, a green/red, and a green/black deck substantially differ? I’m not so sure that it will, and that will lead to more homogenous decks and decrease the replayability and enjoyment of the format.

All Suns' Dawn

Setting my complaints about archetypes aside, my biggest concern about Modern Masters is its abundance of colorless fixing and ramp. Evolving Wilds, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Sphere of the Suns, and Alloy Myr are all common, with the Ravnica bouncelands and Expedition Map (which finds them) at uncommon. This much fixing allows decks to do everything and play as many colors as they want.

In MMA2013 and Innistrad, powerful cards would go around the table late because only so many people were in the proper colors to take them, and splashing was always risky (unless you had Kodama’s Reach, the MMA2013 card designed to enable five color). In MMA2015, why shouldn’t five players at the table take fixing and then snatch up every good card they find (particularly if the archetypes don’t provide enough synergistic power)?

Collector Protector

In closing, I feel like MMA2015 is akin to a poorly designed cube. Fixing is ubiquitous, archetypes are weak, and there’s strong incentive to just play 3+ color ‘good stuff’ decks over most of the intended strategies. Then again, perhaps the power level is too low to reward this behavior. If so, does MMA2015 really deserve the ‘Modern Masters’ title if it’s not a best-of Modern Limited strategies? Or perhaps the synergies are there, but they’re so subtle, and the incremental advantages so small, that the set is really just a ‘worst-of’ the pre-NWO complexities of Lorwyn and Time Spiral? Only time and playtesting will tell.

I absolutely hope that my concerns are unfounded and swiftly disproved by the set’s release weekend. Then again, if I was confident in that belief, I wouldn’t be writing this, now would I?

As always, thanks for reading. Hopefully I’ll be back in two weeks to eat some crow.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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