This past weekend, Magic made history. For the first time in twenty-two years, players opened Magic booster packs with no idea what would be inside.* The Iconic Masters prerelease at HasCon was a resounding success, as player gleefully opened some of Magic’s most powerful and iconic spells and experienced a phenomenal Limited remix, as we’ve come to expect from Masters sets.

*Technically, anyone who’d been to the 25th Anniversary Panel (which includes me), knew that the Kamigawa dragons, Restoration Angel, Primeval Titan, future sight land cycle, and Mana Drain could be included in those packs. But we didn’t know anything about archetypes or lower rarity cards, the lifeblood of Limited.

I’m delighted to say that we at Hipsters were there to cover all of it. I had the privilege of livestreaming the very first Iconic Masters event, and participating in the livestream of the only Iconic Masters draft that will happen for the next two months. (All credit to my fellow Hipsters and our amazing tech god, Dana). So, let’s answer the question on everyone’s minds: how is the Limited format?

The Blind Sealed Build

As discussed in last week’s guide to blind prereleasing, I found some pretty clear signposts about what to expect from the format. I opened two copies of Corpsejack Menace, which had been downshifted to uncommon: clearly, B/G cares about +1/+1 counters. Kiln Fiend coupled with Seeker of the Way and Jhessian Thief downshifted to common clearly indicated a spells-matter theme. Vent Sentinel, Overgrown Battlement, and Doorkeeper strongly suggested a multicolor wall deck. My pool didn’t clarify the themes of every color, but it gave me a few ideas of what to expect. After some hemming and hawing about G/U (my favorite color combination), I ended up building the following:

This pool seemed subpar (compared to what my fellow Hipsters opened), but it did silly things like play two Corpsejack Menaces and a 5/6 Thrill-Kill Assassin by turn four. It fared very poorly against Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. I faced the praetor in rounds one and three, pushing me to switch into blue for Mana Leak and Dissolve to potentially avoid losing to a resolved praetor. The additional gains of Mahamoti Djinn and a pair of Phantom Monsters suggested that blue/green was the better build overall.

The livestream was an absolute blast. Both Wizards and Pastimes were super accommodating, allowing us to take over a small area of the event and continuously broadcast. (If you didn’t catch us live, you’ll be able to watch those recordings later in the week on the site.) I went 2-1 in matches, losing to Wizards’ own A.E. Marling (who was sporting an excellent Geralf cosplay for much of HasCon).

The jankiest Masters combo ever

I participated in a second Iconic Masters sealed event Friday evening, constructing a tried-and-true archetype: boros beats.

The deck was slow for Boros, but hit incredibly hard and was able to leverage Trumpet Blast and Great Teacher’s Decree to create unstoppable swings. The deck didn’t lose a match (which suggests that the fun police is strong, which is good for a Masters formats), but that’s not what’s most important. What is important is that Zac Clark created one of the jankiest Limited combos I’ve ever seen. By Friday evening, we’d all figured out that W/B is all about lifegain. Well, Clark took a mediocre pool with two copies of M14 build-around Angelic Accord and scraped for every way to gain four life he could.

He found Tavern Swindler. The 2/2 for two with an ability that says, “over the long term, if you’re lucky, gain 3-6 life.” Well, you don’t need to get lucky that many times when each successful coin flip comes with an Air Elemental or two. In the pivotal game, I suicidally attacked with Ryusei, the Falling Star, wiping almost all my entire board just to kill a Tavern Swindler, preventing Zac from making any more angels and eventually winning me the game.

There’s something beautiful about combining cards from across Magic’s history, cards that were never designed to do much or be played together, and creating a hodgepodge engine that works. We’ve seen Burning Vengeance and Scion of the Wild get much more support in previous Masters sets, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a dramatic inclusion as the angel swindler (and I hope we see more insanity like that again). Hats off to the Iconic Masters design teams.

It’s all about the draft

On Saturday afternoon, the day after Iconic Masters was unveiled, we sat down in the Courtyard Marriott lobby and team drafted.* To the best of my knowledge, this is the only draft that happened or was recorded that weekend, meaning ours draft is the only draft on record for the next two months. That’s wild and awesome!

*As a disclaimer, we drafted packs which we purchased for Iconic Masters events at our own expense and drafted with the permission, but not support, of Wizards of the Coast. We did not receive packs that were unavailable to the public.

We’d managed to figure out most of the Iconic Masters color pairs between our two sealed events, but a few archetypes still eluded us.

W/U: ??? (tempo? skies?)

U/B: Mill

B/R: Dragons

R/G: Ramp

G/W: ???

W/B: Lifegain

U/R: Spell-aggro

B/G: +1/+1 counters

R/W: Wide-aggro

G/U: Walls

Well, it didn’t take long to figure out our two missing archetypes. Chronicler of Heroes clearly indicates W/G cares about +1/+1 counters, just as B/G does. Azorius Charm being the W/U uncommon similarly suggests a muddled tempo theme, where fliers are backed up by flexible disruption, but the archetype isn’t “X-matters”. I started in white and backed into G/W (splashing red for Lightning Helix and Fireball), so I got to try out the unseen archetype. It looked like a good Limited deck, but not super-spicy (and dead to a Pyroclasm). It turned out out to be a monster. It was fast, hit hard, and drew three to five cards off Chronicler of Heroes.

Yet again, the best story isn’t mine. Dana drafted a sick U/B mill deck and played Rich’s strong B/R dragon deck in round two. Dana had multiple Mnemonic Walls, removal spells, countermagic, Thought Scours, and a singleton Glimpse the Unthinkable (fun for her, agony for her opponent). She missed milling his Bladewing the Risen, allowing him to reanimate a Furnace Whelp. She tried to control his board and finally cast Glimpse the Unthinkable, leaving Rich with one card in his library and lethal on board. However, she was still smiling. Zac Clark, saw it, too: Rich still had an Indulgent Tormentor, which Dana was all-too-happy to force him to draw a card with. Rich extended the hand, and Dana won in the nick of time.

So, how is it?

There’re a lot of things to grade. Iconic Masters looks to be a sweet Limited format, one worth drafting several times to fully appreciate. It has unusual, fascinating card combos and some of the sweetest cards in Magic’s history. But that’s not the coolest thing that happened at HasCon. In fact, I won’t give that honor to MTG Arena (which I’m stoked about), the Magic Party (which was a blast), or getting to livestream the first event (which I’m still flabbergasted we got to do).

There was something magical about sitting down with a hundred or so people and cracking mystery packs together. About hearing Aaron Gazzaniga realize he opened Channel and Fireball, something not possible in Limited since Fourth Edition. About seeing hilarious janky card combos hitherto not seen outside of the Jenniest of Commander decks. About the wonder of cracking a pack and not knowing what might be within for the first time since childhood.

I don’t know whether or when it will be possible for another blind prerelease. We live in a beautifully interconnected world, which means as soon as a pack is cracked somewhere, people everywhere see it, ruining the surprise. That said, I hope we can do it again—and if I weren’t so stoked for Ixalan, I might try and stick my head in the sand and avoid spoilers. But at the same time, I want to know everything.

So, there you have it. The first HasCon is in the books and there’s lots of cool stuff to look forward to down the pipeline (have you seen those Unstable lands?!). Now, we’re right back in the thick of Ixalan spoilers in anticipation of next weeks’ prerelease. What a wondrous time to be playing Magic.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

twitch.tv/ZennithGP

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has an MFA in Game Design from NYU, and does freelance game design.

His favorite card of the month is Censor. Every component of Censor is weak (neither U: Draw a card, nor two mana Force Spike for two mana is good), but put together it’s not only a formidable and flexible spell, it creates a powerful moment when you get someone with it. A Counterspell always hits its mark, but a Censor demands that you time it just right, that your opponent doesn’t see it coming or can’t help but play into it. And because actually countering a spell with it requires so much precision, the cycling cost is basically negligible, making it good (but rarely great) at every stage of the game. Compare it with the also-cool, bigger version in Countervailing Winds, which is also its own nifty design and another callback to powerful countermagic of old.

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