Last week, we did our best to predict the archetypes of Ultimate Masters. Well, this past weekend I got to put those postulations through their paces at PAX Unplugged, playing in one Sealed and one Draft event. So, how did it go?

Overall, I stand by last week’s predictions. Ultimate Masters is full of powerful graveyard synergies. Every deck I played with and against had at least some graveyard-related shenanigans. Even Heroic decks, which presumably would eschew the graveyard, had cards like Undying Rage and Firewing Phoenix. Decks were powerful, as Masters decks always are.

However, I’m not here for self-congratulations. Far more interesting, it turns out, were things I did not predict or even notice when viewing the set.

The average power of Ultimate Masters is high, even for a Masters set. Not only is every card playable, but cards are just good. For example, Glacial Ray in Modern Masters 2013 was a fantastic card if you could Splice with it, but merely fineif you couldn’t. UMA’s Fiery Temper, however, is quite good on its own (three damage is a whole lot more than two) and utterly disgusting in conjunction with cards like Frantic Search, Wild Mongrel, and Mad Prophet—all of which are common.Aethersnipe is a generically strong card and a potential finisher in its own right, but ridiculous when you cast Angelic Renewal on turn two. Dreamscape Artist is a slow engine; but in a format with little color fixing, Delve, Madness, and reanimation, it does almost everything you could want in a deck.

The rampant graveyard synergies push some cards far beyond how good they seem to be, even when they seem excellent already. Perhaps the best example is Treasure Cruise. Normally the draw three is an outstanding card when the game goes long or you spend cards to enable it. In UMA, filling the graveyard is not only facile, but often a core component of your game plan. Treasure Cruise was absolutely outstanding. That said, it wasn’t the blue common I was most impressed by. That honor goes to an Innistradi workhorse, Deranged Assistant.

Deranged Assistant was a very good card in Innistrad. It helped fill your graveyard with creatures for Stitched DrakeSpider Spawning, and Unburial Rites while also setting up flashback spells or other self-mill shenanigans.

Well, Deranged Assistant still does all of that. In addition it also enables Rise from the Tides, an entire reanimation archetype, Delve spells, self-reanimating creatures like Firewing Phoenix or Vengevine, and a host of other micro-synergies. Oh, it also accelerates mana in a format mostly lacking that at low cost, powering out essential but expensive enablers like Mad Prophet and helping more combo-centric decks race aggressive decks or other combo decks. Deranged Assistant is the perfect example of an unassuming card that could be among the best commons in the set due to its universal utility and endless synergies.

I enjoyed Ultimate Masters much more than I thought I would. It might actually be my favorite Masters set since the very first. Sure, it lacks the clear 8-12 archetypes I prefer, but it has the oodles of synergy and dynamic pick orders I crave. It threads the needle between a draft on rails and all goodstuff decks, letting some go all-in on Furnace Celebration while others have Resurrection and Spider Spawning or Wingsteed Rider and Foil.

I love that Offalsnout is a maindeckable card, that Treasure Cruise is in the format, and all the fun things there are to do with Wild Mongrel. I love that Rise from the Tides and Spider Spawning are both viable options without being unstoppable.

The set looks deeply enjoyable and I’m envious of my friends who are able to make the trek out to Vancouver at the end of the month. The only real issue I have with the set is its price, which seems to have kept local UMA events to a minimum, with product allocated mostly towards box purchases and Constructed payouts, rather than $40-$50 drafts. I look forward to streaming it on Magic Online and maybe a team draft or two, but absent a major event I can attend and practice for, it’s hard to justify dropping $600 on a pair of boxes.

Ultimate Masters proves a worthy conclusion to my favorite product line. I’m glad it went out on a bang, with a Limited format to potentially rival the greats, a huge amount of value to justify the price point, and a new kind of alternate artwork to excite the collectors hiding in basically all of us. Well done, Wizards. Here’s hoping Masters aren’t away for too long or that the new experiments in supplemental sets scratch our itch for a high power, high synergy Limited format.

Oh! And lest I forget, here’s what I piloted at PAX (both went 2-1):

Sealed Deck: WUr stuff

(I really wanted to employ shenanigans, but there weren’t any I could enable from my pool, so I settled on goodstuff.)

Draft Deck: RGu Madness

(This deck really wanted a second Wild Mongrel, but I need saw one. I wasn’t sure whether to play the green or just go monoblue. In round 3, I boarded into the following green-less deck.)

(This probably was just the correct choice. It didn’t play Wild Mongrel, which was my best card, and it didn’t have a Frantic Search, but Deranged Assistant does so much for this deck.)

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Armillary Sphere. Sometimes when you staple two cards together, it costs more—like Shock and Lightning Blast. Less frequently, it costs less—like Cruel Ultimatum compared to Diabolic Edict, Lava AxeFugueRaise Dead, Concentrate, and Chaplain’s Blessing. Armillary Sphere is a card that costs exactly what two Wanderer’s Twigs cost, joining the Mind Stone/Hedron Archive/Dreamstone Hedron family of additive cards producing card advantage.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.