As with most set releases, the full Modern Masters 2015 Spoiler was met with mixed reviews. Some players applauded Wizards for improving the set's mythics, reprinting key staples, and increasing the print run. Others lashed out for a supposed lack of solid rares, the absence of other key staples, and other unfavorable comparisons to the first Modern Masters. Although all Magic sets produce these divided opinions, it is more pronounced with Modern Masters 2015 because of the value of certain cards and the high expectations surrounding the product. It's impossible to not compare it to MM2013. Both sides certainly have a case. There have been numerous articles, posts, and analyses on the set, including both articles and reddit posts on its expected value, general set reviews, and thousands of posts worth of player opinion. But one element missing from most of these analyses is the playability of Modern Masters 2015. Not just the value: plenty of articles and experts have written extensively on this. Rather, on how the cards in the set truly represent the Modern staples and playables of the namesake format.
By its nature, Modern Masters was promised as a set full of Modern hallmarks. Wizards sure did build up expectations. In their initial set announcement, the designers promised "every card in Modern Masters can be added to your favorite Modern-format decks". The Release Notes affirmed these goals, stating "some of the most beloved and iconic cards from the Modern format will appear in the same booster packs". Sure, there would be a Limited component at play, but this isn't "Sealed Masters 2015". This is "Modern Masters 2015", and people want to see Modern playables in the set. In this article, I want to see if Wizards fulfilled the promises and if Modern Masters 2015 lived up to the hype. Again, this isn't so much a financial analysis, which has already been done in multiple other places. This is about the playability of the average Modern Masters card and if the cards making the cut are really "the most beloved and iconic cards" in Modern. To do this, I'll identify the "Modern staples" of MM2015 both on their own terms and in comparison to those in the original Modern Masters. This will give us a more objective way of comparing the sets and seeing if MM2015 is really the success story players expected it to be.
Expectations Around Playability
Let's start with the Tarmogoyf in the room: does playability really matter for MM2015? Do the cards really need to be Constructed format staples, or is there room for the Limited experience? Although I don't think MM2015 needs to sacrifice Limited for the Constructed players out there (no common Lightning Bolt, thanks very much!), I also think it's pretty clear this is supposed to be a gateway set for aspiring Modern players. It's also supposed to be a set to drum up interest in the Constructed format, both for veterans who just need more cards, and for new players who want to start their Modern collection. And really, we need to be honest here: you don't make Goyf the postermonster of your set release to not create high expectations for Constructed playability. If Goyf is your mascot, you better believe people have high expectations.
There are mountains of evidence that Wizards also views it this way. In addition to the quotes I mentioned earlier in the article, this set was always marketed as a Constructed entry point. Just look at those PAX East spoilers to hype the set: Goyf and Karn Liberated, two Constructed powerhouses from the format. This was also the central impetus behind the set's designers: as Maro said in his May 4 "Mining the Past" article, "The design team started by listing all the cards they wanted for Constructed reasons." All of these reasons and a dozen others we could have listed all show MM2015 is about both a Limited experience and also a Constructed showcase. More importantly, this suggests players are completely justified in expecting lots of Constructed staples. Wizards may not have intended to give this, but the expectation was very reasonable given the set's framing. If nothing else, it is reasonable the set have at least AS MANY playables as the original MM. MM packs were less expensive and the designers had less experience. So regardless of Wizards expectation-building for MM2015, the 2013 MM alone would build player expectations for something at least as good.
Given that playability clearly matters for MM2015, let's think of ways to operationalize it. To start, playability does not always mean "monetary value". For instance, Mana Leak is as cheap as it gets (even in foil!) but this is a solid Modern playable any new player would love to have in their collection. Cards like that are a big reason you can justify buying a box, particularly as an entry-level Modern newcomer who wants to build up that Modern arsenal. Playability also doesn't mean playability in some other format. This ain't "Commander Masters" or "Kitchen Table Masters". Sure, some MM2015 cards are going to necessarily be reprints for other venues. I'm as happy as the next guy that Kozilek isn't so pricey. But those kinds of reprints should not come at the expense of the Modern cards, especially given the expectation Wizards built around the set.
That brings us to my personal top pick for gauging playability: prevalence in Top Decks. If a card sees maindeck or sideboard play in any tier 1, 2, or even 3 deck, I'll count that baby as a Modern playable. Now, "tier 3" doesn't mean "tier 5", so although we might include some Soul Sisters or BW Tokens cards (hi Spectral Procession), we are definitely not including Mystic Snake because it has "potential" in your FNM Bant deck. I only care about solid playable cards that could reasonably go into the collection of a new Modern player, or fill out the binders of a veteran one. Price is obviously going to be a factor in the background here because there is naturally a strong correlation between price and playability. But I want to assess MM2015 as a Modern set, not just as something you turn around on eBay or for CF/SCG store credit. That's a lot of work and that's not the reason most people buy this set.
As a final disclaimer before we get started, I acknowledge the Limited environment is important and that too much Constructed emphasis can be at odds with a good Sealed/Draft experience. But this should not come at the expense of Constructed cards. I don't care how much Comet Storm benefits the Limited experience. Things like that should not get in the way of a set primarily marketed as a Modern set, especially when they are are so many cards that can fill its slot and fulfill both demands.
MM1 vs. MM2015: Playability Showdown
Looking at those tier 1, 2, and 3 decks, I checked to see what MM and MM2015 cards could be considered "staples" at the time of their printing. For MM, this meant looking at cards from last year's metagame. Murderous Redcap may have been an unintentional victim of the January 2015 bannings, but he was a serious tier 1 player when the first MM hit the shelves. I also don't give any weighting to staples based on their deck. Sure, a Twin reprint carries more weight than a Repeal reprint, but remember Wizards' promises around the set. They didn't promise "tier 1" reprints. They just promised reprints that could go into "Modern decks". Simic Graft and Elementals aren't "real" Modern decks. They have Modern legal cards, yes, but they aren't "Modern decks" the way most people understand that term. So as long as a card was playable in a competitive or semi-competitive deck, it got counted.
Let's start with the MM2015 playables. Here are the cards along with one of the notable decks they belong to. I also give the count of playables in each rarity. Don't worry about percents and more analysis: that's coming later. Big shout out to MTGSalvation user izzetmage, whose post in an MM2015 thread was one of the inspirations for this article.
[su_spoiler title="MM2015 Playables: Mythics (12/15)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]Bitterblossom (Faeries)
Dark Confidant (Jund)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite (UW Tron)
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (RG Tron)
Iona, Shield of Emeria (UW Tron)
Karn Liberated (RG Tron)
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (Twin)
Mox Opal (Affinity)
Primeval Titan (Amulet Bloom)
Tarmogoyf (Abzan, Jund)
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (RG Tron)
Vendilion Clique (Twin, UWR Midrange/Control)
[su_spoiler title="MM2015 Playables: Rares (15/53)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
All Is Dust (RG Tron)
Blinkmoth Nexus (Affinity)
Cryptic Command (Twin, UWR Control)
Daybreak Coronet (Bogles)
Etched Champion (Affinity)
Eye of Ugin (RG Tron)
Fulminator Mage (Living End, Abzan)
Hurkyl's Recall (blue sideboards)
Leyline of Sanctity (white sideboards)
Mirran Crusader (GW Hatebears)
Noble Hierarch (Infect, Abzan Liege)
Spellskite (various sideboards)
Splinter Twin (Twin)
Surgical Extraction (Mill)
Wilt-Leaf Liege (Abzan Liege)
[su_spoiler title="MM2015 Playables: Uncommons (17/80)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Boros Garrison (Amulet Bloom)
Celestial Purge (white sideboards)
Combust (red sideboards)
Cranial Plating (Affinity)
Deathmark (black sideboards)
Dismember (Merfolk, various sideboards)
Electrolyze (Twin, UWR Control/Midrange)
Expedition Map (RG Tron, Mono U Tron)
Flashfreeze (blue sideboards)
Golgari Rot Farm (Amulet Bloom)
Gruul Turf (Amulet Bloom)
Lightning Bolt (Jund, Twin, Burn)
Mutagenic Growth (Infect)
Remand (Twin, Grixis Delver)
Selesnya Sanctuary (Amulet Bloom)
Simic Growth Chamber (Amulet Bloom)
Spectral Procession (BW Tokens, Soul Sisters)
[su_spoiler title="MM2015 Playables: Commons (11/101)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Apostle's Blessing (Infect)
Burst Lightning (Burn, Twin)
Darksteel Citadel (Affinity)
Mana Leak (UWR Control, Grixis Delver)
Raise the Alarm (BW Tokens)
Repeal (Mono U Tron)
Smash to Smithereens (Burn)
Tribal Flames (Domain Zoo)
Vapor Snag (Merfolk)
Vines of Vastwood (Infect)
Now let's look at staples from the original MM. Same convention, but note some of the older decks included to reflect the time of its release.
[su_spoiler title="MM2013 Playables: Mythics (8/15)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Dark Confidant (Jund)
Elspeth, Knight-Errant (Zoo, UW Control)
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (Twin, Kiki Pod)
Sword of Fire and Ice (Hatebears)
Sword of Light and Shadow (Hatebears)
Tarmogoyf (Jund, BG Rock)
Vedalken Shackles (Blue Moon)
Vendilion Clique (Twin, UWR Midrange/Control)
[su_spoiler title="MM2013 Playables: Rares (25/53)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Academy Ruins (Mono U Tron)
Æther Vial (Merfolk)
Angel's Grace (Ad Nauseam)
Arcbound Ravager (Affinity)
Blinkmoth Nexus (Affinity)
Blood Moon (Twin, Blue Moon)
Chalice of the Void (various sideboards)
City of Brass (Amulet Bloom, Ad Nauseam (some versions...))
Cryptic Command (Twin, UWR Control/Midrange)
Engineered Explosives (various sideboards)
Ethersworn Canonist (Melira Pod, Affinity)
Gifts Ungiven (4C Gifts)
Glen Elendra Archmage (Kiki Pod)
Kataki, War's Wage (Melira Pod)
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner (Merfolk)
Knight of the Reliquary (Zoo)
Life from the Loam (Assault Loam)
Lotus Bloom (Ad Nauseam)
Maelstrom Pulse (Abzan, Jund)
Pact of Negation (Amulet Bloom)
Reveillark (Melira Pod)
Scion of Oona (Faeries)
Slaughter Pact (BG Rock, Jund)
Summoner's Pact (Amulet Bloom)
[su_spoiler title="MM2013 Playables: Uncommons (14/60)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Desperate Ritual (Storm)
Electrolyze (Twin, UWR Control/Midrange)
Eternal Witness (Melira Pod)
Flickerwisp (Death and Taxes)
Kitchen Finks (Melira Pod)
Lightning Helix (UWR Control/Midrange)
Mind Funeral (Mill)
Murderous Redcap (Melira Pod)
Path to Exile (Zoo, UWR Control/Midrange)
Relic of Progenitus (various sideboards)
Spell Snare (Twin, UWR Control/Midrange)
Tidehollow Sculler (BW Tokens)
Tribal Flames (Domain Zoo)
[su_spoiler title="MM2013 Playables: Commons (13/101)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]
Echoing Truth (Storm, Ad Nauseam)
Empty the Warrens (Storm)
Faerie Macabre (Living End)
Lava Spike (Burn)
Peer Through Depths (Scapeshift)
Raven's Crime (4C Gifts)
Rift Bolt (Burn)
Search for Tomorrow (Scapeshift)
Spellstutter Sprite (Faeries)
Stinkweed Imp (Dredgevine)
Street Wraith (Living End)
Now that we have the playables down, we can start breaking down the sets based on their playability. The following table shows some key stats about the sets themselves, as well as the percentage of each rarity that could be considered "playable" by the above analysis. We'll use these numbers in a moment to compute an overall playability rating for the two sets.
There were two big takeaways from this table. The first is that commons and uncommons aren't much different in these two sets. MM2015 is a bit lighter in this department than its predecessor, but the difference isn't so large as to count as a "break" with expectations. That said, I think if we added value to this equation, expressing playability as a function of price, we would start to see the gap widen. Helix, Path, and Snare were big MM reprints. MM2015 has playables in those slots, but they aren't of the same quality in some players' eyes.
The other big takeaway is the most obvious: the rare and mythic distribution. MM2015 exemplifies the "Mythic Lottery" approach to set design. These are both valuable mythics as well as useful mythics, and you will almost always be happy to open one (or livid due to Comet Storm). The original MM, by contrast, has both fewer mythics and a bunch of really crappy ones. Absolutely no one wanted to open those Kamigawa dragons, except maybe that kid who has been rocking his dragon deck since [mtg_Card]Shivan Dragon[/mtg_card made him who he is today. In place of those mythics, however, MM has much better rares and also more of those rares. This was a big draw to many players. It's also largely absent from MM2015, which has more cards (all in the uncommons), costs more money, but somehow had worse rares. That's not to knock the rares we did get: Spellskite, Hierarch, Command, Liege, etc. are all excellent reprints. It's just to observe a difference in distribution affecting overall pack playability. This is reflected in the final numbers. 22% of the MM2015 cards are "playables" as compared with 26% of the first MM's.
Speaking of which, it's time to tie this all in to packs and boxes. It's one thing to know what percentage of a set is playable. It's another to put that in dollar terms. The table below attempts to do this. First, I calculate the "expected playability value" of any given slot in a pack (e.g. 21% of MM2015 uncommons are playable, there are 3 uncommons per pack, so the EPV for that slot is .28*3=.2). Then I show the number of playables per pack and box you are expected to open, adding in the EPV for the foil slot (I don't show those calculations to save space). Finally, I end with a dollar valuation for playables: that is, the average dollar amount you need to spend on the product to get a single playable card. In my view, this is the best number to assess the relative playability of the two sets.
|Cost per pack||$9.99||$6.99||+$3.00|
|Average $s spent|
for one playable
Stated another way, for every $4.35 you spend on Modern Masters 2015, you can expect to get 1 playable card. With the first Modern Masters, however, you had to spend only $2.56 to get 1 playable card. MM2015 has, on average, 2.3 playables per pack and 55 per box. Old MM had 2.7 playables per pack and 65 per box. Rounding those numbers would widen the gap: 2 per pack and 48 per box for MM2015 and 3 per pack and 72 per box for MM.
For me, this is really where MM2015 falls apart and where a lot of player dissatisfaction is justified. Say what you will about the price of the cards: Wizards isn't actually trying to print money, so we can't get too upset about that. But the playability of the set is just a lot lower, especially relative to its price. I think this is the numeric explanation, the quantitative articulation, of why many players are disappointed with the set. All those promises we talked about earlier in the article? Although they aren't entirely absent from the set, MM2015 definitely has less Constructed Modern applicability and staples than the original. That gets even more disappointing when you see how many of the questionable cards got included in place of a more playable alternative. Profane Command over Damnation? Mirror Entity over Serra's Ascendant? Guile over Lord of Atlantis (seriously, where the heck are the Merfolk??). Any of these substitutions, let alone those at uncommon and common, could have increased the playability index of MM2015 without ruining the draft environment or making the product too expensive. So these numbers really do justify a lot of frustration I see in the community, particularly among those players comparing the two MM sets.
General MM2015 Observations
It's unfortunate MM2015 does not have the same playability as the first MM, particularly in terms of your purchasing power in the set. But that doesn't mean it didn't have some general hits and misses we can't talk about independent of that playability. I want to end the article with a quick review of the winners, losers, and question marks of the set. This is the more traditional kind of MM2015 review you've probably seen elsewhere, but hey, you can't do a Modern Masters article without it.
In my last article on MM2015, I made some reprint predictions about what would and would not be in the set. Some of those cards are included in the "winner's" bracket for MM2015. Opal, Command, Hierarch, Fulminator Mage, and Remand were all big inclusions here, and everyone in Modern is thankful for them. Some pleasant surprises in this department were Spellskite, Primeval Titan, Bitterblossom, and Leyline of Sanctity. It's important that all Modern players have access to good sideboard cards. But it was also unclear that Wizards would reprint cards just because they are Modern sideboard staples. Spellskite and Leyline show that this is absolutely in line with the product. Leyline gives Modern players that edge against Burn as well as an edge against Abzan. Spellskite is a catchall against Abzan, Infect, Twin, and a host of other decks. It's important that players have access to sideboard cards like this, regardless of what deck they are building, and Modern newcomers weren't going to dish out $80 for a playset of sideboard bullets for matchups that were "only" 20% or so of the metagame. The other reason I'm particularly happy about Leyline (not to mention Titan, Liege, Cryptic), is that it prove Wizards is willing to reprint partial cycles in MM sets to address supply issues. This bodes well for future releases.
Also, Twin is back. Got that one wrong in the last article (that was my "risky" prediction), but everyone is happy to see the card back. Say what you will about Twin, but it's a solid tier 1 deck and it's important that new players have access to tier 1 staples.
MM2015 has two kinds of "bad" in it. The first are the cards that shouldn't be there but are. Comet Storm is the posterchild of this category, but at least the rest of the mythics are so good that we can overlook this one inclusion. Much more offensive are garbage slots like Surrakar Spellblade, Banefire, Ant Queen, Wolfbriar Elemental, and Chimeric Mass. I get that Wizards needs to consider the Limited environment when making the product. But come on. Was Azusa, Lost but Seeking going to break the Sealed environment so much that she couldn't be included in place of that awful Elemental? These kinds of decisions did not have to be made in every single rare slot. Obviously then the set would just be too expensive. But even just a few more swaps would have brought the set's playability in line with that of the original MM, and a lot of players would have been happier.
The second species of "bad" are the cards that should have been in MM2015 but were not. Just like Comet Storm is the posterchild of the first kind of "bad", Serum Visions is the posterchild of this one (although more on SV later...). Some of these cards are probable reprints in upcoming products: Inquisition of Kozilek, Goblin Guide, Zendikar manlands, etc. I had predicted some of these cards would return in MM2015, and was sad to see them gone. Then again, all three of those listed above are definite considerations for Battle For Zendikar in the fall, so we have to wait and see. Much more baffling are exclusions like Gitaxian Probe, Inkmoth Nexus, every Modern merfolk ever, and Blood Moon. These are the kinds of cards that absolutely should have been included, whether for economic reasons, because they fit the set's themes, because they could have made a more interesting subtheme in the set (who DOESN'T want to draft Merfolk??), or to hype up the product. These kinds of missed opportunities are unfortunate, although in some of the more obvious cases (e.g. Inquisition and Guide), they probably suggest a future reprinting elsewhere. Just like how Thoughtseizes absence from the first MM signaled its return in Theros.
The (really, really) Ugly
I like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable dude. I get the different pressures Wizards has in making sets like this, and I understand that mismanaged and mismatched expectations can blow things out of proportion. Overall, MM2015 is a pretty solid set, even if it falls short of its mark (it doesn't even fall that short, all things considered). But there are some things we just can't forgive and can't forget, and those are in the "Ugly" category of MM2015.
The first is the continued decision to put Goyf at mythic and leave it at that. Make that bad boy a GP promo. Put it in the foil slot as a full-card art bonus that isn't allowed in your Limited deck. Put it in a Modern event deck (Abzan vs. Twin). Wizards is full of creative and innovative people and I cannot believe they haven't figured out a way to drop the card's price. We already know that dropping prices is one of their goals: MM2015 wouldn't exist if that wasn't on their radar. Goyf is a big barrier to entry for lots of players, and I'm not so elitist to believe that the format is better off because of it. Yeah, adults with income can afford Goyf just as they can afford any other adult hobby. But I want the format to grow and I want more people to enter in, and Goyf's price is a barrier to this. Banning the card is not an option (it's as fair as they come and it's not even required for green OR midrange decks). But for players who want to play Abzan, Junk, or Zoo, they shouldn't have to spend as much on 4 cards as other players do on their entire deck. I don't view this as a serious problem with Modern, but it's definitely a serious problem with MM products that could be more intentionally addressed.
The second big "ugly" is the lack of new art. Pillory of the Sleepless looks awesome. Great color, cool perspective, sick colors, more flavor than a McRib sandwich, etc. Too bad Pillory sees about as much play as Horde of Notions or some of the other bizarre inclusions in the set. People would have killed for sweet new art on Electrolyze, Mana Leak, and Lightning Bolt. Or even some full-card art basic lands. These kinds of missed opportunities make sad pandas of us all, although given some of the other art that came out of MM2015's context (see the next paragraph), maybe it's better we didn't get what we asked for.
That brings us to the third and final third ugliness: Serum Visions. I don't even remember the last time a common needed a mass-product reprint run so badly. $7+ for a common is completely insane, and this was by far the most frustrating and disappointing exclusion in the set, both for me and for most players I have talked with. Yeah, Wizards made SV the August FNM promo, but that's not the sort of supply increase we wanted to see. If anything, it looks like a profit grab, a way to get players into FNMs when they should have just included it in MM2015 to tank the price. This is the exact kind of card players want to add to their collection when buying a box or pack, and its omission is just disgusting. Wizards could easily have foreseen this when MM2015 cards were being selected, and it's by far the most out-of-touch aspect of the set. As I said, just disgusting.
And speaking of "ugly" and "disgusting", here's the masterpiece you get in August's FNM:
Let's just say I miss the old art...
That's a wrap for MM2015. Strong on mythics, low on playability, pretty average as far as an MM set should be. Hopefully Wizards will learn from some of the mistakes with this set in time for the next MM run, and hopefully some of those omissions bode well for upcoming set releases this year.
Editor's note (5/13): Boy does time fly! Original article incorrectly labeled the first MM as "MM2014", not "MM2013" to reflect its actual release date.