It’s been 16 years… and I can still smell the fresh packs. Magic was the game of dreams. And it was, it really was…
And it’s back! For those of you who have been playing for a while, Ultimate Masters should bring a healthy dose of nostalgia. There are some incredible cards being printed from mythic to common, and they come together to form what appears to be a glorious Limited environment. To see the full Ultimate Masters spoiler, check it out here.
For those who were still worried about the expected value of the set, worry no longer! This set has surpassed expectations and should hold plenty of value for years to come. I stand by my statement from my last article that any Ultimate Masters box that can be had for $275 or less is a great deal. Depending on how much product gets printed, which we have no indication of so far, it’s possible that any boxes purchased for less than the MSRP of $336 will be worth it. Now, with the purchase strategy covered, on to the Limited strategy!
Thankfully, all signs point to Ultimate Masters being a great Limited set. So, even if you can only play in a single draft, I encourage you to do so. Since most people will only draft this set once or twice, thorough preparation, like reading this article, is essential to understanding the depth of the Limited format. Players that have been playing for a while will have an advantage in this set, primarily because they’ve seen, and possibly played with, these cards before. For those who don’t know these cards or those who simply want a refresher, read on!
Ultimate Masters, more than any other Masters set we’ve seen, has an abundance of graveyard synergies. This set includes madness, flashback, and numerous other unnamed abilities that interact with discarding, returning things from the graveyard, and gaining advantage from a full graveyard. Instant speed and free discard outlets will be important to enable these strategies. Due to the power level of some of the rares and mythics, there will be a certain number of non-games where your opponent gets to Goryo’s Vengeance an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn three, but those games will not be extremely common. As is typically true in Limited, most games will be won with common and uncommon creatures swinging across a battlefield. Before we get to the archetypes of Ultimate Masters, let’s first review some important mechanics in the set.
It’s back! Flashback (on 17 cards in UMA) is the most common mechanic in Ultimate Masters, and it’s pretty straightforward. If a spell with Flashback is in your graveyard, you may cast it for its Flashback cost, but still at the same speed (sorcery or instant) as the original spell states. Thankfully, these cards are easy to keep track of, as long as you keep an eye on your and your opponent’s graveyards.
It’s madness! Madness (8 cards), the mechanic, is back with some of the premier cards from the Torment set including Basking Rootwalla and Circular Logic. Along with instant-speed discard outlets, Madness allows players to not only gain card advantage from their discards but also play creatures and other sorcery-speed spells at any time. If you play against a deck with discard outlets, you’ll need to be prepared for any of the Madness cards in the appropriate colors.
The heroes have returned! Heroic (8 cards) is a mechanic that wants you to target your own creatures. Instants, sorceries, and auras that buff your creatures play especially well with heroic. Heroic is traditionally an aggressive mechanic, seeking to overpower your opponent before they can establish a meaningful board presence of their own. Always be cautious when going into combat against Heroic creatures across the table. Even simple combat tricks can lead to massive blowouts if you don’t play around them. It’s important to note for players unfamiliar with this mechanic – the Heroic ability does not trigger when an opponent targets the creature.
Flashback, Madness, and Heroic are the three most common mechanics in Ultimate Masters, but there are a few other mechanics you should be aware of:
Evoke (6 cards) – Creatures with Evoke can be cast for their Evoke cost, often cheaper, in which case they are sacrificed immediately after being cast, typically for a spell-like effect.
Persist (6 cards) – Creatures with Persist return to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on them when they’re killed. Notably, if you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature which has already persisted, the counters cancel each other out, and the creature can then persist again when it dies.
Delve (5 cards) – Spells with Delve can be cast by removing cards from your graveyard to exile. Each card exiled this way pays for one generic mana of the spell’s cost.
Dredge (5 cards) – While in your graveyard, you can return a Dredge to your hand by milling the number of cards stated on the Dredge card instead of drawing a card. This is an efficient way to get a lot of cards into your graveyard quickly.
Totem Armor (5 cards) – Auras with Totem Armor can be sacrificed to save the enchanted creature from dying due to lethal damage or destroy effects.
There is a minimum of color fixing at lower rarities in Ultimate Masters. This means Limited decks are more likely to be two-color, sometimes with a minor splash of a third color. A lot of synergies with the set also point towards two color pairs, as adding a second color adds a ton of power to the potential of your deck. Mono-colored decks are unlikely to be good, although some white and red uncommons will reward you for leaning heavily into your primary color.
Finally, it’s always important to identify the removal available at common in a set. These are the removal spells you should expect your opponents to have when they’re in the appropriate colors, and you should play around them when possible. The common removal in Ultimate Masters reflects the traditional approach Wizards of the Coast takes in regards to each color’s strengths. Black gets the most efficient, unrestricted removal. Red gets damage-based removal which can also damage players. White gets enchantment-based removal. Blue doesn’t get hard removal but can return a creature to hand where it is once more vulnerable to a variety of blue counterspells. Green removal can destroy flyers but is otherwise restricted to killing things when it already has creatures on the battlefield.
All of the themes that I’ve covered today indicate that Ultimate Masters will be a powerful, flexible, and nostalgic set to draft. These qualities traditionally combine for an excellent Limited environment! In Part 2 of this series on Ultimate Masters Limited, I’ll cover the goals and build-around cards in each color pair, as well as which cards you should take early in a draft. Until then, take time to review the spoilers, get excited for the full release of Ultimate Masters on December 7th, and ask any questions you may have in the comments section below.
To those of you celebrating this weekend, Happy Thanksgiving! Give thanks for such a great Masters set!