Modern Masters 2015 Playables: Hits and Misses

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.

Daybreak Coronet Cropped

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

Lightning BoltLet’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.

Karn LiberatedThere 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.

Defining Playability

Mana LeakGiven 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.

Spectral ProcessionThat 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.

MM2015 Playables: Mythics (12/15)
MM2015 Playables: Rares (15/53)
MM2015 Playables: Uncommons (17/80)
MM2015 Playables: Commons (11/101)

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.

MM2013 Playables: Mythics (8/15)
MM2013 Playables: Rares (25/53)
MM2013 Playables: Uncommons (14/60)
MM2013 Playables: Commons (13/101)

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.

Total cards249229+20
Playable %
Playable %
Playable %
Playable %

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.

Comet StormThe 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
per pack
per box
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.

Profane CommandFor 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 [mtg_Card]Serra’s Ascendant[/mtg_card]? 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.

The Good

Leyline of Sanctity MM2015In 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.

The Bad

Wolfbriar ElementalMM2015 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.

Inquisition of KozilekThe 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.

TarmogoyfThe 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.

Pillory of the SleeplessThe 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:

Serum Visions

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.

Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.

16 thoughts on “Modern Masters 2015 Playables: Hits and Misses

  1. Quick note, the original MM was released in 2013, not 2014 as you mentioned several times. Overall great article though, I liked getting to see the analysis of the set from a different angle.

    1. Great catch. I fixed it and added an editor’s note. Glad the analysis was interesting! I got tired of just seeing a million Pack/Box EV articles and wanted to try to approach it from a different angle.

      1. Yeah, seeing the playability analysis really is good for me as I am a player who’s new to modern (just got Esper mentor a month ago) and I want to build up a modern collection… I’ll stick with the box I preordered but I’m not sure if I’ll get any more than that.

    1. The only price comparison between the two was in the pack MSRP. I didn’t actually do any pricing on the cards themselves. Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of financial EV articles out there and there are only so many times you can do that before you are just saying everything that’s already been said. The playable price calculation was based on MSRP and not on the actual price of the staples.

      As your article said, lots of missed opportunities in the Limited format!

  2. This article has been the most interesting one I’ve seen on MM2015. I was super hyped about the early includes… but then saw the massive amount of filler included. I really want to build up a paper collection of modern… but I just can’t justify buying a set like this. I’m not a huge drafter but I will likely draft a bit of this set online because it looks like it might be fun.

    I know Wizards loves limited… but if you are printing a box for a constructed format… it might be best to focus on that first and foremost. At least there’s plenty of room to grow for MM2016/17?

    At any rate thanks for the article!

  3. The pack price comparison is a bit misleading as I can’t think of any place that ever sold MM2013 at the MSRP. In most places it was about the same as the MSRP of MM2015.

    That said, will the new set see a comparable markup? We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.

    1. I’m curious to see how the pack pricing turns out too. If MM2015 starts to retail at 12.99 or 13.99, then it’s effectively a wash between the two MMs. But if MM2015 stays at $10 and MM2013 was retailing at 9-10, then the playability gap closes. We’ll have to wait and see!

  4. i think that the “tarmogoyf” thing is just naive. wizards just dont want to mess with the price of goyf, it’s like a semi reserved list

    1. Totally disagree. Wizards has no implicit or explicit obligation to keep Goyf’s price high, unlike with the Reserve List which is its own problem. Wizards also can’t make any profit off Goyf if they don’t reprint it, and the format as a whole makes less money if it’s a barrier to entry. I’m not suggesting Wizards print it at common and flood the market with Goyf. That’s obviously not very profitable in the longterm either. But getting the price down into the low $100s is a much more realistic and reasonable goal. Then they could just reprint it every two years to keep it around that price and ensure they keep selling product off the Goyf lottery.

      The only reason to believe Wizards doesn’t want to print Goyf, in fact, is the concept of the “Goyf lottery” itself. Maybe it’s good for sales for Goyf to be $180+, because it encourages people to buy MM product and try to win big. But I also don’t think this is as profitable in the long run as making the card cheaper and decreasing Modern barriers to entry.

      1. of course, that’s a valid argument, but if wizards wanted goyf being a 100 dolar card, why printing it at mythic? the goyf lottery is fine, but people who want goyfs (or any other specific modern card) just buy them instead of playing the lottery. I think goyf as force of will or wasteland. they are cards that can be reprinted on any suplemental product but for some “secret” reason, they choose to not do that (maybe pressure from companyes like scg or something)

        1. One of the challenges Wizards encounters is the draft format. You can’t just have people going through draft and autopicking Goyf at rare. That brings in all sorts of weird external dynamics to a Limited environment, and I think that’s at odds with what Wizards wants to do with MM2015. Of course, this just means they could print it somewhere outside of MM2015 (promo, event deck, duel deck, etc.). But they don’t, which leads us to wonder why. I think Wizards has developed some reasons about why they don’t want to, but I also don’t think those reasons are good ones. There’s no need to flood the market with Goyfs. But there is some kind of controlled balance that can lower prices without tanking the Goyf economy and while lowering the Modern entry cost. Wizards either needs to be transparent about why they aren’t taking those approaches, or they need to figure out a way to make it work.

  5. Sorry for the late comment, this is the first time i have had a chance to sit down at my PC.

    Firstly, I agree with the vast majority of your argument. MM15 falls short, but not by much. What annoys me is the hysteria surrounding the set, with everyone saying they are disappointed. It’s like the set is 90% good, but everyone is so focused on the other 10% that they are missing that 90% is fantastic. I cannot wait to get my hands on cheaper noble heirarchs, cryptics, leylines, The $20 you save per card on these are going to more than pay for the few misses in my view. Modern got cheaper overall.

    The problem with everyone expecting “value” is that they forget the release of this set is based around 3 massive GP weekend, which will likely go down as the biggest weekend of tournament magic ever. The set has to be based to be playable limited – it just had to be. If it could do that, while nearly fulfilling the expectations for the modern format constructed, well that’s fine. The question i come back to is that if the balance was to be incorrect, would you rather it be for the benefit of limited or constructed playables?

    The only thing I disagreed on was tarmogoyf being in the “ugly” section. Goyf is only a barrier to entry for a few decks, not the entire modern format. There are many varied tier 1 options you can play that do not involve tarmogoyf. Tarmogoyf alone provides a significant chunk of the EV for each box – about $40 per box, and is the golden goose for wizards. You cannot be unhappy that they arent going to kill their golden goose in the short term so that a few players that cannot afford them can play those particular decks. If you had to choose between wizards being able to sustainably print +EV modern sets and making money, or supporting new players, I am going to go for the earlier. Wizards sustainably making money is good for us all – tarmogoyf being $50-100 is only good for a few that cannot afford it at $200, but would buy in that range.

    bias: I have my gofys – but i bought them knowing they would be reprinted and not caring if i got in at the peak. I am not trying to maintain the value of them – I truly do not care.

    TL;DR – Gofy is the golden goose of modern for Wizards – you cannot expect them to just slaughter it. Heck, it is played in 10% of decks – if it was core to a whole colour (snapcaster for example) i would be singing a different tune.

  6. I think that is a very good overview of the set and general perception of it. I think the only thing missing is that half the playable uncommon cards were originally common; where as only a couple of playable cards got bumped to uncommon rarity last time.

    Limited is, for the most part, defined by the common and uncommon cards in the set; for that the changed rarity is fine and appears to work as a good draft set. The let down was the expectation that, like the first set, we would get around 50% playable cards at rare. The price increase might be because that was the price many shops were selling at last time. In which case Wizards might as well take the extra cut themselves. For those of us who were able to get cards as lower prices last time an extra £35 // $50 a box, combined with less playable cards, is a big negative for the set.

    My view is the set fails to live up to the name of MODERN masters. It does make a good draft set and three GP’s will put a lot of new cards into circulation and I expect there will be a price drop over the summer especially on cards like Coronet only used in one deck. I will play a few drafts because it looks fun not because I expect to get playable modern cards.

  7. Great article. The first thing I noticed about Modern Masters 2015 was it’s box. On the front it says “Modern Masters 2015”. But if you read the description on the back of the box, it starts with a headline “Draft like a master”. It seems the devs got confused, what kind of set they were making.

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