Mastering Iconic Masters
In last week’s article, I ended with a joke about Iconic Masters looking good next to its ugly friend Ixalan. Like most jokes, it was funny (I hope) because it had an element of truth to it. If you look closely, it might seem as though I was suggesting that Iconic Masters isn’t really all that great.
While finishing up that article, I had just done my one and only paper draft of the format and it had been miserable. After decent success online, I tried drafting a red/white aggressive deck in paper and it sucked. I mean, it really sucked. I went 1-2 – still my worst performance in the format – picking up my only win against a casual player whose deck was even worse than mine. Worse still, I had confidently agreed to re-draft rares and didn’t get to keep the foil Ancestral Visions I opened. Yuck.
I was pretty down on the format, feeling as though aggressive decks were simply unplayable. It wasn’t just the fact that I had lost, it was the manner of defeat that bothered me. Against my round one opponent’s mono removal deck I felt utterly hopeless. Nothing stuck to the board in the early game, and my remaining creatures were then out-classed by late game bombs. I had a little reach, but not enough to deal with my opponent stabilizing on 12 life or move. Round two was similarly one-sided.
Drafting the format online, however, has been the exact opposite. I feel uncomfortable bragging, but I have yet to do worse than 2-1 on Magic Online. I can’t stop winning. Normally I do a handful of drafts online, run out of packs and tickets and decide I can’t afford any more. With this set, though, I haven’t even come close to running out of funding. Theere isn’t a ton of value in the set, but there is enough to keep me in tickets. The packs, of course, come from winning.
What’s different this time around? Realising it is okay to just draft control decks like I always want to anyway was a Eureka moment. Amonkhet had conditioned me to draft aggressive decks with lots of two drops. I did well in both Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation limited, but I didn’t always enjoy it. I wanted to play removal and six drops, but I kept winning with exert dudes and, well, still some removal.
Iconic Masters, on the other hand, practically demands that you draft midrange or control strategies. Maybe someone will tell me how wrong I am in the comments, but that has been my experience and it is glorious. Removal is everywhere, in every colour, as are bombs. Better yet, if you are into this kind of thing, every colour has access to ramp. Blue/black control is oppressively strong when you can cast, say, a Keiga on turn four. The bombs are in Iconic Masters are pretty absurd, but if everyone has them it’s okay, right? Twice already I have sacrificed my Keiga to an enemy Sheoldred.
Rather than continue gushing about my love for the format, I suppose I should do something constructive. Here, then, are my…
Top Five Tips for Drafting Iconic Masters!
5. Two Drops are Important
…but not in the way you normally think. My first draft of the format, I semi-forced the black/white lifegain deck which Limited Resources assured me was a thing. It didn’t quite pan out, but I did end up with a lot of two drops which get bigger as the game goes on. I somehow 3-0’d with that deck, though I think it was actually one of the worst I’ve drafted.
No, the two mana spells that really matter (apart from Doom Blade) are the man rocks. Mind Stone is one of the best cards in the format and you should not be unhappy to first pick it from anything but a great pack. The format really revolves around bombs, and casting yours a turn early can be game-changing. Mind Stone not only helps you do that, it also helps you dig for answers to opposing threats.
The other rocks are fairly interchangeable in my mind, though I personally prefer the semi-fixing of Star Compass over Guardian Idol. Manakin is a distant last, but is still playable. None of them fix you all that well, but the raw power of casting your six and seven-drops early is impossible to overstate.
4. Bouncelands are Great
…but not as great as they are in other formats. Again, this is about casting your bombs early. Bouncelands help you do that, and they fix you, but they can be a little slow. You aren’t getting punished by Stone Rain or anything similar, but they just don’t stand out as much as they have in previous formats. Maybe it’s because of the abundance of mana rocks making them less exciting, I don’t know, but you should prioritise finishers and removal over them, I think. Still, the bouncelands are definitely better than mediocre creatures and I do see them going later than they should in many drafts. Just remember not to play them as your second land when you’re on the draw. Oops.
3. Bombs are Everywhere
You might have picked up on this by now, but it can’t be overstated. Pretty much all the rares and mythics in the set are fantastic in limited. The cycle of Legendary Dragons is still ridiculous but it is only the start of the problem. I mentioned Sheoldred earlier, and I have cast a turn five Elseh Norn before. Not only that, but there are numerous must-kill creatures at the lower rarities too. Freewheel Aerielists?! Is a great finisher if you aren’t lucky enough to open up a dragon, and Mahamoti Djinn ends games real fast, especially when you’re casting it on turn four or five. All of which leads too…
2. Removal is Important but Also Abundant
Fortunately, WoTC saw the previous issue and printed a bevvy of efficient removal. No Contract Killings or any of that nonsense here. We get Doom Blade, we get Swords to Plowshares, we get Heat Ray and more. Green gets Hunt the Weak, which, while not spectacular, does go well with its theme of +1/+1 counters. Even blue gets Claustrophobia. There are a ton of creatures that need to be answered, but the answers are there. Most of the best commons in each colour are removal, and you should prioritise them as such. Just a word of warning, though, not all removal is created equal, even in this set. Pillar of Flame, for example, doesn’t do much in a format that revolves so heavily around casting sixes and sevens. Likewise, Guard Duty is often just as bad as it looks, though you should still play it if you’re running short.
1. Most Theme Decks Aren’t Very Good
Looking over the spoiler of Iconic Masters, it looks like most other Masters set. It seemed like a format where you would need to find an open archetype and stick to it. I mentioned the lifegain deck earlier, but there is also Temur Walls, blue/black Mill and more. In my experience, though, most of these gimmicks just don’t really come together. I did almost lose to a walls deck – honestly, I sort of wished I had – but I was able to fly over with my Djinns and Dragons before he could burn me out with Vent Sentinels. It was sort of fun having to put Claustrophobia on a Wall, but I did it and I won.
I have faced numerous attempts at people trying to mill me out, but none were successful. I even tried to force it myself after opening a Glimpse the Unthinkable, but I ended up cutting it and just playing a control deck instead. I have seen people have success with red/black Dragons, though not in my own drafts. Lifegain, on the other hand, I have yet to see work. However, I do think that, of these archetypes, lifegain is the most likely to work if you can get it together. I have had some success with it myself as a sort of sub-theme and it features a lot of cards which are just good on their own, something which can’t be said of the mill deck or the walls deck.
I have had more success drafting like I do in cube: pick lands and artifact mana early, draft a ton of removal and play a handful of expensive, game-ending bombs. Ideally, I want to be in blue, but I have had success with green midrange decks, getting my removal from the other colours. I never really want to be white if I can help it, but I don’t think it’s terrible by any means.
I’m sure most of you have played at least some amount of Iconic Masters by now. If you haven’t, I urge you to give it a try. If you like drafting control decks, you will love this set. If you like attacking for two, it might not be for you, but I’m sure it can work. I know I’m biased, having been drafting the set for free for two weeks now due to my success, but I do think it’s one of the better limited formats of recent years. When Amass the Components and Mnemonic Wall are among the best commons, you know a set is sweet.
Thanks for reading,