A Limited Guide to Double Masters 2022
It took me a while to understand how Limited works for Masters sets. I could tell the draft and play patterns were different from typical draft sets, but I couldn't quite put my finger on how. Weirdly, it was Commander Legends and its introduction of Limited-style Commander that clarified my understanding: when you draft a Masters set, you're really playing Limited-style Constructed.
What does that mean? Decks are more powerful. Interactions are more complex. And effective decks are highly synergistic and have a clear game plan. Of course you're (probably) not going to draft a deck where every card is highly tuned towards your chosen strategy - but the closer you get to that idealized deck, the more likely it is that you'll win through.
Double Masters sets throw in an additional wrinkle. Each pack contains *two* rares, and drafters select two cards with their first pick of each pack. As a result, decks are even more powerful than usual. What strategies should we be looking for in Double Masters 2 (abbreviated as 2x2)? Let's take a look!
I normally start with a breakdown of a set's mechanics, but Masters sets assume an expert-level understanding of the game and contain a vast spread of mechanics from across Magic's history. For that reason, I'm just going to dive right into the 2x2's archetypes.
Before I do that, let's talk about an added complication. 2x2 is designed around all ten three-color combinations, each with their distinct strategy. A three-color Limited set has a prerequisite, however: the color pairs must also have their own identity, which bubble up into the three-color strategies. So let's start with these color pairs!
Creatures with “enter the battlefield” abilities are highly sought after, as they produce some sort of value even if they're immediately killed, and these creatures are even better in a deck with Mistmeadow Witch; imagine getting three +1/+1 counters each turn with Relief Captain. And if you can't find a Mistmeadow Witch, there are backup options with cards like Nephalia Smuggler.
In Magic, “Aristocrats” refers to a strategy characterized by a flood of cheap creatures whose purpose is to die for your benefit. Imagine chipping in damage with an army of cheap 1/1s against a few blockers, and then imagine the added benefits if it's a Doomed Traveler that dies or if you have a Blood Artist out. If you pursue this tactic, Orzhov Pontiff will either turn your chip damage into something more substantial, or help you clear away defenders who thought they were safe post-combat.
Milling your own deck may seem useless at best and suicidal at worst, but if you have cards that turn your graveyard into a secondary resource then it becomes an extremely powerful effect. Extract from Darkness is both enabler and payoff in that respect, while Balustrade Spy acts as an extremely efficient enabler and Body Double serves as a powerful payoff.
Blue/Red: Non-Creature Spells
Limited games are usually creature-based, but that doesn't mean that you can't build a deck around creatures that greatly magnify the effects of your non-creature spells. League Guildmage has the potential to double all your instants and sorceries - but it may actually be better to rely on Young Pyromancer to build an army of cheap Elementals or Mistfire Adept to allow you to fly your way to victory.
The cost for Blazing Hellhound's ability may feel steep compared to its payoff - and it is, until you discover that 2x2 has many creatures whose primary purpose is to die for your benefit. That benefit might be the Eldrazi Scion granted by Carrier Thrall, or the impulse draw from Dark-Dweller Oracle. Get all the pieces together and you'll create an engine that's very difficult for your opponent to break.
Discarding a card to Lotleth Troll may feel like an expensive cost to novice players, but veterans will realize the potential for deep shenanigans. There are plenty of reasons to want cards in the graveyard, and a free enabler can be nearly priceless. Payoffs vary from the substantial life gain provided by Webweaver Changeling to the powerful potential represented by Liliana's Elite.
Heroic Reinforcements was a frequent game ender in M19, and I imagine it'll be even more effective in a Masters set specifically designed to accommodate aggressive strategies. Monastery Swiftspear has long been a premium one-drop in constructed mono-Red decks, and it serves a similar purpose in 2x2. Wingsteed Rider ‘s history is less illustrious, but a growing evasive threat will still win you games of Limited. Note that the aggression in these creatures is tied into non-creature spells, especially those that trigger Heroic, so pick up those pump spells.
There is nothing subtle about creatures like Scab-Clan Giant; it's simply a big beater that has a good chance of being a 2-for-1 in your favor. Other ways of buffing your creatures include Purphoros's Emissary, which is fine as a four-mana creature with menace but also serves as an expensive way to surprise your opponent with a massive attacker. And then there's Rancor, the classic aura that allows any creature to punch above its weight while coming back over and over and over again.
Green/White: +1/+1 Counters
A +1/+1 counters deck is a linear strategy with the capability for exponential growth: drop a Conclave Mentor on turn 2 and creatures like Ainok Bond-Kin will quickly race past your opponent's ability to deal with them. And if your opponent does somehow manage to maintain board parity, Biogenic Upgrade can multiply your counters into insanity.
Bounty of the Luxa is an amazing ramp card that allows you to cast giant 2-for-1 beaters like Annoyed Altisaur ahead of curve. But what if your mana acceleration plan doesn't work as expected? That's when modal cards such as Aethersnipe come into the picture. You'll always prefer to cast it for its full cost so that you leave behind a hefty board presence, but you can still use its cheap Evoke cost in a pinch.
Whew. It's pretty clear how many of these two color archetypes might work well together, but let's talk about these three color strategies in more detail. Each of these combinations has a signature uncommon… except these uncommons aren't actually always fully representative of what these strategies are trying to do. Let's look at them all anyway!
White/Blue/Black: Enter the Battlefield
(Blink, Aristocrats, Self-Mill)
These colors look for enter the battlefield value, as its blink and reanimation effects excel in triggering that value over and over and over again. Note that this is a creature-based strategy however, so combine that value with ways to pressure your opponent. Tower Gargoyle is great at doing so, while Lyev Skyknight can tie down any potential blockers and Unburial Rites can recur any threat your opponent manages to shoot down.
Blue/Black/Red: Graveyard - Control
(Self-Mill, Non-Creature Spells, Sacrifice)
This classic color combination has the classic strategy that opponents love to hate (or simply hate): control. This control comes in a variety of forms: counterspells, removal, and hand discard. Trading cards one-for-one is not a path to victory however, which means that Blue/Black/Red also relies on value. Sedraxis Specter is a good example of this, as it's an evasive threat that puts your opponent down cards if it hits and comes with a one-time reanimation clause. Meanwhile, Forbidden Alchemy allows you to dig for any needed answer while stocking your graveyard, and Bloodwater Entity lets you rebuy a removal spell if you need it.
Black/Red/Green: Mid-Range Aggro
(Sacrifice, Graveyard, Power)
This archetype charges forward no matter the cost, and balances its suicidal impulses with various ways to benefit when its creatures inevitably fall in glorious combat. Sprouting Thrinax is a good example: a reasonable attacker that produces three 1/1 tokens when it dies. Those tokens are perfect for chipping away at an opponent with Fireblade Artist's upkeep ability. Alternatively, use Dreg Mangler to grow your living creatures to a size where they can easily finish an opponent off.
(Power, Aggro, +1/+1 Counters)
It's pretty easy to see how these three color pairs combine into an extremely aggressive strategy. The trick is to figure out how to give your creatures the added oomph to run over any roadblocks your opponents may throw in your way. Gloryscale Viashino and its potential for unbounded growth is one way; combine it with Bloodbraid Elf to suddenly add six or nine - or more! - points of attacking power for only four mana. And then there's Travel Preparations, a common from Innistrad that's been upshifted to uncommon in 2x2 out of respect for how powerful the card turned out to be.
Green/White/Blue: Counters - Ramp
(+1/+1 Counters, Ramp, Blink)
This color combination has one of the weaker identities in 2x2, as evidenced by its “signature” uncommon: Bant Charm, a generically useful spell that doesn't really play into a theme. What these colors really want to do is find value in a variety of ways. Coiling Oracle will ramp you or draw a card; +1/+1 counters will turn your early plays into true threats; Chronicler of Heroes provides card advantage once you do so. Ramp and value and good stuff; it's not flashy, but it'll definitely get the job done.
White/Black/Green: Graveyard - Midrange
(Aristocrats, +1/+1 Counters, Graveyard)
This is another color combination with a charm as its “signature” uncommon, and it's the other color combination that lacks a strong identity. Abzan Charm does synergize with the +1/+1 counters theme, but its other modes are just generically good. So what do these colors want to do? Play creatures… grow them… push damage through with cards like Cartel Aristocrat… grow them more after sacrificing Dreg Mangler… Powerful? Sure, I guess it could be. Interesting? Well…
Blue/Red/White: Heroic Aggro
(Non-Creature Spells, Blink, Aggro)
The final color combination featuring a charm as its “signature” uncommon, it also lacks a - actually, no, this combination has a very strong identity. These colors have a plethora of creatures with Prowess or Heroic (or pseudo-Heroic, in the case of Tenth District Legionnaire), and the formula is simple: play these creatures, back them up with buff spells - Martial Glory is particularly good - and turn them sideways. Jeskai Charm is a good way to buff your team or blast in those final points of damage. Actually, let me clarify: it's good if your super aggressive deck wants to spread its wings beyond two colors. It's far more likely that you'll want to stick to Red/White or Blue/Red.
Black/Green/Blue: Graveyard - Ramp
(Graveyard, Self-Mill, Ramp)
What “Graveyard - Ramp” really means is a creature-based graveyard deck that takes a while to get going by setting up its graveyard. Sultai Soothsayer is the perfect creature for this: a defensive body that also nets you a card and fills your graveyard. The payoff? Creatures like Psychic Symbiont, whose powerful effect is great whether you're ramping it out or bringing it back from the grave. Spider Spawning is far stronger, and if you terrorized opponents with a horde of spiders back in Innistrad, just know that it's likely to be even more effective in a Masters set.
Red/White/Black: The Grind
(Aggro, Sacrifice, Aristocrats)
Crackling Doom isn't much of an archetype indicator, but connoisseurs of Red/White/Black know that the color combination is known for copious amounts of removal. However, as mentioned above, one-for-one answers are not a winning strategy by themselves. This archetype solves that problem with a variety of ways to grind through damage: a mass of tokens with Call to the Feast, a creature with a direct damage ability in Fireblade Artist, and more. That, along with judiciously used removal, is a slow and annoying and effective strategy.
(Ramp, Power, Non-Creature Spells)
What's the payoff for ramp? Bear's Companion would have you believe that it's six points of power spread over two bodies for the cheap price of five mana. That's fine I guess, but Ground Assault - an incredibly efficient removal spell, provided you have the lands to back it up - seems stronger to me. And what's even better than that is River Hoopoe, a deceptively quiet creature that's also a mana sink with the potential for an insane amount of value. The difficulty of drafting this color combination will be finding the correct mixture of ramp, value, and game-ending threats. But doing so successfully will be highly rewarding.
A Limited set that expects players to frequently draft three colors requires a good amount of fixing… which 2x2 has. The one you will see the most of - there'll be 24 of them in a typical 8-man draft pod - is Cryptic Spires.
There is one Cryptic Spires in every pack, so if you don't have at least three dual-lands, well, that's your own fault!
2x2 also features the complete cycle of bouncelands at uncommon:
Three artifacts rounds out the colorless color fixing at common or uncommon:
Green has additional fixing at common with Rampant Growth.
Key Commons and Uncommons
2x2 has such distinct archetypes that the best card for you will often depend on the strategy that you're pursuing. That being said, here are some pretty good cards to look out for.
- Path to Exile: This classic removal spell is even better in a Limited environment where the graveyard is an important theme. But… it's also kinda worse in a Limited environment where it may help fix your opponent's mana while inadvertently ramping out a big bomb. I wouldn't hesitate to put one or two of these cards into my deck, but I would pause before using it, just to make sure the downside is manageable.
- Settle Beyond Reality: Exile is great, and blinking your enter-the-battlefield creatures is great. Great!
- Wall of Omens: Obviously you wouldn't play this card in an aggro deck, but I'd be delighted (and a little relieved) to slam this wall down against all the aggro decks.
- Breakthrough: This is a strange draw spell which is an amazing late game top deck - and in the right deck, its early game downside can potentially be a huge upside by stocking your graveyard with exactly what you want.
- Mulldrifter: Divination with upside. Note that you can evoke this and blink it on the stack, netting you four cards and a friendly flying fish.
- Wash Out: What a great way to annoy all the decks revolving around +1/+1 counters and tokens! Just remember that this card affects your board too - which may actually be a huge upside.
- Skinrender: This isn't Ravenous Chupacabra, but it's close. At its worst it's still a six power swing for four mana…
- Supernatural Stamina: … and it's even stronger combined with this instant, which combos well with sacrifice effects and enter-the-battlefield creatures to create a cheap and unpleasant surprise for your opponent.
- Vampiric Rites: The upside to his card is tremendous. It also isn't free, but if you're not willing to work a little harder than usual in order to maximize your deck's synergies then you're probably not going to have a great time playing 2x2.
- Lava Coil: Blah blah exile effects are great in sets with graveyard synergies blah blah.
- Lightning Bolt: I mean, yeah.
- Living Lightning: Two things will happen when you play this creature: your opponent will ask to see your graveyard, and their face will fall if you have any half-decent instant or sorcery in there.
- Arachnus Web: “Looks okay, but it falls off so easily! If only there was a way to easily bring it back…”
- Eternal Witness: Unconditional graveyard recursion is only bad if you're playing a super aggressive deck.
Okay, so how does Double Masters 2 Limited work?
- I'll repeat: think of this set as “Limited Constructed”.
- It's billed as a tri-color set, where all possible three color combinations have distinct and viable archetypes. The large number of dual lands and colorless mana fixing supports this. However each color pair also has its own identity.
- What does this mean? If you're playing an aggressive strategy - Heroic or linear +1/+1 counters - stick to two colors. Otherwise I'd lean towards finding a third color to maximize the synergies in your deck.
- Prioritize cards that fit your deck's theme - blink, sacrifice, graveyard - over generically good spells. Strong synergies will act as a force multiplier that vaults your deck over those that are simply a collection of reasonable cards that do little to support each other.
This set is fascinating to me. I can't wait to try it out!