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Every set contains cards that look like they could be very powerful, but then upon further investigation into the format, you realize said card just does not have the support necessary to be good right then. As perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit possible, we can remember Eye of Ugin coming out with essentially no colorless creatures of interest to find. One set later, and Eldrazi are running the show and Eye of Ugin has a substantial role in the metagame.
Eye of Ugin was an obvious plant by the designers as a bit of foreshadowing, and while not all plants are quite as obvious, many cards are designed to bridge the gap between sets or blocks more so than to shine upon their release. Their role is to lend support to a future set in order to make the sets work better together and to make the environment feel like more than just Block Constructed with better mana.
Sometimes these cards are intended to work with a specific card in a future set almost in the same way that two cards might be designed to work together in Limited. However, the two cards for Constructed are placed in different sets so that the time they share together in Standard is not the full duration that a card remains legal. Demonic Pact and Harmless Offering make a great pair to point to from recent times. Demonic Pact is a card that can stand on its own merit just fine, but when Harmless Offering saw print in the final few months of Demonic Pact's Standard life, it was pretty obviously done with Demonic Pact in mind. This interaction mixed up Standard for a short while without fear of it ruining the format and existing together for two years.
Other times, a card looks forward or back, not to find a specific pairing, but rather to work with a mechanic or theme from a neighboring set in order to provide support for that theme or mechanic across more than just the localized set or block itself. A recent great example of this comes from our undead Zombie friends.
While Zombies was one of the best decks in Standard recently, its tribal toys were actually spread out across multiple blocks. You might expect that Zombies all came out in a single set or block and burst on to the scene, but the truth is that cards like Dark Salvation, Diregraf Colossus, and Cryptbreaker were around for over a year before they started seeing play. The catalyst was a second wave of Zombies seeing print. These included Dread Wanderer, Lord of the Accursed, and Liliana's Mastery. Looking back, one might remember all of these cards together and think that they saw print together, but by being spaced out, Diregraf Colossus and friends existed in an underpowered state for half of their stay in Standard before emerging as a Pro Tour-winning formula later on.
Deckbuilders can leverage this knowledge when on the hunt for deck ideas after a new set releases. After Hour of Devastation came out, I had a mild obsession with God-Pharaoh's Gift as the card just looked like it could be busted and there surely were some creatures that could squeeze a little more juice out of the card than others. One of the cards that jumped up on my list was Marionette Master and I was intrigued at potentially having found one of these cross-block synergies to explore further.
This idea was birthed primarily by the fact that Marionette Master checked its power for its trigger and God-Pharaoh's Gift could artificially increase that to seven or four while still granting you three Servos to boot. At seven power and with only three artifacts sacrificed, Marionette Master would just kill the opponent. I was intrigued.
Ultimately, God-Pharaoh's Gift found a more consistent home and became friends with Angel of Invention for similar synergies, but without needing to assemble any sort of combo along the way. I left Marionette Master alone for the time being and went on my way, a little bummed that my scouting for cross-block synergies had come up short.
Leave it up to a bunch of Pirates to get me back out there, digging up that buried puppet once again.
Ixalan is not an artifact set in the traditional sense. It doesn't contain a ton of artifact synergies or an abnormally large number of artifacts compared to your average set. What it does contain, however, is the Treasure mechanic. Similar to how Clues granted you artifact synergies (I'm looking at you, Thraben Inspector), Treasures do much of the same but actually tend to show up for better rates than Clues and in greater numbers, due to Lotus Petal generally being worse than a card in your hand and therefore more acceptable en masse.
Spell Swindle versus Confirm Suspicions demonstrates this nicely. While Confirm Suspicions will always net you three Clues, Spell Swindle is likely to grant you four to six Treasures for most spells you would consider countering. Additionally, those Clues need extra work put into them to turn into cards, whereas Treasures are ready to use immediately, allowing for more explosive turns when it comes to a card like Marionette Master.
That mana actually is quite important at increasing the power level of any Marionette Master plus Treasure turn, and the reason for this comes in the sacrifice options available in Standard. In a perfect world, when you cast Master, you have enough Treasures for an instant win. In reality, though, having four or five Treasures out is not the easiest thing to do while also casting a six-drop. To help alleviate the reliance on a mass amount of Treasures, it makes sense to pair Master with a means of sacrificing other artifacts, including the Servos that Master brings along with it. Generally speaking, there are two types of ways to gain this sacrifice option.
In the first group are the free sacrifice options, meaning no mana is required. These were the types of cards that you had to pair Master with when Clues were around; otherwise the mana requirement for winning was too high. This class of cards includes Ravenous Intruder, Defiant Salvager, and Razaketh, the Foulblooded. These cards work to enable the life loss on Master, but do so while not being too great otherwise. Their role is hyper-specific and niche, which ultimately leads to a less powerful deck overall. The best free sacrifice options tend to be restricted to just sacrificing creatures, which limits their usefulness in an artifact shell (although they can still work).
In the second class of sacrifice outlets are the ones that cost mana to produce an output. This class of cards includes Syndicate Trafficker, Pia Nalaar, and Makeshift Munitions. At the moment, these cards are of a higher raw power level and tend to have more usefulness across random situations than the first group of cards. Casting Pia Nalaar on Turn 3 is hardly ever a bad play, whereas Defiant Salvager looks pretty suspicious. Of course, this usefulness is paid back later on when you wish to be a combo deck but now have a mana cost associated with each sacrifice needed.
For all versions of this concept that I tried with Clues, that activation cost on the sacrifices was too steep to pay. I rarely had enough for an instant win and surviving the opponent's turn without removal of some kind was even less likely. With Treasures both being free to sacrifice and then providing you mana, you can actually double up on sacrifices while using the better class of sacrifice outlets. Your Pia Nalaar now gets to sacrifice a Prophetic Prism and a Thopter off the back of your three Treasures, which is plenty for lethal most of the time.
So the basic premise behind any Treasure plus Master shell is to cast a Master and then have enough sacrifice fodder for an immediate kill. Assuming those conditions can't be met, Master must still serve as a threatening card that must be dealt with quickly or else the opponent risks losing soon enough. This premise does not necessarily lend itself to only one type of shell. My first thought is to use this combo finish as a victory condition in a combo-control deck, which has always been my favorite kind of deck to design. At the same time, however, attacking the opponent's life total does reduce the amount of Treasures you need to win, so a more aggressive shell for the deck also sounds credible. Today I wanted to look at Marionette Master and how to best maximize it in Standard.