My basic understanding of Masters 25 Limited is that it is very Cube-like, just with less powerful cards across the board. You’re either drafting a linear macro-archetype like ramp, aggro, or control; a combo-centric deck, or a mix of both. The difference is your ramp finisher is Woolly Loxodon and not Primeval Titan, your aggro creature is Erg Raiders like it is 1994, and your combo is Horseshoe Crab plus Presence of Gond and not Deceiver Exarch plus Splinter Twin.
So, when you see cards that look good enough to play their role in normal Cube, take those. Counterspell is just the best at what it does, and in a Cubelike format, it breaks up ramp, control, and combo gameplans. Prossh is a very good finisher but slightly more replaceable and three colors. Disfigure is the only “normal Limited” pick here, taking the third spot as a one-mana way to kill the Morphs that dominate Morph formats.
Other key cards to note: Frenzied Goblin at common is absurd, Nezumi Cutthroat and Geist of the Moors are strong attackers in a format with few punishers for evasive x/1s, and taking one of Valor in Akros or Promise of Bunrei and wheeling the other is mega-cute.
There’s an extremely wide range of power levels among cards in this format, and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher seems like one of the top-end cards. Mana fixing is absurdly easy in this format, so I’d give almost no concern to the fact that this card is three different colors. It’s a 5/5 flying creature with upside that leaves behind six bodies if they answer it. Those six bodies make it almost impossible to race and happen to play extremely well with a few commons in the set, most notably Echoing Courage.
Given that the theme of this set is basically that there is no theme, and given what I said about the wide range of power levels in the format, Counterspell is a fantastic card. It’s cheap enough to be playable against aggressive decks while offering slower decks an answer to some of the harder cards in the format to beat, which is particularly important in a format where cards like Baloth Null generate a lot of value on resolution are among the highest-impact cards.
Disfigure is narrower, but still a great price for a great effect in a color that can take full advantage of that due to the abundance of playable cheap commons leading to low land black aggro decks being a prominent archetype, and starting with Disfigure is great way to end up in a good version of such a deck.
Honorable mention to Ash Barrens, as that card is obnoxiously good at what it does, but fixing is so easy to come by that you can’t take good fixing over good spells in this format.
This pack is light on powerful cards and mostly consists of role-players. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher is incredibly powerful, although the mana cost is quite prohibitive. Mana archetypes support Prossh and there’s enough mana fixing to make the casting cost nearly irrelevant. It’s basically a Golgari, Rakdos, or Gruul card and, depending on how your draft is going, you get to decide which.
Disfigure is one of the better removal spells in the format, particularly because of its mana efficiency. The plethora of morphs available in the format also helps make Disfigure incredibly efficient.
Promise of Bunrei doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of support in the set, but it really doesn’t take much help for it to be powerful.
Grenzo can look like a weird, innocuous multicolor Goblin, but it’s super-dumb. It’s an always efficient creature that scales massively in longer games and spews out extra cards. Oh, and it’s Unearth-sized in the graveyard, as even the base long-game mode of spamming two mana to possibly make a low-drop creature is threatening. Oh, and the format supports splashes and this pack likely returns with at least one good B/R card.
After that, Exclude versus Disfigure is very similar to Counterspell versus Disfigure in the previous pack. These days Exclude might remind people of conditional cantrip answers that are appropriately costed for their value, like Bright Reprisal. Exclude is highly inappropriate. You are paying Divination mana for Divination value that also eats the mana they spent on a creature. And unlike real Cube, there aren’t a million planeswalkers, so Exclude actually covers all the threats. Take it highly.
This pack is remarkably similar to the last one.
Grenzo is even more messed up than Prossh. It’s one of those Conspiracy cards that just doesn’t feel anything like a real Magic card to me because it’s just too good to be realistic. This card is good at every stage of the game on every turn in every deck that can cast it. Even as a 2/2, it has a great ability that would make it a reasonable high pick if you didn’t have the option to spend extra mana casting it, and it only gets better, much better, every turn after that. I’m honestly offended that this card was ever printed, even in Conspiracy, and passing it would be disrespectful to the game.
Exclude is good for similar reasons to Counterspell, but it’s even better because it doesn’t require UU and actually puts you up a card. Yes, there are some things it doesn’t answer, but honestly, most of the best cards in this set seem to be creatures anyway.
Disfigure is still great for the exact reasons listed above.
Masters 25 is a crazy set with some powerful stuff going on. Despite that, Exclude remains one of the best cards in the set. The quick two-for-one is easy on your mana, can deal with one of your opponent’s best cards, and will often trade up on mana.
Everything I said about Disfigure above applies here too.
Twisted Abomination is just that — an Abomination. It’s a common that could easily be a rare if it had a rider ability. It’s a giant finisher that’s resilient to a lot of removal in the set. If you’re stuck on mana, you can even landcycle it. The synergy with Zombify is very real too. All that said, there are more opportunities to pick up finishers than good removal, so stick to removal first!
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is a sweet card and potentially very powerful, but I wouldn’t first-pick it over the other options.
Whitemane Lion and Zombify are the combo cards that jump out at me, but I don’t think either quite hits “better than removal” status. Whitemane Lion alone isn’t a good card, and Zombify specifically suffers from the things it enables being higher rarity. Find your reanimation target first and then move in.
Of the removal, Murder is clearly better than Epic Confrontation. Pyroclasm is really unique and powerful, but doesn’t kill Erg Raiders or Mogg Flunkies. That leaves the simple, obvious answer as the best. Whatever it is, kill it dead.
Murder is great in this format, as in basically any Limited format, but I think the strength of a lot of the top rare creatures makes that even more true, as well as the fact that people play a lot of six-mana creatures because of the landcyclers. Where Murder is great against everyone, Pyroclasm is only great against some people, but against those people, it can be approximately the best card in the format, and you’ll rarely be sad to have it in your deck, especially if you draft for it.
After those two, I think Chandra’s Outrage, Man-o’-War, Epic Confrontation, Sai of the Shinobi, and Zombify are all reasonable. I like the removal more than the uncommons, and I think I like Man-o’-War most, especially because, in addition to it being a great tempo play, there are a lot of creatures you can end up with that you might want to target for value (it’s especially great with Baloth Null).
I like Man-o’-War probably more than I should, but either way, it’s not better than Murder. Crazy things can happen in Masters sets, but Masters 25 isn’t much different from a classic Magic set. Removal and evasion are some of the best things to have access to. Murder is incredible and Man-o’-War is a close second.
Epic Confrontation and Chandra’s Outrage aren’t cards I particularly like, but they’re close. Green being the better color gives Epic Confrontation the nod, although I could see taking Zombify or Bloodhunter Bat over either.
Rancor is turbo-mega-super-duper dumb. In Magic 2013, knowing to draft Mind Rot or Erase or whatever answer to it your colors offered was a pretty big part of being successful. Those cards just don’t exist in this set, and Rancor solidly fits into the linear Aggro archetype or just turns average draws from average decks into aggressive ones.
Really, my second and third slots should be a discussion of Epic Confrontation versus Ghost Ship, going over how 2/4 flying is huge and the rarity shift from Timeshifted being virtual rare to common is absurd, but so is a common green removal spell that costs two and pumps and wins Morph fights. But I just want to cast Magus of the Wheel. I’m not even sure how it good it is, but it seems like a blast. I want to go full-on Legacy in 2007 and combo people with Unearth and Crimson Mage, or load up after dumping my hand in fifteen-Mountain aggro, or just learn that it was a mistake to pick it and live with a 3/3 for three being in my deck.
Taking Rancor first out of this pack feels pretty easy to me. There are a lot of aggressive cards in this format and this should be great in any aggressive green deck.
Magus of the Wheel is just such a low opportunity cost for access to such a powerful effect. Like, I’m here for the three-mana 3/3, but I appreciate that incidentally having the option to Wheel of Fortune is great, either when I’m in a spot where I just need to do something because I’ll lose otherwise or when I’ve emptied my hand much faster than my opponent.
Pacifism is actually a distant third here, but it’s better than the other cards in the pack. I think this precise order is more clear than this kind of thing usually is, but I could imagine that I’m underrating Magus or overrating Rancor, possibly due to not fully grasping the power of green compared to red in the format, and that those should actually be reversed.
Green is doing a little too much of the “ramp and big creatures” thing for me to value Rancor highly. I’m unsure if Epic Confrontation is actually better than Cultivate or not. Your green decks will want some removal, but Cultivate will allow you to splash removal from other colors.
Sift is really, really good in Limited. Even if Masters 25 isn’t quite normal Limited, Sift is really good in ways that translate to “Cube with bad cards.” I’ve heard complaints about it not being an instant, but with the countermagic costing two mana, it’s fairly easy to see Turn 6 scenarios where you Sift, play an Island, and oops, that’s UU open and you got to draw cards too. Counterspell might actually be the really busted part, but whatever.
My fourth pick would probably be Ash Barrens. There’s just so many things to splash and this does them all.
Animar, Soul of Elements reads a lot like a disappointing cards. The specific sequencing, color requirements, and medium payoff don’t seem like a Limited card to me, though you can loop Man-o’-War the same way you loop Whitemane Lion. That said I could easily be underestimating double protection, making the baseline of this card “unkillable thing that eventually rolls you over” like Algae Gharial was, so prove me wrong.
If I’m taking Rancor over Magus of the Wheel, I’m definitely taking Rancor over Animar, Soul of Elements. I understand that that might not be obvious, because comparing Animar or Magus of the Wheel isn’t crystal-clear or anything, but while I don’t care about Prossh being three-color, with Animar, it matters a lot more, since it’s a lot harder to fix your mana for Turn 3 than it is to fix it for Turn 6. With Animar, I’m mostly here for protection from two colors, which can steal a lot of games.
Deadly Designs is well behind the other two, but I think I still like it over Epic Confrontation or Chandra’s Outrage because the effect is so powerful, but this is a card I could definitely be overestimating.
Throughout this, I’ve basically ignored every common creature, and I stand by that. This format is extremely low-synergy, so everything basically just breaks down to fundamentals, and that means you want to start with bombs and removal, so that’s what I’ve done, and all of these packs have cooperated.
Maybe Sift is much better than I’m giving it credit for, or at least more important for the blue or green archetypes than I think. Either way, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up a copy if you really need it.
Animar, Soul of Elements can be great, but I wouldn’t move in on something with its color requirements unless it was always a bomb.
Other than those cards, the top three cards in this pack all seem pretty straightforward. Take reasonable removal spells and then reasonable creatures.