Mercadian Masques is the latest expansion for Magic. My first and overwhelming impression is that Wizards, still stinging from wide derision for releasing a number of obviously broken cards in the Urza cycle that then had to be banned by the DCI, was intent on not letting this happen again in the Mercadian cycle. The result, a "safe", albeit unexciting, set. I doubt many cards from this set will see banning. It remains to be seen whether many of these cards are worth playing.
That said, let's look at the set, color-by-color, and see if we can find anything exciting. My bias is towards cards with value in competitive constructed deck tournament play; although I think my Ship deck got a boost with this set.
We'll start with blue. The first cards I noticed were a couple of the alternate casting cost (ACC from now on) cards. Misdirection lets you re-target any spell that has a single target by either paying 3UU or removing a blue card from your hand from the game. Thwart lets you counter a spell by paying 2UU or returning three Islands to your hand. Gush lets you draw two cards by returning two Islands to your hand. Tidal Bore is a Twiddle you can pay for by returning an island to your hand. I've always liked the ACC cards in blue best because opponents of control decks are always aware of your mana situation, waiting for you to tap out so they can play their gamebreakers. When Force of Will left Standard play, life got easier for opponents of control decks. Life is now hard again.
Bribery, which for 3UU lets you surf your opponent's deck for their best creature, then take it, seems like "the bomb," but which constructed decks, exactly, would this card work well against. Against Sligh, are you really going to want to tap out on turn 5 so you can take their, uh, Goblin Lackeys or Raiders or what. Versus Stompy, same question, although I see some green decks fielding some monsters like Thorn Elemental ("me so thorny"), so it might help. Versus White Weenie, same deal. Versus mono-brown, you might get their Karn, which isn't bad, but they'll probably Wildfire next turn, which is bad. Combo decks usually have, ah, no creatures. Mirror match, they say thank you very much, I'll Treachery my Morphling or Thieving Magpie back, good game. Your best chance, it was pointed out to me, is to grab someone's Masticore, which would be cool, but I'm not sold. People in the constructed deck game are hip to Masticore, and the rise of various measures to deal with Masticore has, in turn, caused Masticore proponents trying to stay ahead of the deck design curve to begin to seek another power card to champion. Bribery has that Grinning Totem "looks good on paper, sucks in real life" smell to it. Don't forget, if you're playing some Draw-Go variant, you don't really want to tap out unless you're really going to put out a guaranteed, sure-fire, game winner. That's why Treachery is so good. You can take some marginal creature because you know you're going to untap right away.
Soothsaying, on the other hand, is a sleeper of the set for blue, allowing you to control your draws and even reshuffle your deck if you don't like what's coming. This card has that "Soldevi Excavations looks O.K. on paper, kicks ass in real life" smell to it. Trade Routes is another powerful mid-to-late-game card that lets you return land to your hand, then trade the land for cards. Also of note is Diplomatic Immunity. For 1U, target enchantment can't be targeted plus Diplomatic Immunity can't be targeted.
Indentured Djinn is a 4/4 flier for 1UU that lets your opponent draw three cards. This is time advantage vs. card advantage played out in creature form. Discussion: red is traditionally the color of time advantage over card advantage, while blue is traditionally the color of card advantage over time advantage, yet this creature is blue. Talk amongst yourselves. If you have no idea what this paragraph is about, just sit quietly and try not to drool on the shiny, sparkly foil cards.
I also like Saprezan Legate, a 1/3 flier you can cast for 3U or for free if your opponent is playing mountains. That's right, free. I love this card as a sideboard card vs. red. "Island, go. Mountain, Lackey, go. Island, Legate, go. Mountain, Parch Legate. Miscalculate Parch!" Legate can negate (ooh, I'm rhyming) early red beatdown. I doubt this card will replace Chill in any blue sideboard; however, since red still has a much easier time dealing with creatures than enchantments.
Brainstorm is back; I always liked this card. Give you something to do turn 1, if you don't have to Annul something.
Black's up next. There's this new mechanic involving creatures called Mercenaries, creatures that let you fetch other like creatures from your deck and put them into play. Sounds exciting, doesn't it. Whatever. The whole mechanic is just too freaking slow. Basically, if you have a crappy, overcasted creature whose only saving grace is it's capacity to tap and suck up your mana to summon another crappy overcasted creature, what, exactly, do you have? If you're dying to make a Mercenary deck, go for it, go nuts, enjoy. You can Dark Ritual out your Cateran Brute, then next turn don't attack, but rather use it to get you Molting Harpy. Not it's turn 3 (you remembered the Harpy's upkeep, right?) and you've got a whopping four points of damage on the table. Meanwhile, you opponent, who can barely contain his amusement, drops his second source of white mana (on his second turn he put out a Marble Diamond) and Wraths your mess away. Don't like that scenario. Your opponent drops his third Mountain and Arc Ligntning's that mess away. Don't like that scenario. Your opponent drops his third Forest, Rancors up his Albino Troll and cracks your skull like a ripe melon. Get the point?
One black ACC card, Snuff Out, lets you bury non-black creatures by paying four life or 3B. Not bad. As far as removal goes, I like Vendetta's speed. One black, a little life, and poof, Masticore be gone. I sort of like Notorious Assassin, believe it or not. This 2/2 Spellshaper turns all your spare cards into Dark Banishings. Pitching cards to do good things is extra good in black, which enjoys many ways of utilizing the graveyard anyway.
Another creature I like is Delraich; the 6/6 trampler for 6B or three sacked black creatures. I'm so excited. I'm going to make a deck around this creature with Ravenous Rats and Skittering Skirges and Sengir Autocrats and Carrion Beetles and Vebulids and...Oh, never mind. Seriously, I like it.
In all seriousness, Scandalmonger, the 3/3 for 3B that lets either player pay two as a sorcery to cause the other player to discard a card, is very interesting. I like this card in a black deck with some heavy artifact mana. Since it's ability is played as a sorcery, the caster gets to use it first and since black has ways to utilize the graveyard, even if your opponent uses it's ability on you, it's not so bad. One Yawgmoth's Will...The ability to use this card to kill you opponent's Masticore by making them discard that card they've been feeding to it is worth the price of admission. Plus, all other things being equal, you get the 3/3 black creature.
Speaking of Disrupting Scepter, I like the 1/3 Wall of Distortion that you can spend 2B and tap to make your opponent discard a card. Basically, it's a Disrupting Scepter that blocks early to midgame and wins late. If only it were three mana and not four. But I still like it. I like Deepwood Legate, the 1/1 pumpable you can summon for free if you have a swamp and you opponent has a forest. Cool vs. green, but I don't think this one is going to make anyone forget Perish.