A Modern Theory: Supplemental Products

Chris Lansell asks an intriguing question: since many newer players hear about Modern and think cards from Conspiracy or the Commander decks were legal because of their modern card frame, what if they were?

Modern has been around for almost four years now. In that time, we have seen combo decks rise, fall, and rise again. We’ve seen the dominance, despite continued nerfing, of B/G strategies and more specifically of Jund. We’ve seen decks like Affinity and Burn consistently hovering at or near the top of the heap. It’s only recently that the format has settled down into a Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame, but even that is tenuous at best. Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand have recently shown that the format is anything but solved or stable, and if we’re still finding new and powerful decks at this point there’s no reason to think we’re done doing just that.

The problem, if in fact it is a problem, with Eternal formats (and yes I know Modern isn’t strictly defined as Eternal, but in practice it is) is that it takes a lot for a new set to have any impact on them. Magic developers do not test new sets for older format all that much, and although a few cards are designed in each block to impact the Eternal formats, they don’t often redefine them.

Modern’s problems have been elucidated by many a writer: sideboard strategies that are too strong, vicious hosers that should never even have seen print, almost all in Eighth or Ninth Edition. Despite these glaring issues (nobody enjoys being locked out by Choke or Blood Moon), people still play and greatly enjoy Modern as a format. It’s possible that removing cards or entire sets from the format would greatly decrease that enjoyment, but it would also likely bring in new players. That said, it is far less interesting to talk about taking things away than it is to talk about adding them.

Modern Log, Supplemental

There are quirks in the format legality rules for Magic that may seem impenetrable at first to neophyte tournament players. For example, the legality rules for Modern are often stated as “cards printed in the modern border,” which has on many occasions resulted in people showing up with cards from Duel Decks, Commander decks and the like in their Modern decks. That these cards are almost universally legal in Legacy does not help.

WotC has also taken to printing cards in these supplemental products that are legal in Eternal formats (Legacy, Vintage and Commander). It’s the only way that WotC can print new cards for these formats that would be deemed too powerful for Standard. With Modern’s larger card base and higher power level, would they also be too powerful for that format? I’ve asked multiple people this question and although the gut reaction has been a powerful yes, after some discussion almost all of them have changed their minds. So I put it to you now, dear readers:

What if all cards originally printed in the modern border were legal in Modern?

This questions essentially boils down to whether or not the ban list in Modern would be too greatly impacted by adding all these ostensibly powerful cards to render it a bad idea. When I initially started researching this topic, I expected that we would have to greatly engorge the Modern ban list to make this idea even a little palatable. Not only did that prove to be very wrong, but I found only a few that would even see play (as far as I could tell).

Expanding Expansions

Let’s start with the easiest, most obvious thing: all Conspiracies would have to be banned. This is not negotiable. I once had a discussion about a “no banned or restricted Vintage” event with a friend and we discovered that conspiracies are basically broken. More broken than Power even.

So what does that leave us? We can rule out anything that mentions the command zone, since only emblems can get there in Modern and we can’t interact with them in any way at current. I don’t think there are any “Draft Matters” cards we need to worry about, but they aren’t in contention either. There are also things like the cards with Lieutenant that require you to control your commander to actually be good.

What does this change potentially give us? Let’s have a look.

I almost went right by this, but reading it again makes me realise how good it could be in the white prison deck or a Soul Sisters build. It will get rid of two enchantment or artifacts before your opponent gets to use it, and although they can and will often use it to get rid of itself you still end up ahead in the equation. Good enough to see play, not good enough to be a worry.

There’s some sort of combo waiting for this thing, especially given how hard he is for some decks to remove. It’s possible we need to put Animar on the watch list, especially given how good its colors are at drawing more gas anyway, but I am willing to put Animar on the “very good but not bannable” list until proven wrong.

I wish I could shake the idea that it’s a combo waiting to happen though…

This is one of the cards that a lot of people hailed as “too good for Modern.” This baffles me. Baleful Strix is a very powerful utility creature, but on its own it is winning you no games. It has a delicious text box but it’s a 1/1 that is also vulnerable to artifact hate. Grixis and Sultai Control would clearly run multiple copies, but Affinity is unlikely to try it due to the two colors of mana required. At two mana it doesn’t fit in combo decks, and as a 1/1 it isn’t exactly a beatdown machine. I put it in the Tarmogoyf/Abrupt Decay camp of very powerful cards that will never be banned because they can’t dominate a format.

I’d play him, I’d build around him, but I can’t see him being broken in any way. Am I missing something? Maybe, but the fact that he triggers from combat damage prevents any sort of loop I can think of – and although blinking your board is likely very good (especially with planeswalkers), it shouldn’t be game-ending. Some sort of Bant value deck is just begging for this to be in the format though, which is right up my alley.

And here we have our first major sticking point. Red just isn’t supposed to be this good at removing permanents, and the lack of a targeting restriction (it doesn’t even say nonland, folks) combined with the instant speed and negligible drawback make this possibly too good for Modern. It’s unusual to put a straight removal spell on the banned list, but this one might just be good enough.

It would see play, and a lot of it. Magic Origins has an instant version of this in Hallowed Moonlight that draws you a card but has the added bonus of also hosing token makers, so we know the effect is fine. A 2/2 with flash is hardly format-breaking, and stapling the two together might actually make it worse than the spell version. A powerful sideboard card in all likelihood.

Ahh, the other removal spell that had people concerned in my little survey. Exiling any nonland permanent, regardless of hexproof or protection, is really good. I think it is slightly worse than Chaos Warp, but that could be very wrong of me. The fact is that at sorcery speed, with the inability to hit lands and the double-white cost, this is merely a very strong spell. Better than Vindicate, perhaps, and almost certainly close to being on the banned list. The weird feeling that comes from banning an answer is still there though, but if Chaos Warp is too good then this likely is as well. Very close call.

It’s four mana, but that effect is really strong and in Modern the cost might just be an upside to avoid Abrupt Decay. Keeping this around for a couple of turns really starts to get scary, but that might be hard enough (not to mention the difficulty in keeping an army on the table) that the card is fine. Could we see this in W/B Tokens, Soul Sisters, or maybe even G/W Little Kid?

Well hello there. Dack is a staple in Vintage and is on the fringes of Legacy, but what would he actually do in Modern? On turn three (sometimes turn two) we can steal a Wurmcoil Engine, put a Griselbrand in our graveyard for retrieval next turn or prevent an Oblivion Stone from ruining our day. There’s no doubt those are some powerful abilities, but are they any better than things we can already do?

Decks that want to cast Faithless Looting don’t often want to do it every turn. They also want to do it before turn three. Dack provides a ton of redundancy to those decks, no question. Stealing a Wurmcoil Engine is a strong play, but only Tron decks really play that card and they could just as easily cast a Karn or an Ugin and ruin our day in other ways. Stealing Batterskull will make you very sad (hint: it does very little) and stealing mana rocks likely doesn’t warrant the investment. He also dies to Abrupt Decay.

That said, Dack does a lot to improve the U/R/x combo decks that want to go all in on their win conditions. Goryo’s Vengeance, Storm, Dragonstorm, and maybe even Ad Nauseam could all make great use of Dack. Stealing Spellskites could be valuable for Splinter Twin. More than any other card so far, Dack Fayden probably needs to be banned if we were to make this change.

Something about a repeatable Goblin Welder scares me, but maybe it shouldn’t. The best we can do with the ability in Modern is Mindslaver, Wurmcoil Engine, or Sphinx of the Steel Wind. The powerful part of this card is the fact that he also fills the graveyard on his own. Going straight to five loyalty when he first comes down puts him in a strong place for Modern, and he is immune to Abrupt Decay. That leaves many decks in a sticky spot for dealing with him, and left alone he will dominate the game. Sure it might take multiple turns to recur Wurmcoils or Mindlavers, but the fact that you can is enough to cause concern.

I think, though, that the concern is mitigated by the second ability requiring a target. No artifact in the yard? Can’t activate. No artifact in play? Can’t get one back. You also need to spend a turn going up with him before you can -2 again, giving the opponent more time. Likely a strong build-around that creates an archetype with Trash for Treasure and Thirst for Knowledge (plus Dack Fayden if he didn’t get banned), and on paper that archetype looks very good but maybe not good enough to get Daretti banned.

This card is a perfect example of one that isn’t that powerful but would be tremendous fun in Modern. It’s never going to see Legacy play (famous last words) but the Dredgevine decks might want it, or maybe a grindy base-Golgari deck that is looking for a non-red way to get some card draw. Not going to break anything, but a fun card that I think would be great to have available in the format.

Despite having a useless (in Modern) third ability, that middle one is quite the beating. Bant tempo decks are close to my heart, and being able to get my mana back after every attack step is really, really good. Having no built-in way to protect himself and having a Boltable butt (which might be my new favorite phrase) all but ensure Derevi stays in check, so he falls on the strong side of fine in my mind.

Surely a card that is banned as a duel Commander general is going to be too powerful for Modern? Well, not really. What makes Edric so powerful in that format is the fact that you always have access to him, making your opponent’s removal a lot less potent. Yes, we can play more copies in Modern, but that’s not the same as starting with one basically in your hand for free every game. He’s also still a 2/2 for three mana with no evasion or protection, and already exists in the format in enchantment form, which is a lot harder to remove. I would be surprised if Edric saw a lot of play.

I love this card. I want to play it in Modern so much, as G/W Little Kid is one of my favorite decks of all time. He’s powerful without a doubt, and would be one of the best creatures in the format, but there really isn’t a dominant creature strategy in Modern right now. Adding the Scion to Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, and Wilt-Leaf Liege just makes for a very solid midrange deck that loses to all the things midrange decks usually lose to. Maybe Scion pushes Abzan over the top of Jund as the G/B/x deck of choice, but I have a hard job defining that as too good.

Another toy for the Goryo’s Vengance decks that, uninterrupted, makes them less all-in. Of course it’s also a lot slower than the current combo, needing you to untap with Feldon to be able to do anything. He’s also a legal target for Vengeance so I suppose technically you can bring him back and then activate, requiring 3BR but also protecting you against removal somewhat. I guess you can also play him in Twin to get a token Exarch and then enchant it? Again it’s mana intensive and vulnerable to removal that can’t normally hit Exarch. Some nice tricks here, but nothing broken.

In the history of Magic, I can only think of one counterspell that got banned, and that was Mana Drain. Flusterstorm is always at least a better Disrupt and can sometimes be much, much better. With far fewer must-cast one-mana card draw spells in Modern, it is easier to leave mana open on turn one, making aggro decks have a much harder time in getting on the board.

Flusterstorm ostensibly shuts down Storm, but the Modern Storm decks often go off with a huge amount of mana in their pool, allowing them to not only pay for the copies but also to cast their own copy. Mindbreak Trap is legal in the format and does a better job at stopping Storm, though admittedly a much worse job against the rest of the format.

For the power level against faster decks alone, I’m tempted to say Flusterstorm is too good. However, it has long been the lament of blue players that there is no viable control deck and that aggro, especially Affinity, is too good. Would Flusterstorm tip the balance too far in the other direction? My gut says yes, but as I am no blue player I am tempted to leave it legal to start with and put in at the top of the watch list.

It might not look like it on the face, but this card can be a more fair Blood Moon. People are already playing basics to get around that card, and this would allow players to get them all (probably) at once.

That said, in the later game this could be backbreaking in a way Blood Moon sometimes isn’t. At least with Blood Moon you can still get some use out of the lands. If one of the complaints we have about the format is that we want to dampen the impact of hosers, we likely don’t want to be introducing a potentially more powerful one. I would ban this.

“Infinite combo with Intruder Alarm” should probably not be a condition to ban a card since there are so many engines in Magic involving that busted enchantment. What we have in Gisa is a fun engine that, on turn six, can take over a game with just one other creature in play You’ll note the lack of a “nontoken” clause on her ability. The mana cost is enough to ensure that a Gisa deck isn’t anywhere near the top tier, but again, we have a card that Modern would love to have available.

I’m sensing a pattern with these legendary creatures – powerful, fun, and just not powerful enough to break Modern. Let’s say we cast Grenzo for 2BR. For two mana, we can get any creature with four power or less onto the battlefield if it is on the bottom of our library. OK, that’s pretty cool and makes scry a lot better, but is it too good? It’s probably better than Gisa or a lot of other options we’ve had so far, but it’s at least fair.

This card is very, very good. I almost included a copy in Death and Taxes in Legacy, so it would almost certainly see play in a Modern version. With Anger of the Gods being the sweeper of choice in Modern, the power of Spiritkeeper drops quite a bit. However it’s still a 3/2 with vigilance that will get you some value when it dies to most removal. That’s certainly not the resume of a broken card, though it is yet another one that would be well-received in the format.

Ajani’s big brother kicks a lot of backside. In Modern, he is at the perfect spot on the curve to be a powerful finisher for a token deck while being resilient to a lot of common removal. A nice additional dimension for that sort of deck.

Kaalia is a lightning rod in Commander games because of the havoc she can wreak with just one attack step. In Modern, that havoc would be tempered by the mana cost, the fact that she’s a 2/2 in a format full of spot removal, and the fact that if you don’t have her in play your deck is full of huge clunky creatures that most certainly are not coming in to play on turn four. In the event that she does get cast, she is still a lightning rod. I’d love to try and play a Kaalia deck in a sanctioned tournament, but that doesn’t mean I think she’s good.

Ignore the mana cost; we all know that casting him for GWB on turn three or four is completely viable. The question then becomes “is the second ability too powerful?” No, it probably isn’t. A deck looking to fill up the yard is likely already playing things that can come back from the dead, but the problem will be if Karador gets played in decks that are just full of value creatures. Kitchen Finks, Spike Feeder, Eternal Witness… you know, basically the Abzan Company deck. Some slight tweaks to make the graveyard a bigger element (Lotleth Troll, for example) and Karador becomes a much more potent weapon.

Given the proven power level of just one engine-type card in Pod-style decks, Karador might be playing with fire. Unlike Pod before him, Karador isn’t a tutor but he does make graveyard hate almost a necessity. Very powerful and definitely one to watch.

If we have learned anything over the years of tournament Magic, it’s that cheating things onto the battlefield can be dangerous. Muzzio has a shot at finding you a Wurmcoil Engine, Mindslaver, or (heaven forbid) Blightsteel Colossus every turn. The activation cost is a little high and the creature is fragile, but the ability is undoubtedly strong. Better than Master Transmuter? Probably, but that card sees literally no play. Still, this kind of ability is dangerous and we’d need to watch it closely.

One thing Nahiri doesn’t do that her alter-ego Stoneforge Mystic does is tutor. However, she can do some very busted things with equipment that you happen to find anyway, all while defending herself in the process. Without a reliable way to get equipment from your library though, Nahiri is not that much better than Elspeth, Knight Errant and as such is probably just fine.

I doubt anyone thinks Nin is going to bust anything wide open, but I can’t be the only person wanting to play her with Swans of Bryn Argoll can I?

So there’s no doubt that Riku can do some unfair things, especially in Commander. We’ve probably all been on the receiving end of a Riku beating in that format, but Modern is a very different kettle of fish. He’s a five-drop 2/2 that has no built-in protection and can’t start doing his thing until the next turn in all likelihood. He’s also in three colors which stretches you even further in what you can do with him. Nothing to worry about here.

It’s a four mana 7/7 with no drawback in Modern. He is hard to remove for many decks and although he has no evasion, he’s still The Abyss each turn until he starts hitting you in the face. And he hits hard. The days of banning efficient beatdown machines are long behind us though, and Ruhan is not worthy of a ban in any way.

I do wish I could see the Jeskai tempo decks try to fit him in though.

This was another card people that had people worried. The +1 is nothing special, but the -1 and the ultimate are out of color pie and ridiculous respectively. Sure he costs six, but he then untaps four lands to let you Wrath of God or hold up Cryptic Command. Whether or not he’s too good will come down to whether the blue player can do enough to stay in control until they resolve Teferi… kind of like with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in Standard, only without he built-in catch-up ability. And nobody is casting that card in Modern. Granted, Teferi is blue and therefore might be more powerful on the base, but not powerful enough to be broken.

There’s a Legacy deck that plays Titania, so she has the power to be good on some level. Every fetchland becomes a must-answer threat, and cards like Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge become even better. Knight of the Reliquary is insane. She’s fragile and costs five, but Titania would enable some really fun decks in Modern to the point that she might be a little too good. I know in Standard I would not want to deal with her!

I don’t know that it would instantly replace Anger of the Gods as the sweeper of choice in Modern, but it sure as heck would see play. Deluge gives black decks a way to clear the board on turn three, which right now is a lot more limited (Black Sun’s Zenith and Drown in Sorrow being the best options currently). Letting those decks have a three-mana answer to Etched Champion (for example) might be dangerous but it only happens a turn before Shatterstorm or Creeping Corrosion, at a higher cost too.

This was the only card I thought would have to be banned when I started this article. When it first came out, there were calls to ban it in Legacy. People have since adapted and the card is now merely strong, but the answers to it are mostly Modern-legal: Golgari Charm, Liliana of the Veil and (if this is legal) Council’s Judgment all take care of it.

Unless of course you’re playing it in a Merfolk shell, which is already a tier-one archetype in Modern. That makes True-Name Nemesis way harder to deal with and probably makes it too good for the format as a whole. Yes you can race it sometimes, dealing with all the other creatures instead, but then it’s also an unkillable blocker. You need trample or protection from blue to get anywhere. I think it’s closer than I originally feared, but I am putting True-Name Nemesis on the banned list.

White is the king of flexible removal but in Modern it has very little of it. Council’s Judgment is probably enough to give white a shot in the arm, but in the event it needs to be banned I think Unexpectedly Absent is a much fairer substitute.

I adore this card. It has become something of a joke in Magic circles but I really wish we had it in Modern. Giving away things like Aggressive Mining seems like something I want to do, and gaining life and drawing cards in the process just seems better. It’s not like he’s that good but he’s fun and I want to play with it!

Ex-Ban-Ded Format?

So with less than a half dozen must-ban cards (aside from Conspiracies), a whole bunch that would make archetypes viable and even more that would be just plain fun, it certainly seems like this change would be a net positive to Modern. On paper, anyway. Remember, there was a time when we thought Hornet Queen and Scavenging Ooze were too good for Standard, and they both came and went without much uproar. Heck, Hornet Queen has yet to hit Modern at all.

One common complaint I heard with this informal poll was that we would restrict future cards that WotC could print in these sets, hampering them from fixing specific problems in Legacy. I have a few issues with this. For one thing Modern and Legacy are getting closer and closer as more and more powerful cards are released. A fix for Legacy might well be needed in Modern too, so that worry is not that much of a concern.

I’m also not too worried about adding cards from these supplemental sets to the banned list early on. The complaints about Modern’s banned list have been centered around people buying in to decks and then having key pieces banned, but that’s likely less of a concern if we know early on that the card won’t be legal in Modern.


There’s the big problem. A lot of these supplemental sets were limited release and no longer available. Many of the cards are hard to find. Well, why not re-release them in booster pack form, fleshing out the set with some Commander staples, and make it a draftable format? That might be somewhat challenging, but given the successes of Modern and Vintage Masters as draft formats I am confident that WotC are up to the task.

What’s that? Yes, that would mean foil Containment Priests. That has nothing to do with my interest though, really.

Making these newly-legal cards available at a reasonable rate is essential to this plan working. One of the reasons I can’t see Jace, the Mind Sculptor ever becoming legal in Modern is that he would become a $300 card overnight, and some of the cards from earlier Commander sets (for example) would see similar price jumps if the announcement of legality happened before the set came out.

With Magic Origins now available, I will be back to brewing next time out. I have had this idea in my head for a while though, and I wanted to get it out there during a lull in formats and tournaments. Let me know what you think of these cards, along with any I may have forgotten.

Until next time… Brew on!