Archmage’s Charm: Eat Your Heart Out, Threads Of Disloyalty

Countering spells, drawing cards, taking control of cheap permanents: what’s not to love about Archmage’s Charm? Ben Friedman wants to make the most of this triple-blue Modern Horizons preview!

Ever Snapcaster Mage’d a Threads of Disloyalty? Seems pretty broken, no?

Ever stolen a Hardened Scales or an Aether Vial with Threads of Disloyalty? You’re about to get your chance.

Archmage’s Charm is the Threads of Disloyalty we never knew we needed, and boy does it ever knock it out of the park. This card could fundamentally change the incentives surrounding threat selection in Modern deckbuilding and might even help promote the long-overdue slowing-down of Modern we’ve been waiting for.

Where is Archmage’s Charm playable? Merfolk, sure, but let’s first try to think about archetypes that already have a top-tier pedigree in the format. No offense to my fishy aficionados; obviously this card is playable in one of Modern’s mono-blue archetypes.

Azorius Control already accommodates Cryptic Command, so Archmage’s Charm is certainly a permissible inclusion (though on Turn 3, it might be a bit of a tall order to cast every single time). Folks have already played Esper Charm on the far fringes of the format in Esper Control, and Archmage’s Charm is a clear upgrade from that card. Raw card advantage will be more important than ever for an Azorius deck with access to Force of Negation, so having your interactive spells double as Divinations is paramount. Of course, if you’re going to be a control deck, the two interactive modes of Archmage’s Charm are as good as it gets. Plus, you’re a Snapcaster Mage deck, and one of the biggest appeals of this card is the fact that it’s a unique effect to put on an instant. Flashing back the Charm to steal another permanent is just too adorable.

And yes, as a Death’s Shadow pundit, an instant-speed way to steal my precious 9/9 scares the bejeezus out of me. The Azorius matchup was never easy, per se, but now it’s downright terrifying. There are only so many Stubborn Denials in the world, and more and more must-counter spells in the matchup!

Izzet Phoenix is another archetype that can support the triple-blue requirement of Archmage’s Charm, using it to improve the Humans and Hardened Scales matchups while increasing counterspell density against Azorius Control. It’s unclear if a card like Narset, Parter of Veils or Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is going to be more meaningful as a three-mana play in the matchup, but Archmage’s Charm is an easy card to sideboard in regardless of matchup, and a Cancel / Inspiration split card is just good enough to make the cut after sideboard.

Of course, how could an article with a triple-blue preview card fail to acknowledge Dimir Faeries/Dimir Control? I guarantee you, Yuuta Takahashi will go deep in another Modern event at some point this year with an Archmage’s Charm or two in his list, stealing Noble Hierarchs and countering spells all day long. And why wouldn’t he? With Humans being one of Faeries’s traditionally tougher matchups, a card that turns some of the most explosive cards in the list into a liability is just the ticket to shifting the matchup back towards the slower deck. Yuuta already uses one of the most under-exploited cards in Modern for punishing one-drops in Spellstutter Sprite, so making the deck more blue-heavy and even more dominating against ones is just a beautiful evolution.

Aether Vial is quite the card for Faeries, even if they can’t justify playing it themselves, so if they can steal one on two counters, they can start running free Snapcaster Mages and Spellstutter Sprites out there for extreme punishment. With luck, you can steal an opponent’s Vial on Turn 3, and then trot out a free Snapcaster on Turn 4 to flash it back and steal their Noble Hierarch for juicy value. Now that’s true joy in Magic!

And yes, Merfolk mirrors can and will be decided by one player stealing another’s Aether Vial on Turn 3 and might finally generate some pushback against the significantly more busted Humans archetype. I mean, let’s be real. How can you ever beat Reflector Mage as Merfolk? Hopefully, by having a card to steal their Champion of the Parish, you can create a real reason to not be Humans. However, with Cavern of Souls and Mutavault in many lists, it’s a bit less obvious of an inclusion than it might seem at first glance. Beware of the dangers of those pesky value lands!

It’s easy to just bleat about the different decks that might make good use of Archmage’s Charm, but it isn’t just a “set it and forget it” card to toss into a bunch of heavy-blue decks the same way a Silent Clearing goes into all the Orzhov Eldrazi and Taxes decks or Nurturing Peatland goes right into Golgari Midrange. This is a card to play under particular metagame circumstances, and with the right tools, it could be a card to turn Modern away from its current obsession with one-mana cards.

No, it’s not Mental Misstep (though boy oh boy, would I personally be thrilled to see that card get back in the mix!), but Modern has dropped from being a format of powerful two-cost cards to being a format of powerful one-cost cards. If you aren’t interacting for a single mana, you’re likely messing up. Ari Lax wrote at length about this phenomenon recently on his personal blog.

My sincere hope is that Archmage’s Charm takes advantage of that recent gear shift in Modern and pushes back against the current of playing all ones by turning them into liable two-for-ones. Humans is the biggest offender, but Hardened Scales to a lesser extent, and even Grixis Death’s Shadow and Burn take advantage of the “lots of ones” philosophy. Being able to neatly pick up percentage points against these decks alongside your reasonably-costed counterspell/draw spell is absolutely pivotal if we’re going to have any hope of drawing Modern back towards a two- and three-mana format.

It’s not going to do everything itself, but Archmage’s Charm allows for a game-ending follow-up to some early interaction, putting the game out of reach before the fourth turn. There’s just such a massive swing inherent in stealing an Aether Vial or Noble Hierarch. When this mode is good, it’s game-ending.

Now, we don’t have to limit ourselves to speculation about how Archmage’s Charm will influence Modern as it currently stands. Modern is already undergoing a significant shake-up from War of the Spark, and Modern Horizons is going to add more twists as it joins the format with a few dozen high-impact cards. Archmage’s Charm is going to be the premier Achilles’ Heel of a card like Giver of Runes, turning the Benevolent Bodyguard-esque effect into a complete rout — but not for the one who put it in their deck! What happens when that Snapcaster Mage suddenly can’t die? When that Vendilion Clique jumps out, blocks a Mantis Rider, and lives to tell the tale? It’s not a safe world for a card like Giver of Runes, unfortunately.

But Modern isn’t the only format where Archmage’s Charm stands to make an impact, and it’s all due to one particular 20/20 creature. An instant-speed answer to Marit Lage that puts the onus back on the opponent to have an answer or die on the spot presents quite a swing. It’s not going to break the format – three blue mana is a relatively tough ask in a format with Daze and Wasteland – but it is going to be a tool for decks like Grixis Delver, Dimir Shadow, Grixis Control, or even Miracles to employ for effect against Golgari Depths and Lands. I’m particularly excited to steal a Mox Diamond right out from a Lands player and push them to stumble on mana. With that extra mana, it won’t be a big jump to Snapcaster-ing back the spell on another juicy permanent, perhaps the desperation Marit Lage they run out there to cheese out a win.

Look. When it comes to a modal spell, savvy metagame analysts will understand a few simple principles:

  • Modal spells are disproportionately useful compared to their constituent abilities.
  • Modal spells therefore increase the density of their constituent abilities within the format.
  • Modal spells mean that previously sideboard-only effects (like a “steal your one-drop” effect) may make their way into maindecks, as they are flexible ribbons tied on top of already reasonable spells.

We can expect an increase, therefore, in hard card advantage, in hard countermagic, and in predation on one-drop permanents. More than specific cards, it’s more useful to think in terms of interactive effects. These are the ones that will be boosted by Archmage’s Charm and the implications are not necessarily obvious.

What happens when those three effects become more prevalent in Modern maindecks? One-drops get worse, of course, but so do linear combo decks. Hard countermagic isn’t the easiest thing to include in your Modern deck nowadays. There are so many aggro decks! But what if your counterspell is stapled to an effect that works wonders against aggro? Now you can maindeck even more countermagic without feeling foolish! This means that more control decks will have eight or more hard counterspells in their maindecks and that diminishes the effectiveness of all-in combo decks like Grishoalbrand or Storm.

Don’t get me started on the fact that with the immensely powerful maindeckable Negate effect going into Modern as well (in Force of Negation) it’s going to be basically impossible to punch through a Goryo’s Vengeance against a control deck. It’s such a relief to not have to concern ourselves with these glass-cannon decks, with control decks playing “format police” against some of the unfun nonsense that exists on the fringes of Modern. Blue decks will have the early-game and mid-game covered without having to devote any sideboard spots to matchup coverage.

That’s the beauty of modal spells, and Archmage’s Charm is the case in point. When you can cover matchups that previously needed sideboard slots without those sideboard slots, you have more room to fight other bad matchups, or to get a leg up in mirrors. What kind of control-heavy dream format can Gabriel Nassif and Shaheen Soorani fantasize about as a result? Will we see Faeries dominate Azorius Control with unbeatable Bitterblossoms and discard spells? Or will Narset, Parter of Veils become the biggest and best threat on the block in this new world? Can Karn-Drazi-Tron take advantage of a lull in all-in combo and leverage a mana advantage to smash control?

It’s been a long time since we’ve had to consider a Modern format without worrying about lean machines like Humans and Izzet Phoenix, but I’m holding out hope that the new breed of control decks can handle the heat. I’ll be in the tank, as I hope any sharp metagame reader will be, piecing together how Modern will look once these effects are present in higher density in control maindecks everywhere.