With both a Modern Mythic Championship and a dedicated Modern set on the Horizon, these are especially exciting times for the format. Today, I’d like to take a look at some strategies on the fringes that have seen recent advancements and speculate about what possible Modern Horizons cards might mean for them. We’ve only got two previews from the “straight to Modern” set so far, but both warrant mention before we dive headfirst into baseless speculation…
Serra the Benevolent has struck a chord with the “Pro-Angels” lobby, but I think is kind of being underestimated by folks that see the format as one big combo haven. Is there really no home for this bad girl? I mean, if this card was in Standard, it would be revolutionary, right?
For starters, just having the option to -3 right out of the gate means we can get a 4/4 flier with vigilance for four mana and still have a planeswalker left over. That’s incredible, right? Like, you would have to be interested in a Serra Angel that drew a card if it only cost four, right? And here, the card you are drawing is a zero-mana planeswalker. It may only “start” with one loyalty, but being able to give your fliers +1/+1 until end of turn on your turns can be made to be worth more than a card, at least if you wanted to play a bunch of fliers.
Besides, this card has options. Gaining +2 from the first ability means you only have to take one turn off to make a second Angel if you want, but even more importantly, it means you can threaten to ultimate the card after only a single turn if you’re willing to skip the Angel.
Worship is an outrageously strong permanent and picking it up from an emblem means it will be next to impossible to remove. Isn’t this just mostly game over for some combo decks? At the very least, they’re going to have to rework their lists to give themselves an out, right? And it’s not like this is a bad way to fight burn or aggressive decks, right?
Besides, if you have a creature with hexproof, you’re gonna shut off a whole lot of fair decks, too. Like, what’s a Merfolk deck going to do if you have a Worship emblem and a Geist of Saint Traft?
Where might we find a strategy with enough fliers to capitalize on the +2, while also making great use of the ultimate?
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 2 Reflector Mage
- 1 Rattlechains
- 4 Spell Queller
- 2 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Supreme Phantom
- 1 Deputy of Detention
Adam Cristaldi’s Regionals-winning Bant Spirits deck is loaded with fliers, already features Geist of Saint Traft, and even has a Worship in the sideboard. We could just make room for a couple of Serras and maybe a second Geist of Saint Traft, but the addition of Serra at the four-spot might be enough cause to explore the possibility of cutting Collected Company.
The card is excellent here, no question, but there are obviously advantages to playing two colors instead of three, and with Company and Noble Hierarch as the only two green cards, we’re not far off.
Maybe we’d miss having the extra one-drop too much, but what about something like:
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 2 Reflector Mage
- 2 Rattlechains
- 4 Spell Queller
- 2 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Supreme Phantom
The other possible home for Serra the Benevolent that jumps out at me is in a strategy running a lot of cards like Bitterblossom, Lingering Souls, and maybe Spectral Procession. A flying tokens deck would get a ton of mileage out of Serra’s +2 ability.
For instance, maybe something along the lines of:
We even get to put the other Modern Horizons preview to good use here, Cabal Therapist.
Cabal Therapist basically asks two things of you.
1. Play a lot of cards like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Collective Brutality. This greatly increases the chances of the Therapist living a turn while also giving you information about their hand, ensuring it hits.
2. Play enough ways to produce creatures worth sacrificing. This can be tokens, creatures with death triggers, or recursive threats like Bloodghast. You just want to have stuff to sacrifice, because even though you can sacrifice the Therapist itself, it’s really nice to not have to.
While there’s no reason I know of to believe Vindicate will appear in Modern Horizons, if does show up, lordy lordy, that’s a game-changer. I would definitely look to include a playset here, but I could also imagine such a card really pushing us towards more of an attrition gameplan, like with Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil (and Dark Confidant has a lot of tension with Spectral Procession).
Of course, if they reprint Vindicate, I am definitely going to set to work on brewing Abzan, as that card would be unreal for the archetype.
As for Cabal Therapist, another possible home is alongside Young Pyromancer and possibly even Arclight Phoenix:
I’m not sure we’ve actually got enough stuff to sacrifice here, but we might not be far off. I could also imagine this being a spot for leaning into Bloodghast and more graveyard-based action. It’s probably too cute, but Bridge from Below sure is good with Cabal Therapist…
As for regular old Izzet Phoenix (“old”), there’s plenty of potential action coming from Modern Horizons, as so many of the likely blue and red cards align with their core gameplan.
Whether it’s an efficient cantrip like Fire // Ice, some new and perfectly lined up red artifact-hate sideboard card, or something out-there like Force of Will, there’s just such a high probability that Izzet Phoenix gets some really good stuff from this set.
While this strategy may be able to make use of a couple of Counterspells, that would not be at all what this deck is looking for. It would be one of those deals where the card is so good, it might warrant minor inclusion (or might not), but it’s really off-message and would be more help to the other person using it better.
Personally, I think Counterspell is a more likely inclusion than Force of Will (and it would be really weird for them to do both). Legacy is already a format dominated by Force of Will, so it’d be kind of surprising to want to make Modern that same experience. By contrast, Counterspell is only a fringe Legacy card, whereas it would really shine in Modern and would generally promote pretty good things.
It’s also an iconic card, and given how much it would really mess up most Standard formats, this seems the perfect place for it. Even though Force of Will is a stronger card than Counterspell, I don’t think it is out of the question to reprint it in a Standard-legal set someday. Hopefully, however, that day is a long way off.
As a brief aside, there has long been speculation about what the “Post-Modern” world will look like. With Modern now a certified success, what will the next new format look like that is bigger than Standard, but smaller than Modern? My money is on “Exists on Arena” being the new format, probably rolled out Year 3, once there are cards that would ostensibly “rotate out.”
Wizards of the Coast have already made clear they aren’t going back and supporting Modern on Arena. It’s just not practical from a technical standpoint. However, they have been designing cards with Arena in mind for a couple of years now, and it just makes total sense that they will want a way for people to play with their cards more than two years old.
One of the important things Wizards of the Coast does with their development of formats is making sure they are meaningfully different experiences from one another. This doesn’t always mean removing things from the lower-powered format, either.
For instance, years ago, both Vintage and Legacy were about “The Brainstorm Experience.” With the restriction of Brainstorm (and Ponder), the two formats have a meaningfully different texture, different rules of engagement on another axis.
Why restrict Brainstorm in Vintage, rather than ban it in Legacy?
Simply, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and other busted card draw diminishes the Brainstorm experience’s relevancy there, compared to what it means to Legacy. Additionally, that type of effect stacks in a dangerous way, so it’s actually a lot safer to let people Brainstorm and Ponder when they’re not also mixing in Demonic Tutors and Yawgmoth’s Wills.
Similarly, Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond are both legal in Legacy but restricted in Vintage.
In Legacy, they are highly influential, high-risk, high-reward accelerators. In Vintage, they are much less special because of how plentiful artifact mana is from Moxes, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and so on, while also more dangerous on account of all the Timetwisters and Wheel of Fortunes.
Legacy is already a format defined by Force of Will, and while Vintage has it too, Vintage also contains Mana Drain, which is extremely powerful and gives the format a different feel, a different pacing (even if Force of Will is the more impactful card).
I don’t think Mana Drain would be a non-starter to discuss in Legacy, it’s not what the format needs, and it would just further blur Vintage and Legacy. Modern, however, is not a remotely appropriate place for Mana Drain, and even though Modern already has Cryptic Command as an important pillar, giving the format’s interaction its own feel, I think Counterspell could also play a great role.
Would there be a loss of diversity? Possibly. I mean, Mana Leak, Remand, Negate, and Logic Knot all have different weak points, different ways to play around them, while Counterspell is much more robust. I’m not at all sure Counterspell is the right path, but part of the reason Modern is so warped around fast combo decks is just how slow and unreliable the countermagic is. Maybe Counterspell would decrease the mix of permission used, at least on the averages, but it might be just the medicine the format needs long-term to not have to keep banning so many combo cards.
As for what kind of a home Counterspell would find? Well, this one is easy. Basically, look at any deck using Logic Knot, Remand, Mana Leak, or Negate and you’ve got to at least ask yourself if Counterspell might be a better fit. It’s not always a slam dunk, as there are a lot of really great lands that don’t make blue mana, but maybe stuff can be shuffled around. For instance, what about something like:
Mystic Gate is an interesting card to consider in a world with Counterspell, as basic Plains really is an important card.
Additionally, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria was born to Counterspell, so if Modern Horizons actually breaks that way, it will only cement Teferi’s legacy as a top-five planeswalker all-time:
4. Dack Fayden
I think you can make a good case for Liliana, the Last Hope; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and Karn Liberated, but at the moment, that’s my list. With 36 Planeswalkers appearing in War of the Spark, however, that may be subject to change before long.
Could Dack Fayden appear in Modern Horizons? Sure, I guess. It would be pretty wasteful, and probably sketchy from a gameplay standpoint, however. Dack is such an important part of Vintage; why blur those experiences? It’s not like Modern is in desperate need of a hyper-efficient way for Izzet decks to loot away massive amounts of cards or anything. Besides, it really punishes anyone playing artifacts except the people abusing artifacts the most. It’s kind of the wrong incentives for Modern, I think.
If Deprive is showing up, you know this is a spot for Counterspell. The real question, however, is whether Counterspell is good enough to move into the maindeck of stuff like Rigel Espiritu’s Merfolk deck.
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 3 Master of Waves
- 3 Harbinger of the Tides
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
The big twist here, is the use of Chalice of the Void, rather than one-drops like Benthic Biomancer or Cursecatcher.
Would the printing of Counterspell be enough to force permission into the maindeck? I mean, maybe impacting the battlefield is more important, but some people already play cards like Spell Pierce, and it’s not like Echoing Truth and Psionic Blast are absolutely crucial.
Speaking of tribal decks, one of the other big decks of 2018, Humans, made an interesting evolutionary leap, this month with the inclusion of Anafenza, the Foremost as a response to Arclight Phoenix.
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 2 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Kitesail Freebooter
Anafenza is a powerful card in her own right, and the efficiency by which she shuts off the Phoenix while also being out of Lightning Bolt range make her an extremely attractive option at the moment.
As for what might appear in Modern Horizons of interest, my first thought is that likely there be some new hatebear Human two-drop worth running, whether in the maindeck or in the sideboard. Perhaps of more interest, however, is the possibility of an Engineered Plague reprint.
Engineered Plague jumps out at me as one of the more likely reprints that would have a huge impact on the format. Whether naming Human, Merfolk, Spirit, Goblin, Faerie, Wizard, Elf, or Blinkmoth, there is no shortage of extremely powerful tribes worth naming.
Engineered Plague would not spell the end of these strategies, but it would be a blow and may require a response from them to adjust accordingly. Yeah, maybe this impacts the amount of enchantment removal they run, but that’s such a mediocre way to even interact with Engineered Plague.
More exciting is a plan involving cards like Radiant Destiny or some other such Anthem. That way, your “answer” is a proactive threat, on plan, that’s good even when they don’t draw or have Engineered Plague, and when they do, you don’t just lose half your creatures to it immediately before even having a chance to destroy it.
Who could utilize Engineered Plague? Plenty of folks, I suspect. It would be a great sideboard option for combo decks and stuff like Grixis Control, but the easiest, most natural home would probably be in fair black decks like Golgari or Jund.
This deck would love Engineered Plague against Humans or Lingering Souls, and would find enough spots to put it to use to justify the precious sideboard space (at least in small numbers).
I’m not sure what it will look like, but I would guess Modern Horizons would be a great opportunity for WotC to make a black sweeper with a different niche from Damnation. For instance, what about something like:
Destroy all nonland permanents with converted mana cost 3 or less.
I guess they could reprint Pernicious Deed, but the card’s template is a bit antiquated, and I think it not hitting planeswalkers makes it play a little worse, rather than better.
It makes the card just too much about that, and besides, artifact lands aren’t even legal, so why bother with this awkward implementation? That said, I could imagine them making a Pernicious Deed that actually just hits nonland permanents.
One thing that’s basically a lock is that Modern Horizons will feature at least one high-powered graveyard hate card (and possibly more). Modern is frequently a little extreme with the graveyard synergies, and my money is on one colorless Relic of Progenitus / Tormod’s Crypt variant and one pushed creature with a highly effective graveyard hate ability (likely in black).
I actually think Yixlid Jailer as a one-drop would be sweet, and maybe even as a Human instead of a Zombie. Is that crazy? I could also imagine something like BB for a 3/3 that makes cards unable to leave graveyards.
I’d like to see more graveyard interaction showing up in Modern incidentally, and not always all-or-nothing (like Rest in Peace). A 3/3 that makes cards unable to leave graveyards obviously hits some mechanics hard (recursion and reanimation) while missing some (Bridge from Below, Knight of the Reliquary). Also, when it appears on a 3/3 body, it is quite vulnerable to some interaction, but not all. If Dredge plays some Lightning Bolts and Abrupt Decays instead of just proactive engine cards, that’s already a win for the format.
The printing of Electrodominance (along with the void created by banning Krark-Clan Ironworks) has spawn a surge of Living End decks that more closely resemble Goryo’s Vengeance decks.
Outside of all the usual Goryo’s Vengeance / Griselbrand shenanigans, this list has Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (great Goryo’s Vengeance target) and both Electrodominance and As Foretold to cast Living End and Ancestral Vision.
It’s actually kind of cool that Electrodominance for three is actually a realistic thing to pull off, but far from easy; so if there was a three-toughness creature keeping graveyards turned off, it’s sweet that there’s natural modest counterplay. It’s also pretty sweet that Living End could be used to kill it, while it still shuts off the first Living End from bringing anything back. I think that kind of mixed counterplay is generally a lot more satisfying that the all-or-nothing Rest in Peace experience.
Jordan Dale’s Electrodominance deck below has a very different feel from Tom Medvec’s list. This next list is actually a lot closer to a traditional Living End deck, albeit with a fairly different mix of threats and a permission package.
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 1 Faerie Macabre
- 2 Archfiend of Ifnir
- 4 Curator of Mysteries
- 4 Desert Cerodon
- 1 Nimble Obstructionist
- 4 Striped Riverwinder
With so many high-impact zero-cost cards getting played by Electrodominance and As Foretold, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see some sort of Chalice of the Void effect on a body. Sure, there are plenty of ways to hate out zeros (some clumsier than others)…
However, Chalice of the Void’s ability to lock out ones is actually a brutal way to fight back against the natural tendency for powered formats to play nothing but the cheapest cards.
Would it be weird for them to print a 2/2 artifact creature for two that Trinispheres spells that cost less than two?
There is so much possibility with a set designed to give new tools to Modern, without breaking Standard. Between Modern Horizons and the next Standard-legal set having a planeswalker in every pack, I can’twait until the previews start dropping. It’s going to be an exciting year for Magic!