The Elephant In The Room

The last couple of days have seen plenty of impressive previews, but one in particular made the Magic community in general and Sam Black in particular sit up and take notice! Get his take on Fatal Push as a card, what it means for the Modern metagame, and how it affects his beloved Lantern Control!

By itself, this is a 3/4 for GGG that you can pay in installments, which means that if you weren’t going to do anything on turn 1, it’s like a 3/4 for GG. That’s pretty big. On top of that, as long as you can incrementally spend the energy it makes, you can reuse it as “G: You get E.” That’s all pretty obvious, but it’s easy to overlook that this might be the best Revolt enabler in the set, since any time you cast it with no energy in your pool, it not only generates an energy, it also generates Revolt without costing you any resources.

Okay, but seriously, I’m not here to talk about Elephants. I’m here, much like I’m sure everyone else this week will be, to talk about Fatal Push.

A Card Pushed Hard

Now, personally, I think there’s a high bar to writing about the most obvious card in the set. I don’t sit down to write an article to tell you that a card that was pushed to be an Eternal staple is going to be good. I know that would be pointless. You don’t need to read about why it will be good. What’s worth talking about is what that means.

Throughout literally Magic’s entire history, it’s been frustrating that black, with a color pie distinction that says that it’s good at killing creatures, has been so bad at killing creatures that a B/U or B/G deck will often feel pressed to splash white or red for creature removal because it just isn’t acceptable to be able to kill a creature at instant speed on turn 1 when Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares (or Path to Exile in Modern) have always been there. Disfigure’s completely embarrassing compared to those, but that’s what black decks that don’t want to splash are often reduced to.

Finally, this is no longer the case.

Black can finally be the color you add to your deck to kill creatures, the way it should be. The way it should’ve always been.

I know you I said you don’t need to read about why this is good, but I want to be crystal-clear about just how good this is. Let’s go over the best cards in Modern.

To my mind, by color, the best current Modern cards are:

Gitaxian Probe for blue? Awkward…

That’s just my opinion. If we go by the most-played cards in Modern, as ranked by MTGStocks, then it’s:

This list is also respectable. Now, in both lists, note how important cheap interaction is. Fatal Push isn’t just good; it has a real chance to be the best black card in Modern, and I don’t think it’s possible that it will be below the third-best black card, after Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize.

This isn’t the kind of card that merely creates a new archetype or slots into every existing black deck. Thus fundamentally changes what black is capable of. Essentially, every deck in Modern that’s playing only a little red or white for Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile needs to reevaluate whether it should be doing that or playing black instead. U/B Control no longer has a giant hole, so maybe Faeries becomes a playable deck.

G/B/x has always meant Jund or Abzan, because the most important thing to add to your G/B deck was either Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt, but that distinction can now include Sultai, where Fatal Push is your cheap removal spell and you’re free to add any color, and maybe you want card advantage from blue to support all your cheap interaction. We might even see people play Compulsive Research.

Also, this is more than just color-shifting Lighting Bolt or Path to Exile. Fatal Push is a different card, with different strengths and weaknesses, and if it becomes the most-played (or even third-most-played) removal spell, it has a big impact on which creatures are good. For example, Tarmogoyf, the most-played green card, is so great largely because it usually can’t be killed by Lightning Bolt and it only costs two mana, so if your opponent uses Path to Exile on it early, you get a mana boost when it really counts. Now, if you can expect that you’ll spend your second turn playing Tarmogoyf and your opponent will kill it for one mana with the land they were going to put onto the battlefield tapped at the end of your turn otherwise, so it essentially costs them no mana (maybe two life), it loses a lot of its appeal. I doubt Tarmogoyf will be the most-played green card in three months.

Similarly, this card is horrible news for Death’s Shadow, which relied largely on the ineffectiveness of Lightning Bolt.

Up until now, I’ve been deciding between Lantern Control and Death’s Shadow for every Modern event. After Fatal Push, I don’t think I’ll play Death’s Shadow again, and the choice will be between Lantern Control and something else I can’t possibly predict now because the entire metagame is different.

So what happens to Modern if half the Lightning Bolts are replaced by Fatal Pushes? We lose a super-efficient burn spell that can help finish off players and replace it with a super-efficient removal spell that can generate a mana advantage by killing almost any creature. Every Snapcaster Mage / Lightning Bolt deck that cuts red loses the ability to hang around and then eventually end the game with two Lightning Bolts and a Snapcaster Mage.

Life totals become a less precious resource, and all the midrange matchups, which become more common because aggro suffers, become even more about grinding card advantage or sticking a trump. Painful Truths becomes a much more interesting card.

Doesn’t this just highlight how good Lightning Bolt is? If Fatal Push leads to fewer Tarmogoyfs anyway, won’t people just maybe play a couple and still play Lightning Bolt? Well, yes, realistically, Lightning Bolt is the best card in Modern, and I don’t expect that fully half of the Lightning Bolts will become Fatal Pushes (though note that even if this did happen, if half the Path to Exiles also became Fatal Pushes, Lightning Bolt would still be the most-played spell in Modern because its lead is that big). The point is that a little of this is going to happen.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that this card doesn’t slow down the format (which is interesting, since we generally think of adding power to a format as something that speeds it up; this is also very welcome, since Modern being too fast is easily among the biggest complaints about the format). With this card printed, there’s a good chance that Gitaxian Probe and Become Immense really don’t need to be banned, since it’s a nightmare for pump spell-based aggro decks.

As a Lantern Control player, my first thought when I saw Fatal Push was “Sweet, a card that’s so good that people will play it in large numbers, and it does nothing against me! This’ll be great.” That was followed by, “Maybe I want access to a couple of these in my sideboard, maybe even one maindeck.”

The next realization was that this would mean fewer people would play red, which means fewer Ancient Grudges, Shatterstorms, Vandalblasts, and Kolaghan’s Commands. That was a dream come true.

The next point was that it also means fewer Tarmogoyfs, which is one of the scariest creatures. Everything’s coming up Lantern, and we haven’t even gotten to the best part (I’ll come back to that).

Paradigm Shifts

At this point, we have a “too good to be true” moment. Yes, everything I said above is true, but is it really good for Lantern? Everything is different now. The most important point is that everything’s slower. What if that just means that Tron is the deck to beat, and that Lantern is good enough that Tron can realize that it should specifically try to beat Lantern? Okay, well, that matchup would be kind of a nightmare.

What if Sultai becomes popular, and because the format is slower, it has time for things like multiple Maelstrom Pulses in addition to Abrupt Decay, with Snapcaster Mage and Painful Truths or Compulsive Research to find them? Maybe it plays Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in addition to Liliana of the Veil? A deck like that would just have too much interaction and too many cards I couldn’t let them draw.

At this point, I want to say that I’m absolutely delighted that they printed this card, and I think it’s a fantastic execution of the task in front of them. It fixes a color pie imbalance that has always existed, but it does it in a way that scales beautifully: while it might end up being obnoxiously good in Standard, it won’t be anywhere near as good in Standard as it is in formats with fetchlands.

This means it can compete in Modern and Legacy, but if Patrick Chapin is right, and at some point in the future Wizards introduces another Eternal format that starts with Magic Origins so that it doesn’t have Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, or fetchlands, this will be an appropriate power level for that format too. Further, this not only radically shakes up Modern, but it does it in exactly the right way, slowing down a format that’s too fast.

Just be ready to reevaluate everything you knew about Modern.

I’m not going to spend as much time on it, but I’ll note that this card is also great in Legacy. It won’t have the same impact because the fastest Legacy decks aren’t creature decks, so adding a great removal spell doesn’t do anything to change the texture of the format, and while Fatal Push is substantially better than Path to Exile most of the time, it’s nowhere near as good as Swords to Plowshares, so it’s not really changing what answers are capable of there.

This changes the way Sultai decks in Legacy are built, but not in a way that will have particularly substantial ripples, relatively speaking.

Light the Lanterns

Okay, so I mentioned that I’d get back to the best part for Lantern. First of all, this set/block is incredible for Lantern, and it’s still entirely possible we’ll see something even better, because the improvise mechanic is perfect for Lantern. As exciting is Whir of Invention is, I don’t think it’s worth trying to make Lantern support UUU. Spire of Industry is the card I’m most excited about.

Currently, I can’t make the mana support everything I want, and I’ve dropped Pyroclasm and Sea Gate Wreckage for Glint-Nest Crane. Spire of Industry would combine with Mox Opal and Glimmervoid to give me twelves sources of every color, which makes the rest of the mana very easy, allowing me to play any card in any color (even adding white at no real cost if I want it, or making Leyline of Sanctity much easier to hard-cast), while adding enough colorless sources to my deck to easily support Sea Gate Wreckage if I want it (though the addition of Crucible of Worlds makes it much less necessary) or just letting me play more colorless lands while still letting my mana work (so maybe my second Ghost Quarter could move from my sideboard into my maindeck).

Assuming no other cards I want to play are spoiled, my future Lantern Control deck might look something like this once four copies of Spire of Industry are added:

The details would depend on how the rest of the metagame looks, of course, but that’s a good start.

Modern Power

Across the board, the power level of this set seems pretty high, so it should give us a welcome new Standard format as well, but most importantly, this is the most excited I’ve ever been for a set changing Modern.