This article is written in the Halloween spirit, where we explore some of the scariest cards in Modern. No, I’m not talking about the fear that comes from the quarterly Banned and Restricted List updates or from an Infect player asking, “Are you tapped out?” Instead, this is a collection of short-form fiction inspired by the terrifying art and flavor of various Modern-playable cards. This should be a fun journey, but it should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. You have been warned!
Outside your cabin, in the darkness of the woodlands, you hear footsteps. You’re miles from civilization—who could possibly be out there? You open the door to investigate, and suddenly you see a man wearing a coat of bloody gloves, a crazed look in his eyes. He raises his axe, you shriek, and everything goes dark in a sharp burst of pain. The Grim Flayer comes for you.
Grim Flayer has begun to show its strength in Modern, popping up in builds of Jund and Abzan midrange decks as an aggressive threat that complements Tarmogoyf nicely, smoothing out your draws while fueling graveyard synergy and giving you extra value from cards like Lingering Souls. In a deck with Liliana of the Veil, you’ll often find delirium is available to you fairly easily, quickly making this a threat that doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt. If you’re already including Seal of Fire to get immediate value out of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, you’re helping to fuel delirium even more!
Thing in the Ice
The rhythmic pulsing of the Thing in the Ice has gotten louder recently, and the crew has begun to wonder if it’s safe to bring this glorious trophy back to port. However, you insist that the local governor recognize your efforts as captain, and what better way than to bring back the most fascinating scientific discovery of this age? The pulsing, you insist, is simply the waves rocking against the ice and causing it to strain against your tow.
As your man in the crow’s nest calls out that land is finally visible, he is suddenly drowned out by a horrible sound—creeeeeak! The ice bursts, giving way to the Awoken Horror inside. As its horrible maw comes down around you to swallow you whole, you begin to realize that you’ve failed your city and doomed everybody you know and love.
Thing in the Ice provides a payoff for blue-based spell decks, providing additional win conditions to control decks, combo decks, and tempo decks alike. In addition to being a great early-game blocker, it clears the battlefield to stabilize your position and provides a quick clock to finish off your opponent. It also provides some nice synergy with Snapcaster Mage, allowing you to reuse its enters-the-battlefield ability after flipping into Awoken Horror.
Your team is tasked with finding the ancient power stones in this gods-forsaken ruin of an ancient civilization. It’s full of the remains of artifice long-since powered down, and it looks like the machines may have been more in charge than their creators. Particularly nasty are the hundreds of lifeless mechanical Imps scattered across the vault. Who would create such abominations?
Morbid curiosity gets the better of you, so you bring your team to a halt as you pick up the largest of the scourges, the only light coming from your lantern. You flick a strange switch on its back, and it springs to life! It pitches its head back and pelts out an ear-shattering scream. All around you the artifice springs to life. You try to disable the thing, but it bites a chunk out of your left hand the size of a nickel. A thousand more artificial eyes blink open, and all at once, they leap!
Vault Skirge is best known for its place in the Modern Affinity deck, where it carries Cranial Plating or counters from an Arcbound Ravager to swing close races in the robots’ favor. However, the Phyrexian flyer has started showing up in bigger artifact decks, likely due to the aggressive and linear nature of the format recently. Most notably, it keeps both its flying and lifelink abilities when targeted by the -1 ability of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
In the four months since that fateful night, you’ve long thought of how it could have been different. If only you had been there to stop the Rakdos Augermages, maybe your parents would still be alive today.
But alas, there’s no denying the truth, so you head to the graveyard to pay your respects and tell them of all that has changed in their absence. As you cross the bridge on the way in, you laugh inside at the stories—the tale of the skeletal troll who lives under the bridge is quite a deterrent to the Gruul who might vandalize the sanctity of the graves.
On your way out, you accidentally step on the gravestone of a former guildmage, chipping off a small bit of granite. Worried, you hurry out before anyone notices it was you. You begin to walk faster, but as you cross the bridge, a skeletal hand reaches up to block your path. The tales were true!
“You should not have disturbed the dead!” cries a horrid, clattering voice. You plead that it was an accident, that you are only here to pay respect to your parents, but the Grave-Troll has no time for your pleas. As it grabs you, it shouts, “Now you will die among them!”
Golgari Grave-Troll was once banned in Modern, but in early 2015 it was unbanned alongside the banning of Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Birthing Pod. It remained fairly untouched for over a year, seeing little Modern play outside of grindy graveyard decks or Dredgevine variants, until the release of Shadows over Innistrad. With Insolent Neonate and Cathartic Reunion as enablers, Golgari Grave-Troll once again began to show the power of seeing six cards in a single draw step, bringing together the wonderful monster that is Modern Dredge.
You thought it was unfair: a life sentence merely for stealing a horse. But the judge has spoken, and as you settle into the damp prison cell, you begin to contemplate how long you can survive in these conditions. You to fall asleep, and are awoken by the prick of a syringe—paralyzed! Maniacal laughter and erratic footsteps come towards you as you hear, “Yes, any prisoner will do. We just need a living brain and my creation will be complete!”
As you awaken, you feel dulled, and sore all over. You look down to see three arms and stitches all over your body. You try to plead for mercy, but all that comes out is the horrible shrieking moan of a Skaab.
Prized Amalgam is the graveyard payoff card that Modern Dredge has been waiting for. It’s a recurring threat that rewards you for playing cards like Narcomoeba and Bloodghast, and at 3/3 it provides a sizable body and a very quick clock in multiples. And even if the Dredge player’s graveyard is being held back by a Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, three mana is a completely affordable casting cost, leaving a backup plan of casting Trained Armodon while the opponent durdles around with graveyard hate.
This picnic was the best idea. You’ve been having a rough time lately, but your brother always knows how to cheer you up. After the two of you finish your cider, your brother excuses himself to find some more firewood.
A few minutes pass. You hear a blood-curdling scream, so you rush out to find out if he is okay. Instead of your brother, you find a huge gooey blob, looking as if it’s filled with pus. You dart behind a tree, hoping whatever it is didn’t see you. Does it even have eyes? As you try to look closer without letting it sense you, you notice a tatter of your brother’s coat caught on the tree. As you round the tree, you see a foot sticking out of the great ooze, being digested as it’s absorbed into the hulking mass. This scavenger has no face, but you know it sees you. It lurches forth, still hungry, and as it engulfs you, the acid burns your skin. You scream in agony, but it’s muffled by the ooze, still red with the blood of your brother’s corpse.
Scavenging Ooze is a mainstay in most green decks, from Elves and Jund to decks like Kiki Chord or Abzan Company that can tutor it up with Chord of Calling. It fills three important roles: it is targeted graveyard hate that can eat a Prized Amalgam or Snapcaster Mage target before it comes back for value; it provides lifegain against aggressive decks trying to race; and its ability to grow means it can become quite a threat in the late-game, promising to end things quickly if not dealt with.
It’s the night of your 21st birthday party, and the food and drink you’ve shared with your friends has all but driven the thought of the fight with your boyfriend out of your mind. Instead, you turn to a long-haired bad boy at the tavern and begin making small talk. Head swimming, you agree to go back with him to his manor for a night of fun. You arrive and sit at the table with a goblet of wine, but as you take your first sip, you realize it’s blood!
Disgusted, you begin to scream, but the family of Vampires has already surrounded you. You feel a hot sting in your side as a blade slips into your gut, and as the Vampires descend upon your neck, all you can muster is, “Please, kill me!”
Insolent Neonate was thrust into the limelight with the resurgence of Dredge, able to throw a Golgari Grave-Troll into the graveyard and immediately mill for six cards, leading to such explosive starts as a Narcomoeba and two Prized Amalgams on the battlefield on turn 1. However, it has begun to show up in more decks than just Dredge! Reanimator decks like Goryo’s Vengeance can now use it as extra Faithless Looting to throw Griselbrand into the graveyard, ready to be brought back by Goryo’s Vengeance the very next turn.
As you lie down on the operating table, a sense of relief flows through your muscles. Finally, you’ll be free of this horrible growth. The doctor with a metal arm may be strange, but with what he claims he can do, you’re willing to try anything.
“It’s time for the anesthesia,” he informs you.
As the needle pierces your skin, you suddenly feel white-hot pain and intense anger. He tricked you! This isn’t a medical operation. He’s cutting into you and forcing you to feel every moment of it!
“The last patient managed to survive the replacement of three major organs before his heart gave out. Let’s see how long you last!”
From the doctor’s skin bursts a horrible construct, all eyes and blades, slicing your flesh and severing your arteries. The vivisection begins and you collapse into the void.
Gitaxian Probe serves many functions in Modern. In decks like Infect, it provides a way to know what your opponent has so you can determine when the coast is clear without clogging up too much mana. In Death’s Shadow Aggro, it provides a way to lower your own life total while increasing consistency, partnering with Mishra’s Bauble and Street Wraith to allow you to play as if you have a 48-card deck. And in Storm and Pyromancer Ascension decks, it allows you to cantrip, build storm count, trigger Ascension, and trigger Thing in the Ice, all for the low, low price of zero mana.
Cavern of Souls
You’ve never been this deep in the caves, but the mysterious glow from deep within is too much to ignore. When you turn the corner, you see the most beautiful cavern you could imagine. A silvery fountain shines in the center, humming the high-pitched sound of a singing bowl. You feel strangely drawn to it, so you step forward.
It begins to call to you, “Join us!”
You can’t think of any reason not to, and you reach your hand out.
“We accept you! Join us!” The light chants at you, and you want nothing more than to obey. You reach out and touch the silvery strands, and as your soul is ripped from your body, you feel your true purpose.
“One of us! One of us! One of us!”
Cavern of Souls fills three important roles in Modern. First, it allows creature-based strategies to have an answer to countermagic without splashing blue for their own counterspells. Second, it allows tribal decks to run more colors without taking too much damage from a painful fetchland and shockland manabase. Finally, it provides colorless mana for Eldrazi and cards like Warping Wail.
At the temple’s weekly service, the room goes quiet in a moment of prayer to the fifteen gods, and you hear something strange: banging, screaming, and the rattling of metal chains. Surely you must be hearing something? But the uncomfortable shifting in the priest’s posture confirms that you weren’t the only one to hear something.
You decide to come back that evening to investigate. Carefully concealed under a rug, you find a trap door tucked away behind the altar. It hides a ladder you take to a dark hallway, and as you push forward the noises begin again, louder this time. A dim light flickers around the corner ahead.
As you round the corner, you see the most horrific thing you have ever seen in your life. The room is covered in bodies, chained everywhere! The ceiling, the pillars, and the floor are strewn about with the dead, and every bit of cloth is stained with the red of their blood. You lose your composure when you realize that they’re not all dead. Moans and cries of agony come from those not lucky enough to have perished.
Just then, the priest rounds the corner, a knife in one hand and a still-beating heart in the other.
“Welcome to the Blood Crypt. Unfortunate that you found out about our real worship this way. Would you like to be one of us, or one of them?” He gestures towards the bodies hanging around the room. A scream comes from the room he just left, and a dangerous smile comes across his face. “Time to choose, young one. Don’t want to make the gods angry, do we?”
Have a happy Halloween, Goblins and Ghouls! And as always, spooking gaming!