What If They Were Modern-Legal?

Patrick Chapin is taking Modern beyond the bounds of its current legal card pool! Today he explores fifteen cards from the distant past and more recent supplemental sets that could add a distinctive dimension to Magic’s most rollicking and unpredictable major tournament format!

It’s no secret that Modern is flourishing, with more Modern tournaments being held than ever before and a larger player pool than ever before. There is an awful lot of craziness, a lot of busted stuff going on, but there is a diverse mix of it. Right now, Death’s Shadow is the deck to beat, but the format hasn’t exactly settled into an equilibrium yet.

Assuredly, the format will get out of control again at some point in the future. Maybe it’ll be something broken in half, like Eldrazi Aggro with eight Eldrazi lands. Maybe it will be something generally contributing to an unhealthy environment in lots of little ways, like Gitaxian Probe. Whatever that day looks like, it isn’t today.

With the format alive and thriving, I’d like to look at a few cards that have never been Modern-legal that might make for interesting additions, should they be reprinted in a Standard-legal expansion. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but to rather share some thoughts on some of the possibilities, among Commander, Conspiracy, and Legacy-legal cards that might be of interest in Modern.

Absorb is not the strongest card on the list today, but hear me out. To appreciate what Absorb might offer the format, we should start with the elephant in the room.

On the surface, Counterspell might make for an attractive addition to the format. Counterspells are a little weak, and frequently, fast combo is a way the format breaks down. Is Counterspell really even better than Thoughtseize?

Maybe. Maybe not. That doesn’t speak to the real issue, however.

Right now, counterspells may not be at an all-time high; however, there is a pretty good mix seeing play.

And that’s just Counterspells that appeared in Top 8s the past two weeks.

If Counterspell were legal in Modern, that diversity would really suffer. Counterspell wouldn’t always be the choice, but it sure would be the right choice a lot. Not only would there be less variety in experience playing against blue mages, there would be a meaningful hit to some of the rewards for skillful play and deck construction.

When you’re facing Remand, Mana Leak, or Negate, you can alter your play to try to minimize the impact their permission spell will have. If you can correctly determine what they have, you can sometimes find spots to play around it. Likewise, if you are playing a variety of permission spells, it can be very challenging to pick the right one to use in each spot.

There is a lot less “playing around” Counterspell. There is a lot less artistry to deciding which counterspell to use when they are all just Counterspell. There is less metagaming while tweaking your deck when the right answer is mostly to just start with four Counterspells.

Absorb would not be likely to revolutionize the Modern format or anything, but it would provide another fringe option, like Counterflux, for tweaking one’s deck for a particular metagame. Want a little extra percentage in your Jeskai deck against Burn? Replace that Counterflux in the sideboard with an Absorb!

Not every new option has to completely flip the table. After all, the format is pretty sweet right now. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have more niche options, more reasonable tradeoffs to help counterbalance whenever your local metagame might start swinging too far in one direction.

Similarly, Abolish is a super-interesting sideboard option that would add a cool dimension to Modern. Cards like Wear//Tear set a high bar, and even compared to something else single-targeting, like Disenchant, Abolish costs more and has a potentially restrictive mana requirement. To even take advantage of the special ability, you have to discard a Plains!

That is a lot of little costs, but there is a really big upside:

…rather than pay Abolish’s mana cost.

That is one of the best abilities you can give a card!

While it is card disadvantage when you do, another way to think of it is that it is like you traded your Plains in for two Simian Spirit Guides, only for white mana to cast your Disenchant. That’s not necessarily such a bad deal, particularly when the game has gone on long enough where you can afford to keep a land in hand without it slowing you down.

While there might always be reasons to want to play your spell without paying its mana cost, there are lots of specific interactions that would make Abolish interesting right now:

Besides, even the cost can be turned into an upside in Modern. In addition to adding an instant to the graveyard as well as an artifact or enchantment, you can use Abolish to add land to the graveyard at instant speed for pumping Tarmogoyf or making delirium. Besides, if you have Life from the Loam, you might have plenty of land in hand to spare.

In addition to basic Plains, you can discard shocklands (and other nonbasic Plains) to cast Abolish. This is very potent upside, but it points to another interesting issue.

You cannot discard Windswept Heath to Abolish. This might make for some interesting deckbuilding decisions! Some decks might gain access to Abolish with little cost. For instance, if you have Leonin Arbiter in your deck, there is a good chance Abolish is already a natural fit.

However, if you are trying to put Abolish in your Jeskai deck, you have to make some very serious tradeoffs if you want to reliably have the option to discard a Plains to cast it for free.

White is a potent color in Modern, but one with a lot of its power coming from permanents. On the whole, I think Abolish would add a cool added dimension to white’s bag of tricks and generally help provide another safety valve for the format.

Speaking of white’s bag of tricks, Angel of Finality seems like such a natural inclusion to Modern, it almost seems weird that it isn’t Modern-legal. This Commander 2013 utility creature has a few things going for it that might make it a worthwhile option despite players having access to Rest in Peace and the like:

  • Angel of Finality is a creature. This makes it a tutor target for cards like Chord of Calling, with which it works very effectively.
  • While a 3/4 flier isn’t super-strong by Modern standards, it isn’t embarrassing. Depending on how the format breaks and where you want edge, you could potentially maindeck a card like this. Once you’re getting a 3/4 flier for four, it doesn’t have to just be a hate card for dedicated graveyard decks. It can just slow down your opponent’s Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary!
  • Since it has an enters-the-battlefield trigger, it can be retriggered with stuff like Felidar Guardian, Momentary Blink, or Essence Flux. Just be careful. It is an Angel, so it can’t be blinked by Restoration Angel!

I think Angel of Finality is a low-cost addition to the Modern format that would provide a healthy added form of interaction to some cool strategies for helping stabilize the format.

This one is kind of speculative and might really depend on what new cycling cards or reprints appear alongside it. There might not be enough there for a brand-new deck, but it is interesting, just how powerful enters-the-battlefield triggers are now, like those of Snapcaster Mage, Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, and Reveillark.

Even if there isn’t much new support, there are already enough cycling options to at least make it interesting:

You gotta be careful when pushing a strategy like Astral Slide. It can get pretty repetitive if omnipresent. It also punishes players for playing “fair decks” while increasing the incentive to do “unfair” stuff. However, I would guess this is nowhere near as busted as some of the other stuff out there and might instead offer a new fringe strategy to explore, likely with a very different texture from Astral Slide decks from years gone by.

Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast is a planeswalker from Conspiracy: Take the Crown that doesn’t necessarily have to be the start of a brand-new deck but might encourage players to make a few different choices from those they normally would.

  • When used straight-up, Daretti offers a modest level of defense and a deceptively fast ability to leverage a temporary advantage into a large amount of battlefield control (with lots of Terminates and Shatters in wait).
  • His ultimate comes online moderately quickly and isn’t necessarily game over but can range in value from three Mishra’s Baubles to three Platinum Emperions.
  • There are a variety of natural synergies that make dropping him and immediately killing something super-efficient, such as Nihil Spellbomb, Chromatic Star, and Servo Schematic.
  • Even decks that aren’t completely dedicated might get a little extra mileage out of Engineered Explosives, Mishra’s Bauble, Inkmoth Nexus, and the like.
  • His ability to crank out artifacts might do some cool things alongside improvise cards like Herald of Anguish and Reverse Engineer.

The power level on Daretti might be high enough that it would require care to make sure the Standard format doesn’t mind his addition, but if that isn’t a problem, he might change the relative strengths and weaknesses of some other cards in ways that could be cool to explore.

What is likely to be one of the more controversial cards on today’s list, Daze is very powerful, but it also promotes a number of things that might have a good influence on the Modern format:

There is some risk to giving Delver a tool like this, but I’d be interested to see if this helps promote the right things in Modern.

Another controversial choice, Fact or Fiction would be a pretty hard card to reprint in a Standard-legal set, so this might be a fool’s errand anyway. That said, the card can be quite fun when the power level isn’t too high for the format it’s in. It also has a lot of cool interactions in Modern that were never really part of the original Fact or Fiction experience.

Think Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. They aren’t short on fuel, but it is kind of cool that Fact or Fiction can actually “pay for itself” in some spots.

Yeah, obviously this one might be undesirably good with Fact or Fictionbut what if it’s not?!

Look, I’m not sure it would actually be safe to put Fact or Fiction in Modern, but with a bit of playtesting, I could imagine Wizards of the Coast determining if it was a chance they’d be willing to take. The bigger question is still probably how to get it into Modern without ruining Standard for two years. I don’t exactly have an answer for that, but I could imagine Standard formats where you could get away with it. Besides, who knows? Maybe there is some new delivery mechanism invented for content that doesn’t require the card to be legal in Standard for two years.

Goblin Ringleader is my pick for which Goblin support card to reprint to give Goblins in Modern a shot in the arm.

Goblin Lackey is too swingy, too fast, and too much of the same old experience.

Goblin Matron would be a reasonable option, but this joke has been done to death. Besides, I’ve never liked that Goblin Matron can go get another Goblin Matron. It puts some subtle design constraints on new sets that add a greater cost than meets the eye.

I like where his heart’s at, since promoting playing Goblins that cost two or more is kind of a plus. However, I think WotC should make fewer Eye of Ugin / Sapphire Medallion / Aluren types of cost reduction and more along the lines of improvise / Eldrazi Temple / Auntie’s Hovel.

Is this a joke? Goblin Recruiter is on the short list of worst designs in the history of Magic. It’s that rare convergence of “takes forever,” “hopeless,” “removes the joy of the draw step and the game,” “unbelievably constraining on the format,” and “broken in half.”

Meanwhile, Goblin Ringleader is powerful but rewards a little slower, a little bigger of a Goblin deck. It’s also a lot of fun, and I’d be interested to see it in a new Goblin deck without any of the extremely efficient cost reduction/mana-producing Goblin action from Onslaught.

Karlov of the Ghost Council is a powerful two-cost legendary creature from Commander 2015 that could easily be undesirably pushed for a Standard legal set; however, if it was during a year that didn’t have good ways to repeatedly gain life, it would be an exciting Modern option in a couple of different places.

  • Soul Sisters: Karlov is like a Ajani’s Pridemate on super ghost-steroids.
  • Scavenging Ooze: This is quite the mondo combo, but not necessarily prohibitively strong.
  • Kitchen Finks: It wouldn’t take that many enablers for Karlov to consistently be at least a 4/4 for two.
  • Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim: These two legendary creatures seem like they might justify an archetype by themselves (as long as they get to bring Lingering Souls with them, as part of “by themselves”).
  • Kor Firewalker: Umm, not sure how to justify this one.
  • Authority of the Consuls and Blind Obedience: Okay, okay, this one is starting to look pretty dubious.
  • Anything that lets you sacrifice land or other permanents to gain one life…

Who am I kidding? Karlov is probably just too much. It’s probably just too easy to make it a 10/10 when it attacks on turn 3.

Eh, all two-drops are balanced, right?!

Nimble Mongoose might not be good enough for present-day standards, but it is the kind of threat that ascends into powerful formats well. It has a low casting cost, it rewards play in spots where you can play tons of cards cheaply, and its shroud gives it meaningful purpose in a format with extremely efficient removal like Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile.

I’m not sure WotC wants to bring back threshold anytime soon, but I actually don’t think you would need to. Just spell out the text without the word “threshold.” That said, they’d probably rather do hexproof than shroud and there’s no way we need a much, much better Gladecover Scout or Slippery Bogle. Nevertheless, there are a lot of possible ways you could tweak the design, and if all else fails, maybe just bringing back the original would be acceptable in a particular block that doesn’t happen to feature any hexproof.

All of the same stuff about Counterspell still applies, but Prohibit is not Counterspell. It was much-maligned in its time, but we didn’t know how good we had it. Nowadays, Prohibit might actually be a printable rate, but one that is reasonably well-suited to the low costs of the Modern format. I definitely like the incentive it puts on people to play more expensive cards, as well as the variable gameplay that goes along with it.

Like Abolish above and reactive free spells in general, Pyrokinesis would tend to slow the game down. Niche answers like Hurkyl’s Recall that allow you to trade card advantage for a massive tempo boost against a specific type of threat help keep some of the all-in strategies in check. For many of the same reasons Force of Will helps slow down Legacy, I could imagine the right kinds of pitch cards helping slow down Modern when it gets too crazy.

Pyrokinesis doesn’t stop everything, but it would be an impressive card against:

Rootwater Thief isn’t pushing the limits of Modern power level, but it might be a reasonable sideboard option for Merfolk decks when certain types of combo decks are running amok. Heck, in the right metagames, you could totally run this bad boy maindeck, disrupting:

It’s probably not a major change to the format or anything, but I generally like that it promotes one of the fringe strategies, giving them another tool for fighting against “unfair” decks.

Scourge of Nel Toth is a Commander 2015 Zombie Dragon that could potentially add an interesting dimension to graveyard-based creature decks, whether they’re similar to current Dredge or taking some new form. There is a good chance this is more love than we should be showing for Dredge anyway; however, a lot of the Dredge cards are all similar to each other. If there were a way to tweak something else so that Scourge of Nel Toth didn’t give Dredge too much power, I have a feeling the games would generally be more fun.

When all of your cards just fuel an inevitable stream of Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams, there aren’t as many interesting decisions on either player’s side as there are from extremely varied game pieces, such as a 6/6 flier that is worth killing but can eventually come back at a cost of some mana, unlike so many of the other graveyard recursion creatures.

Subterranean Tremors is a very interesting Conspiracy card at the intersection between “split card” and “kicker.” It’s a versatile sideboard card but totally a reasonable maindeck option. It works best in strategies that have aspirations of the game going a few turns, which is generally healthy. It also makes for some really interesting gameplay decisions, such as when you have seven mana and a land in hand and need to decide if you can risk waiting two more turns to destroy all artifacts, hoping to draw another land so that you’ll get an 8/8.

I’d generally just like to see more designs like this anyway and would love for cards like this to be showing up in Standard. While Subterranean Tremors wouldn’t necessarily be the best sweeper in Modern, it is totally passable as part of a plan with faster interaction taking care of the first threat or two. It might be a reasonable way to get extra edge against Affinity, and it’s kind of a cute option for a Tron deck or Scapeshift deck to consider that actually gets them playing slightly more real of Magic.

There are thousands and thousands of Magic cards that have never been legal in Modern, whether too old or only appearing in a non-Standard-legal set. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what might be possible to see reprinted in a Standard-legal set, the way Scavenging Ooze was.

What three cards would you most want to see reprinted in a way that would make them Modern-legal for the first time?