I want to be more excited about Streets of New Capenna. My hopes were high during preview season; Alara block, the last mainstream set to focus on these colour combinations, is prehistoric at this point, and this was an overdue chance to print some pushed tricolour cards in line with current design philosophy. Instead, we have a set that uses a lot of colours and even more words to do very little that pushes the envelope in any way. Compiling a ‘Top X’ list of any size for Modern with this set is easier said than done.
Perhaps this was inevitable. Barely any of the Shards of Alara headliners made a long-term impact in larger formats. A handful of Khans of Tarkir wedge cards showed up in Modern, but Mantis Rider only gets in on a technicality; nobody used it as an updated Lightning Angel in an actual Jeskai deck. Siege Rhino carried its Standard dominance to Modern for a brief period, but that feels absurdly quaint now. Ikoria was a wedge set in name only, the Triomes its sole contribution to Modern’s rainbow. The same fate was in store for Streets unless something fundamental changed.
The bar is even higher in a Modern Horizons world. Gold cards make you a tempting promise: in return for being harder to cast, you get a better effect at the same mana value than you would from a similar monocolored card. In a fetchland format that also boasts plenty of other good fixing, that condition is easy to meet – but the return isn’t worth it. The best threats in the format now are stronger, easier to cast, and cheaper; you have to stack several Mantis Riders to compete with a single Murktide Regent.
The extreme pressure that Modern Horizons 2 placed on mana curves is another problem. By definition, a three-colour card costs three or more mana, and that feels very expensive these days, even without Lurrus of the Dream-Den making the idea of three-drops laughable.
The gold cards in Modern Horizons 2 that were targeted at Modern’s power level are all the proof you need here. If Scion of Draco and Territorial Kavu couldn’t drag Domain Zoo back into the spotlight, a new riff on Woolly Thoctar priced for a Standard-legal set wasn’t going to help.
If some of these cards do make a splash, is that necessarily a good thing? It’s hard to make gold cards that have enough raw power to see play but can’t be effortlessly absorbed into the Four-Color Control shell that’s already a boogeyman of the format. A good enough Jund or Esper card might shift you into a different mix of colours, but the punchline is the same.
With that in mind, I thought the Ascendancy cycle might offer the eye-catching, build-around gold cards I was hoping for. This might be another failure of expectations management. Jeskai Ascendancy was the only star of the original cycle, and even that was effectively a four-colour card in one specific context – but at least it tried! This new cycle is destined to clutter up bulk rare boxes for years to come.
In the end, the best yield of gold cards are more of the same:
These flexible interactive spells are fine additions to a deep bench of modal cards in Modern. The comparisons with their predecessors aren’t always flattering – it’s not clear if Obscura Charm is better in Modern than Esper Charm, or if Cabaretti Charm can stack up to Rith’s Charm from over twenty years ago! – and there’s a limit to how many of these you can play in total even before you make that choice. Your Esper Control deck might want any or all of Esper Charm, Archmage’s Charm, Kaya’s Guile, and Void Rend, to say nothing of sorcery-speed options at that spot on the curve like Teferi, Time Raveler or Vindicate (which stands in direct competition with Void Rend).
The threat of Void Rend goes a long way here. When open mana can represent a wide range of cards and each of those in turn has several modes, it can feel impossible to hedge against all of them properly. In this context, Void Rend rounds down to Hero’s Downfall with a marginal upside, but there’s some place for that when you need to guarantee a hit on Murktide Regent or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria through interaction.
One plausible home for Void Rend is a deck that may have received a larger bounty with this set. Esper Reanimator wants removal that can hedge against permanent hate in all its forms, from Leyline of the Void to Dauthi Voidwalker, and resolving your answer for this hate is absolutely imperative. Instant speed is important too; you can remove a fresh hate card at the end of their turn and immediately follow up with an enabler and reanimation on your turn.
The hidden mode on any new gold card is filling out your colour spread for the evoke Elementals. People liked to joke about otherwise underwhelming or dead cards having ‘good types’ for Tarmogoyf, and it’s easy to justify hit-or-miss blue cards in Legacy and Vintage because they pitch to Force of Will. The best selling point for Endless Detour might be that it pitches to all of Force of Negation, Force of Vigor, Solitude, and Endurance.
Esper Reanimator lists leaning on Grief and Solitude alongside Ephemerate are keenly aware of this and have another reason to be excited…
HIT: Tainted Indulgence
Faithful Mending took Esper Reanimator to the next level and looks much stronger than Tainted Indulgence in this context at first glance. Between Mending and Unmarked Grave, you have enough good ways to bin your big creature, and space is already tight.
Tainted Indulgence opens the possibility of a less combo-focused build that doesn’t have to play a dedicated but narrow enabler like Unmarked Grave – and, unlike both Grave and Mending, it doesn’t leave you down on cards. You’re happy to go down on resources when you can rely on Archon of Cruelty giving a great return on that investment, but not when you are churning through cards to find your missing piece. Grief and Solitude are excellent and efficient by most metrics, but not by raw card count. An Archon in your hand with no way to pitch it is a virtual mulligan, and you want the freedom to take actual mulligans without harming your ability to execute your plan. In that context, Tainted Indulgence breaking even is a big draw.
MISS: Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer
Rocco, Cabaretti Caterer looks exciting until you ask what you’re meant to do with it. When X=1, you have a worse Ranger-Captain of Eos. X=2 opens up a wide range of targets, but at a price that few decks can afford. That other creature almost has to be a combo piece that can win the game if uncontested – just building a battlefield with Tarmogoyf won’t cut it – and at that point, this isn’t clearly better at finding your Devoted Druid than all the other options in that space.
Can we cheat the system somehow? Rocco can take the Green Sun’s Zenith for zero to find Dryad Arbor line, but that is only appealing with Zenith because it sets up a three-drop on Turn 2 that hopefully does more than Rocco.
I haven’t had to type Asmor’s full name in months; after its initial success, the card fell off the map in Modern. That endless name leaves no room for a mana cost: Asmor’s mana value is zero. These Golgari Food lists exploited this with Finale of Devastation to unlock extra copies of Asmor as a two-drop that didn’t require any setup – at one mana more, you get a bonus 3/1. That tradeoff isn’t worth it by itself, but if you just want to maximize your access to Asmor, you can top up with Rocco.
The problem here is that any Asmor deck really wants to be an Urza’s Saga deck, and casting Rocco is impossible in any reasonable time frame with Saga. Finale had this same tension, but Turn 2 Finale into Turn 3 Saga was a much more natural sequence.
HIT: Titan of Industry
Anyone who has waded into amateur Amulet Titan discourse braces for impact the moment a big green creature is spoiled. Cards you would never put in a normal Modern deck in any circumstances sneak into the sideboards of less refined lists – ostensibly because of some very unlikely edge case with Summoner’s Pact, but mostly because it’s fun to shake off the rules of deck construction sometimes.
Jamie Wakefield’s legacy has been well served recently. Cultivator Colossus gave Amulet Titan a unique ability to chain together a combo turn or gain an absurd amount of card advantage in games where Primeval Titan itself isn’t ambitious enough, but there’s a void at the other end of the spectrum. Amulet Titan sideboards used to feature cards like Hornet Queen or Thragtusk that gave you additional threats against interaction and could stabilize battlefields when a naked Primeval Titan (especially without Amulet) could not. These cards were squeezed out of the deck not, just because your main, linear gameplan is easier to execute now, but because none of these backup creatures have aged well.
Titan of Industry brings an impressive body which, along with some combination of modes, should let you stabilize or take control from most positions – crucially, it both survives Unholy Heat and leaves something useful behind through Dress Down against Izzet Midrange and Grixis Death’s Shadow. The Naturalize mode lets Titan be a strong proactive play in matchups where lifegain or your other battlefield presence doesn’t matter as much – you probably don’t want this in the mirror, but if you have it there, it’s a two-turn clock that blows up Amulet of Vigor, Urza’s Saga, or Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to stunt their development.
This isn’t a total game-changer, and I’d expect most lists to have one copy in their sideboard at most, but in a deck like Amulet Titan, that one copy goes a long way. The only downside is that ‘Titan’ is now ambiguous and typing out the full name for this or Primeval Titan is mandatory – perhaps a deal-breaker by itself!
MISS: Shadow of Mortality
This is not Death’s Shadow. This is not even close to Death’s Shadow.
There is a vast difference between one and two mana, and no deck understands that better than Grixis Death’s Shadow, whose incredible efficiency helped it take over Modern before the Lurrus ban. This card has to be a two-drop reliably to even enter the discussion, and I’m not convinced it can be. Death’s Shadow is only playable because you can deploy a small one now, knowing it will grow out of control later. Shadow of Mortality is either a two-drop or uncastable most of the time. It also becomes much easier for the opponent to stagger their attacks or direct damage spells to strand a Shadow of Mortality in your hand.
Once you jump through all these hoops, you ‘just’ have a 7/7. That sounds absurd, but the scaling power on Death’s Shadow helped it win the races that you signed up for by putting that card in your deck; it often mattered that your Shadow’s power was in the double digits. Shadow of Mortality also lacks the one-two punch with Dress Down that defined recent Death’s Shadow decks.
If you want to put this in your deck, it should be with Calibrated Blast, not Death’s Shadow.
PROBABLY NOT BUT HOPEFULLY: Vivien on the Hunt
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Renegade Rallier
- 4 Felidar Guardian
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
- 4 Planebound Accomplice
- 4 Omnath, Locus of Creation
- 1 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Wooded Foothills
- 4 Windswept Heath
- 1 Snow-Covered Plains
- 1 Snow-Covered Mountain
- 1 Snow-Covered Island
- 2 Snow-Covered Forest
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 3 Arid Mesa
- 4 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Ketria Triome
- 1 Boseiju, Who Endures
- 1 Spara's Headquarters
- 1 Jetmir's Garden
This combo takes up enough space that you want to be a Yorion deck, just so you have room to fill out a functional deck. At that point, I think the most natural step is the Four-Color Copy Cat shell that saw a brief resurgence last year. The Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo gives you more ways to threaten an infinite combo early, and both pieces play nicely with the value creatures in your Vivien chain as well as Yorion.
HIT: Luxior, Giada’s Gift
The one card I have most confidence in has already received its fair share of attention. It’s unfortunate that the safe pick from a gold set is the colourless Equipment that could have come from anywhere, but I think Luxior, Giada’s Gift has the best chance to be the set’s lasting legacy in Modern. Hopefully the next straight-to-Modern set can deliver the gold we are still waiting for.