Modern Horizon 3’s Week 1 Previews For Commander MTG

With the first week of Modern Horizons 3 previews in the books, Bennie Smith checks out the new Magic cards for their uses in Commander.

Shadow of the Second Sun
Shadow of the Second Sun, illustrated by Danny Schwartz

Week 1 of the official Modern Horizons 3 preview season kicked off with a bang on Tuesday! The Modern Horizons series has brought a ton of cards that make a splash in Commander, and this new entry seems to follow in that tradition. As a longtime Commander fan, I wanted to share my initial thoughts on the cards we’ve seen so far. Let’s dig in!

Big Bad Eldrazi Titans

Kozilek, the Broken Reality Ulamog, the Defiler

We’ve already seen the new version of Emrakul – Emrakul, the World Anew – and this week we got to see the new spins on the other two Eldrazi titans.

As usual, Kozilek remains the least obnoxious of the three, drawing extra cards and, in this case, providing a big boost to the stats of your other colorless creatures. Ulamog, the Defiler wins the award for most obnoxious, exiling half the library of a particular opponent and getting +1/+1 counters equal to the highest mana value of cards in exile – which obviously includes that half-library you just exiled but could also count cards you’ve put in exile yourself, such as with Ugin’s Maze.

Ulamog also gains annihilator X, where X is equal to the number of +1/+1 counters on it. Annihilator is one of the most hated mechanics in Commander, and Ulamog takes it to the extreme. To make this even more of a nightmare, they gave it a horrific ward ability. If you want to play this in your Commander decks, make sure you let your opponents know about it in the Rule Zero discussion to ensure everyone is cool with fighting this big bad.

The Flare Cycle

Flare of Duplication Flare of Fortitude Flare of Malice

Flare of Cultivation Flare of Denial

I’ve always been wary of whatever new “free spell” mechanic comes along since they tend to be overly powerful, impactful on competitive formats, and thus incredibly expensive to pick up for casual play.

The new cycle of Flares seems to be a pretty good spin on this, with effects that don’t seem too aggravating to play against (other than the free counterspell Flare of Denial). And the condition to be free to cast is tied to sacrificing a nontoken creature of the same color as the Flare, which seems like a significant deckbuilding constraint for the worst abuses. Personally, I can’t wait to see Veteran Explorer making a Commander comeback thanks to Flare of Cultivation!

Modal Double-Faced Cards

Disciple of Freyalise Witch Enchanter Bloodsoaked Insight Waterlogged Teachings Suppression Ray Drowner of Truth Legion Leadership Revitalizing Repast Rush of Inspiration Glasswing Grace Strength of the Harvest Stump Stomp Sink into Stupor Razorgrass Ambush Sundering Eruption Fell the Profane Bridgeworks Battle

I am positively thrilled to see more Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs) with lands on the back side, since I think they help encourage Commander players to play more land drops in their decks. I particularly like the cycle of ten two-color ones that have color-fixing lands on the back and cool spell effects on the front.

It looks like we’re also getting uncommon monocolor ones, where the land on the backside can enter the battlefield untapped if you pay three life. Disciple of Freyalise is a nice colorshifted callback to Disciple of Bolas, and for a bit more mana, you get a bigger body and the option of playing as a land instead.

Callback Cards

Volatile Stormdrake Wumpus Aberration Basking Broodscale Serum Visionary Mogg Mob Brainsurge Evolution Witness Wurmcoil Larva

Speaking of callbacks, Modern Horizons 3 is chock-full of them, and they’re like catnip to longtime players nostalgic about Magic’s history. Reserved List darling Gilded Drake gets a redo with Volatile Stormdrake, which ties keeping the stolen creature to paying energy as a nice way to balance it out. Ye Olde Hunted Wumpus – people actually played it in tournament decks – gets called out with Wumpus Aberration. Basking Broodscale calls back Basking Rootwalla, though it has combo potential more akin to Scurry Oak.

Staple Serum Visions to a creature and you get Serum Visionary; staple three Mogg Fanatics together and you get Mogg Mob. Brainsurge is Brainstorm but lets you draw one more card for your extra mana. Evolution Witness is a call back to Eternal Witness and will be quite the darling of decks that care about +1/+1 counters.  Lastly (for now), we see the baby version of Wurmcoil Engine with Wurmcoil Larva.  I can’t wait to see all the other callbacks as previews continue!

Flip Walkers

Sorin of House Markov Grist, Voracious Larva

Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student Ral, Monsoon Mage

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah showed us Modern Horizons 3 marks a return to the “flip walkers” cards first introduced in Magic Origins with cards like Liliana, Heretical Healer. These are legendary creatures – eligible to be your commander – that transform into planeswalkers when some condition is met that represents their planeswalker spark igniting. For Commander fans, it’s notable the color identity of each card includes a second color on the back side, so be careful about slotting these into the 99 of your Commander decks.

It’s mind-boggling just how cheap these creatures are – two of them cost just one mana! It’ll be easy to set up a turn where you can cast one and transform it right away. I expect some of these to make a splash at the higher-powered Commander tables where things happen swiftly.

Legendary Creatures

Six Pearl-Ear, Imperial Advisor Genku, Future Shaper Arna Kennerud, Skycaptain Eladamri, Korvecdal Phlage, Titan of Fire's Fury The Necrobloom

We’ve already seen a high number of new legendary creatures we can build Commander decks around, and the previews are just starting! The Necrobloom strikes me as the most interesting build-around of this batch, and I’m already starting to think about a Plants vs. Zombies theme, since I used to play the heck out of that game on my phone years ago. Six is quite cool too, though I think it’ll be best in the 99 of a deck that cares about lands in your graveyard. Expect to see one or more of these in a future Deep Dive!

Thief of Existence

Thief of Existence

Thief of Existence is a neat spin on Thought-Knot Seer, exiling a problem nonland, noncreature permanent an opponent controls. What’s fun about this card in multiplayer is when Thief of Existence leaves the battlefield, you can have an opponent different from the one who owned the exiled permanent draw a card, opening up some political maneuvers.

Shadow of the Second Sun

Shadow of the Second Sun

An Aura version of Sphinx of the Second Sun is pretty cool, and shaving two mana and not being attached to a creature makes Shadow of the Second Sun more likely to survive turn after turn. The floor on this is pretty sweet – during your extra beginning phase, you untap all your stuff and draw a card, usually getting back all the mana you’ve spent this turn and replacing the invested card; plus, if you have any beneficial upkeep triggers, you get those too. For me, I’m looking forward to sliding a copy of this in my Cosima, God of the Voyage Vehicle deck, since I often have a lot of tapped permanents!

Kozilek’s Unsealing

Kozilek's Unsealing

Kozilek’s Unsealing seems quite strong, and thank goodness it’s an uncommon, so the price for it should be reasonable for anyone who wants to run this. I love how it curves so nicely, cast on Turn 3, and then, assuming you cast a four-mana creature spell the following turn, you’ll get the two Eldrazi Spawn tokens that will help you cast that really expensive creature the turn after and draw three extra cards for your trouble. Note that you don’t have to play Eldrazi with this; you can simply cast any expensive creature to get the benefit. Got Thought Monitor, Junk Winder, or Nezahal, Primal Tide in your deck?  Unseal this sweet enchantment and get paid!

Echoes of Eternity

Echoes of Eternity

While this Eldrazi kindred enchantment will be quite potent in Eldrazi decks, don’t overlook Echoes of Eternity’s utility in artifact decks!

Trickster’s Elk

Trickster's Elk

Trickster’s Elk is a fun new spin on Kenrith’s Transformation, but attached to an enchantment creature with the bestow ability so that, when the enchanted Elk dies, you get an Elk for your troubles. I know Joey Schultz from the EDHREC podcast will be happy for another card that plays great in his Baba Lysaga, Night Witch deck; I’m likely to see if there’s room for this in my Estrid, the Masked deck!

White Orchid Phantom

White Orchid Phantom

Knight of the White Orchid has died and is now White Orchid Phantom, and instead of searching up a Plains for you, it’s here to destroy a nonbasic land your opponent controls. Note that this reads “destroy up to one nonbasic land”, so it’s perfectly fine in Commander to choose not to destroy a land if there’s not one that’s threatening the table – you know, a Gaea’s Cradle, a Cabal Coffers, or a Thespian’s Stage waiting for Dark Depths to show up.

Grim Servant

Grim Servant

Having a relatively unrestricted tutor effect attached to a creature this cheap (remember Rune-Scarred Demon?) seems pretty bonkers, especially in higher-powered Commander games. Grim Servant obviously gets better and better the more black pips you have amongst your permanents, but at worst, you just search up your Sol Ring!

Collective Resistance

Collective Resistance

Thank goodness Collective Resistance is an uncommon, because it’s an automatic staple for almost every green deck that can reliably pay that escalate cost. A Naturalize is almost always useful in a Commander game, and you get an additional mode that’s most of a Tamiyo’s Safekeeping. The escalate ability lets you get more of the effects for each green mana you pump in there, and that sort of flexibility makes this an instant Commander all-star!



Counterbalance is an obnoxiously oppressive card that readily saw play in older formats, so I’m happy to see that the mono-red version, Powerbalance, looks much more fun!  I think this will work great in decks where you can play lands from the top of your library, and Powerbalance will let you cast a spell or two from your library each turn. I have a Radha, Heart of Keld deck that I’ll slot this in to see how it does.

Strix Serenade

Strix Serenade

I like Swan Song specifically because it doesn’t hit creatures, so I’m not at all thrilled that we get another one-mana spell that can counter most commanders (I’m still salty every time I see Wash Away cast). But I suppose making a mirror image to Swan Song is fun design from a completionist point of view.

Warren Soultrader

Warren Soultrader

Combo alert! Warren Soultrader’s activation ability doesn’t require mana or tapping, just one life to sacrifice a creature and get a Treasure token. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t make the Treasure enter the battlefield tapped, verbiage we’ve seen on some Treasure cards lately. Since Warren Soultrader is a Zombie, this combines easily with Gravecrawler since you can use the Treasure to recast Gravecrawler from the graveyard, fueling any sort of dies trigger or things that care about creatures entering the graveyard, such as Syr Konrad, the Grim, or leaving the graveyard, such as Insidious Roots.

What cards are you most excited about so far from Modern Horizons 3?  Which new legendary creature do you want to build a Commander deck around?

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and start conversations about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl, and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!



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