The Top 5 Cards You Should Be Playing More Of In The New Modern

With the cream of Modern Horizons 2 rising to the top, it’s time to think counter-strategy. Bryan Gottlieb offers his Top 5 cards to neutralize the hotshots.

Brainstone, illustrated by Drew Tucker

Imagine working hard to lead your team to the Super Bowl (or whatever your sporting championship of choice may be) only to get sidelined in the week leading up to the game with a relatively minor injury. A week sooner or a week later you could have been there with your teammates fighting for glory, but instead, you’re robbed of your opportunity.

That’s how it’s felt sitting out the first couple of weeks of Modern Horizons 2 on Magic Online. A once-every-few-years event designed to juice up Modern with some of the flashiest and most inventive Magic cards in years, and my poor computer and I have been wasting it traveling across the country.

I could complain for many, many more paragraphs, but if I want you to stick around, I should probably explain why my misfortune might just benefit you, dear reader. Two weeks in, the illusions of grandeur for a lot of these new cards have started to dissipate. The points of power in Modern Horizons 2 are clear.

Urza’s Saga Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar Dragon’s Rage Channeler

These are the game-changers. Thankfully though, there’s some commonality between these cards that I believe to be exploitable. Raw power matters in Modern, but problems often arise in the format when the best things to be doing are outliers that are challenging to punish via traditional means. In the case of these four cards in particular, I’ve identified four old standbys that seem well-suited to slow down the proliferation of new threats.

Let’s start our Top 5 list in a different place though, with a brand-new card that deserves more credit than it’s currently getting.

5. Brainstone


Miracles are a Legacy-tested method of playing control strategies. Of course, in that format the gameplan is bolstered by Brainstorm. Brainstone couldn’t carry Brainstorm’s bags on its best day. But that comparison is completely irrelevant because we use the tools we’re presented with in a given format. Brainstone lets Temporal Mastery and Terminus do their things reliably, and finally lets control play at a mana cost that keeps pace with the Modern format.

Turn 1 Brainstone will introduce uncertainty for your opponent on every future turn it remains available on the battlefield, and does so while leaving mana up for Counterspell on Turn 2. I do think these hard control shells are viable, but I’m curious if we’re going to discover a way to make this strategy work alongside Urza’s Saga to maximize our Brainstones. Here’s an untested sketch that I’m happy to put forth as a starting point.

Regardless of whether this approach has legs, I think there are supposed to be many more one-of Brainstones in Urza’s Saga decks than we are currently seeing. Asmor decks are happy to have the refuel, and Brainstone plus Emry, Lurker of the Loch will make opponents long for the days where Urza, Lord High Artificer decks could only generate velocity with Mishra’s Bauble. I even love a one-of Brainstone in Amulet Titan, where you are often looking for very specific cards in long games and have plenty of ways to shuffle away chaff, as well as combo incentive to do so.

4. Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam

Ah, the classic Modern metagame call. Find a moment where games are focused on the battlefield and you can benefit from a padded life total, and Ad Nauseam will pay you off every time. Now, with the printing of Profane Tutor, the payoff has gotten even more consistent. This deck just does its thing extremely reliably these days, and so much of the question has become, “Is its thing good?”

If the format is investing mana in making Constructs, using Asmor to control battlefields, and beating down, the answer is a resounding yes. The existence of a real disruptive aggro deck in the form of Izzet Prowess is a bit of a hurdle, especially in Games 2 and 3. However, Ad Nauseam remains one of the format’s best Veil of Summer decks. You can fight through disruption these days, and you’re going to pick up a bunch of near-free Game 1s. Don’t be shocked if Ad Nauseam steals a Challenge win or two in the coming weeks.

3. Scapeshift


Much like Ad Nauseam, Scapeshift is primed to provide some one-hit KOs. Versions default to Five-Control Control these days, and I’m entirely fine with that decision. While I think more traditional Gruul variants could do a great job challenging some of the format’s top contenders, there’s really no reason to go so linear when Bring to Light can allow you to take a far more flexible approach.

This deck only picked up Prismatic Ending from Modern Horizons 2, so it’s one of the less sexy choices available to players at the moment. Like I said though, I missed the point of the format where anything was possible. There are some real targets and some real top decks now, and if you want to give yourself a chance to take down an event, go over the top of Asmor decks while retaining the ability to quickly close against the decks that will challenge your life total.

2. Blood Moon

Blood Moon

Urza’s Saga just changes the output that decks can expect to get from their manabase. You should expect it to not only be a focal point for a large number of strategies, but also require those decks to take gambles in their manabase construction. A four-color deck looking to play Urza’s Saga is not going to have room for many basics. Even against the decks that do play a little safer, you’re not going to feel bad about shutting down such a powerful source of creatures and tutoring. Updating some old classic Blood Moon decks seems like a very reasonable approach.

Fury is a bigger pickup for these decks than I first expected. Controlling a Humans deck’s first salvo onto the battlefield and following up with a Blood Moon can really shut them down in non-Aether Vial games. The potential life total cushion also gives you a real shot against the Prowess decks.

I don’t think decks that are hard focused on mana denial are the only potential homes for Blood Moon. If traditional midrange is going to keep pace in a post-Urza’s Saga world, maindeck Blood Moon is a necessity right now.

This deck from King_Hexar does a decent job of toeing the line between aggressive and disruptive. However, the lack of pure card advantage might be a little tough to swallow in the current format, and there’s some of the classic midrange problem of drawing the wrong half of your deck. Still, there’s something about the Ragavan, Stoneforge Mystic, disruption package that really appeals to me.

1. Engineered Explosives

Engineered Explosives

Notice anything about that list of format pillars that Modern Horizons 2 added to the format? All of them either produce or are zero- and one-mana permanents. And while they cover a pretty good collection of permanent types, Engineered Explosives is effective at controlling large portions of their battlefield at once. Cleaning up Constructs, Clues, and Asmor in one fell swoop? No problem. Controlling Amulet of Vigor and the explosiveness of Amulet Titan? Check. An army of all-too-cheap prowess creatures ruining your day? I bet Engineered Explosives is down to help.

The best thing about Engineered Explosives is how easy it is to recur right now. My earlier Azorius Miracles list was exceptional at bringing back Explosives with both Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Academy Ruins, and CharlieTheBananaKing has also figured out that Lurrus plus Engineered Explosives is ready and able to form the backbone of an unorthodox-looking control deck.

I love so much of what’s going on here, and it feels like this deck still has a lot of room to be tuned up. Another Engineered Explosives list I’ve been working on is a bit more conservative with its mana, yet turns its Urza’s Sagas up several notches.

I’m seeing a lot of decks that are attempting to merge the Asmor / Urza’s Saga package with Urza, Lord High Artificer himself, and while I understand the idea on paper, I think Gerry Thompson just has the best Asmor deck. If you determine Asmor is the place you want to be, play his list. I would if I had a big Modern event tomorrow.

However, if you believe deckbuilding either already is or is about to account for Asmor, I encourage you to take a look at my proposed list. We’re still playing with an absurdly powered-up version of the best card in Modern Horizons 2 in Urza’s Saga, but the combination of Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Engineered Explosives allows us to exert way more control over our opponent’s gameplan, and using Emry to recur Brainstone, Mishra’s Bauble, or Thought Monitor gives us more than enough gas going long. Add in the potential for a Turn 2 Urza to just quickly run away with a game, and it all starts to look pretty exciting.

This deck is where I’m investing most of my time now, and while I’ll never get to experience the halcyon days of a new Modern format, I did skip the many, many days I would have wasted on cards that were never going to keep up with the set’s most dramatic outliers. I’m in the camp that believes you’re supposed to be maximizing or targeting Urza’s Saga until they take it away from us. And if things keep going this way, that day may not be far off.