Can Imperial Recruiter Raise An Army in Modern?

Already a Legacy staple. Imperial Recruiter is making its way to Modern via Modern Horizons 2. Dom Harvey explains why this well known tutor isn’t one to overlook.

Imperial Recruiter, illustrated by Zack Stella

You recognize him from every job fair; the recruiter with a perfectly polished sales pitch that’s too good to be true. 

Imperial Recruiter

Before you throw away your youth chasing a mirage, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Imperial Recruiter is new to Modern but cards like it aren’t. Why have those succeeded or failed, and what’s different about this one?

Grim Tutor Search for Glory Solve the Equation

Three mana is the price you expect to pay in Modern to directly search for some type of card. Eladamri’s Call sneaking under that threshold was crucial in making it one of the more quietly impactful cards from the first Modern Horizons and its less efficient cousins have mostly failed to make a mark. At that cost, the promise of flexibility isn’t enough. When you do see the odd Search for Glory or Solve the Equation, it’s in combo decks so reliant on their namesake card that they’re willing to jump through these hoops to find a copy. Spending a turn to find Supreme Verdict or Cryptic Command is a poor use of your time. 

Ranger-Captain of Eos Trinket Mage Scrapyard Recombiner

Stapling this effect to a creature relieves part of this burden and opens up new options with other effects that care about creatures: Collected Company can’t find the Walking Ballista to pair with your Heliod, Sun-Crowned but the Ranger-Captain of Eos you hit instead can. Most of these creatures bring better stats or other abilities that make that investment worthwhile; Imperial Recruiter is a fragile 1/1 in a format where one toughness may as well be zero. Still, that all-important type line is an automatic selling point. 

Imperial Recruiter Recruiter of the Guard

Imperial Recruiter’s more popular younger brother, Recruiter of the Guard has a more recent pedigree in both Constructed and Commander. It’s in a colour with blink effects and other ways to make use of a warm body, sliding neatly into Death & Taxes and similar shells that have a devoted fanbase in Modern. 

Imperial Recruiter is a more surprising candidate for this slot but also a more interesting one. There’s a lot of overlap between their best targets, from Walking Ballista to Skyclave Apparition, but the difference between them isn’t just cosmetic. 

Urza, Lord High Artificer Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

The kind of flashy, unique creature you’d want to build a deck around (and pay three mana to find consistently) may have stats that push it out of range of both Recruiters but is more likely to have the low power and high toughness that Imperial Recruiter asks for unless it’s explicitly promoting an aggressive strategy. A creature with high power and low toughness is more likely to win the game via combat rather than its actual abilities and is more fragile, minimizing the incentive to build around it. Urza, Lord High Artificer would be a much more reasonable card if it died to Lightning Bolt!

Many of the offbeat creatures we know about from Modern Horizons 2 follow this template and present fun deckbuilding puzzles:

Academy Manufactor is the kind of card I’m thrilled to be trapped by; I already know I’ll sink a lot of time and thought into wacky Manufactor decks that are doomed to fail. Tying together these different tokens is a brilliant way of uniting the Treasure synergies that are increasingly evergreen in new sets with a set-specific mechanic in Food while aiding the welcome return of Clues. 

Academy Manufactor Lonis, Cryptozoologist

This deck does a lot of things but does it do anything? I’m not quite sure yet. Academy Manufactor gets out of control quickly with any token source (including Gingerbread Cabin allowing any fetchland to create three tokens) while Imperial Recruiter and Collected Company ensure consistent access to Manufactor. Recruiter also finds Lonis, Cryptozoologist — another engine piece and payoff — and the ideal mana sink and finisher in Urza, Lord High Artificer (the one creature that Company misses, making backdoor access via Company into Recruiter more important). Newcomer Tireless Provisioner takes precedence over Tireless Tracker as Food is important for Gilded Goose and Lonis while mana from Treasure lets you sacrifice your other tokens or keep chaining spells. 

Imperial Recruiter also allows this linear deck with no interaction to find high-impact hate creatures like Magus of the Moon when your main plan is too slow or weak. 

Karmic Guide Goblin Bombardment

Nobody registers Karmic Guide with good intentions. I expect to see it fueling a variety of infinite combos and little else. Our combo involves another Modern Horizons 2 game-changer in Goblin Bombardment, which can also aid a fair game by letting your smaller creatures have an immediate impact by cleaning up the battlefield. The combined efforts of Wrenn and Six, Lava Dart, and Plague Engineer have already pushed out most X/1 creatures but people are understandably keen to sleeve up Ignoble Hierarch and the beauty of Goblin Bombardment is that it stacks up damage on larger creatures quite easily. Two copies of Karmic Guide can return each other while feeding Goblin Bombardment to just deal the opponent lethal damage instead. 

Grief Priest of Fell Rites

I was excited about Grief before knowing any other cards in the set and this round of previews has only made me more bullish on it. Persist and Priest of Fell Rites join Malakir Rebirth as ways to rebuy Grief and rip apart the opponent’s hand while threatening to kick-start your Karmic Guide combo on the cheap. Goblin Bombardment lets you get something extra from a creature about to sacrifice itself anyway. 

Imperial Recruiter may help some fringe decks in Modern keep up with the rising tide of Modern Horizons 2:

Magus of the Moon Sanctum Prelate Sanctifier en-Vec

The Death & Taxes shell has touched red for Magus of the Moon in the past. Magus remains a compelling incentive to splash and Imperial Recruiter makes that case stronger by digging up hate cards including Magus itself, colour hoser and graveyard insurance Sanctifier en-Vec, or the versatile and brutally effective Sanctum Prelate.

Aether Vial

Aether Vial is the most fundamentally powerful card in this archetype and gets even stronger with Imperial Recruiter, erasing the substantial cost of hardcasting Recruiter and allowing you to immediately deploy the card you searched for. With an active Vial, Recruiter can find more copies of itself (or Charming Prince to blink it) to develop your battlefield if there’s no pressing need for any other creature.

Stoneforge Mystic Kaldra Compleat

Kaldra Compleat is a tempting option for any Stoneforge Mystic deck but is the hardest to cast of the realistic targets. Imperial Recruiter finding Stoneforge Mystic in a pinch makes that tradeoff easier to stomach. 

Imperial Recruiter’s creature type shouldn’t be overlooked either:

A best deck and litmus test not too long ago, Humans has all but vanished from competitive Modern. Sanctum Prelate is an important first step in bringing it back, but Imperial Recruiter is a welcome addition too. 

Militia Bugler

I avoided the bitter Militia Bugler debates of 2018 by playing the broken decks with Krark-Clan Ironworks or Amulet of Vigor instead but as a content creator I feel the need to join the conversation. Let history, and my paycheck, show that Cedric was RIGHT about Militia Bugler!

Thankfully, we can all agree that Imperial Recruiter is a massive upgrade. If the appeal of Humans is that its threats represent an ideal combination of disruption and pressure, one way for Humans to lose is to draw the wrong threats — Thalia, Guardian of Thraben against a creature-heavy deck or a Reflector Mage with no possible targets. When your Militia Bugler had to find a specific creature, your odds weren’t good; Imperial Recruiter wins that bet every time. Bugler is a better attacker than Recruiter but access to Thalia’s Lieutenant on demand means that Recruiter is often more reliable in a race.

The rest of this list reflects the emphasis on Recruiter. The twentieth land and first Avacyn’s Pilgrim are more appealing when you have a three-drop that you want to cast on Turn 2 and helps mitigate flooding in longer games. Charming Prince is a more stable link in Recruiter chains than Phantasmal Image, which sticks around as part of the Recruiter toolbox but not the staple it once was. 

Imperial Recruiter can also power up some less mainstream ideas, such as this aspiringspike creation:

Auriok Champion Felidar Guardian Glasspool Mimic

Two copies of Felidar Guardian can help each other waltz in and out of the battlefield endlessly, gaining infinite life with Auriok Champion. Glasspool Mimic can be played as Glasspool Shore and then blinked with Guardian to become a second Guardian, accelerating this combo. 

Imperial Recruiter finds any of these pieces (including Glasspool Mimic as a DFC if you just need a land drop!) while working perfectly with other blink synergies: 

Soulherder Ephemerate Solitude

Soulherder sets up a Recruiter chain in the same way as Charming Prince while being a serious threat in its own right; Recruiter is a fine Ephemerate target that finds even better ones. It’s probably for the best that Recruiter can’t find any of the new mythic Elemental Incarnations but Solitude is a wonderful tool for a deck that already wants to play Ephemerate and can take advantage of it in other ways. 

Imperial Recruiter Felidar Guardian Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

This spiritual successor to Kiki-Chord is powered by Imperial Recruiter’s ability to assemble a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo by itself – Recruiter finds Felidar Guardian, which blinks Recruiter to find Kiki-Jiki. Eternal Witness and Karmic Guide can reassemble the combo or can loop each other manually with Restoration Angel substituting for Felidar Guardian anywhere (as well as being a generally much stronger card that can blink an evoked Solitude).

Eladamri’s Call Eldritch Evolution

Fast linear decks don’t give you time to mess around with these sequences but often have a glaring weakness to a form of hate. If there’s a creature that fills that role, just one copy in the deck gives you a virtual ten copies between Imperial Recruiter and the green cards. 

As with any tutor effect, Imperial Recruiter’s power is contextual and scales with the size of the card pool. An obscure creature from years ago that becomes relevant, an unseen Modern Horizons 2 card waiting to steal the show, or some future combo creature that hasn’t been designed yet may all be helped in their rise to glory by the likes of Imperial Recruiter.

Just remember to give it some credit when that inevitably happens.