This last week on Dominara’s Judgment, Dom and I shared our Top 8 cards from Modern Horizons 2. That list was ranking on expected impact on the format, and hedged for things that are just normal good cards.
Today, I’m not hedging at all. These are the cards with the highest celing in Modern Horizons 2, the ones most likely to completely break the format open. It’s been a while since a set legitimately pushed the broken envelope on such a large number of cards. When your set is specifically aimed for Modern, though, that power level is almost the expectation.
Solitary Confinement and Sterling Grove
It’s 2021 and cards do too many things. Back in the mid-2000s when you played CAL (see below), your opponents had narrow removal like Putrefy, not Abrupt Decay. Do you remember the part of Skullcrack or Bonecrusher Giant where you just die in combat even if you have shroud and damage can’t be prevented? The literal colorless deck has All Is Dust, Blast Zone, and Karn, the Great Creator to clean up a lock given access to their deck. If any Enchantress card from the set is broken it’s Sterling Grove, but I need to see a broadly dominating end-game like Words of Wind before I give that deck any credit beyond being a conditional metagame-specific lock deck.
CAL – Solitary Confinement, Seismic Assault, Life from the Loam using cycling lands to loop Life from the Loam and maintain a Solitary Confinement lock before you eventually hit Genesis for a full lock.
While fair cards can be broken on rate, Solitude promotes excessively fair play to offset the card cost on the exchange. Of course you get free Swords to Plowshares with upside, which is pretty stupid, but the card rarely leads anywhere else broken.
Affinity is so 2003, though I have heard good things about Thought Monitor in formats with Seat of the Synod.
This was on the list for a long time. Then I asked myself the hard question, “Is Thraben Inspector actually broken?”
Zuran Orb is certainly an honorable mention as something that costs zero, but as stupid as it sounds, I want more from my things that cost zero these days.
All the storm cards in Modern Horizons 2 appear to be designed under the Patrick Sullivan lens of “Storm is cool if you don’t kill your opponent immediately with it”. Unfortunately, every true broken storm card does that except Empty the Warrens, and none of these storm cards match that card’s rate.
After that laundry list of slightly less broken cards, let’s get into the actually ranked stuff.
8. Urza’s Saga
Urza’s Saga is certainly broken in a fair game and was my pick for the best non-Incarnation card in the set. Just the interaction between Urza’s Saga and Expedition Map means any game where it starts churning is no longer about any kind of normal card advantage, but instead is about setting up your own engine that can match giant Constructs every turn for free or ending the game without caring about them.
But it takes time and mana before anything happens. It’s powerful, but if you wait two turns, you can do a lot more than attack with a single Construct token with cards that actually made this Top 8.
Though if my cohost has anything to say about it, I might regret not having this card at the top of all my lists….
7. Riptide Laboratory
Despite the deck most associated with Riptide Laboratory being Extended Mono-Blue Faeries, a control or tempo deck, Riptide Laboratory certainly didn’t do anything fair in the deck. The Lab’s role in Constructed has always been setting up some miserable and hard-to-escape lock involving an enters-the-battlefield trigger on a Wizard. Sadly a ton of the old Wizard stalwarts like Spellstutter Sprite have not aged well into the current era.
Dang, Snapcaster Mage is a good Wizard though. Riptide Laboratory in current Modern is going to look a lot like Academy Ruins in years past, where you incidentally get to play one or two copies of a colorless land that turns your normal interactive cards into a soft-lock end-game. You will eventually run out of things to Snapcaster Mage, but your opponent probably ran out of things to do or life to spare to your 2/1 beats a long time before that. And with Counterspell in the mix of things to flash back, your lock is card type-agnostic.
This is all fair cards, but the result isn’t a simple exchange. Your opponent stops playing the game and that’s pretty unfair.
6. Academy Manufactor
I’ve already put in some time with Academy Manufactor, working on my serious nonsense from last week. Serious nonsense, as in I’m serious about liking the deck, but I also fully admit it’s nonsense. What I’ve learned so far is that tripling your generic resource production on a three-mana permanent is really wild, and you quickly get way more material with Academy Manufactor than you really know what to do with. So far the best thing I’ve figured out is just using it as a pseudo-combo with Urza, Lord High Artificer, but I assume people will figure out a ton of other things to do with a lifetime supply of tokens in short order.
Some quick notes about the card:
- Remember generating a Treasure is actually generating a mana on each Food or Clue you would make, which inherently leads to some broken situations.
- Weirdly, Treasure is also the least likely starting token since so many of the Treasure abilities or cards are mana-gated since they would otherwise be mana engines. The cards that make free tokens of these types tend to make Food or Clues, since those do nothing without a future mana investment.
- Two Academy Manufactors go functionally infinite. Not actual infinite, but functionally the same thing most of the time. If tripling one thing is a lot, tripling a tripled thing is a lot of a lots.
5. Resurgent Belief / Glimpse of Tomorrow / Profane Tutor
Yes, I’m cheating and this is three cards in one, but the premise is the same in each case. They made the costless spells in this set both good to suspend normally and good to cheat onto the stack with more conventional means.
I think Glimpse of Tomorrow is narrowest but has the most obvious applications. Profane Tutor is the most inherently broken, since nothing that happens when you get to resolve a free tutor on your combo turn ever ends up fair. Resurgent Belief I’m a bit dubious of since it looks like it turns your fair deck into a graveyard deck, which is really a liability, but you might be able to keep the 56 fair cards functional enough without Replenish that Resurgent Belief does the combo-control thing right.
As for the other two in the cycle, I’m not waiting for a Bribery, and you cast Yawgmoth’s Will after the Rituals on that turn and not on your upkeep. Oh well. You could easily convince me I’m overlooking Sol Talisman though. Even if it does look like worse Lotus Bloom that costs mana to suspend, there’s room for worse Lotus Bloom to be good enough.
4. Blazing Rootwalla
Simian Spirit Guide existed in Modern for a decade, and was always a head-scratcher. Why was it legal if Rite of Flame wasn’t? Who thought it was a good idea to print in the 2000s? But it kept on keeping on, enabling stupid but not dominant things until the day something went really wrong and someone decided it was time to send the Ape packing.
If there’s a card in Modern Horizons 2 that people will look at in 2030 with the same kind of confusion, it’s Blazing Rootwalla.
Let’s compare Blazing Rootwalla to its predecessor, Basking Rootwalla. Even if green was the madness color in 2002, or at least it was the color that cast Wild Mongrel before you changed that color five times in a turn, in 2021 the good discard action is on the other side of the color pie. The best discard-centric decks in Modern are all red, and even if Blazing Rootwalla mostly costs zero it still takes red mana to make it more than a Memnite.
Getting to that “more than a Memnite” part, it’s way better to spend a mana to turn your random disposable threat into a three-power creature than to spend two mana to do it. Blazing Rootwalla is worse if you start brawling with Lingering Souls tokens, but if I’m really trying to make Blazing Rootwalla work, I’m hoping to avoid that stage of the game.
Really, the broken part of Blazing Rootwalla is how well it lines up with other free, high-power-level things. The whole concept of any discard-centric deck is avoiding paying fair rates for anything by jumping through that discard hoop, and Blazing Rootwalla is right along for the ride.
3. Shardless Agent
The reason these next cards beat out Blazing Rootwalla is that they are shocking by 2021 metrics.
Shardless Agent enters Modern with less than a four-month separation from people talking about just banning all the three-mana cascade cards. Most of those are literally three-mana cascade, basically no text. Sometimes there’s even a drawback like needing a target, often in bad colors. Shardless Agent blows them out of the water, ignoring the instant-speed applications of Violent Outburst.
I don’t know if this deck was being held back by a lack of Simian Spirit Guide before or just a lack of heart by the Modern player base to rebuild what was the most broken Modern deck in years, but this deck looks like a lot to deal with. That’s only the simplest broken application of Shardless Agent.
And even if we know three-mana cascade spells were a broken card type we already had, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts as to why Shardless Agent is the most broken of the bunch.
Take it away Sam Black:
I’m a little worried about how much Reanimator was pushed, and generally suggested that it’s better to start by making cards that cost one less than the best rate available in the format rather than two less…
Persist is not far off Animate Dead, a reliably Legacy-playable reanimation spell.
The non-legendary clause on Persist certainly matters, and it’s not like the number of splashy legendary creatures is going down any time soon, but the same can be said for splashing non-legendary creatures. The biggest issue with Persist is the next-best reanimation option is much worse, so it’s hard to build something that isn’t basically a Splinter Twin situation with four Persist, four of some game-ending reanimation target, and a normal deck in the middle.
Of course, if your fair-use-case comparison is the extremely banned Splinter Twin, that might still be a solidly broken thing to be doing.
Would you expect anything less here?
This is not the entire cycle, though honestly that might be accurate. This is precisely Grief.
Grief is the only proactive member of the Incarnation cycle, and it bears with it all the issues that come with proactive free spells.
How close do you think Turn 1 Grief plus Ephemerate is to a Turn 1 win? Probably closer than any other Modern Horizons 2 card comes to that with so much less effort involved. I’ve seen a lot of stupid arguments about being able to draw out of the situation, but how often do you draw out of a mulligan to four? How often would you draw out of a mulligan to four where your opponent chose the four cards you kept, a reverse London Mulligan? Yeah, didn’t think the number was that high.
It really feels like a lot of early Modern Horizons 2 Modern will be defined by how willing you are to keep playing against the worst Grief has to offer, but I’ll steal a quote from Brad Nelson’s Modern Horizons 2 playtesting this time.
… my point of view was that either he was wrong about companions, or he was right in which they’d need to be banned….
If I’m right about how out of line Grief is, I won’t have to worry about it for long. If I’m wrong, it will be a pleasant surprise.
But really, would it be a Modern Horizons set if something egregious didn’t sneak through and make things crazy for a while? I don’t agree with Cedric that Modern has always been that way or always has to be, but it sure is inevitable eighteen years of cards will add up to some really big messes as we go.
Would it be interesting any other way?