Modern is going through turmoil as it incorporates and digests the powerful new tools from Modern Horizons 2. The last week has been full of movers and shakers, including some results from this past weekend’s Magic Online events. Every day brings new information as we test these new cards and decks against the field. Every archetype that feels broken but “slightly off” is slowly getting sanded down to its final form.
Urza’s Saga is my pick for card most likely to be banned in Modern first. That doesn’t mean we’ve reached that point yet. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be banned at all. My opinion is that the card is extremely good, goes into a lot of decks, and offers a lot of upside for very little risk. It’s a unique card that works in a way that few people have fully understood just yet. It tutors up some of the most disgusting artifacts ever created, and it doesn’t cost the pilot a single mana to get a major boost from it. Amulet of Vigor alone makes it somewhat terrifying.
Prophet / Profit
There are plenty of other “scary” cards in Modern Horizons 2, including the one I want to focus on today. Years ago, after the announcement of the first Modern Horizons, Ross Merriam and I decided to try out some “potential reprints” on VS Live! We tried all sorts of stuff, including Counterspell, that we thought would be powerful but ultimately fine in Modern. Shardless Agent was one of those cards.
I love Shardless Agent. I played it to a Top 8 at an Invitational back in 2012 right after it was originally printed. Alongside Brainstorm, you could put Ancestral Vision on top of your deck and use the cascade mechanic to generate a free burst of cards. In a grindy fair deck, that type of interaction is outrageous. Without Brainstorm, setting that up is a little more difficult, but that just means we need to find better ways to incorporate it into fair strategies.
My initial want was Shardless Agent in Humans. Cascade into a Human seemed pretty great. After all, your whole deal is getting warm bodies online for Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant, so a card that produces two of those warm bodies is dope. It’s also an artifact, which is cool for Urza decks that just want a high artifact count. Then you have the unsavory folk who want to watch the world burn by cascading into Restore Balance.
Now that Shardless Agent is in Modern, we can do with it whatever our heart desires. A few weeks ago, aspiringspike posted a sweet Temur Cascade build that focused entirely on a suspend card that has seen play, but was never really the core. Not like Living End, which requires you to play a bunch of creatures that cycle. Not like Restore Balance, where you have to play Fieldmist Borderpost and Greater Gargadon. Just a little card that makes your two best friends.
Crashing Footfalls is not splashy. It doesn’t end the game on the spot. It barely even scratches the surface of broken, which is basically the exact opposite you’d expect when someone is casting Shardless Agent into a suspend spell without a casting cost.
The difference between Crashing Footfalls and Living End is that the rest of your deck doesn’t have to be a gimmick. You get to play normal-ish Magic the entire game because your payoff is just “make some medium-sized creatures.” Instead of being vulnerable to Leyline of the Void, we're vulnerable to Engineered Explosives and Fatal Push. The difference is that we’re expecting to be interacted with, and we don’t care.
When you cast an early Crashing Footfalls, you’re expecting the game to continue for a little while. Against control opponents, I doubt you’ll even get in one attack. Against midrange opponents, I’d expect both Rhinos to be dead in two turns. Because we’re going small, we don’t invest our entire deck into it. Because we’re not doing anything incredibly broken, the rest of our deck gets to be interactive. In a way, this feels like the new Splinter Twin.
Opportunity cost is a way for game designers to expand upon the idea of “putting all your eggs in one basket.” A deck like Izzet Gifts Storm requires you to play 30 or so cards all dedicated to the same gameplan. When you play a deck revolving around Crashing Footfalls, you just need to play Crashing Footfalls and a few three-mana cards that cascade into it. When your combo costs so little in terms of opportunity cost, mana cost, and resource cost, the rest of your deck is free to pursue whatever your heart desires.