What a ride Modern Horizons 2 gave us, eh? Ragavan, Nimbler Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler changed the face of red; Urza’s Saga changed the face of manabases; and Shardless Agent made Crashing Footfalls went from undesirable to undeniable.
We’ve never seen a set like Modern Horizons 2 before and it’s probably best we never will again — which is all the more reason to bring together the same six members of the SCG staff from our Modern Horizons 2 First Impressions article to answer a few exit interview questions before Jumpstart: Historic Horizons debuts on Magic Arena.
1. What’s your Tweet-length review of Modern Horizons 2?
Brad Nelson: In retrospect, if I was afraid of designing the next Hogaak I probably shouldn’t have pushed so hard to print a card with similar stats. #Whoops
Sam Black: Modern Horizons 2 introduced a few new decks and replaced several cards in existing decks without radically changing the fundamental dynamics of Modern or leading to any early bans. Given the set’s goals, I’d call that a success.
Corey Baumeister: Hogaak part two was disguised as a 2/1 Monkey for the last few months. Thankfully the metagame has adjusted and found answers. Murktide Regent, Urza’s Saga, and Elementals are very good but not broken. Shaheen is still wrong about control being playable. #Balanced
Shaheen Soorani: To all initial haters out there, look at all of them Counterspells in every blue deck!
Dom Harvey: A generally well-crafted set that succeeded in shaking up Modern — so much so that it almost feels like Modern Horizons 2 Block Constructed.
2. What’s your most-liked card in Modern Horizons 2?
Brad Nelson: Urza’s Saga. I know that’s a ridiculous choice, but I have so much fun playing with it. It’s also devastating when my opponent’s interact with it with things like Spreading Seas and Blood Moon. Sure it might not have been the best thing for Modern, but what is?
Ari Lax: Jade Avenger. If you don’t love a Samurai Frog, you likely haven’t played Chrono Trigger. It remains the only video game I’ve played where I regretted not experiencing it as a small kid, and I don’t even generally like JRPGs. I also just love good Draft two-drops that brawl.
If you want an actual card you might cast, Profane Tutor. It’s a card doing a lot of stuff that easily goes wrong, but ended up doing it all really right.
Sam Black: The Underworld Cookbook. I honestly haven’t played enough Modern or Modern Horizons 2 Limited for my play experience to really change this answer. There was a period where this card and its interaction with Ovalchase Daredevil (a card we didn’t consider while testing the set) looked a little scary, but ultimately, I think it ended in a great spot. Strong, weird, powerful in a particular strategy, but certainly niche and in a deck that doesn’t seem problematic.
Corey Baumeister: Urza’s Saga by a lot! I love playing cards that work well with Urza, Lord High Artificer and this may be the best tool for the powerful creature since Arcum’s Astrolabe. Urza’s Saga has proved to be a pretty balanced card and when people want to respect it, they can. Cards like Wear // Tear, Alpine Moon, Blood Moon, and Spreading Seas have really proven to be able to keep the card under control. But if people start to lower the amount of hate, expect decks like the Food-based decks and Affinity to come right back to the Tier 1 spotlight.
Shaheen Soorani: Counterspell. Counterspell was the greatest card in Modern Horizons 2 previewed and still is! I do not care how many Turn 1 plays involve a Monkey. There’s no greater upgrade that control decks could have received than the UU legend itself. The day I was able to cut all those impostors, never to look back, was one I will never forget.
My favorite card may not be the most powerful from Modern Horizons 2, but it has had a significant impact on the format. During preview season, there were very talented content creators saying that the opposite effect would take place, a small blip on the metagame radar that would not improve the win percentages of blue decks. That has been empirically false, and this is one of the victories that I plan to relish for years to come!
Dom Harvey: Glimpse of Tomorrow. Maybe this is just me grading on a curve against the ready-made Cascade decks (Shardless Agent was a strong consideration for the most-hated card question!) but I find Glimpse of Tomorrow delightful. Amassing enough permanents pre-Glimpse is a challenge that prevents the deck from going berserk too quickly and figuring out how to convert that into a reliable win without making the deck too one-dimensional is a fun puzzle. If the deck were too good it would be a problem, but it’s just fragile enough to be charming rather than terrifying.
3. What’s your most-hated card in Modern Horizions 2?
Brad Nelson: I also think the answer is Urza’s Saga. I just dislike that it retains all of its abilities, allowing for the controller to make multiple Constructs during its life cycle. If the wording changed that it would only allow for one Construct, then I would think it’s an amazingly fun and fresh design on a land which is really cool. It’s just maybe a touch too good.
Ari Lax: Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. For a product line partially intended to diminish the role of non-interactive decks in Modern and promote fair play, there sure are a lot of cards in Modern Horizons 2 that make playing creatures miserable. Asmor is by far the worst offender as one-drop cantrip self-recurring immediate removal Visara. This type of card is barely fun when it costs a bunch of mana and you might undercut it, and totally miserable at this rate.
Honorable mention to Unholy Heat. The interesting part about Fatal Push is the limitations of the card. The limit on Unholy Heat is exactly Murktide Regent. My initial pick of Solitude also remains another real stinker of an experience at large but may be okay in the super-warped world of Modern right now.
Sam Black: At this point, nothing comes to mind. There were cards I had fears about before the set was released, and for awhile after it was released, Urza’s Saga looked pretty scary, but given my role and responsibilities working on the set, if nothing’s causing problems, I can’t hate any of it.
Corey Baumeister: Still Shardless Agent by a country mile! Why do we keep printing these cards that lead to incredibly unfun gameplay? Temur Crashcade has become quite the powerful deck and if you aren’t prepared for it, you’re going to get punished. Chalice of the Void and Engineered Explosives have become staples in pretty much every Modern sideboard because of this pesky deck. Just ban the mechanic cascade and end this madness!
Shaheen Soorani: Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. I was way off on this one. Solitary Confinement is a bulk rare, one that has not been the thorn in my side I thought it would be. Just imagining the interaction between it, a bunch of creatures that draw cards, and the obnoxious protection that Sterling Grove would provide was enough to make me throw that on my list of nightmare cards. After the dust has settled, it was Ragavan that became my most-hated card in Modern Horizons 2.
Ragavan is a one-drop that can easily be dispatched by the fantastic removal options control has in Modern, but the penalty for not doing so is close to death. The mana and card advantage it produces on its very next turn is devastating for us, making a late removal spell largely ineffective. Having my own Teferi, Time Raveler played with ease by the opponent on Turn 2 is disgusting and has prompted me to play much more removal than I typically play in Modern. The card is too good and is one that I will not miss if it gets the ban hammer soon.
Dom Harvey: Murktide Regent. Everyone wants their preview card to be a big deal and it feels like the monkey’s paw has fully curled here. Murktide Regent isn’t completely egregious in its own right but in the context of the set its impact is predictable — you put all the best cheap threats and interaction together and you have a deck with no real effort required (to the extent that there’s any sacrifice involved, it’s about playing this over Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which has its own ‘issues’…).
What was the upside here? Were fetchlands and Mishra’s Bauble somehow not ubiquitous enough in Modern? Was the play pattern of protecting an undercosted threat so popular that we had to push it to the extreme again?
4. Rank the mythic Elemental Incarnations from first to worst.
Honestly, I’m just impressed that I actually had the confidence to make this list a couple of months back. At the time everyone thought Grief and Subtlety were too good to exist, but I knew they would be a flash in the pan. Now I had no clue that a sick Elementals deck would pop up, but I had faith that Fury would be one of the best in the cycle. It’s just difficult to imagine otherwise when it can kill two or three creatures for zero mana. That’s value!
- Solitude. Free instant removal that enables synergies is super-messed-up.
- Fury. A better normal card than Solitude, but one of these cards is the same color as Ephemerate.
- Grief. Might still be the most broken card, but the other black cards are bad. Fatal Push is trash compared to new removal, and Thoughtseize is trash versus the over-efficient new cards. What does black even do in Modern?
- Endurance. Huge drop from the Top 3 to here. A fine graveyard hate spell that does work versus broken and more fair decks, but really capped by the lineup versus Grief.
- Subtlety. Lowest impact, fewest exploits, smallest window, and most Primeval Titans have left the format.
It looks like I think Brad had it exactly right, so it’ll be awkward if he changes his mind. Endurance is the most-played of this cycle in Modern, according to MTGGoldfish, but there’s more to evaluating power level than play rates. I underestimated how important small creatures are to Modern in my initial evaluation, and Elementals has emerged as a competitive deck largely thanks to using four copies each of Solitude and Fury well. Those earn my top ranks, with Solitude edging out Fury because it more reliably answers whatever you need to answer.
Endurance is next mostly because none of the others have really impressed me (which isn’t to say that they’re bad, just that expectations were high) and I have to respect how much it’s played.
Grief has played out closer to expectations than fears, but I think it’s stronger than Subtlety, though I think the two are close.
My list of Elemental Incarnations has actually changed quite a bit, mostly due to the power level of Mono-White Hammer, Ragavan, and Dragon’s Rage Channeler decks. Elementals have pretty much singlehandedly shut down the Mono-White Hammer deck. The combination of Solitude taking down the big creatures and Fury cleaning up all of the other knuckleheads has led to that deck hiding in the shadows at the moment.
I have also found out that Grief is completely unplayable even though it was one of the most-hyped cards when Modern Horizons 2 originally came out. It just doesn’t work very well with the rest of the Ephemerate package due to the design of the deck.
Endurance and Subtlety both have a niche role in a few decks in Modern. Endurance is in the Elementals deck to clean up some Lurrus synergies and other powerful graveyard activity, while Subtlety is another piece of free interaction in Temur Crashcade from time to time.
My initial list had Solitude on top and I stand by that decision. Am I biased? Sure. Does it matter? No. Fury may have won everyone’s heart; however, Solitude is still the more powerful Elemental Incarnation. Elementals are hot right now, with Fury and Solitude staying neck-and-neck in the race to the top in that archetype. Solitude finds itself in white-based aggro and control decks still, while most red midrange decks often have contained a couple of copies of Fury. In a vacuum with the power level debate front and center, the effect of Solitude is more flexible, making it the superior Elemental Incarnation.
The name of the game is instant speed, which puts Solitude above its closest competitor. With two cards that are similar in strength, that tie-breaker is an obvious one. I also tend to lean toward the lifelink creature for obvious reasons, but I understand those that remain on the fence with this one. The rest of the options are seeing very little play, outside of Endurance giving players maindeck graveyard interaction with a strong body attached. I respect the hustle, championing Kaya’s Guile for the same reason. Having Game 1 graveyard disruption is a huge boost in Modern then and still is now.
As for the rest of the Elemental Incarnations on the list, they have the potential to be great, but have not broken out yet.
Put simply, Modern right now is a format about protecting and exploiting powerful creatures and it’s hard to do better than Solitude and Fury there. I slept on Fury during preview season, as it didn’t fit well in the existing red decks, but the card is well-positioned enough right now that it’s an incentive to play the slower red decks that can support it — as well as Five-Color Elementals, which is the best possible home for these cards.
Grief may be the best of its cycle by some metrics, but black is bad and even the perfect discard spell has an inherent weakness to Urza’s Saga and Lurrus (which is also more appealing than Grief for the black decks that have the choice).
Endurance covers a lot of bases when Living End is one of the best linear decks, the Dragon’s Rage Channeler decks lean hard on graveyard interactions (and Endurance lines up perfectly against Channeler itself), and Dimir Mill is always a looming threat.
Subtlety suffers from how efficient threats have to be in Modern today — it’s much better when you’re swatting away Primeval Titan than Ragavan. The blue-based tempo decks like Azorius Stoneblade that I thought would love the card have failed to materialize or opted for other interaction instead.
5. The mechanic you now hate in Modern Horizons 2 is…
Brad Nelson: None of them! I thought Modern Horizons 2 Limited was fantastic, and is what got me to reinstall Magic Online on my computer for the first time in over a year. If I had to complain about something though, it’d be the Simic “Junk” archetype. I just wished it was slightly better, as I tried to draft it far too many times and the deck’s never came together. Well they did, but it was mostly thanks to splashing other colors and mechanics.
Ari Lax: Arbitrary game objects. Some of this is exhaustion from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but I don’t love this trend of tacking Clues, Treasures, and Food onto stuff for minimal cost. It’s just a lot of bookkeeping that means mostly nothing until you convert the resource and it means everything. I loved the idea of Academy Manufactor, but in practice it just makes a bunch of garbage and crashes Magic Online. Treasure also has color-pie-breaking issues; Food makes games drag on. At least investigate makes things happen that your deck intended to do anyway.
Sam Black: Cascade. This is a bit of a weird answer, but I think the interaction between spells without a cost and cascade, but largely due to a card that isn’t even in Modern Horizons 2, Crashing Footfalls. I kind of wish the rules had been revised in a set featuring both of these things to say that cards without a cost are bypassed by cascade.
Corey Baumeister: Cascade!!!! I could talk all day about how much I hate the abuse of this mechanic. When it’s used in a fair way to just cascade into two-drops to gain some extra value, it’s a fun mechanic. When it’s used to cast weird free spells and find loopholes, it’s awful and should be removed from the game.
Shaheen Soorani: Rebound. I’m going to go with rebound being the mechanic I hate the most from this set. Rebound and I used to be close pals, when the mechanic was tied to control cards, but now it’s on a spell that makes a hard matchup even worse. As the father of Blink Riders, one would think I would be down with a card like Ephemerate. Those days are long gone and the only creatures getting blinked are very annoying Elementals that bury me in card advantage with ease.
Five-Color Elementals has been a difficult matchup as of late, with no thanks to Ephemerate. It’s tough enough to battle through four copies of Cavern of Souls, but now these resolved creatures have an escape route that heavily punishes spot removal like never before. Omnath, Locus of Creation is a house of a threat normally, demolishing the opponent if it goes unchecked. Now with Ephemerate, my opponents resolve it with a fetchland open, taunting me to target it with a Path to Exile if I dare. To make matters worse, it comes back the next turn, produces even more advantage with rebound, and diminishes my chances of winning even further.
Dom Harvey: Delirium. Delirium is exactly the kind of mechanic that should appeal to me. It presents an interesting subgame with unique deckbuilding incentives. When I heard it was returning as the Izzet mechanic for Modern Horizons 2, I had high hopes for flashy delirium cards I’d want to build around.
Instead, the delirium theme barely showed up in the set and the cards that made it to Constructed were ideal for the hyper-efficient, spell-heavy decks that already existed. Everything I said about Murktide Regent applies here. Unholy Heat doesn’t feel like a payoff you need and want to jump through hoops for; it feels like one of the best removal spells of all time that you can play without thinking because fetchlands, Mishra’s Bauble, and the dozens of other pushed one-drops you play, get you there so easily.
To me, delirium now feels like a beloved movie franchise from your childhood. You’re excited to hear it’s renewed but when you see that final product, you wish it had stayed cancelled.
6. The card most likely to get banned in Modern Horizons 2 is…
Brad Nelson: Oddly enough I think the card most likely to get banned at this point is Dragon’s Rage Channeler. I don’t think it will, but it’s possibly the most powerful card in Modern to come out of Modern Horizons 2. I mean sure, I could see either Urza’s Saga or Ragavan getting banned as well; it’s just that they aren’t as godly as people made them out to be when the set debuted. I won’t deny Ragavan’s dominance in Legacy, but in Modern I feel that leaving the power in creatures is always a fine place to store it. It’s just that Dragon’s Rage Channeler has an ability that allows for some degenerate velocity.
Ari Lax: Glimpse of Tomorrow. I don’t know if you can unwind the clock on this set in a meaningful way. It’s not individual cards being better than everything else. It’s just piles of power in the zero- and one-mana camps spiraling the format back towards hyper-efficiency. Removing any one of them doesn’t change the rest of it.
It does however strike me as weird that Glimpse of Tomorrow is basically the same thing as Tibalt’s Trickery yet remains legal. It isn’t a problem on quality of results or volume of matches, but the low points of the Glimpse experience are real low. Maybe the answer is actually Shardless Agent in a strike on cheap cascade, but that’s definitely the stuff that feels uniquely bad to play against.
Sam Black: I think nothing is maybe more likely than any particular card. The most likely cards are maybe Urza’s Saga in Modern and Ragavan in Legacy, but I don’t think either is very likely at this point.
Corey Baumeister: Probably Ragavan but I really don’t want anything to get banned. Modern is a self-correcting format with a deep card pool. We’re already seeing the format adjust to the pesky Monkey and it isn’t even the best thing you can be doing in the format right now. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be the best thing you can be doing next week, but it’s okay to go through those cycles since it leads to constant innovation and adaptation.
Shaheen Soorani: Nothing! I would like to pass over my initial Solitary Confinement claim and pretend I never said that. Sometimes a card spooks me badly, and I make irrational fears come to life, which explains my predictions on that card. Were this question posed to me after the first week, I would have switched it to Urza’s Saga, but now I’m not sure if it’s even in the ban conversation. The set seems to be a slam dunk, drastically affecting the Modern metagame, but not having a consequential impact on the number of viable decks.
If I had to choose a card to ban in my own selfish world, it would be Ragavan. That card upsets me, but it doesn’t make playing other strategies impossible. People are playing many decks that do not have this infamous one-drop in their list and seeing success with them. I don’t think any card is going to get banned, as all the top decks with Modern Horizons 2 influences in them are beatable.
Dom Harvey: Nothing? Urza’s Saga was and is the most likely card to get the axe but I don’t think we’re close to that point yet. I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about Ragavan and even more asking if it’s safe to buy Ragavans, but Ragavan is no Deathrite Shaman. A flimsy creature that needs to succeed in combat invites much more counterplay.
7. What’s your biggest lasting takeaway from Modern Horizons 2?
Brad Nelson: That the sky isn’t always falling. I’m still not sure how I feel about all of these supplementary products and what they do to the format’s we’ve grown to love over the years. It’s clear the power level continues to go up in them, quickly changing the landscape of the formats they impact. Each time this happens a part of me thinks they will ultimately ruin the formats, but then I find myself even more engaged after things settle down.
So yeah, I’m sort of sad that a lot of my older decks are now pretty much invalidated, but at the same time playing with some of these new decks like Five-Color Elementals is exactly what it takes to pull me back into enjoying the games. I guess I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it’s not.
Ari Lax: I don’t have one until we see the paper fallout of effectively force-rotating a non-rotating format. The format already had a wild fifteen months of backlogged content for people to catch up with, and Modern Horizons 2 even blew that away. If people buy back into Modern, and if the ubiquity of this set doesn’t result in supply crunches, I think it points towards Modern being more about the experience of playing wild stuff. If they don’t, that’s a tough one to learn after the fact. Magic Online suggests the former will happen, but rental services don’t exist on the same scale for paper cards for many reasons and the paper card economy is less liquid.
But also, maybe the takeaway is that no one learned the right lessons about free spells from Once Upon a Time. That said my current bad Banned List opinion is that’s a considerable unban in the format, so maybe I’m the one not learning things…
Sam Black: Seeing cards you’ve worked on released into the world is scary. Every time someone Tweeted that they won a match with a card in the set, I wondered if we’d made a mistake and made it too strong, only to remind myself that the goal isn’t to avoid making cards that people want to play and win games with.
Corey Baumeister: That I love these types of sets so very much. Modern was not in a good place before this set came out. We were basically living in a Heliod, Sun-Crowned / Monastery Swiftspear nightmare and all I wanted to do was wake up. Modern Horizons 2 has fully woken me up from that bad dream.
If we put this powerful of a set into Standard, it would be horrible. We would be so sick of these cards if we had to play them in every format and it would lead to us all not wanting to play any of the formats. We’re still seeing that on a smaller scale with Throne of Eldraine taking over so many formats from Standard all the way to Legacy.
My biggest takeaway: bring on Modern Horizons 3 in a year and a half when we are all sick of playing against Ragavan and Urza’s Saga!
Shaheen Soorani: I’m in utter shock that a set this powerful doesn’t have any elements that require a banning yet. Maybe we are too accustomed to cards that have a cranked power level with poor competitive testing before release. After each set was released this past year, we held our breath on a couple of spells that we knew were too good from the start. When a second Modern Horizons set was announced, I knew there were going to be egregious errors that would spawn from pushed cards that had no business seeing the light of day. I’m happy to say that so far, I was wrong.
The set has done a lot for aggro, midrange, and control decks. Combo and big mana have not been huge recipients like the rest, but even they have some new toys to play with from Modern Horizons 2. With the last few powered-down Standard sets and this clean release of Modern Horizons 2, my faith in Magic’s designers has increased.
This set, and ultimately Modern, is fun for the average competitive player so far.
Dom Harvey: The cheap cards don’t need the help. As every Resleevables segment debating the worst card in the set reminds us, the worst one-drop you can imagine can only be so bad — and these are the best one-drops you can imagine. Beyond the lead actors of Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan, the big hits of Modern Horizons 2 are Urza’s Saga, the cycle of Elemental Incarnations, Murktide Regent (a two-drop masquerading as a seven-drop), Kaldra Compleat (a seven-drop that powers up your two-drop), Esper Sentinel (also much stronger against expensive spells than cheap ones), The Underworld Cookbook + Asmor, Unholy Heat, and the various cascade packages. Every single one of these cards encourages an arms race of lower mana curves with all that implies for the format.
This was something the first Modern Horizons partly acknowledged — though we had to bid farewell to Arcum’s Astrolabe and Hogaak (a one-drop and the weirdest ‘zero-drop’ ever, respectively), cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician gave you an ambitious goal up the curve to aim for.
Modern was rarely the ‘Turn 4 format’ it was often misquoted as and it may never be that again. But if there’s nothing to look forward to on Turn 4 other than casting several of the same cheap spells you’ve already cast, the format is a lot worse for it.