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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jun 10 2019 12:00pm
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I shouldn’t be as conflicted about conflicted about Modern Horizons as I am. On one hand Time Spiral and Future Sight are what got me into Magic in the first place, and there are a lot of individually interesting card designs. However, everything feels a bit thin: the random one-off mechanics, moving mechanics into new colors for almost no reason, and in-jokes that are too clever for their own good (combining Cloud Elemental + Electric Eel for Stormcloud Djinn may have been arcane, but it made more sense in-universe than Smiting Helix). It feels like this set could have been more focused (and wasted less design space for Modern Horizons 2) if it had fewer mechanics (around 20-25 instead of the 42 it ended up with) and closer to a 50/50 spread of reprints. While this is a lot of complaining, I hope it’s more constructive than the typical complaining about this set (that every card isn’t the best card in Modern and/or $100). Anyway, you didn’t come here to listen to that, so let’s start the Limited Review portion by talking about the archetypes!

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Blink

Soulherder is an obvious signpost and Ephemerate is the most efficient blink card we’ve seen, but what are you supposed to do with this blinking? Obviously Man-o’-War is great and there are a lot of ways to draw cards, but many of the other cards are either extremely conditional (Tribute Mage, Vesperlark) or don’t benefit from multiple blinks (Answered Prayers, Zhalfirin Decoy). My gut says I’d rather just play more creatures than blink them, though I guess the point is the blink cards either do multiple blinks or get more value. I suspect Play Design was worried about a repetitive game state (which is why Soulherder is a three-mana 1/1), but draft archetypes that require multiple specific pieces to be functional are always worse than they seem. I’d stay away until we learn if this deck can work consistently.

 

Blue/Black: Ninjas

Poof! If we’re never going back to Kamigawa this feels like a fine place to almost double the population. However, while Ingenious Infiltrator is good, I’m not sure it was the best decision to put all the power into the enablers (Faerie Seer, Phantom Ninja, Changeling Outcast) instead of the Ninjas themselves (Azra Smokeshaper is the only one I actively like other than the Infiltrator and rares). I guess you would never let any creatures get through if the Ninjas were more powerful and the easy enablers are a safer place to put the power. Otherwise this deck feels fine, but either Ninja of the New Moon is a lot better than I think it is or you need higher rarity cards like Cunning Evasion and rares. Then again, maybe you’re supposed to play it like a blink deck and bounce your Man-o’-wars? You also get Twisted Reflection for full value which is a bonus.

 

Black/Red: Goblins/Sacrifice

As much of a signpost Munitions Expert is, I’m not sure how realistic it is—there are only 11 non-rare Goblins (counting Goblin War Party and the on-color Changelings) and a lot seem mediocre like Goblin Champion and Universal Automaton. Instead, it feels like better signposts are Sling-Gang Lieutenant and Warteye Witch, as this is more of a sacrifice deck. It’s been a while since we’ve had “Threaten + sac outlet” at common, but Goatnap and Bogardan Dragonheart is the best version we’ve seen in a while. Silumgar Scavenger is also a nice pay-off, and Carrion Feeder and Undead Augur form a nice Zombie sub-theme (and Putrid Goblin fits perfectly in each part). The only downside is that the common removal isn’t quite as good as you would expect for a supplemental (or even Standard post-War of the Spark) set, but it’s not like Pyrophobia and Mob are bad. Goblins may not have gotten all the Constructed help it needed, but it looks good for Limited.

 

Red/Green: Lands

After Commander 2018’s land deck mostly flopped, Wizards has mostly overcompensated here with obviously powerful enablers for the lands in your graveyard theme, whether it’s powerful commons like Igneous Elemental and Murasa Behemoth, clever enablers like Geomancer's Gambit and Springbloom Druid, and nice reprints like Nantuko Cultivator and the cycling lands (which were probably upshifted because of this deck). This is also the five-color bombs deck, except there don’t seem to be as many bombs in this format, especially not ones that are splashable. I just don’t know how easy it is to get a land in the graveyard, though most of them only need one.

 

Green/White: Tokens/Creatures ETB

This archetype has an interesting take on a tokens deck that focuses on have a creature enter the battlefield each turn, but the focus on threshold 1 on all of the payoffs outside of signpost Good-Fortune Unicorn feels like a split personality. On one hand Martyr's Soul and good mass pump spells want you to go wide fast, but on the other hand cards like Bellowing Elk and Answered Prayers want you to focus on a steady stream of creatures. This is fine at common, but it feels like more uncommons could have been unbounded (though part of this is that Saddled Rimestag could have challenged Tarmogoyf’s “best green creature in Modern” status if it counted each creature—I want to attack for eight on Turn 3 dang it!). I feel like the lack of a top end may spell trouble for this deck, especially since the format seems aggro-focused already. The cards are strong though, which might be enough.

 

White/Black: Changeling Tribal

Etchings of the Chosen seems like a strange choice for a signpost uncommon, but it leads into my favorite archetype, just because of how unique it is. There are six commons with Changeling and all are playable in Orzhov, and along with specific Changeling payoffs like Valiant Changeling you also get all the lords. Along with the overlaps of Slivers, Ninjas, and Goblins you also get King of the Pride and Undead Augur at uncommon along with multiple rares. I’m worried this is a little slow and/or reliant on higher-rarity cards to work, but I hope it does.

 

Blue/Red: Draw

I’ve tried to make a draft archetype based around drawing cards for a while now, but it makes much more sense when you can move it into UR and add a bunch of payoffs like Eyekite, Fists of Flame, and Thundering Djinn. As for enablers, Cycling does a lot of work, as do Scour All Possibilities and “card that feels most out of place in this set” Rain of Revelation. The problem is that this feels very do-nothing: I don’t know if I want to cast a four-mana 1/2 if everyone else is swarming me with tokens and efficient creatures. Velocity by itself could be good enough, but it never feels like it gets there in Limited.

 

Black/Green: Graveyard

As neat as Spider Tribal would be, Rotwidow Pack points more towards a general graveyard theme (though Changelings and Twin-Silk Spider mean scaling on Spiders isn’t just trinket text). However, I’m having trouble seeing where the power is here besides the signpost. The green enablers (Winding Way, Glacial Revelation) are designed for other archetypes primarily and the Threshold cards feel better in RG Lands, so your focus should be on the black cards, and while Rank Officer and Ransack the Lab are good (and it’s neat that black has Strategic Planning now in general) and this is the best deck for First-Sphere Gargantua, the deck otherwise feels like a bunch of good cards rather than a cohesive theme. Then again, that might be good enough since the themes aren’t as tight as they have been in other Masters sets.

 

Red/White: Slivers

Like Goblins, Slivers don’t have the density you would expect (11 on-color non-rare Slivers counting Changelings), but I think this works better for a couple reasons. First, Changelings work much better with buffs than death triggers, even before you consider the direct synergies like Lancer Sliver and Impostor of the Sixth Pride and Cleaving Sliver and Valiant Changeling. Second, I’m wondering if this could work as Mardu Slivers as the black Changelings are perfect with buffs (Lancer Sliver and Venomous Changeling and Changeling Outcast and Cleaving Sliver and/or First Sliver’s Chosen) and Dregscape Sliver gives the deck the long-game it needs in addition to the general density buff. I feel like both Boros and Mardu Slivers are great in this format, though I’m worried they’ll both be overdrafted since they’re both popular and good.

 

Green/Blue: Snow

Welcome back snow mana! As excited as I am to try Snow in Modern, I feel like this deck is fundamentally limited since you have to draft your snow-covered basic lands. Other than a snow-covered basic, the only ways to generate snow mana are Astrum’s Astrolabe (which requires a snow mana to cast) and Frostwalk Bastion, since the mana elf Rime Tender requires a snow land to untap (though it’s great untapping creatures as well), and I feel like the snow lands are going to be “rare” drafted a lot. I don’t know how many snow lands you need to reliably Monstrous Chillerpillar (one of the reasons to be Snow) but it feels like a lot. Winter’s Rest and Blizzard Strix are the only “threshold 1” Snow cards and I wish there were more generic snow creatures to play like Saddled Rimestag. The high end of this deck is great (as I said, I think Abominable Treefolk might be Modern playable), but I think it’s both reliant on what’s opened and extremely risky, since you’ll be picking lands early and are hoping the Chillerpillars and Frostwallas table. And please don’t play Iceberg Cancrix unless you get like four of them, and Icehide Golem is awful in Limited.

 

Other Important Cards:

There are so many powerful cards you could overlook in this format. Starting with white, Dismantling Blow is probably worth maindecking as there are a lot of good Auras and a lot of the bombs are artifacts or enchantments, and Splicer’s Skill feels like a bomb if you have a non-zero number of instants/sorceries to splice onto. In blue, both Choking Tethers and Windcaller Aven will win games with a minimal opportunity cost. Black has Gluttonous Slug which is completely out of place but is extremely efficient (and probably made for the BG Creatures/Graveyard deck) and Return from Extinction is probably a draw-2 90% of the time. Red has a lot of good mass pump spells that don’t fit anywhere like Volatile Claws and Goblin Oriflamme, so be ready to pivot the Goblins/Slivers decks into a generic tokens deck if they don’t work. Scale Up is going to steal a lot of games in green in both modes, and Krosan Tusker moving back to common is a great piece of value. Finally, don’t be afraid to play an off-color Talisman, and every deck doesn’t mind a couple Cycling lands.

 

Modern Horizons is definitely an experiment, and I’m still not sure what to think of it. It obviously wasn’t a reprint set like I thought, but I still managed to predict 31/247 correct (and 44/247 counting shifts), but a lot of those were generic things like “Big Spell” that almost certainly were going to hit, but I did hit things like the Urza’s Rage downgrade (and I should have been less afraid of using M25 reprints). It did get me to reinstall MTGO on my new computer at least, which has to count for something. Since Wizards doesn’t like to post Treasure Chest changes in advance anymore apparently, you’ll see me next for Magic 2020.