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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jun 16 2021 12:00pm
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Modern Horizons 2 feels like it’s too much of a good thing in some instances. The original Modern Horizons took things up to 11, but since we’re in the FIRE era, things need to be pushed another notch. There are even more mechanics, and everything is another level of powerful, though somehow it doesn’t seem like there’s as much obviously broken stuff (outliers like Ignoble Hierarch and Grief aside). Of course, you’re here for the Limited stuff—I’m a little late as you might expect (I can’t hammer out an article with 24 hours notice anymore), but it’s still the Limited Review you’d expect.

 

Mechanics:

Obviously I’m not going to cover every mechanic in the set, or we’d be here all day. Instead, I’m going to focus on the unusual ones or the ones that play a major role in the set.

 

Madness:

It’s been a while since this discard-centric mechanic has been fully unchained, as the Shadows over Innistrad iteration was a bit neutered. The key is to balance your discard enablers and Madness payoffs, and it seems like there’s a good balance of both in the set.

 

Modular:

It’s been a while since this counter-centric mechanic has taken center stage in a set—the only other Modular card outside of original Mirrodin was Scrapyard Recombiner in the first Modern Horizons. This mechanic is deceptively powerful—compare it to Graft, and this gives you both the creature and the eventual counter to pass around (and then pass around again if you put it on another Modular creature). The other trick is that there are a lot of ways to sacrifice artifacts in the set, so you can attack with multiple Modular creatures, let some get blocked, then pile all the counters onto one creature that gets through, though obviously that’s risky into open mana. Don’t let the failure of Star Pupil and Spiteful Squad in Strixhaven bias you away from similar cards like Arcbound Mouser.

 

Delirium:

Delirium is a tricky mechanic to build around since you have to balance enablers, payoffs, as well as cards of the various types in general. However, Modern Horizons 2 seems well set up for it. In particular artifact is nice between the artifact dual lands and Millikin. The basic land cyclers also help a lot (there’s a reason why Battle Plan is an enchantment) and a bunch of discard outlets are a catch-all.

 

Flashback-likes:

Magic has made a lot of Flashback-analogs in its history, and Modern Horizons 2 uses essentially all of them, with mechanics like Unearth, Eternalize, and Aftermath making an appearance. Both sides of the cost equation are interesting, as the expensive back-half is still good as a free card, while the cheaper back-half is something to consider cheating into play.

 

The “New to Modern” Slot:

While this is essentially the same as the Mystical Archive slot, there are some major differences, especially for Limited. Since all the uncommons were Standard-legal spells, their intersection with the main set came mostly by chance (Cultivate for Quandrix and Village Rites for Witherbloom) and by being spells, and otherwise they were mostly utility. However, since “new for Modern” is a very loose restriction, uncommons like Seal of Removal, Skirge Familiar, Yavimaya Elder, Extruder, and Millikin can directly tie into archetypes, while the reprints focused on Modern legality are at higher rarities. Just keep in mind that the Modern Horizons 1 reprints are not going to be in normal boosters, so they’re completely irrelevant for Limited.

 

Two-Color Archetypes:

White/Blue: Artifacts Matter

This is essentially a combination of the two Mirrodin sets, as Affinity for Artifacts combines with a lot of colored artifacts for a high artifact density (as a card like Ethersworn Sphinx can be an artifact and have Affinity without eventually becoming free and breaking things). There are also a lot of cards that make multiple artifacts at once like Barbed Spike, Sweep the Skies, and Liquimetal Torque. The main question I have is if you want to play UW, or splash a card like Ethersworn Sphinx in another color pair. Chrome Courier is going to have to do a lot of work, and while I think it can, the deck feels like it’s the uncomfortable middle-ground between aggro and control that doesn’t fare as well in high-powered sets like Modern Horizons.

 

Blue/Black: Self-Discard/Graveyard Value

This archetype seems self-explanatory, but the way it’s pitched is weird. The traditional goal for this archetype is to get cards in your graveyard that have value there, like Clattering Augur and the Flashback-likes. However, the signpost Lazotep Chancellor and other cards like Gilt-Blade Prowler wants you to use Madness enablers (including the blue ones like Aeromoeba) to get them there, but we’re not sure how good that is. Instead, the self-mill cards like Millikin and Sinister Starfish are a better way to get them there without spending cards, but there aren’t that many self-mill enablers. This deck seems interesting, but I’m worried about how slow it is, especially since it gets splash damage from hate against a bunch of other decks (notably the graveyard hate for Reanimator).

 

Black/Red: Madness

We’re finally back to a deck we’re used to seeing, and it has the most “normal” cards. On one hand, enablers like Cabal Initiate, Skirge Familiar, Bone Shards, and Fodder Tosser are great enablers, but the Madness creatures like Kitchen Imp, Hell Mongrel, and Skophos Reaver are relatively “normal” for a superpowered set like this. The point of this archetype is to be super-aggro (with Rakdos Headliner as the obvious example) and will probably work early in the format, but not necessarily once the slower decks get better.

 

Red/Green: Storm/Ramp

Storm is always an interesting archetype, but it seems like a trap here. On one hand, the enablers are clearly here, with Rift Sower, Faithless Salvaging, Strike It Rich, Goblin Anarchomancer, and Brainstone just to name a few. On the other, the main Storm spells are Chatterstorm, Galvanic Relay, and Hunting Pack, with Spreading Insurrection as an interesting option, and none of those are standouts on the level of Empty the Warrens where casting it for 4 is a game-winning play. You have other payoffs like Captain Ripley Vance and Arcbound Tracker, but it doesn’t seem like you’ll get anywhere without rares. Instead, it seems like this deck should play like a more traditional ramp deck, playing off the strength of Rift Sower, Terramorph, and Road/Ruin to either play a bunch of good rares or just be the five-color deck.

 

Green/White: +1/+1 Counters

Another traditional archetype, but this has the entire history of Magic to draw from. The main angle this version takes is getting triggers off placing counters on creatures, and cards like Constable of the Realm, Knighted Myr, and Herd Baloth being very efficient. There are also a ton of great counter enablers, whether it’s the primary purpose (Unbounded Potential is an instant), an added rider (Captured By Lagacs and Smell Fear are your great removal spells no one else wants), or an option on a versatile card (all three Reinforce cards seem great, even in non-GW decks—you will die to Wren's Run Hydra). This seems like a good midrange deck, though the removal might be too good to get truly nutty.

 

White/Black: Reanimator

Reanimator decks are always difficult, as they generally rely on rares and mythics, and here it’s even more so (as enablers like Unmarked Grave and Persist are there in addition to the big creatures). At the lower rarities the main enablers are Sinister Starfish, Vile Entomber and some of the discard outlets, while the main big creatures are Glorious Enforcer, Soul of Migration, and Archfiend of Sorrows. The key are the reanimation spells, which are Late to Dinner at common and Young Necromancer and Graceful Restoration at uncommon (and Scour the Desert kinda counts). I certainly don’t want to be in this deck with just lower-rarity cards, but there more than enough broken rares and mythics (because they pushed this deck to 11 in hopes of getting it in Modern for some reason) that it should be possible to draft.

 

Blue/Red: Delirium

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Delirium, and it’s in the complete opposite colors it was primary in in Shadows over Innistrad block. As such, instead of focusing on self-mill, it’s a bit of discard, a bit of sacrifice, and a bunch of cards with strange types—Storm God's Oracle only makes sense in this context, and Mount Velus Manticore is one of the strangest common designs I’ve ever seen. However, between the large number of both enchantment and artifact creatures and getting the most value out of the removal in the set (sure, everyone wants Unholy Heat and Shattered Ego, but they’re clearly at their best here, along with Mine Collapse and Lightning Spear), this seems like a great archetype, even before you consider the insane value of Prophetic Titan. The one concern is that everyone wants your best cards and you get the splash damage from the graveyard hate, but that shouldn’t be too big a deal (especially when people realize Unholy Heat is likely weaker than you’d think in a format where everything is pushed).

 

Black/Green: Sacrifice/Squirrel Tribal

This is a strange design, even before you consider it’s the return of a classic creature type. At its heart it’s essentially a Saproling deck, but it doesn’t have nearly as many ways to create a bunch of tokens. Sure, Drey Keeper, Chatterstorm, and Underworld Hermit create a bunch in one shot, but the only repeatable token creatures are Scurry Oak (which this deck will have difficulty triggering more than once or twice) and Squirrel Sanctuary (the clear build-around for this deck, but it seems a bit clunky to use for value rather than combos). Black gives you some good removal, and this is the deck best set up to use Echoing Return, but it seems like an uphill battle.

 

Red/White: Artifact Aggro

As I mentioned earlier, it’s been a long time since Modular was the focal point of a set—Darksteel only went bigger than Modular 1 at 4 or more mana for a reason, and while colored artifacts make up some of the ground, keep in mind a single artifact creature doubles a Modular creature’s power when you look at something like Arcbound Prototype. Of course that snowballs when you have more Modular creatures, and then you get into sacrifice tricks with cards like Slag Strider and Foundry Helix to put counters on a Thopter from Barbed Spike, a Monoskelion, or even just an unblocked attacker. The deck seems good on raw card quality, but if you learn the tricks (or played Darksteel back in the day), you’re going to blow out all of your opponents who haven’t done the same kind of studying.

 

Green/Blue: Tokens

This is such an interesting design for a wild set like Modern Horizons, combining creatures tokens and artifact tokens to care about cards like (Glimmerbairn:MH2). However, this archetype seems bad on pure card quality. The main creature tokens are 0/3 Crabs and 1/1 Squirrels, to go along with Food, Treasure, and Clues, with a couple uncommons giving you 4/4 Beasts. It’s just that the cards seem slow (Combine Chrysalis, Floodhound), difficult to use (Fae Offering), and/or are an awful rate (Specimen Collector, Sanctuary Raptor). Junk Winder and some rares are the reason to be in the archetype, but beyond that the key is going to be Glimmerbairn and/or Ravenous Squirrel (even without a black splash), which could be explosive, but they’re ultimately one-power creatures without a lot of help. I hope I’m wrong and this deck is good, but it doesn’t seem like it.

 

Three-Color+ Archetypes:

Again, like with the mechanics, I’m not going to cover every combo, just the ones that have obvious synergies.

 

Grixis (Blue/Black/Red): Discard Value

All three of the graveyard-centric decks work well together, as discard is a good way to get a surprise Delirium effect. This is one of the better three-color archetypes, and one I expect to see a lot.

 

Jeskai (Red/White/Blue): Full Artifacts

Unlike with the graveyard decks, the three artifact decks don’t work nearly as well together, since white/blue is closer to a control deck while red/white is a pure aggro deck. If you get the right rares, or are splashing something like a Ethersworn Sphinx in a red/white deck it could work, but not that often.

 

Sultai (Green/Blue/Black): Token Sacrifice

This isn’t as much a full three-color deck, as it is a black splash into a tokens deck for some of the gold Squirrel cards and/or some removal. This could work, but there aren’t that many of the average black cards that green/blue desires.

 

Five-Color: Converge

Beyond a full set of duals and a bunch of five-mana fixers to play all the broken rares, the main reason to play five-color is to take full advantage of the cycle of Converge cards. The problem is that for most of them you aren’t getting that much value for going all-in, other than Glinting Creeper and Radiant Epicure, and to a lesser extent Sweep the Skies (but that will be taken by white/blue naturally, since it’s in the market for UUW create two Thopters). Again, the fixers mean the deck is obviously there, but you need rare support to get there.

 

Other Important Cards:

To start, since artifacts and enchantments are such a big part of the set, anything that interacts with them is worth considering, whether it’s a one mana 1/1 (Angelic Curator), a below average Naturalize (Crack Open), or an expensive repeatable Shatter (Gorilla Shaman—keep in mind it kills Clues, Food, and Treasure for a single mana each). The removal also isn’t as widespread “good” as you would expect, as while cards like soul_Snare.html">Soul Snaresoul_Snare.jpg" alt="" />, Shattered Ego, Bone Shards, and Unholy Heat are near the tops of their class, others like Lens Flare, Flay Essence, Smell Fear, and Terminal Agony aren’t as good as you would think given the rest of the set. Finally, when power is as easy to come by as it is in this set, make sure to value consistency, whether it’s through the basic land cyclers, dual lands, or even Ornithopter of Paradise (which has a lot of sneaky synergies since it’s an evasive artifact).

 

Conclusion:

Modern Horizons 2 isn’t the only set to bring a bunch of new cards into an eternal format, as Historic Anthology V may be nearly as important to Historic. While the Praetors don’t do much other than add Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as a possible reanimation target, the Dragons of Tarkir commands are much more important, both for Historic and for clearing out a big cycle of Pioneer rares. Pioneer also gets Reverse Engineer (as apparently catching up on cards the remasters forgot is now a trend), Whirler Rogue (a great way to get that card out of Limited, though I doubt it would be too good in a Pioneer Masters context), and Grisly Salvage (another gold card that’s easy to cut from a Masters set). Now if Pioneer Masters can just escape development hell and launch later this year. As for me, the next article will probably be for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Until then.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter