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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Mar 13 2019 1:00pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Modern Musings!  A major announcement was made recently about a new set called Modern Horizons.  Modern Horizons is going to be a set of reprints and new cards.  All of the cards will be new to Modern and the cards will be Modern playable but skip Standard playability, which in theory opens up some higher powered design space for Wizards.  It also means that the reprints are going to pre-8th Edition cards or cards printed in supplemental sets like Commander, Conspiracy or Battlebond.

MH1 Logo

THE CONCEPT

The idea of a set of all new cards for Modern with the goal of providing new toys specifically for the Modern format for me is both a tantalising and slightly frightening prospect.  Let's discuss why:

The Pros

Well the first positive is that everyone loves new cards.  The average Standard set probably adds a handful of cards that are likely to impact Modern at best and even then a lot of those won't cut it long term.  Having a set that is catered towards Modern is liable to make this set one of the most impactful sets on the format ever, provided everything goes as planned from Wizards perspective.

The second positive is that it allows Wizards to print cards for Modern without the constraints of a Standard legal set.  These days there are slightly more rules about what is acceptable in Standard than back in the day.  For example, it was decided a long time ago that Counterspell was too good for Standard and they haven't reprinted countermagic of its power level into Standard ever since.  Similar rules have been applied to fast mana, land destruction, reanimation spells and Stasis effects.  Now, there is a good reason for a lot of these rules.  For starters, any of these types of cards being really powerful in Standard heavily warps the format.   For seconds, these types of cards tend to lead games of Magic that aren't much fun.  However, in formats that are as powerful as Modern you might be able to loosen the reigns a little here and there.  Wizards are also free to print complex cards or one-off cards with mechanics that they aren't intending to revisit in Standard.

The third positive is that it allows Wizards to print cards that particularly address the problems of Modern.  Do we need a Humans only wrath effect?  Do we need better graveyard hate?  Wizards can now give us those answers without interfering with what is happening in Standard, or having to make it tie in with the flavour or mechanics of Standard.

The fourth positive is that it opens up the vault of Wizards designs that were too good for Standard.  Blake Rasmussen and Mark Heggun talked about printing the cards that they designed for Standard but judged to be too powerful.  Personally, I find the concept of seeing the pushed versions of cards with past mechanics or that just generally push the envelope quite intriguing.

The Cons

I have some misgivings about the idea of putting cards straight into Modern. 

Firstly, although the concept itself seems fine as a way of dealing with specific problems in the format it just seems like dangerous territory to me.  The design space of purposefully designing cards that are probably too powerful for Standard but powerful enough to impact Modern seems like a dangerous space.  Let's not forget that Wizards have broken Modern when they weren't trying to - see the Eldrazi Winter following Oath of the Gatewatch becoming legal.  Who knows what will happen when they make a really concerted effort?   There is a fine line between adding exciting cards and warping or breaking the format.  The line is a difficult one to tread because if the cards aren't strong enough they won't see play but if they are too powerful they may change the format for the worse.  The balancing act is not an easy one.

Particularly with this first set (assuming this will lead to further similar sets if successful) it seems likely that Wizards will want to push the product as much as possible so that the cards actually see play in Modern.  The questions is then: "What will be an acceptable level of success for the product?"  One new card seeing play in Modern, two, three, five, ten!?  Personally, I think it's just a bit dangerous to be printing cards into the format just for the sake of impacting it and if Wizards go too far they will end up banning the cards they have just printed (which is unlikely to go down well with anyone who just bought those cards).

The third argument against this approach is that Standard cards actually have a decent hit ratio, at least at the moment.  Arclight Phoenix has powered up an archetype to arguably be the best deck in the metagame, Fatal Push and Assasin's Trophy are some of the best removal spells in Modern and Skewer the Critics is seeing play in Burn decks.  Now perhaps that isn't the most rapid rate of change but it is evolving Modern.  Also, isn't that what's supposed to happen with non-rotating formats.  One of the attractions is that your old cards stay good and you can build one deck and play it for a long time.  If things had gotten really stale with recent Standard sets failing to have any impact I would understand the timing of this product more.

THE NEW CARDS

The Spoilers

Cabal Therapist
Cabal Therapist
Cabal Therapist is a call back to Cabal Therapy, which is a solid card in Legacy/Vintage.

For the hype, I actually don't think this card is all that good in Modern.  Therapist allows you to sacrifice a creature to Cabal Therapy but you can only do it once per turn and at a specific time during your turn.  If you play Therapist on Turn 1 you don't get to use it until the next turn and because you have to sacrifice at the beginning of your pre-combat main phase you have to sacrifice it to itself as you won't have any other creatures on the battlefield (short of playing Memnite or Ornithopter) and you will be doing it blind unless you have Peek to see your opponent's hand at instant speed.  Also, Gitaxian Probe is banned in Modern which is a great partner for Cabal Therapy.  Casting Cabal Therapy blind is never ideal unless you have a good idea of the threats your opponent might have.  

In theory, you can repeatedly Cabal Therapy your opponent using Bitterblossom tokens or something similar, which is undoubtedly a powerful thing to do.  However, for me it all seems a bit too slow.  You can also Cabal Therapy yourself to get cards in the graveyard but I think Insolent Neonate is a better card most of the time if you are intending to do that.  As such, despite being one-mana, Cabal Therapist is much more of a late game card.  I think Therapist is just too slow to be super impactful.

Serra
Serra the Benevolent
This is the first time Serra has appeared on her own card and she has been given a very flavourful planeswalker.

Serra AviarySerra AngelWorship

  • The +2 ability is seemingly a reference to Serra Aviary, giving a temporary anthem to your flying creatures.
  • The -3 creatures the famous Serra Angel, that is a 4/4 flying white angel with vigilance.
  • The -6 is the most interesting/dangerous part of the card as it allows you to create a Worship emblem.  This seems pretty frightening as there a lot of decks that just cannot deal with Worship, and a Worship effect that cannot be removed, destroyed or bounced is pretty threatening.

Sweet flavour aside, I actually think this card is pretty obnoxious.  It ultimates after one turn if untouched and then creates an emblem that makes it very difficult for the opponent to win the game.  A good number of decks probably just won't be able to beat the emblem once it's in place.  That said I still think it's a sideboard card for the most part as the Worship lock is unreliable.  In terms of current Modern decks that might be interested in Serra the Benevolent, really any deck that might have played Worship in the sideboard previously.  Decks like Bant Spirits and Bogles seem like frontrunners. 

THE REPRINTS

The other concept that the set brings is bringing cards into the format from before Modern legality that could shape the format differently.  People are talking about Legacy staples like Force of Will and Wasteland.  It's unclear what Wizards is looking at here as there are a number of options available in picking Legacy/Vintage cards for Modern playability:

  • Adding Legacy staples like Force of Will and Wasteland to make the format closer to Legacy
  • Adding the tried and tested cards from the Commander, Conspiracy and other additional sets
  • Adding lesser used Legacy/Vintage cards in the hope that Modern might make them viable again
  • Adding thematic or flavourful cards to make up gaps in Modern legality - e.g. Tribal synergies, unfinished cycles 

To tackle them individually:

The Legacy Staples

Force of WillForce of Will
Force of Will
Force is a defining card of Vintage and Legacy.  There is a lot of broken stuff that goes on in and Force is the check on those decks.  Force helps shut down wild combos and can be an emergency stop on your opponent's actions.  I think the thing with Modern is that, thanks to various bannings, those crazy combo decks aren't there and I don't feel the format is wild enough to justify bringing Force into the mix.

I suppose there is an argument that Force gives Control a chance in the format but I actually don't think Force is necessarily good for Control decks - it's best used aggressively to make up for the card disadvantage of casting it for free, so to protect early threats or a combo.  The other argument I guess is that Force can help break some of the sideboard reliance in Modern.  Due to the diversity in viable decks it's difficult to be prepared for everything and Force gives you that answer to all sorts of problems.  This argument really comes down to whether you value the diversity of Modern or you want to narrow the field of playable decks.

BrainstormBrainstorm
Brainstorm
Brainstorm is an extremely powerful draw spell and only gets more powerful when mixed with fetchlands that can shuffle cards away.  In a format where Ponder and Preordain are banned it's hard to justify putting an even more powerful one-mana draw spell into the format.

WastelandWasteland
Wasteland
Non-basic land hate tends to be a source of contention among Modern players.  There are those that hate Blood Moon and want it banned and others who love the card.  Having a check on non-basic lands, particularly things like the Tron lands, is something I think is important as there needs to be a way to interact with land-based strategies.  The argument against these is really the argument against land destruction generally; it can lead to what people like to refer to as 'non-games' where one player just cannot play anything.  I think Wasteland would be a fairly radical escalation in the power of non-basic land hate and would massively change the format.

I find it hard to believe that Wizards would be looking to reprint Wasteland into the format. 

Personally, I don't like the idea of making Modern into Legacy-lite because Modern is  its own format with its own distinguishing characteristics and features.  The fact that cards like Force, Daze, Brainstorm and Wasteland aren't in the format is part of what makes the formats distinct.  I don't object to the idea of bringing some cards that could have a positive impact into the format but top Legacy staples seems like a stretch too far.

The Not-So Distant Past

Ironically, a lot of the Legacy/Vintage staples that seem like they could have a positive impact on Modern are actually from relatively recent products, such as the Commander products.  In fact, that is probably one of the strongest arguments at the time for a straight to Modern product.  At the time of the first Commander product was produced it was decided the cards would not be Modern legal and just go into Legacy and Vintage. 

This was sort of a blessing and a curse.  As a blessing, we dodged some awkward mechanics that weren't really designed with 1-on-1 play in mind, such as Monarch and Will of the Council.  We also dodged some other potentially undesirable cards like True-Name Nemesis.  On the other hand, we missed out on Scavenging Ooze until it was finally printed into Standard in M14.  We have also missed out on Containment Priest, which I will discuss more below.  Those cards are strong hate cards that provide answers to real problems of the format and I think it's only right that they make their way into the format eventually.

Containment Priest
Containment Priest
As I have already mentioned, I think this is type of card that we have missed out on from not having the Commander sets go into Modern.  Containment Priest is an answer to a lot of the most powerful decks in Modern.   It answers Arclight Phoenix, Bloodghast, Prized Amalgam, creatures put into play with AEther Vial and Collected Company and could potentially help bring some balance to the format.  There is some risk that it just makes Humans a lot better, given the tribal synergy, but given it is symmetrical it also turns off your AEther Vial and Collected Company which brings some balance.  For me this card, or some variant on its ability, should be in the format to prevent all the creatures that are being cheated into play.

Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Leovold offers another interesting option for Modern.  As I don't really play any of the formats Leovold is legal in I'm not as clued into his power level as others but I have heard he is very powerful.  Neutering draw spells for your opponent while also being a source of card draw himself, Leovold could be a very nice card and one that pushes Sultai colours in ways that haven't been overly explored in Modern.

Baleful Strix
Baleful Strix
This is a creature that people seem to be getting excited for.  It's an interesting one as it's hard to say the card it truly overpowered but at the same time it does give enormous value.  It's the sixth most played creature in Legacy at the time of writing, so it's definitely doing something right.  I mean in reality it's a cantrip that leaves a pseudo removal spell on the battlefield which is pretty great.

I think the potential problem with Strix is that although it might help against Hollow One and Death's Shadow decks; the current scourges of the format just don't really care about it that much.  Dredge and the Izzet Phoenix decks just aren't too concerned about the deathtouch flyer.  As such you end up punishing the fairer decks of the format, like Jund, while having a minimal effect on the current top decks.  Additionally, as an artifact creature, Strix is another tool for Whir of Invention decks, which also don't tend to be doing fair things.

I could be way off on this and it would be interesting to see how Strix would play but it feels like it's on the borderline of being appropriate for inclusion.

Shardless Agent
Shardless Agent
Shardless Agent is another option for Modern, given that it no longer a popular option in Legacy.  Bloodbraid Elf returned to the format as actually doesn't see a ton of play at the moment so it's possible that Shardless Agent is a same reprint.  I think one of the biggest problems with Shardless Agent is its creature type.  Being a Human makes this an amazing addition for the Humans deck and might be the type of card that would push that deck back to the top of the format.  That's not to mention the potential Cascade shenanigans that might be possible.  I think Shardless Agent is probably a little bit too dangerous for Modern in its current state.

The Underachievers

Here I want to look at cards that while not Legacy or Vintage staples are potentially powerful enough to have an interesting impact on the format.  These seem like the most viable reprints from my perspective.  Calling them 'Underachievers' is perhaps a little harsh but I just mean they are not current Legacy staples.

This group of cards is potentially huge but I will just cover a few notable cards that I think are viable:

CounterspellCounterspell
Counterspell
A lot of people are talking about Counterspell as a potential reprint option.  This does seem like a viable option and one that I don't hate.  There are already cards similar to Counterspell in the format, such as Mana Leak and Logic Knot.  Moreso, countermagic isn't really seeing a lot of play in Modern at present so an attempt to revive it would be fairly welcome.  While Counterspell would be a considerable step up in power level it still comes with some mana restraints.  Considering the other crazy stuff that is going on in the format, adding Counterspell to the format seems acceptable.  It's possible that it won't even be that good.

So far, Counterspell is the card that seems like the biggest slam dunk for the set.  I would actually be surprised if it wasn't in the set at this point.

VindicateVindicate
Vindicate
Vindicate is another card that seems very viable for Modern.  It is a very versatile removal spell, which can destroy planeswalkers, lands, artifacts and enchantments.  However, at 3-mana and sorcery speed it's far from overpowered in the format.  Wizards have printed a 'fixed' version of Vindicate in the form of Anguished Unmaking but it never caught on in Modern.  I think Vindicate is a safe reprint while also potentially providing a boost for Orzhov, Abzan, Esper and Mardu decks, that could use the love in the current metagame.

Nimble MongooseNimble Mongoose
Nimble Mongoose
Nimble Mongoose was once a staple of RUG Delver decks in Legacy but has since fallen out of favour.  A one-mana untargetable threat that grows with your graveyard is a powerful option but not one that seems too powerful for Modern.  I actually fear that Mongoose might just not have much of an impact at all, as I think it's substantially worse in Modern than it is in Legacy, where you can cast it on Turn 1 and sit back on your mana denial, in the form of Wasteland, and free counterspells to just let it win the game. 

The Thematic & Flavourful

There is a trove of cards that would love to be partnered with their Modern legal counterparts, either for thematic or flavour reason.

Goblin LackeyQuirion RangerRiptide Laboratory

There are tribes that have cards that are just outside of reach of Modern playability.  Elves and Goblins probably have the most exciting cards to try and lay claim to.  Obviously some of these cards are better than others and more likely to make an impact than others but there are a lot of tribes that could be powered up by the inclusion of pre-Modern staples.  Perhaps, any tribal additions could also be tempered by the addition of a card like Engineered Plague to the format.

Astral SlideForgotten CaveDeep Analysis

There are cards that defined mechanics that have since been returned to in Modern legal sets, such as cycling, kicker and flashback.  These mechanics are well understood and could add something worthwhile to the existing cardpool.  Personally, I would love to see a card like Astral Slide in Modern as it's a fun build-around card that might be able to do some interesting things with the newer cycling cards.

UndermineMana TitheCunning Wish
There are unfinished cycles in Modern or card pairings that could be matched for completeness.   For example, Absorb is now Modern legal but it's Dimir counterpart Undermine isn't Modern legal. There also the strange cards, primarily from Time Spiral Block, that call back to cards that aren't Modern legal.  So, for example, Mana Tithe is Modern legal but the original Force Spike isn't.  Glittering Wish is an addition to the Judgment Wish Cycle but none of the other Wish cards are legal.

OTHER RESOURCES

Everyone is talking about Modern Horizons at the moment so I thought I would point you towards more content if you are looking to hear more about the possibilities:

CONCLUSIONS

I started off very skeptical about Modern Horizons but the more I think about it the more I am coming around to the idea and getting excited for it.  There is a lot of room for cool new and old cards to enter the Modern cardpool an d I am hopeful that it will be a net positive for the format.  I think the presence of Cabal Therapist shows that they thought Cabal Therapy might be too powerful for the format, which means I am optimistic they will get the power level right for this product.

There are tons of possibilities for this product and it will be very interesting to see how it plays out when the time comes.  Fingers crossed it all works out well and I look forward to finding out in June.

What do you think of Modern Horizons?  What cards would you like to see reprinted?  Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)

10 Comments

The chances of a new by Paul Leicht at Tue, 03/19/2019 - 18:16
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The chances of a new vindicate seem pretty good though I honestly don't know how good it would be in modern now. I think removal and cards like that are much easier to speculate on than combo enablers and cards that on the surface seem innocent but could have huge impact like Lackey.

I expect the new cards to be "fixed" variants on older cards rather than older cards themselves. Which could lead to more stimulating game play or no impact at all but probably little game breaking stuff happening.

As I said in my reply to your other comment, welcome back!

I think Vindicate is pretty by JXClaytor at Tue, 03/19/2019 - 20:11
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I think Vindicate is pretty reasonable for modern.

The sorcery speed though... by Paul Leicht at Tue, 03/19/2019 - 20:45
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The sorcery speed though...

Yes, I am inclined to agree by olaw at Thu, 03/21/2019 - 08:14
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Yes, I am inclined to agree that Vindicate is unlikely to have a massive impact on the format. More likely it will appears as a 1-of, 2-of in Abzan/Mardu type decks but none of those are prominent players in the format at the moment and I don't think Vindicate changes that.

That's part of the problem with looking at the Legacy cards. I am probably too conservative but I fear some of the other options might be too warping or drag the format in an unfavourable direction. I guess we will see.

I too expect to see more Cabal Therapist type throwbacks in Modern Horizons, it just depends on whether the 'fixing' makes them too weak.

Vindicate won't be in by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 03/22/2019 - 06:08
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Vindicate won't be in Horizons because it destroys lands, and WotC is very wary about that. In fact, it would basically only see play in LD decks, as the Golgari removal outclasses it. (Speaking of which, maybe Pernicious Deed could show up. Modern already has very similar sweepers).

Similarly, Counterspell is a big no because two-mana hard countermagic doesn't belong in Modern. If that were available, a cubic ton of other counterspells would instantly become obsolete. Why even bother with Cryptic Command when you can run Counterspell? The card advantage is offset by the tempo advantage. Why even try to make Wizard's Retort work when you can use the always-two-mana version?
Counterspell is just too iconic of an earlier era when cards, and especially blue spells, had excessively low CMC.

Also, are we even checking the reserved list here? There's a lot of otherwise harmless jank in there, which Modern Horizons won't have access to.

Stone Rain also destroys by JXClaytor at Fri, 03/22/2019 - 08:07
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Stone Rain also destroys lands and is only played in ld decks!

:D

I think that's part of the by olaw at Fri, 03/22/2019 - 09:29
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I think that's part of the point of the set though. As mentioned in my article they are looking to break some of their rules. The reason Vindicate has not been reprinted in Standard is that it destroys lands but in Modern I don't think it's nearly as oppressive. An additional copy of Stone Rain isn't breaking the format and LD strategies haven't performed well generally in a format with such a low mana curve.

I think Counterspell is the card that most personifies what they have been saying about cards they would not print in Standard. It's too good for Standard and it's an improvement on Modern's available options but I don't think it's oppressive in the format. The fact it invalidates other options doesn't seem like a good argument, particularly if those other options hardly see play. Countermagic generally isn't prominent in Modern because it's not good enough. Also, I would definitely play Cryptic alongside my Counterspells as the bounce, tap and draw options are all very relevant.

I think Wizards wants to print old cards that will have an impact on Modern and Counterspell at least has that potential. If they play too safe then I don't think anything will change.

But that's sort of my point by Kumagoro42 at Sat, 03/23/2019 - 11:43
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But that's sort of my point about Vindicate. It will do nothing for the format, except pushing someone to try a not very successful Mardu LD deck that'll only cause mild annoyance. So why bother? The only upside I can think of is, it's a recognizable card with some history that can cause some (misplaced) hype. But I'm more of the opinion that, barring some groundbreaking addition they think it'll be beneficial to the format, they'll want to keep Modern as "clean" as possible template-wise, and the current guidelines are: "targeted permanent destruction can't affect lands, unless it replaces them". Why give Modern a card with an obsolete wording that breaks a design rule if that doesn't improve the meta in any significant way?

Same goes for Counterspell, IMO. I still think Counterspell breaks the design rules of modern Magic (therefore of Modern magic) where countermagic is concerned, so they won't want it around in the Modern meta. It's not strictly about power level, it's that in the Modern era, this kind of spell ceased to exist, so it'd be counterintuitive to bring it back this way. The notable exception to this concept is Lightning Bolt, which I'm sure caused a lot of internal debate (the flavor text for the M10 reprint was a hint); but we saw later that they don't mind printing more and more Bolt-like spells (still, I'm pretty sure Chain Lightning won't be in Modern Horizons).

There's also an argument that adding to Modern cards that are very iconic of an older era sort of endangers its identity. The more the game keeps going (and it doesn't seem to be dying anytime soon), the more the cards on the outside of Modern are going to become a smaller and smaller minority. So they need to be clearly defined, they need to matter. Or the end result a few years down the line might be for Legacy to not have any purpose anymore.

I still think Vindicate by olaw at Sat, 03/23/2019 - 18:51
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I still think Vindicate provides a versatile removal spell for Orzhov-coloured decks, though admittedly not one that will have a massive impact on the format. I think templating for cards in Modern isn't very principled as is given the fairly arbitrary start of the format - Modern cardframes doesn't reflect an ethos or card design change. I think the point Wizards was making in announcing Modern Horizons is that the rules for Standard sets don't have to apply to Modern and long term probably shouldn't. I'm not sure that clean templating for Modern cards quite exists outside of Wizards view of what the colour pie should be at any given time and it's clear in that space of time that this is something that has changed.

I also don't think they would open up the idea of Legacy/Vintage reprints into Modern if they weren't looking to put something powerful from pre-Modern legality into the format. The cards that are likely to make an impact break the rules of modern Magic and that's precisely why I think we will see them. As I said in my article I would be incredibly surprised not to see Counterspell in this set.

The argument in the last paragraph is probably a strong argument for Wizards not to be putting any pre-Modern reprints in the set at all. I don't really have a strong feeling about that. There are some cool cards that I would like to play with but I don't think will be super impactful, like Astral Slide. Alternatively, I think there are a number of cards that might be format warping or overpowered. It's a fine balance but I can see why they want to tap into this nostalgia. Personally I think cards like Counterspell and Vindicate tow that line pretty nicely, whereas Force, Wasteland, Hymn to Tourach don't.

Yeah, it's interesting how we by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 03/22/2019 - 06:25
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Yeah, it's interesting how we typically say that any Standard set only provides a handful of cards to Modern at best, and yet right now, the three most successful decks in the Modern meta don't merely incorporate, but are pretty much *based* around cards that are Standard legal at the same time (Arclight Phoenix, Skewer the Critics/Light Up the Stage, Creeping Chill), and in two cases those are cards that define Standard decks built much in the same way. And that's without even noting how Assassin's Trophy is essentially more of a Modern card than a Standard card.

But I, for one, like that now we'll have three different channels to get cards into the game (one passing through Standard, one through Modern, one through Legacy), rather than just two.

I think the largest source of Modern Horizons reprints are going to be the Commander, Conspiracy and Battlebond products. Lots of cards were printed there that didn't necessarily exceeded the Modern power level and should be salvaged. Out of your examples, Containment Priest seems to me the most likely, because it follows the same route as Scavenging Ooze (in fact, the Ooze is actually stronger because it sees maindeck play, the Priest would just be a sideboard option). We should also look at finishers in the mold of Hornet Queen, and especially planeswalkers. Like, why shouldn't Dack Fayden be in Modern? Or many of the most build-around ones, although extraneous rule texts like "can be your commander" might be a concern, just to avoid confusion for new players with rules that are present on the card and yet have no effect both in Modern and the Limited environment.