The bars are opening, and with them, certain among the FNM registry’s many stinky basements. In other words, it’s officially Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, well, it’s time to start: Modern Horizons 2 is fully spoiled as of yesterday! On that note, I’m thrilled to welcome you, fellow Modern fanatic, to the first of three consecutive articles forming a comprehensive look at the many playables in the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering set (or, dare I say… of all time?!).
Home is where the heart is, so today’s segment focuses on the Modern decks both revitalized by and spurred into being thanks to the new printings. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the more generic support (and, of course, hate) printed to support or reign in different playstyles. And on Saturday, I’ll unveil my picks for the top five best cards in the set.
Besides just “helping Dredge,” Modern Horizons 2 will create some brand-new strategies in the format. There are plenty of great cards here, but not all of them have a home… yet!
Let’s get the least impressive new deck out of the way first: Tokens. The payoffs introduced in Modern Horizons 2 are among the weakest in the set (exception: Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer), but I’d wager the potential synergies are charming enough to tempt players into building towards them.
Lonis, Cryptozoologist: Lonis investigates whenever a creature enters the battlefield, which isn’t the toughest condition to meet. With that being said, it’s a lot harder than existing options (see below). Where the Legend really shines is with its tap ability, which converts those many clues, formerly mana sinks, into mana and card advantage, flipping the script on their usefulness and letting players cast an opponent’s cards for free.
Fae Offering: Generating one of each token is exactly where those serious about this archetype will want to be. Given Modern’s wealth of versatile options, including Mishra’s Bauble, Manamorphose, Noble Hierarch, and the like, it won’t be too tough to meet Offering’s condition on most turns, turning this unassuming enchantment into a potentially value-laden enabler.
Academy Manufactor: Um, let’s start over: generating three of each token is exactly where those serious about this archetype will want to be. Manufactor turns Fae Offering, and especially simpler set-up cards, into nightmares for opponents to dismantle; in other words, it gets the ball rolling big-time.
Existing options: Modern has its share of cards that play nice with these theme. I’d say best of all is the already-played Tireless Tracker, which combines with fetchlands to pump out a grip of clues. I wonder if Standard all-stars like Goldspan Dragon and Galazeth Prismari won’t be suitable payoffs here too, given their absurd potential when combined with these newer cards. Overall, though, the token theme strikes me as a little cute and a little durdly, and if it comes to be, will be floated mostly by Ragavan.
Up next is a carry-over from Legacy, although Enchantments is less of a Legacy deck than ever. What better time than now to port it over to Modern, and with some new toys to boot?
Sterling Grove: The first reprint on our list, Grove gives players access to a toolbox element, and as we know there’s no shortage of surgical enchantments in Modern. That means Grove is something of a themed Demonic Tutor, and it also provides the buff of granting shroud to important pieces in a lockdown. At two mana, it’s sure to be a staple in the deck, at least in its early stages.
Enchantress’s Presence: Another reprint, Presence is the classic draw engine for Enchantress decks, taking its name from Argothian Enchantress (at this time, still not in Modern). At two mana, this one is sure to be a staple in the deck well into its old age. When Presence stops being good, the deck itself stops being good. And yeah, this is the hyper-aggressive, hyper-punishing Modern, so that may or may not be out of gate.
Sanctum Weaver: At last, a newbie! Weaver is Serra’s Sanctum on legs, with the added benefit of making any color mana. Of course, Sanctum is much better, as it costs no mana and can’t be Bolted; Modern may well be on its way to becoming Legacy-lite, but not without the caveat of Wizards deciding which cards to exclude from the format. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Sanctum and its cycle-mates Gaea’s Cradle and Tolarian Academy (okay, this last one is banned even from Legacy).
Sythis, Harvest’s Hand: And here’s our Argothian Enchantress retrain! I’d say losing shroud in Modern definitely hurts more than the lifegain helps, but we can’t call this two-mana Nymph quite a strictly-worse version. In multiples, that life gain will surely add up into a win a nonzero percentage of the time.
Existing options: I can see some of these cards finding their way into Bogles; for example, Presence is a lot more appealing than the Bolt-able Kor Spiritdancer in some instances, and may at least inspire a split. The newer Omen of the Sea seems incredible in a deck that’s all-in on casting enchantments, and since that and Abundant Growth already see play in the high-volume Yorion decks, there may even be an 80-deck Enchantments deck on the horizon. Those one-mana enchantments (Utopia Sprawl too) play especially nice with these newer payoffs.
New deck? Affinity? New deck? That’s right, folks: since the Mox Opal ban, Affinity is nowhere to be found, by and large replaced (if half-assedly so) by Hardened Scales. And if you really want to get real, Affinity was never really real Affinity anyway, at most points featuring zero cards with the word itself even printed on them. So yes, Affinity. New deck.
Thought Monitor: Thoughtcast on a body. That makes this something of a draw three, with the extra mana cost being channeled directly into one of the cards, itself always a 2/2 flier. Good enough indeed, as Monitor both affects the board and draws into more gas.
Ethersworn Sphinx: Cascade is a lot better than draw 2. Right? Right…? Well, maybe not! In the build of post-MH2 Affinity I’ve been seeing pop up in casual online rooms, Sphinx tends to cascade into a mana rock or an Ornithopter. After all, the deck is mostly made up of cheap enablers. The value is still potentially there, and it does replace itself at worst. But I anticipate the main draw to Sphinx will be the slight velocity it provides (you might as well be drawing most of the time) and the massive 4/4 flying body.
Existing options: I mean, you know them—Ornithopter, Memnite, Frogmite. The decklist practically writes itself. The tuning is where things will start to get interesting: Chromatic Star & company, or no? Dispatch vs. Glavanic Blast? Do we run Sphinx at all? How about them tapped artifact lands? Uh… can Wizards unban Seat of the Synod already?! Is Cranial Plating even worth casting in 2021? (jk.)
Then there are decks that already exist in Modern, and that Wizards graciously decide to throw a freakin’ bone here to. Among these are fan-favorites like Merfolk, fan-most-hateds such as Suspend, and domain & delirium, a pair of mechanics that have occasionally centralized deckbuilding choices for other strategies.
Tide Shaper: Shaper is a one-drop and Spreading Seas all in one, with players being given the option to kick it for a mana extra and have what’s effectively a Spreading Seas on legs. That’s mana disruption and islandwalk enabling on a cheap body. I don’t think it’ll necessarily be a toss-up as to whether to run Shaper and Dockhand, either, as the two abilities play very well with one another; Dockhand can tie up the opponent’s remaining colored mana while Shaper and friends crash into the Island across the board. The land is freed should Shaper die, but that drawback seems quite minimal compared to the upside of running 4.
Svyelun of Sea and Sky: This card doesn’t look much like a Merfolk at all, at least in terms of strategic cohesion. But that’s okay with me, and potential Svyleun’s strength: it gives the deck a desperately needed Plan B. Unlike Merfolk’s other threats, Svyelun is perfectly fine to be on the battlefield by itself, and indeed threatens to walk away with games unmolested; indeed, I even saw one out of UW Control the other day. That means potential to claw back into games and defeat board stalls, something Merfolk has traditionally sucked at. And it’s not like Svyleun is bad in Merfolk itself: giving all your guys ward makes it considerably harder for opponents to dismantle the pumps-and-islandwalk synergies, incentivizing them to deal with this bulky bad boy first… and good luck with that, if it’s indestructible!
Up next is Suspend, a deck so named despite the rarity that it even casts its spells off said mechanic; rather, Suspend decks in Modern are more about cheating the cost via cascade or Electrodominance. These new cards either prop up the existing Suspend decks or give them access to entirely new dimensions.
Inevitable Betrayal: This one may find its way into all Suspend sideboards, as it can steal key creatures out of Tron or other big mana strategies. Wurmcoil Engine or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn sure beats making a pair of 4/4s off Crashing Footfalls, and potentially anything else the Suspend deck wants to be cheating.
Glimpse of Tomorrow: New dimension #1, and in my eyes the most likely to spur a new build into being. Glimpse wants players to commit a ton of permanents to the board (mana rocks, etc.) and then cheat out the title card to effectively cascade into Emrakul, Omnipotence, or whatever else. So it’s literally Warp World, an eight-mana sorcery that has seen Standard play at the heart of a similar deck. And cheating out a suspend spell is way easier than ramping into eight mana. Not to mention players can just pay two mana to lock it up for 3 turns, which will definitely win games from time to time.
Gaea’s Will: New dimension #2, Gaea’s Will is a retrain of Yawgmoth’s Will, one of the most broken spells ever printed. We may see Will at the heart of a Storm-esque deck with an Electrodominance package or even as a way to just generate a bunch of value in the mid-game for other Suspend decks. I’m the most excited about the possibilities with this one. Of course, it may also end up being a flop.
Resurgent Belief: New Dimension # 3: A suspended Replenish. Belief also has combo potential, albeit in a totally different kind of shell. This deck could run self-mill or enchantment Entombs to set up a lock, or even just tempo- or value-generating enchantments like Omen of the Sea and Seal of Removal, or perhaps a mix of both. An interesting thing about Belief is that its Suspend mode actually isn’t so much to ask, costing just two mana and charging two upkeeps before resolving, so it may see play without Electrodominance and the like to push it out early or on demand.
Domain & Delirium
Both of these mechanics have seen Modern play on the most powerful cards respectively featuring them: Tribal Flames; Traverse the Ulvenwald; Grim Flayer; Wild Nacatl; Tarmogoyf. Er… okay, so the last two technically lacked the keywords, but you get the idea. Since the mana is so good in Modern thanks to the fetch-shock norm, and delirium is relatively easy to splash thanks to enablers like Bauble and Manamorphose, all of these cards are liable to see some play, both in and out of dedicated decks.
Scion of Draco: Two mana for a 4/4 flier that gives all your creatures useful keywords? Talk about pushed. Players will need all five basic types to pull that off, but given that Tribal Flames has incentivized Zoo decks to splash every color as recently as last month, the strategy is far from dated, and players will absolutely make Draco work.
Territorial Kavu: This guy is amazing as well. Even better than Draco, if you ask me! Part of what makes Kavu so appealing is that it’s a terrific rate even without the full five basic land types, so four-color aggro decks can make good use of him, too. Still, it will definitely appear alongside Draco in revamped domain decks. It’s cheap, huge, and provides both card filtering and incidental graveyard hate. What’s not to love?
Dragon’s Rage Channeller: Which brings us to delirium. Four card types is a lot to ask on a Stage 1 creature, as I found out testing Gnarlwood Dryad in Delirium Zoo. But in a dedicated delirium aggro shell, Channeller may well support a cast that includes Dryad. It helps that Channeller provides not just card filtering, but graveyard dumps, and that it becomes a 3/3 flier, which is tremendous for the one-mana cost. My pick for best delirium card in MH2.
Bloodbraid Marauder: Flashier than Channeller, as it’s got Bloodbraid Elf‘s text box for half the cost. But keep in mind that delirium generally asks players to stuff their decks with air like Mishra’s Bauble, weakening the potential hits, and that Marauder can’t cascade into two- or three-drops, which will make the value it generates a lot lower on average than what Elf can come up with. Still, it should slot right into the delirium aggro deck.
Unholy Heat: The most splashable of the delirium spells, Heat kills a heck of a lot for one mana… provided players can meet its condition reliably. Six is a critical number in Modern, destroying the format’s biggest and baddest creatures (including Primeval Titan). In the meantime, 2 damage does snipe a fair bit.
The following cards are very likely includes in existing Modern decks, but won’t transform the archetype by any means. They’ll just soup it up a bit. In alphabetical order, because why not?
Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar: Hollow One, for which it’s essentially Wild Nacatl. And hey, searching up the The Underworld Cookbook seems fine to lock in a discard outlet. You can thank this card (whose name was also so long it screwed up the mana cost) for offsetting up my typeline, by the way. (Not that it wasn’t already doomed by my insistence on uploading images for every single new card.)
Damn: Black-heavy control and midrange with access to white. That means you, Esper Control! On power level: it’s past due Wrath of God received an upgrade. And black some no-questions-asked two-mana removal. Two birds with one stone.
Defile: Anything Swamp-heavy. 8-Rack? Urborg, welcome into the fold!
Esper Sentinel: Humans. Not very aggressive, so potentially a sideboard card, but extremely powerful a lot of the time, especially with built-in synergy to grow it. I’ve seen “Rhystic Buddy” thrown around as a potential nickname; co-sign.
Flame Rift: Burn. I will note that in this more-combo-oriented-than-Legacy Modern format, 4 damage to each player might not be optimal; in racing scenarios, it’s often less impressive than even Skullcrack, which provides a 3-point swing compared to Rift’s 0-point swing. (Lightning Helix is king in these scenarios, generating a 6-point swing; Helix-or-Rift metagames, anyone?)
Fractured Sanity: Mill.
Quirion Ranger: Elves.
Riptide Laboratory: Faeries as a one-of, and potentially other slow Wizards decks. These are generally Tier 3 or worse, but Laboratory will nonetheless find a place in them.
Shardless Agent: Suspend, but also random UGx midrange decks, and maybe Urza shells. This card will be find a ton of homes. Run with 4 Bloodbraid Elf for Modern Waterfalls, and with the new Bloodbraid Marauder for even more cascade giggles! (Or don’t, and that guy at your FNM will.)
Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp: Hardened Scales. Maybe Affinity, depending on how that shakes out.
These are very likely to see play in some capacity, but in newer shells, or in ways we haven’t yet seen. Reverse-alphabetical this time. U mad?
Verdant Command: Very competitive as a token generator, for the decks that want that kind of thing, including Transmogrify strategies. It does cost a card, but Command offers plenty of utility for those in the business of breeding Squirrels.
Upheaval: A Commander favorite sure to be built towards as a one-card combo finish. Likely to be fringe, in the same way that Blue Tron is fringe, but to nab a result here or there. For the Spikes scratching their heads, Upheaval‘s big ticket is that it also bounces lands, acting as a heavy-duty reset button.
Persist: Wizards didn’t just want us reanimating Griselbrand and Emrakul every time. But part of the reason Modern players love reanimating Griselbrand and Emrakul is that they’re actually targetable by the two-mana Goryo’s Vengeance. Persist opens many doors for reanimator strategies, and we may start to see some strategic variety among them, too, as they lean into midrange and ease up on their combo dimensions. I imagine Persist is attractive for Ghost Dad, for instance, but even moreso that it could create new Ghost Dad-type decks that aren’t themselves locked into reanimating Obzedat and Jace.
Kaldra Compleat: Gives Batterskull some competition in terms of juicy Stoneforge Mystic picks. I even ran into a fully-invested white build trying to slam these as fast as possible via not just Mystic, but Quest for the Holy Relic. And all because haste is Time Walk.
Imperial Recruiter: Now this is a high-profile reprint! Previously, Recruiter was going for hundreds of dollars based on Legacy demand alone. It really gets anything, and isn’t restricted to type like Goblin Matron, meaning this creature will see play in all the fish, value, or toolbox decks that could want it and are down to splash red.
Ignoble Hierarch: I’m itching to see the shells Ignoble Hierarch inspires. Mid-sized Jund aggro? Good ol’ Jund Rock, but with dorks? Who knows! All that’s for certain is that this evil (not to mention smelly) Noble Hierarch will see heaps of play.
General Ferrous Rokiric: Hexproof from monocolored spells means he’s immune to Bolt, Push, Path, and even Collected Brutality. Then he’s making huge bodies whenever a multicolored spell gets cast, including Manamorphose and, like, Burning-Tree Emissary. Oh, and Mantis Rider. Yeah, this guy’s a Human! Maybe he should be in Shoe-Ins…. or maybe he’ll helm a new multicolored aggro deck more focused on getting opponents dead than disrupting them. Think Voice of Resurgence and Siege Rhino. And Jegantha, the Wellspring!
Home for Christmas… in July… uh… June
Are these cards slotting into your Modern deck? That new Affinity got your gears turning? Or are you just waiting on that juicy (predictable?) Top 5? Let me know in the comments, and join me tomorrow for the second chapter of our comprehensive Modern Horizons 2 spoiler overview: role-players and hate!
Read Part 2 here.
Jordan is the copy and content editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies. He always brings tuned brews to events.