Hello everyone, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. I hope you all are enjoying your Memorial Day, and had a good weekend. Modern Horizons is…on the horizon…and while that pun was awful (even for my standards) a lot of people are excited. I will admit that I am not as hyped for the set like many others. However, I do want to take a few moments to review some of the highlights of week one of the previews.
Before we take a look at some of the cards coming up in the set, let’s take a look at what this set holds for us.
Modern Horizons is a supplemental booster product set similar to the Conspiracy sets and Battlebond, and is primarily made to draft. The cards in Modern Horizons will be legal for play in the Modern format, and not be legal in Standard.
Modern Horizons reprints will be from cards not currently in Modern. We’re not going to get cards on the Reserved List (of course), but there _are_ a lot of cards that they could reprint that are legal in formats older than Modern, right? RIGHT?
While there have only been a few reprints that have excited me personally, there are still some cards in this set we can discuss, and wonder about their applications at the very least. So let’s dive in.
Both Serra Benevolent, and Cabal Therapist have already been previewed with the announcement video. While both of these cards have their various call backs, the potential power for each of them simply cannot yet be determined.
- Serra Benevolent can use her minus ability (-3) to make a blocker to protect herself. Her ultimate is a Worship effect, and would probably fit in a midrange deck.
- Cabal Therapist on the other hand is a call back to Cabal Therapy and can be used every turn. This would be good once you have various tokens, or smaller creatures you don’t need. I can see this appearing in a deck with creatures using the Persist ability, or creatures that have either Unearth or have some level of value when they die.
- Flusterstorm is also in the set, and honestly one of the easiest inclusions to guess. It’s the buy-a-box promo card, so it will not show up in packs. While the Izzet Storm decks are currently playing the Arclight Phoenix decks of the same color, you can still counter instants and sorceries with this spell. This will show up in sideboards of most blue based decks, and will shine against decks that cast a lot of instants and sorceries such as Burn and Infect.
In this set there is a cycle of “Force” spells that can be cast for an alternate cost when it is not your turn. This set is (arguably) focused on drafting or playing sealed more than on providing us constructed cards for Modern, however that does not mean these cards are not playable beyond the Limited environment. The color white feels focused on making creatures, and keeping your board presence as high as possible. Here are some of the standouts so far week one of preview season.
- Force of Virtue is an enchantment with Flash, with an alternate cost available on your opponent’s turn (exiling a white card from your hand). This is a solid combat trick to use after blockers are declared. Not the worst of the cards in this cycle may see some casual play at Friday Night Magic (FNM), or in Commander pods.
- Giver of Runes is an obvious call-back to Mother of Runes (we are all thankful that her creature type is not Human). With Death & Taxes decks already a known commodity at FNMs everywhere, this could slide right into those decks (competing with Thraben Inspector).
- Ranger-Captain of Eos however IS a Human, and even cheaper than his previous version Ranger of Eos. For the same cost as his version from Shards of Alara, you can find a creature with a casting cost of one, AND play it the same turn you lay this card. Its ability to Silence your opponent on their upkeep seems really strong, and I look for it to show up in the multicolor Humans decks currently in Modern. This could even cause a mono color Humans deck to appear, and after seeing this as well as all of the three-mana-cost planewalkers in War of the Spark I wonder if we could see Sun Titan start showing up in some decks.
While white has some options to build toward, or add to existing Modern decks, this color seems to focus on playing to the board. With the current majority of Modern decks relying on non-creature spells to advance their strategy, this continues to be a weak color except in very specific strategies.
A lot of you may be curious what my thoughts are about blue. Counterspell is sadly not in this set, but there are a pair of new cards as well as a surprising entry into Modern. Blue is known for its gathering of knowledge, and having spells to counter what the opponent is playing.
- Archmage’s Charm is, more or less, the Azorius answer to Esper Charm. While they both allow you to draw two cards, this card gives you an option for an unconditional counterspell, as well as the ability to gain control of any nonland permanent with a converted mana cost of 1 or less. This includes solid choices such as Champion of the Parish, Death’s Shadow, Aether Vial, or even any creature that makes a mana. There are many more beyond this, and this spell is quite strong. Could it possibly sit along side Cryptic Command in Azorius Control? Maybe.
- Fact or Fiction? Really? Holy cow, this card is pretty powerful as it allows you to choose which cards to put into your hand. While the opponent does separate them into two piles, you will always benefit from their decision (or indecision). The acronym FOFYL (Fact or Fiction, you lose) is often stated to indicate that no matter how the pile of cards are separated, there is no way to win. Will this be great in Modern? The best option to this point was Gifts Ungiven, and this card may be powerful enough for us Control mages when we need to look for the 100% correct answer to a situation.
- Now we get to the best in the “Force” cycle. Force of Negation is the Modern equivalent of Force of Will, and should close the door on the Alliances uncommon ever showing up in Modern. At the moment of this article I prefer this card over the others, with two or three in the maindeck. With the current tendency of the Azorius decks to use a lot of planeswalkers, Force of Negationallows you to tap out for one early and use this if your opponent tries to kill it with a spell. I could be wrong, but this card definitely makes the “box of Azorius playables” in Modern. It’s ability to be used for no mana, and then flash it back with Snapcaster Mage later on should not be overlooked.
It appears design has leaned hard towards three-mana unconditional counterspells, and when deckbuilding we will need to focus the early turns on playing spells that are targeting early plays, and keeping our hands full of cards before we hit the midgame. Azorius Control won’t be the only blue based deck to show up after this set is released, but more on that in a future article.
There was a time where black did everything. From fast mana, to destroying creatures, and even targeting your opponent’s life total. While it no longer accelerates your mana, this color still provides aggro options in various tribes. Let’s take a look at the offerings.
- Diabolic Edict, first presented in Tempest, would have been a great addition to Modern. However we recently received Liliana’s Triumph, and so the possible outlets for this card diminished. I could see this perhaps in Esper Control sideboards, or in other black decks that do not play a Liliana planeswalker.
- Force of Despair, while having a perfect name, may not have a perfect home. You have to cast it after your opponent has played creatures on their turn, but before you get the turn back. It does not deal with creatures already in play, so you have to find another way to deal with those. This card seems to be used to keep the board clear, and sometimes that may not always be possible.
- Who likes Zombies? I know many of you do, and having a 2/2 Zombie on turn two is pretty good. While Undead Augur may not seem to do much, it does help you gain access to more cards as your forces die off which can fit the theme of a solid Zombie aggro deck. Get to brewing folks!
In my opinion Black is the strongest color in Modern. Players have all sorts of options from Control, Combo, Midrange, and Aggro to build with this color. I expect other cards from this set in this color to make some measure of impact in the format.
This color is not only passionate with the power it provides, but has a lot of passionate players. When playing this color you are devoted to dealing as much damage as quickly as possible, and some options in these colors actually allow you to tempo your opponent. There is one card here that I have been the most excited about seeing.
- Force of Rage is far and away the worst of this cycle. While you may have dealt six damage (which is what I believe design was going for) you have neither placed any permanents on the battlefield, nor removed any for your efforts. This is one of those cards that is good on your first play of the game, and then you are behind in cards for the rest of it. Play at your own risk.
- Quite possibly the most exciting card coming to Modern is a red card. Pillage, originally from Alliances, will now stand side by side with Stone Rain destroying your opponent’s lands, or taking care of pesky artifacts that trouble you. This can really put your opponent behind, as them lacking mana alone can seal victory for you. I have to double check every day just to make sure I am not hallucinating. What an EXCELLENT addition to the format!
- From the most exciting card to the one that has a lot of potential, we have Seasoned Pyromancer. This card could really help decks such as Mardu Pyromancer return to prominence. Imagine discarding two Lingering Souls with this as it comes into play, and then flashing those back the next turn. I want you to read this card, then re-read this entry, and then get to brewing. There is A LOT this card can, and will, do.
Who knew I would be excited about some of the red cards? That’s kind of amazing when you think about all of the decks I have talked about here on Strictly Average. I wonder what’s in store for us next?
Is it me or does green see a lot of just good or solid cards lately in Magic? From Commander to Standard there always seems to be multiple decent cards in this color. There’s something we do need to cover that’s very important with the first card though.
- Force of Vigor is the second best in this cycle from this set. Being able to remove two permanents for two cards, with no mana spent by you, can really set your opponent behind. Couple this with cards like Pillage listed above, and these are some great additions for a Gruul Ponza deck. That said, keep in mind that if your opponent has Karn, the Great Creator in play, and lands a Mycosynth Lattice, that you will not be able to pitch cards to Force of Vigor as the Lattice makes cards in hand colorless. Still, an excellent card.
- Nimble Mongoose is in Modern!!! The format of fetchlands has the best card with the Threshold mechanic. While we will not be getting other cards that make the Temur Delver deck a known quantity in Legacy, I have no doubt that people are working on a Modern version right now. Besides “Delver & Goose” sounds like Top Gun fan fiction to me, and anything that creates a new archetype with a funny name is always welcome.
- Speaking of reprints, we get Spore Frog?! What is this doing here? Yes we will also be getting Genesis in this set, however with a deck like Tron in the format do we really want to look for a Turbo Fog deck? There already is one that’s Azorius Colors. Will this find a home? It’s way too early to tell.
Green has always been filled with creature based strategies, and this will be no different. Keep an eye out for more cards in these colors to brew with, but at the moment I’m not seeing much.
Since the time of Legends multi-colored spells have been quite popular, and many of them memorable. From Modern staples such as Bloodbraid Elf, and Maelstrom Pulse, to Supreme Verdict, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria these types of cards have always found a home. While Baleful Strix was not included in this set there is an interesting inclusion that’s…close.
- Ice-Fang Coatl was one of the first cards revealed for this set. While not the same as the artifact creature mentioned above, it can pull a resemblance to its Legacy counterpart if you have three other snow permanents in play. You can fetch a snow-basic land with any fetchland so there are ways to have multiple snow permanents out on the battlefield. Keep in mind you still draw a card when it enters the battlefield, and that can be important depending on your strategy,
- Who doesn’t like Slivers? Ok, some of you don’t but honestly where would Slivers ever show up in Standard again? Probably nowhere, so this is honestly the correct home for them. The First Sliver provides one heck of a punch, as all of your Sliver spells have Cascade, and us Jund players know how awesome that is. Keep in mind that this guy has to be on the battlefield first. I expect to see this as the premiere Sliver for Commander players going forward.
- Wrenn and Six had their art sitting in the background of the Modern Horizons video this whole time, and we were just introduced to them. Far and away the very best two mana planeswalker ever, this card alone can help you have land every turn (unless you run out of land to fetch from your deck). Easily inserted into Legacy Lands decks, it could also very well be the backbone of the Gruul Ponza decks, or some other strategy in Modern. Excellent card.
The great thing about multicolored cards is how they often represent the flavor of both of their colors. Sometimes all in one effect, other times through multiple effects. This is part of what makes them great, and don’t let their complexity cause their exclusion when deck building.
Outside of enchantments, one of the strongest permanent types in the game are artifacts. This card type has grown tremendously from the early days. From artifacts that have static abilities that impact the whole game, to ones that require an activation, as well as ones that act like enchantments as they equip to creatures. Some are creatures themselves, or are even vehicles that become creatures. That’s a lot! This is one of the reasons why this card type is always popular with players.
- I am not sure who asked for Altar of Dementia to be included in Modern, but here you go. Couple Kitchen Finks with Solemnity and you can wipe out an opponent’s library to win the game out of nowhere. I’m not sure how three cards that cost three mana to cast individually will do in Modern, but three is the magic number, right?
- For these next two I will tie them to one entry. For the longest time we have had the cycle of swords that protect creatures from an enemy color pairing (such as blue & red on Sword of Fire and Ice). What do these two bring to the format? It’s not known at the moment, however these cards will surely see play in other formats so don’t discount them. However if Stoneforge Mystic is ever allowed in Modern these will be great inclusions. The only problem in picking swords is that you have limited space in your deck; you’ll always need to have the best equipment to face against the highest percentage of decks they’ll be good against. Sometimes that’s hard to predict.
Players do have multiple ways of destroying artifacts available in most colors, however if you can find ways to protect these cards, or recur them after they are destroyed, you’ll need to include that in your deck as well. This could cause less space in your deck to be available for other cards so be careful how you choose to build your deck.
Lands are important to play spells. Everyone knows this, but what’s missed sometimes is what lands to play. Not every deck in Modern needs fetchlands, and not every deck needs a lot of basics. Finding not only the right balance, but also avoiding drawing too many lands, is something many struggle with in this game that’s been out more than 25 years. There are some interesting ones here that have made the set worth a lot well before it’s release.
- Do any of you remember that Horizon Canopy came from Future Sight? The set that was filled with cards slated for future design? Well we now have the enemy pairings of that type of land. Affectionately called “Canopy Lands,” many archetypes now have a land that can turn into another card draw at any time. Each of these will find a home in decks, especially Fiery Islet as in Dredge (you can replace the draw that the card provides to dredge a card back to your hand). Look at the decks you want to play, and grab the ones you need the day this set is available.
- Snow-Covered basic lands are back! The basic lands were not going to be new cards, nor reprints, and perhaps there was not a home for these types of lands in an upcoming Standard set. So here they are. Keep an eye out for “snow matters” cards both in this set, and in previous sets, if you plan to build a deck with that theme.
The lands do provide the base for new archtypes, or adding to existing ones. If you are always drawing too many lands make sure to review your weakest land, and include some of these to help you draw through multiple lands in your deck.
Modern Horizons is shaping up to be one of the most controversial sets in recent history. From those (like myself) who feel the reprints are not truly representative of what they meant when we were told reprints were coming, to those who don’t play older formats at all and just want new cards, there is a lot for everyone with this set already. I wonder what this next week of previews will bring us.
I’m still not happy with the exclusion of Counterspell. What cards from Week One do you like? Did I miss your favorite? Make sure to leave a comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.
Next week will be the second week of previews, so make sure to stop by to read my thoughts on my favorites from those previews. Those start today so after you ready this make sure to check which content creators have cards for this week.
Until next week…
TAP MORE MANA!!!
Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.