We've already gotten several exciting Shadows over Innistrad spoilers, previews start in full tomorrow, and there's a 0% chance the wretched Eldrazi survive April 4 without at least one banning. Life is good. I'm looking forward to a Modern where a third to a half of games don't start "Eldrazi Temple, Eldrazi Mimic, go." Or Eye of Ugin into something even nuttier.
...There's always Eldritch Moon for Blood too! Please, Wizards?
We've seen about 65 of the Shadows newcomers so far, and we're already noticing some mechanics, cards, and synergies that show Modern promise. Eerie Interlude is a better Ghostway. The return of madness bodes well for Faithless Looting and Vengevine fans. Thraben Investigator is begging to get those clue tokens converted into Blightsteel Colossus.
And, of course, Archangel Avacyn and Thing in the Ice both pushed presale prices to $20. Thing even started at $4.99 before going to $7.99. Then $9.99. Then $14.99...
We'll have plenty of time to digest the other Shadows spoilers over the coming weeks and as we see more previews. For today, we'll focus on Avacyn and Thing to see if their Modern playability supports their hype. Many speculators and players have been excited about these cards because of their multi-format applicability, and I want to investigate those claims to check their pricetags against their potential.
Archangel Avacyn in Modern
One of the highlights of the otherwise abysmal Modern Grand Prix weekend was watching Archangel Avacyn get unveiled at Grand Prix Detroit. Mind you, we didn't actually get to watch it live on the coverage (another strike against the weekend), but we did see the whole spectacle on Twitter.
Between the costumed presenter and the oversize flip legend herself, the Magic community was in love.
Unlike Thing, which we'll discuss more later, Avacyn is a card whose price tag depends entirely on Standard and Modern. Commander too, thanks to her double-colored sides, but I'm a Modern guy so I'll leave the commanding and standardizing to others. We want to see if Archangel Avacyn has a Modern home, because as any longtime Moderner or Modern investor knows, there's a lot of money to be had in this format.
Whenever evaluating a Modern card, I like to follow a few guidelines that have proven informative in the past. To summarize that Modern Nexus article, probably the most important predictor of successful Modern cards is the current Tier 1 and Tier 2 listing.
If a card either sees play in these decks, or matches up favorably against a sizable subset of them, there's a good chance it's a Modern playable. Or, stated negatively (which is often more important), if a card does not see play in these decks or target them, then it is not likely to see play.
Let's apply these guidelines to Avacyn. Let's also assume we're out of the Eldrazi Wastes so we have a wider selection of top-tier decks to choose from. I'm guessing the post-Eldrazi world (and, to be clear, Aaron Forsythe said they'll try to keep the Eldrazi intact in some form) will look a bit like the pre-Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch metagame. You can check out these numbers in a Nexus breakdown published in early February.
White-based decks were still struggling in this more normal Modern, but Jeskai Control was solidly Tier 2 at the time. U/W Control has since risen to Tier 2 status on the back of a positive Eldrazi matchup, momentum which might carry these white decks through past April. Avacyn might have a home here, but she's competing with (or complementing) another leading lady.
Any and all evaluation for Archangel Avacyn needs to start with Restoration Angel. They're both Lightning Bolt-proof fliers with flash. They both present a clock. They also both have an enters-the-battlefield ability that minimally saves creatures from combat damage or damage/destruction-based removal. And, of course, they're both angels.
Archangel picks up an edge in four power versus Restoration's three. The difference between a five turn clock and a seven turn clock is huge. Add in Jeskai's Bolt/Lightning Helix/Electrolyze, not to mention Snapcaster Mage to do it all again, and Avacyn's extra power easily takes two turns off the opponent's clock. Of course, if you can flip Avacyn, the six-power version (plus Lava Spike) will often end the game in 2-3 hits.
This makes Avacyn a flashed Serra Angel even if you aren't getting any other utility out of her, with plenty of upsides in the right context.
Restoration Angel picks up points for mana cost (turn four is a world apart from turn five) and significantly more utility. The Snapcaster synergy is just too strong to ignore, not to mention helping out Wall of Omens and Kitchen Finks in the U/W Control shell.
The old Avacyn Restored staple also saves your creatures from all targeted removal, not just damage and destroy effects: Path to Exile and Dismember are ubiquitous in this format, and Avacyn doesn't stop them.
Another contextual weakness for Avacyn is her transformation clause. This all but prevents her from Abzan Company and Kiki Chord inclusion, where she gives your opponents a free Firespout. Her five-mana casting cost also stinks alongside Abzan's Collected Company. I actually think we might see Avacyn in Company decks without the transformation side: Serra Angel plus mass indestructibility is great. But self-Slagstorming? That's less great.
All in all, the nine damage swing is huge when she flips, and if played in response to a Dismember you can even start the beatdown early. Ultimately, I believe Avacyn is more likely to see play based on her Serra Angel form and not her transformation, although for Jeskai decks, it's pure upside, even if she's unlikely to flip.
What about other white-based decks? Particularly less competitive decks outside of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 sphere?
Unfortunately, with the glaring exception of Eldrazi, Modern doesn't give a lot of examples of five-mana creatures who suddenly make low-tier decks viable. Avacyn is no Eldrazi, but there are other, non-Jeskai decks where she could see play.
Abzan Midrange is a great example here. She's brutal in Lingering Souls mirrors and stops the Company and Chord decks cold if flipped. The flying clock is nice too. BGx players might run her to get these edges, depending on the metagame.
As for other decks, I'm not optimistic. Death and Taxes, Hatebears, Zoo decks, and Abzan Liege all suffer from similar problems as Abzan Company; if flipped, she does a number on your own board. Naya Company decks also don't want her because of the Collected Company anti-synergy. That said, I can see her being very potent in Esper decks if those get more tools to play with. Innocent Blood, anyone?
Overall, I think Archangel Avacyn has a home in Modern that's (close to) commensurate with her $20-$25 price tag. Assuming her Standard and Commander playability exist, not to mention casual appeal, she'll be at least as expensive as the Standard-only Deathmist Raptor and the Standard/Modern World Breaker, two mythics from frequently-opened sets. Should she drop to $15, that feels like a sweet buy-in point.
Thing in the Ice in Modern
Players got excited about Avacyn. Players lost their freaking minds about Thing in the Ice. I remember seeing this at $4.99 on Star City Games and thinking to myself, "Hmm. I feel like I should get a playset, juuust in case." About an hour-and-a-half later and at least four buyouts of the $4.99 stock of 40, the price was up to $7.99 and I got my playset.
As I'm writing this, Thing is currently sold out on Star City Games at not $7.99, not $14.99, but a whopping $19.99. I'm feeling better about that $32 expense by the hour!
Some have asserted Thing is a Modern mainstay destined to join Tarmogoyf in the format annals. Others have claimed it to be a multi-format all star like Snapcaster Mage. I'm not quite so generous as these assessors, but I'm definitely excited that people think this card is playable everywhere from Legacy to Modern to Standard and beyond.
This leads us to the $19.99 question (times however many singles you've speculated on)---just how playable is Thing in Modern?
Full disclosure: I haven't tested Archangel in Modern yet, and I always advocate people test as much as possible before evaluating a card. I'm convinced about 90% (or more) of card evaluators don't test either, but I'm still holding myself to a higher standard. That said, I have tested Thing in the Ice in Modern with some early, favorable results. I'll discuss the card itself before turning to results and format context. Then we'll jump to pricing at the end.
In a vacuum, Thing seems excellent. It's Bolt-proof, walls most of Zoo and Burn, rewards you for just playing Magic and casting spells you'd cast anyway, and flips into a burn- and Dismember-immune, board-clearing, three-turn, pseudo-hasty monstrosity. You also get to bounce back your Snapcasters and keep any protective Spellskites. What's not to love?
I'm certainly loving the Horror, but I also see its possible weaknesses. Abrupt Decay eats both sides alive, not to mention Path to Exile and Terminate. Affinity and Infect sneak around it, and the iced version can't even tangle with a Tarmogoyf, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, or Siege Rhino. Chump blockers like spirit tokens also give the 7/8 side fits, as long as they're deployed after the Whelming Wave effect.
All of this makes us wonder if the price tag is really accurate.
Patrick Chapin has praised Thing's synergy with Modern cantrips like Manamorphose, Serum Visions, and Gitaxian Probe. Others see Thing as a U/R Storm Plan B. Still others want to combo Thing with Vampire Hexmage (meh) and Natural Affinity (glorious). I'm not saying these strategies won't work, but if Thing is to support anywhere close to its $19.99 value, it needs to see mainline Tier 1 and Tier 2 play.
Following my Shadows card evaluation guidelines, I tested Thing in Jeskai Control and Grixis Midrange lists to assess these strengths and weaknesses.
On paper, Jeskai seemed like a great home for the Horror. Its burn spells and sideboard bullets shore up Infect and Affinity weaknesses, and you have more than enough ways to flip the Thing fast. In practice, this worked out almost as well as it played in theory.
With the notable exception of Think Twice, and the techy but maybe too techy Feeling of Dread, Jeskai cards don't have a lot of explicit synergy with Thing. Rather, they address early aggression, happen to remove counters in doing so, and help you go over the top of fair decks as long as you can address things like Liliana of the Veil. Bouncing Snapcaster rocks in the Bolt-Snap-Bolt grind too.
Against Jund, Jeskai Control took a 4-2 testing record. Lily is always an issue, but between Bolt to remove Confidant, Path to take out Tarmogoyf, and Horror with Spell Snare and/or Cryptic Command backup, the deck performed quite well.
Affinity was also a 4-2 contest, and although Thing didn't contribute much here, it proved that Jeskai in the Ice remained a competitive option against varied decks. More specifically, Thing didn't dilute the natural burn and removal elements Jeskai was bringing to the matchup to begin.
Grixis also proved a viable home for Thing, with plenty of cheap staples for protecting and transforming the creature.
Unlike Jeskai, Grixis has a lot of inherent reasons to play cheap cantrips and free spells without fundamentally changing your deck. This is because Tasigur and Gurmag Angler explicitly reward the added cards in your graveyard, encouraging you to play Thought Scour as yet another instant-speed dig spell. There's anti-synergy with the delve critters and your Whelming Wave bounce, but it's not crippling and those creatures are strong enough in early turns.
Using this engine, I posted an even 3-3 record against Jund in initial tests. Abrupt Decay was annoying (Grixis otherwise blanks it with Tasigur and Angler), but turn one Inquisition proved strong here and we're still dodging all of Jund's Bolts. Flipping Horror was trivial, and it felt nasty to do it at instant speed, clear the opponent's board, and then swing to take out their Liliana.
Thing was much worse in the Affinity contest, where I only eked by with a 2-4 record. Affinity is a tough matchup for Grixis decks to begin with, and the Horror wasn't doing much to slow the charge. Affinity replayed all of its threats with ease, ignoring the under-Whelming Wave (hoho) and only falling in the face of excessive Bolts and Commands.
Despite some issues with Affinity, Thing showed a lot of early promise and I fully expect it to see Modern play. This also doesn't even touch on its potential in the Taking Turns Time Warp decks, alongside Disrupting Shoal, and as a finisher after Blue Moon establishes the Blood Moon lock. I'd also be lying if I said I hadn't dusted off the old Mercadian Masques Natural Affinity for a spin.
Taken together, these data points suggest Thing in the Ice is going to support a Modern price tag in the $10-$15 range. Kolaghan's Command got over $20 after less than a year, with Collected Company at just under $20 despite benefiting from a reprint. Thing doesn't seem like it will push beyond those benchmarks, but it should get past the Modern-only prices on other rares like Tasigur.
Hold off on buying these $19.99's for now, but if you can get in below $15, certainly below $12, you'd be in great shape.
More Shadows to Come!
I'll be back next week to review more Shadows over Innistrad cards, hopefully with more testing results of either Thing---I really want to see how it does with Disrupting Shoal---or the new Modern playables we're bound to get this week. And by "bound to get," I mean, "almost certain to not get and plunge Reddit into a righteous frenzy." What can I say? Spoiler season is always a good time.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about these two cards, other Innistrad previews, or any lingering Eldrazi topics you want to discuss. See you all soon!