With Shadows Over Innistrad on the horizon, we’ve come back to that time of year: when half of us are jaded and the other (more sadistic) half are busy reveling in other players’ misery. Through the suffocating darkness, a bright light shines from the heavens, promising the change we need. No, this isn’t Obama in ’08. It’s spoiler season. Welcome to my Shadows Over Innistrad preview discussion.
Recently, spoiler season for Modern has been more lackluster than usual. We all know by now that all sets are designed to focus primarily on Standard and Draft/Sealed, with Modern not even deemed important enough to be tested by the Future Future League. This doesn’t mean Wizards cares nothing for Modern, as we often get goodies designed specifically for the impact they’ll have on Modern. What this does mean is that our Christmas gifts can range from Moldy Toast all the way to Golden Lavatory (the best Christmas present possible, if you ask me).
With 72 of 297 cards currently spoiled as of this writing, and the recent Modern disappointments of Eldrazi fresh in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at recent set releases for the impact they have had on Modern. We’ll discuss new cards, of course, but as CONTEXT kinda is my shtick I found myself just giddy with excitement at the possibility of evaluating past precedents to inform future decisions. I know you are too. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
(If you just want to read spoiler discussion, CTRL + F “New Spoilers”)
In the past (almost) five years, Wizards of the Coast has bestowed upon us 18 sets of Magic cards for our delirious consumption. In that time, these things happened:
- The terrible New York Giants beat the evil New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
- Miley Cyrus went from being that person my sister watched on TV to that person my grandmother watched on TV.
- Terrorists assaulted the US Embassy in Benghazi, killing four Americans.
- Bitcoin became a thing.
- We didn’t die in 2012 (unless you count Skittles Riddles, which frustrated me to the point of death).
- Major catastrophes in China, Paris, the US, and countless other areas worldwide.
- Youngsters began expressing themselves through Vine, Snapchat, and Tinder.
To be honest, most of that terrified me, which is why I (and many other players) disassociate those events from a specific point and time and instead subconsciously denote the passing of time in Magic sets. Can you tell me what year Michael Jackson died without looking? I can’t, but I can tell you it was before Zendikar). DING! 2009. My mental clock knows no equal.
What does this have to do with spoiler discussion? For me, new sets (like New Year’s) cause me to reminisce, for better or for worse. Five years ago, Innistrad came out. Five years ago, everything I thought a Magic set could be was transformed forever. Five years ago, I stopped holding Mirrodin Beseiged cards in my hand, softly muttering “why” and rose up to face a new day with hope in my heart. We begin where we end, with Innistrad.
- Liliana of the Veil
- Snapcaster Mage
- Stony Silence
- Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration
- Gavony Township
Innistrad is, in my mind, the best Magic set ever created. Not much of a Limited player myself, even I could not resist its charms, and Innistrad Limited beckoned to me from the doorway like Jessica Alba covered in chocolate cake. I distinctly remember looking over the spoiler, fresh from New Phyrexia's hyper-aggression, and remarking to my dad “This set sucks!”. No Ponder. No Doom Blade. Instead, we got Think Twice and Tragic Slip. Who knew Forbidden Alchemy and Unburial Rites would run Standard, and Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage would grow up to be the BEST individual cards in their respective colors five years later?
Dark Ascension improved upon an excellent Limited and Standard format, introducing Zombies and giving Solar Flare an incredible value card in the form of Lingering Souls. Oh, the days where you could Forbidden Alchemy into Lingering Souls/Unburial Rites into Sun Titan… All the cards in this list have seen varying amounts of play in Modern from time to time, with Thought Scour in particular going from unplayable to Dark Ritual thanks to delve (don’t worry, we’ll get there).
Avacyn Restored gets a bad reputation for its non-interactive Limited format, but is still in my mind an under-appreciated set. Griselbrand has been at the fringes of Modern for a while now with Grishoalbrand, and Elves players can fondly remember ramping into Craterhoof Behemoth before Collected Company was printed. Restoration Angel has been everywhere, from Twin to Control to Hoogland Special Naya. Terminus and Bonfire of the Damned popped up here and there in control and Burn lists respectively, but never caught on. Bonfire lost Brian Kibler and Team USA a World Magic Cup. Miracles as a mechanic really took off in Standard and Legacy, but not in Modern. Standard being slow and durdly allowed swingy effects like Bonfire of the Damned to take over, and Legacy’s library manipulation meant setting up Miracle flips was a breeze. Modern was both too fast and too inconsistent to employ these effects, though some decks still tried to play Bonfire to small success.
Oh, Thragtusk, how the world has forgotten you. This set was awesome for Standard (Talrand, Sky Summoner for Delver decks and Flinthoof Boar for R/G!) but poor for Modern. Gone are the days of sets with 50% reprints, and for good reason. There’s really nothing to talk about here other than more reminiscing about Standard, and nobody wants to hear about Thragtusk into Restoration Angel into… oh crap I’m doing it.
Return to Ravnica
- Abrupt Decay
- Supreme Verdict
- Deathrite Shaman
- Loxodon Smiter
- Goblin Electromancer
- Shockland reprints
Ah, that’s better! Pushed multi-colored spells are naturally excellent in a fetch/shock manabase, and Jund took Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay to town, punishing Wizards for their naivety. Control got some great tools as well, and G/W received some more Wilt-Leaf Liege goodness in the form of Loxodon Smiter. Take that, Liliana of the Veil!
With High Priest of Penance never panning out, Gatecrash goes down in history as the set that had promise, but barely delivered. Burn gained Boros Charm (one of the best burn spells ever printed) but besides that, Goblin players and Stompy players can attest to the failures of Gatecrash’s Charms.
Beck // Call didn’t pan out, and were it not for Voice of Resurgence Maze would be right up with Core Sets for the “Useless for Modern” title. Still, Voice continues to be one of the best answers to blue in the format, and it will be interesting to see how its stock shifts in a post Twin/Eldrazi metagame.
Fitting that the set about gods would be classified as “redemptive”. Theros brought Master of Waves to Merfolk, and Sylvan Caryatid to mana-greedy decks everywhere, from Loam to Ascendancy. The scrylands, while initially panned, have become recognized as in the running for top 5 land cycles ever (albeit a bit slow).
Born of the Gods
And that's all there is to say on that.
Journey into Nyx
Journey Into Nyx cane close to failing, but Eidolon of the Great Revel is, in my mind, the best red card in Modern behind Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt. At this point you have to reflect on the fact that three color defining cards (Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil included) have been printed in the last five years. While new sets rarely contain more than three or four cards eligible for Modern play, that doesn’t make those sets “bad sets” for Modern.
That being said, M15 sucked. Go home, Wizards, and think about what you’ve done.
Khans of Tarkir
- Onslaught Fetches
- Siege Rhino
- Monastery Swiftspear
- Become Immense
- Dig Through Time
- Treasure Cruise
- Sorin, Solemn Visitor
So, we get it. Delve is busted. Even without Dig and Cruise, Khans would still get an A. Burn gaining Monastery Swiftspear, Abzan playing four drops like it’s Standard or something, and a bunch of sideboard stuff both for Burn and against Burn. We’ve even got a Storm offshoot archetype enabler! Khans of Tarkir was awesome for both Standard and Modern, and the fourth solid fall-set in a row for Wizards (and believe me, they took notice). While I can’t find the reference now, you can believe that the success and hype around fall sets was a major factor in the shift away from Core Sets towards two set blocks. What’s better than one fall set a year? TWO fall sets a year!
While I will always hate Fate Reforged for giving Tron Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, I will always be indebted to it for giving me Tasigur, the Golden Fang. (How can you be indebted to an inanimate object? It’s not even an object, just a set release…) Anyway, Fate Reforged gave us a back to back excellent set for Modern, and *possibly* spoiled us for what to expect from Wizards moving forward. After all, Delve ended up being way more powerful than they expected, but these sets would still be great for Modern had delve not been a mechanic. Even Suicide Zoo got some love!
Dragons of Tarkir
Another great set, this time brought about by the Command cycle. Similar to Return to Ravnica, placing multiple options on pushed, multi-colored instant speed spells is a recipe for success that Wizards should cook up more often. Kolaghan's Command and Tasigur, the Golden Fang sponsored three whole new archetypes by themselves, and I miss those days dearly. How much greener the grass was back then...
Rending Volley will probably see no play now that Twin is gone, but should combo players move up to Kiki Jiki, Mirror-Breaker then Rending Volley is still a great answer to Restoration Angel or Deceiver Exarch. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is flying a little under the radar now, but if Abzan Company remains a force to be reckoned with post Eldrazi-ban this chick could be around for a while.
- Shaman of the Pack
- Abbott of Keral Keep
Magic Origins bucks the Core Set trend in terms of Modern playability, but then again, Magic Origins really isn’t a core set, but rather a Fall set with flipwalkers as the main selling mechanic. Anyone unfamiliar with my long-standing opinion on Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound can brush up now! This card is nuts and alone would earn Origins a B-. Throw in some tribal love and all-around value and you’ve got a solid set for Modern. Wizards has succeeded in making Magic about creatures, now please, give us more creatures that cost less than five!
I won’t go over Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch (too soon, too soon…) but I shouldn’t really have to. We’re keeping things positive and looking back, looking ahead, anywhere other than the fire that’s burning around us.
So, now that we've taken that
exhausting brief journey through history, hopefully we have a clearer idea of what to expect with Shadows Over Innistrad. Wizards has shown that they can print sets that straight up invigorate Modern, but they can also print absolute stinkers. Personally, I consider a set a "success" for Modern if it contains around four cards that see Modern play, with two of them being something we could realistically maindeck. Eidolon of Rhetoric doesn't count as an "exciting" new card for Modern, but something like Rending Volley is, in my mind. We don't need a Voice of Resurgence/Eidolon of the Great Revel type staple every set, but something to get us excited would be nice. Enough history talk, let’s get to the new cards spoiled so far!
Hey! Scroll back up and read the whole article! I didn’t write 2000 words for you to skim through for the relevant information! You should know by now there is no relevant information. You disappoint me.
Nahiri, the Harbinger
If her -2 was just Lightning Helix, I’d be happier, but we already have that with Ajani Vengeant and he sees barely any play. The fact that she not only doesn’t do anything to protect herself AND doesn’t really do anything to get us ahead without jumping through hoops is not good news. Better cards have seen *no play* in Modern (again, looking at Ajani Vengeant) that I’m not positive about Nahiri’s chances here. Still, the +2 discards stranded Blightsteel Colossus' that the -8 can then go fetch, so maybe some Mardu control deck uses this as a value card to find more answers, handle some problematic permanents, and kill the opponent eventually? A deck like that doesn’t really exist, unless you count the Mardu Control deck floating around since the last Pro Tour. A strong metagame shift would have to happen to make Mardu playable, and THEN we would need a reason to play this over Ajani Vengeant. Pass.
As she’s a planeswalker that costs less than five, I guess she has to be discussed, but I’m not wildly impressed. Were her starting loyalty four, meaning should could flip and survive Lightning Bolt, then I might be more excited, but as it is she’s a more flashy Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells. I could see her in a planeswalker heavy Jund build (some list that plays Chandra, Pyromaster as well) and she seems strong if we have a Tarmogoyf on the field to block. Giving our ‘Goyf vigilance and +2/+2, along with haste to future creatures puts us in an aggressive route, and I’m starting to like the synergies between a creature on board, Arlinn Kord to pump, and Chandra, Pyromaster to falter a blocker, leaving our attacker with vigilance on protection duty next turn. Color me interested.
Declaration in Stone
For mono white decks looking for better removal, this seems like a slight upgrade to Dismember? I imagine the deck would have to be aggressive, as you want to be up-tempo to make the Clue awkward to activate. The fact that it removes ANY creature no questions asked is excellent, and though it costs two mana giving them a Clue can be better than putting a basic land onto the field. The fact that it costs two makes it worse than Path to Exile, obviously, and were it to cost one I think it would be second only to Swords to Plowshares (though being a sorcery hurts it). This one might not make it in Modern, but I think that is due more to archetypes and current options than raw power level. Keep an eye on this one.
Thing in the Ice
Finally, we come to this interesting number. A 0/4 that we can expect to flip on average in about 2.0-2.5 turns (if we play it turn two) piques my curiosity, but only because it’s a two-drop in blue. Thing coming down across from Tarmogoyf is doing nothing for at least a full hit, and then we have Terminate to worry about. Were it an 0/5, this would be an easier card to evaluate, but 0/4 is a little too small for what we would need it to do (block Tarmogoyf). That it blocks everything else isn’t enough. If we aren’t casting Mana Leak or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound we'd better be doing something good.
“Normal” blue decks aren’t interested in attacking, usually, so the 7/8 success state is more “cute” than an actual strategy we can expect to be playing to. But, here we have its bounce ability making things complicated. Flipping this thing by casting do nothing Serum Visions and the like to bounce our opponent’s whole board is a big game, and could buy us the time we need to do more of the durdly stuff we were doing that got us in that position in the first place. So, basically, a blue player’s dream. That’s the success state, where the failstate is just an 0/4 that everyone on the row laughs at. I’ve got to say, even though it’s probably bad, a classic U/R Twinless Twin with this guy to make our opponent nervous sounds fun for a weekend…
I’ll leave the rest to you. We’re barely into Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers, but we now have a better idea of what to look for and what to expect from a Magic Set for Modern in 2016. Next week, or possibly the week after we’ll hopefully have some juicy stuff to discuss, and I’m crossing my fingers for a Snapcaster Mage or Liliana of the Veil reprint (as either of those cards will get me back into Standard).
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!
The_Architect on MTGO