Today, I'm trying something different. Hour of Devastation released last Friday, but I haven’t had time to look at any spoilers, or read any discussion about new cards. As a result, we have an incredible opportunity to talk about the new set both before and after seeing every card surrounded by its context, in the same article! Stick with me here. Rather than give the vanilla, "Here’s a list of cards most likely to see play, but you already knew that!" I plan on talking about Modern as it is now, what I would like—not expect, but like—to see in the new set, and then immediately dive under the hood to see what has been given to us.
As you’re almost assuredly already familiar with the card pool, this article will be a literary form of dramatic irony, like when Juliet commits suicide thinking Romeo has done so himself. Article about Magic -> literary genius. We’ve bridged the gap, people.
Act 1: Ignorance Is Bliss
Let’s face it, the last few sets haven’t been great for Modern. Amonkhet, Aether Revolt, Kaladesh, Eldritch Moon, Shadows over Innistrad. Khans of Tarkir block feels like it happened years ago (oh wait, it did!), and it's been a while since I’ve seen a new card get me excited for Modern, beyond usual levels. Here’s a list of the recent new contributions to Modern:
- Fatal Push
- Collective Brutality
- Spire of Industry
- Ceremonius Rejection
- Baral, Chief of Compliance
- Gideon of the Trials
- Liliana, the Last Hope
- Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- Grim Flayer
- Vizier of Remedies
- Selfless Spirit
Hmm. Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. It wasn’t until I had actually pulled up the teams to see what new cards were actually seeing play that I realized exactly how much of an impact recent set releases have had. Somewhere along the way, without even knowing it, it seems I have fallen into a rut of sorts, where I just expected each new set not to provide much for Modern, and the status quo to be maintained. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was still reeling from the effects of delve and the multiple bannings/unbannings we’ve had over the past couple years. Regardless, I’ve learned something about myself that surprised me, which means… introspection time.
At the risk of falling into random musing territory here, I’m wondering out loud why it is I was surprised to see a healthy list of new additions to the Modern card pool. One possible answer could be "level of play," as only Fatal Push has made a significant impact on multiple decks in the format. Still, Baral, Chief of Compliance has reinvigorated an archetype, and Vizier of Remedies has spawned its own, but both are out of sight, out of mind for their own reasons.
In Baral’s case, I have only seen Storm from a distance, not having much firsthand experience with the archetype either before or after its printing. As a result, seeing Storm in the metagame list feels like business as usual to me. “Yep, it’s always been there, moving on.” For Vizier of Remedies, it popped up one weekend, but hasn’t been able to stick, in part because it’s probably "too powerful." That’s a discussion all its own, but I think it’s safe to say a two-card combo that can do nasty things on the second turn is "too powerful" assuming no interaction. As a result, Counters Company exists as this deck that could compete in Modern on power level alone, but can't hold up to dedicated hate. So, to conclude, I don’t think level of play is the answer here.
What about a lack of knowledge/familiarity with the format? Lol. My RAM feels differently—MTGO has eaten it all to pieces. I knew all these cards existed, they just clearly didn’t imprint enough on my mind to make a significant impact. No, I think the answer lies on the emotional spectrum; none of them excite me. You know, like when your horrible team does something incredibly amazing? Or you eat the best burger of your life? Fatal Push is an excellent card, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t rustle my jimmies. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.
A big part of it, I already know, is that Modern is great. Matches are fun and interactive, nothing is broken, nothing needs to be banned, and the format is far from solved. Even with Grand Prix and SCG Opens seemingly around every corner, innovation keeps happening, to the point where I almost don’t even want another set. Let me solve this format before giving me the next one, maybe? I know I’m in the minority here, but I feel like we’re living through Modern’s (and Magic’s) golden age right now, and things are on their way down. Standard isn’t going so hot from what I hear, and WoTC’s track record hasn’t been great recently, so just, give me some space, yo’. What do you give the man who just wants time?
Act 2: The Pursuit of Happiness
I can’t go into a set release wishing it didn’t happen and simultaneously looking for something to excite me. That’s like staring at your peas wishing it was cake. The longer you want for cake, the worse those peas are going to taste. I sound like my mother, but she never even said that. I’m losing it. Still, I have to wish for something, otherwise I don’t have a dog in the fight, and another set release will go by whilst I remain unimpressed on the sidelines.
Knowing nothing about Hour of Devastation, mind you, I guess it would be nice to have another aggressive option for fast decks. Burn and Affinity have their lists fairly set, but beyond that, another fast aggro deck taking a piece of the pie would shake things up and introduce some diversity without totally upsetting the scales. Merfolk doesn’t seem like a likely candidate, and that archetype is failing primarily because of the field and Fatal Push, so its troubles are less likely to be answered by a new printing. But Tarmogoyf, as crazy as it seems, is outclassed in this current format, and I’d like to see him return. Two mana for an X/Y is much fairer than Death's Shadow, even I will admit, but his supporting cast has always been lacking. A Scavenging Ooze-esque creature for green or white could be interesting, with Hatebears making a recent appearance.
As far as spells go, could we see black get some card draw that is better than Painful Truths? I like the card, but life isn’t the resource I want to be giving up in my three-color Modern deck. Something that doesn’t use the graveyard, or it would just make Death's Shadow decks better. The goal here is to give Jund and Junk a little push back into the conversation, and perhaps shift some control strategies away from Jeskai and towards Esper. They are never giving up white, but if we could see Esper Charm back in the format, that could do some interesting things to all the grindy midrange decks taking advantage of its absence.
For combo, it’s never been my wheelhouse, but I’m ready for toolbox tutor to come back in some capacity. I know its playing with fire, but Birthing Pod was so good for providing a unique experience and rewarding both deck and format knowledge. Unfortunately it was too good and pushed out all other creature decks, but there isn’t a reason why toolbox couldn’t exist in some other fashion. I just want to exchange mana for options, and play a deck with lots of one-ofs. Solar Flare is almost there, but it uses the graveyard at a time when it's too popular to do so.
For control I wouldn’t mind seeing a finisher, but it would have to be insane to see play, like over Elspeth, Sun's Champion levels. There’s just no reason to go above 24 land in a format where Death's Shadow and Stubborn Denial can kill us so quickly. Cheap card draw would be nice, but it would have to be better than Thought Scour, which we’re not even taking advantage of as we’re trying to do big things. We’re never getting that Counterspell, so we should just put that to rest.
No, what we need is a three- or four-mana play that knocks our opponent off their game, something bigger than Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Gideon of the Trials. Nahiri, the Harbinger was spot on, but Reality Smasher, Stubborn Denial and a poor supporting cast must be keeping it down.
Act Three: Seeing the Light
- Oketra's Last Mercy
- Rhonas's Last Stand
- Champion of Wits
- Torment of Hailfire
- Ramunap Excavator
- Supreme Will
- Reason // Believe
I’m choosing to list these all at once, rather than individually, both because it's different and because I don’t want to feel obligated to spend a paragraph on cards that don’t deserve it. I'll touch on each one, for about as much time as I feel it merits.
Oketra's Last Mercy is interesting, yes. Is it better than Leyline of Sanctity? Doubtful. We’re gaining life, which you probably know by now, so Skullcrack and Atarka's Command are on like Donkey Kong. I wish it wasn’t in white, but it is what it is. Affinity is the type of deck where lifegain is just that—they are building boards with most of their wins anyways so going from 2 to 20 probably only gains you a couple turns, and nothing if they’re killing you with Infect. Besides, we’re in white, so tell me why Stony Silence wasn’t good enough?
Rhonas's Last Stand could be that Tarmogoyf companion we were talking about, or it could be nothing. The lands-don’t-untap clause is so interesting because even if we try and dodge it with mana guys, we still have to sacrifice that land mana at some point, either this turn or next. Is Experiment One, Tarmogoyf, Rhonas's Last Stand into Dismember good enough? Probably not, but someone will try.
Champion of Wits is probably horrible, but could be good enough if the stars align. Control has gone so tap-out lately that a 2/1 that loots for two and chumps a Thought-Knot Seer isn’t embarrassing, if it comes back as a 4/4 to trade later and draw 4, discard 2. If we’re playing this, it’s because the body matters, and I don’t see that happening. If it was a 1/3, or even better a 0/4, then maybe, and if eternalize cost 6 instead of 7. So close, but it's probably for the better.
Torment of Hailfire is a Johnny-type card that can just kill you, leaving you shaking your head at the maniac casual as he signs his match slip. Just play a control game, tap all your mana and off you go. If Eldrazi wasn’t the best way to spend your mana these days, I could see this card, but it isn’t better than Karn Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon off a Sanctum of Ugin. There was a weekend two years ago when Mono-Black Tron was an option. Still, it’s so black to say, “Screw Sphinx's Revelation, this game has gone on long enough. Tap all my mana, you LOSE.”
Ramunap Excavator. Would you play Crucible of Worlds if it was green and a 2/3? I can see it. Leonin Arbiter, this guy, and start chaining Ghost Quarters. The body is unimpressive, but that’s what we say about all of Hatebears’s dudes. This guy has an effect the deck wanted and at least two power. That’s all they need, right?
Now Supreme Will, on the other hand, could be the Mana Leak/Forbidden Alchemy hybrid we never knew we wanted, this time with 80 miles to the gallon! I’m not excited to be playing counterspells in Modern anymore, unless they cost one mana, but the ability to have every single card in my UW Draw-Go cantrip has me itching to throw it in. I wish it was two mana for a Force Spike or Sleight of Hand at instant speed, but as much as I want to convince myself that would be okay to print, I imagine it's still too good.
No, if we are seeing anything impactful from this set, it's probably Reason // Believe. I’m not familiar enough with the quirky card pool to know if there are enough options for setting our library, but there has to be support for it in the card pool. The card just feels so Scapeshift. Do nothing, hit your land drops, draw some cards, kill you. This card has me wishing for a Magic of ages past where Courser of Kruphix and Oracle of Mul Daya were good cards. Who knows, maybe it can happen.
So, how did we do? It doesn’t seem like we have either the clear all-star like Fatal Push or the sideboard workhorse like Collective Brutality this time around. For control, we might have something in Torment of Hailfire to push people towards black. Green aggro could take advantage of Rhonas's Last Stand. Hatebears might have a walking Crucible of Worlds.
For the most part, it’s a bunch of "maybe it’ll work, shrug?" type cards, which means a few potential days of halfhearted attempts at trying them out and then back to the old grind. I’m not too upset about that, but I wish there was one really good addition. I’d be fine if WoTC even said, “Set releases from now on are Standard-only, but we’ll release one card on its own for Eternal too.” Give me that Scavenging Ooze-esque card. We'll give you our huddled masses. We need it.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my article this week; I had a blast trying something different! Let me know what you think below, about the article, your thoughts on the set, or anything else. First one to 5-0 with Wretched Camel gets a pack from me in the mail.