Yesterday, Wizards unveiled Modern Horizons, an "innovation product" like Conspiracy and Battlebond. Its purpose: to bypass Standard and supplement Modern with new cards, both those currently illegal from pre-8th Edition sets and some that are newly designed. A couple of the new cards were spoiled on the stream.
Today's article evaluates the spoiled cards and weighs the implications of a set that dumps cards straight into Modern.
New Card Review
We'll begin by assessing the new cards spoiled.
Actual comments by Matt Nass and Cassius Marsh as they pored over Cabal Therapist:
"This is nice."
"That's like, really good."
"Yeah, this is no joke."
And after us viewers also saw the card, giving the pair some time to mull the creature over:
"This card seems pretty insane."
"Regardless of what you do, this card seems crazy powerful."
"I'm just thinking of all the ways it can be broken."
The card in question:
I can understand this level of fawning from the starry-eyed Cassius, an admitted Commander lover and clearly (if endearingly) casual player. But only the last of the above three post-reveal quotes came from the 49ers defensive end, leaving Matt Nass—the same Matt Nass who broke and crushed with Krark-Clan Ironworks until the card was banned—responsible for the other assertions. I've since seen his enthusiasm for Therapist echoed on forums.
This card would never see play in today's Modern.
Cabal Therapist is too slow to disrupt opponents before their gameplan comes online and shockingly easy to interact with: one benefit of sorcery-typed discard spells is that they can't be countered by Fatal Push; another is that they don't have suspend 1. To benefit from the original Cabal Therapy's multiple casts, players must wait multiple turns and spend their precious early-game mana deploying creatures they will sacrifice the next turn. In a format as proactive as Modern, I don't think that's much of a winning strategy.
The only home I can think of for Therapist would be in some sort of Aristocrats build. These decks are barely competitive, though, and Therapist doesn't even offer them something they necessarily want or need. The Horror features a cute (if ham-fisted) callback to an extremely powerful card that would, in a heartbeat, see Modern play (perhaps alongside Stitcher's Supplier and Arclight Phoenix), but playability-wise strikes me as destined for the bulk bin.
Serra the Benevolent
The commentators seemed more ambivalent about Serra the Benevolent, saying they were "not sure" if it would even see play in Modern. Cassius was excited, although he did misread the card as granting its owners' creatures flying (a gaffe Wizards' panel of Poindexters hilariously neglected to correct). In any case, I think Serra's potential is much higher than Cabal Therapist's. The planeswalker produces a decent body immediately and then ticks up like a normal planeswalker would to create a Worship emblem, which as Matt Nass notes is much stronger than actual Worship, as it can't be removed. Worship is also dead against some decks, but a 4/4 will always help kill an opponent, strengthening Serra's mainboard prospects.
Alternatively, and this is how I anticipate Serra will be used most of the time, the walker serves as a Worship emblem with suspend 1. Decks that want this effect include Troll Worship, an ancient brew focused on sticking the enchantment behind a hexproof guy, and Bogles, an actual deck focused on sticking enchantments on a hexproof guy. I can also imagine Collected Company decks that attack from multiple angles wanting Serra as a sideboard option in matchups where Worship shines, or where the card advantage inherent to planeswalkers matters.
Between slotting into strategies which don't see much play in Modern, not being abusable by virtue of a cost-reduction mechanic, and retaining a decent power level and unique flexibility dimensions, Serra the Benevolent is exactly the kind of new card I would like to see more of in Modern Horizons.
As far as reprints go, Wizards probably had a few goals in mind. For one, they wanted to create a memorable draft experience with Modern Horizons. Some cards may appear as a result of their popularity or associated nostalgia—think Man-o-War or Sea Drake. Others may be included to enhance the Modern experience by adding new dimensions to its gameplay. This is the area that has most Modern players excited for reprints, as many have pined after Eternal-legal staples for years. It's also the area we'll focus on in this section, as I think a couple of paths could alter the format in a way players end up disappointed with.
Alternate Win Conditions
Consider True-Name Nemesis. Nemesis is far from a dominating force in Legacy, although it is one of that format's premier creatures. In a fast format like Modern, a three-mana 3/1 is nothing to write home about. But it does have implications of its own in a format lacking Legacy's in-game consistency tools.
Since Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm are not legal in Modern, players will have a doozy of a time finding their narrow outs to something like True-Name within a reasonable timeframe. Introducing such cards en masse could make the format more like the Best of One format in MTG Arena. That format is so polarizing because it's so necessarily linear, a complaint also common among Modern's critics.
With that being said, I doubt giving blue decks their own Etched Champion would ruin Modern. Regarding True-Name specifically, the format might benefit from decks emerging built around playing fair and closing with the Merfolk Rogue. But the predicament might be worth watching out for.
My poster boys for this section: Force of Will and Wasteland. Modern pundits have clamored for early-game, all-purpose answers like these for years. If they existed, Wizards might have a lot less banning to do, as Modern could self-police more effectively. I believe these two cards in particular are too powerful for the format.
While Force of Will is generally sided out in Legacy's fair-deck mirrors, I'm not convinced it would be in Modern. Decks in this format are very aggressive and tend to care little about card advantage relative to tempo. Accepting that aspect of the format has led me to success with Disrupting Shoal and caused me to heavily endorse Faithless Looting long before Phoenix, Bridgevine, or Hollow One broke onto the scene.
As for Wasteland, this card would totally change the way decks are constructed, forcing players to include more lands and trim their top-end.
With these cards legal, the combo strategies Force and Wasteland keep in check could probably roam free in Modern without violating any of Wizards' diversity goals. I posit that those goals would instead be violated by the Force and Wasteland decks, as players would be forced into blue just to not lose to combo. There's a middle-ground to hit when it comes to blanket answers that help Modern self-police, and I think these two cards go too far.
What to Reprint?
Less-warping answers would make ideal reprint targets, especially if those answers only fit into specific decks or ones with stringent requirements, such as Daze, Flusterstorm, and Innocent Blood. Utility creatures and floodgates make for interesting possibilities; take Containment Priest, Sanctum Prelate, or Back to Basics. In other words, more great stuff like Damping Sphere.
I'd also like to see some grindy midrange cards à la Bloodbraid Elf. Elf itself has done close to nothing in Modern on account of colorful midrange decks being very poorly positioned these days. Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix spring to mind.
Almost regardless of what Wizards reprints or what their new cards will look like, I think Horizons will be invigorating and fun surrounding its release. But I am a little concerned about the expansion's long-term effects in Modern. What follows are my hopes and fears about Horizons.
Changing the Game
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the saying goes. And Modern definitely ain't broke. Heck, people love Modern so much that Wizards is dedicating its "innovation product" to the format! Rapidly implementing changes to the format might take away some of the aspects of Modern that people love so much.
The more cards Modern has, the more powerful it is. And the more powerful Modern is, the harder it is for Standard cards to break into the format. Standard is still Modern's primary source of new cards, and by all indications will remain that way post-Horizons. The rush of excitement we get when this set spoils might just be on credit from the future: that's future Standard sets we'll get less stimulated by since the cards won't hold as much promise.
That point brings us to my final concern: like Conspiracy and Battlebond, Wizards is under no obligation to ever follow Horizons with a similar set. Horizons smacks of a hit-and-run: Wizards dumping a bunch of cards on us and then walking off. What about the format's evolutionary rhythm? The notions of pedigree and card pool internalized by so many ardent players? What if Modern becomes too stale with a higher power level and no constant influx of new cards?
Another Modern Renaissance
Despite my apprehension, I want the record to show that I am personally very excited about Horizons. The expansion is likely to create a renaissance of sorts in Modern, reaffirming its identity as a brewer's paradise, at least in the short-term. Whether or not Modern does end up more stale with an elevated power level, it will be highly compelling for all sorts of players during the initial, transitional period.
Hurtin' For a Hammer
My biggest hope for Horizons is that it gives Modern players the tools they need to bring their brews to the next level when it comes to fighting off the format's top dogs without much cutting into the scheduled dumps we get from Standard. As a Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration aficionado myself, there are plenty of juicy cards I'd like brought in from Legacy: Fire // Ice; Stifle; Divert. Which cards do you want to see reprinted? Are you worried about how Modern Horizons will affect the format in the long term? Let me know your thoughts below.