Thrones of Eldraine spoilers are rolling on, and I'm having more fun watching them than any other set I can remember. That's not to say that Modern Horizons was boring nor War of the Spark lacking content. Rather, there are more opportunites to make your own fun with Eldraine than the other sets. Rosewater showed how the cards are designed to tell stories, and it does work quite well. However, because I'm an insufferable intellectual, I prefer to point out which fairy tales and fables are being referenced. And then wax pedagogical about them. Fun for everyone!
Last week, few cards had been spoiled, so I focused on the mechanics themselves and speculated to fill in the gaps. With plenty of cards available, this week will be all about the cards. At time of writing, there continue to be no playable adamant cards nor adventures for which you mainly want the creature. I also haven't seen anything that would faeries good again. However, plenty of other decks stand to considerably gain from Eldraine, presented in alphabetical order.
Kicking things off, Prince Charming is both a great pun and an extremely attractive card. Cheap creatures with abilities and relevant creature types always have at least a chance of making it in Modern, and the Prince is starting off at an advantage, as befits his station. His three abilities (a callback to the charms, i.e. Azorius Charm) are all incredibly relevant, valuable, and potentially incredibly powerful. Gaining three life isn't the most powerful ability, but with Burn being a major player it is certainly welcome. Kitchen Finks was a staple for years. Charming gives more life upfront and that alone may be enough.
But enough won't satisfy royalty. Charming's most powerful ability (in a vacuum anyway) is his first: scry 2. It doesn't look like much, but white doesn't get card draw or library manipulation very often. Even when it does, it's usually about enchantments (see Idyllic Tutor) or much worse than other colors' options (see Thraben Inspector). Charming is very similar to Serum Visions, but being a creature gives him greater flexibility. Charming could help close the variance gap between white and other colors.
The final, and most contextually powerful, ability is flickering your own creatures. The Prince is no Flickerwisp, and cannot be used to directly disrupt the opponent or to give you mana back flickering by your land. All he does is save creatures with Aether Vial or recycle ETB effects. As the rise of Bant Ephemerate decks shows, creature-based value generation is incredibly powerful. Add in that Charming's a Human, and the card suggests the makings of a Modern staple.
Quest for the Kingdom
However, much like actual royalty, Charming's value may not be needed. Value for value's sake is frequently a trap. It has to be useful in context, or it's just durdling. There needs to be a deck where Charming can not only fit but be good within the deck, and it's not clear that such a deck exists.
Consider Humans. That list is so tight there may not be room for extra value. The flex slot is currently Deputy of Detention, and given Whirza's popularity I can't imagine that changing. Therefore, something from the main Humans package has to go, but cutting on disruption dilutes the main appeal of Humans and reduces the chances to gain value. Charming also can't reset Phantasmal Image. I don't know if that's acceptable or a deal breaker.
Outside of Humans, I'm not sure what deck wants the Prince around. He is only a 2/2 ground pounder, and white decks have no shortage of those. Death and Taxes has Flickerwisp and wouldn't cut them for Charming. Frequently, as good as getting value flickering your creatures is, it's better to flicker an opposing creature or equipment during combat. Wisp also kills tokens, steals a land drop, resets planeswalkers, and can break up combos. Add in flying and Charming can't replace Flickerwisp.
As both a value creature and a flicker, Charming's a natural fit into Bant Ephemerate. However, that deck doesn't actually need more of either effect. The deck's packed with small value creatures, Soulherder, and Ephemerate itself. The deck doesn't really need more value; it needs some punch for when value isn't enough.
Eldraine features a new twist on the color hosers. Rather than another round of Celestial Purge-type hate, it's Glare of Heresy-style. The new cards have some effect that gets better if you target the same color as them. Obviously intended to allow these cards to see maindeck play, I don't think they're entirely successful. The two cards that could see Modern play will only be sideboard cards. They may prove very good sideboard cards, but that will depend on how the metagame moves.
There was a saying back in the day that whoever drew the blue half of their UW Control deck won the mirror. Before planeswalkers, blue provided all the card advantage and interaction that was actually relevant in the control mirror, where white was just creature removal. While this isn't as true anymore, blue's planeswalkers and counters are still more relevant than Path to Exile in the mirror. Mystical Dispute threatens to upend this strategic truism.
Gainsay used to see some play, and at one mana, Dispute is better. Countering a A-Teferi, Time Raveler is obviously good, but unlike Gainsay, Dispute can target any spell. This means it's never actually dead if your opponent pivots away from planeswalkers and card advantage and toward Monastery Mentor. I suspect Dispel is better in an actual control mirror, but for Stoneblade or other tempo decks, Dispute's flexibility may be more valuable. The card can safely come in against nonblue decks that demand countermagic from opponents.
Replace the word "exile" in all instances with "discard" and Specter's Shriek is maindeckable, and possibly busted. As-is, exiling opposing spells is very good because denying graveyard synergies is very good, even with Hogaak gone. However, imagine if Intrusion was discard a card instead. In that case it's disruption and an enabler, and one of the best cards in Magic. I'm thinking of Dredge removing opposing hate and then discarding Stinkweed Imp. Which, I'm sure, is why it exiles.
Exiling a card for targeting a nonblack spell is a very high price. Yes, if you're hellbent, then there's no drawback, and Shriek is better than Thoughtseize. However, in that scenario, it's unlikely that you wanted a discard spell at all. The only way to utilize the drawback is with Eternal Scourge or Misthollow Griffin. Otherwise, Shriek is card disadvantage. Against a mono-black deck this is better than any other discard spell. Against everything else, I can't imagine the price is worthwhile when Thoughtseize's drawback is marginal at most.
With Stoneforge Mystic in Modern, any potentially playable equipment deserves another look. Of course, the bar is still very high, but it's not insurmountable. On its face, Embercleave can't compete with swords or Batterskull. The stat boost is worse, though trample and double strike partially make up for that, they're not better than protection. That it has flash and cost-reduction is nice, but not enough to make it in Modern.
What might be enough is attaching for free. It can only happen once, but that might be all it takes. Temur Battle Rage sees play with Death's Shadow, and if Embercleave enters via Mystic, it's better at the same price. Yes, it's likely unplayable if Mystic dies, but in a swarm deck that might not be relevant. Definitely worth testing.
Fires of Invention
I don't know if this card is good, but it seems like it could be. Free spells are frequently broken. However, Fires only allows for two spells, and only on your own turn. It's intended to be a weakened As Foretold, and can only really be used in a combo deck. It can't just go off like Experimental Frenzy or Mystic Forge. However, there's no risk of clunking out from a string of lands. You also don't really benefit from cheating it out, since those free spells are tied to your land count. There's no real point in cheating out 1-2 mana spells with a four mana enchantment. I have no idea what deck could use Fires or in what capacity, but I'm sure one exists.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
The Lady of the Lake is here to offer Excalibur to Urza, Lord High Artificer. Metaphorically and in theory, anyway. In Whirza, she can easily be played turn one to dig towards Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry, then allow Foundry to be cast from the graveyard. It is important to note that she doesn't cheat cards into play, just allows them to be recast. Thus, she's a bit worse than Goblin Engineer.
As in the legends, the Lady is here to help her chosen champion. Whirza is a deck filled with enablers and a few cards that matter. It is imperative that Whirza has Sword in the graveyard and Foundry in play, and the Lady helps on all accounts. Yes, she's worse than Engineer. However, her upside is that she can keep functioning after Shatterstorm. Unless there's another artifact ready to go, Engineer becomes a dead card where Emry will bring back whatever Urza needs to get going again. She also works in the face of Ancient Grudge and is only limited by available mana, not a cost restriction. Emry may not be as reliable as Engineer, but she does enough that Whirza can make use of her boons.
However, as the Lady giveth, the Lady can taketh away. (And in some retellings, imprison within a tree after a foreseen betrayal.) The Lady reduces Whirza's vulnerability to Shatterstorm and targeted removal, but not to graveyard hate or Stony Silence. In fact, she arguably increases Whirza's weakness to Rest in Peace.
Just like Engineer, she does nothing without a graveyard. This may not be a problem by itself, but when Emry enters play, she mills four random cards. In the best case, they're all artifacts that can be cast. In the worst, they're just Urza. Without Whir and Urza, Whirza is extremely anemic. The question is whether that risk outweighs the reward.
Following from that, Emry uniquely makes Whirza more vulnerable to Surgical Extraction. In practical terms, Whirza has the Thopter-Sword combo and Urza to win the game. By flipping cards into the graveyard, Emry gives Surgical targets. Potentially crippling targets. Normally Surgical is mediocre at best, but there are so few real cards in Whirza that it is a concern. As an additional problem, Emry is not an artifact herself and will take up at least a few artifact slots, reducing the redundancy and synergy of the deck.
On a similar note, Glass Casket may be the card that actually pushes Whirza over the edge. Normally, Journey to Nowhere effects aren't Modern-playable except as niche cards in Enduring Ideal. However, unlike its forbearers, Glass Casket is an artifact. That means it's findable with Whir of Invention, the supercharger that guarantees Casket sees play.
Deputy of Detention, Collector Ouphe, and Plague Engineer are all strong cards against Whirza, and now they can be answered at instant speed. Yes, Casket is vulnerable to Knight of Autumn or Disenchant, but that may not be relevant. If the hate creature is off the board even for an instant, that may be all Whirza needs to combo off.
Once Upon A Time...
This card is not Land Grant. I want that to be perfectly clear. Grant replaces lands because (assuming it resolves) it's guaranteed to find one. It is also free anytime that you don't have a land in hand. The risk of whiffing with Grant is non-existent, and any deck that needs/wants very few lands in their deck can safely run Grant.
Once cannot do that. Frank Karsten did the math for Once, and the odds of hitting with Once change drastically as you reduce the desired hits. The odds are still decently high, but there's no guarantee. There's also no control over which potential hit you actually do. Grant let you choose, which is relevant if you need a specific color to get going. There's also the fact that for Once to be free, it has to be the first spell played. Thus it presumably has to be in your opening hand, and odds of that are only ~40%. Few decks will want to avoid playing a spell turn one on the off-chance they draw Once turn two.
Still, Once is an extremely powerful cantrip, especially if it can be played for free. However, its Modern playability is entirely dependent on being free. If decks wanted Once's effect, they could already have it and choose not to. Seek the Wilds is a weaker but already legal version and sees no play. In fact, the only similar cards that see play are Ancient Stirrings for its cost and flexibility and Oath of Nissa in Saheeli-Cat.
...There Was Neobrand.
I've heard a lot of chatter about Once in Neobrand. The argument is that it finds either the mana or Allosaurus Rider to get the combo going. This is technically true, but given that the deck already runs Summoner's Pact, I don't think Neobrand needs help finding Rider. However, getting choked on mana is a major problem since Neobrand runs 14-16 lands and 4 Chancellor of the Tangle at most. Once will reduce Neobrand's mulligan variance, in theory.
However, what Once can't do is find Neoform or Eldritch Evolution. Neobrand is a multi-card combo, and Once not finding everything reduces its value. Additionally, Once only helps Neobrand get there on mana if it's in the opening hand, which is only a ~40% chance. I don't know the odds of Neobrand successfully comboing turns 1-2, but they're not high. The actual effect of adding a swingy card into an already swingy deck is unclear. The math of such things depends heavily on the assumptions made and can either increase or decrease variance. Given that Once can't find the tutors, its own variance, and Neobrand's already high variance I don't know if the deck can afford the deck space.
For every other deck, the question is if they want an otherwise marginally playable effect on the ~40% chance to have it for free. It isn't impossible, but I'm skeptical. Looking at green decks, there isn't much need. Tron is happy with Ancient Stirrings. Elves has tons of mana and Lead the Stampede. Jund is Jund, or it could have Traverse the Ulvenwald. I don't know why any deck would want Once except for it to be free.
Robber of the Rich
My final card is Robin Hood. Dire Fleet Daredevil saw some play in Humans against Jeskai Control, and Robber of the Rich is somewhat better. Haste is more relevant than first strike most of the time, and the effect is repeatable and doesn't have to be used immediately. However, Robin is indiscriminately stealing cards, so there's no control over what you get. He also can't steal all the time, and you can't cast the spells unless you've attacked with a rogue. That's a lot of caveats.
However, Robin could be a mirror-breaker for Burn. If Robin can steal a burn spell, even if it can't ever be cast, that's damage that didn't go to your face. That's also a spell out of the deck and a slightly improved chance of them hitting a land and flooding. If you can cast it, it's like drawing extra cards. Haste is the minimum barrier for Burn creatures, and while Robin could never replace existing options maindeck, as an engine against the mirror there is potential.
In a Land Far Away
Eldraine promises to be a very interesting set for Modern. There have been a few solid playables, but many more that need the right home or some work to be good. I'd rather see lots of interesting cards than obvious ones because they're less likely to break something, so here's hoping the trend continues through the week.