Ho, ho, ho! Welcome to another edition of Modern Top 5, this one held together by tinsel-thin Christmas allusions. Although it's no "illusion" which color's on top at this year's end! Today, we'll break down the format's piniest players.
Trimming the Tree
Our first gift is actually a hand-me-down: an older Modern Top 5 metric explanation! We'll be using the same set of rules for green cards as we did for black, so feel free to skip this section if you're familiar with power, flexiblity, and splashability.
No Modern Top 5 would be complete without a metric. Since the top cards in a given color can include any type of spell—planeswalker, hate, beater—we’ll aim to use the most general metrics possible. I think those happen to be the ones established in the series’s first entry, Modern Top 5: Utility Cards. Here they are again.
- Power: The degree of impact the card tends to have for its cost.
- Flexibility: The card’s usefulness across diverse situations and game states.
- Splashability: The ease with which Modern decks can accommodate the card.
Power and flexibility will be rated by considering both a card’s floor (the least it will do) and its ceiling (its best-case scenario). For example, Lightning Bolt‘s power floor is higher than Fatal Push‘s, as Push is dead when opponents have no creatures while Bolt can go to the face.
Splashability will be rated by considering how many existing Modern decks can accommodate the card and whether they’ll want it. For example, despite its lack of a color identity, Ghost Quarter doesn’t fit into BGx midrange decks. These decks can easily run Fulminator Mage as mana disruption instead, and prefer not to miss a land drop if they don’t have to.
Each metric will be rated out of 5, giving cards a total rating out of 15. As ever, the usual disclaimer stands: just because a card scores low or doesn’t make the list means little in terms of its overall playability. After all, splashability is a metric. Some of the strongest cards in the format in terms of raw tournament wins are themselves rather limited in terms of which decks can employ them.
Now that the chimney's swept and the cookies are by the tree, let's skip ahead to 6:00 AM and check out the greatest green's got to offer!
#5: Ancient Stirrings
"Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse," the poem goes. But despite Modern's ever-shifting focus this year, Tron and Eldrazi players have indeed been Stirring up a storm, and they won't stop anytime soon. Stirrings is indeed an absurd card in its right decks, trumping the banned Ponder and Preordain by digging a whopping five cards deep for one mana.
That cheapness keeps Stirrings relevant the entire game, giving it a high flexibility score. Only its necessary colorless limitation knocks it down from 5; sometimes, players really need to grab that Primeval Titan or Thragtusk.
Splashability is where Stirrings really takes a hit. Last time I graded it on this metric, the sorcery scored a 2. I then wrote that decks using Stirrings must fulfill the following conditions:
- Have colorless cards they benefit greatly from finding at certain points in a game
- Be composed primarily of colorless cards
All of that is still true. What's changed is Modern. As David wrote last week, 2019 saw a huge influx of spells into the cardpool, and some of them have straight-up power-crept Ancient Stirrings (keep reading!). In other news, every artifact deck no longer necessarily wants the cantrip; Oko Urza, the format's supposed top deck and certainly its best artifact one, forgoes it entirely, as its payoffs are largely colored. Stirrings still does a lot, but for a more specific niche of decks than ever.
#4: Collector Ouphe
There are two kinds of gift-givers: those who look for the hottest new trinkets to bestow upon friends and family, and those who furnish whatever's on sale so they can horde the real deals themselves. Ouphe falls into the latter category.
Stony Silence on legs is both better and worse than the enchantment; Collector Ouphe can tap to beat up on floodgated opponents, but it's also susceptible to a larger swath of removal, e.g. Galvanic Blast. In any case, two mana for this effect is a bargain in Modern, and one that once earned Stony itself the #1 spot in "Modern Top 5: Hosers," a piece about the effective disruption of metagames past.
The only thing saving Ouphe from a 1 in this category is the fact that it can turn sideways for some damage or block a creature. Therein lies the inherent flexibility of the card type. But yeah, its effect, however superb in the right scenario, is quite narrow, mostly dooming Ouphe to sideboards.
Just like Stony, Ouphe is quite lax with its requirements: pilots just need tangential access to the right color of mana and not to be on the decks they plan to hate out, standard fare for most hosers. But I do think Ouphe is a bit more splashable thanks to its typing—getting scooped by Collected Company, Chord of Calling and the like makes it especially appealing for decks running similar cards.
#3: Veil of Summer
I've made no secret my love of one-mana Cryptic Commands over the last five years, and Veil of Summer is by far the best one-mana Cryptic Modern (Magic?) has ever seen. It's no wonder Wizards has banned it from both Standard and Pioneer at this point.
One-mana Cryptic is always incredibly powerful, but it tends to lose out on these next two metrics. Veil is still more flexible than many of its forebears: it hits blue and black spells, tagging permission, removal, and targeting effects like those of Thoughtseize and Surgical Extraction. But it still only works on the stack, and when opponents bring those kinds of effects to the table. This sort of card is inherently narrow in its applications.
At last, the turnaround! At a measly one green mana, Veil proves eminently splashable. Best of all are the many roles it plays in different decks. Fair strategies use it to bolster their gameplan in midrange mirrors or against control, but aggro-combo and pure combination decks wield Veil as insurance against opponents trying to slow their gameplan. That versatility makes Veil strategically splashable as well as color-wise.
#2: Once Upon a Time
If we're power-creeping Ancient Stirrings, we're certainly scoring perfect marks on this metric. You thought Stirrings was cheap at one mana? Once is as free as a Christmas carol! Okay, so it's only free on turn one (good luck finding carolers about on the 26th), but that's for the other metrics to worry about. This card is so played because it's free when it counts the most: at the stage of the game where neither player has any mana.
Just as free is infinitely better than one mana, two mana is much steeper. That's where Once takes a hit relative to Stirrings. But grabbing creatures tends to trump grabbing lands and artifacts, especially since many payoffs these days, even for artifact decks, fall into the former category. And Once is an instant, so players don't even have to fork over mana on their own turn.
Early access to green mana isn't even a requirement for this card to see play. So long as a given deck can eventually produce green, Once is a supportable inclusion; after all, it's to be cast right away for zero mana, and then again much later, after players have exhausted their hands of board-impacting plays and are searching out more gas. To me, the biggest showcase of this card's splashability was its inclusion in Traverse Shadow, where it supplants Manamorphose as a quick instant for the graveyard while also often acting as a delirium-ready Traverse the Ulvenwald out of the gate.
#1: Oko, Thief of Crowns
To be fair, there are more impactful spells at this price point. Oko's real draw is the sheer amount of options he affords pilots. Players give themselves total autonomy when casting the planeswalker, at once an effective disrupter and army-in-a-can win-button. In other words, Oko's commanders enjoy a sizable boost in reversibility once the walker resolves: they suddenly get to choose when to interact and when to proact, all while drawing enemy resources onto one card that may or may not distract from other plans.
Oko's been popping up everywhere, sure, but not literally everywhere. While his effects are desirable enough to merit consideration in most types of decks, only those capable of producing blue and green mana can actually afford to run Oko as an engine or tech.
More to Unwrap
The year isn't over just yet. In the coming weeks, we'll see how the Festive Five fare in online dumps as we examine the last brews of 2019, and whether a certain grinch has it in for them after not making my "nice" list!