Modern Horizons 2 has been around for a month, and the format has adjusted thoroughly. That's not to say the dust has settled; just that the world is very different now. Today, we'll take a look at the directions fair decks are headed, featuring a pair of red one-drops that have already begun to redefine nonrotating formats.
Fair aggro-control decks seem to be coalescing around two poles, both wielding and maximizing Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. On the tempo side of things, we've got UR Thresh; on the midrange end, BR Rock. Let's delve into both as we explore archetype homogenization, alternatives, and tech.
Fast & Furious
UR Thresh is Modern's answer to UR Delver, the top Legacy deck that's become downright scary (yet again) with Ragavan in the picture. The titular threat, Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, isn't quite where players want to be in Modern; this removal-heavy format dictates extra removal, making the Insect more of a liability here than creatures which provide some sort of value failsafe. The related need for more creatures overall makes the 1/1 worse at blind-flipping, and the lack of Ponder and Brainstorm means no great tools for setting up a flip. So instead, UR Thresh packs extra copies of Murktide Regent alongside a full set of Thought Scour, as well as up to a couple copies of the banned-in-Legacy value engine Dreadhorde Arcanist.
The rest is par for the course: there's the cheapest, most flexible removal available, including newcomer Unholy Heat, a low land count, and a set of Expressive Iteration. (That funky-looking Chalice of the Void in the sideboard is more for locking out 0-drops like suspend spells than trolling the mirror.)
I did say that UR Thresh was a premier interactive strategy fronting Ragavan, but I don't mean to say it's the best deck in Modern, or even the best UR deck. From here, it looks like that honor goes to UR Prowess, which is alive and well post-MH2 (similarly benefitting from Dragon's Rage Channeler) and doesn't even play Ragavan, preferring threats that front-load as much damage as able. Take this recent preliminary, where UR Prowess made up four of the seven decks scoring 3-1 or better (the four best-ranked, too). The two decks share many cards, but UR Prowess is decidedly more aggressive on the spectrum, and therefore gets less use out of the 2/1 Monkey.
Then there's Mono-Red Prowess, certainly an underdog but absolutely not out of the picture. Mono-Red uses Light Up the Stage to recoup on card advantage rather than Expressive Iteration, and was known pre-MH2 to go a bit bigger than UR, packing three-drops like Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp and Blood Moon. In other words, it's more interactive, making it a better fit for Ragavan than its two-color cousin.
Mono-Red is very handsome on paper if just for its bare-bones creature suite, which now comprises precisely the four most aggressively-costed red one-drops of all time. The above build splashes white for Rip Apart, Kor Firewalker, and of course Lurrus of the Dream-Den, giving it a big boost in mid-game power that aims to make up for the lack of Iteration for the mostly-free price of running some fast and Horizon lands.
Joining the Dark Side
As mentioned, leaning blue is but one of the paths available to would-be Ragavan casters. Modern's premier interactive color has always been that shared by Thoughtseize, so it's no big surprise to see the Monkey make headway in rock strategies, which protect it proactively.
BR Rock (featuring a baby white splash for Prismatic Ending, Modern's latest premier removal spell) has all but subsumed Jund and other rock decks of late—it seems we may well have reached critical mass for powerful cards that play to rock's strip-em-n-beat-em bottom line. And as with Mono-Red Prowess, the Dream-Den's allure is a bit much to ignore, especially given that rock as an archetype lives and dies on value, incremental card advantage, and sticking a game-winning threat once opponents have run out of resources. Previously, Lurrus's companion condition was enough to keep it out of most rock decks (Shadow being the exception), but the fact is there's little need for three-drops like Liliana of the Veil or Bloodbraid Elf when the cheaper cards are this good (as of MH2, they are).
Here's Ragavan, of course, but also Dragon's Rage Channeler, which essentially just pressures the opponent while sifting through the deck and setting up delirium. That's a big difference from Tarmogoyf, Death's Shadow, and Scourge of the Skyclaves, the threats this kind of deck has traditionally favored; those creatures have to their benefit that they win combat on defense, too, meaning they apply pressure but also lend reversibility to midrange decks by stalling aggro. Channeler can pretty much never block profitably; not only is 3/3 a good deal smaller than 5/6 or however big Goyf happened to be at a given time, the creature attacks each turn if able when delirium is active. How much blocking did you want to be doing with your Goyf, anyway? The deck has plenty of removal for aggro opponents, as well as a secret weapon in Dauthi Voidwalker.
Voidwalker fundamentally alters the way rock plays by giving it access to a dimension previously claimed only by fish decks like Death and Taxes. It's an evasive threat that also functions as a one-sided hoser, in this case Leyline of the Void. While Leyline itself wasn't sided that often because of its strictness—there were better or less-risky alternatives against all but the fastest decks, and in most colors, and requiring sideboard slots was a big ask—having incidental copies stapled to a fast clock in the mainboard does indeed seem bonkers, especially considering that rock is so good at attacking opponents from the remaining game angles already. It's got targeted discard, creature kill, planeswalker kill, permanent removal, and now blue-chip grave interaction. It's also worth remembering that some of the decks that used to hassle rock the most, such as Dredge, see their recursive engines neutered by the Voidwalker.
Okay, okay, so the red one-drops are fantastic. But there's more to Modern Horizons 2 than just that one story! Join me next time for the scoop on some of the brand-new archetypes emerging with the set... and on some Modern stalwarts excited to have found a few new toys.