Last week, I shared my top 10 most impactful cards for 2021 for the Modern format. In crafting that list, I left off any reprints along with some cards that just narrowly missed the cutoff. However, these are still major players in the Modern metagame that need the limelight they deserve!
Without further adieu, here are my honorable mentions.
10. Dress Down
Coming in at number 10 is Dress Down. Innocuous at first, Dress Down seems like a variant of Stifle. With flash, it's a great answer to powerful enters-the-battlefield abilities against cards like Primeval Titan. As a permanent, it continues to lock down follow-up plays for the remainder of the turn until it sacrifices itself.
Upon further inspection, it removes all abilities for the turn. This includes those that set variable power and toughness, like Urza's Saga tokens meaning the tokens all become 0/0s and die to state-based actions. Creatures with protection like Sanctifier en-Vec that are extremely difficult to kill can suddenly be exposed to removal. You can also use it proactively to power up your own creatures. Death's Shadow and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger are creatures with detrimental abilities that you can temporarily wipe clean for an instantly large 13/13 or a two-mana 6/6 that doesn't sacrifice itself when cast from your hand.
By combining Dress Down with Lurrus of the Dream-Den, you can cast Dress Down from your graveyard during each of your end steps to stop your opponents from having any creature abilities during their turn. Several top decks in Modern struggle with this interaction as it can prevent primary removal spells like Solitude from functioning.
9. Thought Monitor
My ninth slot, Thought Monitor, revisits a fan favorite archetype: Affinity. With the plethora of cheap artifacts available in Modern, this cost reduction mechanic lets you cast spell after spell with little to no mana required. The card velocity featured in Affinity decks is second to none and is powered primarily through the draw spell Thoughtcast.
Thought Monitor adds a critical density to the Affinity card draw package. This allows you to overwhelm the board quickly while digging for your Cranial Platings and Nettlecysts. Hilariously, the printed mana value of Thought Monitor is seven (though rarely ever cast for it). This means it can be Neoformed into game-enders like Griselbrand and Craterhoof Behemoth in hybrid Affinity aggro-combo decks.
8. Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar/The Underworld Cookbook
Perhaps one of the strangest cards to come out of Modern Horizons 2 (MH2) is Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar (Asmor). Asmor is a zero-mana 3/3 that can only be cast if you've discarded a card during the same turn. When you do, you can tutor out her signature artifact, The Underworld Cookbook, which is another discard outlet. Asmor slots well into a handful of archetypes, both with her at the helm and with her as a supporting role. Most notably are the Golgari and Grixis Food builds which look to generate Food tokens by discarding Ovalchase Daredevil to Cookbook, which immediately returns Daredevil to your hand.
Excess food tokens translate into repeatable removal spells with Asmor as well as life total padding against aggro matchups. These decks can play Asmor as early as turn one by cycling Street Wraith. Green builds can play Asmor via Finale of Devastation and skip the discard requirement altogether. Grixis builds lean more on the Cookbook than Asmor herself, and take advantage of the excess artifact generation with payoffs like Urza, Lord High Artificer.
Potentially underexplored areas for Asmor are the red-based Hollow One shells that were popular prior to the Faithless Looting ban in 2019. These decks focus on high-velocity drawing and discarding to play zero-mana Hollow Ones and Vengevines. Asmor having ample discard outlets, replacing itself with a card, and acting as an aggressive 3/3 body makes that archetype a very comfy home.
7. Faithful Mending
On the subject of Faithless Looting, its spiritual successor arrived in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt in the form of Faithful Mending. While twice as much mana and in different colors, the instant speed and life gain for this effect are far from trivial. The color shift also encourages a slower approach, curving well into Teferi, Time Raveler or setting up Persist and Unburial Rites. Pitching to both Solitude and Force of Negation are also major upsides. While it hasn't been able to fill the void that Looting left in the Arclight Phoenix archetype, it can still set up impressive Phoenix turns as early as turns three and four.
6. Fire // Ice
Fire // Ice is perhaps one of the strongest supporting role-players in Modern and it's a card that I've been clamoring to get a reprint of since Return to Ravnica. At a total mana value of four, Fire // Ice gets around the deck restriction for cascade decks while providing early interaction and removal.
Tapping down your opponent's lands with Ice can deny them an entire turn's worth of spells. This line can also be critically important leading into your cascade turn by tapping down your opponent's second blue source, preventing them from casting Counterspell. With Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, and Dragon's Rage Channeler ubiquitous in the format, it's possible to two-for-one your opponent's early plays with Fire. Acting as a blue or red card to pitch to either Force of Negation and Fury is also very useful.
5. Grist, The Hunger Tide
If Asmor isn't the weirdest card to come out of MH2, that title certainly goes to Grist, the Hunger Tide. Grist is a planeswalker that masquerades as a 1/1 insect in every zone other than the battlefield. That means you can tutor her with cards like Chord of Calling or Collected Company. She functions similarly to Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast in that she ticks up to protect herself and downticks as repeatable removal.
This gives creature-heavy decks some much-needed flexibility at an efficient rate. She sees play in the Yawgmoth combo deck, Elves, and midrange Jund-style decks. The only thing holding her back from ubiquitous play is her incompatibility with Lurrus, one of the premier midrange cards of Modern.
4. Sanctifier En-Vec
Sanctifer En-Vec is just... I don't even know, man. This card is hateful. Sanctifier is a callback to Auriok Champion with its WW casting cost and protection from red and black. Red and black are the most common removal colors in magic. This is especially true with cards like Unholy Heat and Fatal Push functioning as near-unconditional removal. Sanctifier not only laughs at these removal spells but is a hatebear for red and black cards in graveyards.
This is a near lights-out against Dredge where all of the payoffs are either red or black. Sanctifier blocks Death's Shadow like a champ. It invalidates Dragon's Rage Channeler by turning off Delirium, and laughs off Ragavan's attacks. The main reanimator threat of the format is Archon of Cruelty which simply doesn't work as long as Sanctifier is in play. For red and black decks, the only way to deal with this frustrating creature is by playing Dress Down to clear out Sanctifier's protection ability and then remove it, or use colorless answers like Pyrite Spellbomb.
3. Kaldra Compleat
Coming in third and the last non-reprint card on my list is Kaldra Compleat. It's not every day Stoneforge Mystic gets a new toy. In many ways, Kaldra Compleat is an upgraded Batterskull. It sports the living weapon ability which always gives it a body to latch onto. It also has a wall of text that makes the equipment very difficult to answer. First strike, trample, haste, and "super deathtouch" on a 5/5 is either a four-turn clock or an indestructible The Abyss. Again, if not for its incompatibility with Lurrus, I would expect Kaldra Compleat to see much more Modern play.
My runner-up counts as the bluest spell that ever countered a spell, Counterspell. This namesake blue
interrupt instant originated in Alpha and has been on the Modern wish list for as long as the format has existed. At two mana, it trades one-for-one with anything, no questions asked, and no hoops to jump through. We've gotten countless imitations over the years, but they've almost all paled in comparison to the original.
The printing of Counterspell signifies that the costs of proactive threats have gotten more low-to-the-ground. The original argument against it becoming Modern-legal was that it almost always traded up on mana and tempo. However, it's increasingly more common for it to trade evenly on mana, or even at a deficit thanks to the powerful one-and two-mana threats like Ragavan and Puresteel Paladin.
Big mana decks like Amulet Titan and Eldrazi Tron run Cavern of Souls to force through their threats against countermagic so trading up isn't even necessarily a guarantee. Even still, Counterspell is an incredibly powerful and iconic card. Modern has reached a place where it's not necessarily the de facto best thing you can do, but it's still a very strong option. I'm thrilled it's finally an available tool in blue decks' arsenals.
1. Shardless Agent
Topping off my list is the cascade menace originally printed in Planechase 2012, Shardless Agent. This creature revolutionized the cascade archetypes by streamlining the mana into Temur colors rather than Jund or four- and five-color piles. Shardless allows for a critical mass of blue and green spells, meaning cascade decks can now support Force of Negation and Force of Vigor, providing much-needed interaction.
The most successful of the cascade decks post-MH2 intends to cheat Crashing Footfalls onto the stack. A net total of 10 power for 3 mana with tempo support can close games out very quickly. While "Crashcade" is the most popular, Living End is still very successful and the Glimpse of Tomorrow deck is incredibly strong despite seeing relatively minimal play. Shardless ultimately wins its spot as my top runner-up for upgrading a fringe archetype to tier one status. I have no doubt that it will continue to be a format staple for years to come.
That wraps up my top 10 honorable mentions list! Did your favorite show up this week? You can let me know by leaving a comment or tweeting me at @AdamECohen. I had a blast revisiting the top cards of 2021 and I can't wait to see what 2022 has in store. Stay tuned!