The seasons are changing and my allergies are flaring up, so it must be time for set spoilers! Once again, we'll look into the new set and see what (if anything) is good enough for Modern. The past few sets have seen plenty of role players make it, but it's quite hard for anything to compete with Modern Horizons 2 and so their impact has been limited. Nothing I've seen so far in Streets of New Capenna will change that trend. That doesn't mean that they won't see play.
First things first: Streets is phenomenal from a world-building and visual design perspective. Just like Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. If this is going to be the Wizards standard going forward, I'm all for it. I have no idea if the set will be as good mechanically or as a draft format yet, but the art deco is really working for me. And I'm not even that much of an art guy.
Let's start off easy. New Capenna is completing the cycle of triomes started in Ikoria with the enemy shards. The new triomes are not actually called trimoes, though, which feels like a mistake. We're all already calling them allied triomes and no other option was ever possible. I realize that such names don't fit into the overall set aesthetic, but they're already mechanical anomalies. Shards may be the theme, but there's no other cycling in the set. Just embrace the awkwardness and move on.
In any case, the new triomes are guaranteed to see Modern play. Because they're basically free with fetchlands and have proven to be essential for 3+ color decks. However, I wouldn't call them Modern staples. Every deck that needs a triome can really only afford to one run of each type, as aptly demonstrated by 4-Color Blink. That said, the impact on the 4+ color decks will be minor. Their mana is already basically perfect. Additional fixing is an incremental improvement at best.
The key members of this cycle are Spara's Headquarters and Xander's Lounge. Slow Bant and Grixis decks are always popular (especially in a churning format) but rarely stick. Card power is rarely the problem, but somehow both shards always seem to have mana trouble. Which is especially weird for Bant when Noble Hierarch exists, but that's my experience. The smoothing will assuredly reignite the hopes of all the Bant and Grixis Control players. Which will be crushed because both decks are still worse than 4-Color and Grixis Shadow respectively.
An Offer You Can't Refuse
There was no way Wizards could make a gangster themed set and not include the most iconic line from the most iconic gangster movie of all time. There would have been riots. I preorganized one as a precaution. Thankfully, Wizards saw reason and there can be peace between us. For now.
While the card doesn't quite live up to its namesake, it's still very compelling. Countering any noncreature spell for one mana is an insane rate. It makes multiformat role-player Spell Pierce look silly in comparison. Which is certainly why Wizards slapped a fairly steep drawback onto Offer. Severe enough to undermine playability substantially, in fact.
Ramping the opponent is not good. It's why Path to Exile rarely sees maindeck play now that an alternative cheap white removal spell exists. Offer doesn't provide permanent ramp like Path does and makes two treasures instead. Which is in some ways much stronger. Decks don't always have basics for Path, but as Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has shown, any deck can use Lotus Petals to facilitate a big turn. Or just keep mana open.
Used As Intended
Consequently, Offer's utility is quite limited. But it is far from zero. There are plenty of times against combo decks that having a one-mana hard counter is invaluable, nay, essential. And late game against a control deck the treasures are unlikely to matter as mana isn't an issue in the late game. However, in either case, Offer would have to be countering 3+ mana spells to be worthwhile in terms of mana efficiency.
Thus, despite what I implied earlier, Offer won't be replacing Pierce. They fulfill very different roles. Pierce is a tempo card, perfect for decks that need early counters to get ahead or protect a narrow lead. Offer is only viable in the late game or against combo decks. Whether this will come up enough to really matter I can't say. But having the option is very welcome.
An Interesting Alternative
However, what if instead, Offer was a ramp spell? A lot of the buzz I've seen around Offer has focused on countering Mishra's Bauble turn 1 and then playing Urza, Lord High Artificer turn 2. Or any other four mana spell, really. The potential is fairly staggering, as the only other way of getting to four mana on turn 2 is Arbor Elf into Utopia Sprawl. Which locks such a deck in to being heavily green-based. Offer does that for blue decks. And acceleration is always powerful.
In this case, I don't think the power is justified by the investment. For that to work requires both Bauble (or another 0-mana noncreature spell, technically) and Offer on turn one. The odds of that are roughly 16% on the play, 20% on the draw. Meaning such a combo is an incidental advantage rather than something to build a deck around. At least with Elf and Sprawl, the cards still ramp on their own.
Even if the combo is pulled off, that four-drop had better be pretty backbreaking, because a lot of resources just got dumped into it. Offer isn't really a ramp spell; it takes two actual cards and turns them into treasures. Treasures that won't be on the field to power up Urza's construct token or whatever else is the payoff afterward. Furthermore, how is ramping with Offer better than using Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Mox Amber? At least Emry digs for Amber, making the combo more consistent. Although I suppose this hypothetical deck would be running both engines.
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
The other heavily discussed card is the new Ob Nixilis. Three mana planeswalkers are always worth considering for pure value for mana. And on face, Ob stumbles. A Griselbrand activation is a Griselbrand activation, but the other two abilities are quite weak. The plus is technically disruptive but will always yield the least destructive outcome. Devil tokens are fine, but not impressive on their own. Thus, Ob just doesn't do very much and probably isn't a Modern card.
The reason to consider Ob is the casualty ability. For the cost of a creature with power, Ob copies himself. A three mana walker with mediocre abilities is not Modern playable. Two mediocre walkers for three mana just might be. The best part is that the abilities synergize: -2 the higher loyalty Ob first, then +1 the other to maximize value. However, the intention is clearly to sacrifice a 7+ power creature so that the copy can immediately be ultimated. And drawing 7 for three mana (and 7 life) is extremely good value.
The question must be asked: are those 7 cards going to end the game faster than a 7-power creature? While that's not impossible, I have a hard time believing that 7 new cards will win the game where a giant Murktide Regent wouldn't. The board would have to be completely stalemated, where losing the 7 life can't put you at risk of immediate death. And worth remembering: the other consistently played high power creature in Modern is Death's Shadow. When Shadow has 7 power, ultimating Ob is literal suicide.
It's also worth remembering that sacrificing a big creature is taking a huge risk. If the copy gets countered, the original Ob isn't much of threat, but you lost a big threat for no gain. I don't see many situations were going all-in like that is optimal or even necessary.
That doesn't mean that Ob can't be good. Just set ambitions lower. Sacrificing a 1/1 token is far less burdensome, and there's already a decent deck in Modern that wants to be doing that for value: RB Sacrifice. While I have no idea what to cut to make Ob fit, he does fit the gameplan. Making 1/1s that sac for value and incrementally chipping away at the opponent are already things the deck wants to do. Seems plausible.
Here's a card that I really like, but I don't think the metagame's right for it. Mage's Attendant is a lot of card at a good rate. Four power in two bodies for three mana is decent in Modern, and I've played Blade Splicer to great effect here. However, that's not enough for Attendant to see play. Rather, it's the token that's intriguing.
Despite being a blue wizard, the token is the first mono-white countermagic in years. While it may not fly, the ability hitting any noncreature spell pushes it beyond Judge's Familiar in power and utility. Of course, costing a mana to activate is quite the burden, but were the metagame filled with combo decks or Izzet Phoenix-style velocity decks, Attendant combined with Ephemerate could prove a nightmare.
Of course, that's not the metagame we have right now. Attendant might be an absolute beating against UR Murktide, but most of the other decks are so creature-based that the token would struggle to be relevant. I really want this to be good in Death and Taxes, but I don't think this is the time. That time may yet come so I'll definitely be picking up a set.
Luxior, Giada's Gift
I'd planned to end the article there, but while I was writing, Luxior was spoiled. And players went a little nuts over it. For one thing, it's a 1 colorless mana artifact and findable with Urza's Saga. That makes anything playable. For another, it allows controlling Stoneblade decks to turn their planeswalkers into threats and bodies to hold other equipment. Bodies that are no longer attackable. And damage doesn't reduce loyalty counters since they aren't planeswalkers anymore. Players immediately had visions of UW Sagablade winning by swinging with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
And that is a very attractive vision. However, reality check: Luxior is exchanging vulnerability to attack with vulnerability to creature removal. All creature removal. Which I'd say is far more relevant than the combat step for a strategy with Wrath effects. Now, the possibility exists to drop Luxior on a high-loyalty walker and attack for lethal, and in some situations that won't be bad. However, a high-loyalty walker is almost certainly within range of its ultimate, and those usually win the game. Why bother turning on an otherwise dead Terminate? Except to win the game before time expires, I don't think that's worth it.
A Better Alternative
On the other hand, I do think Luxior will see a lot of Modern play. It just won't be attached to planeswalkers a lot of the time. For starters, Luxior combines with Devoted Druid to produce infinite mana. While more expensive than Vizier of Remedies and not findable with Collected Company or Chord of Calling, it is less vulnerable to removal and the combo fits into any deck with green mana.
While there really aren't green Saga decks right now, players will absolutely try to fit this combo into any deck alongside a combo payoff card. Will it be good? I don't know. Druid combo doesn't see much play as it is, but perhaps that was down to relying on a 2/1 to work. Perhaps Luxior and Saga will turn things around.
Wisdom From the Gutter
Spoiler season is less than a week old but Modern has got a slew of interesting cards to consider. And it isn't often that a printing potentially revives an entire archetype. We might be looking at quite the set here.