It's finally December and all Magic expansions for the year have officially been released. To celebrate, this week I'll be doing a look back at my top 10 cards released in 2022 that have made waves in the Modern format. I'll preface the article with a disclaimer that these are simply my opinion. If I missed your favorite or something isn't where you'd expect it to rank, let me know in the comments below. With that out of the way, let's get started...
10. Touch the Spirit Realm
Earning the tenth spot on my list is Touch the Spirit Realm, a modal Oblivion Ring variant that can blink a creature or artifact at instant speed. Its channel ability lets it get through Counterspells as well as Teferi, Time Raveler's static ability, creating opportunities to sneak past the opponent's interaction or removal. Most notably, Touch the Spirit Realm started seeing success in Keruga, the Macrosage midrange decks as a companion-compliant alternative to Ephemerate, a midrange staple from before Yorion, Sky Nomad's banning.
9. Haywire Mite
A late addition, courtesy of The Brothers' War, Haywire Mite has been a big boon for Modern Urza's Saga decks. It's a tutorable answer to sideboard lock pieces like Leyline of the Void or even just opposing Urza's Sagas. Another card featured on this list, Leyline Binding has proven to be one of the best and most popular removal spells in the format, answering just about any threat. For minimal cost, Haywire Mite shuts down Leyline Binding to get back whichever key piece the opponent needed to deal with.
8. Rundvelt Hordemaster/Leaf-Crowned Visionary
Rundvelt Hordemaster and Leaf-Crowned Visionary share the next spot. They represent the top performers of the Dominaria United lord cycle, with Vodalian Hexcatcher in a distant third place. Thanks to Hordemaster, Modern Goblins has access to its first two-mana lord, massively improving its aggro lines. Hordemaster also works exceptionally well with the Conspicuous Snoop combo plan by helping to dig for either Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker on top of the library, or Sling-Gang Lieutenant for the instant kill.
Visionary does two of the three things Elves want: buffing the team and drawing cards. The third piece of the puzzle, mana acceleration, isn't necessarily part of Visionary's portfolio, but it works well with cards like Llanowar Elves that do. If a mana dork comes down before Visionary, its stats are more respectable, and if it comes down after, it's cheap enough to pay the mana to cantrip. Leaf-Crowned Visionary has become a major support piece for Modern elves and it's exactly the kind of card needed to bring the archetype back into consideration.
7. Unlicensed Hearse
My number seven pick, Unlicensed Hearse, is the latest in a long line of graveyard hate effects, and easily one of the best. Cards like Tormod's Crypt and Soul-Guide Lantern are powerful for being able to one-shot a graveyard, stopping any value the first time the opponent chooses to utilize the zone as a resource. Relic of Progenitus is in a similar vein, but gets to remove one card a turn, offering the potential of getting ahead of the opponent's critical mass of cards in the graveyard for effects like Living End.
Hearse's play patterns follow a similar mentality to Relic of Progenitus, but by removing two cards a turn, it's much harder for the opponent to overcome the deficit. While Relic and Soul-Guide Lantern both have the potential to cantrip into a random card, Hearse actually becomes a worthwhile card in its own right after locking down the graveyard for a few turns. Each card exiled adds power and toughness to the two-drop vehicle. In just a few turns, that represents a 6/6, 8/8, or 10/10 creature, presumably the biggest body on the board, and can just attack the opponent with its best The Abyss impression. The Hearse is equal parts disruption and finisher making it one of the best ways to combat graveyard strategies.
6. The Wandering Emperor
The Wandering Emperor is one of my favorite planeswalker designs, period. Planeswalkers tend to show up in control strategies that want the game to go long so the planeswalker can activate multiple times and start to snowball card advantage. However, these decks struggle to safely deploy their planeswalkers due to their often expensive mana costs and the need to hold up removal or interaction. Being able to land a planeswalker and keep mana up for interaction is why cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria have been so historically successful. The Wandering Emperor takes it one step further with flash. It can be cast after attackers to guarantee it's not being attacked, improving its survivability. And its other static ability lets it activate even on the opponents' turn so the caster isn't missing any value for not playing it on their turn. Alternatively, The Wandering Emperor can be cast in the end step after holding up countermagic and removal. If those interactive spells aren't needed, the player can cast the Emperor to make use of the otherwise unused mana.
Each sequence involving The Wandering Emperor more or less guarantees two or more activations. Given that it can create multiple powerful blockers, act as removal, or buff existing threats, it's exceptionally hard to overcome.
5. The Tri Lands
One of the most noteworthy additions to Magic from Streets of New Capenna is the completion of the Tri Land cycle (formerly the Triome cycle started in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths). With access to Ziatora's Proving Ground, Spara's Headquarters, and the rest of the cycle, color splashing has never been easier. UW Control decks now get splash Wrenn and Six for free while powering up Prismatic Ending and Leyline Binding. Indomitable Creativity decks that require every land to be a Mountain still have access to Teferi, Time Raveler on curve.
Fetchable three-color lands have done more to revolutionize mana bases and how the game is played than nearly any other land cycle. For that reason, they are the fifth entry on my list.
4. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is a card I talk about a lot, mainly because it's a powerhouse in every format and does just about everything. Fable is impossible to answer cleanly since it creates two bodies that have the capacity to generate additional forms of card and mana advantage. It also trades in unwanted cards from the player's hand for a shot at something better.
Fable can even act as an enabler for reanimator strategies with Archon of Cruelty and Persist, not only putting the Archon in the graveyard to bring back, but copying it and making an attacking token down the line. This is a common line in the Indomitable Creativity combo, but the card also acts as mana acceleration and token fodder for the namesake Creativity. It can even accomplish this under a Blood Moon which would otherwise lock the Creativity player out of the game.
3. Boseiju, Who Endures/Otawara, Soaring City
Coming in third is the cycle of legendary channel lands from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, particularly the top two members: Boseiju, Who Endures and Otawara, Soaring City. Simply put, these are among the strongest cards ever printed and have zero opportunity cost.
Boseiju provides decks with mainboard artifact, enchantment, and land removal they otherwise would not be able to accommodate. It widens the range of answerable permanent types in game one. Otawara also answers problematic permanents, and neither can be countered. If needed, these are untapped lands that produce colored mana. There's no downside to including a copy of each in every deck that can support their colors.
For cascade decks, these are huge pickups that can remove Chalice of the Void and Teferi, Time Raveler, both lock pieces that stop the deck from functioning. Midrange decks can utilize Wrenn and Six to keep picking these cards back up from the graveyard and reuse them. Decks like Scapeshift that rely on Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Tron using Urza's Tower, and Hammer Time using Sigarda's Aid and Colossus Hammer will struggle from repeatedly having their key resources removed over and over again.
2. Ledger Shredder
Just like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, I talk about Ledger Shredder quite a bit, and for good reason. Ledger Shredder is one of the strongest tempo creatures ever printed. It generates value from playing cheap spells and disincentivizes the opponent from casting more than one spell in a turn. In addition to helping draw toward key cards for a matchup, Shredder gets harder and harder to remove the longer it remains in play. In UR Grinding Breach, it fuels the graveyard with fodder for Underworld Breach all while finding the missing combo piece and offering an aggressive beatdown plan as an alternative. It's really hard to go wrong with a threat that's as good offensively as it is defensively.
1. Leyline Binding
Taking the top spot on my list is Leyline Binding a revolutionary and powerful removal spell that hits any non-land permanent for the low cost of one mana (with minor setup costs). Modern is a powerful format with a wide array of threats in every card type. Having unconditional, instant-speed removal is critical to staying alive and Leyline Binding is able to do that as early as turn 2.
Binding also has the benefit of a printed mana value of seven, meaning it's compliant with Keruga, the Macrosage and Cascade's deckbuilding requirements. These archetypes historically struggled with the early game due to how few interactive spells let them operate on turns one and two. Frequently, they use Bonecrusher Giant, Fire//Ice, and Mystical Dispute. Other split cards and adventure cards like Dead//Gone and Brazen Borrower sometimes see play, but pickings are slim. The addition of Leyline leaves these decks wanting for very little and further mitigates the downside of their restrictions.
2022 had a wildly powerful card pool that has forever changed the way Magic is played. With sets like March of the Machine and the direct-to-Modern The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth coming next year, 2023 is poised to be an even bigger upset. I can't wait to see everything that's in store for us.