(Note: A version of this article was originally published at arenadecklists.gg)
These cards are relevant because they offer the cheapest possible rate for their category of effect. They may not immediately find homes in a deck (often because their effect is quite marginal or narrow), but they are worth keeping in mind down the road, as they are the among cheapest options in the Modern cardpool for whatever they do. Any effect that costs zero or one mana is worth consideration in this category. Ordinary effects that are newly available on a different permanent type would also fall into the category. Eldraine offers a quite extensive list here, as the Adventure mechanic led to an abnormally high number of one-mana spells. There are also some truly surprising effects offered at discounted rates, including two cycles of powerful lands.
Honorable Mention: Cheap Food (Witch’s Oven, Curious Pair, Bartered Cow, Gingerbread Cabin, Gilded Goose, Gingerbrute, Oko, Thief of Crowns). These are the options for producing Food without spending much mana (potentially zero mana, in the case of Bartered Cow, Gingerbread Cabin, or Oko). Food is unlikely to matter in a vacuum, but that fact that it can be produced so affordably means that Food is more accessible than Clues and Treasures if we just want to create artifact tokens. Shape Anew or Indomitable Creativity could potentially make use of Food, decks with metalcraft themes could use it, and there’s an outside chance of a Food deck built around Oko or Feasting Troll King.
Honorable Mention: Witch’s Oven. Deserves special mention as a repeatable source of Food, and a one-mana sac outlet that doesn’t die to removal. Can only be used once per turn, so doesn’t work for infinite combos and doesn’t go off with Cauldron Familiar (yet). Keep this one in your back pocket.
Honorable Mention: Specter’s Shriek. Disrupts more effectively than Thoughseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, or Duress, but exiling a card of your own is disastrous. You can mitigate this by: 1) taking a black card, 2) being empty-handed, 3) wanting to exile an opponent’s card (Wasteland Strangler), or 4) wanting to exile your own cards (Eternal Scourge, Hedron Alignment?). Those scenarios are mostly too narrow to justify playing this over existing options, but if something is printed down the road that rewards putting cards into exile, Shriek is worth keeping in mind.
Honorable Mention: Mystical Dispute. When cast for a single mana, Dispute punches in the weight class of Veil of Summer, Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, or Ceremonius Rejection. Being conditionally cheap, it might seem like a sideboard consideration, but there it competes for slots with sledgehammers like Dovin’s Veto and Dispel. Instead, Mystical Dispute’s fortunes seem to rest on the merits of its main deck versatility (it is rarely dead, just sometimes inefficient). Decks built around the cascade mechanic can also run this safely, so could see fringe application that way.
Honorable Mention: Witch’s Vengeance. As a pure sweeper this is outclassed by Dead of Winter, Anger of the Gods, Plague Engineer, etc. But if you are also playing small to medium creatures of your own, this is a cheap way to maybe get a mini-Plague Wind.
Honorable Mention: Inquisitive Puppet. Thanks to Mystic Forge, cheap artifacts with “ETB: scry” are worth keeping an eye on. Sentinel Totem is now joined by Inquisitive Puppet and Witching Well. Fill your deck with enough of these (or similar effects like Codex Shredder or Bomat Courier), throw in a cost reducer like Etherium Sculptor, and you could conceivably cast your entire deck on the same turn you resolve a Mystic Forge. Puppet is especially interesting because it can provide two mana with Chief Engineer. Crazy? Sure, but check out this 5-0 “Mystic Affinity” list by Tenshii that has two 5-0s already. “Pinocchio Storm” is a long shot, but I’m not gonna lie, I will probably try it.
Honorable Mention: Castle Locthwain. Card draw on a land is a rare thing. Compared to Sea Gate Wreckage and Desolate Lighthouse, Castle Locthwain is a straight up bargain. Best used in a low-curve attrition deck with cheap threats and proactive disruption, so you can play out your hand quickly.
Honorable Mention: Castle Embereth. The previous entrant in this category is Contested War Zone. Go-wide strategies like 8-Whack, Goblins, and Seasoned Pyromancer decks could all consider this.
Honorable Mention: Hushbringer. Similar to Torpor Orb and Tocatli Honor Guard, but also stops death triggers and has slightly more attractive combat stats and a relevant creature type. A useful tool for certain metagames, but not a game-changer.
Honorable Mention: Dwarven Mine. Valakut decks put a lot Mountains into play, and this is also a Mountain itself. The effect is marginal, but good to keep in mind that it exists as a land option.
Honorable Mention: Thrill of Possibility. Instant speed makes this technically best in class over Tormenting Voice. Does that push this into the realm of playability? A tricky question, as Tormenting Voice is underpowered, but how much of that weakness is due to it being sorcery speed is not totally clear. Another candidate for a Phoenix revival, or perhaps something wacky built around Improbable Alliance. Decks like Grishoalbrand that want to move a single key card into the graveyard, but still care about card economy, might also find Thrill helpful in a way that Haggle is not.
Honorable Mention: Corridor Monitor. Mostly worse than Deceiver Exarch in Kiki Combo, but technically cheaper and could be a 5th copy. An alternative to Scryb Ranger in Vannifar chains. The artifact type could be relevant if you are doing a weird mashup of some kind, or if you want to untap a Mystic Forge.
Honorable Mention: Claim the Firstborn. For some reason, Act of Treason effects have typically cost 3 or more mana and have rarely been worthwhile even in limited. Seeing this effect at one mana is surprising and forces us to ask, for the first time, what we can really do with this effect in Modern. MH1 introduced some less stingy sacrifice outlets (Carrion Feeder, Altar of Dementia), and the peculiar wording of Restoration Angel could let you steal a creature permanently if you wanted to. There’s also a world in which Claim the Firstborn is just a useful sideboard tool for decks that win by attacking with small creatures.
10. Vantress Gargoyle: “Giant flying beater” is a pretty small category in Modern; only Mantis Rider, Jace’s Phantasm, and Tombstalker come to mind. “Giant blue 2 drop” is pretty much just Thing in the Ice. Even Tarmogoyf gets outclassed by this on cluttered board states. Granted, it takes work to unlock the Gargoyle’s attack mode, but the power is there to at least make this plausible. “Cast early, enable later” is a much more forgiving play pattern than cards that demand that you meet their conditions before you can even cast them or before they grow out of Bolt range. It has a tap ability with numerous build-around possibilities (Mystic Forge, Lantern of Insight, various self-mill tricks) and is even a blue artifact creature if you like Grand Architect. Truly an exciting card, if a confusing one.
9. Drown in the Loch: At some point in the game, this will become a split card Counterspell and Terminate. Only Izzet Charm (very conditional) and Cryptic Command (very expensive) can make similar claims. When exactly this will come online is not entirely clear; outside of dedicated mill decks, this is almost like a Serra Avenger effect on a spell: you can’t cast it in the early turns, but in the later turns it will be one of your most powerful and mana efficient plays.
8. Merchant of the Vale: Does the Arclight Phoenix dream live? Instant speed Insolent Neonate that counts as spell for Arclight Phoenix/Aria of Flame/Thing in the Ice is at least worth testing, even in Dredge (but not Vengevine). I wouldn’t expect much from the Merchant half, but it’s better than nothing.
7. Merfolk Secretkeeper: A self-mill enabler in the vein of Hedron Crab, Minister of Inquiries, and Satyr Wayfinder. You get the 4 cards right away, so this is somewhat more reliable than a turn 1 Crab or Minister, which might get killed. What is really exciting is that you get a bonus creature to cast later, which should give you more control over triggering Vengevine. Counts as a creature in the graveyard, which occasionally matters for things like Gnaw to the Bone or Skaab Ruinator. I would not be surprised if this becomes a staple Vengevine enabler, worse than Crab but slightly better than Minister, Tome Scour, and Memory Sluice.
6. Wishclaw Talisman: How much should an unconditional tutor cost? Mastermind’s Acquisition is four mana, so by some math you’re getting a 1 mana discount in exchange for giving away the Talisman. But when you consider that you can pay the mana in installments, Wishclaw is actually a one-mana Demonic Tutor on the turn that you use it, which is insanely cheap—rivaling Spoils of the Vault, but without the “Oops I died” component. Decks that want to end the game immediately, e.g. by tutoring for a missing combo piece, will love the efficiency of this card, and it fits naturally into Ad Nauseam’s turn 4 Lotus Bloom curve. There’s no drawback if you win the game that turn.
5. Witching Well: This looks like innocuous Draft filler, but in fact it is likely to become a format staple in artifact strategies. Witching Well is worth more than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts is already a lot higher than you might think. Consider: in a vacuum, Scry 2 is worth roughly half a card.** You also get a Darksteel Relic, which sits on the battlefield helping your Mox Opals, Emrys, or Whirs of Invention — not dissimilar from a Mishra’s Bauble that gets cast early and doesn’t get cracked until later. Once you get to something like Urza, Lord High Artificer or Sai, Master Thopterist, Witching Well starts to pay you back with an actual card worth of value, on top of everything you already got from the Scry 2 and the early Opal enabler. That’s already a great deal, and we haven’t even considered that the card can be sacrificed to draw 2 more cards later in the game, or in matchups that get scrappy with removal and attrition. If you end up bouncing the Well with Paradoxical Outcome, or even cycling it with Goblin Engineer, you could get that ETB bonus again and again. Add this all together and Witching Well is secretly a powerhouse.
**A few more considerations on the value of Scry 2: almost every artifact deck in Modern is a critical mass synergy deck. You have a bunch of cheap artifacts to enable your “big” cards like Urza, Emry, Sai, Outcome, Karn, the Great Creator, Mystic Forge etc. These are all ultra powerful artifact payoffs, but (mostly) they are not artifacts themselves, so building with them becomes a numbers game of finding the right balance of artifacts and payoffs. The ability to Scry matters most when there is a high delta between the values of the cards in your deck, and all artifact decks meet this criterion, so “Scry 2” is even more valuable here than it would be in, say, a random Snapcaster deck. That said, Serum Visions has tension with artifact decks because you can’t always afford to devote precious slots to a non-artifact single-use card selection spell. Witching Well slots into this spot beautifully, a real triumph for Mox Opal aficionados everywhere.
4. Gilded Goose: Part Thraben Inspector, part Birds of Paradise, part caddie for Oko, Thief of Crowns, there are lots of scenarios in which a brewer might choose to Unloose the Goose. Better as a Food source than a mana creature, the Goose’s efficiency depends on what you want to get out of it. If you just want a Food, you can’t do better. As a mana source, “Bolt the Lotus Petal” isn’t really a thing, but I’d assume most players will kill the Goose anyway just in case. Probably best in a deck built around Oko, but I admit to being intrigued by High Alert/Arcades, the Strategist with a curve starting on Goose + Saruli Caretaker. I never said I wasn’t crazy.
3. Deafening Silence: Much like Alpine Moon, a desirable sideboard effect (in this case, Rule of Law) becomes much easier to play when it only costs a single mana. It also doesn’t accidentally hose creature decks, which are often interested in double-spell turns to build pressure, and it doesn’t stop Snapcaster Mage (for better or for worse).
2. Emry, Lurker of the Loch: This card is straight up broken and is likely to break Modern artifact strategies in general, effectively finishing what Mox Opal and Urza started. In terms of efficiency, Emry will usually cost just a single blue mana. This already makes her best-in-class as a Mox Amber enabler, which is a game changer even if the graveyard is locked down by Rest in Peace. She almost can be treated as a mana creature, since she is likely to find an Opal or Amber which you then get to keep permanently. Already we are talking about a card in the stratosphere of Deathrite Shaman, without even accounting for all the other things Emry’s tap ability can do. Creatures with “Tap: draw a card” generally cost four mana to cast or activate (Archivist, Azure Mage); Emry costs 1 to cast, zero to activate, and her ability is even stronger than drawing a random card and leads to numerous combo applications. Very quickly the efficiency comparisons break down, because Emry is in a class by herself.
1. Once Upon a Time: In the wise words of Brian Gottlieb, “If it’s free, it’s me.” Can’t get more efficient than free. According to Frank Karsten, the average amount of mana spent on a Once Upon a Time played in the first three turns of the game will be less than 1 mana. Yes, there are one mana approximations of this effect, but a card like Incubation/Incongruity doesn’t hit lands, and Ancient Stirrings is colorless restricted (not that you should ever replace Stirrings with this, but they can easily be run in tandem). Once Upon a Time is most explosive when finding a key land, because those are hard to kill and thus lock in their value, but finding a key creature is also great.
Brewer’s Guide to Throne of Eldraine in Modern
Part 1: Heuristics for Card Evaluation
Part 2: Best-in-Class Efficiency
Part 3: Build-Arounds
Part 4: Additions to Existing Decks
Part 5: Knights of the Round Table