Modern Horizons First Impressions

Modern Horizons First Impressions

By Dan Schriever

Hello spike rogues!

Cavedan here, co-host of the Faithless Brewing Podcast. Like everyone else, I’ve got Modern Horizons on the brain, and with spoilers coming fast and furious my head is spinning with deck ideas for all of the sweet new cards.

We decided not to talk about any Horizons previews yet on the Podcast, because preview season isn’t very conducive to our show format of proposing decks, playtesting them, and then iterating on the lists. So we’re keeping our focus on War of the Spark brew-arounds for the next couple weeks, at least until Horizons becomes available on MTGO. It seems almost cruel that Horizons is coming out so quickly on the heels of WAR, which is shaping up to be one of the most impactful Modern sets in recent memory, but as brewers we can’t really complain about having this embarrassment of riches.

That said, I do want to share a few of my quick reactions to the previews we’ve seen this week, while the ideas are still fresh. There are tons of cards already spoiled that we’ll undoubtedly want to feature in future episodes of the Podcast, but I imagine we’ll have such a backlog that I don’t know how long it will be before we actually get around to testing the shells.

That said, I offer these thoughts here as some brainstorming fodder that will hopefully get some ideas flowing for you. If you enjoy this style of content, I’d encourage you to check out our Podcast (and tell your friends!), where you will get the benefit of not just my wild ravings, but also those of my brilliant co-hosts, who will hopefully keep some of my crazier impulses in check. In the meantime, hit me up in the comments, I would love to hear from you and get some more ideas for sweet competitive brews.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Prismatic Vista

It bums me out to see this at rare in a double-priced expansion. I foresee many decks wanting this as a 4x staple of the mana base, and fear that Vista will become prohibitively expensive. Many existing three-color decks will potentially want it, and certainly any deck with Wastes. In terms of enabling new decks, Vista will likely go into any Snow-based deck, and is perfect for Rainbow Niv-Mizzet (as I discussed in Episode 3 of the Podcast, that deck really needs to play one of each basic land).

Urza, Lord High Artificer

This card seems very problematic. Why does it have so many abilities? *Checks rarity, checks presale price, grumbles*

Thopter-Sword is already usually a win, so adding Urza to make it a super duper win is not necessarily adding anything important. Granted, it does erase any window they would have had to answer the Thopter Foundry.

The direction I would like go here is some kind of more generic artifact deck. Both Sai, Master Thopterist and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer can make a big pile of artifact tokens, and they provide incentive for you to play things like Mox Amber and Mox Opal. Add some Repeal, maybe a couple Paradoxical Outcome, a cheap legend or two (Baral? Erayo? Jace? Fblthp?) and baby you’ve got a stew going.

Ranger-Captain of Eos

Was Ranger of Eos being held back by the fourth mana in his CMC? Probably yes. Ignoring the “fair” applications of Knight-Captain, my brewer’s instinct suggests the following high-value targets for the search ability: Death’s Shadow, Thraben Inspector, Children of Korliss.

Why Thraben and Children? This may be going deep, but I’ve been working on Bolas’s Citadel lists (likely to be the featured card of an episode in the not-too-distant future) and two of the most intriguing ways to get the Citadel into play are Shape Anew and Madcap Experiment. Both want similar things (don’t play other artifacts besides Citadel), but one is enabled by an artifact token and the other is enabled by some way to gain your life back. Thraben Inspector and Children of Korliss are uniquely suited to solving those respective problems, and Knight-Captain allows you to find them in a timely fashion while also just being a reasonable card in the non-combo portion of the deck.

Granted, there’s still the problem of Shape Anew and Madcap Experiment being vulnerable to instant speed interaction — wait, what? The Knight-Captain randomly turns off counterspells on the turn you want to go off? Alright, let’s do this.

Goblin Engineer

Speaking of Bolas’s Citadel, the next best way to cheat it into play is Trash for Treasure. I would have never expected them to print an Entomb for artifacts, much less one stapled to a useful creature, but here we are. This is going to be the first Citadel deck I try once Horizons is available. Even ignoring Citadel, the Entomb alone is a super powerful effect, and the reusable body of the Engineer makes many things possible.

Seasoned Pyromancer

So much text, so many useful abilities. Seems like a potential 4x in several shells. A “fair” Vengevine shell is the most likely starting point for this card (that is, a list that is happy returning Vines on turns 3-4, possibly with the aid of Hollow One). It is also a pretty good value Shaman; much like Rix Maadi Reveler (also a Shaman), you get to draw the cards for free if your hand is empty. In conjunction with Reveler and Collected Company, the Shaman deck now has numerous ways to reload and doesn’t get punished as hard for having to play weaker Shamans like Burning-Tree Emissary.

Lava Dart

This card legitimately scares me. Casting a bunch of red spells is already good (Monastery Swiftspear, Arclight Phoenix) but now we have a major payoff for also including The Flame of Keld (or if going deep, Pyromancer’s Swath or Aria of Flame).

Astral Drift

Astral Slide is ancient history, so the things that made that deck competitive years ago are unlikely to hold up in the context of Modern. That said, I have played a good amount of kitchen-table casual Astral Slide. Here is my advice: Play lots of lands (the Onslaught cycling lands will be a must, hopefully they are revealed soon) and lots of acceleration. The deck is very mana hungry and slow to get going. Eternal Witness is a decent loop card, Tilling Treefolk is even better (but only 1-2x tops), Thragtusk does well at the top end, and a Shriekmaw/Flametongue Kavu-style creature is also needed. The best accelerators are Edge of Autumn and Wall of Roots. Arboreal Grazer is a card I have my eye on, as the deck will need to play lots of lands and his ETB trigger can be useful to loop if our hands are full from Tilling Treefolk/Life from the Loam.

Force of Virtue

Dust off your Springjack Shepherds! Another lesson I have learned from kitchen table casual is that Springjack Shepherd is actually pretty great with any kind of Crusade effect (in kitchen table, of course, I just played literal Crusade). My “Revenge of the Goatnapped” shell was already heavily committed to devotion with things like Fieldmist and Wildfield Borderpost, which in turn enabled Knight of the White Orchid for ramp. That’s a high density of white spells for Force of Virtue, so I would start my explorations with this core.

Force of Negation

As a brewer, I am generally excited by cards that make cool things possible. Modern had become a brewer’s paradise because the general lack of answers meant that you could build around all kinds of wild stuff and at least get to execute your plan in most games, even if you might lose anyway to an even better plan from the opponent.

I worry that Force of Negation marks the end of an era. It doesn’t help that blue-white is also enjoying a massive resurgence thanks to little Teferi, big Teferi, Narset and Jace (cards that I fear were not really on the designers’ radar when they were balancing this new Force).

In terms of brewing around Force of Negation, Narset Pitcher is probably the best shell to start with. I’m not excited about it, but I do think it will improve the deck.

Sisay, Weatherlight Captain

In the right shell, Sisay is a Tarmogoyf-sized creature with a very intriguing activated ability. Normally that wouldn’t be enough to give me confidence that I wasn’t wasting my time, but the existence of Niv-Mizzet Reborn (which Sisay can find, and which also pays you for having a bunch of gold stuff in your deck) gives me hope. The tricky thing will be the mana base. Cards like Pillar of the Paruns or Ancient Ziggurat do not pay for Sisay’s activation. I might start with a conservative shell, primarily in Bant or Naya colors, with a heavy mana ramp component. To produce rainbow colors you might want something like Chromatic Lantern or even Cascading Cataracts.

Undead Augur

From day 1, the single card I most wanted to see in Horizons is Carrion Feeder (#2 was Goblin Bombardment, so you know where my loyalties lie). Sacrifice-style decks have a gaping hole at the 1 mana slot, and there is not going to be any help coming from standard since Maro has stated many times that he considers free sacrifice outlets bad design. Yes, there is Viscera Seer, but Seer has no relevant tribe or combat text so it is not going to synergize with a deck full of Gravecrawler, Stitcher’s Supplier, and Bloodghast. Undead Augur just makes me want to see Carrion Feeder even more. Still holding my breath for it, c’mon, one time!!

Scale Up

Generally, cards that slot directly into existing decks (here, Infect) do not excite me. The one intriguing angle for this card is that is provides a Become Immense-style boost without eating your graveyard. On Episode 5 of the Faithless Brewing Podcast (we recorded this a bit early, it should be released next Tuesday), I sketch out a somewhat silly “Feathery Justice” deck featuring Dreadhorde Arcanist. That deck can’t actually use Become Immense (because you can’t re-cast it many times off Feather) but Scale Up could maybe be a fun-of.

Springbloom Druid

I’m always in the market for ways to get value off Flagstones of Trokair. Harrow wasn’t quite playable (additional cost was too much of a risk) but maybe Druid will be a better fit for a creature-based ramp deck.

Collected Conjuring

There was once a time when Stone Rain, Pillage, and Eye of Nowhere could be played together in standard. That deck went as high on the curve as Wildfire (and needed to play mana rocks to get there, as well as things like Annex) but maybe with Collected Conjuring that may no longer be necessary. Magnivore is a serviceable kill condition and Flame Slash offers efficient versatile removal. The deck might prove a bit clunky, so going Temur for something like Search for Tomorrow isn’t out of the question.

Wrenn and Six

Super exciting build-around. I would build my deck in such a way that drawing a land is better than drawing a card. The first card that comes to mind here is Sakura-Tribe Scout (and friends like Skyshroud Ranger, Azusa, Wayward Swordtooth, etc.). Exploration effects are broken, and held in check only by the fact that you need to play things like Ravnica bounce lands to make all of your land drops consistently. With Wrenn and Six, you can now potentially keep the lands flowing just with fetches, but I would still likely play some Karoos anyway.

Altar of Dementia

People have been drawn to the potential combo with Sun Titan, which is indeed scary, but somewhat ponderous to set up. Having played this combo in casual decks, Hallowed Spiritkeeper was a crucial piece to bridge to the endgame while also being synergistic (not Modern legal, but if they ever add that card to Modern I will be all over it). I used Emeria Shepherd + Unburial Rites, which may be too slow for Modern, but the nice thing about Unburial Rites is that it allows Altar to single handedly find all the necessary pieces. A sleeker shell might ditch the Sun Titans and instead build around Phantasmal Image and Renegade Rallier, but I would need to brainstorm this a bit more.

Mox Tantalite

Several people have asked, why play this when Lotus Bloom is already a thing? My answer is that Bloom tends to push you toward playing very swingy high-end payoff cards, cards which are nigh-uncastable without Bloom, and this in turn warps your entire deck around assembling those pieces. (We don’t see any fair decks using Bloom, or just using Bloom “for value”). Tantalite is much more of a fair card. You want this if you plan to extend the game and tap it several times. The best home among existing decks is probably Rainbow Niv-Mizzet (I already mentioned the need for basic lands, and had proposed things like Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder to support this).

As an “unfair” card, one thing Tantalite might enable is giving you a critical mass of zero-mana plays to just empty your own hand as quickly as possible. Taking advantage of an empty hand requires something like Day’s Undoing or maybe Whispering Madness.

The other “unfair” home that comes to mind is Bolas’s Citadel, but that deck doesn’t truly exist yet. If you can discard the Tantalite and return it to the battlefield (e.g. Goblin Engineer, Renegade Ralllier) you might have something to work with.

Glacial Revelation

Too soon to tell if this card will be playable. It seems unlikely we will get a critical mass of Snow, given how diverse the spread of mechanics seems to be. The card I would look out for to enable this is a Wild Growth variant. I believe that literal Wild Growth would be too powerful for Modern, but maybe, just maybe, they will give us something like “Snow Growth” that can only enchant a snow land. If that happens, it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Lesser Manticore

Not sure what to do with this yet, but it looks sneakily powerful in a deck that wants a discard outlet and/or a mana sink. The first two cards that come to mind are Trash for Treasure and Grand Architect (think Zac Elsik’s Blue Steel shell from yesteryear).

Lightning Skelemental

What a goofy little card. I believe this is powerful enough to be a 4-of, but I can’t picture the rest of the deck around it yet.

Battle Screech

There is a lot you can do with this card. The support package I would start with is Jeskai Ascendancy, Young Pyromancer, Stoke the Flames, and Lingering Souls. Possibly the mana requirements will prove too complicated.

Martyr’s Soul

Free creatures always bear a close look. The fear is that this is just a Myr Enforcer/Frogmite, and not truly worth a card (or taking a turn off attacking). But Jim Davis’s Venerated Loxodon decks were already looking pretty good, so maybe there is something here.

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I’ll leave it at this for now. I’m just scratching the surface of these cards, and we’ve still got two thirds of the set to be previewed! What a time to be alive…

Happy brewing!

Dan Schriever (cavedan on Magic Online) is co-host of the Faithless Brewing Podcast. Find him on Twitter @FaithlessMTG.

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