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The Unexpected Standouts of Modern Horizons

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Okay, let's get it out of the way now: I'm not sure Modern is in a healthy place, even though we do still see a ton of unique and interesting archetypes on Magic Online. The fact Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis decks comprised over 40% of this past weekend's Mythic Championship is not good. When assessing any format, one thing you want to avoid is a single deck warping the entire thing, and right now, with people playing things like main deck Leyline of the Void, it's very much a "play Hogaak or play a deck that beats Hogaak" format. In the past, this was a sure sign that something was going to get banned, and despite Bridge from Below getting the axe, it seems like nothing can really stop the free legendary 8/8 monstrosity.

Hogaak aside, Modern is still very much a format where you can, within reason, play anything you want to some amount of success, barring you're able to avoid some of your worst matchups. Today I want to talk about the other Modern Horizons cards that play a much more fair role in the metagame.

When the set was first fully revealed, we all knew cards like Force of Negation and Wrenn and Six were going to be huge hits. (Well, I don't think any of us expected Wrenn and Six to blow up exactly as aggressively as it has, but still...) These were the obvious cards, and the cards that are still commanding $30+ price tags. But there are a ton of other unsung heroes in the set that are seeing unreal amounts of play I never would have expected to be as popular or playable as they are. Let's take a look at some of these underdogs.

Ice-Fang Coatl

Ice-Fang Coatl

I'm a huge Baleful Strix fan. I say this week after week, and I said it when I was initially talking about the Coatl. I think my exact words when it came to the snek were as follows:

Well, I'm face palming right about now. The fact is, Ice-Fang Coatl has basically been jammed into every gu deck that it can fit into, so much so that the snow requirement almost seems like an afterthought. Sure, it's nice if you can get three other snow permanents to give the snek deathtouch, but it certainly isn't a necessity. Most of the time you're just happy being able to draw a card and get a flying body onto the board. (But let's be honest: thanks to Prismatic Vista and the like, getting three snow permanents isn't that difficult.) The shocking part is Ice-Fang Coatl is actually seeing play in Legacy, a format that actually has Baleful Strix, in several four-color decks. Apparently the flash is that big of a deal. My favorite application for the snek? Bouncing it back to my hand in order to connect with Fallen Shinobi (another card I never would have thought I'd sleeve up in Modern).

Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter

Considering the popularity of a card like Ice-Fang Coatl, it's no wonder Dead of Winter is strong. I previously compared it to Toxic Deluge while playing it because you're basically killing everything on the board for three mana whenever you need to provided you built your deck correctly. In a deck that can fetch out even three snow basics and put maybe one Ice-Fang Coatl onto the board, you're already looking at killing almost everything in play save for maybe a Tamogoyf (okay, and the five-toughness creatures). That's a powerful effect for only three mana in decks running snow lands.

With only two snow permanents in play, this is still basically an Infest for only 2b, which is still a great and competitive rate.

Plague Engineer

Plague Engineer

Plague Engineer is another card I doubt anyone really thought we needed. It does a ton of work for three mana, including dealing with entire archetypes at times. It does a great job against decks like Humans, or Goblins, or Merfolk - you know, Tribal decks - and can even take out one of the main win conditions of any deck running the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo. While "Carrier" is a weird creature type that doesn't really fit into anything, as a 2/2 for three mana with deathtouch, it does a good deal of work on the ground. This is an extremely well-rounded creature that has applications against numerous top tier decks, including Infect and Affinity. The list kind of goes on and on. Even if you play this after they play their Blighted Agent, simply to kill one of them, you're still looking at a great rate for a 187 creature.

Arcum's Astrolabe

Arcum's Astrolabe

This is an extremely silly one. I still don't entirely understand why this is seeing so much play, but who am I to question? Several decks are running the full four copies of this, such as Tron and Grixis Urza. Basically, despite it's more restrictive snow mana cost, this is essentially a copy of Chromatic Star or Chromatic Sphere that doesn't require the extra mana activation cost to draw the card (letting you invest one mana into the effect instead of two). It also fixes your mana turn after turn rather than simply just the one time. All this aside, it's still an incredibly innocuous card that wasn't even on my radar when we were going over Modern Horizons cards to look out for, mostly because the casting cost of specifically one snow mana seemed so prohibitive for your typical Modern deck. Boy, how wrong I was about that.

Magmatic Sinkhole

Magmatic Sinkhole

Magmatic Sinkhole is quickly becoming one of the premier Red removal spells in the format, and I did not see that coming. As a delve card, it's going into a lot of decks that aren't already delving. You likely won't see this too often in decks with Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler simply because that's a lot of cards in the graveyard to ask for, but in other Red decks, like Prison or Izzet Phoenix, this card is just perfect. Dealing five damage is also the perfect amount, killing each of the aforementioned five-toughness creatures, and being able to delve away relevant cards to guarantee this kills a Tarmogoyf is a deliciously elegant solution. The fact that you can also aim this at planeswalkers is just icing on the cake, especially considering the presence of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and virtual starting loyalty of five.

On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

We actually played On Thin Ice last week in our Modern deck. It was was never on my radar as an actual removal spell in Modern, especially in a format filled with things like Ghost Quarter, but it still seems to be holding its own. It's clearly influenced by Chained to the Rocks, which sees almost no play in Modern, but a snow land is a much easier ask than an entirely different land type. Just like Path to Exile, On Thin Ice is a great way to get rid of any creature you may be having a problem with for one White mana, while having a unique downside all its own. It's more vulnerable than Path to Exile, but it's worth noting some decks will have zero ways to remove On Thin Ice, getting rid of their creature permanently without the benefit of providing the opponent with a free land.

I think by now it has become abundantly clear that, despite the initial outcry regarding how many cards in the set seemed geared for non-Modern sets like Commander, Modern Horizons was an incredibly pushed set, and the number of format playables continues to surprise me. I'm not sure the number of playables a set should have in the format it's geared toward to consider it a success, but I'm pretty confident Modern Horizons has reached it and then some.

As always, thanks so much reading. I love you all and be sure to leave a comment down below to let me know what you think. What cards are you surprised about having an impact in Modern? And don't forget, you can use promo code FRANK5 to get 5% off your order! I'll catch you all next week!

Frank Lepore

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