Modern Horizons comes out in just a few months time and already the internet is abuzz over the possibilities. If you haven’t seen what’s going on with the set and why it’s as hyped as it is, let me catch you up to speed.
Modern Horizons is a set coming out on June 14th, with prereleases the week before, and is featuring cards that are brand new for the Modern format, bypassing Standard. Of these cards, every one will be new to the format, so there’s no fetch lands, Snapcasters, Lilianas, Goyfs, Karns, or Surgical Extractions to be found here. The only reprints already in Modern that we’re getting here are five basic lands. Some of the cards entering Modern will be all new cards, while others will be reprints from older sets entering the format for the first time ever. Although Wizards isn’t setting paper MSRPs, packs will cost $6.99 on Magic Online, a price you can find right here on CoolStuffInc.com with $249.99 per box prices.
With that having been said, I want to explore the past of Magic and what it might mean as far as entries to Modern Horizons. After all, Magic has over 25 years of rich history worth exploring. Having been playing actively for 20 of those years, I’m excited over the possibilities. After all, Mark Rosewater stated on the ol’ Blogatog that the set is basically a “deep [dive] into the creative and mechanical elements of Magic’s twenty-five year history.” This sounds to a lot of people like Time Spiral 2.0, and given how many enfranchised players consider it to be one of the greatest sets and blocks of all time, it’s hard to not be excited. The first two cards spoiled already give this vibe. Quite strongly, even.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to discuss a very large pool of cards across different points in time. For this week, I’m going to tackle Alpha through The Dark, followed by Fallen Empires through Weatherlight, then Tempest through Prophecy, followed by Invasion through Scourge, and lastly tackling supplemental sets like Commander, Conspiracy, and Battlebond. I’m not here to just talk about power level, because there’s many others already doing that (like Jim Davis with his outstanding article last Friday), but talk about the past and how it can be represented in this set. I hope you enjoy this journey through the rich history of the game as we explore what could be coming in June.
We’re kicking things right off the bat with a bang. Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited, collectively referred to as ABU, are where the game started and as you can imagine there’s a lot of excellent cards to look at.
Right off the bat, there’s a couple old cards that already got people talking. Counterspell, Dark Ritual, and Swords to Plowshares are ones that have been suggested as possibilities in some form or fashion. Counterspell seems like a hard lock for the set as the most obvious card that can be okay for the format but is too strong for Standard. Swords to Plowshares is a card that sits on the fence but might be too much for Modern as well as Standard. Ritual on the other hand seems right out, though a new card representing it might not be out of the question. I could certainly see something like Bog Witch coming in instead, or else a watered down version of the spell.
There’s others people mention as well. Animate Dead could be viable for Reanimator strategies, something we don’t have too much of in Modern. Black Vise and Sinkhole get mentioned as ones that could be too strong but might be fine enough to make it. The Blasts, on the other hand, break the color pie which has people debating if they should be fine or not. Of these, I’m a fan of the Blasts and would personally hope they show up as commons to end some of the legality issues of Pauper. I think Animate Dead would be sweet because Reanimator is a wild deck and would be fine in Modern if it wouldn’t be pushed too hard.
Each of these cards were present in Magic’s early days and many continue to show up in Legacy today. They show up in endless cubes, EDH decks, and beyond. While most of these are more utility-based than others on this list, they set a base for things to look for. Some of them have had whole decks in the past. While Animate Dead is best known for the current Reanimator strategies, did you know it was also the basis of a combo deck? When put alongside Worldgorger Dragon, it creates an infinite loop that generates infinite mana as well as entering and leaving the battlefield triggers.
What about something else that had a whole deck around it? Stasis is a super classic card with iconic artwork from Fay Jones. If we’re being real here, the card is miserable to play against, but at the same time, just how broken could this card be in Modern? It was an unbelievable house back in the day when you would combine it with cards like Chronatog, but I’m not convinced it would be as good today. Yes, we have Chronatog Totem, but not as many of the tools that made that deck so good in the past. Even if we saw something like a Winter Orb type effect in the set, another card that is currently not in Modern with plenty of history, it relied on a number of pieces that we don’t totally have right now. One other big sign to this card showing up? This right here:
Whenever a card has been put on Magic Online with new art, it has often shown up with a paper printing at some point as well. Stasis got especially gorgeous art from the amazing Seb McKinnon and it would be a crime not to give it a fresh coat of paint in paper.
We could also see something like a mass land destruction spell as something showing up in Modern for the first time. Armageddon, or an equivalent like a needed reprint of Ravages of War, would be great here, though could likely be too strong in this particular form. Wizards has also been shying away from land destruction effects of late, though I could see it coming back as a one-off in this kind of set.
Speaking of miserable classics, what about Pestilence? The card has been a centerpiece for entire decks in various formats, dominated Urza block draft, and has fostered a strong love/hate relationship among players. We already have Pyrohemia in Red, so why not the original? I think it could be time to give it a time to shine in Modern. Even if it doesn’t make big waves, giving it a chance to shine in decks like Mono-Black Devotion would be amazing.
What about some cards to fuel whole archetypes? Crusade would be a classic card to show up and give White Weenies a strong push. We’ve already seen a lot of great cards for this sort of archetype lately with cards like History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal rocking Standard. It could be sweet to see this kind of card added to Modern to try giving this sort of archetype legs alongside Honor of the Pure.
Zombie Master would also be an excellent addition for the Zombies archetype. We’ve already seen almost all the classic lords like Lord of Atlantis and Goblin King printed into Modern, but Zombie Master is a noticeable hold out. With the likelihood of probable tribal synergies in the set, it seems like a great inclusion. Cards like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth could arguably make it a tad too strong, but it would definitely make Zombies a super sweet deck.
Lastly, Wild Growth would be great for ramp decks. We already have cards like Fertile Ground and Utopia Sprawl but not the classic. Wild Growth could also be excellent if an Enchantress package gets added with this set, something some players have speculated on.
In terms of classic cards, Drain Life and Nevinyrral's Disk wouldn’t be super broken, offer some sweet options for the format, and have plenty of history with the game. Regrowth might be a bit too broken with something like Storm in the format but is a contender all the same. Nether Shadow is in a similar spot, though without something like Dread Return in the format it wouldn’t be as crazy. The big issue with this particular card is that the graveyard order mechanic being something Wizards may not want to introduce into the format.
There’s some Commander possibilities too. Meekstone has been a popular card and hasn’t seen a reprint since Seventh Edition. Now would be a great time for the card to show up. We could even see some classic Reserved List options get new versions. Forcefield is on the Reserved List, and for good reason, so we won’t be seeing it any time soon, but the effect is so unique I think it could easily be tossed onto a creature or enchantment. We’ve done more appropriately cost versions of stronger cards (looking at you Time Walk and Timetwister) so it wouldn’t be a stretch here.
A few other cards that could be neat additions, if only for Limited and/or nostalgia:
As I was going through Arabian Nights, there’s one thing that immediately jumped out to me: Erhnam Djinn is not Modern legal. That just feels wrong to me. The last printing of this classic and iconic card was in Judgment. It wouldn’t break the format, nor the Limited environment, and seems like a slam dunk as far as classic reprints go.
There’s a couple cards that have the attention of Pauper players as well. Oubliette has been in dire need of a reprint for ages, but is difficult to print because of its incredibly odd wording. Random effects one on top of another, the card is basically a Journey to Nowhere in Black that does just a little more. It breaks nothing and this would be a perfect home for such an effect. Cuombajj Witches is similar, being often little more than a cool card for Limited or a tool against token or weenie decks, and another card to have recently received gorgeous new art from Seb McKinnon on Magic Online.
Serendib Efreet is a powerhouse of aggression in Blue’s past. Did you know the card was once banned because of how efficient it was? These days it’s legal in Legacy and totally unplayable. I imagine something similar would happen in Modern, although a distinct lack of Delver of Secrets might make it more likely. Sorceress Queen is a classic as well, though a bit more on the casual side. While it would have to lose the iconic Folgio art, I imagine it could easily show up as an uncommon. Some other unique Reserved List effects like Guardian Beast could show up in a new form as well.
Antiquities was a strange point in Wizards’ design philosophy. Did you know that every single card in the set is either an artifact or deals with artifact cards? This led to some really color warping designs like Gate to Phyrexia as a good example. It also led to a number of wild cards being put to print that we haven’t seen in modern day Magic thus far.
Of all the choices available to us, there’s three that quickly come to mind:
Mishra's Factory offers us another cheap manland. A classic staple, I think it would be just fine for the format. Consider the fact that Mutavault, a nearly identical card for the sake of mechanics and general play, is largely unplayed. Yes, there are differences like tribal strategies and the artifact type-line, but most of the time it’s just a 2/2 land creature attacking in. With regards to artifact strategies, like Affinity, I think Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus will often just get the job done more effectively. It’s an oldie, it’s still a goodie, just not enough to make the cut in current Modern decks.
Ivory Tower was another classic that would be excellent here. It could help decks like Control variants sure up matches against decks like Burn without breaking things wide open. You want to use your cards, after all, but even gaining just one or two life a turn for just 1 mana seems like a great rate for Modern.
Ashnod's Altar is a sweet card that could open all manner of big mana and combo strategies without jumping straight to something like Tron. It’s shown up in plenty of Commander decks and Cubes and always holds decent value. It would be great to see this in the Modern age.
Lastly, when there’s a dedicated artifact set, there’s bound to be some sick hate cards. This is especially true in early Magic where the hate cards were a tremendous cut above anything even close to what we see today. Artifact Blast is another color pie break, being a Red counterspell, but would provide great utility. Energy Flux would be a great Kataki-like answer to decks like Whir Prison/Lantern Control and Affinity. It might be a bit too good, but having more options is better than the alternative, and we haven’t seen a printing of the card since Mercadian Masques. Crumble could also be sweet to deal with artifacts, although Oxidize and Nature's Claim both exist.
Believe it or not, Legends has a lot of cards that are either on the Reserved List or are shockingly mediocre. We could talk about cards like new versions of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Chains of Mephistopheles, or Mana Drain all day, but at the end of the day there’s not as many cards to discuss compared to the size of the set as a whole.
There are still a few though. While many of the set’s legendary creatures are either bad vanilla creatures or else on the Reserved List, there’s also a bunch that showed up in Chronicles we have yet to see in Modern. Among these include Dakkon Blackblade, Xira Arien, and Rubinia Soulsinger. Each of these has a sweet effect that could easily show up for Limited or even just sweet new artwork. Rubinia got some in Commander 2013, but unfortunately it feels like the artist read the name as Soulsigner and not Soulsinger and it would be great to see a more accurate representation.
I debated suggesting the Elder Dragon cycle but there’s a few problems among them. The biggest strike is easily that Nicol Bolas is already Modern legal thanks to a Timeshifted printing in Time Spiral. Just as well, we just saw new versions of all of them in Core Set 2019. Couple that with awkward mechanics on some of them, like Rampage on Chromium, and I don’t see it happening. What I do see as a possibility is new versions of effects from Reserved List legends like Rasputin Dreamweaver, Hazezon Tamar, and Angus Mackenzie.
There’s a couple Legacy staples that got some people talking as well. Chain Lightning is a card that could easily show up as the Bolt effect of the set since the classic Lightning Bolt can’t. It’s been used in Burn decks for years and would be a clean addition to Modern decks. Karakas, on the other hand, toes the line a bit. Given that there aren’t too many major legendary creatures swarming the format short of something like Tasigur, Thalia, and Vendillion Clique, I’m not sure it would be insane, although it’s very strong with some of the aforementioned cards. Sylvan Library is another classic used in numerous Legacy decks and could be a sweet one to show up but rules aspects could cause major headaches at events.
Here’s a couple cards that have been getting somewhat pricey without regular reprints. Yes, we just saw Land Tax in Battlebond, but how cool would it be to have in Modern? It’s a strong classic card that made waves for years, but hasn’t done anything in Legacy since being unbanned. I think it wouldn’t do too much and would be fine for Modern as a format. Concordant Crossroads already has a Red version in Mass Hysteria and would likely be fine, though ramp decks would get a noticeable power boost. Lastly, Reset is a sweet card that sees fringe Legacy play in the Solidarity builds of High Tide. I think it would be fine in Modern as nothing would really break it right now, but would also be great to give players a more accessible version of the classic card.
If we’re looking at neat stuff that wouldn’t be broken, why not introduce the Kobolds into Modern? They’re not breaking anything and offer some cool options to decks like Cheerios if you can get an effect out of playing them for free or else swarming the board with them. They’re cute, iconic, and haven’t been reprinted since their originals in Legends. Now seems like as good a time as any to bring these classic critters out.
Lastly, there’s a couple other neat cards. Storm Seeker is a really unique effect for Green. It’s almost certainly not great for Modern, but is a classic. A fresh take on the iconic artwork of this card would also be quite welcome. Kismet already has a colorshifted version in Frozen Aether from Planar Chaos, and it would be great to see the original make a showing. It would be an excellent option as well for the current Mono-White Enchantments deck that shows up from time to time. Finally, there’s The Wretched. Look, this art is amazing and the ability is super unique. I’m not sure it would be playable, but it would be something that could wow players if it were to show up as an uncommon.
The Dark had easily one of the best aesthetics of the classic Magic sets. Unfortunately, this was arguably the beginning of what many refer to as the dead zone of Magic, usually starting from here through Homelands. This is where cards started to get severely powered down and boy does it show.
Of all the classic cards that could show up, Maze of Ith is the most obvious. It’s not broken, but puts in a significant amount of work on its own. It showed up in a number of sweet decks in the game’s history and the original iconic artwork made it a fan favorite for years to come. Coupled with regular play in Legacy, Commander, and Cube and it just seems like a fantastic option.
Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust seem like fantastic options as well. Great cards that are fondly remembered from Magic’s past, I could easily see these showing up. Like the ABU Blast spells, Ashes to Ashes is another card that confuses players looking to get into the Pauper format. It was a common here in The Dark, but it wasn’t when it was brought online in Masters Edition III. I think it would be fine as a common in the set given its drawback and would be an excellent downshift option.
A few other oddball options that could be worth considering but ultimately won’t make the cut for the format:
There’s so many possibilities with what Modern Horizons could bring with it that it only feels like I’m scratching the surface with these sets, and yet see how much there is to talk about in spite of that. I could go on for days, really, and I will as I continue next week with Fallen Empires through Weatherlight. What cards from these sets do you want to see, or else perhaps see a new version of? The possibilities, ultimately, are literally endless.