Hello and welcome back to 95mtg.com!
We’re taking a look at the current state of the Modern format and what may change with the new Modern Horizons 2 expansion.
The latest bannings point to WotC’s desire for Modern to be a slower, interaction-centered format:
Simian Spirit Guide was the last strong acceleration piece and there’s been an ongoing discussion about its banning.
It has always been clear that Modern should be a “turn 4” format, so that there’s plenty of time to interact with opponent creatures with removal effects, stop infinite combos with counterspells, or discard spells.
After these bannings, we saw the following three dominant strategies increase in popularity.
This GW creature-based combo deck revolves around Heliod, Sun-Crowned, which is one of the most resilient combo pieces.
Collected Company, the best card in the deck, finds combo pieces, puts pressure on the board, and finds key match-up cards like Auriok Champion, which becomes playable in the main deck thanks to its resilience and harmony with the other cards.
Here’s an example list:
The speed and design of UR, and lately, WR Prowess decks have made life gain and early interaction necessary for other decks in the format. This particular deck caused control-based strategies that used 4x of Path to Exile as their main spot removal card to change to Fatal Push. The extra land the opponent gets out of Path to Exile is a boost for sequencing their spells and puts you at a disadvantage.
Jund Shadows (and other color combinations of Death’s Shadow-decks) use a midrange strategy that is now more popular than the older Jund list, which included Lilianas and Bloodbraid Elf. It has the same interaction tools (Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt) but can also quickly close the game. Scourge of the Skyclaves and Shadows are key to this deck.
These three decks are capable of breaking the “turn 4 rule”. While GW and Prowess can deal more than 20 damage by turn 3, the Shadow deck can put itself in a spot where it’s close to impossible to come back, even if you’re not technically dead by turn 3.
What should we think about these decks? Has WotC failed to achieve their goal of slowing the format with the bannings? Is it possible for them to ban some of the strongest cards in these archetypes? The answer is Modern Horizons 2.
WotC has hinted at what this expansion will look like, even revealing a few cards, including Counterspell, Brainstone, Urza’s Saga, and Diamond Lion.
Three are brand new cards, and Counterspell is a reprint that has never been legal in Modern because it was considered too powerful for a standard legal set.
In analyzing the cards, there are two messages. The first is the will to create new strong cards that can become Modern staples, so we will probably witness a consistent power creep with this new set. The second is that the cards center around interaction.
Counterspell is an iconic card that barely sees Legacy play and deserves a spot in Modern. There are so many two-for-one effects in the format that a powerful and clean one-for-one effect is welcomed.
UWx Control decks have always had three or four slots dedicated to cheap counters, because these decks need an early form of interaction to keep the board empty and to survive fast combos. Control players have had to choose the lesser evil and come to terms with Mana Leaks or Logic Knots, which are either clunky or useless in late game.
Now control players will be able to have a cheap yet solid late game interaction, which will benefit the metagame’s health. Aggro players won’t care if opponents Counterspell their threat rather than using Mana Leak. Tron players will have to fear it, but they have plenty of ways to deal with Blue spells with Veil of Summer.
Brainstorm might be broken in Modern, but here it is a more fair one, and since it’s colorless, any deck can have access to it.
Diamond Lion is a creature, which makes it easy to interact with than how Lion’s Eye Diamond is in Legacy. It can be destroyed by any creature or artifact removal, and its effect can also be denied by Stony Silence or Collector Ouphe. As a creature, it has summoning sickness, so your opponent has a whole turn to react.
Urza’s Saga is the first enchantment land of the game. It can tutor an artifact for free, but it cannot bring Lotus Bloom or another permanent with no casting cost into play, which is a recent change by WotC on Converted Mana Cost.
WotC intends the expansion to be fun, powerful, impactful and centered on interaction. I don’t think anything will happen to the dominant strategies that exist in Modern.
We will probably see no bannings, and maybe these decks will benefit from new cards in Modern Horizons 2.
The three decks mentioned here are strong and fast, but they are not trying to play on a strange axis, like Dredge Decks or Storm Decks. They concern creatures, discard spells, combat phases and removals. They will be fine with the increase of the format’s power level. The only thing to watch for is Heliod, because it cannot be destroyed or dealt with easily.
Let’s not forget that there are many viable strategies in Modern that do not care about interaction. For example, there’s Amulet Titan, which is played a lot on MTGO, or decks like Tron or Scapeshift, which have always been a part of the metagame and have no signs of falling out of favor. Until a strong portion of the format is interactive and well-balanced, linear strategies are still useful and fun to play. Problems start to occur when there is no choice between the two styles of play, and you are incentivised to take the linear approach if you want to win.
I believe that the set will have a lot of new, strong cards that will prompt people to experiment and build new decks. Will they be too powerful for Modern?
To answer this we have to wait until after the spoiler season and months of testing. WotC is not infallible and they have made some big mistakes (side eying Elks). But otTC is capable of producing well-balanced and fun sets like Strixhaven.
I hope they learned from Modern Horizons 1 and create a successful and pleasant product.
Modern is in a healthy spot, and there is plenty of space to grow. It’s one of my favourite formats, and I would love to see it shine and become a nice environment for competitive and casual play.
I can’t wait to see more of the new cards and to start playtesting. How are you feeling about the upcoming set?