Modern is taking center stage at several big upcoming events, and in order to seem as though I have a semblance of competence as a Magic broadcaster, I’ve been staying on top of the format’s latest developments. We’ve only had our (digital) hands on Modern Horizons for a very brief period, but already, we’re seeing it influence the format very strongly indeed. Let’s discuss some of the cards that are already putting in work!
Sunbaked Canyon and friends
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone to discover that the “Horizon Canopy” lands are making an immediate impact in Modern. Horizon Canopy has been a staple inclusion in aggressive, low-to-the-ground decks for a long time, even seeing ample play in mono-colored decks that are purely interested in its cycling ability. Now, the full cycle of enemy-colored lands is propping up some sweet takes on existing archetypes.
Mono-Red Phoenix by B1gDan
14 Mountain (343) 3 Sunbaked Canyon 4 Arclight Phoenix 2 Bedlam Reveler 4 Monastery Swiftspear 4 Soul-Scar Mage 4 Faithless Looting 1 Finale of Promise 4 Forked Bolt 4 Gut Shot 4 Lava Spike 4 Light Up the Stage 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Manamorphose Sideboard 3 Abrade 3 Blood Moon 1 Ravenous Trap 2 Rending Volley 1 Shatterstorm 2 Shrine of Burning Rage 3 Surgical Extraction
Thanks to Sunbaked Canyon, this Arclight Phoenix deck seems to have reached the critical mass of card draw it needs, all without having to play blue cards. Between Faithless Looting, Manamorphose, Light Up the Stage, and now Sunbaked Canyon, this 17-land special is set to challenge traditional Izzet Phoenix decks for supremacy.
Other Horizons lands are also seeing play across a broad variety of decks, typically as one- or two-ofs. Unless you’re playing an extremely streamlined aggressive deck that can afford to draw multiples, the life loss on these lands means playing a high number of them is a real liability. Don’t expect this trend to change: Sunbaked Canyon and all the rest of them are here to stay.
Ranger-Captain of Eos, Unearth
This odd tribute to Ranger of Eos has several things going for it, even if the flavor is perplexing. Why is the Ranger-Captain less good at his job than a simple Ranger? Too much of the paperwork and bureaucracy that comes with a higher rank? In any case, costing a full mana less is a big deal, and it’s not surprising to see the Ranger-Captain powering up another new take on an old favorite: Esper Death’s Shadow.
Esper Death’s Shadow by jessy_samek
Having a powerful, flexible tutor that also meaningfully impacts the battlefield–all while threatening to disrupt opposing interaction–is a big deal for this deck. Ranger-Captain of Eos is a three-mana 3/3 that draws you your deck’s namesake card, and its activated ability will have a huge impact on gameplay. You can run this out and have insurance against slower decks with sweepers or combo decks threatening to go off. Sacrificing it in an opponent’s upkeep prevents them from casting a Supreme Verdict or Scapeshift, and will often buy you enough time to seal the deal with one more big attack.
This list is also playing some other Modern Horizons cards. Silent Clearing is a great inclusion, and Kaya’s Guile is a flexible post-board option. It’s very exciting, however, to see Unearth getting involved. It usually just represents extra copies of Death’s Shadow, but can also provide a good amount of value in a grindier game (Unearth Snapcaster, flashback Unearth, target Ranger, fetch Shadow).
Finally, Ranger-Captain of Eos is also seeing some play in Humans, which makes a lot of sense. It can fetch Noble Hierarch for mana and/or an exalted trigger, or Champion of the Parish for extra board presence, and once again its activated ability is bound to be very useful. All on a creature with respectable enough stats; Ranger-Captain seems to be the real deal.
Force of Negation, Archmage’s Charm, Magmatic Sinkhole
We all knew Force of Negation was going to make its presence felt in Modern. A free counterspell is too good a deal to pass up, especially when taking the fight to unfair decks. The card seems to have been balanced exceptionally well, and probably won’t turn Modern on its head as something like Force of Will would have done.
It has a sweet partner in crime, however, in the form of Archmage’s Charm. This card has an extremely steep mana requirement, but if you can swing it, the rewards are monumental. Archmage’s Charm does everything, and in a low-to-the-ground format like Modern, it can have a deceptively large impact. It’s seeing play in a few different archetypes, but my favorite so far is in Blue Moon.
Blue Moon by thepensword
3 Flooded Strand 7 Island (335) 1 Mountain (343) 1 Prismatic Vista 4 Scalding Tarn 1 Spirebluff Canal 2 Steam Vents 2 Sulfur Falls 4 Snapcaster Mage 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 1 Vendilion Clique 1 Abrade 2 Archmage's Charm 2 Blood Moon 1 Burst Lightning 3 Cryptic Command 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Magmatic Sinkhole 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 4 Remand 4 Serum Visions 1 Spell Pierce 4 Opt Sideboard 1 Abrade 2 Anger of the Gods 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 1 Ceremonious Rejection 2 Dispel 1 Engineered Explosives 1 Flame Slash 2 Force of Negation 2 Relic of Progenitus 1 Spell Snare 1 Surgical Extraction
Some decks choose to play Force of Negation in the main deck, which is entirely defensible. It’s not immediately clear whether it’s best in the main or on the bench, but I think that given the importance of answering high-impact noncreature spells in decks such as Tron, it’s a good idea to play Force of Negation somewhere in your 75.
Archmage’s Charm, on the other hand, is the perfect card for game 1. Against aggressive decks it will steal or remove cards like Champion of the Parish and Death’s Shadow (not to mention nicking Amulet of Vigor or Expedition Map against unwitting opponents); against slow decks it will draw you ahead on cards, and against every deck ever it still a three-mana hard counter. Dismiss is not a Modern-playable card, but Cryptic Command’s flexibility means it makes the cut, and so too will Archmage’s Charm make a hard-to-cast Cancel playable.
Finally, you should add Magmatic Sinkhole to your list of Cards To Keep In Mind when playing against decks like this. Traditionally, Blue-Red Control decks relied on cards like Burst Lightning to deal with higher-toughness creatures, but now they have a one-mana answer to everything from Gurmag Angler to Baneslayer Angel. This is more important than it seems; don’t be taken for a fool and fail to respect the powerful delve mechanic.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Finally, we turn our attention to the Avatar in the room. More than any other card in the entire set, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis has had a bigger impact on the Modern format, twisting the old Bridgevine archetype around this incredibly weird new card. It turns out that recurring an 8/8 trampler is pretty good, and the graveyard-based support suite for Hogaak ensures the Arisen Necropolis comes back again and again and again.
Hogaak Bridgevine by Niedzwiedz
The most fascinating thing about this list is how divergent all the different builds are. Some are playing a dredge package, others are all-in on one-mana creatures that fill the graveyard, some play interaction, others just want to “go off” as quickly and as reliably as possible. No matter the build, however, they’re all seeking to do the same thing: put Hogaak into play as quickly and as reliably as possible.
This is done by filling up the graveyard with early plays, and then powering out high-impact threats like Vengevine and Hogaak. There’s a lot of fairly orthodox graveyard nonsense in all these decks, whether it’s dredging Stinkweed Imp or bring back Bloodghasts, but there’s also new combos like Carrion Feeder plus Gravecrawler.
Hogaak synergizes with more or less every card in the deck. Altar of Dementia is another key card, giving the classic Bridgevine deck a Plan B win condition in conjunction with Hogaak. With Hogaak and a couple of Bridges, you can sacrifice the 8/8 at the Altar, mill yourself, make Zombies, then convoke and delve Hogaak back out. Rinse and repeat until you have enough Zombies in play to one-shot your opponent’s library, milling them out.
All of the lines this deck is capable of are too complex to comprehensively cover here, but there are a few things to take note of. As a graveyard deck, it has a difficult time against graveyard hate, and the sideboard goes a long way to show you just how ready it is for cards like Rest in Peace. Four copies of Wispmare, on the splash?
In fact, the reason I chose Niedzwiedz’s list (out of the huge number that have been getting it done in Modern recently) is because of this sweet sideboard package of evoke creatures. Wispmare is a lot more than a simple Demystify–don’t forget that even when evoked, it still triggers Vengevine. Even the brand-new Shenanigans is getting a run!
There are, however, a huge number of different builds, some of which take advantage of some of the sweetest Modern Horizons cards as well as old favorites. I’ve seen decks with Mind Rake, Hangarback Walker, even Rix Maadi Reveler! It’ll be fascinating to see what the “best version” of this deck looks like in the coming weeks.
As anticipated, Modern Horizons has already begun to flex its muscle in the Modern format, and this is just the beginning. Players around the world, in preparation for events like MagicFest Dallas and Mythic Championship IV, are testing these new cards to breaking point. With several high-profile Modern events swiftly bearing down on us, it’s a safe bet that, in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”