The Commands are likely candidates for the best Modern cards in Dragons of Tarkir. This is due to their low mana cost and their flexibility. However, there are a few more cards that fit right in with the Commands in their ability to efficiently answer some of the common problems of Modern.
The Removal Spells
In many ways, Modern is a contest of who can deploy threats and answer opposing threats most efficiently. If one player is left without an answer, they will lose. If one player consistently spends more mana than the other on each exchange, they will lose. In Modern, always be on the look out for the best ways to answer your opponents’ threats.
These are not the best or most versatile removal spells in Modern, but they are quite good at what they do. I think these spells will be major players in decks that don’t have access to black mana, because they take care of problems that other burn or bounce spells fail to solve.
Encase in Ice is a great option for something like Mono-Blue Merfolk or even UR Delver because it answers Tarmogoyf and Siege Rhino. A major pitfall of these decks is that Tarmogoyf outclasses any individual creature that these decks have access to. However, if you offer them the ability to trade with a Tarmogoyf at parity, they’re free to pursue their own game plan with a tremendous amount of weight off their shoulders.
Rending Volley seems tailor made for Deceiver Exarch. From my experience playing non-black decks like RUG or UR Delver, it’s extremely easy to beat Splinter Twin when they draw Pestermite instead of Deceiver Exarch—you can simply burn it. Rending Volley brings Deceiver Exarch down to the level of Pestermite in that it can now die to a single burn spell. It’s also very nice against Restoration Angel and Celestial Colonnade. Combust already existed, but it’s far easier for these decks to leave up 1 mana than 2. Rending Volley is also much easier to Snapcaster Mage than a 2-mana spell is.
Roast is basically red’s analogue to Encase in Ice. It offers the ability to answer Tarmogoyf and Siege Rhino 1-for-1. This opens up a lot of new territory for control decks that might not want to go too deep into black or white for answers to Tarmogoyf.
The Weenie Creatures
It’s hard to compete with Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Delver of Secrets in terms of efficiency. Dragons of Tarkir, however, offers a handful of cheap creatures that are both powerful enough and different enough from the existing options that they might make a splash.
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is a great card by almost any metric. Her combat stats aren’t the best, but she doesn’t necessarily need to be attacking to provide a tremendous amount of value. Anafenza is a fine consideration for any White Weenie deck. That said, there are two other aspects of the card that I’d like to focus on.
The first is her application in a white devotion deck. I think devotion is a very under-explored area in Modern. Cards like Figure of Destiny and Student of Warfare offer both high rewards to white devotion and a solid plan for the games where you can’t get Nykthos going. Anafenza, as a powerful double-white 2-drop, would be right at home.
Second is the way her triggered ability works with persist. Birthing Pod is gone, but that doesn’t mean that creature-based combos need to go extinct! Anafenza is an upgrade to Melira, Sylvok Outcast in the old Melira combo. Anafenza plus Kitchen Finks with a sacrifice outlet will still let you infinitely persist and gain infinite life. Chord of Calling is still legal, and such a deck would be able to play a fine normal creature game even when it wasn’t successful in assembling the combo.
The 3-drop slot is pretty crowded for White Weenie decks in Modern, but Arashin Foremost is one more solid consideration. Unlike cards like Mirran Crusader, it impacts the game immediately, and is difficult to neutralize with a single removal spell.
Hidden Dragonslayer and Stratus Dancer
These creatures would be a little slow if you always had to cast them face down and then unmorph them the following turn. However, the fact that they’re reasonable creatures to cast on turn 2 makes them a lot more appealing.
Although mana-intensive, the effect that these cards offer when you turn them face up gets better the more powerful the format. When even cheap creatures can be as big as Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze, and when instants and sorceries are as game-changing as Cryptic Command and Scapeshift, then Hidden Dragonslayer and Stratus Dancer are quite appealing.
Zurgo Bellstriker is a relatively simple card, so there’s not a ton to say about him. However, he’s clearly on the power-level of Modern playable cards like Kird Ape and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Depending on the colors of your aggro deck, and how many 1-drop creatures you wanted, Zurgo might be a go-to.
Myth Realized is an extremely interesting card. It’s very unique and supremely powerful, and I can’t wait to see all the places it might find a home. What is clear is that it increases in power level based on the number of cheap cantrips you have in your deck. If you can chain together Gitaxian Probes and Serum Visions, Myth Realized can become very scary, very quickly.
One obvious home would be a UW or Jeskai Delver deck. It can’t start unloading damage as quickly as a Delver of Secrets or a Steppe Lynx, but it continues to increase in power level as the game goes long. The fact that it’s not a creature itself offers some interesting flexibility. You can wait to activate it until it lives through Lightning Bolt. You can overextend into a Supreme Verdict or Anger of the Gods. You can play some interesting games if you think your opponent is intending to tap your creatures with Cryptic Command.
Beyond Delver strategies, Myth Realized seems like it could be part of a transformational sideboard in a deck like Storm or Eggs. Attacking with a 7/7 creature is certainly off plan for decks like these, but that’s the point! You might be able to catch someone completely off-guard after sideboarding.
Check back for the final installment where I cover the expensive bomb cards that might be Modern playable!