First Impressions from Modern Horizons


Today I’m going to talk a bit about the Modern Horizon cards that caught my eye and where I think they can (or cannot) be played.

Scale Up

Scale Up

There’s debate over whether this is good enough for Infect. My inclination is that it is. +5 power for 1 mana is just so much, and this facilitates the turn 2 kill of turn 1 Glistener Elf, turn 2 Scale Up + Groundswell or Might of Old Krosa. There is downside to being sorcery speed, since they can then block whatever creature you pump, and it also doesn’t scale well in multiples (unless you have two creatures), but it should still be a four-of. It’s the card that goldfishes the fastest and you signed up for goldfishing if you’re playing Infect.

Seasoned Pyromancer

Seasoned Pyromancer

This card does so much. For 3 mana, it provides 4 power across three bodies (which is usually much better than just one body) and it loots two cards. Granted, if you loot away lands then you don’t get the tokens, but it’s still a strong effect. If it dies (or if you have multiples and discard one to the other), you can cash it in for two more tokens in the late game. I think this has a good chance to see play, especially in decks like Mono-Red Phoenix (which lacked ways to sacrifice Phoenix), but perhaps also in Hollow One and Jund.

Flusterstorm

Flusterstorm

This is a bust. Flusterstorm does two things better than Spell Pierce—counter storm cards (which isn’t super relevant) and counter wars. You can also cast cantrips and then Flusterstorm to get a bigger “Spell Pierce effect,” but it’s not worth it because there are too many important cards Spell Pierce counters and Flusterstorm doesn’t. Can you imagine your opponent playing Chalice of the Void while you hold Flusterstorm? How about Karn Liberated? Aether Vial? Blood Moon? Ensnaring Bridge? Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Detention Sphere? Oblivion Stone? There are just way too many relevant cards that dodge it for this to be good (and it’s not like Spell Pierce is heavily played anyway).

Plague Engineer

Plague Engineer

Plague Engineer has the honor of replacing Human Frailty as the ultimate Humans-hate card. It’s probably going to see play in any deck that can search for it with Collected Company or Chord of Calling at least (keep in mind it’s not symmetrical), and might just be a legitimate sideboard card for normal decks. Other than the Humans deck, you can name Human for Vizier of Remedies, Spirits for the Spirits deck or Lingering Souls, Illusion for Narcomoeba, Vampire for Bloodghast, Elves for the Elves deck, Wizard for both Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster, and so on.

Genesis

Genesis

Genesis is one of my favorite cards, and it was with Genesis I qualified for the first Pro Tour Honolulu, which is where my professional career effectively started. It’s a fantastic grindy card, and it can beat almost anything given enough time. The problem I have is that, in today’s Modern, who has enough time to do that?

Way back when, I played it in a Gifts Rock deck—a 4-color deck that played Gifts Ungiven for value, which happened to be a way to tutor for Genesis if you wanted to. If you were desperate to put it in your graveyard, you could just tutor for only two cards and they would automatically be binned. Nowadays, you can just get Unburial Rites and a big creature instead, so I’m not sure there’s much point. At least there’s Regrowth, so you can make Gifts piles of Witness + Regrowth + X and guarantee you’ll get X, but as for Genesis itself I have to say I’m skeptical.

Force of Negation

Force of Negation

I started high on this, but now I’m much less excited. I thought it was potentially going to be good in blue aggro decks (like Merfolk or maybe Spirits), but the issue is that they can just cast removal on your turn. It’s still going to be great at stopping, say, Ugin, Karn or a combo-kill, but it doesn’t do anything against a deck trying to cast Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile. It can still see play in a deck like Merfolk, but I suspect it will be a sideboard card more than a main deck card, both for these decks and also for U/W/Jeskai decks. Those decks might be interested in tapping out for Jace and having free protection.

Wrenn and Six

Wrenn and Six

Wrenn and Six is an interesting card because it has two abilities that are potentially very good against two different decks, which is always an eye-catcher. Imagine playing against a Humans opponent who has a turn 1 Champion of the Parish on the draw, and then meeting them with Wrenn and Six. It also kills Noble Hierarch, Phantasmal Image, Thalia, and potentially Lieutenant. Against other decks, it shoots Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, and occasionally something like a Dark Confidant or Young Pyromancer. It also has the ability to recur fetchlands, which are plentiful in Modern, as well as the new Horizon Canopy lands, creature lands, and cards like Field of Ruin. There might be an aggro-Loam deck that is interested in this (with Seismic Assault), but it may also just see play in regular Jund.

Goblin Engineer

Goblin Engineer

This is the card that’s most interesting to me. Goblin Engineer is not for every deck, but it’s incredibly powerful in the right build. In some ways, it reminds me of Stoneforge Mystic—it’s a creature that gives you value when you play it, and they must kill it immediately or it’s going to give you even more value. The difference is that you must want a card in your graveyard for that to be value, whereas Stoneforge Mystic just puts it in your hand. It comes with more deckbuilding constraints, but in return you get much better bullets to search for and the ability is powerful throughout the game, whereas Stoneforge Mystic is usually a one-shot.

I think there are three different ways to use Goblin Engineer. The first one is to use it mostly as an Entomb in combination with Inkwell Leviathan. The dream here is that you play Goblin Engineer on turn 2, and then on turn 3 you reanimate whatever big artifact you want. Here are some contenders:

I don’t expect this to be very successful because a) you need another artifact for this to work, so it’s not a two-card combo anyway, and b) it seems incredibly vulnerable to graveyard hate—it seems better to focus your efforts on throwing a Griselbrand in the graveyard and reanimating that if this is what you want.

The second way is to use Goblin Engineer as a mix of tutoring plus reanimation spell in itself. For example, take a deck like Lantern, or Whir Prison. These decks have a lot of cheap artifacts that are very important to their game plan, and Goblin Engineer can put them in the graveyard to get them back if it doesn’t die. “But PV, of course it’s going to die. It’s a 1/2.” Well, yeah, but some Modern decks just don’t do a good job of killing creatures. You can easily play this against Tron on turn 2 and have it live to turn 3, or against Humans, Dredge, Hardened Scales, Eldrazi, or even against U/W decks that only have Path to Exile. Humans mostly relies on Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter to stop an Ensnaring Bridge in game 1, so what happens when you play Goblin Engineer on turn 2? Suddenly they can’t Meddling Mage or Freebooter your Bridge anymore.

If it does end up dying, however, that doesn’t mean you lose access to the card. They can still be brought back by a combination of Academy Ruins, Codex Shredder, or Buried Ruin. Besides, what happens post-board? Are your opponents going to keep in cards like Dismember and Path to Exile just for this one creature? What if they don’t know you have it? What if it’s in your sideboard? Take, for example, Death’s Shadow decks—they bring in a lot of discard and counterspells, but what if you resolve one of these? Lantern-style decks have never had a creature they could threaten to bring in for games 2 and 3, but now they do.

But Goblin Engineer doesn’t just find you a bullet—it also makes sure that you close out the game faster. If you’re playing a deck like Lantern, you can mill yourself and find the missing pieces much faster, and if you manage to get an Ensnaring Bridge in play, they can’t even destroy the Ensnaring Bridge. They have to first be able to destroy the Goblin Engineer, or you’ll just bring it back. Multiple Bridges or multiple Engineers even let you dodge Deputy of Detention.

On top of the very important Ensnaring Bridge, you can also get any Lantern pieces, Welding Jar, Spellskites to protect your combo, Crucible of Worlds, and even Chalice of the Void (though that one you need to bring back to your hand the hard way if you want to cast). Besides, there are a couple of silver bullets that this can get that are often already in your deck:

The third way to use Goblin Engineer is with the Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry combo. This is my favorite because Sword of the Meek is a card that you want in the graveyard more than you want in play, so playing Goblin Engineer and searching for it is better than tutoring it into your hand. Of course, if you already have the Sword, you can then find Thopter Foundry, and the Sword conveniently provides you with something to sacrifice already.

There are two ways to play Thopter Foundry/Sword with the Goblin. The first way is to dedicate yourself to the combo. Play multiples of all the pieces, and maybe even something like Urza, Lord High Artificer, which is a powerful card in its own right and goes infinite with Thopter/Sword. But I think Modern is a format that’s too high-powered for that—you simply cannot play a three-card combo that relies on multiple permanents and the graveyard, and doesn’t kill immediately.

So, if I’m not interested in Reanimator or dedicated Thopter Foundry combo, what am I interested in? A Thopter Sword combo-control deck, where you don’t go all-in on the combo but have it as an avenue to beat every fair deck. Take, for example, this Thopter Sword deck that William Cavaglieri took to the top 8 of Worlds 2009 (I know, that’s a long time ago, but the card was banned for a long time, and the deck does a good job of illustrating what I’m talking about):

Thopter Sword

4 Island
2 Plains
1 Academy Ruins
4 Ancient Den
3 Hallowed Fountain
4 Seat of the Synod
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Sword of the Meek
4 Thopter Foundry
4 Path to Exile
4 Spell Snare
3 Mana Leak
4 Muddle the Mixture
2 Wrath of God
3 Engineered Explosives
3 Tezzeret the Seeker
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Chrome Mox
3 Talisman of Progress

Sideboard
4 Meddling Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Wrath of God
2 Chalice of the Void
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Tormod's Crypt
1 Academy Ruins

How would we port a deck like this to today’s Modern format? The biggest challenge is, I think, the artifacts. Cavaglieri had access to eight colored artifact lands that we can’t use, and he didn’t even need to sacrifice artifacts other than jump-starting the Sword of the Meek combo, whereas Goblin Engineer requires a sacrifice. As an upside, we only have to play one Sword of the Meek since we can just tutor for it. In my mind, the deck has at least one Ensnaring Bridge, one Pithing Needle, one Damping Sphere, one Grafdigger’s Cage, one Sword of the Meek, and 3-4 Thopter Foundry. Then you can either fill the blanks with more artifacts like Mox Opal and Mishra’s Bauble (or even cantrips like Chromatic Star, Ichor Wellspring, or Nihil Spellbomb), or play a more controlling game (which is my preference), so long as you manage to keep the artifact count high enough for that to work. Engineered Explosives seems good as a way to do both, much like it did for the KCI deck. Just make sure you include another win condition because Surgical Extraction is very common right now.

In the end, I don’t know if these cards are enough to change Modern completely and to dethrone the best decks, but a lot of them will surely see play. Combining Modern Horizons with War of the Spark will almost certainly result in a much different Modern format than the one we saw at the Mythic Championship in London.

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