Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to relearn Modern. I haven’t played much of it since Wizards discontinued the Modern Pro Tour, and it’s been close to a year since I’ve played it in a Grand Prix. The last time I tested Modern, I was planning to play Grixis Death’s Shadow at Grand Prix Las Vegas. But a Top 8 in the Limited GP of that event left me unable to play the Modern GP the following day.
My first step was to focus on which decks I knew, and which decks were considered the “best” or most popular in the format. Storm, Humans and Eldrazi Tron have gotten a lot of attention since I last played, and in that time Eldrazi Tron has gone from “potential best deck” to one with plenty of weaknesses. In a format as wide open as this one, you need to pinpoint exactly what you want to do.
So to help clarify the state of the format, I decided to rank the best 10 cards in Modern.
My criteria? How excited I would be to register a deck that includes any of these cards.
As a side note, after I had already submitted this article, Brian DeMars composed a similar list. While we never saw each other’s lists, it’s interesting to see how our lists compare.
10: Faithless Looting
I don’t consider Faithless Looting to be in any of the best decks at the moment, but Faithless Looting is one of the most important cards in a wide array of lists. Dredge is probably the best deck in which you’ll find Faithless Looting, and it’s one of the more important cards in that deck, allowing you to both dredge deep and discard a dredge card on turn 1.
It’s one of the fastest ways to dig through your deck and discard a Griselbrand or Emrakul and bring it back with a Goryo’s Vengeance. Faithless Looting enables decks focusing on Hollow One to give you the ability to discard Vengevine and make a truly gross amount of power in the first couple turns of the game. There are a few versions of these decks running around, and perhaps once the giant hive mind of Magic figures it out, it will be great. While Faithless Looting might not be on your radar as one of the top 10 cards in Modern, I think it belongs in this spot.
9: Primeval Titan
Primeval Titan is truly one of the strongest cards in Modern. Watching the SCG Invitational this weekend, I heard Matthias Hunt refer to it as a “one-card combo.” The decks that play it will win if they untap, or even right on the spot. Primeval Titan is the reason decks like R/G Valakut and what’s left of the Amulet Titan deck exist. The biggest strike against it is that it’s extremely expensive for Modern. 6 mana isn’t easy to reach, and requires you to fill up your deck with a way to ramp it out. This usually means that you aren’t interacting much early in the game, which leaves you vulnerable. While I think Primeval Titan is one of the most powerful cards in Modern, it does require you to go all in, putting it low on my list.
8: Tron Lands
While I’ve never played a deck with Tron lands, they are some of the most powerful cards left in Modern that haven’t been banned. They allow you to play with more expensive cards, but constrain your deck building to big colorless threats like Karn Liberated, Wurmcoil Engine, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Modern is a fast format and Urza lands give you a way to go way over the top of other fair decks, but like Primeval Titan, leave you vulnerable in the early turns.
The innovation of Eldrazi Tron put Tron lands in a deck that doesn’t necessarily need them to function, but when the deck has them early, it’s really difficult to beat. Eldrazi Tron also can produce a fast clock, something new to most Tron decks, which gives the deck the ability to fight against unfair decks. Big Mana Tron decks generally fight very well against other fair decks, so when the format is flooded with them, Tron decks become an excellent choice. I could see myself sleeving up Tron for the first time if I thought fair decks were going to be overly represented at the tournament I was attending.
7: Ancient Stirrings
Ancient Stirrings is the most important “cantrip” left in Modern. We’ve seen Ancient Stirrings in Eldrazi decks, Amulet Titan decks, Tron Decks, and most importantly Lantern Control. Lantern Control is one of the best decks in Modern right now thanks to Whir of Invention, giving the deck an instant-speed Demonic Tutor. Ancient Stirrings provides consistency for these decks that don’t have a lot of redundancy in important cards like Eldrazi Temple, Amulet of Vigor, Lantern of Insight, and Tron lands.
6: Noble Hierarch
While there are plenty of 1-mana creatures that produce mana, Noble Hierarch is unique in that it also plays offense with its exalted ability. Noble Hierarch is one of the more important cards in all of the Collected Company decks, and decks like Infect that use Noble Hierarch for the mana boost and as a way to push through damage. It is the one card you can point to that has seen play in almost every green creature archetype, including Abzan Midrange decks. While I generally don’t like playing decks with Noble Hierarch, I recognize it as the best 1-drop creature in Modern, which is why it’s number six on my list.
5: Fatal Push
Fatal Push is actually the worst it’s been in Modern since it was printed, and it’s still great. The metagame has shifted around the card, with decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow using Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler. Fatal Push still lets black decks keep up with fast creature decks like Affinity, Infect, and Humans, much like Lightning Bolt would, but Fatal Push can also kill big Death’s Shadows and Tarmogoyfs. Fatal Push, in my opinion, is the undisputed best removal spell left in Modern, which is why I put it so high on my list at number five.
4: Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster Mage is the best blue spell in Modern, and you’ll find it in every interactive blue deck. It allows you to play a deck that’s light on win conditions and high on answers, giving you the flexibility of an Eternal Witness at instant speed, and a clock to win with once you’ve taken over the game. If it were banned from Modern, fair blue decks would cease to exist. It’s hard to argue that Snapcaster Mage isn’t one of the best five cards in Modern.
3: Death’s Shadow
It may not surprise you, but Death’s Shadow is the number one creature on my top 10 list. The mana in Modern is great if you’re willing to pay life for it in the form of fetches and shocklands. Death’s Shadow is a way to leverage that life loss and gives you a huge creature for 1 mana. Death’s Shadow also pairs so well with hand disruption, specifically Thoughtseize, because it allows you to clock your opponent and kill them before they can draw out of the mess you put them in. You can’t cast Death’s Shadow on turn 1 or 2 very often, but the fact that you can double-spell with it early and often is what makes it so powerful.
Death’s Shadow is played in shells remarkably similar to Jund or Abzan strategies, and it helps those decks have manageable game against a deck like Tron, which may otherwise be a horrible matchup. One huge upside to Death’s Shadow is that it doesn’t fall victim to graveyard hate like Rest in Peace, where Tarmogoyf, Modern’s other best cheap, big beater does. In fact, the way that Grixis Death’s Shadow is able to beat a card like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace is by getting an early Death’s Shadow out and protecting it with discard and counterspells.
Death’s Shadow is the best creature in Modern.
2: Mox Opal
Mox Opal is probably the most broken card left in Modern. The fact that it requires you to build your deck with an artifact theme makes those decks weak to hate, and makes Mox Opal a card that doesn’t need to be banned in Modern. Well, not yet anyway. Mox Opal will get better as more playable artifacts and artifact synergies are printed, and there may be a day we look back and laugh that we could play Moxes in Modern.
For now, Mox Opal is a major reason Lantern Control and Affinity are tier 1, and those decks would likely cease to exist without it. If I had to go by pure power level alone, Mox Opal might be number one on my list, but since it is weak to a card like Stony Silence, it makes me less excited to register the card in a tournament. It’s still number two on my list and I don’t think it’s close.
Okay, so you may be wondering why Inquisition of Kozilek isn’t on this list, and that was just for the sake of being redundant. I don’t want to necessarily lump Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize together, because I do think Thoughtseize is better, but they are similar cards and are usually played in tandem.
With that said, Thoughtseize is the single most important, and in my opinion, best card in Modern. It’s your safety valve in this format. Force of Will is to Legacy as Thoughtseize is to Modern. It’s probably the answer to an analogy question on a standardized test for Magic players somewhere. Playing Thoughtseize and a fast clock has been a recipe for success in Modern since I started playing the format. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek packages are what keep the degenerate decks of the format in check, and without them Modern would be a horrifying format to slog through.
When I go to choose a Modern deck, I want to find the most broken deck, or the best Thoughtseize deck. I always feel like I have a chance when I have Thoughtseize and creatures in my deck, and it’s the best way to cover all of your bases in Modern. In a format as wide open as Modern, I’ll tell you I am very likely to sleeve up Thoughtseize this weekend at GP Oklahoma City. The only thing I haven’t figured out quite yet is the best shell for it.
So that’s my list of top 10 cards in Modern. Serum Visions would have been on my list a year ago, but with Opt being printed, I think Serum Visions has gotten less important. Despite the fact that it’s a good card, most decks with Serum Visions could replace it with Opt and not be much worse off for it. My biggest omission from the list is Lightning Bolt, a card you could argue is one of the best in Modern, but the format has evolved in a way that it doesn’t kill enough threats for me to even want to play it in many decks anymore.
What was my biggest omission? What’s the best Thoughtseize deck? If you have answers to these questions, please, let me know!