The premise is deceptively simple. “What are the 20 most important printings in the Modern era?” I’ve been thinking about this topic for a couple of weeks, taking notes, and trying to narrow and refine my focus.
Here are the basics of how I’d like to qualify or disqualify cards for this particular list:
- First of all, Modern era means cards that have been printed since Mirrodin and are thus cards that will typically be eligible for Modern. There are some new printings (Commander decks, for instance) that are legal in Eternal but not legal for Modern play.
- The intent of the list is to pinpoint the cards that continue to impact tournament Magic. I didn’t want the list to be a bunch of banned cards! The card must see significant tournament play somewhere.
- The list isn’t focused purely on Modern tournament results. If a Modern printing continues to have sustained success in Vintage or Legacy it is a viable choice for my list. Cards that see success across multiple formats are particularly list-worthy!
That’s the basics of what I’m pondering today. It was surprisingly difficult to pick just 20 cards for the list. There are so many powerful and important cards in Magic that singling out just the top percentile is tricky. But if I passed over a card that you think 100% deserves to be on the list be sure to make a case for it and let me know in the comments.
Let’s get to the cards!
Honorable Mention: Tarmogoyf
I’m still relevant! I swear!
Fatal Push has seemingly put Tarmogoyf onto the endangered species list. Yet, you can’t keep a good Tarmogoyf down. The card continues to see staple play in various B/G/x decks across Legacy and Modern. A year ago, Tarmogoyf would have been in my top 5 but now it is barely hanging in there. Does it even deserve to be top 20?
20. Fatal Push/Path to Exile/Dismember
1-mana removal. So good.
It was difficult for me to pick between certain sets of similar cards, so I decided to group them.
I’d probably give the nod to Fatal Push at the moment. The card is everywhere in Modern right now. It is also popular in Legacy whereas Legacy decks would play Swords to Plowshares over Path to Exile.
Fatal Push is a new printing that has really shaken up Magic. The ability to trade up and be widely flexible has proven to be a game-changer.
19. Collected Company
Call this card the comeback kid!
Few cards can bail a player out and take them from a despairing situation to a victorious one like Collected Company. The card cheats mana, creates card advantage, and quasi-tutors creatures into play at instant speed. Um, okay… sure, why not…
Collected Company is an archetype in and of itself in Modern and there are various flavors and color combinations based around abusing this powerful 4-cost instant: Humans, Abzan, Druid Combo, Bant, and even Slivers. CoCo is certainly a newer printing that has left a large footprint on Magic. Let’s not even talk about how the refusal to ban the card in Standard made the card virtually unplayable for well over a year!
18. Primeval Titan
Clash of the Titans (spoiler alert: green one wins).
Prime time! In combination with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the green Titan is a savage force in Modern. It also sees some fringe play in various Legacy decks, which is what earned it the nod here.
So good it had to be banned in Commander. It was an important piece of the deck that got Summer Bloom banned. It says a lot about a card when it can help get another card banned and simply move on to enable another top-tier strategy!
17. Thought-Knot Seer/Eldrazi Temple
Now you see the best card in your hand… and now you don’t…
It isn’t easy being a playable 4-drop creature in tournament Magic. There are not many cards able to overcome such a hefty mana cost. TKS pulls it off in spades.
The card sees play in every Constructed format where it is legal: Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. The card is naturally suited for greatness in any format with lands that tap for multiple colorless mana. It may cost 4 in the upper right, but let’s be serious—you’re typically only tapping 2 or 3 lands to play it.
Temple is the more deserving card. Thought-Knot Seer probably isn’t Modern playable without the Temple. But the two are quite a team and tend to show up as a pair in a lot of decks across a wide array of formats.
16. Deathrite Shaman/Noble Hierarch
Deathrite Shaman and Noble Hierarch are the two premier 1-drop mana creatures in Magic. A big reason for why is that they not only make mana, but fix mana by adding multiple colors. In addition to making and fixing mana, they are also extremely efficient at dealing damage! These cards are nuts!
Deathrite Shaman would probably be number one on my list if it weren’t banned in Modern. With that being said, both of these creatures are the creme de la creme of their perspective formats. Mana is good. Mana dorks are cool.
15. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn/Griselbrand
Large and in charge.
I put these two together because there is rarely an occasion where they don’t show up together. The Demon and the Eldrazi—a romance for the ages…
Basically, if you are cheating something ridiculous into play, it is probably one of these two monstrosities. Both are capable of ending most games by virtue of gracing the battlefield with their presence. It doesn’t matter if you are playing Vintage, Legacy, or Modern—these are the most powerful creatures to cheat into play, period (honorable situational mention to Elesh Norn).
The printing of these win-the-game monsters is a characteristic of the Modern era. Long gone are the days of Reanimating a Verdant Force!
14. Rest in Peace/Stony Silence
Sideboard cards that make people cry.
Do you know what no hope feels like? It’s sideboard cards like these resolving and making your deck literally not function.
These are staple cards that impact every single format where they are legal, all the way back to Vintage. They are equally important in Modern.
I’ve said that I wish Wizards would print better sideboard cards for Standard formats where there are problem decks. For instance, I wish Rest in Peace would have been in Standard when Rally the Ancestors was dominating the format…
Nonetheless, powerful sideboard cards do see print and they create really impactful effects in sideboard games. These are some serious shut-down enchantments.
13. Arcbound Ravager
More Atog than Atog.
Arcbound Ravager is one of the most efficient creatures ever printed. It requires an artifact synergy deck to function, but the card is pure gasoline.
It does so much at such a little cost. It can turn irrelevant resources into damage. It can move damage from one source to another. It can sacrifice permanents for free. If it dies, it transfers its power to another creature via modular.
The card asks little and gives a lot. The card is one of the most important linchpins in Modern Affinity and Vintage MUD Aggro. Where there are artifacts, there is a good chance there will also be Ravagers.
12. Gurmag Angler
The delve spells had a profound effect on Magic. Profound in the sense that they were a gigantic mistake and basically ruined Vintage, Legacy, and Modern for the time they were legal!
The point is, delve is a dangerous mechanic that allows players to cheat mana by exiling cards in their graveyard instead. There are plenty of incidental things that go to the graveyard, which makes quickly powering out expensive delve spells easy.
Gurmag Angler sees play in every format where it is legal and is one of the premier finishers. It also got a big boost in playability with the printing of Fatal Push. Angler is immune, whereas a creature like Tarmogoyf is a spicy bulls-eye.
There is nothing common about this common!
11. Chalice of the Void
Chalice of the Void was designed as an Invitational card that wasn’t used. It later saw print in Mirrodin (the first set of the Modern era) and has become a highly impactful spell. In truth, it feels like one of those “Old Timey Fun Police” cards that are randomly legal in Modern but don’t feel like they should be (Urza’s Power Plant, Blood Moon, Choke, etc.).
The card is powerful like an old card. The card is miserable like an old card. It is a truly unique effect that stops an opponent from playing their important spells throughout the game. It sees considerable play in every single format where it is legal. Here’s an example of a Modern era card that feels like a card from the earlier era of design—because it technically is!
Onward to the top 10!
10. Narcomoeba/Stinkweed Imp/Life from the Loam
Dredge was born in the Modern era.
Love it or hate it, Dredge is a powerhouse in every format. Widely believed to be a significant design mistake, the strategy revolves around simply putting one’s library into their graveyard and casting or gaining free abilities from the ‘yard.
Life from the Loam feels particularly important because it is also one of the signature cards in the Legacy Lands deck. Dredge cards are interesting because the problem isn’t really one card that people build around, but rather an entire subset of synergy cards. The deck operates on a strange axis, which means that it doesn’t want the kinds of cards other decks do.
In the Modern era there is an entire deck built around self-milling and playing cards from the graveyard. It’s a pretty unique and outside-the-box innovation.
9. Fetchlands and Shocklands
I like lands.
Lands are important. I feel like fetches and Shocks are kind of a boring pick but they are so important to tournament Magic. Fetches see play everywhere they are legal. They are extremely busted in combination with dual lands or shocklands.
90% of the time, fetches will be part of how you are able to consistently cast your spells regardless of what format you are playing. Can’t have a list without them.
8. Serum Visions/Preordain/Ponder
These cards have varying degrees of banned and restricted status, but they are all significant. Before these printings, in the before-time, there were fewer cantrips in Vintage, Legacy, and Extended.
In the Modern era, Wizards decided to print more cheap library manipulation. Obviously, these spells are extremely powerful and have left a profound mark on every format where they remain legal.
Each format has its own preferred cantrip where 4 can be played:
A new Option?
I’m excited to see how Opt will stack up in Modern. Cheap cantrip manipulation has proved problematic in the past and I’m curious to see where this will lead.
7. Spell Pierce/Flusterstorm
People may take this for granted now, but 1-mana interaction hasn’t always been a part of the game. For most of the game, there were not many good 1-mana counterspells (Force Spike? Yuck). Yeah, there was Force of Will but if you didn’t draw one in your opening hand, you were in a pretty awkward spot against a fast combo deck.
6. Aether Vial
Aether Vial is one of those cards that really brings a deck together. It’s cheap, cheats mana, and gives a players a lot of options. Uncounterable, instant-speed creatures!
Death and Taxes/Hatebears decks are inherently built around abusing Aether Vial. It is the best turn-1 play that any of these decks can muster because the Vial will generate a ton of value as the game progresses.
It is funny that the card was originally printed as an uncommon, because it is so obviously busted in half. Aether Vial is easily one of the most unique and powerful cards in the Modern era.
5. Delver of Secrets
A 3/2 flyer for U? Okay, that seems to check out…
Delver of Secrets is a powerhouse across all formats. It was even good in Standard. The card is simply the perfect linchpin for decks full of cheap spells and library manipulation. It turns out that these are typically among the most inherently strong strategies in Magic.
Delver has seen success in Modern, but Legacy and Vintage are where the card really shines. In Legacy, Delver decks have been among the most consistent ever since the card saw print.
I wonder if Opt will allow Delver to surge in Modern over the coming months. Either way, the Delver of Secrets is a defining card in tournament Magic.
4. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Queen of the Hatebears.
Thalia is one of the most important printings in Modern Magic. The card has great stats and potent abilities. She is the cornerstone of Death and Taxes and Hatebears in Legacy and Modern. The card also sees a ton of play in Vintage as a way to combat combo decks.
Thalia punishes spell-heavy decks like Storm, combo, and other Xerox engines. In a deck full of creatures, few cards slant the playing field in one’s favor harder than Thalia. A truly awesome Magic card.
3. Past in Flames
Yawgmoth’s Will may be banned in Legacy and Modern, but who needs it when you have Past in Flames? Past in Flames is the ultimate friend of the Storm player. It’s great with Gifts Ungiven in Modern or Lion’s Eye Diamond in Legacy.
The card is clearly a powerhouse. Storm in every format. They say of Yawgmoth’s Will: “Where there’s a Will there’s a way…” With Past in Flames it’s more like: When Past in Flames is involved, somebody is about to get lit up.”
2. Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster Mage is a pretty absurd little Magic card. It’s cheap. It’s efficient. It’s basically an automatic 2-for-1 at very little cost.
Unsurprisingly, it is one of the most played creatures in every format it is legal. It is an automatic include on any list of “best creatures ever printed,” Chances are that if you are playing blue, Snapcaster is in the deck somewhere.
Whatever blue’s identity in the Modern era (which is hard to define), Snapcaster Mage is a big part of it when it comes to tournament Magic.
1. Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek
Duress was always a great Magic card. How about a couple of variants that can take basically anything, including creatures?
Well, that is what Thoughtseize and Inquisition offer, and they are quite a big game, often teaming up to offer a deck the maximum potential for ripping the opponent’s hand quickly apart.
These are cards that see play in every format and they are impressive. The fact that they allow a player to look at an opponent’s hand and play with perfect information is gravy on a card that is already insane.
It is crazy to think about Magic without these cards because they are such a huge part of the game nowadays. It doesn’t matter if you play Vintage, Legacy, or Modern—chances are that these cards dynamically impact your format one way or the other. The Modern era makes up a large chunk of time, but it has significantly changed the game—I believe for the better.
How did I do with my list? Did I miss anything important? Is there something that should have been much higher or lower? Let me know in the comments.
I really struggled to place the top 10 or so cards because they are all so significant and I didn’t want my biases to weigh to highly. Thoughtseize feels like a good “best card,” but then again, so does Snapcaster Mage. A lot of powerful spells out there!