For once, an entire set spoiler is up before my Friday article goes live. So I’m happy to present this list of the juiciest Modern standouts in Guilds of Ravnica! Granted, the very juicy ones are already high on everyone’s radar. But like most Standard sets of seasons past, this expansion is still packed with cards that may well make it into the format in some capacity.
Cards with Homes
These cards fit cleanly into existing Modern strategies and are likely to make a splash in certain metagames.
Pelt Collector: While it’s not by any means a top-performing deck, Mono-Green Stompy does have its Beliebers, and surely welcomes Pelt Collector to its ranks. The card’s “dies” clause makes it an apparent upgrade to Experiment One, although Pelt does lose regenerate. What I think is likely to happen is Stompy begins running both creatures to increase its aggressiveness and gain the redundancy of multiple functional copies of Champion of the Parish.
Creeping Chill: I’ve heard musings about this card in Dredge, and while I was initially skeptical, I am starting to come around on the idea. The deck can struggle against proactive aggro strategies like Humans and Spirits, and milling Creeping Chill might sometimes buy Dredge the extra turn it needs to get Conflagrate online. Chill also makes Conflagrate lethal faster. 4 Chill equates to 12 points of damage lurking within the Dredge deck, perhaps incentivizing opponents to play differently against the deck when at low life totals. But of course, it’s an awful draw. I do think the card is better-suited to the sideboard.
Chemister’s Insight: Glimmer of Genius was run by control decks for awhile as an instant-speed way to restock on cards. Chemister’s Insight seems much better thanks to jump-start. Now, control mages can draw two twice at the low cost of a superfluous fetchland land or other unwanted card. But another card was printed between Glimmer and Insight that may prevent the latter from truly shining in Modern: Hieroglyphic Illumination. Cycling lets this draw spell dig for answers when mana is tight, even bypassing checks like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I expect Insight to be more popular in control-heavy metagames such as the current one, but Illumination to remain the favorite in this slot over longer stretches of time. Modern is simply too wide-open to discount the aggro-combo decks outright.
Knight of Autumn: This creature gets my vote for most playable Guilds card other than Assassin’s Trophy. Reclamation Sage is already a Modern staple, and Knight of Autumn is leagues more versatile. Sage so popular in part because it’s never dead; at worst, it’s a 2/1. Knight more than doubles those stats at 4/3, and has the added versatility of being able to gain a whopping 4 life should pilots choose. These benefits come at the cost of Sage’s eminently splashable price tag; it’s much harder to run Knight in Valakut decks, for instance, and the newcomer is a less reliable answer to Blood Moon out of something like Amulet Titan. But plenty of Sage-featuring 75s can cast Knight, and will probably be looking to trim copies of Sage and Qasali Pridemage to make room for the creature. Another exciting factor: Knight is totally acceptable off a Collected Company, making it a potential mainboard inclusion in those decks.
This section covers some of the more polarizing cards in Guilds, touching on the possible Modern applications of each.
Crackling Drake: Huge creatures in Modern all have their drawbacks. Some are soft to artifact removal, like Hollow One. Others open pilots up to certain plans from across the table, such as Death’s Shadow. And many rely on the graveyard, including Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler, and Bedlam Reveler. This final category tends to be the best-performing overall, since filling the graveyard is a given in a fast format full of fetchlands.
Enter Crackling Drake, a significant Enigma Drake upgrade that doesn’t care about graveyard hosers. In this way, it’s essentially an alternate win condition in decks that do rely on the grave in some way. While Drake does bite it to a revolted Fatal Push, its cantrip clause ensures pilots come out ahead no matter what, making it a value play at worst. And Drake already resists Lightning Bolt, forcing opponents to spend heavy-duty removal on it.
The biggest drawback Drake has is its mana cost. UURR is extremely prohibitive, requiring players to build manabases around it deliberately. But I think the pros may outweigh the cons with this one, and Drake could show up in multiples in decks built to abuse it.
Mission Briefing: A huge draw to Snapcaster Mage is the body. Snap can chump an attacker, trade with a smaller body in combat, psuedo-haste attack a planeswalker, or put a clock on opponents. That body seems far better than surveil 2, no matter how “good” surveil 2 is (and it’s way nicer than scry 2). Mission Briefing also has a prohibitive cost. With all that said, I still wouldn’t count Briefing out completely; there may yet be a Modern deck that doesn’t care so much about a body but still wants to flash back its crucial spells. Briefing can also be cast in desperation, like Snapcaster; it surveils before targeting, giving pilots the option to play instant/sorcery spells off the top of the deck. Oh, did I say targeting? The word “choose” actually allows pilots to get around hate like Surgical Extraction when casting Briefing.
These cards won’t have decks built around them, but may have applications in existing strategies looking to do something specific.
Ionize: Of the three-mana counterspells in Modern, Counterflux and Disallow have seen play in Modern. Ionize may compete with those by giving UR decks a Countersquall of sorts that hits anything. With Snapcaster, the instant produces an impressive 4 damage. I can see Jeskai potentially adopting Ionize.
Lava Coil: A Roast that hits fliers like Restoration Angel, but unfortunately is still stuck at sorcery, preventing it from taking out Celestial Colonnade or disrupting combos. Sniping Voice of Resurgence and Kitchen Finks is a decent upside, though. Flame Slash continues to appear sporadically in UR decks, but I’m not sure the extra mana is worth the flexibility of disrupting graveyard strategies. This sort of niche card does tend to show up occasionally, though.
Nullhide Ferox: Cute design, cuter art. I know people who have tried Dodecapod in Delver shells out of the sideboard to combat BGx (here’s the only placing list I could find online), and Ferox seems like an upgrade to that plan, however viable it may be. I like that after opponents pay mana to target the creature and then spend two more on something like Assassin’s Trophy, we can cast noncreature spells again, and respond in kind with a simple Stubborn Denial. 6/6 is also massive in Modern, a format where stats matter dearly.
Goblin Cratermaker: This little guy offers a surprising amount of versatility, threatening Eldrazi creatures and Tron’s haymaker planeswalkers all at once, not to mention artifact lock pieces like Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge or game-enders such as Krark-Clan Ironworks and Cranial Plating. Hitting utility creatures is also a nice touch, giving players the option of disrupting combos and quelling aggression. But I can’t think of a deck that would ever want it in the mainboard, and superior artifact hate exists in red for the sideboard.
Maximize Velocity: Jump-start gives players the opportunity to haste their guys twice, and simply having Velocity in the graveyard might make opponents respect it by holding back attackers. It’s probably best in an aggro-combo shell like BR Kiln Fiend. These decks tend to run Faithless Looting for consistency reasons anyway, making Velocity essentially free in terms of card economy. Arclight Phoenix, despite my mixed results with the card, may also play well in this sort of deck.
Beacon Bolt: URx decks lacking black or white have long struggled to remove big creatures. My experiments with Spite of Mogis as a solution to this problem once payed off with a PPTQ win, but that was before Modern fully realized the power of Rest in Peace. Now, the idea of dipping into another graveyard-reliant kill spell in decks that already rely on that resource in some way terrifies me. Beacon Bolt seems like a promising upgrade to Spite out of the sideboard for UR and Temur midrange decks. Not only is it hoser-proof, mid- and late-game Beacons remove turn a dead card into another removal spell. My only beef with this card is how expensive it is; I think Beacon could just as well have cost UR.
Risk Factor: Browbeat is not a playable Modern card. True! By now, a natural aversion to punisher mechanics is common among Magic players. After all, opponents will choose the lesser evil. But Vexing Devil still sees Modern play, and I think Risk Factor might join it (not in the same deck, mind you) as a playable punisher card. Jump-start lets this card just hang out in the graveyard and threaten 4 damage or a hand refill at any time. Right now, though, the card lacks a true home; Burn prefers the ultra-reliable Exquisite Firecraft in the sideboard. Decks that can take advantage of this card are ones that front-load damage to complicate the choice, run few dead cards to maximize the draws, and enjoy holding up mana on an opponent’s turn. The aggressive, Snapcaster-featuring Delver shells in UR seem like a fine place to start.
Bonus Brew: Grixis Drake
I started with a UR shell to test Crackling Drake, but quickly found myself wanting black spells. Specifically, Fatal Push and Collective Brutality drew my eye as ways to interact effectively with faster decks and pull me into the late-game so that I could actually cast the Drake. Brutality ended up not making the cut in my final draft, but the delve threats stuck around.
Grixis Drake, by Jordan Boisvert
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Crackling Drake
2 Search for Azcanta
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Thought Scour
2 Fatal Push
2 Spell Pierce
4 Serum Visions
4 Faithless Looting
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
1 Watery Grave
1 Blood Crypt
4 Polluted Delta
2 Bloodstained Mire
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Damping Sphere
1 Alpine Moon
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Cast Down
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Collective Brutality
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Thought Scour is at the center of this decks, since unlike in other shells, flooding on Scours proves impossible with Drake in the picture; extra Scours will always grow additional Drakes. The combination of Scour and Looting makes delve threats hyper-reliable. I ran so many to draw out heavy-duty removal from opponents.
We almost always want to resolve a delve threat in the first few turns of the game, something that’s quite feasible. With that out of the way, we own the battlefield until the creature is removed, generally by Path to Exile or Assassin’s Trophy. These spells ramp us into Crackling Drake. Once we enter that stage in the game, we’re basically chaining Drakes into each other for value until opponents can’t remove one and die to it in one or two swings.
In lieu of a Delve threat, Search for Azcanta is the deck’s “Tarmogoyf,” or proactive two-mana play that’s difficult for opponents to deal with. Turns out slamming this thing on-curve is as good as it looks on camera.
Collective Brutality was eventually removed from the mainboard for Spell Pierce. I found myself in want of early spell interaction that wasn’t dependent on having a delve threat in play. Pierce is also one of the more slept-on cards in Modern right now in my opinion; existing aggro decks rely on key sorceries resolving (Cathartic Reunion, Goblin Lore, Traverse the Ulvenwald, etc.), and the instant never really dies against even control, which spends its late-game activating Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin and Celestial Colonnade while representing Cryptic Command mana.
In terms of matchups, I’ve found this shell to line up well against all types of control. Its one-threat-at-a-time mentality stunts sweepers, and the deck is built to beat Bolt and Path. Drake especially is a beating for these decks. Creature decks like aggro and midrange are also fine matchups thanks to the Snap-Bolt-Push removal suite. Tron is a tough one to beat, but the sideboard could be further tweaked to accommodate for that weakness. Drake simply doesn’t cut it in linear combo matchups of that sort.
Too High to Get Over
Guilds of Ravnica features interesting mechanics and lovable designs. What are your favorite cards from the set?
Jordan is the copy and content editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies. He always brings tuned brews to events.