Modern Horizons Spoiler Review, Pt. 1

Spoilers for the much-awaited Modern Horizons are finally underway. The expansion so far has exceeded my expectations, offering Modern playables without introducing busted eternal staples, and including a wealth of diverse mechanics and cute designs. Today, we’ll look at the most interesting cards from Horizons and muse about where the rest of the set will go.

Modern Horizons: Initial Impressions

With part of the set spoiled, we at last have a pretty good idea of what Horzions is supposed to look like. In short, Wizards has taken to reinventing or updating older cards with contemporary text and refined flavor rather than just reprinting all-stars from Vintage and Legacy. The result is a batch of cards that generate nostalgia while providing a novel play experience. Flavor-wise, it turns out Cabal Therapist truly was a harbinger of things to come.

There are some high-profile reprints in the set, too. But by now, I think it’s clear we won’t be receiving stuff like Force of Will or Wasteland. (I’d count on an updated, nerfed Wasteland emerging in the coming weeks, though.) Smaller-scale role-players, especially beloved cards, are much more common—think Stifle or Cloud of Faeries.

Horizons also has the flexible, blanket answers Modern needs to self-police. While we haven’t yet received interactive cards quite on the level of Fatal Push or Damping Sphere, the Force cycle has me optimistic that Wizards will have packed a highly-relevant answer or two into the set.

In terms of power, I’ve heard many recently decry Horizons as cards less powerful than Force of Negation are spoiled. But I think this set is packed with Modern playables; this is just what a spoiler season looks like when it’s not tainted by mass leaks. Wizards is keeping anticipation high among its playerbase by gradually spoiling a mix of future staples, eternal reprints, and promising gems for more casual players. And who knows? Maybe the Brainstorm– or Wasteland-referencing cards, which have yet to be seen, will end up strong enough to drastically influence Modern. Don’t be fooled by the naysayers: Horizons will be a hit in its namesake format, if just for the cards featured in this article.

The Cards: Hits and Misses

In this section, we’ll review the spoilers so far, focusing on tribal support, lands, reprints, various standouts, and the not-quite-there cards.

Tribal and Archetype Support

Morophon, the Boundless: Let’s start with the card designed to help every tribe. Morophon strikes me as more of a combo card than anything else, and one destined for Commander at that. But I think we will see it poke its weird head out  in Modern from time to time. Free mana is just too alluring to ignore, and the format features plenty of ways to get this down early.

Munitions Expert: On to the Goblin support. Goblin Matron is a bit pricey for Modern, which rewards players for efficiently interacting with the board. But as a removal spell on a cheap, on-theme body, Expert is just what the doctor ordered. If there’s a card that allows players to run Goblins successfully, this is it.

Undead Augur: This Zombie buff is less exciting, but good nonetheless, further punishing opponents for interacting with the deck’s threats. It’s a high-priority target for removal spell decks, but getting it off the table results in a minus, and Augur is cheap enough to make the exchange worthwhile for the tribal deck most of the time. We’ve seen Zombies put up fringe results in Modern with some help from Smuggler’s Copter, and that trend should now continue.

The First Sliver: Slivers, though, are Horizons’s most pushed tribe. This Sliver Queen update staples an ability to the body that’s actually worth five mana, and has intriguing implications for building around; players can even fit an Ancestral Vision or two into their deck and guarantee that the next couple Slivers they cast also draw them three cards, for example. Besides, there’s a relatively simple way to bust it out:

Dregscape Sliver: Besides the potential combo with The First Sliver, giving all the dead Slivers unearth makes Dregscape a heck of a comeback card. This creature mounts alpha-strikes from beyond the grave in the mid-game, so long as opponents can’t remove it immediately. And if they can, Slivers still gets to reanimate one threat.

Cloudshredder Sliver: Both of those creatures pale, though, next to Cloudshredder Sliver, an update of the long-awaited Heart Sliver that tacks on the tribe’s next-best creature, Galerider Sliver. Like Zombies, Slivers is a viable lower-tier choice online. Being less build-around and more all-around great for the aggro deck’s bottom line, Cloudshredder alone should push it up to Tier 2 status.

Ice-Fang Coatl: Which brings us out of tribes and into the snow. Snow support has actually been mediocre so far, but Ice-Fang proves the exception to this rule. We already have Skred as a playable snow card, as well as maybe Scrying Sheets (although jamming all three colors together in a deck so focused around basics seems like asking for trouble). With its condition met, Coatl is a better Baleful Strix; the question, then, is how to meet it. Perhaps another snow payoff will be spoiled soon. Some fetchable snow lands that produce multiple colors would do the trick, too.

Scale Up: Let’s be real—nobody’s playing Wurm tribal. Scale Up is the most overt Infect support of all time. Perhaps pushing that deck is Wizards’ answer to decks like Tron gaining power and popularity; linear combo can’t win if it’s dead, and Infect has proven time and again that it’s great at slaying such behemoths.

Scrapyard Recombiner: This one is more tentative, but I’ve heard players discuss it in Hardened Scales. It may have a home there as a tutor to multiple engine and payoff cards, as Modular helps forgive its steep price.

Lands

Prismatic Vista: Vista might help snow keep its head above water, and could shruggingly slot into two-color decks with plenty of basics like UW Control. But this card seems more to me like a budget consideration for players who don’t want to buy the right fetches.

Canopy lands: As I see it, the Canopy lands—an enemy-colored cycle of lands with Horizon Canopy‘s effect—are the most important card spoiled so far. These will be run in decks across multiple archetypes, including midrange (BG Rock) and aggro-combo (Infect). While I don’t expect the canopy lands to shake Modern up as a flexible answer or powerful threat might, they will have a sweeping, if subtle, effect on deck construction.

The Old Made New

Regrowth: I imagine there’s a deck in the market for Eternal Witness with little use for the body, but I sure as heck can’t think of it. Regrowth may well find its way into a combo strategy down the road, though.

Genesis: Another great card without a home, Genesis may make it into fair deck sideboards as a value engine, especially alongside Faithless Looting. But there are probably better options in that role, colors depending. I’m excited to see where Genesis lands.

Flusterstorm: Move over, Force of Negation! Flusterstorm is one of the tools thresh decks in Modern have sorely missed, and is a welcome addition to Modern.

Nimble Mongoose: Speaking of thresh, here’s the card that inspired me to build Counter-Cat; frustrated with a singular turn-one threat, I employed Wild Nacatl over Mongoose when the 3/3 was unbanned. Today, I’m not even sure I want Mongoose in a Modern thresh deck, as Hooting Mandrills and Path to Exile have become the primary draws to Counter-Cat for me. But I do think players will build Canadian Threshold in Modern, and sometimes successfully. Heck, I’ll even try my hand at it! Mongoose is definitely a game-changer when it comes to removal, allowing us to not run protectors like Mutagenic Growth, and sideboarding, letting us attack linear decks more effectively by dedicating less space to recovering against midrange and control.

Fact or Fiction: Kids These Days Will Never Understand EOTFOFYL. Or will they? Having played against Fact a little online, I’ll confirm that the piles are still excruciating to make. I’ll also mention that flashing back my opponent’s Fact with Dire Fleet Daredevil, the Human protected from Spell Snare via Domri, Anarch of Bolas, was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Magic lately. Fact will definitely see play, for one reason (winning) or another (giggling). I think UR Moon and UW Control are its most natural homes, although it’s also possible we see Fact as a one- or two-of in the sideboard of more aggressive interactive blue decks as a gameplan.

Other Goodies

Force of Negation: The breakout “answer card” of the set, Negation’s purpose is to prevent early wins from linear combo strategies. It looks like a sideboard card to me, and I doubt it replaces Disrupting Shoal in the decks that want that instant; countering creatures is too important. Like Force of Will, though, Negation will affect the format’s complexion by virtue of existing.

Force of Vigor: Another combo-breaker, Vigor has been noted for bailing players out of the Karn-Lattice lock. It does that with a bullet, sniping the walker and any other permanent to leave opponents with a dead Lattice and a nuked board. Force’s floor against artifact or enchantment decks, though, is extremely high. Here, it’s a Naturalize that turns another card in hand into Naturalize, and both Naturalizes are free to cast; think of Collective Brutality against Burn, but cheaper and more impactful. Vigor has all the makings of a sideboard staple.

Urza, Lord High Artificer: Urza is generating hype for its interaction with the Thopter-Sword combo, which lets players make infinite mana, gain infinite life, and draw their deck. I think the card will end up like Prime Speaker Vannifar, another niche 1/4, in an artifact-based deck as an enabler and payoff. But in that respect, it’s probably weaker than Sai, Master Thopterist, which is a win condition on its own.

Goblin Engineer: This reference-packed mashup of Goblin Welder and Stoneforge Mystic is expertly-designed, setting up combos at a reasonable pace on its own or combining with the likes of Trash for Treasure to cheat fatties like Sundering Titan and Wurmcoil Engine into play early. If Engineer sees play outside of a Thopter-Sword build, where it super-tutors for the Sword, it’ll be in its own deck, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

Seasoned Pyromancer: My personal favorite card of the set, this card combines an absurd amount of value on a creature. One nice thing about Pyro is that most of its value, the loot and the tokens, is locked-in upon resolution. We’re left with lots of power/toughness for our trouble, but on an expendable body. Expect to see more on Pyro from me in the coming weeks!

Misses

Collected Conjuring: What exactly are we hitting with this? Serum Visions? Modern isn’t exactly known for its high density of cheap, busted sorceries. At four mana, even ripping costless suspend cards like Ancestral Vision seems like more work than assembling a shell with As Foretold or Finale of Promise.

Mox Tantalite: I’m not one to dismiss nerfed moxen outright, having spent a good deal of time trying to break Mox Amber. But Tantalite is even worse than Amber. Players don’t have three turns to kick it in Modern unless they’re going to win right after, meaning Lotus Bloom trumps Tantalite in its would-be decks.

Giver of Runes: Giver’s no Mother. Untap with her and she can still be Bolted, Pushed, you name it. Realistically, Giver is like a one-mana Spellskite that gives up the latter’s disruptive effects; Runes doesn’t do anything against Infect or Temur Battle Rage.

Aria of Flame: Yesterday, in an online Horizons room, my opponent stormed off as I occupied myself with other apps for a few minutes. He ended on Aria of Flame. Granted, I lost the game, failing to find a third land drop (or red source) to compliment my Arbor Elves and pair of Forests over something like six turn cycles. But with me doing nothing, it took my opponent six turns to kill me. I’ll happily blame Aria. Storm doesn’t need this card, and neither does anyone else.

The Best Is Yet to Come

As mentioned, I think some juicy callback cards are on the Horizon, as well as more flexible answers in the vein of Force of Negation and Vigor. Throw in another format-shaping cycle like the canopy lands and we’re left with what’s easily the most impactful Modern set of all time. Will Wizards get there in the end? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

15 thoughts on “Modern Horizons Spoiler Review, Pt. 1

  1. We already have an “updated, nerfed Wasteland” in Field of Ruin. A reprint of Pillage has been spoiled, so I think they like land destruction without a “replace with a basic” clause being something that requires a commitment to red, rather than being available to any deck. That’s one of the largest differences between Modern and Legacy, after all.

    1. What I mean is a land with a higher power level designed expressly for Modern, and likely one that makes an explicit callback to Wasteland. A Wasteland that only works on lands with no basic land types, for example, would do wonders for tempo decks against the likes of Tron. But that’s just conjecture; either way, I would be surprised if we didn’t get a colorless land in Horizons that interacts with enemy nonbasics in some way.

      1. And I would be very surprised if we did. Any kind of Wasteland lite would obsolete Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin, and it’s pretty clear at this point that obsoleting/”upgrading” current Modern staples with strictly better versions is not what this set is about–they’ve confirmed that Counterspell is not in the set, for example. That was what some people were dreading when the set was announced months ago: that Wizards planned to turn Modern into Yu-Gi-Oh with de facto rotation via power creep.

  2. So where I think Aria of Flame might be interesting is in the Pyromancer Ascension spots in Phoenix, as it works to generate extra value for every spell you cast, but also could care less about your graveyard being intact. The other place is hopping on the jank train by running (while maybe not great, not totally unreasonable) cards like new Tibalt and Rampaging Ferocidons to incidentally mitigate the downsides of the enchantment.

    1. This is something I hadn’t considered at the time of publication, but since then, I’ve run into a few Phoenix lists online featuring Aria. I’m impressed! It only takes 4 spells for them to turn the lifegain around, and after that, the enchantment kills very quickly. It’s difficult to interact with and doesn’t care about grave hate, letting Phoenix attack from a new angle. The only problem with Aria is its steep cost, which makes me think it’s perhaps more of a sideboard card. I like the idea of resolving it to “pop” enemy Death’s Shadows, though!

    1. Pumping this to 4/4 is not going to happen very often, and to 6/6 almost never. The way the deck is currently designed incentivizes us to hold up mana for plays like Mana Leak or Shoal, even in the mid-game, so it would only “flip” in a top-deck situation; even in those, we don’t always have four lands to tap. So I think he will usually take multiple turns to level up, and will resultantly die very often. Our other mana-intensive plays (Snapcaster, or sideboard cards) lock-in value upon resolution or otherwise resist removal.

      Which brings us to how bad do we want a 2/1 for one mana? I think very little, which is why we’ve never played Swiftspear or even Goblin Guide. 2 is too small a clock. Nacatl and Mongoose seem like better options for additional threats, especially the latter because of access to Path to Exile. Helps too that we can hit Nacatl with Muta to grow it over enemy creatures, whereas Mongoose is helpless on a lot of boards.

      tl;dr: I’m skeptical, but haven’t tested it (and probably won’t).

  3. Also of note with Prismatic Vista is that it is the only (playable) fetchland in Modern that can get colorless Mana. One of the problems I’ve noticed (as a person who loves casting Blood Moon) with decks like W/B Eldrazi is that they can’t really afford to play more than one copy of Wastes, which means they are very susceptible to being locked out of colorless spells by a Blood Moon effect. Being able to run up to 4 more copies of Wastes without actually *having* to play more definitely seems like a boon to those 2-3 color Eldrazi decks.

  4. Thoughts on the black force? I am really high on this card; like force of vigor, there’s the possibility of getting a zero mana two-for-two (or better), and the card can kill bogles, emrakul’s, and potentially a field full of Phoenix.

    It can’t really replace removal spell slots since it cannot deal with threats sitting on the board, but this card seems reasonable to maindeck. Modern is so creature focused that this feels more like the Modern equivalent of Force of Will than the new blue one.

    1. Interesting take, but I think this card is a bit niche. Not all decks play creatures. Will end up in sideboards (a likely fate for Force of Negation as well, but for tempo decks).

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