Those of you reading this may be familiar with LSV’s constructed set reviews on Channel Fireball. His reviews focus mainly on Standard and can briefly touch on Modern when applicable. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so with that in mind I’ve set out to make a constructed set review to focus specifically on Modern. Evaluating cards for Modern is a little bit different than Standard but I feel it comes down to these three questions:

  1. Is the card objectively powerful?

    This question is fairly straightforward. There are cards that you can just look at and say “that’s powerful.” Whether or not the card is powerful and goes into an established deck leads to our next question.

  2. Does it slot into an existing Tier 1 deck/archetype?

    For example, Liliana, the Last Hope is 1BB. The initial deck that comes to mind for a card in that color is Jund. Does it fit into Jund’s strategy and is it something Jund is looking for? Is there a more fringe deck that could benefit from a card like this? That leads us to the next question.

  3. If it doesn’t slot into an existing Tier 1 archetype, does it help a more fringe deck?

    It’s very rare in Modern that a deck isn’t strong enough simply because one specific card doesn’t exist, but it does happen. Decks like Merfolk getting Master of Waves or Grixis decks getting delve threats and Kolaghan’s Command comes to mind. These cards can be very hard to evaluate and find.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Bedlam Reveler

Rating: B+ Treasure Cruise this card is not. That said, it’s a pretty powerful card and will probably fit into similar strategies. The ideal situation of dumping your hand only to play a 2 mana 3/4 with prowess, pitch a land, and draw 3 sounds like a pretty good rate to me. This card is also much better in multiples than Treasure Cruise.

I can easily see this card becoming a two to three of in UR Delver strategies and putting them on the map. Yes, I think it’s that good.

Bloodhall Priest

Rating: D- Jund immediately comes to mind with a card like this. She has some play with your own or opposing Liliana of the Veils and can catch an opponent off guard looking to Raven’s Crime you with a Kolaghan’s Command. Overall though, I’m fairly underwhelmed.

Initial impression shows her as a 4/4 for 4 with some upside. I don’t think that upside is enough to outclass other Jund flex slots like Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Huntmaster of the Fells, or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

Collective Brutality

Rating: C- If you’re playing the deck that wants it, discard is an upside not a cost. I could see this becoming a one to two of in dredge decks or possibly “Grishoalbrand” decks. Duress your counterspell while pitching a Griselbrand? Pick off that Scavenging Ooze before you untap while binning a Stinkweed Imp? I see a lot of applications for this card.

Cryptbreaker

Rating: C- The initial home for this card looks to be dredge based decks. The current one drops of choice in those style of decks are Faithless Looting and Insolent Neonate because they enable the busted draws. Most dredge decks are now looking to be as fast as possible, and aren’t really looking to grind out games. This card looks to be more on the grindy side of graveyard centric decks and doesn’t really fit into current dredge deck’s gameplans.

The card itself feels fairly powerful. Pitching Gravecrawlers to make zombies, casting the Gravecrawlers, then tapping them to draw and dredge more feels really powerful. If dredge decks change their game plan to a slower approach especially with a return to Bridge from Below strategies, I could see them wanting this guy.

Deploy the Gatewatch

Rating: F I want you to think of Collected Company. Now think of how many creatures you have to play. Now think of how many decks successfully run 20+ planeswalkers. EDH superfriends comes to mind, but no Modern decks. Cool card. Cool flavor. Bad in Modern (or Standard, for that matter).

Elder Deep-Fiend

Rating: C-/D+ Playing a value 3 drop like Eldrazi Skyspawner or Matter Reshaper and then curving into this turn 4 on your opponent’s upkeep feels like big game.

My biggest worry with this card is not its power level, but its consistency. Modern can be a format where stumbling means death and I’m unsure if the payoff of a 4 mana 5/6 that taps 4 permanents is worth it. This card is especially hard to evaluate because on first glance it doesn’t immediately go into any tier 1 archetypes. It definitely feels like one of the more borderline cards, but still looks pretty fun to brew with.

Eldritch Evolution

Rating: A Initially, people speculated about turn 3 Griselbrands off their Allosaurus Riders but I think this card is better served as a “fairer” card slotting into combo midrange decks Kiki Chord or Abzan Company. Sacrificing your Voice of Resurgence to get a Pia and Kiran Nalaar will earn you a round trip ticket to value town.

Don’t overthink this card. It’s a powerful value engine and there are cheaper, more powerful, and more consistent ways to cheat in your Griselbrands and Ionas.

All that being said, and to backtrack a little, I did really like the look of the Eldritch Elves deck Jeff Hoogland tested on his stream. While I still maintain that I think this is best served as a fairer card getting value off your Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, this deck did look sweet.

Emrakul, the Promised End

Rating: C+ This card was speculated a lot as a card for Mono Blue Tron, or perhaps just Tron in general. I doubt we will be seeing any decks jamming Bitterblossom, maindeck artifacts and enchantments to cheat this out for 5 mana, but if you’re cheating it out with Tron lands it doesn’t sound like a bad rate.

One turn of Mindslavering your opponent can put you so far ahead, or just win you the game especially when it leaves behind a 13/13 creature with flying, trample, and protection from instants.

Gisela, the Broken Blade

Rating: F This card is a fairly cut and dry “no” for Modern playability. When you’re casting 4 drop threats in Modern you want them to either be resilient or have a huge payoff if they live (think Olivia Voldaren). Gisela has so little payoff if she survives and that’s fairly underwhelming for a 4 drop that dies to Lightning Bolt. I don’t think the synergy and meld with Bruna is high enough impact or fast enough for Modern either.

Grim Flayer

Rating: D+ Delirium, in my experience, has been very hard to turn on consistently. For all your hand work, you get a 4/4 trample with some card selection. This card obviously slots into most GBx strategies like Jund and Abzan, but on the surface looks to be easily outclassed by the other threats those decks can play. On top of that, a 4/4 is fairly underwhelming in the matchups where he’s going to be smashing into 4/5s.

Harmless Offering

Rating: D+ This card is a color-shifted Donate. The only time Donate has really seen competitive play was in a UR Control deck during Extended to “donate” your opponent an Illusions of Grandeur.

I think this card will do some broken stuff in some fringe standard decks with Demonic Pact but I’m not convinced that’s going to be good enough in Modern.

That said, if you’re feeling adventurous you can check out a first draft of Brett’s “Demeownic” Pact Grixis control deck.

Imprisoned in the Moon

Rating: C D+ I’m actually fairly impressed with this card. Blue decks can usually handle things on the stack, but resolved permanents are a bigger issue. Answering a Kitchen Finks, a Liliana of the Veil or “stone raining” a Tron opponent’s Urza land to keep them off Tron all make this feel like it could be a reasonable 1 of in some blue decks, even a sideboard staple in Mono-Blue decks like Merfolk.

Update (7/14/16): It’s come to my attention that, unlike Spreading Seas, Imprisoned in the Moon doesn’t alter the subtype of lands. In short, this means it can’t be used as a stone rain against Tron as I initially had thought.

I could still see this used in decks like Blue Moon to hit basic lands, Tarmogoyfs and Planewalkers but the loss of the Tron land interaction is unfortunate. I’d have to lower the rating down to a D+ with this in mind.

Liliana, the Last Hope

Rating: B- A lot of people seemed underwhelmed by this card at first glance, but I’m going to go against the grain here and say I think this card is fairly good.

Her abilities mirror that of Jace, Telepath Unbound a lot except their focus is on creatures instead of spells. Holding down Wild Nacatl, killing things from Infect and Affinity, sniping down persisted Kitchen Finks while rebuying Snapcaster Mages doesn’t sound all that bad to me.

Lupine Prototype

Rating: C- This card feels a lot like Ensoul Artifact for Affinity. It looks good on the surface, but testing showed it wasn’t that great. It’s a huge body, cheap, and it’s an artifact. In an average game, I could see this being more powerful than Steel Overseer with Overseer having a much higher ceiling. This card can also be awkward if you’re sandbagging that last Galvanic Blast.

It’s a fairly powerful card, I could definitely see Affinity decks giving it a shot.

Mausoleum Wanderer

Rating: D+ With Rattlechains in the previous set, and this along with some other playable spirits in Eldritch Moon, Spirit tribal is starting to take some form in Modern. That said, I still don’t think we’re fully there yet when compared to other tribal decks like Merfolk. Geist of Saint Traft, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Lingering Souls, and the recently printed spirits look to be good starting points, maybe there’s something there.

Scour the Laboratory

Rating: C 4 mana instant speed draw 3 is a pretty good rate for Modern. The problem is, again, delirium. Draw spells like this are usually found in control shells where you’re not going to find many creatures. Getting a Snapcaster Mage into the graveyard is easier said than done and having this card in your opening hand can feel like a mulligan.

I could perhaps see this card in a Grixis shell with Thought Scours, but those decks already look to have plenty of card advantage between Kolaghan’s Command, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Ancestral Vision, and the previously mentioned Snapcaster Mages.

The rate is good on this card, but finding a home will be hard.

Spell Queller

Rating: C- This card doesn’t feel too unreasonable in Modern. When this thing is a Counterspell that leaves behind a 2/3 flyer, that’s nuts. This isn’t even factoring sacrifice and blink shenanigans that can make this card fairly annoying. This is also just another card that might (read: very small might%} put Spirits on the map in Modern.

Splendid Reclamation

Rating: D Maybe I’ll end up eating my own words here, but I think this is better reserved for Legacy Lands and even they might not want it. Some people speculated on a “Dredgeshift” deck; Self mill + Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle + Splendid Reclamation = something that probably isn’t better than Dredge or Scapeshift.

I think this is a card that is begging to be broken, but at first glance I’m not finding it.

Tamiyo, Field Researcher

Rating: C- Tamiyo’s +1 has a lot of game and different variations in how you can utilize it. Target your own creatures, attack? Target your opponent’s creatures you don’t want to block and send in the team? Target your creatures and chump block next turn? Her -2 can be used defensively and is a fairly good tempo play as well. Tamiyo screams tempo to me.

In a vacuum (as much as I hate using this saying), Tamiyo is powerful. Her downfall comes from the fact that there is no real home for her in Modern. Bant Eldrazi will have a very tough time casting her, and they probably don’t even want her. I don’t think this puts Bant Company decks on the map either, but I would love to be proved wrong.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Rating: B- When evaluating 3 drops for Modern playability, I like to ask 3 questions:

  1. Does it do something when it enters?

    Think Kitchen Finks, Vendilion Clique, Eternal Witness and the like. Even if the card immediately eats a removal spell, it atleast got you some value for your trouble.

  2. Does it live through a Lightning Bolt?

    Like it or not, this is basically the litmus test for Modern. If your 3 drop isn’t doing something when it comes into play, it should at least live through Lightning Bolt. Kitchen Finks, Geist of Saint Traft, Loxodon Smiter, and others don’t die to Lightning Bolt. Modern is very tempo oriented, and you can’t spend 3 mana to have it do nothing and lose it to a 1 mana spell.

  3. Does it win you the game?

    Think of cards like Geist of Saint Traft, Knight of the Reliquary, and even Vendilion Clique can go the distance in control decks where your opponent sides out some removal.

Almost all 3 drop creatures in Modern answer yes to at least one of these questions. Thalia, Heretic Cathar says no to the first, no to the second, and the third is up for debate.

This card obviously slots into Death and Taxes. The problem with the creatures in Death and Taxes is they’re very volatile in the outcome they bring you. Sometimes Leonin Arbiter lets you double strip mine your opponent, and other times it eats a Lightning Bolt immediately.

This is a “problem” many of the creatures in Death and Taxes decks have, they die to Lightning Bolt. This isn’t all bad, many of the creatures in Death and Taxes have such a high ceilings if they don’t just immediately eat a Lightning Bolt. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can force your opponent to play off curve, the previously mentioned Leonin Arbiter can just lock an opponent out of the game, Aven Mindcensor can shut off some deck’s entire strategy or at the least nullify opposing fetchlands.

This card obviously dies to Lightning Bolt, so the question that needs to be answered is “if it lives, how powerful is the effect?”

This card can set your opponent back two turns with tapped fetches or it will force them to fetch basics making your Ghost Quarters more live. This card can severely hinder a Primeval Titan thrown into play with Through the Breach. On the play, this card can give a pseudo-Stone Rain effect to keep your Tron opponent off turn 3 Karn or Wurmcoil Engine. At the least, it can stop and kill a Wild Nacatl.

This card’s solid. The determining factor will be how powerful she is if she sticks around through all the Lightning Bolts flying around the format.

Whispers of Emrakul

Rating: D- Without delirium on, this card is not very good. The point of discard, especially in decks like Jund and Grixis, is to punch a hole in your opponent’s game plan. Sure, being on the play and hitting your opponent’s second and only land is great, but that’s statistically improbable. Without delirium, this card looks to be a slightly more powerful 2 mana Raven’s Crime.

Unfortunately “cards I want to cast on turn 2” and delirium are not exactly the definition of synergy. The games where you can go fetch, Thought Scour myself, mill Snapcaster Mage and Ancestral Vision and have this in hand on turns 2-3 are going to be fairly rare, I can already hear the reindeers.

Overall

This set is no Khans of Tarkir in terms of Modern playables, but I think it holds some solid contenders. As someone trying out Kiki Chord, I’m super excited to test Eldritch Evolution, and maybe someone will find a way to break it in other ways. I’m hoping I’m wrong about Tamiyo, Field Researcher because that card looks to be really fun to play, considering her +1 often reads “draw two cards.” Regardless of what happens, I’m always excited to see what changes sets will bring to Modern. What cards are you all excited to test? What are your hopes? Thanks for reading.

A photo of Chad Harney Chad Harney

Chad Harney is a computer science major who has been playing since Darksteel. Chad dabbles in everything from Draft to Legacy but finds a home in Modern. You can find him grinding MTGO at twitch.tv/greatnessatanycost where you will be hard pressed to find him playing a deck that doesn’t have Thoughtseize in it.