Those of you reading this may be familiar with Louis Scott Vargas' constructed set reviews on Channel Fireball. His reviews focus mainly on Standard and occasionally 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:
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.
Does it slot into an existing Tier 1 deck/archetype?
For example, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is 2RR. 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.
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 come to mind. These cards can be very hard to find and evaluate.
Understand that it's possible to have an objectively powerful card be bad in a format simply because it doesn't have the support, deck, or enablers to play it to its full potential. It could also fill a roll that is already filled by a better card. Think of Monastery Mentor in Modern compared to Legacy. Think of the impact Deathrite Shaman had on Modern compared to Standard.
The ratings I give most cards are a mix of raw power level combined with its ability to slot into a tier 1-2 archetype.
With that said, let's pop some hype bubbles.
For Modern, this card is largely just a cheaper (in terms of price), Tendo Ice Bridge. The interaction with adding energy doesn't look to be too relevant for Modern. However this card is strictly worse because you can't call it “Nintendo Ice Bridge.”
Initially I dismissed this card because Ranger's Guile didn't see play in Infect. When you're counting to 10 though, every point counts.
The Infect list is fairly tight so I don't think this slots in as a 4 of. However, I would not be surprised if Infect finds room for 1-2 of these.
I'll be honest, I'm going with a bit of a “safe” rating. This card was among the hardest to rate from the new set. I don't think a deck like Burn wants this simply because it doesn't pass the “I topdeck this and my opponents at 3, are they dead?” test (a test I just made up but has some truth to it). I think you'd mainly be looking at this in a deck like Affinity, refueling on turns 3-4 after playing this on turn 1 seems great. It can even be a 2 mana Needle Drop in the late game.
That voice you hear off in the distance is the Kuldotha Red player saying they would play it.
There's not much to say. This card is a better Dredge enabler than Tormenting Voice on turn 2 while being a worse topdeck.
“What's a topdeck?” asks the Dredge player. Exactly.
This seems like a clear upgrade for Dredge decks.
Affinity, Eldrazi, and Tron. These are the decks where you're going to find the highest number of colorless payoff spells. While this card may seem like a reasonable sideboard card against these decks on the surface, I'm here to tell you it's not.
Occasionally you would find Merfolk lists sideboarding Steel Sabotage for their abysmal Affinity matchup. For this particular matchup, Ceremonious Rejection can't be used proactively. If you draw this card after an artifact is on the field then you're out of luck.
What about Bant Eldrazi? 1 mana counter every threat in their deck? Unfortunately, siding this card with Bant Eldrazi in mind is not the best idea. Most decks like Jeskai are trimming counter-magic after board because of the playset of Cavern of Souls Eldrazi plays.
Finally, countermagic has never been the answer to Tron. RG Tron is so incredibly redundant that countering a finisher usually won't matter unless you're killing them the next turn. There's also cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Sanctum of Ugin that have cast triggers, making countermagic laughable.
If I'm sideboarding a card this narrow, I want it to be a home run.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Remember that discussion we just had at the beginning of the article? I think this card is objectively powerful but doesn't do anything that Jund isn't already doing well.
When I look for new Jund cards, I'm looking for it to help answer Jund's weaknesses. Many people said this card was better than Chandra, Pyromaster but I disagree. Perhaps on a raw power level it is, but I play Pyromaster because it's card advantage as well as a way to kill Lingering Souls and X/1s.
On top of that, knocking Kalitas off its pedestal is a pretty tough job. Kalitas stabilizes Jund against aggressive decks, can completely take over the mirror if you untap with it, can grind out Dredge's slower draws, and stonewall Bant Eldrazi. I could go on.
Looking at the current Modern meta, this just isn't what Jund needs. Other red based decks like Jeskai can't really play it because of its awkwardness with counterspells, and for Grixis it doesn't really answer any of the decks weak spots.
I've heard talk of this card slotting into more fringe strategies like Skred but I personally have little experience with it. It seems like Koth does a better job at closing out games quickly.
This is not Chandra, the Fire Sculptor.
This card feels very cookie-cutter in terms of design and power level. UWr Control already has Nahiri as an inarguably better stabilizing and finishing planewalker. As well, UW, as a standalone or supporting color pair, is not very common. An acquaintance of mine, Jessy Hefner, has expressed his liking of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in UW Control decks as a stabilizer and something that turns the corner quickly.
This card doesn't really push new bounds in terms of power level, and it's no secret that it takes a lot for a 4 mana Planeswalker to be playable in Modern.
Rating: B through F
These cards are fairly straightforward to evaluate. Ask yourself “am I playing a deck that benefits from having an unfetchable, untapped dual land in the early game?” Alright, pick your needed fastland and get out of here.
For example, Blackcleave Cliffs is insane in Jund because on turn 1 this land is almost a Badlands, allowing you to play every 1 mana spell in the deck. My biggest complaint with Abzan was always its clunky mana in comparison to Jund. I'm sure Abzan will make use of some combination of BG and BW fastlands.
On the other hand, the UG fastland will probably not see much play. There are few decks playing UG and the few decks that are don't really benefit from it. Bant Company is fairly light on blue, it doesn't produce colorless for Bant Eldrazi, and Infect doesn't have room between fetches, Pendelhavens and Inkmoths.
These lands are obviously playable, the only problem is finding the decks that need to play them.
Not much to say with this card. A sorcery speed Disenchant that costs 1. The downside of destroying only artifacts or enchantments with CMC 4 or less will not be too relevant in Modern. The downside of being a sorcery, however, is very relevant. You'll be kicking yourself when that Cranial Plating comes off the top for your Affinity opponent.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Again, I'm going to be focusing on Jund and Abzan for this card as they are the premier black midrange decks of the format.
Let's oversimplify this card for a second. Would Jund play a 4 mana 2/3 deathtouch that draws a card when it enters the battlefield? Probably not.
Does it get significantly better when draw a card becomes “choose a card from the top 4 of your opponent's library?” Again, probably not, but I could see it being sweet. Playing against Affinity, Infect, Burn, Suicide Zoo, Merfolk, or any deck where average card quality is low is going to have this card looking pretty bad. Stealing a Liliana of the Veil in the mirror or a Nahiri, the Harbinger against Jeskai does sound fun but I can't ever see this kicking out Kalitas.
This card looks really fun, but I just can't give it the thumbs up.
Lantern Control will probably find room for a couple copies of this land. It's a maindeck hedge against Burn, the deck's worst matchup. It can be found with Ancient Stirrings. Finally, it has the bonus of finding cards like Ensnaring Bridge in the mid to lategame. The only downside is the word “Legendary.”
The ability is fairly slow and unachievable for Affinity.
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Initial impressions have this looking a sideboard card against Burn and Storm. Storm is already dead as an archetype and white has better options to deal with both strategies. It's hard for me to get on board with a 3 mana 2/3 even as a sideboard card. As I said with Ceremonious Rejection, if I'm siding a card this narrow, I want it to be a homerun and this is like a bunt at best.
It's a 3 mana Memoricide that draws your opponent a card if you happen to tag a card from their hand. If you're siding this card in, that “downside” probably isn't relevant. This card comes down a turn faster than Memoricide, so if your deck is looking for that in its sideboard then I think this is an easy replacement.
No pun intended, you'd have to literally be mad to play this card.
It seems you have three main paths in building a deck with Madcap Experiment. You can either play enough big artifact finishers that you're statistically unlikely to take 5+ damage (still a considerable cost in Modern), play low quality cards like Intervention Pact or play artifact creatures like Platinum Angel or Platinum Emperion.
Assume you're playing 4 artifact finishers, kept a 7 card hand and haven't drawn any, and have used a fetchland once. This will give you a ~50% chance of hitting an artifact in 8 cards and ~75% chance in 14.* If you start playing with any more than 4 big finishers, you're going to start having some clunky draws.
Another option is to play Platinum Emperion. Platinum Emperion is put into play before the damage from Madcap Experiment happens, meaning you take 0 damage. This is going to be fairly good against decks like Burn, Infect, and Affinity game 1 but all those decks have fairly straightforward answers to this combo in the sideboard. This doesn't even account for how underwhelming this combo is against decks like Tron, Jund, Abzan, Jeskai, or any deck with removal.
Having severe deckbuilding requirements for a 4 mana combo that doesn't win you the game is probably not going to be turning many
*statistics provided by my testing partner Alex, yell at him if they're wrong
Nissa, Vital Force
From 4 drop to 5 drop has always felt like the tipping point in Modern in terms of playability. You can go to MTGGoldfish right now and see that the only 5+ drops being played are being cheated out faster in decks like Bant Eldrazi, Valakut decks, Ad Nauseum, or even Infect with Become Immense. Most 5 drops that are seeing play currently in Modern aren't actually being cast after turn 5.
I don't like immediately dismissing big flashy cards based on CMC, but I feel that's what I'm going to do here. If the only 5 drops seeing play right now are being powered out quicker, then Nissa's only reasonable home would probably be a Valakut deck. In the average game, she's a 5/5 haste creature that has the potential to become an indestructible enchantment that says “Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may draw a card.”
Mainboard she seems too slow, and if you're in the right colors Ob Nixilis Reignited, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or Elspeth, Sun's Champion seem like they would be better at grinding from the sideboard.
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
“So BUG is playable now, right?” was the first thing my friend said when he saw this card. While I'm sure he'd give his left leg for BUG to be a playable color combination, this card isn't cutting it for Modern.
It's a 4 mana creature that dies to Lightning Bolt and has to survive a turn to do anything.
“Abrupt Decay your Tarmogoyf, reveal Ancestral Vision, draw 3?” I say to my Jund opponent as sleigh bells are heard in the distance.
There are very few Planeswalkers that see play in Modern. The two main ones that come to mind are Liliana of the Veil and Nahiri, the Harbinger. This is, of course, ignoring big finisher Planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and the Planeswalkers in Tron.
Planeswalkers that see play typically have these two main attributes:
An inherent ability to protect themselves.
Liliana of the Veil ticking up on an empty board can be game over for a creature deck. It's out of Lightning Bolt range and now gets two edicts. Nahiri goes up to 6 loyalty, threatens a game winning ultimate in 3 turns, and protects herself with her minus. Even a card like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar protects himself by pumping out chump blockers every turn.
Whether it's virtual card advantage, such as pumping out tokens a la Gideon, or literal card advantage where “draw a card” appears in an ability, some form of card advantage usually needs to be present.
Saheeli Rai doesn't really do either of these things.
Without card advantage or anyway to protect herself, I can't see her cutting it in Modern even at 3 mana.
I'd be interested to see some of the combo ideas people are brewing with her though.
Affinity comes to mind with this card. What other deck wants a 1 mana 3/2 first strike that requires artifact synergy? Honestly, probably not even Affinity.
My biggest concern with this is Affinity having white on turn 1. Glimmervoid is the only real turn 1 white source, with Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal usually coming online in the early turns as well but no guarantees.
I don't think a deck like Affinity, a deck that's looking to apply pressure as quickly as possible, can worry about a card getting stuck in their hand because of colored mana requirements. Cards like Galvanic Blast and Master of Etherium are more reasonable as you're usually not looking to cast them on turn 1.
This set was much more cut and dry in terms of Modern playability compared to Eldritch Moon. Like I said for Tamiyo, Field Researcher in Eldritch Moon, I'd love to be proven wrong about Saheeli Rai. Even though I came down hard on Chandra, Torch of Defiance, I'm still going to give her a shot in Jund.
What are my fellow Modern players excited about? Did I miss any cards? What will you be testing?
Hits and Misses From Eldritch Moon
If you haven't, I recommend checking out my Modern set review for Eldritch Moon! Here's some hits and misses looking back.
No UR Delver strategy has blown Modern wide open like Treasure Cruise but I'm not losing hope.
Where you at, Jeff Hoogland? While this card is seeing some play, giving it an A rating may have been a little overstated. This is a card that I'll still be keeping my eye on.
Oh boy was I wrong with this one. I think the D+ rating may have been a little harsh, but I meant what I said when I noted it “ looks to be easily outclassed by the other threats those decks can play” in reference to Jund and Abzan.
In testing it, however, I found something I had missed. While I still believe Grim Flayer is worse than Kalitas, playing a slim Jund deck that cuts 4 drops allows you to apply pressure more consistently. The best opening play in the deck is discard into Tarmogoyf and it turns out discard into Grim Flayer isn't half bad either.
Liliana, the Last Hope
I knew this card would be great. Maybe it's my unnatural hate for the card Lingering Souls, but I initially tried replacing my Chandra, Pyromaster with this card in my Jund sideboard. She's now found a comfortable home in the main.
Verdict: Slight Hit
I wasn't kidding when I said “when this thing is a Counterspell that leaves behind a 2/3 flyer, that's nuts.” Eli Kassis recently put up a result with 4-Color Retreat playing 2 Spell Queller in the main. I think this card has a lot of potential moving forward.
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
“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.”
Turns out the answer is: not very. I think this is mainly a factor of Death and Taxes variants just not being very strong in Modern right now.