Time for the quarterly spoilers article! I intended to lead off with a pun on Amonkhet, but all the good ones have been done to death. Then I thought that I could come up with something unique, but expended too much energy last week and just couldn’t get going. Many other ideas were assessed and then discarded, looking for something better. Eventually, I decided to write a completely normal intro utterly devoid of subtle allusions. You’re welcome.
Anyway, Amonkhet is on the horizon and there are some interesting Modern cards. As I’m writing this Monday morning just over half the set is spoiled, and while it looks interesting, there’s not a lot for Modern players. This shouldn’t be surprising as only one mechanic is playable. While conceptually interesting as mechanics, exert and embalm just don’t have the power to make it in Modern. Yes, with vigilance exert creatures are all upside, but the effort required to make that work could be better spent elsewhere. It would take something very busted to make an impact. As for embalm, the problem is that you have to pay mana to bring back creatures as tokens. This is decent as a value plan, but compare them to Dredge’s options. There are more efficient ways to get value from your graveyard. Even if that weren’t the case, none of the embalm creatures I’ve seen so far are playable in the first place.
Cycling has been part of the format for some time, though the impact has been limited. The new set may change this, and I will address this later. Beyond that there are standalone cards with brewing promise, though I’m skeptical. Power is definitely there, but only if you jump through hoops. This usually doesn’t bode well.
First alphabetically is As Foretold. Jordan covered the card last Friday, and he did a good job. The possibility exists for the card to generate a lot of mana and value, but it is slow. Free mana is broken and this is free mana. Therefore, in theory, this card is also broken.
However, I’m not so sure. The list of things that have to go right for As Foretold to be good is long, and even when it does what are you actually doing? Once you’ve done it, I’m not sure it was worthwhile or better than other options. Simply put, I think that in most cases, this is a win-more card. Win-the-game cards are good, but historically win-more cards are not.
I think we can all agree that this card will only go into slower decks. It makes absolutely no sense to play it in any kind of aggressive deck. Aether Vial is better there and it is far from universal—why would you pay more for the effect? I doubt midrange decks want this either. They’re rarely about playing a lot of spells. Instead they play something more powerful than you. Foretold won’t do that right away and midrange has better incremental advantage cards.
This leaves control and combo, and I’m still skeptical about either being the right home. The format may be slower now but it is still risky to tap out early in the game, especially to durdle. Thus I expect that control decks would rather play this card later in the game. If that is the case, what’s the point? Aether Vial is only good because you can play it on turn one. Vial is functionally dead later in the game, and Foretold is arguably worse since it costs more. At that point you won’t need the free mana because you have enough lands to play as many things as you want anyway. If you’ve been holding spells just to use with Foretold you’re either so far ahead it doesn’t matter or you got mana-screwed and overrun. I don’t think this will have any sort of fair use.
It is more likely that Foretold will find some kind of combo application. I’m just not sure what. Jordan is correct that the suspend-only spells are good partners for Foretold but I’m not sold on Restore Balance. As a free sweeper in a control list it’s questionable, since on turn three a control deck will probably have to discard cards against an aggro deck, and in many cases sacrifice lands. I’m not sure it would be worthwhile to build a control deck to take advantage, especially when there are more combo-oriented versions already. Those decks probably don’t want Foretold either since it’s better for the overall strategy to cascade into Restore.
We are looking at Wheel of Fate and Ancestral Vision as our partners. The problem is that I don’t know what combo deck actually wants either of those cards. Storm and Ad Nauseam get along fine as is. While both can make use of extra mana, Foretold looks too slow to be useful.
That said, the ceiling is very high on this type of effect and I could see some undiscovered deck breaking it. This makes an actual evaluation difficult. There is no existing deck that actually wants As Foretold, but the deck that does will be a ridiculously broken combo deck. Ironically, determining the fate of Foretold requires precognition. It will either be a bulk rare or broken-in-half. No middle ground.
Channeler Initiate/Exemplar of Strength
While separate cards, I’m going to talk about these two collectively because Modern’s concern with them is identical. They’re undercosted creatures with significant drawbacks that have received quite a bit of attention for Modern. So much so that Star City bought up all the available Melira, Sylvok Outcasts in my area. For those who don’t know, with Melira out, Channeler and Exemplar have no drawback. Similarly, if you lead with Khalni Garden then you can target the plant instead of the original creature.
While I appreciate the innovation, I think it is misplaced. You’re doing a lot of work to make another Tarmogoyf, which isn’t even as good as it used to be. I cannot imagine another use for these cards, since neither have Modern-playable abilities. We have access to these effects more reliably and cheaply. Cute, but won’t lead anywhere. Now, there might be another card with more impressive stats or abilities still unseen which would be playable. However, if all you’re looking for are beefy creatures, look elsewhere. We’ve got those already.
The Cycling Lands
History lesson time. Years ago there existed a deck built around cycling cards. It was incredibly popular and powerful. However, it was clunky and bad outside of Standard and the greater Magic world moved on. But the enthusiasts have never forgotten Astral Slide.
The thing is that what made the Slide decks good wasn’t really the namesake card but the cycling lands. The cheap cost and flexibility (land or spell) meant that these cards had an impact far beyond Onslaught block. Slide never caught on outside of Standard but the lands were an Extended institution. In fact, the legendary CAL deck was built around them. That deck used Solitary Confinement to protect itself while churning through its library with cycling lands and Life from the Loam to find Seismic Assault (see, CAL?) and win the game. Even once Confinement rotated, Loam plus cycling lands was an impressive card-advantage engine.
The Cycle Is Not Broken
This is all relevant to us today because, for the first time in Modern’s history, there are cycling lands in the format. Not just cycling lands but cycling dual lands. Which is utterly irrelevant. Yes, they’re fetchable lands but they always enter tapped. Can we all agree that we only care about the cycling part? Nobody will play these over shocklands for mana generation purposes. If you can’t abuse the ability, leave them at home.
Okay, so we have the missing piece of the old Loam engine right? We can start building Assault/Pox Loam and have it finally be good. Not quite. Take a look back up the page at those two cards. The new ones cost two to cycle. The old ones cost one. This is everything for their playability since you can cycle half as often now. This may not seem like much, but anybody from the old Extended era will tell you that the cost was the key. The decks that really abused cycling had to maximize their mana efficiency. Using a card to draw a card is only good when done many times a turn and when you can also do other things. While I’m certain that Loam enthusiasts will try to make their engine work again, I doubt it will pay off. It’s also worth remembering that this was done in the days before Rest in Peace.
As for the Sliders, we still don’t have a good payoff card spoiled yet. Yes, there are some payoff cards; no, they really aren’t Modern-playable. I’m skeptical they’re even Standard-worthy. I doubt that Wizards will ever allow Astral Slide back into Standard but it is never impossible. If something comes up with a good effect at the right rate I could see these lands making a splash outside of Loam. Otherwise I just don’t see it happening.
Gideon of the Trials
Despite what some of the hype says, the newest Gideon does not spell the end for Ad Nauseam. Or any combo deck in any format. At worst, it makes them wait a turn or two until they have enough mana to kill Gideon and you. Every Valakut or Grapeshot deck will just need a few extra points to kill you while Ad Naus will just use Lightning Storm to kill him, and then kill you with Laboratory Maniac. Even in Legacy, Storm can just go for Empty the Warrens. It’s not that burdensome.
But even a light burden is still a burden. While Gideon of the Trials won’t just win you the game, he does make combo decks more inefficient, which sounds like a Death and Taxes effect. Alongside other disruptive cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Gideon would act like the final nail in the coffin, delaying the kill and forcing combo decks to expend resources to remove him instead of you. The additional drag may be all you need. Bonus points for Gideon being a reasonable threat as well.
Which makes me wonder if Ad Naus itself will adopt Gideon. In that deck he’s a more vulnerable but more flexible Phyrexian Unlife. The emblem works the same way as Angel’s Grace so you can protect him with Pact of Negation. As an additional benefit, Gideon is an alternate win condition. The combo doesn’t always come together, after all. Worth noting is that the +1 is very good against decks that only have one threat at a time, chiefly Infect. It may never come up, seeing that Infect has declined significantly, but it is relevant. It may not be very likely, but the only reason Ad Naus ever ran Unlife was a lack of alternatives to Grace. In that light, Gideon plausibly competes for the job.
Some Quick Hits
These cards are all worth noting and thinking about, but not enough to get their own section.
- Failure to Comply: This card fascinates me. Orim’s Chant and the Modern-legal Silence were billed as control cards and yet were actually used as prison and combo cards. This latest version is hard to place. The first half is worse than Unsubstantiate, a mediocre tempo card that sees virtually no play. The second half is more promising. There are too many cards you would want to name for it to protect a combo and it’s too narrow for prison decks. The best use I’ve come up with is as an answer to suspend cards. When you remove the last time counter you attempt to cast the spell, but if you cannot cast it then it just stays in exile. No Visions for you. Not a control-mirror breaker on its face, but maybe a good tool. It’s very much a puzzle to be solved.
- Lay Bare the Heart: Likely too expensive to see play, but it does hit 99% of all cards in Modern. Outside of a few creatures like Melira, Thalia, and Kiki-Jiki, there are no legendary creatures in Modern, making this effectively Thoughtseize. Assuming the mana cost is not the barrier to play I think it is, the unanswered question is whether we need Thoughtseize numbers 4-8. Probably not, considering that Thoughtseize is really just extra Inquistion of Kozilek, but 8-Rack does play Blackmail.
- Manglehorn: Why isn’t this card getting more attention? It’s better than Reclamation Sage in every way except creature type. There’s no reason for Chord of Calling decks to run the Sage anymore. The beast will also challenge for the Elves job too, not because of the minimal stat boost but because of the Kismet clause. Manglehorn is too costly for this effect to be relevant against Affinity, but artifact combos will suffer. Eggs, Cheeri0s, and even Thopter combo all rely on their artifacts entering play untapped and were incidentally good against decks that ran Reclamation Sage. Manglehorn not only destroys a key component but breaks up the combo. Eggs’ Chromatic Stars and Spheres cannot be sacrificed, Mox Opal cannot be tapped for mana, and the Thopters cannot block. I expect this to see considerable play.
Time Will Tell
Spoilers will continue to roll in this week and we may yet see some more Modern cards. I selfishly hope that there are no good cycling payoffs so that I can laugh at all the Slide devotees again, but maybe this is the set that finally makes me eat crow. Was there any card you think I missed or something you disagree with in my analysis? I’m always up for an argument in the comments.