In my reprint article last week, I promised more reprint coverage if the article was popular and well-received. With almost twice as many comments as other articles on the site, thousands of views, and tons of positive press, the readers have spoken: Modern players love reprint articles. On the one hand, this could suggest an underlying dissatisfaction with Modern’s current cardpool or its decks. Magic players sure love to complain about Modern (whether unbans/bans, prices, archetypes, metagame diversity, etc.), so it’s not a stretch that reprints also fall into this category. I tend to give a more positive spin: we Moderners love our format and want to see it get even better. For many of us, Modern represents a promise of deck diversity and choice unparalleled in other formats. Good reprints promise to only increase this diversity, which is why many of us love to discuss them.
Mother of Runes, Innocent Blood, Baleful Strix, and Onslaught cycling lands got the spotlight in last week’s article. This week, I’m shifting focus to four more cards that deserve a home in Modern. We promised a fun article last week and hopefully this one keeps that reprint fun coming. If two fan favorites have anything to say about it, I’m guessing you’ll be as excited to read these suggestions as I was to write them.
The Reprint List (Part 2)
Following last week’s theme, I only want to propose reprints that meet two parameters. First, a reprint should benefit a lower-tier deck without pushing a top-tier deck too far. This means a card like Vindicate should probably be kept off the list. For every Deadguy Ale and Esper Control list you’d see Vindicate in, you’d see a half dozen Vindicate-powered Abzan lists clogging up the Top 8s/16s of every event. It’s true that Vindicate might be, well, “vindicated” in testing as safe for the format, but the card is strong enough abstractly that we don’t really need to test it to prove its power in Abzan. Back to Basics would be risky here too. Do we really need to give Merfolk its own Blood Moon, even if some tier 3 Mono Blue Devotion deck gets a new toy? These are the kinds of cards we want to avoid. A much better reprint idea would be something similar to Gempalm Incinerator, which would only serve to improve the low-tier Goblins without remotely benefiting Modern’s top-tier decks.
We also don’t want cards that violate format guidelines, particularly the turn four rule. Rituals almost always fit into this category, including otherwise fun cards like Land Grant and Elvish Spirit Guide. We also find archetype staples like Entomb and Exhume here: these cards would definitely help an underplayed Modern archetype (Reanimator), but do we really need another way to get turn two Griselbrand? It’s possible these so-called turn four rule violators wouldn’t actually make a big Modern impact. The SCG Charlotte Open saw only a single Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand deck on Day 2 (more on that event tomorrow!), which points to Modern’s impressive ability to self-regulate. Even so, we still don’t want to risk adding these kinds of decks to the format, which means our reprints need to steer clear of cards which improve the speediest decks.
Based on these parameters, here are four (more) cards which look like great additions to Modern.
1. Containment Priest
White is in a bad place in Modern. Path to Exile is easily one of our best removal spells alongside Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and Terminate, but your white cardpool gets pretty weak after that. White gives you sideboard cards and little else. Most colors in Modern are fairly deep in both the maindeck and sideboard, with lots of applications across the format’s top-tier decks. White? Playing white often feels like swimming in those public park district pools, where your “deep” end is about five feet and everything else is waist-level. My Mother of Runes reprint suggestion last week aimed to fix this, and today I’m adding another leading lady to Mom’s team. Containment Priest gives white decks more catchall hatred against some of Modern’s least fair decks, especially Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach-based strategies. Priest is also strong in a variety of random matchups including Merfolk (shutting down Aether Vial), Elves/Abzan Company/Naya Company (no more Collected Company/Chord of Calling), 4C Gifts, UW Tron, Death and Taxes, Dredgevine, any decks packing Restoration Angel, etc. That’s a big boost to creature-based white decks trying to break into Modern.
Looking over the above list of Priestly applications, you can probably guess the main objection to Priest’s addition: “Do these decks really need more policing effects to fight through?” It seems like Priest might actually decrease Modern’s diversity, throwing more obstacles in front of decks that are already tier 2 and tier 3 (Merfolk excepted). There are two reasons we shouldn’t be too worried about this. For one, there aren’t too many decks which actually want to use Priest. She’s helping a specific subset of white-based aggro and midrange, such as Abzan Liege, Hatebears, and Deadguy Ale. She’s not even a Death and Taxes inclusion because of glaring anti-synergy with Vial and Flickerwisp. Would higher-tier Abzan play her? Probably not: Abzan is tight on sideboard slots and has better ways of handling the decks Priest is answering. All of this means Priest is only going in a few decks which are unlikely to be so popular as to push out the decks she polices.
Speaking of policing, the second reason to have Priest in Modern is as a mainstay policewoman. The more Priest-style cards we have in Modern, the safer cards like Company, Breach, Vengeance, and others become. She’s a longterm investment in format health, increasing our hate options to regulate certain decks in certain metagames while also improving a color’s profile.
Dr. Teeth in Modern: can you picture that? I definitely can, but not the hideous Vintage Masters art. Ever since Wizards announced the Modern cutoff over the Overextended cutoff in Gavin Verhey’s experimental format, I’ve been mourning Psychatog‘s absence. The Atog will always be synonymous with a certain style of control, pairing with oldschool staples such as Upheaval, Cunning Wish, and Counterspell to dominate events like World’s 2002. Grixis Control may have filled a top-tier control gap in Modern, but it’s only one deck of six or seven non-control decks, and many players continue to disagree over whether it’s a “true” control deck. Whether or not you think Grixis Control is worthy of that name, it’s worth thinking of how Psychatog fits into the Modern control picture. How does the Atog work in Grixis, our current big control player? This card has significant anti-synergy with both delve creatures such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang/Gurmag Angler, and the blue control staple of Snapcaster Mage. To me, this makes the card an unlikely inclusion in the contemporary Grixis Control lists. That’s important because we don’t want to improve existing top-tier decks too much with any one reprint.
So if Psychatog isn’t helping out Grixis Control, where would we see it? I don’t predict Dr. Teeth playing nice with the delve creatures (Snapcaster should be fine), which suggests the Atog needs to find a home in a UBx control deck which isn’t relying on Tasigur or Angler. This could still be a Grixis deck: the old Cruel Ultimatum-style Cruel Control deck comes to mind. Esper is also an option, such as this 20th place deck from the recent SCG Open. In both cases, Psychatog occupies a similar space to Angler and Tasigur, allowing its control shell to run a proactive gameplan alongside a reactive one. Tog also walls off smaller creatures in the early game like its delving competitors. Abrupt Decay vulnerability is a problem, but Tog closes out games much faster than a mid or late-game Angler/Tasigur. Overall, I think Tog would be one of the safer Modern reprints, very much in a similar category as the recently reprinted Goblin Piledriver (hopefully a bit better). It’s a good creature which will probably help out some decks, but is unlikely to make huge waves due to competition and hatred that didn’t exist back in its heyday. I’d still play Tog and try it out in a control deck (especially if they gave me Innocent Blood too), but I don’t see the card cracking tier 1 in this format.
Here’s our controversial reprint suggestion of the day. Variance-reducers are some of the strongest cards in Magic. Modern is no exception: Ponder and Preordain were banned for giving UR decks too much consistency during 2011’s PT Philadelphia. Serum Visions may not be the strongest cantrip in Magic, but it’s strong enough to see automatic inclusion in all of the top-tier blue decks outside of the traditionally cantripless Merfolk. Of course, eternal formats have Brainstorm as the most skill-testing and powerful cantrip in the game’s history (we’ll set aside the silliness that is Ancestral Recall). Modern players have long wanted a card to supplement Visions but without the format-warping nature of Brainstorm or even the power level of Preordain. Enter Opt. This unassuming instant from Invasion has quickly become on of the most-requested reprints in Modern. We’d even settle for a Modernized version with “scry 1” in place of the first line of card text. Either way, Opt promises to be a strong addition to Modern decks. The card would undoubtedly see some degree of play in Twin and Scapeshift, blue-based control like Grixis and Esper, and Delver-style decks across the Uxx spectrum. Being an instant is awesome here: even on the draw, Opt lets you keep up mana for a Bolt or a Spell Snare to ensure interaction options. That’s critical in turns 1-3 when even the best blue-based deck needs to keep counters and removal open to handle the format’s fastest strategies.
Opt‘s biggest danger is in combo decks. We don’t want reprints to benefit top-tier decks too much, and we should be justifiably aware of Opt‘s applications in Twin. This deck, and its variations, need no help whatsoever, and Opt could push them over the top. The main reason I’m willing to take this risk is that Opt helps Delver decks more than it does Twin decks. As anyone who has played these matchups can attest, Delver of Secrets eats Deceiver Exarchs for breakfast. If Opt is pushing Delver strategies, they should be able to regulate the Twin strategies while themselves still being checked by the BGx decks: Opt doesn’t hurt BGx the same way Treasure Cruise did either. We also need to think about Opt’s utility in Grixis Control, but to be honest, the deck can stand to gain a few percentage points if it’s also benefiting other decks.
Final word on this one: unlike many other reprints on these kinds of lists, there’s actually some real-world precedent for Opt‘s reprinting! Back in May, Sam Stoddard tweeted about testing the card for Origins, but found it too strong with Jeskai Ascendancy in Standard. Perhaps we will see Opt in a post-Ascendancy Standard (or maybe a Modern feeder set that bypasses Standard, but that’s a beast for another time).
4. Astral Slide
Our last reprint suggestion is a huge fan-favorite, and personal favorite, from the good old days of Magic. Not the Hypnotic Specter/Dark Ritual good old days, or the Cadaverous Bloom/Prosperity good old days. I’m talking about the early 2000s days when Astral Slide and Lightning Rift showed the world that cycling was a viable build-around mechanic outside of silly Fluctuator shenanigans. A Slide reprint serves a few functions in Modern. For one, it’s the rare card that enables a totally new strategy without touching any existing top-tier decks. Many build-around cards like Slide don’t have what it takes to succeed in a high-powered format like Modern (and maybe Slide doesn’t either!), but if anything can make it it’s the interactive and highly relevant Astral Slide effect. Removal is perhaps the most important interaction point in Modern and Slide gives a virtually unconditional and repeatable source for it. Abrupt Decay presents Slide with similar problems to those it gives Psychatog, but this doesn’t diminish Slide’s play against most of Modern’s best decks: Twin, Grixis Control, Jund/Abzan, etc. I’d struggle with running Slide in Burn/Affinity-heavy metagames (we don’t have Renewed Faith to shore up the matchups), but you could still get a lot of mileage from flickering cards like Wall of Omens and Lone Missionary.
A second reason to add Slide to Modern is improving white, even if a very specific and perhaps limited way. I love the idea of playing Ghostly Prison alongside Astral Slide in a some kind of WR, UW, or UWR-style deck. I also like the synergy between Slide and some of the better cycling cards in Modern. Angelsong is an all-star here, wrecking Affinity, Twin, and Infect on its own and cycling to fuel a Slide trigger. I also like Bant Sojourners as an instant-speed uncounterable flicker and 1/1 token generator. Slide would definitely want some cycling lands to support it, at which point I’m dying to power-up the whole engine with Life from the Loam. All of this is to say that a Slide reprint opens up a lot of space for white in Modern without putting too much pressure on existing decks, making it an ideal reprint in some future, cycling-themed set.
Testing Controversial Reprints
You can bet on seeing more reprint articles in the future, including one with some concrete test results around one of the most controversial reprints of them all: Counterspell. This is the kind of potentially high-impact reprint we can’t just talk about in a vacuum. We need to test the card and see how it performs in a few different contexts. For now, the plan is to test Counterspell in UR Twin and some combination of Scapeshift, Grixis Control, and/or Temur/Grixis Delver. I’m definitely testing the Jund vs. UR Twin matchup because that’s such an iconic one in Modern and we need to see how Counterspell affects it. We would be worried if the roughly 50-50 matchup tipped 60-40 in favor of Twin due to Counterspell. Or maybe it doesn’t tip at all. Test results will show and we’ll revisit this topic in the near future.
What reprints did I miss for Modern? I realize red didn’t get a lot of love in either article: are there any red cards you really want to see in Modern (don’t you dare suggest Price of Progress)? What about colorless cards or artifacts (I almost wrote about Crawlspace today but decided to go towards other cards instead)? Let me know in the comments.
We’ll be back next week with some test results and, hopefully, some early Battle For Zendikar spoilers out of PAX Prime. Join me tomorrow for a breakdown of the SCG Open results.
Editor’s note: Containment Priest doesn’t interact with Living End as favorably as the article suggested, and this deck has been removed from the list of matchups where she is relevant. It has been replaced with two other relevant matchups.