2021 marked the ten-year anniversary of Modern. Created in 2011, Modern was introduced to replace Extended and give Legacy room to breathe, as the format was growing in popularity at the time. Since then, Modern has become one of MTG's most loved and popular Constructed formats. Offering a variety of decks at different price ranges, it allows players to continue to play their cards long after they rotate out of Standard.
Last year offered a lot for Modern enthusiasts, but it was problematic for those looking to enter the format for the first time.
Cards such as Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary compromised deck diversity and interaction for a relatively low deck-building cost, making Modern frustrating and uninspiring. At the start of the year, Wizards of the Coast removed a slew of cards from Modern in an attempt to salvage a format that fell into repetitive play patterns. These huge changes to the format saved Modern from becoming unwelcoming. And yet, we are still living that hangover thanks to Lurrus of the Dream Den.
Then, you have one of the fastest cards to become banned in the format's history.
Coming in Kaldheim, the instant saw immediate play in Modern alongside Throes of Chaos and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn since you could cheat the Eldrazi titan in the early. This combo was so efficient and unfun that Tibalt's Trickery was banned ten days after Kaldheim's release. Wizards of the Coast also revised how cascade worked given the mechanic is already busted even without double-faced cards such as Valki, God of Lies in the equation. Before, if you cascade into a double-faced card, you could choose which side to cast regardless of the mana value of either side—putting Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor into play off a Bloodbraid Elf seems fair, right?
It's interesting that Wizards of the Coast went with this approach and did not address cascade as a mechanic overall; they could have easily banned some (or all) of the enablers instead. Cascade is guaranteed to bend the rules again, perhaps when a new card enters Modern in the future. With this in mind, it always feels safer to nip a problem in the bud before letting it blossom out of control.
It's astonishing that Lurrus is still legal in Modern. Lurrus' synergy with Mishra's Bauble makes Modern a 70-card format. Not only that, the opportunity cost of having Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion is basically zero given the aggressively low mana value of the format, making it an incredible value engine at virtually no little cost. It's one of the key reasons (alongside Urza's Saga) that Colossus Hammer archetypes are so strong in Modern. The biggest surprise and disappointment in 2021 is seeing both Lurrus and Urza's Saga remain legal in Modern, as I think you need to remove both to offset any issues which could arise from future sets.
While it's undoubtedly clear Modern Horizons 2 had a substantial impact on Modern, Standard sets such as Strixhaven: School of Mages set the stage for Modern's power level to grow to what it is today.
Expressive Iteration cemented Izzet as one of the best color pairings in the format, with the card extending into staple archetypes such as Grixis Death's Shadow and four-color "money piles" that feature Omnath, Locus of Creation, and Wrenn and Six. It's one of the best card draw spells printed in a long time and will continue to shape Modern and older formats for as long as it exists.
Standard sets aside, we get into the nonsense that is Modern Horizons 2, and how it essentially built upon what Expressive Iteration started a few months before.
Not only did we see one of the most pushed cards ever printed in Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer (seriously, why does the card have dash?), but also the introduction of the evoke cycle (mostly Fury, Endurance, and Solitude), which impacted Modern more than anyone could ever predict. While there was plenty of trepidation for Grief during previews, it's Fury and Solitude that yield the most impact in Modern at present. Who would've thought a free Swords to Plowshares or Pyrokinesis on a creature would be too good?
It's not only the chase mythics and rares that warped Modern, but uncommon cards such as Dragon's Rage Channeler and Prismatic Ending that boosted various strategies within the format, with a case for Dragon's Rage Channeler being the best card in the set. From top to bottom, Modern Horizons 2 is one of the most powerful MTG sets printed in recent times, and that impact is going to remain for years to come.
One of the many positives with Modern Horizons 2 is the reprinting of enemy fetch lands—Misty Rainforest, Scalding Tarn, Marsh Flats, Arid Mesa, and Verdant Catacombs which dropped the overall price of these cards into a more affordable range. Granted, affordability is subjective, but it is lowering the curve on the accessibility of cards for Modern, and allowing players to optimize their mana bases is a good starting point.
On the flip side, Modern Horizons 2 has skyrocketed the overall value of Modern decks with cards such as Solitude, Urza's Saga, and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer leading the charge. Even with Modern Horizons 2 offering a print-to-demand system to curb the issues experienced with Modern Horizons 1, these cards remain desirable despite the price of packs, and the ongoing pandemic stifling tabletop play.
Despite the substantial changes during 2021, Modern remains a great format, at least for the time being. Regardless of how much fun it is to play or the depth available, there needs to be accessibility from a financial standpoint. If the price of the overall format continues to rise on tabletop and online, the format could become stagnant since players are unable to play Modern, which removes deck-building creativity that helps keep the format interesting. Often when stagnation arises, cards are removed or added to the banned list in an attempt to freshen things up, so it'll be interesting to see if Wizards of the Coast chooses to do this in 2022. I'm unsure what you remove off the Modern ban list if anything, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see a card removed from the ban list in an attempt to break up Modern Horizons' stranglehold on Modern.
With the successes of Modern Horizons 1 and Modern Horizons 2, it's likely Modern Horizons 3 will arrive in a few years' time. My hope for Modern Horizons 3 is that it'll bring new and exciting cards into Modern, with the caveat these cards will be affordable and thus conducive to getting new players to pick up the format. The premise of Modern Horizons is a fantastic one, but the delivery and accessibility need some work.