Mana makes the Magic happen. Before we can cast our spells and summon our creatures, we need mana to pay for them. It's the first rule we learn when we start playing Magic, and we learn that this mana comes from lands. It's this mana and the lands that produce them that set the pace of a Magic game, and that unlock the possibilities within the cards we hold. Magic formats are defined by their mana, whether it's the dual lands of Legacy or Vintage's broken artifact mana like Black Lotus, Magic's most valuable card and a striking example of the importance of mana in the game.
The defining feature of Modern's landscape is the fetchland and shockland manabase, which offers unparalleled ability to find multiple colors of mana and lends itself to incredible consistency. It's the gold standard that has defined manabases in the format since its inception, even more so since Khans of Tarkir completed the full cycle of ten fetchlands in the format. Now for the first time ever, a new cycle of lands in Modern Horizons threatens to break this paradigm and usher in a new era of Modern manabase. The set will include five enemy-color lands in the mold of Horizon Canopy.
These lands fulfill the prophecy laid out by Horizon Canopy in Future Sight, which foretold cards that were to come. They've finally arrived, and are arguably the most powerful cycle of lands ever printed. These lands do come with a cost, but the ability to be cashed in for a card is incredibly useful. I don't want to turn this into an article about why drawing cards is powerful and having value stored in lands is desirable, because one can just look at the history of Horizon Canopy to see that the effect is more than powerful enough for Modern play. This history offers just a tiny glimpse into what the new lands will inevitably do, because giving all five colors access to this effect opens the floodgates.
Consider that Horizon Canopy has seen more play in Mono-White decks than Selesnya, which reveals the fact that this effect is just as desirable in mono-color decks as in multicolored decks. Now each color has up to eight of these effects, and I am sure there are some decks that will take advantage of this fact. That said, these lands are indeed great mana-fixers, so beyond fundamentally changing how mono-color decks build their manabases, it will specifically bolster the five enemy color combinations. I suspect that the remaining four allied-color lands and a reprint of Horizon Canopy will be due in a set within the next couple years, but until then the enemy color pairs are simply better than the allied pairs in Modern due to this cycle.
I've gone on about how great these lands are, but they do come with serious downsides. These lands are among the most painful lands available, costing life throughout the game unlike the one-time sting of fetches and shocks, but without the painless colorless option of the painlands. Paying a life for each mana that comes out of them is a significant cost, one that has restricted Horizon Canopy to only a fraction of white decks and has kept it from being a replacement for basic Plains, and in few green decks whatsoever.
Decks that use Horizon Canopy tend to be aggressive decks, which seek to end the game quickly, not play a long game that would require them to tap the lands often for repeated damage. They're particularly valuable in these decks because they don't otherwise have great sources of card draw and card advantage, so the extra cards it provides can help push them over the finish line. These decks also tend to have a low mana curve, which means they can afford to sacrifice Horizon Canopy early and often without the risk of stranding expensive cards in hand. It's no surprise that Horizon Canopy has a rich history alongside Aether Vial, and is currently played alongside it as a staple of Modern Humans, which encapsulates the features I've described as a low-curve aggressive deck without card draw.
The new cycle of lands opens up access to this life-for-value effect to all colors, and to a greater variety of decks. Horizon Canopy has been used in white aggressive decks because that tends to be what white decks do best and that strategy is a good place for the effect, but other colors have their own sort of strategies that could take advantage.
For example, a clear beneficiary is Burn, which absolutely craves drawing more cards to fulfill its Philosophy of Fire, and tends to lose most often simply because it runs out of action from the top of the deck. With the ability to run up to eight of these lands, Burn can be built to completely take advantage of decks that can't adequately pressure its life total and punish it. Even a more modest approach of four copies of Sunbaked Canyon should rejuvenate Boros Burn, which also has Lightning Helix to help gain life and soften the blow of the pain.
I imagine that Mono-Black 8-Rack decks are frothing at the mouth with access to these lands. The deck is built to grind out opponents with disruption, so having value stored in lands will help it win the war of attrition and end up on top. The disruption also means it is pretty good at putting a stop to whatever the opponent is doing, with Smallpox punishing creatures, so it can protect its life total and minimize the effect of the damage.
8-Rack is an especially good home for the new lands and may be able to support playing up to the full eight copies because of their great synergy with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. It gives them the option to be tapped for mana without paying life, which eliminates the downside and makes it all upside. 8-Rack already plays up to four copies of Urborg to help Mutavault make mana, so the deck is perfectly equipped to incorporate the new lands.
The black lands, as a great compliment to disruptive black decks, should see some top-tier application in Golgari-based Rock decks, which gain a great new tool at their disposal with Nurturing Peatland, whether it's as a one- or two-of to squeeze a bit more value in or a four-of that changes the way the deck is built and played.
Rock decks play Scavenging Ooze to help blunt the life loss, and lately have been including Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as an additional graveyard hoser, and it also helps. Dark Confidant, on the other hand, is now a bit worse, though that's not to say a deck couldn't use both. Abzan is in the position to take advantage of Silent Clearing too, giving it up to eight strong fixers, which is likely too extreme for the deck as it is now, but in theory could be supported in a deck designed for it, with Siege Rhino likely coming in as a source of life gain.
Nurturing Peatland and Silent Clearing have strong synergy with Death's Shadow, which turns the life loss into a benefit. While fetchlands and shocks can lose life quickly, they eventually run out; the new cycle is a repeating source of life loss. Death's Shadow decks tend to be disruption-filled decks that play an attrition game as well as having a very low curve, so the ability to trade a land for a card will be perfect for the strategy. Golgari-based Death's Shadow decks are the biggest beneficiary, so I expect to see an increase in different variations, with Abzan having the most potential.
Nurturing Peatland will be a great addition to Elves, which can utilize the mana-fixing and the extra card. Horizon Canopy's inclusion in Humans shows that tribal decks are hungry for more cards, and Elves is even more reliant than Humans on putting together synergies and reaching a critical mass of creatures so it can utilize cards like Shaman of the Pack.
Another tribe that gains from the new lands is merfolk, which as an Aether Vial deck compares similarly to Death and Taxes-style decks and their Horizon Canopy. Mono-blue decks could run up to eight, although four is more likely, but they also open up splash possibilities. Some merfolk decks have splashed Lightning Bolt in the past, which now looks more attractive with Fiery Islet, or Waterlogged Grove could help Modern embrace true two-color merfolk decks and embrace the green merfolk of Ixalan block.
The blue lands are interesting because blue tends to have the best card advantage already, so its decks don't need the effect, so these lands aren't so desirable in the average blue deck. On the other hand, they allow blue decks, which history shows is the best and most threatening color, to really push things to the limit and become even more broken.
Imagine a deck like Splinter Twin with access to four Fiery Islet, which could help it get one more chance at drawing that final combo piece. It's this idea that makes Fiery Islet being discussed for Storm, where it can replace Shivan Reef as a painland with upside. Combo decks seek to end the game as soon as possible and aren't built to grind a long game, so they are ideal candidates for the effect.
It's not exactly a combo deck, but Dredge is definitely an unfair deck, and it just got a lot more unfair. Dredge is more than happy to pay some life for the ability to draw an extra card, which can be used to dredge deeper. This sort of card draw on demand is going to bring Dredge to the next level, even more so because the deck naturally includes Life from the Loam to get even more shots at the effect. Dredge even has Creeping Chill to gain life and help soften the pain, so it's truly a perfect match.
Another deck that borders on combo is Infect, but it's really just a very fast aggressive deck, and that makes it the perfect home for Waterlogged Grove. A good comparison is Horizon Canopy's use in the Bogles Hexproof deck, and it will help find that last pump needed to end the game. Infect is the perfect kind of deck for this effect, and it's the sort of quality-of-life improvement that will help its changes against the wider metagame.
These new lands are exciting, but the life is a real cost. It's easy to dismiss it in theory, but in practice players will have a rude awakening that it can and will cost games, especially when these lands are drawn in multiples. They aren't for every deck, but those decks that can manage the cost have a lot to gain. It's something that can only really be shaken out in testing, and over time we'll figure it out as these lands start permeating through the format. Drawing cards is unparalleled in Magic, and the ability to get an extra chance at finding what you need can make all the difference. Along with their functionality as mana-fixing, they will change the way we play Modern.