When Modern Horizons was first announced, Wizards of the Coast promised it would be a "wild ride," and now Modern players are along for it. It's felt like a roller coaster, with spoilers inching us ever closer to the precipice of set release, when Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis arrived and pushed the format over the edge and into a freefall. Now more Modern Horizons cards are adding new twists and turns to Modern, where they're changing how decks are built.
Today I'll explore some of the most important and interesting ways Modern Horizons cards have made their way to Modern. With the Bridgevine deck the bogeyman in the room, I want to focus on the most powerful decks that look to have the tools to beat it and have a real shot at surviving in this metagame. That said, if the deck really does break the format, then a ban would open up the metagame considerably, so I'll be sure to highlight a variety of strategies.
Urza, Lord High Artificer has been one of the most hyped cards in Modern Horizons because of its Commander potential, but it has also broken out in Modern. It's a threat, mana source and card advantage engine all-in-one. It also synergizes with the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo to go infinite. Urza, Lord High Artificer then goes hand-in-hand with Goblin Engineer, which is being used to set up the combo. These new creatures have combined to create a new breed of U/R Artifact deck that sits on the fence of combo and prison, all with the ability to play fair with Sai, Master Thopterist.
Whether or not this deck is the next coming of kanister's beloved Krark-Clan Ironworks deck remains to be seen, but it looks to have the tools to stop Bridgevine, including Ensnaring Bridge and Grafdigger's Cage to stop their creatures and Pithing Needle to stop Altar of Dementia, with Whir of Invention to find them.
The deck also makes good use of Arcum's Astrolabe, which is proving to be the best card of this type ever printed. Prophetic Prism has long been a staple of artifact strategies in Modern, but it's being replaced by this new cheaper version wherever possible.
Another high-powered strategy with the tools to beat the Bridgevine engine is the Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies infinite combo, which recently received an upgrade with Finale of Devastation as a new way to tutor up a combo piece. Modern Horizons has now added yet another tutor in Eladamri's Call, which is a bigger deal in Modern than it has been made out to be.
Eladamri's Call was a staple of creature combo decks in the old Extended format, where it was the closest thing to Demonic Tutor for a creature available and provided the consistency that allowed such decks to function. Now it adds that consistency to Modern, along with the utility that comes with the ability to tutor for a toolbox of one-of creatures. Said toolbox has received a nice new addition in Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, which works as a nice sacrifice outlet for the combo of Vizier of Remedies and a persist creature, and with Kitchen Finks will be able to draw through the entire deck, gain a ton of life and tear down the opposing battlefield.
Carrion Feeder is also a quality-of-life upgrade over Viscera Seer, since it can grow infinitely large and kill the opponent outright while adding a nice aggressive element to the deck when it is playing fair. The deck does retain one copy of Viscera Seer as a scry engine, which seems useful as it can dig for silver bullets as troublesome spots arise.
Eladamri's Call also helps open up access to another nice combo: Celestial Kirin and Ugin's Conjurant to create an Armageddon. It will be the best thing to do against opponents playing Urzatron, so it seems like a great thing to have access to in the sideboard given the minimal slots it requires.
Plague Engineer has also found its way into the sideboard toolbox as what's likely the best tribal hoser ever printed in Modern, useful for fighting back against all variety of them, from Humans to the new Goblin decks that have emerged.
A more extreme version of an Eladamri's Call deck is this Battle of Wits deck that put up an impressive 11th place finish in the Modern Challenge full of Bridgevine decks.
The theory goes that having a huge deck helps fight back against the Bridgevine plan of Altar of Dementia, which at least cuts off one of their paths to victory. I don't buy that this helps all that much since they can just mill themselves and present a ton of threats, but it at least cuts off one path to victory.
If the deck can't find Battle of Wits, it has various other routes to victory. It could piece together the Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo with Eladamri's Call and its other tutors, or use Madcap Experiment to put Platinum Emperion into play. It also has Gifts Ungiven and Unburial Rites, which can Reanimate something huge like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Iona, Shield of Emeria.
With so many powerful tools at its disposal, the deck is bound to make something happen eventually. Beyond its own plan, the deck is full of disruption and can put a stop to whatever the opponent is doing—it just needs to find the right cards at the right time. Shuffle at your own risk. I'd personally add four Idyllic Tutor first, but there might be something to the deck as-is.
Sometimes the addition of a new card can be so subtle it flies under the radar, but in the case of Aria of Flame, it's having a big impact in U/R spell-based decks like U/R Phoenix and Storm.
In the case of this U/R Phoenix list, Aria of Flame replaces Pyromancer Ascension and functions similarly as a way to extract extra value from spells. To help supercharge the effect, Lava Dart adds a two-in-one spell that can quickly ramp up the counters and burn out the opponent from nowhere. Aria of Flame costs more than Pyromancer Ascension, but it has the huge upside of ignoring graveyard hosers. Adding a new angle of attack that's immune to the most commonly used sideboard cards against U/R Phoenix makes it that much harder to stop, and all the more threatening in the metagame.
With the ability to return to maindecking Surgical Extraction to fight back against Bridgevine, I see no reason why U/R Phoenix shouldn't be able to remain in the top-tier of Modern. I'm confident in Gerry Thompson's decklist, but that's not to say Aria of Flame couldn't be used alongside Pyromancer Ascension either, like in this 5-0 decklist.
Aria of Flame also adds another angle to traditional Storm, where it makes the job of Grapeshot that much easier. It also makes the deck less reliant on the cost-reducing effects of cards like Goblin Electromancer.
Rather than being forced to act essentially as a combo deck that combines cost-reduction and Gifts Ungiven to set up a game-ending engine with Past in Flames, the deck can land Aria of Flame and then cast spells until the opponent is dead. It's a great tool against disruptive decks that can give Storm problems, especially since many of them, like Death's Shadow decks, won't be able to remove the enchantment.
Another side of the format is combating broken strategies by using some great new tools Modern Horizons has added. None is more important than Force of Negation, and it's starting to spawn a new style of decks that use up to four copies just like Force of Will in Legacy. Last week, Force of Negation was peppered into traditional control decks, but this week shows a glimpse of the true impact of the card and a peek at what's to come. Force of Negation is appearing in all variety of aggressive and midrange blue decks reminiscent of those in Legacy.
Force of Negation is showing up in very Legacy-esque U/R Delver decks, complete with Pteramander and Young Pyromancer.
Fiery Islet also helps elevate this sort of deck, which with an aggressive game plan won't feel the effect of the life loss too acutely but will love the extra card, especially with four Force of Negation to fuel.
This U/R Kiln Fiend deck that approaches combo territory with Temur Battle Rage is another great candidate for Force of Negation.
Force of Negation can't protect both Kiln Fiend and Disrupting Shoal, but the ability to disrupt the opposing plan and buy time is vital—and as a bonus, it can trigger Thing in the Ice for free. It also brings new value to Blistercoil Weird, which, as a blue card, now has some unique advantages over other prowess creatures and should replace Soul-Scar Mage in such decks.
Another example of a Legacy-style deck now suddenly more viable in Modern is Merfolk. Force of Negation gives the strategy a much-needed tool, and buys time for its aggressive plan by stopping sorcery-speed removal and sweepers.
Faeries, another solidly tier 2 tribal deck, has received a big upgrade with access to Force of Negation.
Force of Negation has appeared in the classic U/B version of Faeries and in a new style of the deck that gives up Bitterblossom and its Faerie focus for a more diverse plan that includes the package of Faerie Seer and Ingenious Infiltrator, an upgrade over Ninja of the Deep Hours.
A splash for Ice-Fang Coatl is just one example of the card being played in a huge variety of decks as Modern's version of Baleful Strix. An alternative take on the Sultai deck takes the Ninja plan to the extreme with Fallen Shinobi and Mist-Syndicate Naga.
Rather than seek to eke out incremental value with Ingenious Infiltrator, this deck effectively aims to end the game immediately with these hard-hitting Ninjas that will be difficult for the opponent to recover from, especially with Force of Negation buying them time.
Another example of an Ice-Fang Coatl deck is this Temur deck that goes deeper into snow with Skred and an additional four copies of Lightning Bolt. This high count of cheap spells helps to enable Nimble Mongoose, which the deck plays over Delver of Secrets.
Seasoned Pyromancer fuels the graveyard for Nimble Mongoose, filters draws and acts as a serious threat, which makes it a star in this deck and many others that are starting to include it.
Seasoned Pyromancer looks to truly stand out in the aptly named Mardu Pyromancer deck, which has been in need of something powerful to push it back into the metagame.
Mardu Pyromancer broke out as an alternative to Jund, a highly disruptive deck that preyed on creature decks with its removal, on combo decks with its discard and on everyone else with Blood Moon. It was also one of the first Modern decks to truly showcase the power of Faithless Looting in midrange strategies, where it drew comparisons to Brainstorm because of its ability to filter draws by digging to the good stuff and getting rid of the rest. Seasoned Pyromancer offers the deck much of the same effect, along with the same great graveyard synergy that comes with flashback spells like Lingering Souls. It's the sort of threat that is hard to stop and the sort of value that is hard to grind out, and that makes it a great fit here. It's improved by Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, which provides an engine to convert the deck's tokens into value and bury the opponent.
Seasoned Pyromancer is also showing up in Jund decks, where it fills a similar role as in Mardu. It joins Wrenn and Six, which acts like a cheaper Liliana, the Last Hope for picking off creatures and can help hit land drops by endlessly recurring a fetchland.
Seasoned Pyromancer might be best of all in a deck like Hollow One, such as in this version that actually removes its namesake and Flameblade Adept for a more midrange value-oriented approach with Unearth and Dreadhorde Arcanist.
I imagine Hollow One and Flameblade Adept would play pretty well with the discard effect of Seasoned Pyromancer, but on the other hand, moving away from Burning Inquiry makes sense when it's a liability against Bridgevine—not to mention Dredge and U/R Phoenix. The strategy has been mostly out of sight lately, so maybe with Seasoned Pyromancer it's on its way back to relevance.
Another trend to be aware of is a new style of Humans deck that gives up green and Noble Hierarch for Giver of Runes, which does a decent imitation of Mother of Runes.
The deck also includes Unsettled Mariner, which gives the strategy a new type of hoser, and plays especially well with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben further taxing mana.
Goblins is also now in the picture as a serious deck with a bunch of new cards, most importantly Goblin Matron, which will get even better when Goblin Ringleader comes with the release of Core Set 2020 in July.
More obscure tribal decks have also received some tools, with Cordial Vampire and Undead Augur earning their respective tribes league 5-0s. Other strategies out there to be aware of are Infect with Scale Up, and a rise in the Jeskai Saheeli Rai - Felidar Guardian combo decks, which also have Force of Negation to help protect their combos. Even Crashing Footfalls is getting love, joining other free spells in As Foretold decks, which were recently boosted by Finale of Devastation. I'm sure there's more out there that I missed and plenty more to come, so I don't expect Modern's wild ride to end anytime soon.