The game done changed. Just as Return to Ravnica brought us a multi-format all-star removal spell, so too has Guilds of Ravnica – from here on out, Assassin's Trophy has a monumental impact on more or less every Constructed format in which it's legal. Doubtless we'll see Standard dominated by a two-mana Vindicate, but I'm most interested in the role it will play in Modern.
Newly-printed cards have to clear an extraordinarily high bar in order to break into Modern. They have to be both cheap and powerful – examples of newer Modern staples include Bedlam Reveler and Fatal Push, which tick both of those boxes. There's no doubt that Assassin's Trophy will see immediate Modern play, as it offers an insanely powerful effect at an insanely low cost.
In Modern, green-black decks have access to a wide range of removal options. Everything from Fatal Push to Abrupt Decay to Maelstrom Pulse all see a lot of play in decks like Jund and Abzan, and all have strengths and weaknesses. Assassin's Trophy easily eclipses Maelstrom Pulse, and in a format Overrun by delve creatures and expensive planeswalkers, Assassin's Trophy effortlessly outshines Abrupt Decay.
In other words, Assassin's Trophy is certain to redefine the landscape of Modern interaction, which will have important consequences for the development and evolution of the Modern metagame.
Currently, green-black decks have to diversify their removal suites in order to deal with everything the format throws at them, and usually dip into a third color in order to patch the holes in their reactive gameplay by playing unconditional removal. Jund plays Terminate and Dreadbore, while Abzan plays Path to Exile – these cards nicely bolster more specific options like Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay.
Assassin's Trophy and its ability to unconditionally destroy more or less any given permanent, removes the need to play cards like Terminate or Dreadbore due to its flexibility. This homogenization process will benefit green-black decks enormously, as it will reduce the number of awkward draws where your answers don't line up against their questions.
The other huge boon offered by Assassin's Trophy to green-black decks is the work it will put in against Tron. Destroying a permanent – specifically, a land – will be hugely impactful in what has been a traditionally weak matchup for Jund and Abzan. Downgrading their Urza's Tower into a Forest is huge game, especially when an early Bob or Goyf can apply concurrent pressure.
All in all, expect a monumental shift in the way removal suites are built in green-black decks. In fact, we may see a shake-up of which green-black deck is the "best" – the unconditional nature of Assassin's Trophy may remove the need for a third color. On balance, however, this is unlikely, and there are several reasons that Jund will remain the de facto green-black deck of choice.
The principal reason that Jund will be the best shell for Assassin's Trophy is the way in which the card consolidates and streamlines the deck's disruption. Gone are the Terminates, Dreadbores, and Abrupt Decays – Assassin's Trophy does a better job than all of them, and you'll never again have to face down a Celestial Colonnade with Abrupt Decay or a Jace with Terminate.
Another huge draw to Assassin's Trophy in Jund is its relationship with Bloodbraid Elf. Hitting a "blank" removal spell with BBE is never a great feeling – it sucks to cascade into a Terminate or Decay with no targets. Now, with Assassin's Trophy, the worst-case BBE "whiff" means downgrading a utility land or dual land into a basic. Not great, but definitely better than doing nothing.
So far we've painted a pretty rosy picture of Assassin's Trophy, discussing it as though it's a two-mana Vindicate with no downside. Obviously, that isn't the case, and Assassin's Trophy comes with a very real drawback. A free basic – untapped to boot – is a real cost to pay, but as you've doubtless gathered from the discussion surrounding the card, it's a cost you should be very willing to pay.
Path to Exile, the closest analogue in terms of this downside, is not a card you want to cast in the early turns; the same will be true of Assassin's Trophy. instead, you'll want to leverage Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, saving the Trophy for the mid-to-late game where the extra land doesn't have quite the same impact. This is all rather obvious, and if you've played Modern you'll understand the implications.
However, the fact that the land comes into play untapped makes Assassin's Trophy very meaningfully different from Path to Exile. Giving them a tapped basic means that it's irrelevant if you cast it in their main phase, combat, or end step – they don't get to use the land until their next turn, so with respect to the downside, you can fire off a Path more or less whenever.
This is not so with Assassin's Trophy. If you blow up a creature mid-combat, you may give them the one more mana they need to deploy a big threat post-combat - and that's just the beginning. Think of all the one-mana instant-speed interaction in Modern – no matter how cleverly you time your Trophy, you may enable them to fetch a basic to cast their Path, Bolt, Push, Spell Pierce, etc. Be very mindful of what giving your opponent a free basic could end up costing you in the short-term.
It's not all doom and Gloom, however. The longer the game goes, the more likely it is that opponents will no longer have basics to fetch. As soon as this happens, Assassin's Trophy unleashes its final form as a two-mana Vindicate – brilliant!
Already, there are plenty of incentives to play lots of basics in Modern. Blood Moon is the most obvious, but Field of Ruin is a very powerful and quite commonly-played card that heavily incentivizes a basic-heavy mana base. However, even with these forces at work, we continue to see decks skimp on basic lands.
The average number of basic lands in the 16 most popular decks is 3.3. That number may seem high when considering you can only play four copies of Assassin's Trophy, but that figure is slightly misleading in that regard – those 3.3 basics will often be drawn or fetched for, so the average number of basics in an opponent's deck when you cast Assassin's Trophy will be much lower than 3.3.
On a related note, no matter which deck you play in Modern, now is a good time to re-evaluate how many basics you play and investigate if you can or should be playing more. Between Blood Moon, Field of Ruin and now Assassin's Trophy, it's a good idea to run as many basics as you possibly can.
Just as Kolaghan's Command triggered a frenzy of Grixis brews as people looked for the best way to make use of it alongside Snapcaster, the fact that Assassin's Trophy becomes better and better the more times you cast it will doubtless cause a similar effect. Sultai Midrange hasn't really had much to say for itself in Modern – can the one-two punch of Snapcaster Mage and Assassin's Trophy change that?
To build the best Snapcaster Mage toolbox deck, there are plenty of one-ofs (most at instant speed) that offer uniquely powerful effects (Collective Brutality, Negate, Pulse of Murasa). As we often see in Jeskai lists, having access to a diverse array of technology will aid in overcoming anything this very diverse Modern format might throw at you.
This is just a rough sketch, and the numbers will need further tweaking, but the principle is sound. This is a more controlling midrange deck with a much more reactive gameplan, and Assassin's Trophy is the perfect fit for it as a powerful, flexible, catch-all answer to more or less anything.
Of note, I've chosen to include six basics. Whether this is too greedy (we are trying to cast both Assassin's Trophy and Cryptic Command) or not remains to be seen – but I'd rather start with too many and cut away extras than have too few and not test the waters as to what the upper limit actually is.
No matter what your view on Assassin's Trophy actually is and no matter how keen you are to play either with or against it, this card is destined to become an immediate mainstay of the Modern format, and you should plan accordingly. Whether that's updating a green-black list you already have, building something new from scratch, or checking over your established list to ensure you have sufficient basics so as to not to be too heavily punished, make sure you're ready for the massive impact Assassin's Trophy will have on Modern.
- Riley Knight