Innistrad was full of powerful and exciting cards, including staples like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil, and cards that begged to be built around, like Past in Flames, so the set changed the way Modern was played. Shadows over Innistrad might not contain quite so many obvious Modern all-stars, but it has already had a very real impact on the format.
Innistrad had a graveyard theme and thus gave Modern some excellent ways to get cards into the graveyard, like Desperate Ravings, and ways to take advantage of the graveyard, with Unburial Rites being the prime example. Shadows over Innistrad did not fail to provide the tools, :ahem:, the shovels, necessary to dig into Magic's most macabre zone for fun and profit. It has provided not only a fantastic graveyard payoff card in Prized Amalgam, but also a one-mana discard outlet in Insolent Neonate. These cards have injected new life into the "Dredge" archetype, which has found success in a variety of forms.
Modern graveyard decks are centered around Dredge cards, particularly the recently unbanned Golgari Grave-Troll, which serve as an extremely potent way to get cards into the graveyard. Dredge cards only work if they get into the graveyard first, so having ways to discard Dredge cards is critical, especially on turn one. Insolent Neonate provides graveyard decks with the perfect discard outlet for Dredge cards, because not only does it discard the card, but it then draws a card, which can be replaced by the Dredge effect to immediately build a large graveyard. Discarding before drawing is designed as a minor drawback to make card draw worse, but in this case it makes the card considerably more powerful than other options like Faithless Looting. Insolent Neonate has been an immediate inclusion to all Modern dredge decks, where it has added a great deal of power and consistency to the archetype.
The classic Modern Dredge deck is Vengevine, which is designed to get multiple Vengevine in the graveyard and then return them by casting multiple creatures in one turn.
Insolent Neonate shines in a Vengevine dec, because it's a cheap creature ideal for triggering Vengevine. Later in the game it's just as valuable as it is on turn one. In a perfect world, a Vengevine deck would contain nothing but creatures, and Insolent Neonate makes that dream closer to a reality.
Insolent Neonate may make Dredge decks more consistent, but Prized Amalgam makes them be more powerful. Prized Amalgam can't return itself from the graveyard to play, but if any other creature pulls off this feat, then Prized Amalgam follows it into play at end of turn. That means any Narcomoeba dredged from the library into the graveyard, any Bloodghast returning to play from a landfall trigger, any Vengevine trigger, or any Gravecrawler cast from the graveyard will trigger Prized Amalgam.
Prized Amalgam gives Modern Dredge decks something similar to Ichorid, which has been a staple in Dredge decks ever since Extended, and now in Dredge decks wherever they are legal, like Legacy and Vintage. Ichorid sacrifices itself at end of turn, so it is usually used with Bridge from Below to create a free stream of 2/2 Zombie Tokens. Prized Amalgam stays in play, so this combination doesn't work in Modern, but an innovating player in Japan realized that Prized Amalgam's ability to so easily be returned to play could be abused if combined with a sacrifice outlet, like Greater Gargadon, to create a an engine capable of producing a steady stream of Zombie Tokens.
The goal of this deck is to suspend Greater Gargadon, get Bridge from Below into the graveyard, and then start an engine of returning Prized Amalgam to play somehow, Bloodghast being the obvious option, sacrificing it to create a 2/2 Zombie and remove a counter from Greater Gargadon, and then repeating the process by returning Prized Amalgam to play again the next turn.
This deck even includes Stitchwing Skaab, which is not only another way to return Prized Amalgam to play, but a great discard outlet to get Dredge cards or Bridge from Below into the graveyard. The ability can also be used at instant speed, so it can be used to return Prized Amalgam to play on the opponent's turn (Bloodghast can also achieve this if combined with a fetchland).
Here's a Grixis version of Dredge that utilizes Insolent Neonate and Prized Amalgam in a clean shell that doesn't complicate the equation with Vengevine or Greater Gargadon:
Tormenting Voice is similar to Insolent Neonate in how it discards before drawing, so it's also effective in Modern Dredge. Gitaxian Probe is a free way to get an extra dredge trigger from an extra dredge card in the graveyard. What's notable in this decklist is Burning Inquiry, which like a more powerful Careful Study. It's somewhat unreliable for getting Dredge cards back into the graveyard, but it's capable of producing a huge graveyard when the graveyard already includes a Dredge card. It also forces the opponent to draw and discard at random, so it can ruin your opponent's Well-Laid Plans.
I mentioned earlier that Innistrad brought many new cards to Modern, more than just graveyard cards. Shadows over Innistrad has also provided a variety of tools to Modern, and they have reinvigorated various archetypes.
Much like Innistrad's Snapcaster Mage begged to be built around a shell of spells, so does Shadows over Innistrad's Thing in the Ice, which has found an immediate home in Modern. These two creatures work well in the same shell, so why not include both of them alongside one another?
The high-density of spells that supports Snapcaster Mage in the Blue Moon control deck is the perfect home for Thing in the Ice, and it gives the deck a great new threat. It's easily transformed into Awoken Horror, and doing so clears the battlefield and immediately pressures the opponent. Thing in the Ice even has synergy with Snapcaster Mage, as transforming it will bounce any Snapcaster Mage to hand to be replayed again for more value.
A 1U creature with less-obvious Modern implications is Manic Scribe, but proponents of the U/B Mill deck have immediately caught onto the card, which seems to have brought about a resurgence in the archetype, which can now be frequently found going undefeated in Modern Leagues on MTGO.
Manic Scribe is a one-shot mill effect of three cards, which is certainly underpowered compared to something like Glimpse the Unthinkable, but its ability to mill turn after turn with makes it potent over a long game. The deck plays a nice mixture of spell types, and it easily mills itself to help enable delirium. Mesmeric Orb will do this on its own, and Hedron Crab triggers can be aimed anywhere.
Manic Scribe is best when the battlefield is locked down under Ensnaring Bridge, where it will inevitably mill the opponent out of the game.
This deck is built on the Abzan core typical to Modern, with cards like Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, Thoughtseize, and Path to Exile, which naturally provide a nice assortment of spell types to enable delirium on Traverse the Ulvenwald.
The remainder of the decklist is a wide assortment of one-of lands and creatures to find with a delirium-enabled Traverse the Ulvenwald. It's great to find creatures the are powerful in specific spots, like Courser of Kruphix or Scavenging Ooze, or one-of lands like Gavony Township or Vault of the Archangel, so it adds a bit of utility to the deck.
The Tron lands will always hold a special place in my heart, especially when they are combined with blue cards. Mono-blue Tron has persisted in Modern despite always existing on the very outer fringes of the metagame, but Epiphany at the Drownyard has made the deck better:
One of the best cards in blue Urzatron decks in Extended was Fact or Fiction, which generated card advantage and helped dig into Urza lands or big action cards. Epiphany at the Drownyard gives the opponent control of what you get, so it won't be so effective at finding what you need, but it's still a source of card advantage. With the Urzatron assembled, it's capable of producing a huge amount of card advantage. It's important to realize that often Epiphany at the Drownyard leaves the opponent with two bad options, and that's more likely the more cards are revealed. Late in the game Epiphany at the Drownyard will act something like a Sphinx's Revelation that should easily put the opponent out of the game.
One of Modern's fastest-growing decks is a Death & Taxes deck that includes Eldrazi Displacer alongside Flickerwisp to abuse the trigger of Wasteland Strangler and to wreck the opponent in combat.
This deck is the perfect home for Anguished Unmaking, a Shadows over Innistrad card that has found its role in a Modern format where opponents play a wide range of must-kill permanents. Anguished Unmaking is a Vindicate analog and an excellent tool for this deck, where it fills a sideboard role that is assumed by Maelstrom Pulse in BGx decks, and has typically been filled by Banishing Light or Detention Sphere in white decks. Anguished Unmaking is more reliable than these enchantments because it can't be undone, and it's valuable instant-speed disruption.
The single-most influential Shadows over Innistrad card in Modern might one day be Nahiri, the Harbinger, which could be the topic of an entire article, but Nahiri, the Harbinger is still being explored, and it hasn't yet lived up to its potential. There are not yet many decks including the card, but it's starting to seep its way into established decks and has even spawned some of its own. I've found a couple of decks that utilize Nahiri, the Harbinger in exciting ways, and I've included them today with the intention of inspiring its Exploration in additional places.
Nahiri, the Harbinger is particularly strong in Modern because its -2 ability is so likely to find a great target. It's +2 is also a great way to filter through cards, especially reactive or situational cards. There is also the fact that planeswalkers aren't common in Modern, so Modern decks simply don't have great solutions to planeswalkers, especially planeswalkers with such high loyalty. The ultimate ability of Nahiri, the Harbinger is quickly reached, and it's extremely powerful in Modern because of the wide assortment of potential creatures it can find, none more impressive than Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
A great home for Nahiri is Mardu, where it provides an excellent way to filter through cards and serves as an excellent source of disruption in a deck designed to disrupt the opponent at all stages of the game. It's also a great way to filter through discard or creature removal to find action once control is established.
Nahiri, the Harbinger has great synergy with Lingering Souls, but it's especially strong with a new addition: Asylum Visitor. It fulfills the role of Dark Confidant in this deck, but one that can be discarded with Nahiri, the Harbinger or Liliana of the Veil and cast with madness. Asylum Visitor hits harder with three power, and it even trades with Wild Nacatl. Asylum Visitor doesn't take a toll on one's life total like Dark Confidant, so it's a more attractive card in the aggressive Modern metagame.
The ultimate ability of Nahiri, the Harbinger finds Obzedat, Ghost Council in this deck. Its own ability to exile itself at end of turn can be stacked on top of Nahiri, the Harbinger's ability that will return it to hand, so it can remain in play indefinitely.
Nahiri, the Harbinger could breathe some new life into the R/G Breach Valakut deck:
This deck makes excellent use of Nahiri, the Harbinger as a card-drawing engine by accelerating her into play as early as turn three. The biggest issue for ramp decks like these is consistency and the inability to manage draw steps, so this sort of effect is invaluable.
Nahiri, the Harbinger also backs up Through the Breach as an additional way to get Primeval Titan into play. It's a subtle addition, but adding a dynamic element to this deck makes it a more functional package that is also more difficult for the opponent to disrupt.
The ability of Nahiri, the Harbinger to disrupt the opponent and slow down their pace is also excellent in a deck that will inevitably win the game with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle if given enough time.
There is also the idea of using Nahiri, the Harbinger in a control shell designed to buy time to ultimate and find Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which presumably wins the game.
This deck is something like Splinter Twin in that it is primarily disruption and card drawing with minimal win conditions. The most attractive feature of this deck is that Nahiri, the Harbinger is a great card in most situations, and it's not forced to spend slots on dedicated win conditions that are otherwise mostly useless, like Splinter Twin. The deck has more room for actual control elements, which makes assuming the control role a more feasible option. The strategy of this deck is a proven concept, but getting the details right is critical to its proper execution.
What Shadows over Innistrad cards are you trying in Modern? Where are you using Nahiri, the Harbinger? What does your Dredge decklist look like? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, and I'll try to answer any questions!