Ever since Wizards first announced Modern Horizons at the end of February, my question about the set has been "what will this actually do to Modern?" We were told that the set would be a "wild ride," filling my imagination with visions of a set loaded to the brim with cards that would change the very face of Modern. But, as spoiler season began and the veil was gradually lifted, the community started raising concerns that set would be quite the opposite and might not even have Modern playables at all. Some went so far as to call the set "Commander Horizons," arguing that it seemed designed more for Magic's 100-card singleton format than for Modern. The reality, of course, is somewhere in between.
It's likely that Modern Horizons will have a similar effect on Modern to any new set, and will see some modest number of its cards make their way to the format, whether as staples elevating old archetypes or spawning new ones. The conceit of a Modern-oriented set is that it should have an inordinately large impact on the Modern metagame compared to a typical Standard set, but that's not even necessarily true; a set like War of the Spark, which was the most important set for Modern (not to mention Eternal formats) in years, is a tough act to follow.
So far, however, Modern Horizons is shining. Its early release on Magic Online means it has been in play for days already, and we can see its impact in decklists. Not only have some new staples arisen, including one surprising one, but the set has also spawned a whole new archetype, and its initial results are startling.
I'll start with the bogeyman in the room. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, along with Carrion Feeder and Altar of Dementia, has elevated the Bridgevine deck to the next level.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis joins Vengevine as a threatening creature that can be recurred from the graveyard, but it requires two creatures to convoke and pay for the final two colored mana. This can conveniently be paid by other recurrable creatures, like Bloodghast and Gravecrawler, which are supported by the package of Stitcher's Supplier to fill the graveyard and Carrion Feeder as a sacrifice outlet.
Carrion Feeder combines with Bridge from Below to give the deck a powerful creature-generating engine, and its addition to the deck is a huge upgrade—one that Modern sacrifice decks have wanted for years. What was unexpected is the immediate adoption of Altar of Dementia, which functions as an alternate sacrifice engine and a way to fill the graveyard as a source of self-mill. It's perfect for finding and casting Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, but it also gives the deck a potent alternate win condition, allowing the deck to essentially combo-kill an opponent by milling them out. Not only can this potentially help the deck win faster, which can be important in matchups against the other broken decks in Modern, but it also beats cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Worship.
Hogaak Bridgevine isn't a flash-in-the-pan novelty but a serious, competitive deck that threatens to shake up the current order of Modern. The deck put up very promising results in the first Modern Challenge event with Modern Horizons since the format went live, finishing in 2nd, 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th, and 14th place. Its pilots including MPL member Piotr "kanister" Glowgoski and "Sodeq," who by my estimation has been the most consistently dominant Modern player online this year—who was so tempted by Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis they switched from their trusty Dredge deck.
With such strong momentum behind it, the Bridgevine deck will only get more popular from here as it begins to take over paper tournaments. So even if you aren't playing it yourself, I'd be prepared to fight back against it. Hosing their graveyard is an obvious first place to start, but be careful or you'll just lose to the creatures. One of the best possible cards against the deck is Rest in Peace. It shuts down Bridgevine more effectively than something like Grafdigger's Cage, which won't stop Bridge from Below shenanigans.
Access to Rest in Peace helps explain why W/U Control was the strategy that ultimately stopped Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in the finals, but I imagine it was the pair of Force of Negation that helped it get so far in the first place.
Force of Negation was the second most popular Modern Horizons card in the event, because it earned a place in the maindeck of Modern's top control deck. It's a natural fit, since the control deck is hungry for the effect and has the card advantage to support it. Much like Force of Will is a staple of control decks in Legacy, Force of Negation should become a staple of Modern control decks, just in a much more limited way given its noncreature spell restriction. On the plus side, it can be hard cast for a reasonable three mana compared to Force of Will's five, so much of the time it will just be a Cancel. Force of Negation will be most devastating when cast for free, though, and will be particularly great for protecting the deck's planeswalkers, which the deck has put increased focus on since War of the Spark.
Blue decks have also gained Archmage's Charm, which comes with a very restrictive cost, as opposed to being easier to cast. Cryptic Command creates a precedent and shows that paying this cost is certainly feasible if you want it badly enough, and Archmage's Charm is powerful enough that you very likely will. It was absent from the W/U Control decks of the challenge, but it did appear in two flavors of U/R decks: a Blue Moon deck and Delver of Secrets/Young Pyromancer deck.
Archmage's Charm is three things at once—none of them particularly efficient—but history shows that this kind of flexibility is worth paying a premium for. Its similarity to Cryptic Command is obvious, but I believe a much more apt comparison point is Abzan Charm, which was one of the very best cards in Standard when it was legal. Abzan Charm was fantastic because it functioned as a removal spell when you needed to impact the battlefield, but otherwise converted to two cards and helped grind opponents out. Archmage's Charm is essentially the same thing, except its removal mode comes in the form of a Cancel, which has its own pros and cons. It's a minor factor, but the third mode does help fill some of the holes this type of spell leaves. Abzan Charm was essentially always a great draw unless you were falling behind against small creatures it could not kill. Similarly, Archmage's Charm will be great unless you fall too far behind. Being able to steal one-mana permanents at least helps to slightly mitigate this effect, allowing it to take something that might have slipped through before it could counter it.
Playing a pair of Archmage's Charm in Blue Moon as a piece of utility makes sense, especially with Snapcaster Mage to get more from it, but I'm really excited about a Delver of Secrets deck that runs the full four copies.
Archmage's Charm is great in a low-curve aggressive deck that can get in under the opponent and then sit back on Archmage's Charm, either countering a key spell or drawing two and pulling ahead. The draw two effect paired with Snapcaster Mage gives the deck increased ability to play a long game and grind out the opponent as a control deck.
The icing on the cake is that Archmage's Charm can even steal potentially large creatures like Death's Shadow or Champion of the Parish, which traditionally give blue-red decks trouble since they rely on burn to kill creatures. Killing large creatures is such a real problem that both the Blue Moon deck and the Delver of Secrets deck also included the new Magmatic Sinkhole as a bigger burn spell. I was surprised to see it but should not have been, because it seems to be the new red Murderous Cut and has added some spice to the removal suite of blue/red decks. The ability to tag a Planeswalker is also a nice bonus compared to pure creature removal like Harvest Pyre, which I expect Magmatic Sinkhole to completely supplant.
The Humans deck is in the midst of a resurgence, and if its first-place finish at the SCG Invitational last weekend is any indication, it's threatening to reclaim its spot as the best deck in Modern. What might push it over the top is Ranger-Captain of Eos, which wasn't legal in paper events over the weekend, but appeared as a two-of in the Humans deck that Top 8'd the Modern Challenge.
Humans doesn't have a ton of one-drop options to find, so Ranger-Captain of Eos is either tutoring up Champion of the Parish or Noble Hierarch, but value is value. The deck is designed to make the most of these creatures, so they tend to hit harder than their cost. At first glance it's somewhat surprising that Ranger-Captain of Eos is suddenly a staple when its forerunner Ranger of Eos offers twice the value but didn't see play, but the lower cost means all the difference—especially in a deck that wants to leave Aether Vial on three counters for maximum effect.
Ranger-Captain of Eos also comes with a secondary ability that stops opponents from casting noncreature spells, which is a perfect fit for a deck like Humans that operates as a disruptive deck as well as efficiently as it operates as an aggressive one. Combined with Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter, Ranger-Captain of Eos can be used to make the opponent stumble at the wrong time. It seems particularly dirty when combined with Phantasmal Image, allowing for this effect multiple turns in a row, locking out opponents.
Ranger-Captain of Eos could also open up access to toolbox creatures, like, say, Burrenton Forge-Tender out of the sideboard.
The flexibility of Ranger-Captain of Eos means it could see play in all sorts of strategies, not just Humans. In fact it showed up in the Top 8 of the very same Modern Challenge in a radically different deck. Using Ranger-Captain of Eos to find Death's Shadow is the most powerful thing you can do with it, so it could be the card that finally pushes Esper Death's Shadow into serious playability, maybe even replacing Grixis Death's Shadow.
This Esper deck, with cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Lingering Souls, is built to grind, and Ranger-Captain Eos fits into that plan, even if it's just a 3/3 creature that draws a Death's Shadow. The deck adds Unearth to stretch Ranger-Captain of Eos even further as one of the creatures it can reanimate. It all comes together as a pretty nice-looking deck, but one that, like other Death's Shadow decks, relies primarily on its disruption to stay alive, so it's a matter of finding the right balance between value cards like Ranger-Captain of Eos, cards that disrupt opponents, and cards that kill opponents.
Modern Horizons could also be found influencing manabases. Prismatic Vista was found in white/blue and blue/red control decks, which makes sense because they play a relatively high number of basics and can use this additional fixing on top of their normal fetchlands, where they will be superior to running off-color fetchlands to find shocklands, which was often seen before.
I expect the Horizon Canopy lands to filter through the format over time, and so far their biggest result is as a three-of in the Mono-Red Phoenix deck that top 8'd the Challenge.
The fixing isn't necessary here, which showcases these lands as a source of value, especially for red decks starving for more action that don't care about damaging themselves over the fast games they hope to play. This same theory applies to combo decks, which is why a pair of Fiery Islet could be found in a U/R Phoenix deck, and why Waterlogged Grove looks like a new staple of the Neoform combo deck.
As far as other new cards, Winds of Abandon was played in a white/blue deck as a bad Path to Exile that doubles as an expensive sweeper, which might have some merit. Serra the Benevolent showed up in a White/Blue Spirits deck, showing it could be playable in decks that make the most of out its "Glorious Anthem for fliers" ability.
It's only a matter of time before more new Modern Horizons cards appear and make their mark on the metagame, so I'm looking forward to seeing what breaks through this weekend.