Whenever a new set is printed, players start engaging in speculation about what cards are going to make their way to Modern, which extends to Legacy and even Vintage. New cards being Standard playable is one thing, but making it to Eternal formats is a whole order of magnitude higher of hurdle to overcome. Decks in Eternal formats take the best cards from all of Magic's history, and most decks are very finely tuned from years of development, so the vast majority of cards aren't even close to making the cut. Still, it seems that each and every new set brings new playables to Eternal formats, some by happenstance I am sure, but mostly by design, especially since last year when Magic R&D started their Play Design team and vowed to start doing better constructed testing, which includes dedicated Modern testing.
It's critical to identify what cards might be intended for Modern and could break out in a deck – they are there on the spoiler, but it's our job to find them. Consider that because the barrier to entry is so high, when cards do make it to an Eternal format that means they are quite good, often extremely good, so that's more payoff for figuring it out and staying on top of things. Luckily the masses are doing that for us, grinding away on Magic Online trying new cards. Some new cards have already been putting up big results and look to be new Modern staples, which I'll cover today, as well as some more of the more obscure and unexpected cards that have showed up since the Core Set 2019 was released online. Much of figuring out if new cards are Modern playable means actually trying them out, and decklists from the past week show that players are trying out all sorts of things and doing quite well with some of them. Recently Magic Online changed how they release league decklists, to only showing decklists that are twenty cards unique from others. This means there aren't repeats, which means it's poor data for getting an accurate picture of the overall metagame, but it's pretty great for seeing what unique strategies and new cards people are winning with.
Militia Bugler is shaping up to be the single biggest Core Set 2019 standout in Modern, where it has shown up in a variety of decks, and somewhat incredibly, in the format's best deck in Five-Color Humans. It would be incredibly lucky for a deck already on top of the metagame to get a new staple, which would make the deck even better and pull it farther ahead of the pack, but it's now showing up in so many Humans decklists that the scenario is unfolding.
Militia Bugler first appeared as a two of in a 5-0 list, but now it regularly appearing as a four-of.
What's really attractive about Militia Bugler is that the card advantage it generates with its ability is at its best in Humans' worst matchups, creature-removal laden decks including Jeskai Control and Mardu Pyromancer, two decks that have risen to prominence in large part as a response to the prevalence of Humans. It makes perfect sense that Humans is hungry for a card that helps in the attrition-oriented matchups like these and immediately adopts it to push back against these decks that have been holding it down. It's also quite good with Phantasmal Image, which can copy it for value, and adds a potent new line of play to the deck, chaining multiple copies together by using the ability to find a Phantasmal Image to copy it and trigger again. It gives the deck the ability to build a board out of nowhere and win from behind, which is something it really struggled with before.
Militia Bugler isn't a slouch in other matchups either, and its card selection ability actually makes it pretty strong for digging for disruption creatures against combo decks and is especially useful for magnifying the impact of sideboard creatures with power two or less by helping the deck see them more often. Playing two in the main deck and then two in the sideboard, is a conservative option that makes sense, but I wouldn't be surprised if three or four main deck became typical. What I can say is that it definitely looks to be superior to the various one-of creatures that were often found in the deck, cards including Dark Confidant, Thraben Inspector and Restoration Angel, which were there to generate value but Militia Bugler does a better a job of.
Militia Bugler also does good work in Mono-White Death and Taxes, White-Green Hatebears any other sort of similar strategy where there are a ton of small creatures to find and Aether Vial to help put it and what it finds into play efficiently.
Militia Bugler is a hit for Collected Company, and decks with Collected Company are creature-heavy decks perfect for Militia Bugler, so it's a nice addition to these decks to get even more mileage out of Collected Company. Militia Bugler can dig for Knight of Reliquary, which is a 2/2 creature when not in play, so it adds some consistency to the Bant Knightfall deck with Retreat to Coralhelm.
In theory, Militia Bugler would also be great at finding both halves of the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo, whether it be Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch in a Jeskai build, or even staying out of blue and playing Village Bell-Ringer in a red-white version, which has shown up in the past. It's also a consideration for some sort of Naya Chord of Calling deck with the combo. Whether or not this is worth building a deck around I am not sure, but I do know Militia Bugler is the real deal and is going to be showing up in Modern, and potentially Legacy, for years to come.
One Core Set 2019 card that seems tailor-made for Modern, which is obvious because there are barely any other Spirits in Standard to play with it, is Supreme Phantom.
Supreme Phantom is the Spirit tribe's first two-mana lord, and a welcome addition that has been slowly growing from a novelty to a legitimate contender over the past years. Based on the early finishes the deck has already put up, like the top 4 of the SCG Team Open last weekend, the new lord looks to push it over the edge into a potentially top-tier deck.
While it's not in this list, Spirits received another tool in Remorseful Cleric, white's newest hatebear in the mold of Selfless Spirit. Its sacrifice trigger of exiling a graveyard is premium sideboard effect valued highly in Eternal formats, making the card a sure staple of all variety of decks, like Death and Taxes in Legacy, and a nice tool in the belt of Modern Spirits that has shown up in the deck online.
On the topic of tribal lords, Elvish Clancaller is another new one that doesn't have many tools to work with in Standard, and while it might be setting up more Elves in the coming year, right now its most promising home is Modern, where the efficient lord combined with a nice mana sink could be right at home in the deck.
Modern Elf decks tend to be operate closer in style to an aggressive deck like Merfolk than the more combo-oriented version – with Shaman of the Pack being a very powerful finisher for an aggressive deck – so the anthem effect of the lord is put to great use here, especially with Dwynen's Elite. Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid means mana is often plentiful, so activating the six-mana activated ability can happen early and often. It's a great effect for helping to grind out the opponent and plays like casting an end-of-turn Collected Company into a Clancaller against a tapped-out opponent and then untapping and activating the ability to get another copy will really put them in a bad spot. It's also a must-kill creature in topdeck situations against grinding decks like control, which helps stress their removal and threatens to put the game out of reach if they are ever caught without one to stop it before it finds another copy.
Mistcaller is yet another card that looks perfect for Eternal tribal decks, in this case Merfolk. Its disruptive ability makes it an aggressive one-drop in the mold of Cursecaller but with a much more specialized ability. Its ability is closer to one that would be found on a white hatebear, and in fact it can be found on Containment Priest, except on Mistcaller it is one-shot effect. The ability essentially counters creatures being reanimated from the graveyard and cards like Collected Company and Chord of Calling, so it's very powerful against the right decks. It's what makes Containment Priest an absolute sideboard staple of Legacy, one that would definitely see Modern play if it were legal.
Mistcaller has actually already broken into the main deck as a one-of in winning Merfolk decks in Modern and even Legacy, which is surprising, since I see it as more of a sideboard card, but that shows you how good the ability can be.
The top Core Set 2019 card for Standard right now is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, so the natural extension of that is to try it in Modern. The card has been compared to Siege Rhino, which made its way to Modern as a sometimes-staple of Abzan, so I don't see why Nicol Bolas, the Ravager couldn't make it there as well, especially since the discard seems overall better than the life swing, and the upside of being a planeswalker could be relevant.
Ozmanozguney is a true control aficionado known online for their control decks, and one copy of Bolas in this 5-0 Grixis Control list is the first sign that the card might have what it takes in Modern.
Sarkhan, Fireblood has a lot more Dragons to play with in Modern than in Standard – and this Mono-Red Prison deck has two Avaricious Dragon to pair with it – but its primary use is as a card draw engine, which is valuable in a prison deck because it can pitch extra or unneeded lock pieces while digging for important ones in specific matchups. It also doubles as a win condition, which helps make the deck a bit more lethal and seems at its best against control decks.
The most surprising Core Set 2019 card to make it to Modern so far is definitely Giganotosaurus, which isn't on my list of Standard or even Limited playables, let alone Modern, but its obvious drawback – the comically restrictive mana cost – is actually a big benefit for a Green Devotion deck with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. The deck can handle its mana cost, and its massive size makes it something of a one-card combo akin to Death's Shadow, which is very reasonable to play in a deck that can ramp into it.
Another new card to appear here is Runic Armasaur, which punishes all sorts of activated abilities. It is primarily a fantastic way to hose fetch lands, and one that most opponents with fetch lands will have little option to avoid. Its high toughness of five makes it very robust, surviving Lightning Bolt, and its cost makes it awkward for Fatal Push, which will need to accept sacrificing first and giving up a card to trigger Revolt to kill it. It will find triggers against all sorts of other cards and decks, like Aether Vial and Expedition Map and Affinity, so I could definitely see it becoming a Modern staple in some capacity, and at the very least is a great one-of to add to Chord of Calling packages.
Stitcher's Apprentice is one of the most promising cards in Core Set 2019, and so far it has shown up in Standard Blue-Black God-Pharaoh's Gift and in the Legacy Carrion Feeder-Goblin Bombardment deck I lost to when playing online last week, but its sweet spot might actually be Modern. So far I've seen it as a four-of in this deck built around Vengevine, which it can dig for or as a cheap trigger help trigger into play.
One of the hardest decks in Modern for a new card to break into is Affinity, for various reasons – like that it's one of Modern's oldest decks that uses cards going back all the way to the beginning of the card pool, and that it's a very synergistic that is only interested in very specific types of cards. That makes it all the more impressive that Sparring Construct has made its way into Affinity – the Hardened Scales version that is – where it backs up Arcbound Worker and makes the deck more consistent at what it does, which is put +1/+1 counters on creatures.
This deck keeps putting up results and might actually be the real deal, so gaining a new card is a step in the right direction.
What new Core Set 2019 cards are you eyeing for Modern?