Throne of Eldraine was an incredibly powerful set with multiple cards that have earned bannings across numerous formats, while those remaining have become staples of every format in the game. It arrived not long after Core Set 2020, another high-impact set that has seen multiple bans of its own. Before that came War of the Spark, which set the stage for what might go down in history as the most important year of Magic releases ever, as we also can't forget Modern Horizons and its broken cards. The cards printed in 2019 have risen to prominent positions in every metagame where they are found, and they leave little question that those to come in 2020 will follow suit.
Theros Beyond Death arrives with extremely high expectations for its potential to impact non-rotating formats like Modern. Perhaps we should not have been so surprised when it started fulfilling them, starting with some of the very first spoilers. Look at Heliod, Sun-Crowned and its Splinter Twin-like combo with Walking Ballista in Pioneer, or Underworld Breach as a new-age Yawgmoth's Will even more broken than its predecessor that will reach all the way to Vintage. There's Ox of Agonas, compared to Treasure Cruise with flashback, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, which combines Exploration with Prismatic Omen. The list goes on and on.
With the set released on Magic Online and tournaments in full swing, the impact of all of these cards and more can be seen in every format.
Heliod, Sun-Crowned was the most hyped card during the Theros Beyond Death spoiler season because of its infinite combo with Walking Ballista, threatening Pioneer with a new two-card combo. It's a promising idea given that the two-card combo of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai combo was so good it earned a banning, but Heliod, Sun-Crowned may prove to be even more important for Modern. The format offers multiple other ways to go infinite with the God, and a deck combining them into a streamlined package put up a very convincing result with a Top 4 finish in last weekend's Modern Challenge on Magic Online.
Heliod, Sun-Crowned 's passive ability creates an infinite life combo with Spike Feeder, which comes at a bargain rate compared to the Walking Ballista combo because it doesn't actually require activating Heliod. That earns it a starring role in the deck, while Walking Ballista is just a one-of finisher. This passive ability also works well with Kitchen Finks by negating -1/-1 persist counters, similarly to Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. Viscera Seer fills in as a sacrifice outlet to complete the engine, which will gain infinite life and scry through the deck to the Walking Ballista to set up the kill. This one-of is also a nice option for Ranger-Captain of Eos, which ties everything together by finding Viscera Seer or Giver of Runes to protect the combo.
The banned-in-Pioneer Once Upon a Time adds consistency, Collected Company adds card advantage, and it all adds up to quite a deck. The beauty of the strategy is that all of the individual pieces are reasonable cards on their own, so the deck will win plenty of games just playing fair Magic while forcing the opponent to respect a combo that may never come. This is taken to a further extreme in the sideboard, with Mirran Crusader to punish decks like Jund that load up on creature removal. Disruption in Thoughtseize and Veil of Summer can just as easily enable a fair game as they can protect the combo, while Path to Exile helps the deck truly embrace a more interactive and fair game plan.
Another version of the deck gets even wilder by fusing Heliod, Sun-Crowned with the Vizier of Remedies combo.
Vizier of Remedies is another way to combo with Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer, so it's no stretch to add it along with Devoted Druid. The overall strategy isn't much different, the deck is just stretched further and jammed with more stuff. Karn, the Great Creator gives it yet another angle, and while the final product doesn't help the consistency, it certainly has options.
The most important new card for Modern so far has been Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, which acts as a direct upgrade to sometime-staple Prismatic Omen. Besides fixing mana, both cards break Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. History has proven that Prismatic Omen is too narrow to have consistent success, but the addition of the extra land effect adds an entire new dimension and makes Dryad of the Ilysian Grove an incredible fit into the Scapeshift strategy.
With Arboreal Grazer enabling Dryad of the Ilysian Grove on turn two for a potential turn-three Primeval Titan, the strategy is faster and deadlier than it has ever been. A more extreme Scapeshift decklist from the Top 8 of the Modern Challenge pushes Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to the max by combining it with Flagstones of Trokair.
Flagstones of Trokair offers great synergy with Scapeshift by accelerating a land. With Dryad in play, it will make Scapeshift lethal with just five lands, making it a great follow-up for a potential turn-four kill. Elvish Reclaimer and even Springbloom Druid push Flagstones of Trokair even further and makes the land look about as good as I've ever seen it.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is also being used in the Field of the Dead-style Primeval Titan ramp decks without Scapeshift.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is even seeing play in Amulet of Vigor decks, like this one by Piotr Glogowski.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove offers some of the same effect as Azusa, Lost but Seeking, but with a bigger and more Lightning Bolt-proof body. The mana-fixing effect is another bonus, but it also opens up access to a single Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to give the deck an alternative kill.
A singleton Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is a nice addition to both of these Summoner's Pact decks as a way to grind out opponents with its escape ability. When it's drawn in hand it functions just like an Explore, so it's a painless addition to the toolbox.
Another promising application for Uro is in a new post-ban version of the Urza, Lord High Artificer deck, which uses a full playset to help the deck accelerate without Mox Opal, and to grind late into the game along with Ice-Fang Coatl.
A Temur version goes deeper down the red plan that became popular just before the bans, replacing Oko, Thief of Crowns with new planeswalker and value engine Wrenn and Six.
Beyond fetch lands and utility lands like Ghost Quarter and Lonely Sandbar, Wrenn and Six is also conveniently enabled by Emry, Lurker of the Loch filling the graveyard. The addition of this cheap legendary planeswalker helps the deck support a full playset of Mox Amber to help replace Mox Opal (as much as a card can), so the deck can maintain the acceleration it's accustomed to.
This list also adds a new dimension to the strategy with a pair of maindeck Blood Moon and up to a full set in the sideboard. It's a great answer to a metagame where land decks have received a major boost from Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, and it's easy to circumvent for this deck with Arcum's Astrolabe and plenty of basic lands.
The Faithless Looting ban was a big knock to the Dredge strategy, but dedicated players like its foremost online proponent Sodeq have managed to stay competitive and keep the archetype afloat. Now it has been thrown a life preserver in Ox of Agonas, which could help bring the deck back to the top of the metagame.
Ox of Agonas gives Dredge an incredible new graveyard tool. Card draw from the graveyard to trigger more Dredge has always been at a premium in the strategy, which made Faithless Looting such an irreplaceable tool, but Ox of Agonas comes close. It's poor to cast from hand (although Life from the Loam can help make it happen), but it excels as a graveyard play and massive Dredge trigger. It's especially potent because it adds a sizable threat to the deck, one that triggers Prized Amalgam on demand. It's a true gift to the deck that will definitely improve its chances in the new Modern.
Last weekend I played Legacy, where the impact of Theros Beyond Death cards like Underworld Breach is growing, and ran into a very surprising card in Klothys, God of Destiny from my Four-Color Control opponent. I was playing Grixis Delver, and our graveyards were full of fuel for the God, which functions a lot like both sides of Deathrite Shaman at once. Racing this effect is a major obstacle, and having sideboarded out my Brazen Borrower, when my opponent resolved it into my empty board I knew it was an insurmountable one.
It was a fantastic inclusion in my opponent's deck, which was essentially Blue Jund, so I'm not surprised to see a copy used successfully in a Modern Jund list as a threat that few opponents will be able to remove.
Klothys, God of Destiny also looks promising in a Gruul Midrange deck, which has moved away from the typical Blood Moon and Stone Rain land destruction plan to a more traditional plan.
Seasoned Pyromancer was a major addition to the deck that helped spur its transition toward a midrange strategy. As a graveyard enabler, it helps enable Klothys, God of Destiny, which adds another great tool for grinding. It's particularly strong here compared to a deck like Jund because of its mana acceleration ability, which can ramp into Glorybringer on curve.
It hasn't taken long for Thassa's Oracle to replace Laboratory Maniac or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries as an alternate win condition in Ad Nauseam. It's a cheaper and faster option, but more importantly is superior when drawn, because it's a functional card selection spell as well as a blocker.
Theros Beyond Death is still very fresh, and so far only the most obviously powerful and straightforward cards have appeared in non-Standard formats. I'm surprised we've yet to see a single Modern list with Underworld Breach, but I imagine it's only a matter of time before this more complicated card is figured out and it starts doing things in the format.
There are plenty more with potential, like Thassa, Deep-Dwelling and its powerful blink ability as a more accessible and robust alternative to Soulherder, which has seen an archetype built around it. Even more innocuous cards like Dream Trawler could become staples. It's a strong sideboard card for Azorius Control to replace Lyra Dawnbringer, like the three in the sideboard of the deck that won the Pioneer Challenge this weekend (played by none other than the control expert Guillaume Wafo-Tapa). It's tech I could see carrying right over to Modern, and maybe even to Legacy—after all, it can be pitched to Force of Will!
Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He writes about Modern, Pioneer and Eternal formats and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.