Everyone has a pet card (or three) they want reprinted in a Modern legal set. For me, that card is Goblin Bombardment. Combo power? Check: who didn’t love Enduring Renewal and Shield Sphere (except your opponent). Value power? Check again: Gravecrawler must have been a Goblin in a previous life, because he was made for bombarding. Flavor? Let’s just say I want the original Brian Snoddy art and will be accepting no substitutes. Everyone has their own Bombardment they want reprinted in Modern, whether an old-school staple like Masticore or a new all-star like Baleful Strix. Today, with a new set coming in September, we are going to talk reprints.
A reader emailed me last week asking why we didn’t do more “fun” articles. As “fun” as I think metagame statistics and analysis is, I hear the underlying desire in this comment and today’s article aims to fill that gap: reprint speculation is as fun as it gets! Modern is a great format with a lot of diversity (especially these days), but it’s hard not to wonder about cards that could improve lower tier decks, reign in scary ones, or fulfill personal wishlists. Today, I’m going to look at a handful of awesome cards which deserve a new home in Modern. Big shoutout to the MTGSalvation “Modern Reprint” thread for all the discussion opportunities on this exciting and enjoyable topic.
Did you think we would get through an entire article without some kind of “parameters” and “context” discussion? What “fun” would that be! Jokes aside, the reprint topic can be as contentious as other more common Modern discussion points like the banlist and card prices. Everyone has their own definitions of both the cards themselves and the purpose of reprints in Modern. Some players think Modern should be Legacy but without the duals, Brainstorm, and some of the format’s more powerful effects like Show and Tell or Lion’s Eye Diamond (i.e. the “Legacy Lite” crowd). Others think Modern should be a home for extinct strategies: Psychatog, Phyrexian Negator, and Blastoderm unite! And others still want to improve their own pet deck without any regard for how it would affect the rest of the format (e.g. Chain Lightning to help out those poor, outmatched Burn players with their 8%+ metagame share…).
At the risk of offending all the players who want nothing more than to play Force of Will in Modern, I see reprints as having a more limited goal. Reprints should serve one of two goals (or both). First, they should improve tier 2 or lower strategies without significantly improving tier 1 ones. Second, they should create new strategies in space that was previously unfilled. Additionally, reprints should not violate other rules of the format, especially surrounding the turn four rule (sorry, Dark Ritual and company). Although some players are critical of too much format diversity, largely due to sideboarding difficulties and the “matchup lottery”, a greater range of viable strategies is important for metagame regulation. It’s hard to reach a Caw Blade or Mirrodin Affinity situation in a metagame with lots of powerful decks to regulate the others, and reprints can be very valuable in that respect. Also, in the spirit of that email I received last week, reprints are just plain fun. People want to play cool new cards and even if they aren’t seeing a lot of play (I’m still rooting for you, Goblin Piledriver!), their presence is good for longterm format health. The following reprint suggestions live in these categories, either improving existing decks, making new ones, or just being awesome.
The Reprint List
Important disclaimer before we start: if your card didn’t make this list, it doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good reprint. This article could easily have been a “One Hundred and One Cards Wizards Should Reprint for Modern”, but then where’s the room for a fun part two or part three? There’s a lot of room for reprints in Modern (more than a lot of players acknowledge), and these cards are only scratching the surface.
1. Innocent Blood
It’s always seemed unfair to me that black mages have bad removal in Modern. Red gets Lightning Bolt, white gets Path to Exile, and BGx mages get Abrupt Decay and/or Terminate. Meanwhile, if you’re playing black you’re struggling whether to run Doom Blade and lose to a turn two Dark Confidant, Go For The Throat and lose to Affinity and Tron, or Dismember and lose to Burn. Innocent Blood would change that in a big way. Right now, control in Modern is heavily reliant on a red splash to keep the board under control. How else are you supposed to answer those turn one or turn two creatures at parity? A white splash gives you Path, but Path isn’t where you want to be against turn one Birds and Goblin Guides. As a result, Esper Control is basically nonexistent and cool ideas like UB Control, Mono Black Control, 8Rack, and others are relegated to the “maybe next year” pile. Blood gives those decks early removal in the critical turns one through three window, which is the exact test a lot of these decks fail.
The best part about Blood is that it doesn’t break top-tier decks. The current versions of Abzan and Jund have far too many cheap creatures to safely run Blood. You don’t want to get into situations where you went turn two or turn three Confidant/Goyf and then had to Blood to remove an opposing threat. It’s a great turn one play for the BGx player, but the antisynergy is too steep beyond that first turn to run safely. I’m not sure how Blood would play in the Grixis Twin or Grixis Control shells, but my suspicion is “not well”. It’s really lame with Snapcaster Mage and just terrible with your Delvers. You really want to play Blood in a deck where it’s a safe play on turn one as much as on turn four, and/or with redundant creatures you don’t mind losing. The only thing cooler than playing Lingering Souls and Blood is the flavor of that combo. In case you needed more arguments in favor of Blood, it’s a great maindeck card against both Burn and Affinity, especially Burn which gets a lot of mileage out of those early creatures.
2. Baleful Strix
if you want to play blue-based control in Modern, you’ve probably looked at Thirst for Knowledge and sent Wizards a dozen letters pleading them to unban Seat of the Synod. Thirst is an excellent spell in the abstract but Modern doesn’t have the tools Thirst needs to succeed. Blue-based Tron decks use the card, but we don’t see a lot of these outside of random PPTQs and local events. Unfortunately, the Thirst engine doesn’t have enough fuel to work in “better” decks. Making matters worse, control decks also struggle with early Tarmogoyf, Tasigur, and Angler beatdown, something Thirst couldn’t even address on its own. Baleful Strix addresses both of these problems. The world’s scariest owl activates a powerful Modern card-advantage engine while also providing control decks an early Fog/removal hybrid to get them into the mid-game. We won’t see spells like Preordain unbanned anytime soon, which means blue players will always have to look elsewhere for good card draw. Thirst isn’t quite in the same cantripping category as Preordain, but the combination of Strix and Thirst is a powerful tool these decks could leverage.
There’s a potential danger with Strix in the Grixis shell, whether Twin or Control. On the one hand, these are slot-tight decks without too much room for new cards. On the other hand, these decks don’t need that much help (as evidenced in the Grixis metagame share today), and Strix could push them into a higher share. I think the potential benefits of Strix are worth the costs, especially as it gives control players a way to better react to aggressive posturing by either fast decks like Burn and Merfolk or slower ones with beatdown roles like Jund and Abzan. I also think the Thirst/Strix deck is very different from the conventional delve-based Grixis Control we see today, which would be a net positive for format diversity. Grixis Delver could also benefit here. Beyond Grixis, Strix could also enable a host of Sultai strategies like the underappreciated Sultai Delver or the out-of-fashion Sultai Control, not to mention indirectly improving cards like Disrupting Shoal. This improves the quality of policing decks in the format, both increasing deck diversity overall and also giving our format safety measures against less fair decks.
3. Cycling lands (Tranquil Thicket and co.)
Speaking of card advantage engines, blue isn’t the only color with an underused but powerful card lurking on the sidelines. Life from the Loam deserves better than tier 3 status alongside Smallpox and Seismic Assault. What better way to bring this grindy engine back to Modern than the Onslaught cycling lands? Tranquil Thicket and its four friends don’t look like the most exciting reprints on paper, but they would have a considerable effect on Modern. Aggro Loam decks fill a BGx-esque space in Modern, adding a fair deck to the format that also polices less fair ones. A turn three Seismic Assault is one of the most abstractly powerful drops in Modern, but it is blunted by the weakness of the Aggro Loam shell. Cycling lands let Assault shine, whether clearing the board of opposing threats or pinging an opponent down to zero in a few turns. The cycling mechanic is also perfectly suited for a diverse format that rewards diverse answers. Thicket-powered Loam decks are incredibly consistent, digging through their deck for answers in only a few turns, which is the sort of policing force Modern can use.
Modern doesn’t have Punishing Fire, which means Loam decks need to look a little different from their Legacy counterparts. We’re also missing the iconic Green Sun’s Zenith. Despite these shortcomings, and other differences with the absence of Mox Diamond and Wasteland, there’s still a lot of room for Loam decks in Modern to succeed. A version of Raphael Levy’s Smallpox Loam deck recently got fourth at an SCG IQ, and although Shakopee, Minnesota might not have the largest Modern scene in the States, it’s a promising finish that shows the core strategy has legs. This kind of Molten Vortex/Seismic Assault/Smallpox-powered shell is very powerful in Modern’s midrange matchups, and the cycling lands would definitely elevate the strategy to at least the fringe of tier 2.
4. Mother of Runes
No reprint discussion would be complete without a controversial proposal. I’m not going to tackle the big dogs like Counterspell and Daze in this article, but I’m going to borrow a mainstay from the Legacy playbook and see how she does in Modern. Mother of Runes is one of the best one-drops in Magic, and the workhorse of Legacy’s Death and Taxes deck. She protects your creatures from removal, stalls big attackers, and lets you swing in for lethal through even the most stalled boardstates. She’s also white (and I don’t just mean the woman depicted in the art). White mages don’t get a lot of love in Modern: it was pretty much all downhill since Path to Exile. It’s the least-played color in the format, shows up in the fewest top-tier decks, and is often regarded as a sideboard or removal color if anything at all. Many players, however, don’t just want to play Stony Silence and Leyline of Sanctity. They want to play white creatures. They want their Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to put in work in a removal-clogged format. No one enables this more than Mama Runes herself.
Of all the reprints discussed today, Mother of Runes is by far the most potentially dangerous. She’s incredibly powerful and there are lots of white strategies that might want her. Abzan plus Mother could be very scary, and even if the midrange version didn’t want her, Abzan Liege almost certainly would. Death and Taxes and Hatebears (you can tell the difference by the Flickerwisps) would certainly benefit from Mother, but maybe by too much: maybe Modern doesn’t need all those land-destruction and taxing effects. There are two reasons I don’t think these fears are founded. First, I am generally of the opinion that Modern needs more policing decks and cards. Mother of Runes would definitely make Death and Taxes and/or Hatebears a tier 2 deck, and these strategies are the fairest of the fair in Modern. They are also almost explicitly designed to beat up on unfair strategies, which is what Modern needs if we want to avoid future bans, encourage future unbans, and preserve format diversity. Second, Modern is a powerful format already, and that baseline power level can almost certainly accommodate more powerful cards. Players underestimate Modern’s ability to incorporate powerful effects into the existing metagame structure, and I suspect Mother would be “good” but not “broken” in this format.
I’ve avoided some of the hot-button issues in reprints like Counterspell and Pernicious Deed to test the waters for this kind of article. If people like it and want to see more, you can expect to see more fun speculation (potentially even test results!) of these cards in Modern. Goblin Bombardment will make an appearance. Cards like Opt, Soothsaying, Prohibit, and others could too. Otherwise, there’s always more metagame analysis to discuss.
What cards do you want to see reprinted? Any cards you think are particularly dangerous and should be avoided? How do you feel about this list above and its potential impact on Modern? Take your ideas to the comments and I’m excited to think more about reprints as we get into BFZ in the fall! Also, speaking of more metagame analysis, our Top Decks page has been updated to reflect the mid-August metagame (you can see these changes on the Top Decks sidebar too).
Editor’s note (8/18): Changed a sentence in the Innocent Blood paragraph to better explain Blood’s importance in black-based control.