MH2 Overview, Pt. 2: Playing the Part

To quote a great doctor, “the M.H. saga continues.” Yesterday, we considered the decks to be impacted and created by Modern Horizons 2, and today, we’ll look at at the many role-players present in the set. Let’s begin with the Incarnation cycle (ranked!), after which we’ll check out new removal, utility, and build-around options. Finally, it wouldn’t be a for-Modern set without some targeted hate, so we’ll peep those as well!

Utility Incarnate: The MH2 Pitch Cycle

Among the flashiest cards in Modern Horizons 2 are those that make up the new pitch cycle, or provide an effect for free should players elect to exile a card from their hand. These are a different breed from the pitch cycle in MH1, as they’re all Incarnation creatures with evoke, giving them added utility as aggressively-costed bodies. Between that utility, their “free” mode, and their unique and powerful effects, the members of this cycle are sure to support heaps of Modern strategies in the years to come—except, ironically, for Grief, the first card of the cycle to be spoiled and in my eyes far and away the weakest. So it would come in at #5 on a ranking system. Let’s keep going from there!

#4: Fury

In terms of straight-up effects, Fury can often have the most impactful, offering casters a pair of Forked Bolts. These can dismantle an enemy board with the utmost precision, dealing one to a dork, two to a creature, and another two a minused walker, for instance; all the excess damage goes to the dome, of course, which makes Fury very low-commitment. Indeed, I imagine it will often be cast as a kill spell with some trample.

The spell loses some points for speed; being a sorcery, Fury can’t interact with enemy combos, which dramatically lowers its value as a free spell. And it will be pretty tough to cast in most of the decks that want it. Besides, pilots don’t get much for shelling out the five mana; double strike is certainly a great ability, but it’s not close to at its best on a 3/3 in Modern. The damn thing dies to Lightning Bolt!

Where to find it: Red-heavy combo, midrange, and control decks might want Fury as a way to take apart fishy boards of hatebears or just beaters. But how many of those can you name? Storm?

#3: Endurance

Being green, Endurance has the most aggressively costed body of the cycle. A 3/4 with reach and flash is one dangerous spider, taking out any of Modern’s Stage 1 creatures as they dash naively into the red zone as well as pricier utility threats that don’t know any better (including, say, Lurrus of the Dream-Den). The threat of Endurance from green decks will have players thinking twice before they come in with the team, and make casting spells in the second main phase more important than ever.

On the flip side, its effect is the narrowest of the cards here, but still quite impactful when it matters: putting the graveyard on the bottom of the library is somewhat better than exiling it, where players still retain some degree of access to the cards. And doing so for free at instant speed will blow out a bevy of Modern combos so long as players draw into Endurance before that critical turn.

Where to find it: Endurance is likely to do the most damage out of something like Amulet Titan, Infect, or Elves. These are combo-oriented decks that incentivize opponents to swing in big and early as they race to beat the clock, and that’s a game state Endurance takes advantage of on defence. Plus, it’s 0-mana graveyard interaction on the same sideboard slot.

#2: Subtlety

Aether Gust has proven itself a fixture of the Modern tournament scene, popping up in sideboards everywhere even now that Uro’s long gone and Tarmogoyf has been dethroned as the king of two-drops. That’s because topping or bottoming (heck, you choose!) a permanent or spell on the cheap provides a massive tempo swing. (Aside: pour one out for my boy Memory Lapse who did not end up getting a reprint.)

Subtlety gives up Gust’s ability to hit permanents for the broader ability to hit all creatures or planeswalkers, regardless of color, while they’re still on the stack. In that sense, it’s a psuedo-Memory Lapse, playing more like a counterspell than a kill spell. The 3/3 body provides a clock in its own right, and it all comes together for a bargain bin price of 4 mana.

Where to find it: Expect Subtlety primarily out of blue-heavy creature decks like Merfolk, but also in slower control and midrange shells, where it will buy precious time in the early game.

#1: Solitude

Solitude casts the mythical Swords to Plowshares, a card that has yet to come to Legacy-lite, ahem, I mean Modern. On a 3/2 lifelinking body, that’s all players might need to turn the tide of a game. But having a free, instant-speed Swords is also nothing to sneeze it, giving Solitude two highly impactful modes in one neat package. Mix in flash and it’s a potential double-removal spell, trading with one attacker while exiling another, or just an end-of-turn tempo swing, taking out a lone blocker to crack back for a six-point swing.

Where to find it: Since Swords to Plowshares is such a versatile spell, and Solitude‘s many modes make it such a versatile creature, I can see Solitude supporting strategies as diverse as midrange, control, and fish-style aggro like Death & Taxes. My initial impression is that just about every fair deck with a high white concentration will want this card. Oh, and that Ephemerate interaction people were losing their heads about when Grief was spoiled? It’s actually on-color with this guy! Instant staple!

Additional Support

Modern Horizons 2 is chock full of cards generic enough to be splashed across multiple strategies, but useful enough for players to actually want them. These spells provide a welcome boost to Modern’s overall power level as they expand the pool of playable role-players, ultimately giving deckbuilders more choice regarding who they want to beat and how. They’re my favorite kind of new card!

Removal

Seal of Removal: Seal of Fire was already played in prowess decks, and I imagine storing Unsummon on a get-it-now prowess trigger will be very exciting for those same mages. After all, Unsummon is a more reasonable Modern card than Shock. (Don’t @ me. Just cuz I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Suspend: Temporary removal, just like Unsummon. Except it’s not quite like Unsummon, because the creature can’t be cast the following turn; delay-wise, it’s more like Reflector Mage. Of note, the creature gets haste when it returns, and opponents don’t have to spend mana recasting it, making it worse than Mage or Unsummon when it comes to sapping tempo. I’d say most of Suspend‘s potential comes from its interaction with Teferi, Time Raveler, which forces the card to just stay exiled. Very likely to see play in decks that both a) run Teferi and b) might want to hit their own creatures with Suspend to double up on ETB triggers or protect against removal.

Bone Shards: Very flexible removal spell that is sure to see use in strategies that like discarding (Hollow One, Dredge, etc.). Off the bat, Shards strikes me as a significant upgrade to Lightning Axe. Sacrificing a creature seems like a steep cost, but since discarding remains a possibility, it’s straight upside over Axe. You can drop a 1/1 Elemental token for this thing and keep that Bedlam Reveler in hand!

Vindicate: The known and feared Vindicate, at last in Modern. Goodbye, Malestrom Pulse! And goodbye, Steam Vents!

Nevinyrral’s Disk: The known and not-so-feared Nev Disk. This is Modern, not Commander, so Disk is unlikely to make huge waves. Tron might want it over some number of Oblivion Stone; it’s pretty nice against Blood Moon, as Tron can tap out for it, then crack it on the following turn and unlock all their lands immediately.

Utility

Bone Shredder: Fleshbag Marauder upgrade for creature toolbox decks.

Karmic Guide: Reanimate spell for creature toolbox decks. Or… combo piece?

Fire // Ice: A storied utility instant, featuring both Forked Bolt and Niveous Wisps one a single card. Cantrip, removal, combo stopper… what’s not to love? Neither side is very powerful, true, but it may show up in URx midrange and bigger tempo decks, such as Kiki-Exarch.

Sword of Hearth and Home: The rumors were true… not all the utility cards are reprints! Hearth and Home is an appealing Stoneforge target for Ephemerate decks. It’s also ramp, making the card potentially deadly out of such strategies. Of course, they still need to connect, but the potential of blinking Stoneforge itself makes Hearth and Home a potential engine-in-a-can.

Nobody Asked, But Cool

Goblin Anarchomancer: Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Storms see play in Storm, where they lower the cost of the requisite rituals for comboing off. Anarchomancer might see play in a similar kind of deck that aims to power out creatures or planeswalkers ahead of schedule. So far, that deck hasn’t existed, but I’m anxious to see what it might look like.

Mishra’s Factory: The best manland comes to Modern, giving Mutavault a run for its money in decks that don’t need the tribal synergy. Granted, that’s not many, but Factory also gives Blinkmoth some competition in Affinity and related artifact decks. I mean, it’s juts so big!

Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth: Urborg for Forests. Yawn with raised eyebrows.

Some Hate for Your Plate

All that support don’t come for free. Leave it to Wizards to rain on our fun. Or, rather, give us the tools to rain on someone else’s.

Creatures

Cursed Totem: An incredible hoser against the right decks, shutting down mana dorks, tap effects, and every other activated ability. But Totem is also very narrow. Anyhow, this is the real reason Heliod decks are no longer Tier 0. (jjjkkk.)

Dress Down: Now that’s more like it. Kiss your creature combo turn goodbye. Plus a cantrip even when it’s not useful, and when is it not useful? Against most decks, Dress Down provides at least a Stifle, stopping a Kroxa trigger or a Confidant reveal or a Hierarch from tapping in the main phase or a Scourge of the Skyclaves from existing. Yes, it murders Scourge of the Skyclaves and then cantrips. Yes, it turns Death’s Shadow into a 12/12 for the turn. Yes, grow big Goyf. A+ from ya boi.

Colorless

Void Mirror: Tron can still cast their spells using Forest, or the mana from Chromatic Sphere. But they need to tap Forest to cast another Chromatic Sphere, so I’m not sure this card is totally blank against them. Granted, it’s much better against decks like Colorless Eldrazi, which have little choice other than to pack some color-producing lands if this nasty trinket catches on. And why wouldn’t it catch on? It also hoses Suspend and various cheaty things. Wizards be like: cheaty this zero-mana Warp World! Also Wizards: no cheaty! How Modern of them.

Obsidian Charmaw: This one’s for the mainboard, especially in those red stompy decks that show up from time to time. What were they called again? Spread? Steed? Anyway, while Ponza and its ilk like to destroy basic lands so Blood Moon can do its dirty, Moon’s not always online, and Charmaw is pretty much guaranteed targets in every Modern matchup. Sometimes it costs two mana, but it’s a deal at three. This is officially the first Dragon I want to cast off Sarkhan, Fireblood.

Break the Ice: A Sinkhole retrain for our time. Can we really not have Sinkhole? As things stand, this one feels a bit niche.

Graveyards

Sanctifier en-Vec: Rest in Peace on a stick that singles out black and red. But most valuable things being dumped are black and red. Arclight Phoenix, Prized Amalgam, Stinkweed Imp, Bloodghast, Hogaak… oh wait, wrong Horizons. Yeah, this card will see hella play. Unlike blowing up lands for two mana, protection is actually broken, perhaps especially on a Rest in Peace that can’t be Nature’s Claimed, Abrupt Decayed, Lightning Axed… bruh, how does Dredge even kill this thing?

Dauthi Voidwalker: Might as well have Leyline of the Void on a stick, too. This one’s a lot worse than Sanctifier, but not without its potential. Black could always use more hosers. That second ability seems like a whole lot of text for nothing.

Blessed Respite: Gaea’s Blessing, meet Fog. Soothing Rest, meet The Sideboard. Rest is a versatile card that ironically fails to fulfill a key goal of Gaea’s Blessing in the decks that side it where it’s legal, which is to not lose against Mill. We’ll miss the cantrip, too.

Walkers and Burn

Walkers and Burn, huh? Okay, not exactly cohesive, but that’s what’s left!

Flame Blitz: So you hate planeswalkers. Boy, have we got the card for you! Blitz is the one-mana walker sweeper that just keeps on sweeping. And if opponents don’t have any, it can just be cycled. Value! Or if you already resolved one. Value! Or you could just cast that second one and deal 10 to all the walkers every round. You do hate planeswalkers, don’t you?

Blossoming Calm: Seems like decent Burn hate on paper: best-case scenario, you counter a Boros Charm, then gain 4 life over the course of two turns. That’s 8 life for one mana. But wait… what about Life Goes On? Indeed, the decks that can support it will favor Life Goes On, which doesn’t need opponents to target them with a juicy spell to get off. But Calm is more splashable and has the benefit of stopping big plays like Grapeshot and even effects like Liliana of the Veil‘s -2 or a Glimpse the Unthinkable, giving it wider applications in Modern generally than just stopping Burn.

Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em

Whether you’re down with the crew or screaming “down with the new,” there’s something for you in Modern Horizons 2! You hear that, Wizards? Better tap my jingle-writing for MH3! As for the rest of you still reading, join me tomorrow for the final segment of this comprehensive spoiler review: my Top 5 cards of the new expansion. Or have I given them away by now?

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