Aftermath: Modern Horizons 2, worth the hype?

What remains after the Hype?

Modern Horizons 2 revisited

Author: Sebastian Rosenauer

The summer is over, Innistrad Midnight Hunt is being drafted in local stores, and Throne of Eldraine is no longer a Standard-legal set. We are in Q3 of the Magic: The Gathering release calendar.

This means that a few months have passed since Modern Horizons 2 came out and turned the Modern metagame upside down. Now, the dust is slowly settling, and we begin to see which cards developed into format-defining staples and which cards were maybe overestimated at the time of the release.

In this article, we look at what remains after the hype around MH2, which cards stuck around, and which cards did not live up to the expectations.

We are first trying to identify the most indisputably powerful cards from the set, cards that shifted the metagame towards new archetypes or strategies, cards that are likely going to be around for many sets to come.

Chase Rares and Mythics

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Let’s get the more obvious candidates out of the way first: Ragavan, the little monkey, is certainly among the cards that cement themselves as irreplaceable staples in various archetypes.

Although the expectations towards the efficient one-drop were very high, he did not disappoint. Whether it is more complex Jund Sagavan strategies or raw red aggression, Ragavan is always a top contender for the best one-drop available. The card-and mana advantage he provides matters a lot so that the metagame is now at a point where splashing red just to play the pirate monkey seems like a viable option.

Urza’s Saga

Urza’s Saga is the second card that caused severe fear of banning in the early weeks of MH2. A few months in, this fear seems to have calmed down and Urza’s Saga is now considered a very powerful, but not utterly broken card.

It is clearly among the top-cards from MH2 as it sneaks into various archetypes, from Amulet Titan to Hammertime and the newest top-tier variation of Jund Sagavan.

Creating two creatures and searching out an artifact turned out to be two very powerful abilities to be printed on a land. Although the vast cardpool of Modern provides enough options to confront the threatening Saga, with cards like Spreading Seas and Wear/Tear as well as Alpine Moon becoming highly recommended sideboard cards, it is not enough to keep the Enchantment Land from making an appearance in the various kinds of decks.

When playing a modern league, it is therefore still best to bring some above-mentioned answers to the battle.

Elemental Incarnations

Next up we have the elemental incarnation cycle. During spoiler season, they were among the most anticipated cards from the set, since their ability to be cast “for free” looked very promising in the fast environment of Modern.

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Now, all five of them have their upsides and downsides, but a few months after the release of MH2 it becomes apparent, that the green and the white incarnation, Endurance and Solitude, might just have the edge over the other three.

This is reflected in the price of the cards as well. While Solitude has seen a massive price spike due to the recent success of Wafo-Tapa’s Azorius Control builds and sits at around €60 and Endurance comes in at around €35, the other three incarnations do not cost over €20.

Most decks that play green want a few copies of the 3/4 Reach in their sideboard, while Solitude is just Swords to Plowshares on a stick and thus super-efficient in the current, creature-heavy metagame. But also Fury, the red elemental, sees play in many decks, especially the namesake “Elementals” list. The blue and black incarnations did not impact the format in any meaningful way.

Murktide Regent

The last big-money card that clearly shifted the metagame considerably is Murktide Regent. The new delving monster has established a new archetype that even bears its name.

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With cards like Mishra’s Bauble and Thought Scour, the UR tempo lists can consistently play a 6/6 or even 8/8 dragon by turn three and thus put huge power on the opponent, who is still struggling to fight off the one-drops.

The addition of it growing when further instant and sorcery spells are exiled from your graveyard is just an extra bonus on top.

A particular strength of Murktide Regent in the current metagame is, that it flies under the radar, or rather, over the radar of most removal spells that are around: Prismatic Ending, Fury, Lightning Bolt, Unholy Heat, etc. thus making it a very evasive and hard-hitting threat.

Modest Bombs

Now that we have talked about the chase rares and mythics of the set, let us talk about some more modest additions to the format that have left a mark.

Prismatic Ending

First up: Prismatic Ending. This card really flew under my radar at first, it seemed clunky and difficult to make work.

As it turns out, the card is absolutely busted, able to exile all nonland threats your opponent deploys within the first few turns.

Sure, unlike Path to Exile it does not hit big threats such as a Murktide Regent or Archon of Cruelty, but in the current Modern metagame, there are plenty of cheap targets for Prismatic Ending to prey upon. Most decks that play white can simply add a third or fourth color by including a Triome or another Shockland in their manabase in order to maximize the reach of Prismatic Ending.

But even in a two-colored deck, the card is a powerhouse, since it can exile an opposing Ragavan on turn 1 while it also deals with hate-pieces your opponents might run like Rest in Peace or Void Mirror.

Dragon’s Rage Channeler

Another card on the list is again a red one-drop, Dragon’s Rage Channeler (or short DRC). Just like Ragavan it instantly found its home in UR tempo shells that also run another card on the list, Murktide Regent.

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The surveil trigger on DRC is just so effective in shaping your draws and loading up your graveyard for delving, that the addition of it being a 3/3 flyer puts this cheap creature over the top. Reminiscent of the classic Delver of Secrets play pattern, the goal is to turn on the DRC quickly to connect in the air while also filling up the graveyard with fodder. As such, it is simply a better Delver.

Unholy Heat

The third card we are going to look at in connection to the UR tempo archetype is Unholy Heat mentioned above. This cheap removal spell profits from DRC’s surveil trigger and shoots down almost every creature when turned on.

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In a format with Fetchlands and Mishra’s Bauble, it is not that hard to reach Delirium and make Unholy Heat deal 6 damage at instant speed. The removal is seeing play in most of the aggressive red strategies and can sometimes even replace Lightning Bolt as a sideboard card.

Esper Sentinel

The last card I want to include here is Esper Sentinel. The white one-drop is not quite as modest as the previous uncommons as it also commands a price of around €10, but it nevertheless is not quite the chase rare that everyone wants to have.

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This is because he is primarily played in Hammertime and not many other decks. But the ceiling of this card is undoubtedly high, as he is a human as well as an artifact creature that taxes your opponent on every non-creature spell, or else you draw a card.

As white has notoriously little card draw, this effect on a cheap creature represents a great possibility for extra value.

Great Sideboard card

Looking at sideboard cards, MH2 has also brought some goodies to the table. We have already talked about Endurance above, but there are many other very impactful new situational cards that are worth looking at.

Void Mirror

One of them is Void Mirror. The two-mana artifact was an auto-include in most sideboards of the last few months, mainly due to the rise of the Cascade-decks.

It completely hoses Living End and Rhinos while also being annoying against Force of Negation-type cards. In the long run, however, it remains to be seen, whether Void Mirror has its place in Modern independently of the top-tier Cascade decks we see right now.

Sanctifier en-Vec

Another great sideboard card is Sanctifier en-Vec, which is great against a variety of graveyard-based synergies that occupy the Modern metagame while also being a great blocker against black or red decks. Sanctifier en-Vec is the supreme sideboard card and will likely gain a permanent spot in the Humans’ sideboard and other aggressive white strategies.

Grief

A third card I want to consider here is Grief, although this card could almost be discussed in the later section that deals with the cards that could not cement themselves in the metagame, given that it was expected to be a much more impactful card than it turned out to be.

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Aside from Living End, where Grief is especially useful to ditch unnecessary copies of Living End, it could not establish itself as a maindeck option. But in the sideboards of many black decks, Grief is increasingly interesting as an alternative angle against control decks, if 4 Thoughtseize is not enough or if you want more late-game value.

New to Modern Reprints

A few great cards in MH2 are not new but only new to Modern. Among them is the notorious Shardless Agent.

Shardless Agent

The 2/2 creature with Cascade has immediately found its maindeck spot. Cascade is a very powerful mechanic in Magic, especially when decks can be designed to “cheat” out a specific card that would not have been castable otherwise. This is exactly what Living End and Rhinos do. And Shardless Agent simply gives the two decks another good card with the text “Cascade” on it. This ensures hitting their namesake card more consistently and thus leads to them running playsets of Shardless Agents in every maindeck of the archetype.

Counterspell

Another famous card that is a new-to-Modern reprint and has immediately been included in many decks is Counterspell. Before MH2 was released, there have been discussions about whether it would instantly replace Manaleak in every deck or whether the increased mana requirement would make players choose other permission cards instead.

As it turns out, Counterspell did indeed replace Mana Leak and other cards like Drown in the Loch or Mystical Dispute could not establish themselves outside of Mill or as a sideboard option.

The manabases are flexible enough to play the double-blue instant even in three-colored decks and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who recently started to stream, has shown that Azorius Control is never outdated and that Counterspell is an important weapon for its success.

Out of the Meta

In the last, section I want to talk about a few cards that were highly anticipated, but which did not (yet) establish themselves as staples in Modern.

  • First is the whole Reanimator package, which consists of Persist, Unmarked Grave, and Archon of Cruelty. These three cards are very strong and the archetype that plays them has occasionally achieved good results in recent tournaments and is a common sight in current Modern leagues. However, the graveyard-hate options of the format are huge and therefore Reanimator failed to really have that long-lasting impact compared to UR Tempo Murktide or the Cascade Decks. It is interesting to see whether there will be a version of the deck that can establish itself at the top of the metagame, but it currently does not look like it.
  • Next up is Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. In combination with her cookbook, the underworld chef has seen play in Urza’s kitchen, in various Food-strategies and lately even in Reanimator shells. But it could not really shape the metagame in any way. Although it turned out to be a strong and fun card that makes for creative deckbuilding, it still has not established itself as a consistent option in Modern. While she can quickly take over the board with the Underworld Cookbook and Ovalchase Daredevil interaction, the requirement of discarding a card to play her is tough.
  • Another card that was very anticipated during spoiler season, but that has yet to deliver consistent results, is Grist, the Hunger Tide. This three-mana Planeswalker seemingly has got all it takes: high starting loyalty, the ability to produce bodies, and the ability to protect himself by killing opposing creatures and Planeswalkers. But all of that was not enough to make a definitive mark in the metagame. Because his static ability makes him fetchable with Collected Company, he has seen some play in the Jund Sacrifice builds by Aspiringspike, but he did not develop to become anything more than a filler card.

Conclusion

One could extend these lists and refine them more and more, but I think as it is they give a good overview of the current state of affairs. Clearly, this is subject to weekly changes, and it would be very interesting to see how we would evaluate the situation six months from now.


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