Modern Power Creep: Ten Creatures That No Longer Make the Cut
- Hans Davidson
Voice of Resurgence? Delver of Secrets? Wild Nacatl? If you’ve forgotten these cards, it’s not your fault. Modern has had some power creep, Hans breaks down what doesn't cut mustard anymore!
While all the talk regarding Modern the past few weeks has been around Hogaak, there's a larger picture that has emerged of Modern as a format that has seen tremendous power creep over the past couple of years. Sets like War of the Spark and Modern Horizons come to mind regarding recent sets that have shaken up the format, but they are not the only sets that have caused metagames to change, decks to fall to the wayside, and ultimately for cards to exit the metagame stagelight. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this week, so I'll be taking a look at which creatures are no longer what they once were, and what caused their decline!
10. Dark Confidant
Some may argue that it's too early to announce Dark Confidant's demise, but I'm firmly in the camp that Wrenn and Six has taken away whatever tenuous hold Confidant had in Jund. Modern over the years has gotten more linear and aggressive, and a 2/1 that deal damage to its owner lines up very poorly against most of the top decks of the format. While B/G Midrange decks still play some copies of the card, I think that this is a mistake, and I would need to see something as crazy as the banning of Wrenn and Six for Dark Confidant to be playable in Modern again. The advent of aggressively-costed creatures has weakened Confidant's ability to attack, and the card does a terrible job of sitting back and defending. Dark Confidant has arguably one of the greatest flavor texts of all time, as my colleague Pietro claimed, but some costs just aren't worth paying for, especially if it's the two mana necessary for this particular creature.
9. Delver of Secrets
Delver was a tempo strategy that thrived right after the printing of the Khans block, which introduced a number of powerful - if not overpowered - delve cards into the Modern format. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were banned out of the format (and not just in Modern), but the inclusion of Hooting Mandrills, Gurmag Angler, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang gave the Delver archetype a much needed boost in power level. However, the combination of Gitaxian Probe getting banned as well as Fatal Push being printed has weakened the archetype as a whole. In fact, Humans has cemented itself as the de facto tempo / aggro deck of the format, and the flying threats that it can deploy can be much larger than 3/2. Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration is still able to do some work, as there have been some lists floating around on MTGO 5-0 data dumps on the back of the power of Fiery Islet. I would consider those occurrences as one-offs, however, and look towards something like Humans or Spirits for a more optimal tempo strategy.
8. Voice of Resurgence
Poor, poor Voice of Resurgence. The card's decline highlights the diminishing presence of GW-based value decks that used Collected Company to grind out the opponent. Back when UW Control and Death's Shadow sat at the top of the metagame, GW Company was a great counterplay to because it attacked those decks by overloading on two-for-ones and playing out hard-to-kill threats. Even before that, Voice was a card that saw play in Pod decks and matched up well against the likes of Splinter Twin decks. Power creep has pushed aside Voice, however, as playing a 2/2 for two mana that usually serves as a chump blocker just doesn't pack enough of a punch these days. If there is ever a day that control of every color variant comes back in droves, perhaps it would become the twenty-euro card that it once was, but then again - why not just play Wrenn and Six?
Lightning Bolt preys on creatures that have three points of toughness or less, and in a bygone era of Modern where Bolt was the premier kill-spell, Spellskite shined. A sideboard mainstay, Spellskite was brought in against Splinter Twin because it would be able to steal the game-winning enchantment. It also served as a nemesis to Infect, another archetype that reigned supreme during the days of Gitaxian Probe.
These days, four points of toughness don't matter much to a Fatal Push, and a card that is situationally good is much weaker in a bigger context. Being proactive and casting game-ending threats is what tends to win games of Modern, and Spellskite lines up poorly against the rest of the metagame.
6. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
There was a time when there was a dearth at the two-drop slot in Modern, and the options particularly for blue decks were basically non-existent. Then came Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, a card that warped Standard and probably should have been banned there, which gave birth to decks such as Esper Goryo, a blue-based midrange deck that utilized Goryo's Vengeance in conjunction with cards such as Obzedat, Ghost Council and Griselbrand.
Jace no longer sees any play, however, as Thing in the Ice and decks that rely on it have outclasses Jace and the decks that would play him. Combined with the copious amounts of graveyard hate found in the metagame, it's easy to see how Jace was pushed out of Modern.
5. Young Pyromancer
Young Peezy used to be somewhat of a chase uncommon for a short period of time before his reprint in Eternal Masters, and his presence in non-rotating formats showcased why. In Vintage and Legacy decks, where free spells were much easier to find, an unchecked Young Pyromancer took over games and was an important win condition in decks such as Delver. In Modern, there are fewer free spells to take advantage of, but the card was a very maindeckable creature for the U/R decks before the introduction of Thing in the Ice. Thing in the Ice, while being resilient to the answers that Pyromancer was vulnerable to, also served as a better threat due to its ability to come back from games where its owner was behind where Pyromancer would have folded. Furthermore, a 7/8 creature is a much faster clock than an army of 1/1s, and the fact that Awoken Horror would bounce Pyromancer tokens made it much more ideal to run the 0/4 rather than the 2/1. It does see play in Mardu Pyromancers, but that deck is mostly outclassed by Jund in the current meta.
If Modern were to ever get more free instants and sorceries or if Mardu Pyro is ever a better choice than the other grindy midrange decks of the format, perhaps Pyromancer would make a return.
4. Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Delve cards have turned every single format that the cards are legal in on its head, which has lead to bannings and/or calls for them, but there's one card that has slowly made its way to the stage exit. Tasigur, the Golden Fang was a card quickly adopted by Grixis Control, Midrange Delver strategies in Modern due to his ability to come down on turn two and pressure life totals while also serving as a form of card advantage later in the game. The card was also very fun and skill testing to play, as the player casting him had to decide which cards he or she would want to exile to delve in order to maximize Tasigur's ability. This influenced sequencing of spells before and after Tasigur was cast, and the minigame that ensued created plenty of interesting boardstates.
Alas, the one missing point of toughness meant that it would bounce off against opposing Tasigurs, Tarmogoyfs, and other five-toughness creatures. Even worse, it was outclassed by the similar Gurmag Angler, a card that lacked the value-engine but sped up the clock by one turn. Once Gurmag Angler became a mainstay in various black decks, Tasigur's spot in his respective decks became untenable.
3. Siege Rhino
The progenitor of one of Magic's most enduring memes, Siege Rhino, a.k.a. "It might see play once Polukranos, World Eater rotates." It was one of the main culprits for getting Birthing Pod banned from Modern. The poster child of creatures becoming more powerful than non-creature spells in the Modern era of Magic, Siege Rhino terrorized Standard and became a reason to play Abzan midrange decks in Modern. These days, however, Rhino sees no play due to it "only" being a 4/5 trampling Lightning Helix for four mana, a sentence that almost seems surreal to say out loud. Unfortunately, in a world filled with Reality Smasher, Gurmag Angler, Hogaak, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, there are so many more powerful options to choose from than paying four mana for its effect. Siege Rhino being a playable card relies on creatures not outclassing it for its mana cost and fair strategies being largely present in the metagame, and Modern is no longer a format where those two statements are true.
2. Kitchen Finks
When I think of a card that exemplifies "fair Magic," the first card that comes to my mind is Kitchen Finks. True, it's seen play in Melira Combo decks as a combo piece, but even decks that utilize the Persist ability still tend to incorporate fair, combat-based Magic as a big part of its winning strategy. Kitchen Finks exemplifies an era of Modern, where a recursive 3/2 for three mana that could potentially gain four life was somehow relevant and impactful. This era of Modern cares very little for such things, as decks have ways of cheating on mana costs and playing threats with stats disproportionate to the amount of mana that was paid for them.
1. Wild Nacatl
Remember when Wild Nacatl was banned in Modern due to how its presence homogenized creature-based aggro decks? 2011 was certainly quite different than 2019, and the idea that Wild Nacatl is a too-powerful of a card seems laughable when we look at the creatures Modern has access to now. From Death's Shadow to Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Modern's efficient, low-costed beaters are so much more pushed than this sometimes-3/3 one-drop that it's impossible to envision a future where Nacatl will ever be good again. The format has developed to the point that a one-mana 3/3 is no longer a card worth playing, and a player's reaction to that statement most likely says a lot about how they feel about Modern in its current iteration.
Anyway, that's all for this week - were there any other creatures that I missed? Let me know in the comment section below, and I'll see you next time!
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