New Modern Interaction
- Filip Skórnicki
Modern Horizons 2 is looking to change the eponymous format in major ways. Threats often dominate when it comes to headline news, but answers are just as important. The set injects Modern with a plethora of exciting new tools of interaction. Let's see which of them are potential candidates for the top tier.
Modern is known as a format with very powerful threats and just a bit worse interaction. Nevertheless cards such as Fatal Push, the iconic Lightning Bolt, the infamous Thoughtseize, or the so-complex-it-warrants-an-entire-article Cryptic Command manage to hold their own. Even though there is so much to choose from already, and there truly is, Modern Horizons 2 is giving us a whole new batch of interaction pieces that are looking to make an impact. In this article I want to discuss nearly all the candidates looking for a home in interactive decks. At the end, I show off a couple of sample decklists too.
The first card on the docket is one of the Elementals in the Incarnation cycle with evoke. Let's talk about the important stuff: Subtlety is a zero mana Essence Scatter/Aether Gust split card that also tags planeswalkers. On the one hand it might seem narrow in its use, but actually hitting both creatures and planeswalkers makes the range quite wide. In practice, creatures and walkers are exactly what a control player is afraid of.
Additionally, it's not a problem that it doesn't affect all the noncreature spells. Rather it nicely complements Force of Negation. If you look at it closely, you will notice that Subtlety and Force pitch to each other which means that if you're playing against a creature deck you can get rid of Force in a pinch and the same is true the other way around. Thanks to this interaction you can overload on both and cover the whole format. What's also worth mentioning is that it doesn't "counter" but puts its target on the top or bottom, and that's actually hugely relevant in a Cavern of Souls format like Modern is. Also, it dodges noncreature hate such as Negate, Dovin's Veto, or opposing Forces. Lastly, it's still a four-mana 3/3 flying threat with flash. If you don't have to use it early for free, you can use it late and still get the effect with a body on top.
However, it's not all roses. First of all, you don't get rid of the threat permanently. All the problematic creatures such as Primeval Titan or planeswalkers such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor will still land on top and will have to be dealt with via other means. But let's address the elephant in the room—exiling a card to play it for free is not free at all. You don't want to pitch a card and two-for-one yourself just to put a Monastery Swiftspear on top. In a Primeval Titan/Eldrazi/Tron metagame, however, it's going to be very very strong, because …
- if they have a very fast draw, you can still emergency use it.
- you can tap out for your own planeswalker and use it.
- realistically hardcast it.
It's way more meaningful to deny your opponent's entire turn worth of mana and to make them potentially redraw and respend all of it than putting back a one-mana creature.
The second card I want to talk about is Solitude. A similar dynamic is true for this card as mentioned in the section above. It also has flash, evokes at no mana cost, and is an interaction piece. What's better is that its effect is super wide. It's literally Swords to Plowshares, arguably the best removal spell in all of Magic. Besides being unconditional spot removal it has added utility against Death's Shadow decks. Grixis Shadow cannot even use Stubborn Denial to stop it because it's a creature. It also has lifelink so once hardcast it can nicely stabilize your life total.
However, the fact that the hardcast costs five mana is huge. It's a world of difference compared to Subtlety's four. Second of all, however sardonic it may sound, you have to have white cards to pitch them to Solitude. The reason why that's a real downside is that blue control decks are overloaded on, you guessed it, blue cards and they constitute most of the deck. White cards are usually limited to a splash for removal or win conditions such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It won't to be trivial to find a good card to pitch. It's completely different in a deck like Death and Taxes, but there exiling a card is even more of a cost because, contrary to control decks, they can't recoup the lost cards. There's also this idea to play it in a Terminus shell so you could pitch excess miracles to Solitude, meaning you either get a free spot removal spell or a cheap mass removal spell off the top.
Let's leave the Incarnations for a bit. Suspend is an interesting take on a point removal spell. The benefit is clear—the cost. It slots nicely into blue decks, because now you can go Suspend into Counterspell into Archmage's Charm into Cryptic Command. Now that's just theory as in practise it's not an actual removal spell but rather delays the threat by two turns. We've already seen a counterspell like that, namely Delay. It was never widely played because it just put off the danger by a few turns but you still had to deal with it. Suspend isn't even great in many cases when it hits a creature that's far more expensive than itself, as those often come with enter-the-battlefield effects.
Suspend does have its upsides, however, in addition to the cost. It works very well with Teferi, Time Raveler. So if your deck contains three to four copies, Suspend might be good. It also works well with a little card called Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. Target your own Valki and when it comes off suspend you can cast the Tibalt half. All in all, I am skeptical of its playability in control decks. Why play a card that is a removal spell in conjunction with something else when you can just play an actual removal spell? It might replace Vapor Snag in some blue-red prowess shells though.
Seal of Removal
There's not much to say here. Seal of Removal is an Unsummon on an enchantment. This actually translates into tangible upsides such as the fact that you can pre-pay the mana for it and, most importantly, can replay it with Lurrus of the Dream-Den. It's completely unplayable in control though. Might be okay in tempo/aggro shells such as Wizards, Faeries, Merfolk, or some potentially new Lurrus archetype.
Prismatic Ending is an interesting take on spot removal. It's been a common thought among most Modern players that Path to Exile is lacking its former luster in the world of 2021. There are a lot of mana dorks floating around, with Arbor Elf at the forefront, that you, understandably, don't want to path. In addition, aggro decks know have access to card selection and Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which means they can very well take advantage of the excess mana. That's why the removal of choice for most people has been Fatal Push and, less so, Lightning Bolt.
Now Prismatic Ending comes in. It's a card that enables white-blue control decks to get rid of a one-drop effectively. It's never going to be a tempo-positive play though. On the flip side, it removes permanents such as Chalice of the Void or Wrenn and Six. Nowadays, one could easily run one off-color Triome to make it possible to pay three colors too. So even though it's a sorcery and never tempo positive, it's a nice catch-all that helps in the early game and should definitely see a bunch of play.
Out of Time
Out of Time is a curious mass removal variant. In a nutshell, it phases out all creatures for N turns where N is the number of those creatures. In addition, if one removes Out of Time from the battlefield they will likewise phase back in. What makes phasing out different from exiling is that tokens and all creatures' Auras return, whereas enter-the-battlefield abilities don't trigger.
At four mana there would be no discussion. However, costing just three might be enough to make it playable. But what you have to keep in mind is that, at the end of the day, a control player will still need an actual sweeper to get rid of the creatures. It would take a specific shell to make good use of it.
I've already talked at length about it here. In short, Counterspell replaces Mana Leak universally and will heavily affect the way mana bases are built. Other cards such as Drown in the Loch or Remand may retain their place in specific shells.
I am so happy it's in Modern despite the fact that I probably won't play much with Vindicate myself. Three mana for a sorcery sorcery is a nontrivial cost, so in a pure control deck it might end up a one-of as the number of copies doubles with Snapcaster Mage. However, in midrangey white-black Stoneblade or Smallpox builds it will probably be an all-star. And it makes me happy!
I shall spare you all the obvious puns regarding the name. Damn is arguably one of the best, if not the best, removal spells of all time. Think of it as Wrath of God, which is already very much playable. Now, if it's early in the game, you will sometimes kill one of your opponent's creatures to make sure you actually stay alive. Remember you're always casting a spell with mana value 2 so it dodges Gaddock Teeg. Though it will be difficult for blue control decks such as Esper to accommodate it due to the restrictive mana costs. I think it will be very playable in white-black midrange shells and in Esper once we get an Esper Triome.
I will leave you with two decklists. The first one is an Esper build that serves as my starting point for the new format.
The second is TSPJendrek's take on white-blue, which aims to abuse the free spells. I think it's an interesting idea for how one might take full advantage of the new tools from Modern Horizons 2.
|White-Blue Moderation by TSPJendrek|
I hope you enjoyed this look at the new pieces of interaction. Let me know what you think. Also check out my writer's page for more game theory and control articles. As always, hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!
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