Thursday, 23 May 2019
Modern Horizons: Preliminary Review Part IV
Lightning Skelemental 2
I am not into these cards seemingly design from the pun. Especially when this is clearly a Ball Blightning and not what it claims to be. It is a bit hard to judge this card as it is very polar and fairly narrow. At the top end of performance this is pretty damn good but how often does it get there? Is the average performance of this lower than than of a simple Blightning? My hunch is that it is. To want to play this in the first place you have to be Rakdos, and aggressive but also wanting to be interactive and able to play the late game. If you were entirely linear you wouldn't care about the discard aspect of this card and as such would likely play something safer. So once you have found your quite specific home for this card you have to connect with it for it to do anything at all. This was the failing of Ball Lightning. Six damage for RRR would be played all over the shop, even if you could "block" some of it with the toughness of dorks. The issue for these cards is when there is a first strike dork in play, or worse still, a tapper! Even the lowly Ication Javelineer can completely thwart your big hitter. When half a one drop, or a mere two mana thanks to Ice counters three of your mana and a card it is really sad. This is much easier to stop than Blightning, harder to cast, cannot hit hands and planeswalkers at the same time and it can have all the damage mitigated with enough toughness or the right keyword. All these risks and concessions are really not worth the potential extra three damage this card offers when things go perfectly. This card seems like a bit of a trap to me in most cases. I can imagine it being a cute SB card when you know you will not face any of its hard counters. Even then, direct damage and discard are a pair of effects that don't mix all that well.
Force of Despair 8
I absolutely love this card. It is interesting, different, fair looking, simple and yet still very black feeling. It is a lovely Ying to the Yang of the the new blue Force as well earning it more elegance in design. In terms of power it seems like it is the best new black zero mana removal spell but not by any vast margin and not even always. Black has a lot of options on such cards and most of them have seen play and are pretty reasonable. This gets to the top of the pack for several reasons. The combination of a reasonable hard cast mode and the ability to indiscriminately hit all shapes, sizes, and types of creature. It even has the bonus scaling potential, like Wing Shards, to take out multiple dorks at once. In the case of most token producing spells and dorks you will get to counter the whole lot. I like how the best thing a creature can do short of being indestructible to survive this card is having flash. Even with flash you still have to wait until they have less than three mana to sneak your flash dork out. This gets around hexproof and protection as well. You are forced into using it on a specific turn if you wish to deal with a specific thing like a counterspell but without the ability to prevent EtB effects. This is made less of a problem due to the zero mana option, the high effectiveness of the removal, and the ability for it to scale up and hit multiple bodies. A great and welcome addition to black's tool box of creature kill.
Lovely to finally see an enemy colour cycling coming out before an allied one assuming like me you don't count the one off Horizon Canopy as a cycle just on its own. The power level on these lands is very high but as lands go these are narrower than most. These tap for two colours on the turn made regardless of when and what other lands you do or don't have. They cost a reasonable one life per use and combined with their speed and convenience makes them outstanding for aggressive and combo decks. Where these lands will struggle more is in the slower decks, especially those really looking to use all their mana all the time. You only see City of Brass in control decks when they are desperate, and even then, usually only when they are at least three colours. I suspect midrange decks will almost always play these but I also think that often they will include them as an extra land rather than instead of a land with the aim of cashing them in relatively quickly. This will make for more consistent performances and will ensure these lands see enough play in the cube to last. If neither midrange or control were interested in these then they might just be better off being a lower power level but more playable lands in your cube. I am a big fan of these lands as they are option dense and in a relevant way. You get access to these options without having to impose a burden on the effectiveness of your mana base. Usually utility lands, especially dual ones, come with more onerous costs like coming into play tapped. Perhaps there is enough incidental life gain floating about these days that control decks will play them more than I give credit for. I suspect the green ones will get a lot of extra love with green having a lot of Explore effects and land recursion. If I was more confident of these seeing play in the slower decks it would be an easy 8.5 but in practice I suspect quick, check, filter and pain lands all to see more play (card for card) in the drafting cube. In modern however these should wind up seeing a lot of action and will probably come in 3rd most played after shocks and sacs. These lands are a big deal. Get used to them being around!
Pondering Mage 1
Well isn't this cute. Value wise this is decent but it is all a bit slow and fair for cube. I can potentially see it in some kind of Birthing Pod setting but it is less good than Riverwise Auger in that role for several reasons. Pondering Mage is likely better as a stand alone with the 3/4 body being vastly more relevant than a 2/2. If we are talking stand alone cards however this has no real hope of outclassing Muldrifter which itself is a bit fair and slow for cube these days.
Urza, Lord High Artificer 7
This feels like the blended Karn, Scion of Urza and Grand Architect into one card. Worth noting both are very good cards but also on the narrow side much like Urza. Ideally you play Urza in an artifact heavy deck and when you play him you have four other untapped artifacts. As such you will be able to instantly use the 5 mana effect and get a three for one. Not to mention a 5/5 token and a 1/4 and a wiff of a Tolarian Academy! The ceiling on this card is nuts. Where you find Sai, Master Thopterist I suspect you will now also find Urza. To be honest where you find blue mana and high artifact counts I suspect there will be a lurking Urza, the power and utility he brings is just too much to pass up on. Every one loves cards, mana and board presence.... When you only have a handful of artifacts Urza looks a lot less impressive. The token at 2/2 or less is not providing impressive board presence and the 5 is actually quite expensive when not supported by Tolarian Academy levels of mana. Even decks with things like Emrakul and Omniscience in them rarely exceed an average CMC of more than three and so the ability is much more like 3 mana draw to get an Outpost Siege trigger. I am not convinced my cube has quite enough support for Urza to quite have an impressive enough average performance but the card is just so good I could be very wrong about that. Given that Karn, Scion of Urza is good enough in my cube even though he never gets near his ceiling I think Urza himself has a very good shot. Combo and powered cubes will have more than enough support for Urza to shine, as will constructed decks rather obviously! This is the first time I have given a 7/10 to a card I expect not to make it in to the drafting cube. I want to give him at least an 8 due to how incredibly powerful he can be and how easy it is to make than happen if you want to. Perhaps I will just end up throwing in a bunch more artifacts so as to support Urza better so that I can justify running him.
Collected Conjuring 1
Like Collected Company but gold and sorcery. This can cheat out suspend cards but I am not too excited by that, loads of cards do such things now and this needs you to hit or it needs you to mess around setting it up. With this being fairly restrictive on your build I cannot see where you will be able to fit it in. Collected Company wanted obscenely high target counts and it is far easier to do that with dorks than it is with sorceries. You can't play it in storm as you have so many instants and cards over 3 mana. You can't play it in control because of counterspells. Burn is the only place I really see this but with things like Light up the Stage and a deck of mostly one mana spells why would I want this blue four drop? This could do something in modern but in singleton formats this is immensely awkward and hard to use. Collected Company is better and easier to use than this yet it still only sees play in constructed events. This probably wont even get that.
Scour all Possibilities 6.5
Much as two mana sorcery speed card quality is significantly worse than one mana cards I have been seeing more than enough Discovery // Dispersal being played in blue decks now to be confident that this will also see play. This is more of a Think Twice than a Preordain though. The extra four scry is easily worth those extra two mana on the flashback cost but the sorcery speed will make this a lot less pleasant for control decks to run. It will get used a lot on four mana, or to find that fourth mana and a lot less on turn two. This is too fair for modern I think. Decks that can afford such slow card quality are just going to play Shimmer of Possibility over this. Modern control certainly can't be playing this! Cube and EDH however have more time and lower densities of better card quality they can run so this will get a good amount of action at least in the latter.
Giver of Runes 8
Another design fix and also a fairly simple one. This is a tiny bit hardier than Mother of Runes and does a better job of providing protection to others whatever the situation but she can't just ruin a game by coming out early and crushing the double Murder hand. It is so tedious having answers to Mother of Runes but having to wait until you can cast both before you can two for one yourself and incur farther and vast tempo losses... This is weaker overall than Mother of Runes but it is less polar thus leading to better games both with her and against her. She is still plenty good enough to see a lot of play in cube. With cards like Selfless Spirit and Dauntless Bodyguard now available Giver of Runes is going to be very close to Mother of Runes in performance.