Modern Horizons 2 is finally fully revealed! It won’t be long before we can get our hands on arguably the most powerful set of all time, and you’ll want to make sure you’re ready to grab the best new staples. I covered a selection of new Modern staples in my last article, but this time I’m going a little further. I’m taking a look at the best commons, uncommons, and rares for both Modern and Commander, plus a pick for the best commons for the Pauper format.
For this article, I’m choosing to go by rarity over price this time; as Modern Horizons 2 is a premium set and prices can change significantly over the next few weeks (or even days), it’s difficult to determine which cards will remain (or become) budget over time.
Considering Modern Horizons 2 was designed first and foremost for Modern, this is the format I expect to be impacted the most by it. There are some cards that are guaranteed to have a massive impact on the format and have already been talked about at length (Counterspell, Abundant Harvest, etc). Rather than preaching to the choir, I’ll take a look at less obvious choices that may be flying under the radar right now.
Best Common: Faithless Salvaging
Honorable Mention: Mine Collapse
Faithless Salvaging is meant to be the successor to Faithless Looting, a card that holds a special place in my heart. I wasn’t sure about this card at first; Looting was the glue that held together many decks (including my beloved Izzet Phoenix), and I couldn’t see how a two-mana instant without flashback could ever hold a candle to it. This is why it’s important to playtest cards before making your mind up completely, as I was pleasantly surprised by its power!
Let me make this clear: this card is no Faithless Looting, nor will it fill every role that it used to occupy. However, its power is quite subtle, so I’m not surprised it hasn’t been picked up yet. Rebound is an underrated mechanic: it essentially gives you a free spell the turn after you cast it, and free spells should never be overlooked. Casting this on turn two means you only need two more spells to trigger Arclight Phoenix, and it’s a free discard for decks like Hollow One. It’s certainly a powerful spell, and it’s not getting the respect it deserves. I’m sure it will shine in due time, even under the shadow of its predecessor.
Our first honorable mention is Mine Collapse, another free spell. Being able to kill all but the largest threats in exchange for a land is incredibly powerful. I can see it being used in Prowess mirrors to take out an opposing Stormwing Entity, or as part of an explosive flurry of spells to trigger prowess creatures, return Arclight Phoenix, or perhaps both!
Best Uncommon: Strike it Rich
Honorable Mention: Blazing Rootwalla
You might be sensing a theme with the cards I’ve talked about so far, and you’d be right. Spells that effectively cost no mana to play are inherently powerful and should be respected. Strike it Rich seems harmless at first: it’s a worse Manamorphose, right? Well, it turns out you can do a lot worse than Manamorphose and still have a powerful card.
If Wizards printed a sorcery that cost 0 mana and it had no other text, I genuinely believe it would see play in Spellslinger decks. Strike it Rich is a better spell than that, considering you can take advantage of artifact or token synergies, and even spend three mana to cast another spell from the graveyard for incidental value later. In decks like Prowess or Phoenix, a spell’s effect tends to matter less than its efficiency, and this cannot be more efficient without actually being Manamorphose itself.
There are a number of fringe applications for Strike it Rich that I think others have missed with this spell. It can be played on turn one, where it effectively acts as a one-time red Llanowar Elves. This could be huge for helping Red Prison to stay relevant after the banning of Simian Spirit Guide, reducing the land count in Prowess decks, or even fixing your mana under a Blood Moon. There are enough fringe applications that something is bound to Strike it Rich, so to speak.
Our fiery little friend Blazing Rootwalla may not look like they’re up to much, but there’s a lot more to this Lizard than meets the eye. Many decks look to discard cards to enable their strategies, and so they often include cards that synergize well with this. Take Hollow One, which Mason Clark talked about in his most recent article. Blazing Rootwalla could easily fit in such a shell, or alongside other graveyard-based creatures like Vengevine. It may not seem like much to get a free 1/1 creature when you discard it, but a free creature that’s also a mana sink later on is significantly better than nothing at all. It’s certainly a role player and won’t be ubiquitous in these decks, but the incidental value it provides is second to none.
Best Rare: Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar
Honorable Mention: Territorial Kavu
Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar (or Asmora, as she’s known to friends) is not an okay card. It’s almost trivial to discard a card in Modern, especially when you’re actively trying to do so. I mentioned Mason’s Hollow One list from his article earlier, and it’s a great example of how easy it is to cast her. Simply cycling a Street Wraith is enough, and getting a 3/3 on turn one that draws you a Food factory is absurd. But Asmora’s real power comes from The Underworld Cookbook, which easily generates food for her to serve to your opponents’ creatures. Her last ability can kill a Primeval Titan at instant speed, or stack two uses of it to kill even the biggest Death’s Shadow. This is another card like Faithless Salvaging for me: it doesn’t look like anything special, but it plays so much better than it seems. It would not surprise me to see Asmora at the top of the Modern metagame in a month or two.
Territorial Kavu is an honorable mention in the rare slot, and for good reason. The printing of the Triomes in Ikoria has made it all too easy to turn this Kavu into a 5/5 on turn two. Not only are they the poster child for the return of Domain Zoo, but they’re every combo deck’s worst nightmare: pressure and disruption. Exiling cards from graveyards can be enough to slow down a Storm opponent, and in match-ups where the bin isn’t relevant, you can smooth your draws and dig to find Tribal Flames and close the game. Keep an eye on this card, as it’s poised to be the next Tarmogoyf, perhaps even better still!
Best New-to-Modern Reprint: Fire // Ice
I decided to include Fire // Ice in a separate category for reprints that are entering Modern for the first time; I didn’t want to take the spotlight off the new cards, but it’s still worth talking about. This is a hugely impactful spell that is often not respected enough in Constructed formats. Fire can be used to take out two small creatures, chip away at a planeswalker, deal direct damage, or any of the above. A Forked Bolt that costs one mana more but has more flexibility already seems like a strong card, but Ice really is the, err, icing on the cake.
A Twiddle effect is not particularly powerful by itself, but when it cantrips, it suddenly becomes much more potent. Tapping down an Urza’s Tower in your opponent’s upkeep can effectively Time Walk them, and it can give a number of decks that little bit of time they need to take over. You can use Ice to neutralize an attacker or clear a blocker on your opponent’s end step, or even tap a Trinisphere to turn it off! The utility of this spell is incredibly diverse, and even if it has no use, it can replace itself for two mana.
One final use of Fire // Ice is as a powerful form of interaction in cascade decks. The mana value of a split card is the total cost of both sides, so this has a mana value of four. This means it can’t be hit by cascade spells like Shardless Agent or Violent Outburst, and so provides excellent cheap interaction for these decks. I would suggest picking up a playset if you’re thinking of playing Modern in the future, as it will be a real player for some time to come.
Commander gets sweet new toys from every set, and Modern Horizons 2 is no different. There are exciting new commanders, powerful storm enablers, and even Squirrels. So many Squirrels. I’ll talk about some of the lesser-known cards from this set, and where they might fit in the 99.
Best Common: Goblin Anarchomancer
Honorable Mention: Tavern Scoundrel
Goblin Electromancer has long been a staple of Spellslinger decks, and with the increase of storm support in red and green, it’s only fitting that the Gruul Clans gained their own counterpart. A number of decks stand to benefit from this Shaman’s inclusion; it may be easier to remove, but it’s effectively a Ruby Medallion and an Emerald Medallion at common! Unlike Goblin Electromancer, Anarchomancer reduces the cost of all red and green spells, not just instants and sorceries. This extremely potent mana reduction can allow you to start double or even triple-spelling much earlier in the game, and push your opponents to keep up with you or lose.
Tavern Scoundrel is a card that has flown under the radar for most people; many looked at the coin flipping part and thought that this is a plant for casuals and Krark, the Thumbless decks. While that may be true, Scoundrel is still a powerful card in its own right. It’s a sacrifice outlet that will give you back the mana it took to cast it the first couple of uses; it’s also a token generator and a red source of mana ramp. It may not be the most reliable card, but once you can minimize the downsides, it will pay off in spades!
Best Uncommon: Tireless Provisioner
Honorable Mention: Blessed Respite
Tireless Tracker is an extremely popular card; it has earned its pedigree through multiple formats, from Standard right through to Legacy. Tireless Provisioner doesn’t have the luxury of starting its life in Standard to showcase its potential, but it has more than enough going for it to become a Commander all-star, perhaps even at the same level as its Clue-generating sister.
The comparisons between Provisioner and Tracker end at the landfall ability, however, as this Elf Scout has more in common with Lotus Cobra. Generating a Treasure for every land you play is a better version of the iconic Snake’s ability, allowing you to store the mana for later turns if desired. You can also use it to take advantage of any potential token synergy like Doubling Season, or even abuse Kodama of the East Tree’s ability to play even more lands! Provisioner’s ability to generate Food tokens is certainly less impressive, but can also help with lifegain synergies, like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose. This will become a Commander staple for sure, so be certain to pick up your copies now!
This set is stacked with exceptional role players for Commander, and one of the best is Blessed Respite. Most decks can benefit from a fog effect somewhere in the 99, but most decks wouldn’t want to spend a full card slot on it. The same generally applies to graveyard hate, though it is more respected overall. The beauty of spells like Blessed Respite is that you can use up one card slot to perform two very different functions. You’ll generally be happy to use this for one of the two abilities, but being able to use both makes it an incredibly efficient and flexible spell that deserves a slot in many green decks.
Best Rare: Nettlecyst
Honorable Mention: Search the Premises
There are countless decks that wish they could run Cranial Plating or All That Glitters as an alternative win condition, but lack the color identity to do so. Enter Nettlecyst! This is the first card that can immediately suit up your artifact or enchantment commander that doesn’t care about its colors, giving a slew of decks a new way to end the game. I’ll be adding this to my Glacian, Powerstone Engineer + Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith deck as a way to punch through damage, and I can see other decks like Emry, Lurker of the Loch following suit over time.
Smothering Tithe has been a point of contention in the Commander community over the past year or so: some players hate to play against it, and others feel it’s the kind of tool white needed to stay relevant. The result is a card that appears in most white decks, and is met by groans whenever it lands on the table. Search the Premises would be a suitable replacement for Smothering Tithe in more casual decks, and a decent supplement to it in more powerful builds. It certainly leans more towards a Pillowfort or control strategy, but you can also leverage its power through politics; this should lead to more engaging gameplay and more enjoyable experiences overall.
2020 may have been the Year of Commander, and I believe 2021 could well be the Year of Modern. “Designed for specific format” sets like Modern Horizons and Commander Legends have proven to be hugely successful, extremely popular, and a net positive for their respective formats. Modern Horizons 2 appears to be continuing this trend, and in addition to being one of the most powerful sets of all time, it’s shaping up to be one of the best, too.
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.