With the upcoming release of Core Set 2021, I’m back with my picks for the Top 5 cards in the set Modern. There are a few different criteria that we could use to evaluate these cards: which are the most powerful in a vacuum, or which are most likely to see play? In the end, I felt that talking about the cards with the greatest potential to impact Modern was the way to go.
One note before we begin: Core Set 2021 is full of reprints, many of which are already legal in Modern. This Top 5 list only covers cards that are new to Magic or new to the Modern format. We already know how powerful Azusa and Scavenging Ooze can be.
With that out of the way, let’s jump right in!
Containment Priest is a card players have been asking for in Modern for quite some time. Some may say this reprint came too late after the bannings of Hogaak and Faithless Looting, but hey, I’ll still take it! Decks that traditionally want anti-graveyard cards but also want to attack are drooling over this hate-bear.
Containment Priest also has a very convenient creature type — human — and Modern Humans is likely the deck that wants access to this card the most. Rest in Peace was a longtime sideboard staple for Humans, but with Cavern of Souls, Ancient Ziggurat, and Unclaimed Territory making up more than half of the mana base, casting Rest in Peace on turn two can be difficult. Containment Priest is almost always castable on turn two, and it also promotes the standard Humans synergies.
If you aren’t a Humans player, Devoted Druid, Burn, and Mardu Death’s Shadow may make suitable homes for Containment Priest, too.
At first glance, Conspicuous Snoop looks like one more in a crowded field of two-drop value goblins. But this card is really a combo piece wearing a goblin costume. Here’s how it works:
- Play Conspicuous Snoop on turn two.
- On turn three, play Boggart Harbinger and use its ability to put Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker on top of your library. Conspicuous Snoop now has Kiki-Jiki’s activated ability.
- Tap Conspicuous Snoop as many times as you want to make copies of itself.
- Once you’ve made enough goblins, tap your last copy of Conspicuous Snoop to make a copy of Boggart Harbinger. Search for Mogg Fanatic and put it on top of your library.
- All your Conspicuous Snoops now have Mogg Fanatic’s activated ability, so you can sacrifice them all to deal lethal damage to your opponent.
The goal now is to find the best shell for these cards. There are two major contenders: a Rakdos/Grixis combo-centric version or a more traditional Rakdos Goblins deck. The Rakdos combo build gets access to plenty of hand disruption to try and force through the combo. Grixis makes your mana less reliable, but you gain access to cantrips, which will hopefully increase the consistency of finding Snoop + Harbinger. But a Goblins deck is likely the best option because it gets access to Aether Vial. You can Vial in Snoop at the end of the turn, tick Vial up to three on your next upkeep, and Vial in Harbinger — and the whole sequence can’t be countered. The goblins build also squeezes a little more out of Conspicuous Snoop than an all-in combo build by making real use of its ability to play Goblins from the top of your library.
Conspicuous Snoop may have a real chance of missing in Modern, but if it hits, it could enable the best new combo deck we’ve seen in a while.
Shacklegeist only has one real home in Modern: Bant Spirits. Granted, a cheap, flying creature with upside and the Spirit type is all Bant Spirits has ever really asked for. But the main strength of Shacklegeist is its ability to tap opposing creatures, as it allows you to start racing your opponents before they even realize what’s going on. Putting Shacklegeist into play on the opponent’s end step and tapping a creature or two they left back to block can drastically change the tide of a game.
You can also use Shacklegeist’s ability defensively. If you have creatures in play that would otherwise have unfavorable blocks, you can use them to disqualify the best creature on the other side of the table from attacking. It’s also worth noting that the tap ability doesn’t care about summoning sickness, so instant-speed creatures can do their part.
Shacklegeist isn’t going to change the Spirits archetype all that much, but a few copies could certainly change the course of games. I’d expect to see Shacklegeist reasonably often in Spirits lists going forward.
Conclave Mentor is basically the Selesnya Winding Constrictor. It adds redundancy to Hardened Scales — a deck that needs to draw its namesake card in order to be competitive. Hardened Scales doesn’t really need twelve copies of the same effect, but it can cut Winding Constrictor for Conclave Mentor. This allows the deck to shift from Green-Black to Green-White, trading Fatal Push for Path to Exile — which is better in a lot of metagames — and gaining access to white’s incredibly strong sideboard cards. But it’s also possible that the critical mass of +1/+1 counter cards in Modern will spur the creation of an entirely new deck.
Finally we have Stormwing Entity, one of the flashiest cards entering Modern. Much like Conspicuous Snoop, Stormwing Entity has a chance of being a bust, but could easily revive some old archetypes or even spark a new one.
Blue-Red spell-based decks haven’t really been players in Modern since the Faithless Looting ban took Arclight Phoenix out of the picture, and Delver of Secrets decks never really took off. However, Stormwing Entity can put out some real damage given the right home. Recently, we’ve seen Prowess decks rise to the top of Modern, and Izzet could be the newest flavor of those decks. Monastery Swiftspear, Soul-Scar Mage, Stormwing Entity, and Sprite Dragon can take down an opponent quickly with the right spell back-up. Manamorphose enables large prowess turns and lets you cast Stormwing Entity as early as turn two so you can start racking up the damage. There’s also a contingent of players that love Kiln Fiend “Blitz” decks, we will certainly see Stormwing Entity there as well.
Much of Core Set 2021’s power lies in its reprints, but some of these new cards have plenty of potential in Modern. And this list is just the tip of the iceberg: plenty of cards from this set have high floors, but we’re not sure where the ceiling is yet. I’d love to hear which cards you’ll be playing in Modern this season; be sure to let me know on Twitter at @RappaciousOne!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.