In case you’ve been bewildered by the sheer rate of releases, we’re only a month away from perhaps the most important set of the year: Modern Horizons 2.
By June 11th, we will be almost exactly two years on from the original Modern Horizons set, so there’s been plenty of time to think through its unprecedented impact on Constructed. Urza, Lord High Artificer. Wrenn and Six. Echo of Eons. Force of Negation and Force of Vigor. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. These cards didn’t just resculpt the landscape of Modern — they turned every eternal format on its head overnight, and nothing has really been the same since. Not even Pauper was spared, thanks to gassed-up commons like Arcum’s Astrolabe and Ephemerate!
So as we prepare to go back to the wild west with a new Modern Horizons set, I thought it would be a good chance to peer through my Prophetic Prism and try to anticipate the shape of that chaos. As usual, I’ll be offering a mix of theories on the set, ranging from the rational to the desperately hopeful — but all based on the logic of how MH1 seemed to be put together, and how R&D has handled things since.
In general, I think it’s unlikely that MH2 will emphasize the same mechanics or Limited archetypes as its predecessor, like we might expect from a “Return to X” set. Modern Horizons isn’t tied to any plane or setting, and the first set was focused on breaking new ground with its designs wherever possible. I’d expect the same from MH2, along with a heavy dose of wish fulfillment; in particular, the kinds of wishes that don’t fit easily into full Standard sets.
MH1 spared no effort in reimagining its laundry list of old keywords, busting out everything from splice to unearth and taking them far beyond their original design space. This all-encompassing ambition has left the menu a little bare for fresh pickings come MH2. But luckily enough, we’ve invented a bunch of cool new set-specific keywords since 2019 which can now be pushed to their limits.
Safe Bet: Foretell
There’s a clear goal in recent design to uncover more elegant evergreen mechanics along the lines of cycling or kicker — ones which intuitively smooth out the curve and help players work through dodgy draws while offering some interesting choices. Foretell was a huge success in this regard, and Kaldheim Limited was much lauded as a result.
One nice thing about including such a mechanic in MH2 is that it can show up across all five colors, while still enabling a specific archetype in whichever combination gets the most support. And as with Vega, the Watcher, WotC can keep this archetype open to a much wider range of synergies by referring to “cards in exile” rather than foretell specifically (more on that later). But in my mind, this open-endedness is priority 1A for Modern Horizons design.
Just a Hunch: Encore
I don’t have much to say about this one — it’s simply the coolest and most fair graveyard recursion mechanic in recent memory. It ticks the “lots of avenues for synergy” box, being able to move cards in and out of zones, as well as creating tokens and encouraging combat. Encore also fulfills another “bonus design objective,” as I think of it: creating cards which are specifically exciting for or functional with multiplayer Commander. All of this makes it feel like a strong choice for what they need here.
Wildest Dreams: “Contain”
The world has only recently experienced the thrill of playing with Elite Spellbinder. Apart from PVDDR’s face, the most beautiful part of that card is its potential to inform the future of white card design.
Keywording the “exile a card and its owner may cast it for 2 more” effect makes more sense the more you think about it. To my mind, the best white mechanics are inflexible in function, but very flexible in application. Think about protection — it can be a combat trick, a counterspell, a source of evasion, removal for auras, and even more! Flicker effects present a similarly broad range of outcomes to the creative white mage.
But “contain,” as this new keyword might be called, has both of them beat. The soft-exile feels more mercifully white as removal, and can lead to cheaper, more tuned versions of Oblivion Ring. Spellbinder shows the potential for hand interaction, but we could contain spells from the stack just as easily, a la Spell Queller. This could also be the long-awaited white card draw mechanic; the opposite of red’s “impulse draw,” where the focus is on eventual advantage. The utility applications are limitless — imagine “contain each creature you control” or “contain all creature cards in your graveyard”! I don’t think you’d even have to vary the cost of the “tax” — although I can definitely see a cheap white legendary creature with “contained spells you cast cost 1 less. Contained spells opponents cast cost 1 more.”
WotC has confessed that they struggle to find a white-feeling way to draw cards, or to play a non-oppressive tempo game. I hope they realize that same holy grail is now sitting in their lap!
RETURNING & REPURPOSED MECHANICS
Beyond keywords, Modern Horizons took great joy in flexing the open design space around old mechanical themes, taking them into new colors or focusing on different ways to generate advantage. Which themes will get a makeover this time?
Safe Bet: MDFCs
I’m sensing that WotC can’t get enough of these right now, given how well they create fresh deck building options in Limited and smooth out draw RNG. MH2 would be a chance to cut loose with the designs that were too spicy for Standard sets. In this case, I reckon we’ll see MDFC dual lands, which enter tapped on the land side and have a powerful gold spell on the other. They might even use this cycle to tie into Ravnica, since it’s been a hot minute since we saw the place.
Just a Hunch: Auras
“Enchant creature” cards are in a rough spot balance-wise; they’ve been either bad or Bogles for way too long. And since ZNR’s self-attaching Equipment is essentially a strict upgrade to Auras, it seems like the enchantments will now have to shift roles to remain relevant. What do Auras offer that Equipment can’t? The flexibility to attach to anything!
Following up on the excellent, high-floor design of the Runes in Kaldheim, I’d love to see the MH2 team unveil more “enchant permanent” cards, especially ones that attach to either the opponent’s cards or yours based on context. There’s a ton of ways we can negate the situational nature of Auras: MDFC Auras, Living Weapon-style Auras that bring their own creature, or abilities active outside the battlefield like Plumes of Peace and Spectral Steel. This is the place to get niche with the requirements, too: “enchant token permanent” and “enchant card in exile” are ones we haven’t seen yet!
Wildest Dreams: “Non”creatures
I personally love on-board abilities, midrange, and wraths. By far the coolest way to combine these passions is to play supposedly two-sided removal in a deck where your creature threats aren’t actually creatures most of the time. Creature-lands, vehicles, and of course my beloved Gideons all fit this category, along with Keyrunes and cards like Myth Realized.
I was originally thinking of putting just one of these card types down, but it would be way more “Modern Horizons” to support them all at once with some clever, open-ended design. Think about how supporting value for such an archetype could be worded:
“Whenever a permanent you control becomes a creature, scry 1.”
“Creatures you control get +1/+1 for each of their card types” in white would also be a clever redux of Tempered Steel for normal artifact and enchantment creatures!
“Enchant noncreature permanent – Enchanted permanent gets +3/+3 and double strike.”
I also can’t look past the fact that this out-of-canon set is a rare, even unique chance to print a new Gideon planeswalker and keep the idea of building around Gideon of the Trials relevant. It’s the least WotC can do after… y’know… killing the guy.
CONSTRUCTED SUPPORT FOR NEW/OVERLOOKED DECKS
From Cycling to Ninjas to Slivers and more, MH1 had a very clear goal of bumping up the power level of fringe Modern decks. Without retreading old ground, where could the designers print the power this time?
Safe Bet: Mutate
The wacky, stacky mechanic from Ikoria has a ton of design space around it — perhaps the most open-ended set of fresh interactions ever generated by a single keyword. Getting to print cards for this high-power, high-complexity set is the perfect place to let loose any mutate designs that were too hot for use in Standard. And since the existing cards are so focused on repeatedly mutating the same thing for value, just putting more playable mutators into the card pool could easily elevate the mechanic to a Modern power level.
Just a Hunch: Legendary “Tribal”
On the flipside, “legendary matters” has appeared sporadically over the years, but never quite broke through as a top deck in Modern or Legacy. With such cards as Mox Amber just lying around, I think a handful of well-targeted new legends could push the all-legendary tribal deck over the line. And there are a ton of reasons to want that: the legend rule makes for an interesting deck building puzzle, the deck stands out from current aggro lists, and of course, any “legendary matters” cards will probably get Commander players to buy MH2 boxes en masse.
Having watched Gene Holland run tables in Australian Highlander with the beautiful 4c Legends archetype, I’d happily pay WotC to port the idea into Modern. Just make sure we bring back grandeur to enable it!
Wildest Dreams: Discard
Modern always need to promote interactive archetypes alongside the linear proactive ones. Traditional discard decks like 8-Rack are good at this, but also considered fairly miserable play experiences. There is another way — positive discard payoffs Waste Not and Tinybones are very popular cards — but a lot of work needs to be done to prop them up. Adding Tinybones into Modern through MH2 would be a good start, but I’d like to see WotC go much further.
One new twist on this theme would be to add “whenever an opponent discards or exiles a card from hand” to the usual templating. This allows for new effects like Agonizing Remorse, older ones like Tidehollow Sculler, and even “contain,” if they run with that idea! There’s even the chance of some nice fringe interaction with suspend, adventure and foretell; or cards could be worded so that you must force the discard/exile. Either way, we’d quickly open up a lot more options by letting discard-focused decks play all the good discard spells.
MH1 went down as a tremendous Draft set in most people’s eyes, thanks to cool archetypes like Changelings, Slivers and Snow, plus a ton of sweet build-arounds. There will be sky-high expectations on this set to deliver in Limited, too.
Safe Bet: Exile Triggers
Similar to what Lorehold is doing in Strixhaven Limited, I expect either an archetype or overall emphasis on cards tracking what goes in and out of exile. In a jigsaw-puzzle set with tons of one-off mechanics, you want your Draft archetypes to tie into very high-level and open-ended parts of the game rules. Checking for cards entering exile covers flashback, flicker, foretell, suspend, imprint, impulse draw, and even good old-fashioned removal. You really couldn’t do much better for a Modern Horizons Draft theme.
Just a Hunch: Tokens
Another big-picture part of the game which has only expanded in application over recent years. “Whenever you create a token” was never over-explored, and now has fresh potential alongside Food, Treasure, and other noncreature tokens. Populate was left out of MH1’s keyword yard sale, but fits these kinds of cards especially well. Imagine the potential for clever use in something like “1U, Instant: Draw a card, create a Treasure, then populate.”
This leads me to my big pitch: MH2 should definitely spice up its tokens theme by centering it in blue, or even blue-black. Very few blue token creators exist across the game’s history, but they tend to make either massive sea monsters or Treasures with little in between — so perfect for populate bait-and-switches! Eternalize, encore, and other cool mechanics in-color can dovetail with any support cards as well.
Of course, another option is long-awaited land tokens! The implications for that are more than I can put down here, but I’d be excited to see them finally exist even if it means a more conventional green-white home for the tokens deck.
Wildest Dreams: Party
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that Draft archetypes work around “gap-filler” mechanics, the way changeling and cycling enabled multiple decks in MH1. Those two are generic enough that WotC could simply go back to the well; I wouldn’t mind a bit more support to push Astral Drift towards relevance. But why bother with that when the perfect variation on changeling was just printed in Zendikar Rising!
Because the “job” typing on creatures is rarely important, it’s very easy to make cards that work for Constructed and form a powerful Party deck for MH2 Limited. Without actual changelings (or equivalents like Tajuru Paragon) in the same environment, it will be harder to fill your party, but this just means we can make the payoffs much more powerful! That power spike also might give Constructed Party decks enough of a boost to see some play in Modern, which would be neat.
BRACING FOR SECOND IMPACT
It’s fun to speculate about what’s sure to be a wild and creative set, but that belies the most important MH2 prediction of all: will it be as disruptive to the Modern metagame as MH1?
I would guess we see far less upheaval this time around. It would be silly to expect no significant printings — changing the Modern card pool is the goal here in the first place! But I think WotC is capable of learning its lessons, both from MH1 itself and from the years-long power level debates that began with Kaladesh. Modern Horizons 2 will likely see a slight tweak toward niche build-arounds and away from self-enabling graveyard engines, and we’ll all be the better for it.
After all, I don’t think anybody really wants to see Modern Horizons fully defanged just yet. Ever since the first Modern Masters release, the majority of players have craved these high-power premium sets. WotC might not market Modern Horizons as a Masters set, but that’s still the energy motivating a lot of its audience. And since MH2 combines the promises of power and novelty — the two strongest incentives to buy any new Magic product — I’d say it’s unlikely to disappoint.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.