Modern Horizons is Still Changing Modern

Michael RappModern

Editor’s Note: Two decklists in this article feature Arcum’s Astrolabe, which was banned from Modern on July 13, 2020. Read the full announcement from Wizards of the Coast here.

During its preview season last summer, Modern Horizons was met with some criticism from players. It was hailed as “Commander Masters,” and players generally felt the set was underpowered for the Modern landscape. 

But boy oh boy, were we wrong. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis quickly landed on the banned list, and several cards — including Bridge from Below and Mox Opal — were banned in connection with Modern Horizons cards. After the most recent Modern ban list changes, Modern Horizons cards are even more prevalent in the format, in some cases adding multiple cards to entire decks. 

Bant Snow

This list from a recent MTGO Super Qualifier features Ice-Fang Coatl, Archmage’s Charm, Force of Negation, and Arcum’s Astrolabe. Any Modern deck that includes four new cards from a single set is a big deal, and Bant Snow Control is proving itself to be one of the best decks in the Modern metagame.

Bant Snow Control by ecobaronen, 8-0 MTGO Super Qualifier

2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
3 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Ice-Fang Coatl
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Archmage’s Charm
2 Cryptic Command
3 Force of Negation
2 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Breeding Pool
4 Field of Ruin
4 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Snow-Covered Forest
5 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Temple Garden


2 Aether Gust
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Damping Sphere
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Timely Reinforcements
3 Veil of Summer

Modern Horizons is solely responsible for the Snow archetypes that have been popping up in Modern lately. We’d seen Mono-Red Skred in the past, but that deck never really had what it took to be a tier one strategy. Arcum’s Astrolabe goes the furthest in enabling these blue-based Snow control decks by providing invaluable mana fixing in decks pressured to play a high number of basic lands. 

Ice-Fang Coatl is pretty close to Baleful Strix, a card control players have wanted to see in Modern for years. In Bant Snow Control, Ice-Fang Coatl can often be a Baleful Strix with flash, thanks to seven Snow basics and four Arcum’s Astrolabes. Another cool benefit of both Ice-Fang Coatl and Arcum’s Astrolabe is that they have pushed mediocre cards like Opt and Serum Visions out of the deck. Attaching “draw a card” to cards that you already want to play generates more effective slots in the deck.

Force of Negation is an enormous boon for interactive decks looking to play fair Magic. Honestly, I think it’s the best designed card in Modern Horizons. At three mana, it’s cheap enough to reasonably cast when you can’t or don’t want to pitch another blue card to it. Plus, the restriction on its alternate casting cost ensures that it can answer combos rather than protect them, which creates interesting gameplay dynamics in the format. Exiling the countered spell may also be relevant, especially if your opponent is playing Snapcaster Mage, Mystic Sanctuary, or Underworld Breach. I absolutely love Force of Negation and hope to see more cards designed like it.

Temur Urza

Temur Urza by Linsanity96, 8-0 MTGO PTQ

4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
4 Gilded Goose
3 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
2 Archmage’s Charm
3 Cryptic Command
3 Galvanic Blast
3 Metallic Rebuke
1 Aether Spellbomb
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Mishra’s Bauble
1 Mox Amber
2 Breeding Pool
2 Flooded Strand
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Forest
5 Snow-Covered Island
1 Steam Vents


2 Aether Gust
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Blood Moon
2 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Mystical Dispute
1 Tireless Tracker
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Veil of Summer

By now, we’re all pretty familiar with Urza decks, and it’s safe to say that Urza himself is the best Modern-legal card in Modern Horizons. That’s because Urza, Lord High Artificer isn’t just a good card in its own right: it makes all the other cards around it better. Gilded Goose now makes Mox Sapphires which double as food should you need the life. Expensive counterspells like Cryptic Command and Archmage’s Charm are now easier to cast, and can provide a huge blowout by protecting Urza the turn you cast it. Urza has proven to be incredibly powerful as both a combo piece with Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry and as just a stellar midrange threat.

Archmage’s Charm is a card that flew under the radar for a while during the Faithless Looting + Mox Opal era. Modal counterspells tend to be quite powerful, as the downside of counterspells tends to be that they don’t affect the board; in a format with as many one-mana spells as Modern, stealing a permanent will be relevant in a large percentage of match-ups. Whether you’re taking a creature defensively, stealing something like an opposing Arcum’s Astrolabe to fix your mana, or even choking a creature deck on mana by snagging their Aether Vial, the Mind Control mode has more value than initially expected. The other classic problem with counterspells is that they just sit in your hand when you need different; thankfully, Archmage’s Charm can serve as instant-speed Divination to help find sweepers, threats, or extra lands. 

Rakdos Unearth

Rakdos Unearth by ballestin93, 7-1 MTGO Premier Event

3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Dark Confidant
4 Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
4 Lightning Skelemental
4 Seasoned Pyromancer
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Ransack the Lab
4 Thoughtseize
3 Unearth
3 Fatal Push
1 Kolaghan’s Command
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Castle Embereth
1 Castle Locthwain
3 Marsh Flats
2 Mountain
3 Swamp


1 Abrade
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
3 Collective Brutality
1 Dreadbore
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Surgical Extraction

Like Bant Snow, this Rakdos Unearth deck packs four different cards from Modern Horizons: Lightning Skelemental, Seasoned Pyromancer, Ransack the Lab, and its signature card, Unearth. Unearth was on many players’ radars as a powerful option, but it never really made a splash. I registered Unearth in Mardu Shadow last summer to great success and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was Ranger-Captain of Eos, another Modern Horizons card. 

In this Rakdos deck, Unearth can target any creature for value. Buying back Seasoned Pyromancer is a great way to filter dead cards into new ones and still have enough mana to cast them in the same turn. I played this deck a few weeks ago, and the turn sequence of discard spell > Kroxa > Lightning Skelemental > Unearth + Lightning Skelemental led to some explosive results.

Lightning Skelemental was pushed aside by all but the most daring brewers, and now it is performing admirably. Surrounding our favorite skeleton with enough discard spells to clear the way is a recipe for success. Six damage is also no joke in a deck with Lightning Bolt and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Even when you happen to draw mostly slower cards, your opponent is unlikely to have enough cards in their hand to mount a comeback, so you can almost finish the game at your leisure.

Seasoned Pyromancer has appeared in a number of other midrange decks in Modern, including Jund, Grixis Death’s Shadow and Ponza. One of the easiest ways to lose a midrange mirror is drawing dead, especially if you draw too many lands or not enough. Luckily, Seasoned Pyromancer allows you to cash in cards you don’t need and potentially make a 1/1, which is huge in grindy match-ups. Perhaps my favorite part of Seasoned Pyromancer’s design is the ability to exile it from the graveyard for two 1/1’s at instant speed; this both reduces the risk of having a three-mana spell when facing discard or counterspells and makes you slightly more resilient to single-target removal spells. 

More on the Horizon

One of the recurring issues with Modern is that the threats in the format can be much better than the answers. Luckily for us, Wizards started to address that problem with the design of Modern Horizons. I hope we see more card designs in the vein of Force of Negation, Pillage, Plague Engineer, and Collector Ouphe in the future. 

Until next time, remember, cards may be better than they initially seem!