Modern Horizons: Past, Present, and Future

Michael RappModern

On June 14th, 2019, Wizards of the Coast released Modern Horizons: a groundbreaking new set that seeded cards directly into Modern — something players had been requesting for years. Modern Horizons was supposed to fill holes in Modern by providing new cards tailored just for the format while bypassing Standard. Naturally, there were some growing pains involved in designing and testing cards for a format as large as Modern, but overall, I think Modern Horizons has been a huge success.

Earlier this week, Wizards revealed that Modern Horizons 2 would be coming in Q3 2021, and so far, I’ve seen a small mountain of tweets bemoaning the announcement. This criticism largely stems from the rocky early days following Modern Horizons’ release, but I believe that Wizards will have taken some lessons from their first foray into “fixing” Modern. Naturally, I have some wants and hopes for Modern Horizons 2, but I’ll get to that later. 

What Didn’t Work

Many players, myself included, took issue with some of the more powerful cards in Modern Horizons. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis dominated the format from the outset, and Urza, Lord High Artificer and Arcum’s Astrolabe took over after it was banned. The lag time between the Hogaak and Astrolabe bans left players with a sour taste in their mouths when it came to Modern Horizons, which explains a lot of the concern about Modern Horizons 2

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is almost single-handedly responsible for the period known as “Hogaak Summer.” The first Hogaak decks to emerge in Modern were combo decks where Hogaak + Altar of Dementia + Bridge From Below would allow you to mill yourself as much as you’d like and stack up a mountain of zombies that could mill your opponent out. At the time, every deck that hasn’t playing Hogaak had to compete at Hogaak’s speed.

Wizards quickly took action by banning Bridge from Below on July 8th, but that decision proved not to be enough. While it slowed Hogaak down somewhat, it turned out that new builds fueled by Faithless Looting were still too consistent and too powerful. This resulted in the bans of Hogaak and Faithless Looting on August 26th, but there were more Modern Horizons outliers waiting in the wings.

Urza, Lord High Artificer

I’m sure that some people out there won’t agree with me that Urza was a mistake, and they might be right. However, I believe that Urza does too many things too well. Until Mox Opal was banned, Urza was the best midrange card in Modern by a significant margin; it could provide a competitive board presence, a large burst of mana, and a constant stream of extra cards. At the end of the day, it was close between Mox Opal and Urza getting axed, and while Urza remains legal, it’s possible that it could rise back to the pinnacle of Modern.

Arcum’s Astrolabe

Arcum’s Astrolabe seems like an innocuous card, and that’s likely why it stayed legal for so long. I personally commend Wizards for printing a card that could make the long standing under-powered Snow archetype more competitive. It’s unfortunate that the Snow archetype in Modern Horizons was based in blue and green — the same colors that gave us powerful cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. The Simic-based Snow decks simply came together too well with too little downside, and in the end, Astrolabe was rightfully shot into the sun. 

What Worked

Despite these outliers, Modern Horizons was a fantastic set for Modern in many ways. Just look at this list of Modern Horizons cards that have seen play in Modern! 

Honestly, 44 cards may not sound like a ton of cards to break through from a set where every card was designed to be Modern-playable. But considering the average set gives us somewhere in the neighborhood of five or ten new Modern cards, I’d say Wizards killed it with MH1. Most importantly, many of these cards are excellent role-players that addressed needs in many Modern decks. Some cards, such as Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Soulherder, have even spawned new archetypes. Meanwhile, Scale Up and Fact or Fiction have done wonders to provide power boosts to some archetypes that really needed the help. 

I genuinely hope that Modern Horizons 2 provides another glut of interesting and unique cards in the vein of Seasoned Pyromancer, which are fun to play without being overpowered.

Hopes For Modern Horizons 2

My biggest hope for Modern Horizons 2 is that Wizards of the Coast have genuinely learned their lessons from the first Modern Horizons set. If they can produce more cards like the ones listed above without as many high-powered outliers, Modern Horizons 2 might just be one of the most revered sets in Magic’s history.

I’m also excited about the potential to add cards from the pre-Modern days to Modern’s card pool. Here are three cards that I’m hoping we’ll see in Modern Horizons 2.

Cabal Therapy

I make no secret of my love for Thoughtseize, and two Thoughtseizes have to be better than one! In all seriousness, though, of all the cards on the fringes of Legacy, Cabal Therapy would be an excellent candidate for a Modern Horizons 2 reprint. It would be skill-testing in Modern — the only cards that give you information about your opponent’s hand are other discard spells — and overloading on them can be dangerous as the game goes longer. Cabal Therapy could also change the way that discard-heavy decks are currently built in Modern. You need a certain density of creatures that you’re willing to part with in order to get all of the effectiveness out of your Therapies, giving a bonus to some of my favorite creatures: Young Pyromancer and Dreadhorde Arcanist

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of tribal decks, as they tend to be inflexible…that is, unless you’re playing Ninjas! Ninjutsu’s purpose is to provide tricky combat situations that make both players really think hard. Are they making this seemingly strange attack because they have a trick? Are they bluffing me? Which creatures should I block if I can’t block them all? These are all common questions that pop up when Ninjas are involved. Yuriko also has a sweet trigger that will net you some extra cards at the expense of your opponent’s life total, and Ninjas have an interesting amount of design space that Wizards could explore in Modern Horizons 2

The Remaining Canopy Lands

Wizards of the Coast has announced that the Zendikar fetch lands will be reprinted in Modern Horizons 2, but I don’t think a second mini-cycle of lands at rare is out of the question. Truth be told, I’d like to see the remaining four Canopy Lands printed in Modern Horizons 2 just to finish the cycle. But from a format-impact perspective, there are assuredly decks that would love access to the missing ones. Grixis Death’s Shadow would absolutely love the Dimir one, while Rakdos Lurrus will be eager to replace Sunbaked Canyon. Humans, traditionally has a Bant core, would be a natural home for the Azorius one, and they’re already in the market for Horizon Canopy and Waterlogged Grove. While the Gruul land would be a bit more up in the air, it could find a home in Dredge, and likely in Gruul Midrange. Thus far, the original six have proven to be better than a lot of people gave them credit for initially, and they’ve taught us that getting anything close to a “spell” out of your lands is incredibly powerful. 

There are many more cards I’d want to see in Modern Horizons 2, and surely there are some new cards that will be hits as well. But I’d much rather hear your thoughts on Twitter: what you liked from Modern Horizons, and what you hope to see in Modern Horizons 2. I hope to hear from you soon, and I’ll be back here on Card Kingdom next week!