At long last, it’s time for more new cards! Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths is now available on digital Magic platforms and preselling at CardKingdom.com, which means we can start planning out what we want to plan in our favorite formats. As with any other set, the first thing I did was look to see which cards would make a splash in Modern. Luckily, I had quite a few to choose from!
What “Top 5” list would be complete without some honorable mentions? Making these lists for sets with relatively flat power levels can be a bit tough, so you all get three bonus cards today.
Sea-Dasher Octopus looks a little out of place in Modern. A three-mana 2/2 with flash that draws a card when it rumbles usually doesn’t cut it, but for a blue-based tempo strategy, it’s a reasonable end-of-turn play. The ability to Mutate Sea-Dasher Octopus at instant speed is also easy to underestimate. Ninja of the Deep Hours wasn’t that far off from seeing play in Izzet Delver, and our eight-legged friend is very comparable; plus, it doesn’t have the downside of needing another creature to be good. I don’t know if Sea-Dasher Octopus has a home in a current tier one deck, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it showed up eventually.
There are a lot of different applications for The Ozolith, but the best home for it is likely Hardened Scales. “But Mike, Mox Opal is banned!” you might say. “You can’t play Hardened Scales anymore!” (Queue the sad Ravager noises.) While that’s a perfectly valid argument, The Ozolith has potential to breathe some life into an otherwise dormant archetype. Its low mana cost and its ability to trigger during combat (instead of upkeep or end step) mean that this card may have a shot. Arcbound Ravager lets you sac Arcbound Workers and Hangarback Walkers in your main phase to put counters on both the Ravager and The Ozolith, then move to combat and make a huge creature. Perhaps you could make a Walking Ballista big enough to deal lethal damage, or transform an Ornithopter or Etched Champion into a real threat.
Yorion, Sky Nomad seems like the hardest of all the companions to evaluate given the constraints it poses. For so long, the prevailing wisdom has been to play a 60-card deck for maximum consistency — but is that always worth it?
In the past, we’ve seen decks play more than 60, like Ben Rubin’s 64-card Abzan Blue deck from Battle for Zendikar-era Standard that earned a second-place finish at GP Oakland 2016. Why did he play 64 cards? The three- and four-color mana bases in that Standard format weren’t the most stable if you were playing the normal 26 lands in a 60-card deck; Ben discovered that if you went up to 29 lands and 64 cards, the mana was much more reliable. The same could be possible in Modern, where there are currently a lot of three- and four-color decks playing large numbers of Snow basics to support Arcum’s Astrolabe.
The question is, what else do you put in your deck besides extra lands? You’ll need to play a lot of creatures with enter-the-battlefield effects to really make Yorion worth your while. Charming Prince, Spark Double, and Restoration Angel can all pair up with Yorion to blink your entire board every turn, forcing your opponent to have a removal spell or risk getting buried in card advantage. I’m interested in figuring out how much to lean into flicker value as opposed to just playing higher-power level cards. Cards that contradict common knowledge and deck-building methods always interest me a great deal, so I’ll be following this one closely.
The Top 5
Phew, those mentions were quite honorable! Now, let’s get into the meat of things: the cards I believe have the best shot at being powerful in Modern.
For quite some time, Modern has wanted access to Containment Priest. It isn’t quite the same, but Drannith Magistrate is pretty close in context. While Magistrate can’t interfere with Prized Amalgam, it does shut off escape creatures like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Ox of Agonas. Turning off Urza’s ability to cast spells off the top of the deck is no joke, either. I know I’ll likely be giving this one a shot in Mardu Shadow, a deck that can traditionally struggle with Uro, Kroxa, and Urza. I also expect Humans to pick this one up seamlessly.
I’m not sure what’s in the water over in Drannith, but they’re producing some powerful humans. In fact, General Kudro of Drannith makes all your humans more powerful. A three-mana lord is always worth looking at, especially when you attach two relevant bonus abilities. Good, main-deck graveyard hate that just comes with your normal plan is quite strong, especially with Uro and Stinkweed Imp running around. If necessary, General Kudro can also be Smite the Monstrous for the low cost of two mana and two humans. I don’t anticipate this ability being used all that often, but as a Death’s Shadow player, it scares me quite a bit. I’d expect to see a reasonable uptick in the number of Humans players in coming weeks.
Fiend Artisan is more or less a reboot of Fauna Shaman: a once-powerful card that has since fallen by the wayside. This card fits right into the Collected Company/Chord of Calling shells, providing a way to sacrifice a needed sacrifice outlet for Anafenza/Melira combos. The ability to sacrifice a creature to put another into play is one we haven’t seen much in Modern since Birthing Pod, and with plenty of expendable creatures in the format, Fiend Artisan looks positioned to fill those shoes quite well. Plus, it can be a real threat in the red zone if the game goes on for a bit.
Five-mana Planeswalkers have a tough shake in Modern, but we haven’t seen one like Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. In recent months, “Creative Mining” — the Polymorph + Indomitable Creativity deck — burst onto the scene with a lot of backing from some notable names. Lukka, a Planeswalker with a repeatable Polymorph effect, is a strict upgrade for that deck. He may also have some other applications in a creature-heavy Gruul deck that wants an option to go late against Jund; in that spot, Lukka’s +1 really shines, effectively drawing up to three cards. In an aggressively-slanted midrange deck, Lukka’s -7 is no joke, either, and can easily finish off an opponent who’s already taken a few hits.
Lurrus is an early standout for Best Card in the Set for Modern. Modern decks aim to play the most efficiently-costed spells possible, so this card will easily find several homes in the format.
First off, Lurrus slots into Burn without requiring any deck-building changes. Getting to start with Lurrus in your opening hand is definitely better than the worst sideboard card in Burn. Picking up a Goblin Guide or an Eidolon of the Great Revel later in the game along with a 3/2 lifelinker is nothing to scoff at, either, especially at no cost.
I’ve also seen some Jund builds floating around that cut Bloodbraid Elf and Liliana of the Veil in favor of Dark Confidant, Mishra’s Bauble, and Kroxa in order to enable Lurrus. I’m not positive if that will prove to be better, but getting to cast Mishra’s Bauble, Kroxa, or even Seal of Fire out of the graveyard every turn gives Jund some real staying power. It also makes for a leaner curve, which lets Jund get under some of the slower blue decks.
Other less popular decks that can easily enable Lurrus include Naya Zoo and Bogles. I’ve had a number of people approach me asking if Lurrus can be good in Death’s Shadow, and I don’t believe that current builds of the deck can support it. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be versions of Death’s Shadow built without Street Wraith that enable Lurrus, but they’ll likely look significantly different. I know I’ll be working on that going forward to see if I can find something that works.
Hopefully in the coming weeks, we see all these cards (and many more) shake up Modern. In the meantime, if there are any other Ikoria cards that you think will be great in the format, 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.