Magic's Past, Present, and Future

Posted in Card Preview on May 28, 2019

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Modern Horizons is a lot of things.

A set originally pitched as "Time Spiral 2" is going to be full of ridiculous cards. As a Modern-legal set release, it's going to supply a lot of powerful cards that impact one of players' favorite formats.

But most of all, to me, Modern Horizons is a celebration of Magic.

It's a nod to where we've been, both flavorfully and mechanically. As someone who has played since 2001, it's full of sly references, favorite (and, occasionally, head-scratching) mechanics, and some nostalgic reprints.

Opening a pack of Modern Horizons just creates joy. There are tons of cards that can slide into all sorts of decks—Modern, Commander, and even Legacy—and even the commons will put smiles on faces. And, while there are certainly a fair share of wonky cards, it shed a bit of the esoteric nonsense that Time Spiral carried with it (did you know that Cyclopean Giant is two Cyclopean Mummys and a Cyclopean Tomb?) so that even newer Magic players can look at the cards and have a blast.

Those of us who loved Time Spiral block slowly bided our time in R&D, confident that someday we'd have the opportunity to revisit what we loved so much and do it even better. And with Modern Horizons, we finally got that chance! We took a few pages out of that block's playbook for Modern Horizons.

So, this is a set that celebrates where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. Today, I have three preview cards for you, one from each category: something that feels a bit like Time Spiral (the past), Planar Chaos (the alternate present), and Future Sight (the future). Let's take a look!

Time Spiral

Time Spiral was a set full of reprints—there were 121 "timeshifted" cards in old borders that were throwbacks from Magic's past. It really struck my imagination and put a lot of old school players' favorite cards back in circulation.

Now, once again with Modern Horizons, we get a shot at playing with a lot of awesome old reprints.

So . . . what's your favorite Magic card?

Everybody has one. It can be really hard to choose, so if you don't have yours firmly in your head, trust me, I know that pain! I get asked this question often enough, though, that I knew I needed to come up with an answer.

For some people, it may be a card that inspires nostalgia from when you started playing—like Mystic Snake was for me.

For others, it may be a powerful card you love crushing people with. Lightning Bolt has plenty of favorite card selections due to a mix of power and nostalgia.

There are tons of other factors: flavor, pure fun, artwork—you name it.

Many of your favorite cards will probably have homages in Modern Horizons. But it makes me so happy that, thanks to Modern Horizons, my favorite card is going into Modern!

Welcome to Modern, Future Sight!

Future Sight

Look, I know the irony of putting Future Sight in the section marked Time Spiral—it's a little funny. But let's roll with it.

I love it for a number of reasons.

First of all, it's just a fun rush to play. It feels like you have unlimited cards in your hand! You keep getting to flip up the next card of your library as you cast them, and you're never quite sure what's going to be next. Is it a land? Is it a spell you can cast? Ah, the anticipation! It takes a lot for me to pass a Future Sight in Cube draft.

Second, it has a lot of nostalgia for me. It propelled me into my first Grand Prix top 16—which awarded a Mythic Championship slot. It was an Extended Grand Prix—an old format which was sort of a precursor to Modern—and at that Grand Prix, I bet there were fewer than ten Future Sights registered in the entire tournament. But thanks to my friends Daniel Hanson and Alex West, we came up with our secret Future Sight tech for the mirror match which worked handsomely, and I crushed the mirror time and time again . . . with a very fun to play card.

Finally, it really inspires creativity. How many of you have ever heard of a deck called Tight Sight?

This deck was crafted by Brian David-Marshall and Elden Lee, inspired by something they played against on Magic Online back in 2003.

Can you figure out how it works?

It's kind of a wild one.

You get your library down to nothing by playing as many draw spells as possible and churning through your library. Then, with Future Sight on the battlefield, you use Krosan Reclamation on an Early Harvest and another Krosan Reclamation. From this, you get boundless mana: one Reclamation keeps hitting the other and an Early Harvest. From your endless mana, you start looping targeted draw spells with Krosan Reclamation and another copy of itself, and deck your opponent.

At the time I heard about this, I was a fairly new player. My mind was blown. It wasn't just a deck: it was a work of art. It was so beautiful.

Anyway, I'm so happy this card is in the set. I know I'm going to see where I can slot it into Modern—even if it's just as a great long-game one-of card—and slamming it in Limited. Perfect!

Planar Chaos

Planar Chaos was a huge challenge of a Magic set.

"Show Magic . . . but you know, different." It was an alternate reality. These cards fell into a few different buckets.

Some of them were colorshifted cards, where cards were in a different color than originally printed. Some of those made for good entrances into the color, where some, like Piracy Charm and Harmonize, are enough to make Mark Rosewater twitch from where I'm sitting right now. (Which, admittedly, is only a few feet away. But I digress.) The set definitely has some cards like that. Did you catch Generous Gift?

Generous Gift

Ah, a white Beast Within. Adorable!

Another category of card were new, alternate universe versions of famous cards. And so, the Planar Chaos team looked for famous old cards to model new cards after. And they found this card:

This card from Urza's Saga in 1998, nicknamed superman by players because of its ability to do anything, may not look like quite as much now by today's creature standards, but it was a powerhouse in its era.

And what would an alternate-universe Morphling look like? A red version, of course! And so, nearly 10 years later, in 2007, this was created:

The public reaction was great! Even though the card didn't end up being all that much of a tournament contender, players loved the callback and began to dream up what the other versions could be.

And thus began a long, long saga.

A couple years later in 2009, with Conflux, we got Thornling:

Granted, the iconic mirrored art isn't there—someday, we'll reprint Thornling with some sweet new mirrored art—but it was another in the cycle! It was also a 4/4, because green.

Then we didn't have anything for a while. There was Ætherling in 2013's Dragon's Maze, but that was another blue Morphling riff and not really a true member of the cycle. The Morphling super-cycle was dormant . . .

. . . and then, something happened.

I was leading Battlebond (if you're playing Battlebond bingo, where you wait for Gavin to mention Battlebond in an article, congrats on checking off your square) and needed a few exciting rares and mythic rares. This was a great place to riff on some older cards or try and complete cycles, so I turned to Mark Rosewater and asked: "Mark, what's a cycle players like and you get asked about completing a lot?"

He turned to me and shrugged. "Morphlings?"

And so, the idea of Brightling was born.

I started running around working on the card. And admittedly, it had its detractors who thought 'lings had lost their luster after Thornling. But I protected it, and last year it finally saw print:

Now, there's an interesting thing about Brightling. One is the mana cost shift. I wanted it to be a card some people would put in their Cubes or try out in Legacy (which ended up working perfectly!), and it was pretty much play design consensus that a five-mana 3/3 didn't have a shot. So, I figured if I made a white one, it could be a little cheaper—white is good at cheap creatures—and so I dropped the mana cost to line it up better with competitive creatures today.

At the very same time I was finishing up Battlebond, Ethan Fleischer was knee deep in what would become Modern Horizons. He saw my Morphling variant and, much like the Planar Chaos designers of days long past, thought it would be an appropriate place to do another one.

After all, what more appropriate place than another throwback set that pays homage to Magic's history? I did have one request of him: make it not cost 5 mana. (Or not be a 3/3.) I figured if you looked at all five of them as a cycle, they should make sense, and my general design rule is that if you're going to have one be different than the others, make another different than the others. One exception is weird, two exceptions makes it okay.

And so he did. This card went through a ton of tweaks and iterations—all kinds of abilities, stats, and it was even a six-mana 4/4 for a while before getting dropped to something even cheaper—and eventually landed in a pretty awesome spot.

So here we are, in 2019, with a cycle that started in 1998 finally being completed. It's not just a super-cycle—it's a superman-cycle. Congratulations if you have played long enough to see the whole thing through!

World, I'm proud to present to you: Endling!


The trademark 'ling ability configuration. That gorgeous artwork. Four mana. It can be either a 3/3 or a 4/4 depending on if it's died or not.

It's hard to kill, evasive, and hits for a ton—yeah, that's a card I'll play!

It is amazing to have been a part of this process. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making them!

Future Sight

Future Sight is my favorite set of all time.

I guess I just have a thing for Future Sight. It's my favorite set, it's my favorite card, it's in a lot of my favorite decks . . . I guess if any lady is out there named Future Sight, please hit me up. Future Sight is just my thing.

Why this time around? I loved the endless possibilities!

You had glimpses of worlds:

What were these worlds? What were they like? Would we see them someday? Who knew!? (Speaking of which, have you seen the five enemy-color ones in Modern Horizons? Check them out!)

As an aside, I love trying to find places for these cards. It's fun to imagine where in your head they could go, and then try and sneak them into sets. One of the most painful things I had to do when designing a set was cut Imperial Mask from Battlebond (that's another Battlebond bingo checkmark for you!)—though, ultimately, I'm happy I did.

You had new, unusual, one-of keywords and cards that make you go "huh":

Fortifications? Enchant instant card in a graveyard? Huh? What in the world? What's going on here? Can you even write those words on a Magic card!?

I love pushing the boundaries of what Magic can even be. You'll see plenty of designs from me in the future that do this. Often, when I'm lacking inspiration for designing a wacky card for a future set, I'll bring up two visual spoilers for inspiration: Limited Edition Alpha and Future Sight. Both pioneers of their time, and both with plenty of great ideas.

Now, Modern Horizons tends to lean a bit more into the now and the past than the future. But the one area it takes from Future Sight in spades is another category: combining two very different keyword mechanics together on one card:

Convoke and kicker? Oh, I get it—you can tap your creatures to help kick it! Cycling and madness? Wait—that's a combo! A lot of these were self-combos, or really played well into each other.

With Modern Horizons, Adam sent out a hole filling—where he needed to fill some holes in the set. I submitted a red four-mana sorcery called Random Presents. It only had two words written on it!

Nate Price also submitted the same, a red four-mana sorcery with two words written on it.

Can you guess the words? I'll give you a hint: neither of them were in print when Future Sight was printed the first time.

It's a fun thought exercise. Can you come up with it?

Alright, well—if you think you got it, awesome! Let me know on Twitter if you did or not.

When you're ready to move on from my fun game, here's the preview card—printed mechanically exactly as Nate and I both submitted it:

Throes of Chaos

Ah, the classic two words of rules text, 65 words of reminder text. We've got you beat, Time Stop!

This card is a blast! Every land you draw becomes a spell out of your library. It's going to take a lot of restraint for me to not just fire this off over and over again at every opportunity. It could be anything! Even a bear! (And you know how much you've wanted one of those.)

In addition to being fun, it also just helps your red deck keep having gas in the long game no matter how many lands you draw. Oh, and of course, it's worth mentioning that, if you build your deck properly, you can cascade into all the Demonic Dreads, Violent Outbursts, and Living Ends you want, turn after turn. Just sayin'.

Modern Horizons

I haven't been this excited for a Magic set in ages. As the grandfather of Modern, this set means a ton to me—I had no idea when I started all that work as a player in 2010 on a little fan format called "Overextended" that one day I'd be helping design a Magic set for what that format helped bring to life . . . and with a ton of amazing, throwback cards that tickled my most Time Spiral sensibilities.

And yet, here we are. I couldn't be more excited!

This set is a love letter to Magic—and all of our incredible fans. I hope you enjoy it, have fun with it, and build plenty of sweet new decks!

Have thoughts about the set, the preview cards, or anything else? Please reach out to me! You can always find me by sending off a tweet, asking me a question on my Tumblr, messaging me on Instagram, or writing up an email. I'm always happy to hear from all of you!

I hope you have fun reading through the last handful of previews, go enjoy the visual card gallery, and have a great time with the set and the prerelease. Talk with you again soon!

Instagram: GavinVerhey
Tumblr: GavInsight
Twitter: @GavinVerhey

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