Modern Horizons Limited First Pass

Posted in How to Play Limited on June 11, 2019

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

There is a kind of spectrum of complexity when you think of Limited formats.

From least complex to most, it goes something like:

  • Core set
  • Normal set
  • Gold normal set
  • "Masters"-style sets
  • Non-Vintage cube
  • Vintage cube

Roughly speaking, you need to know more about each set and what's going on with it in order to draft it optimally.

I would slot Modern Horizons around the non-Vintage cube level. There are around 45 different mechanics represented in this one set! When you have that many things packed in, you'll notice some major differences from a normal set (which will remind you of Cube unless you haven't had a chance to try that).

To give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at how I write these articles, I'll break down my process.

I go over every common and uncommon in the set with the goal of finding what is essential to that color. Normally, I'll start to spot patterns right away; a bunch of token makers, a mechanic that cares about attacking with three creatures, toughness matters, etc.

Here are my quick notes for white in this set:

White

  • Tokens 3

  • Auras 2

  • Slivers 3

  • Cats

  • Splice

  • Creature types: 4

  • Creature ETBs: 4

Okay, so maybe Cats and splice didn't get there, but look how many different things are going on in white, just at first glance!

These are all over the board, too. You can see how they can be paired off to work well together, though. For example, tokens plus cards that care about creatures entering the battlefield could work well together. Or Slivers plus other cards that care about creature types.

Or Cats that splice themselves onto sorceries?

Some combinations are better than others.

The point is that we'll be going over the signpost uncommons for each color pair and then "theorycrafting" (when it comes to Magic, this just means making educated guesses) what direction it might be best to go.

This set, though, more than basically any we've seen in years, has the potential to blur the lines on archetypes—even within color pairs—in a big way, so don't just assume that the first glance is the last word.

Green-Blue Snow

Okay, this is probably the most straightforward of them all. The theme here is "cares about snow permanents," and there are a lot of snow permanents in the set. In fact, there is a snow permanent in every pack.

  • 464203
  • 464202
  • 464199
  • 464201
  • 464200

The deal with these is that they are gorgeous and some people will be taking them for the trade binder, but if you are in the snow-covered archetype, you'll want to prioritize these much higher as they are essentially a free way to get snow permanents into your deck. (For Modern Horizons Draft, these basics lands are drafted alongside the rest of the pack—only the token is removed.)

As for other enablers, you want to look for anything that says snow-covered on it basically.

The payoffs look pretty decent too, depending on how committed you are to the snow-covered lifestyle.

  • Conifer Wurm
  • Blizzard Strix
  • Glacial Revelation
  • Winter's Rest

White-Black Tribal

This pair wants you to play a bunch of creatures with the same creature type as each other. Sometimes this happens naturally with commonly seen types like Soldier or Wizard. But for this archetype, you'll want to look for the creatures that are all creature types: changelings.

  • Impostor of the Sixth Pride
  • Irregular Cohort
  • Graveshifter
  • Changeling Outcast
  • Valiant Changeling
  • Venomous Changeling

There are even more if you look at rares and colorless cards. But black and white have by far the most changelings available to them; all you need to do is find the many ways to take advantage. Look for any tribal synergies in this pair and use changelings to fill in the gaps.

This guy also says, "all changelings you control get +2/+1," for example:

Green-White Creatures Entering the Battlefield Matters

Well, this is kind of new but also very cool. Check out what Good-Fortune Unicorn "cares" about: creatures entering the battlefield. This counts tokens and regular creatures, and hoo boy did they start off with a great one in this Unicorn. That ability is super powerful, especially given that you almost always want a bunch of creatures in your Limited deck.

It's paying you dividends for doing what you wanted to do anyway!

Good Unicorn.

The first thing to think of with "creature-fall" (Remember landfall? Yeah.) is getting as many creatures entering the battlefield as you can. For that, we turn to token makers, and token makers we have aplenty:

  • Battle Screech
  • Mother Bear
  • Recruit the Worthy
  • Splicer's Skill
  • Trumpeting Herd
  • Twin-Silk Spider
  • Squirrel Nest

The payoffs for this are pretty good, but remember they are essentially free as you are building out a board to kill your opponent with either way.

There are also just some good old-fashioned mass pump spells here for all of these creatures to take advantage of.

Your creature count is the most important thing for decks like this. And yes, I am counting token makers as creatures here. Make sure you play enough of them!

Blue-Black Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu is a mechanic that I would call ambitious to print, but boy has it proven itself a fun one over the years. It creates a lot of tension on the combat step, carries enough risk that it's an interesting decision even after the creature isn't blocked, and has enough downside that it's kept in check.

Ingenious Infiltrator is one of four non-rare creatures with the ninjutsu ability.

Throatseeker straddles the line between tribal- and ninjutsu-specific payoffs, but with enough changelings (remember, black has a good amount of them) and actual Ninjas, it becomes very strong.

Smoke Shroud has a sweet play pattern with ninjutsu as well: you play Smoke Shroud on your creature, it gets flying and +1/+1. You attack with it, it goes unblocked, you ninjutsu something in for that creature, the Aura goes to the graveyard then immediately comes back from the graveyard and onto the new Ninja, and all before damage even happens!

Of course, in order to take advantage of these sweet cards, you need to be able to reliably attack past your opponents' creatures. Look for creatures like these to help out.

  • Changeling Outcast
  • Phantom Ninja
  • Faerie Seer
  • Headless Specter
  • Gluttonous Slug

And don't forget your value! You can pick up creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects with your ninjutsu creatures and then recast them later for value.

Red-White Slivers

This is a straight-up tribal beatdown deck. Lavabelly Sliver is sweet, but there are a full eight Slivers in this color pair, and another if you include the rare Sliver, Cloudshredder Sliver.

  • Bladeback Sliver
  • Cleaving Sliver
  • Cloudshredder Sliver
  • Enduring Sliver

  • First Sliver's Chosen
  • Hollowhead Sliver
  • Lancer Sliver
  • Spiteful Sliver

Slivers have that hive mind thing going on where they grant each other powerful abilities. The more you have, the better they get—it's that simple.

Remember also that white has access to a lot of changelings, which are also Slivers.

Otherwise? Go forth and smash faces, I suppose.

Black-Red Goblin Sacrifice

I can't figure out exactly what black-red is up to. There are a few Goblins in the set, and when you remember that black has access to a few changelings as well, you could probably make a pretty sweet Goblin tribal deck.

But also there are quite a few cards that care about sacrificing stuff, and even an Act of Treason variant at common to power that idea through.

It's probably a combination of the two, as you have cards that work in both cases that can be the glue for a deck like this.

This common really stands out as a great place to be if you need a free sacrifice outlet:

Oh, and I mentioned this before:

First off, I have to say, we have a card called "Goatnap" in this set. And if you were wondering, there aren't any other Goats to steal in Modern Horizons, but there are plenty of changelings, which by default are also Goats. And Cowards. And Jellyfish.

That last one feels wrong.

Anyway, you can steal opposing creatures then sacrifice them for value to your creatures and then probably win the game.

If you don't win the game, you may look to these miscreants to help:

  • Goblin Matron
  • Goblin War Party
  • Munitions Expert
  • Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Munitions Expert cares about Goblins (and changelings, of course), so my assumption is that you'll be able to combine these two strategies to come up with a reasonable game plan.

Black-Green Creatures in the Graveyard

Rotwidow Pack is nice. As a signpost uncommon, it also does a great job of telling us what black-green is up to—it cares about the graveyard, and more specifically about creatures being there.

In order to get your cards into the graveyard, you'll either have to have them go there from the battlefield through, well, dying. Or you can expedite the process with cards like these:

  • Glacial Revelation
  • Rank Officer
  • Ransack the Lab
  • Winding Way

Rank Officer seems particularly strong because it's both an enabler and a payoff for this archetype.

While that's not a ton of ways to directly enable the game plan, you'll be getting there just from the normal course of a game. Creatures die in Magic.

The payoffs are quite nice, and I even left off a few cards that could to go in this deck.

  • Graveshifter
  • Mother Bear
  • Regrowth
  • Return from Extinction
  • Unearth
  • Webweaver Changeling
  • First-Sphere Gargantua

Using a few picks on enablers is likely well worth your time, as it can really turbo-charge the proceedings if you can dump a bunch of creatures into the graveyard.

Also, even though not all cards care that there are specifically creatures in the graveyard, many of the best ones do. This means running a high creature density; at least fifteen is recommended, but don't be afraid to go up to eighteen if you can swing it.

Red-Green Lands in Your Graveyard Matters

It took me a little while to realize that this is actually what's going on with red-green, but it is. This archetype cares about getting and having lands in your graveyard.

I feel like you might even want to run this in your deck just to target your own land with it.

It would feel weird, but when you think about it, it's not that bad. It effectively only costs two mana if you target yourself since you get the land back untapped, you draw a card so you aren't down on card advantage, and it gets a land into your graveyard.

Here are some more enablers that caught my eye:

Why go to all this trouble to get lands into your graveyard of all places?

So you can do this stuff:

It's asking us to do some backflips, but the payoffs seem reasonable for a midrange deck like this.

White-Blue Blink

Blinking is the colloquial term we use for cards that send a creature away temporarily, only to have it return to the battlefield. The payoff comes when you have a creature with an enters-the-battlefield effect of some sort, which you then get to reuse.

I love this archetype whenever it's printed and cannot wait to try it out.

Soulherder is a sweet starting point, as it's both an enabler and a payoff for this strategy!

Payoffs for this type of thing are aplenty, and they come in both the traditional "enters the battlefield" variety as well as the "leaves the battlefield" type.

  • Man-o'-War
  • Irregular Cohort
  • Pondering Mage
  • Vesperlark
  • Watcher for Tomorrow

So there is value to be had, but you have to also figure out how to start blinking these things (besides the Soulherder we saw before).

Luckily, there are some enablers as well:

  • Settle Beyond Reality
  • Ephemerate
  • Blizzard Strix
  • Moonblade Shinobi
  • String of Disappearances

Settle Beyond Reality seems to be a cross-archetype all-star, providing much-needed removal with archetype-enabling side effects to boot.

Also, just in case you missed it before:

!!!

Blue-Red Draw Cards

Well, we did it. We got there. We have an archetype that rewards us for what we all really want to do anyway: draw a bunch of cards.

If Thundering Djinn is any indicator, we will be getting paid for getting paid in this archetype.

So, what are the card-draw spells and effects to help power this archetype?

Well, it's important to note that drawing a card isn't always just drawing a card and putting it into your hand in the good old-fashioned way. You do, of course, get credit for your draw step. You'll also get credit for any cards that just straight up draw you cards.

But the places where you can really churn through your library are with cycling, and similar effects like cantrips (cards that do something small but also draw you a card). Even though it costs you a card to draw that card, it's still a drawn card and will trigger any of this archetype's payoffs.

  • Lonely Sandbar
  • Forgotten Cave
  • Everdream
  • Fists of Flame
  • Hollowhead Sliver
  • Phantasmal Form

  • Pondering Mage
  • Rain of Revelation
  • Scour All Possibilities
  • Choking Tethers
  • Quakefoot Cyclops
  • Windcaller Aven

So what do you get for all this cycling, cantripping, and card draw? Well, besides the cards, that is.

You get some payoffs:

The payoffs are okay, but honestly, if you are drawing that many cards, you'll have a big advantage regardless of whether you are getting paid off specifically for it.

Wrap

I know, that was a lot. This set is has a lot going on! 45 mechanics is a ton, and they gave us what could be an all-timer as far as set complexity goes. For long-time drafters like your humble author, this is the right thing to do, and the right place to do it.

I can't wait to get my hands on this set.

And on this.

Eeeeee!!!

@Marshall_LR

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