Welcome to our second week of Modern Horizons 2 previews. Last week, I told you the story of the vision design of the set. Today, I will introduce you to the Set Design team, walk you through what they did, and show off two cool new preview cards. (They have a theme that I like as much as Squirrels—and that's saying something). I hope you are all as excited as I am!
To begin, I'm going to have Aaron Forsythe, the lead set designer, introduce you to his team. (Note—I'm introducing Aaron, and the rest of the bios are written by Aaron.)
. . .Set
The original Modern Horizons had done a lot to create an identity for itself. Modern Horizons 2 mostly had to follow the same formula and build on it. Aaron and his team wanted to understand what Modern Horizons 2 was going to be doing differently than the original Modern Horizons.
Here are the major differences:
- Multicolor plays a larger role.
As I explained last week, to stay off the heels of Commander Legends, the original Modern Horizons design teams had limited how much multicolor was in the set. As this wasn't the case for Modern Horizons 2, vision design had upped the volume, both in number and as-fan (the percentage that a theme shows up in booster packs). Set Design set the number at ten commons, ten uncommons, with a bunch more at rare and mythic rare (counting just new cards, not reprints). They also included a 10-card cycle of dual lands at common to support the increased amount of gold cards.
- The reprints are treated differently.
In Modern Horizons, the reprints were just folded into the set. How many you opened in any one booster pack was at the whim of the collation. For Modern Horizons 2, Aaron and his team decided to give the reprints a dedicated slot, meaning every booster pack will have exactly one reprint (with an exception I will get to in a second). All the reprints in this slot have an expansion watermark of the set symbol with which they originally appeared. The exception to this is the cycle of five enemy fetch lands at rare that just appear on the sheet and aren't in the reprint slot. As a result, they don't have a watermark. This does mean, by the way, that you are able to open two rares in one booster, one normal and one from the reprint slot.
- The set has different Draft archetypes.
While the general sense of the two Modern Horizons sets is the same, we definitely wanted Modern Horizons 2 to focus on different mechanics, especially when it came to Draft archetypes. Here are the ten two-color pairs along with the thought that went into each theme, plus one extra archetype.
White-Blue – "Artifacts Matter"
Magic has had a lot of artifact themes and subthemes over the years, so this archetype plays into that. It made use of many artifact mechanics but focused specifically on affinity for artifacts and metalcraft, as both of those encourage a heavy artifact focus. Affinity for artifacts is a great example of something splashy and memorable that we'd have a difficult time fitting into a normal premier set.
Blue-Black – "Self-Discard Matters"
This archetype takes advantage of blue and black's ability to mill your own cards and then taps into a variety of different graveyard mechanics. Like artifacts, discard and graveyard are both themes that have shown up enough over the years that we can combine disparate cards to make something new.
Black-Red – Madness
As I explained last week, one of our goals for Modern Horizons 2 was to take some themes in Modern that needed a little extra help and dedicate some cards to it. Madness was one of those themes. As the majority of the relevant madness cards were in black and red (due to it being the major theme for Vampires in Shadows over Innistrad), it was made into the black-red Draft archetype.
Red-Green – Storm
I have an entire scale dedicated to explaining how unlikely it is for the storm mechanic to return to a premier set (you can learn more about the Storm Scale here), so this is definitely a theme that only a set like Modern Horizons could do. Aaron and his team were focused on finding mechanical themes like this that would help give Modern Horizons 2 a unique feel. Storm makes a lot of sense in red-green, the two colors most associated with mana production.
Green-White – +1/+1 Counters
This is another theme that got carried over from vision design. Basically, it involves using many of the mechanics we've made over the years that use +1/+1 counters. Green and white are the two colors most focused on +1/+1 counters, so it gave the team the largest pool of cards to work with.
White-Black – Reanimator
Reanimation is the third theme to make the transition from vision design. Like storm, it's a mechanic that's very tricky to make work in a premier set due to complexity and as-fan issues, both of which can be addressed in a higher-complexity supplemental product. The theme is focused in white and black as those are the two colors that do the most reanimation.
Blue-Red – Delirium
One of the things I hope you notice as I walk through the archetypes is how archetypes that overlap in a color have synergy with one another. For example, blue is doing a lot of self-milling in blue-black, which works well with the delirium mechanic from Shadows over Innistrad block. Delirium is another example of a more complex mechanic that Modern Horizons 2 can service in a way premier sets can't, especially as a theme for just one color pair.
Black-Green – Squirrels and Sacrifice
I talked about this theme when I showed off my preview cards from last week. Aaron was looking for a lovable creature type to add a tribal theme to one of the archetypes, and Squirrels seemed a perfect fit for black-green. The archetype also has a sacrifice theme that was designed to play well with the Squirrels (many of which are 1/1 creature tokens).
Red-White – Artifact Aggro
This archetype takes advantage of the modular mechanic to build a more aggressive version of the artifact theme used in white-blue. Because we're pulling from a lot of past themes, it makes sense for red-white to be the most aggressive deck, but the artifact element helps Modern Horizons 2 put its own stamp on it.
Green-Blue – "Tokens Matter"
Tokens are another theme that stretches across several different sets. This archetype cares not just about the many different creature tokens but also taps into a number of artifact tokens (clues, food, and treasure) that we've made use of over the years.
Five Color – Converge
Aaron and his team also made a fun five-color archetype that revolves around the converge mechanic for those interested in drafting all five colors.
- The set leans more into a minor theme from Modern Horizons.
The last major difference uses a theme only touched on lightly in Modern Horizons. It's the theme that my preview cards are about. Below are some hints as to what it is.
This theme goes all the way back to Alpha. Here are the five cards that had it:
Can you see the theme? If you can't, here's another clue: Serra Angel would have been included if we'd used current templating in Alpha.
Yes, it's what we call mix-and-match. It's cards that have two or more different named mechanics on them. Now, normally when we talk about mix-and-match, we don't focus on cards with multiple evergreen keywords, as that's just something every set does. The more interesting mix-and-match cards are ones where neither mechanic is evergreen. These are hard to do because it requires having two mechanics in the same set that can work together on the same card.
The first time I remember making mix-and-match designs was for the 1999 Duelist Invitational in Barcelona (it would get rebranded as the Magic Invitational the following year). One of the formats I liked doing at the Invitational was called Duplicate Sealed where all sixteen players got the exact same mix of cards to build a sealed deck from. For the first two years, I just used existing Magic cards, but for the third Invitational, I had the idea to design some new cards. It would add an extra layer to the format as the players would have to judge cards they'd never seen before.
I went to my boss and asked permission to make the cards. He said okay, but only as long as I wasn't making designs we could use in a set. He didn't want me "using up" future design space. I thought of mix-and-match as a great answer to this challenge. Even if both mechanics came back (and at the time, that wasn't a for sure thing), they'd have to come back together to be put on the same card, so these designs felt safe.
For the first time in a long time (or maybe ever), here are some mix-and-match cards I designed for the 1999 Duelist Invitational:
Buyback: 3, cycling: 2
Remove one of the following abilities from all creatures for the remainder of the turn: banding, first strike, flanking, flying, landwalk, protection, regeneration, shadow, or trample.
Teferi's Thalakos Subjects
Buyback:1R, cycling: 2
Creatures target player controls gain flanking until end of turn.
Enchanted Steed cannot be the target of spells or abilities.
I, and the rest of R&D, would always look out for chances to do mix-and-match designs, but the opportunities didn't present themselves often. That said, we've made a handful over the years.
Then came Future Sight. I was looking for ways to do designs that hinted at the future while using mechanics of the past (for some crazy reason, we decided all old mechanics were fair game in Time Spiral block), and I realized that mix-and-match was perfect because it implied that one day these mechanics would come back together. It was something new that came out of combining things that were old.
I ended up assigning Pro Tour Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz (he was a contractor at the time and was on the design team) to look through all the named mechanics and make a list of what the best combinations were. Zvi ended up making a giant spreadsheet where he looked at every combination and graded them on a scale from one to five, with five being the best. I believe most of the fours and fives ended up in Future Sight.
Flash forward to the design of the first Modern Horizons. We were tapping into the zeitgeist of the Time Spiral block, so I saw an opportunity to do more mix-and-match designs. It's one of my favorite themes, and I don't get a lot of chances to design for it. I designed a whole bunch of cards, but the finished set only ended up having three (not all designed by me).
So, I was happy when I heard that Aaron had decided to make use of mix-and-match as a theme for Modern Horizons 2. It really is a perfect home for it.
With all that out of the way, it's time for me to show my two preview cards, both of which are mix-and-match cards that share a popular mechanic, in each case mixed with another mechanic.
First up is Bloodbraid Marauder:
Next is Ethersworn Sphinx:
And with that and my previews out of the way, I finish my Modern Horizons 2 design story. As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback on my article or Modern Horizons 2. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).
Join me next week when I start sharing some Modern Horizons 2 card-by-card design stories.
Until then, may you dream of cool mechanics coming together.
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