With Mythic Championship qualifier events dominating much of my Magic playing time last month, Modern Horizons has certainly crept up on me. As well as someone who enjoys tournament Magic, I’m also fond of a more casual game of Commander. It gives me the opportunity to spend time with friends who don’t attend tournaments in a more relaxed setting and a chance to cast spells that wouldn’t normally feature in limited or constructed events. In this article, I’ll look at the five cards by which I’m personally intrigued that have been brought into the light by the new set Modern Horizons.
Setting the Scene
First, I’d like to set some context for this article.
- This is an article which expresses my take on cards I think are interesting inclusions for a wide range of decks – not the cards that I think are the most powerful or competitive! If you’ve come here for high-powered splashy spells that basically end the game when they resolve or degenerate combos that maximise your chances of getting the W over your friends in your next pod, expect the unexpected. In fact, some of these cards I like because they present thorny issues for opponents who are trying to power out strong cards or combos. There’s a slight bias towards my preferred way of playing the game. I have written about this in a previous article which you can read here if you are particularly interested.
- I’ve specifically chosen to look at just mono-coloured cards. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, they can be included in the widest range of decks, so hopefully everyone can find a home for these cards in an existing deck they have (in addition to being inspired to build a deck of a colour they don’t currently have assembled). Secondly, I don’t feel fully prepared to share my thoughts on the multicoloured cards just yet because I’m currently only playing decks with one or less colours in Commander. However, I may cover these in a future article once I’ve built some new multicoloured decks for context.
Now let’s look at my Top 5!
5 Plague Engineer
I personally neither like nor dislike ‘tribal’ decks in multiplayer Commander, but I do think this card has an interesting role to play. We’re not necessarily going to benefit much by slightly shrinking an army bolstered by Lord of Atlantis, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, and Merrow Reejerey, so there’s every chance that this creature can be ‘too late.’ Having said this, when it’s not, it can mitigate token production from popular Commanders like Oona, Queen of the Fae, Ghave, Guru of Spores, or The Locust God or disrupt combos/synergies that involve X/1s, for example cards like Sprout Swarm, Viscera Seer, and Thopter Foundry. One aspect I like about this card is that it can be used as an anticipatory measure, which could just straight up prevent an opponent from ‘comboing-off’ on a future turn. This means we don’t have to save mana in case the crucial moment arises and disrupt the combo in operation. It being a creature means that it’s quite easy to recur, especially as we’re playing black mana. Finally, once its static effect is rendered irrelevant, we still get to potentially trade it in for a large attacking threat in combat (or sneak a ninja onto the battlefield – creatures with deathtouch tend not to get blocked).
4 Collector Ouphe
While this card could be considered a bit of a ‘fun police’ card for artifact-based decks, it looks like it has a place in any green creature-based deck that isn’t reliant on activating metal. It’s also a reminder to pay tribute to creature removal in our decks. We’ve all seen the ‘classic’ opener of turn one Sol Ring plus Signet. This Grizzly Bear can be a swift response to starts of this kind, potentially preventing a devastating play by our mana-hungry opponent on turn two or three. The time and mana they might have to spend removing the troublesome creature could give the rest of the table the opportunity to catch up! Similarly, it’s a pre-emptive hurdle for powerful combos driven by artifacts such as Staff of Domination, Altar of Dementia or Aetherflux Reservoir. Being a potential pre-emptive ‘answer’ like Plague Engineer is particularly helpful as artifacts like the ones just listed often allow their controller to activate or ‘combo off’ in response to a Disenchant. Finally, green is a colour that easily ‘tutors’ creatures. If we use a cards like Green Sun’s Zenith or Chord of Calling to put it directly into play, our opponents will need to use their artifacts in response to the spell, as the static ability of the ouphe does not allow them to be used as soon as it is in play, at which point we might just decide to get a different creature with our spell and save this 2/2 for another time.
3 Goblin Engineer
This card echoes Goblin Welder, which is a card I would describe as having a high ceiling and a low floor. By this, I mean it has the potential to be very powerful, because it can ‘reanimate’ very impactful artifacts such as Mindslaver, Paradox Engine, or Possessed Portal. At the same time it’s a vulnerable piece of the puzzle requiring two pieces of setup – an artifact both in the graveyard and on the battlefield. Admittedly, this might not be too difficult through effects that ‘loot’ or ‘rummage’ (when you discard and then draw – see Rummaging Goblin), however the level of effort to set this up is more than zero. Goblin Engineer is a compromise and consequently has what I would describe as a lower ceiling but higher floor. Its triggered ability puts some metal straight into the graveyard for us. The restriction on which artifacts can be returned based on converted mana cost softens the ‘potential for abuse’ that might be on our opponents’ minds. In addition, there’s a slight easing on the way the activated ability works as compared to that of its welding relative. Welder causes a target in play and another in the graveyard to ‘exchange,’ which means that both targets must be legal when the ability resolves for the exchange to happen. This means that if either target is removed in response, nothing is sacrificed or returned. By contrast, Engineer asks the artifact in play to be sacrificed as part of the cost, which means that even if the artifact in the graveyard is removed in response to the ability, some trash still ends up in the graveyard. This can potentially just be an advantage for our deck anyway. The sacrifice is part of the cost so, unlike with Welder, the opponent can’t prevent the ability from happening by trying to remove the artifact on the battlefield in response.
2 Pondering Mage
If there’s something to be said for my play style in commander, it involves playing as many ‘cantrips with legs’ as possible! This creature is one of the most powerful cantrips in Ponder with power and toughness, so it should be of no surprise that I’m personally excited to give this card an outing. Instead of simply drawing a card, we get the best of the top few of our deck like Raven Familiar or Sea Gate Oracle, but Pondering Mage adds a different dimension, allowing us to also set up our next two draw steps or dismiss the top three cards entirely if they’re not what we’re looking for. Three power and four toughness isn’t huge, but it’s enough to take part in combat, particularly if that combat involves the demise of a Planeswalker. It can also carry equipment, be sacrificed, recurred, and all the normal things that go along with being a creature in Commander. It’s true that in another world this could have been a smaller sized creature for a lower mana cost, and five mana can seem like a lot in the early game, especially considering you can’t really use it to dig for a fourth mana source. However, in longer games where we might need a decent blocker AND something else, this definitely fits the bill!
The spawn of Reveillark, which is a card I’ve personally played in most white Commander decks I’ve ever built. The baby of the family has limits on what it can bring back, but if you’re as much of a fan of creatures in this format as I am, this will be more a ‘nuance’ than an inconvenience. Whether it’s a modest Thraben Inspector or an efficient Stoneforge Mystic, this card will have interesting deckbuilding implications for players wanting to ensure value as a result of this card leaving the battlefield. In addition, this creature has flying, so it can perform all it’s creature-related duties with enhanced evasion. Where the recursion is more important than the creature being in play, we’ll benefit from a slight cost reduction. Note the trigger is a ‘leaves play’ trigger, so Flicker effects and Boomerang effects play well with this card. Finally, like Reveillark, this card can create similar loops with most Clones, as they tend to be 0/0s. If we have a sacrifice outlet such as Altar of Dementia, a Vesperlark, and a Clone (copying Vesperlark), we can sacrifice the Clone and target the very same card now in the graveyard with the ‘leaves play’ triggered ability from the copied Vesperlark. This will return that Clone to the battlefield. When it returns, you can again copy the Vesperlark – rinse and repeat. I personally won’t be employing this combination any time soon, but it does exist!
So there you have it, five cards I will definitely be trying out in the near future. I hope this article has helped showcase these cards and provided some ideas for smoothing the rough edges of some of your decks. Goblin Engineer is a potential ‘build-around,’ and Vesperlark offers some combo potential, so perhaps you can take the potential of these cards even further than the overview here might suggest!
Hit me up if you have any further thoughts. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter. I play most of my Magic in Leeds in the North of England, but I’m planning to go to both Magic Fests in July (Barcelona) and August (Birmingham), so if you’re going to either, I may see you there!
As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next game!