For many of us attending Grand Prix Phoenix, there's a pressing question of what to play in Modern this weekend. Personally, I answered this question last weekend when I split the finals of the local Nerd Rage Gaming 2k event with Lantern. This was just an 88-person event, but it doesn't take much to convince me that I can still play Lantern.
When Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned, I said Lantern would be unplayable for a while due to having a bad Jund matchup--when I first started playing Lantern, Jund was always the deck I hoped not to get paired against. Bloodbraid Elf was banned at the time, and the Jund decks had a lot of ways of destroying artifacts. Now that we've had some time to see how players are building Jund decks, it looks like it's not the menace for Lantern that it used to be--I think a lot of the artifact removal in the deck existed in the "flex slots" that needed to be cut to make room to add Bloodbraid Elf, and the current iterations of Jund aren't quite good enough at interacting to be the horrible matchup it used to be.
Of course, even that's mostly speculation and rumor, since I didn't actually get paired against Jund, as it wasn't even heavily played.
Tron is still heavily played--and still a horrible matchup--but I did get paired against that twice last weekend, and managed to win both times, largely on the back of the Crumble to Dusts that I added to my sideboard after watching Grzegorz Kowalski's success using Ancient Stirrings to find them against Tron to win GP Lyon.
So, for anyone else who's inclined to Lantern people, I'll most likely be playing a deck within one land of this maindeck and 1-3 sideboard cards off from this list from last week:
With that out of the way, what I'm really interested in looking at this week is what Dominaria might offer for Modern.
From what we've seen so far, despite the fact that there are a lot of cards with the template: spend a bunch of mana, do things gradually starting next turn, which is a template I'm skeptical of in Standard and largely dismissive of in Modern, there are definitely some cards I'm excited to try in Modern.
I have to start with the most obvious: Mox Amber. Mox Opal is the most powerful card in Modern, and Mox Amber is the closest analog; if you're willing to build your deck the right way, you get to play with power, even if it doesn't always work on the first turn. The number of playable or "near playable" legendary creatures and planeswalkers that cost three mana or less isn't small. Here's a sample:
Brimaz, Kind of Oreskos
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
Naban, Dean of Iteration
Oviya, Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter
Rhonas, the Indomitable
The exact number of cheap legends needed to play Mox Amber is going to depend on how useful the mana is to you in the mid game and how much card selection you have, but I'm seeing a few different obvious ways that one could use Mox Amber in Modern.
The first is an aggressive white or white/x deck. Kytheon, Hero of Akros; Isamaru, Hound of Konda; and potentially Rhys the Redeemed offer a lot of ways to get the Mox working on turn 1, and white has a lot of strong aggressive creatures that happen to be legends. Any of these decks would love the opening of turn 1 Kytheon, Mox Amber, Isamaru; turn 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar. If you're on the play and your opponent's second land is a fetchland, they're ages behind.
2 Rhys, the Redeemed
4 Mox Amber
The second deck uses the fact that Melira, Sylvok Outcast; Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit; Yahenni, Undying Partisan; and Varolz, the Scar-Striped are all legends that work together to generate an infinite combo with Kitchen Finks. It doesn't matter that Kitchen Finks itself isn't a legend, Mox Amber isn't like Pillar of the Paruns where every card in your deck has to work with it, you just want around 14-16 cheap legends to make sure you can reliably turn it on. It should be easy to round this kind of deck up to there with cards like Mikaeus, the Lunarch; Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Nissa, Vastwood Seer; Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim; Kambal, Consul of Allocation; Pharika, God of Aflliction; and Anafenza, the Foremost--yes, these are cards that have been available that this style of Collected Company deck hasn't played in the past, but it's very likely worth playing some very slightly inferior creatures if you get to play a mox in exchange.
1 Varolz, the Scar Striped
3 Mox Amber
The last approach is to use Mox Amber in a blue-based midrange/control deck that likely has a fairly low early legend count, but cards like Serum Visions to set it up with a large number of planeswalkers like Jace Beleren, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Liliana of the Veil, and Liliana, the Last Hope as well as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy with some combination of Baral, Cheif of Compliance, Vendillion Clique, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. While this deck can't use Mox Amber to cast a three-mana planeswalker on turn 2 (unless you draw three Mox Ambers and a two-mana legend), playing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Thought Scour or Baral, Chief of Compliance and Remand on turn 2 and then a three-mana planeswalker and a Fatal Push or Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn 3 is pretty great.
2 Mox Amber
The next obvious card is Karn, Scion of Urza. This will almost certainly show up just because anyone can play it and it's a good rate for a very generically powerful planeswalker. The most natural homes for it are Affinity, Eldrazi, and Lantern.
In Affinity, it makes huge creatures, but four is more mana than Affinity normally wants to consider. Clearly, I'm suggesting it only as a sideboard consideration. It's bad against Stony Silence because you'll never get to four mana, but it's good against people who overload on Ancient Grudge and Kolaghan's Command, as it gives you a way to grind them out through their two-for-one removal spells--or rather, it would if you could stop them from attacking and killing it--the problem is that Jund is the most likely deck to take that kind of approach, and they have a lot of big creatures than can just kill your planeswalker, so I think it's not a good fit here.
In Lantern, at first glance it fails the "worse than Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas" test in that it's not appreciably easier to cast (except against Blood Moon) and it's less powerful once it's on the battlefield. On the other hand, and this is a big deal, you can find it with Ancient Stirrings, which to me, means this card is actually worth trying.
The last place where I'd want it is an Eldrazi deck, either as a colorless planeswalker that doesn't require assembling Urzatron to cast or as a planeswalker that can be found off of Ancient Stirrings, depending on which Eldrazi deck we're talking about. I think the card is a great fit here, as Eldrazi decks have large creatures that make them very capable of playing a midrange game that can lead to a board stall if the opponent has creatures like Tarmogoyf, and this is the right kind of planeswalker to let them win that kind of game while also helping against cards like Supreme Verdict.
Next up is a reprint, but Goblin Warchief is new to Modern and has a proven history as a powerful card. Goblins doesn't have a proven history as a Modern deck, and Goblin Ringleader is probably a much more important missing piece than Goblin Warchief, but the Appeal of Goblin Warchief with Krenko, Mob Boss or Siege-Gang Commander should be enough to get people to experiment with it. (Incidentally, once you're there, Goblin Chainwhirler looks like a pretty powerful card.)
Finally, the most important card for modern: Damping Sphere.
Who will play this? Anyone who wants to beat Tron or Storm. How effective will it be? Well, Storm will have to remove it from the battlefield before they can win the game. They're already planning to have to do that kind of thing, and bringing in some combination of bounce spells and artifact removal, but it's a card they absolutely have to answer, and it slows them down if they're trying to cast multiple cantrips to find the answer. This means that it won't beat them by itself, but combined with any other hate or a reasonable clock, it will be very likely to win the game. Against Tron, it's basically a Blood Moon that doesn't mess up your mana and costs one less. This means that even on the draw, it will come down before they can cast Karn when you don't have acceleration, which is a big difference. Also, simply costing one less mana obviously makes it easier for you to play while building a clock, and, of course, for some of us, the fact that it's an artifact means that we can find it with Ancient Stirrings and Whir of Invention.
This card is absolutely a game changer for Modern that should make life very hard on those two decks.