It's not easy for a set to make a large impact in Modern. With a cardpool stretching across fifteen-and-a-half years, the bar for entry is high, and there's a reasonable fear that a card strong enough for Modern has the potential to warp Standard around its existence. I'm happy to report that Ravnica Allegiance has solved this conundrum beautifully, delivering a host of cards that are likely to give some serious tools to Modern players across multitudinous archetypes. Even more impressively, only one of my Top 5 Modern cards is going to appear in my Standard Top 10 list (to hear my Standard list, be sure to check out this week's GAM Podcast).
I think my list is somewhat bifurcated. Cards six through one seem like surefire Modern players to me. These cards are easily slotting right in to ready-made existing archetypes or are so powerful that they have the capability to be build-arounds, even in the amped up world of Modern. Cards ten through seven are a bit more speculative and either need some inspired deckbuilding, future prints, or a specific metagame to find widespread play. Without any further ado, on to my Top 10.
Cindervines is a strange card, one that doesn't really fit with the general paradigm of successful answer cards in Modern. For a card to become a sideboard staple, it either needs to be the single most efficient version of an effect (Nature's Claim), have a particularly backbreaking impact on the targeted deck (Stony Silence), or be so broad as to have an impact in multiple matchups (Rakdos Charm). Cindervines is trying to gain a foothold in the format by checking the last box and functioning as a targeted hate card for artifacts and enchantments as well as storm-ish decks. The best of the storm-ish decks is currently Ironworks, which obviously also packs plenty of artifacts that you're more than happy to keep off the battlefield.
The problem is that even against a deck like Ironworks which is getting dinged by both sides of Cindervines, the card seems unlikely to do enough unless it's accompanied by significant pressure. There are few decks in Modern employing Gruul colors alongside aggression. The clearest home for Cindervines is something like Burn that can make early life loss extremely punishing. I could see Burn potentially employing copies of this card over Destructive Revelry in spots where Ironworks has taken up tremendous metagame share and Storm remains a concern. While Cindervines is not game-breaking against Storm (double Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens hands can beat Cindervines easily enough), it can potentially slow them down a turn or two while sending four or five damage their way as they search for an answer. It's possible that more aggressive Jund builds could also capitalize on early chip damage from Cindervines.
Ultimately, I think the artifact and enchantment removal side of Cindervines is just too inefficient to acceptably fill that role in any Modern deck. If there were a world where 25% of the field was on Ironworks and Storm, and Storm had shifted back to Pyromancer Ascension, then maybe it'd be time for Cindervines to shine. Since that's not our present day, Cindervines likely stays on the bench, but it's a fine card to add to our Modern binders in case things ever line up just right.
Modern decks and discard outlets… name a more iconic combination, I'll wait.
Efforts to discard Arclight Phoenix are currently all the rage in Modern. While blue cantrips seem to be the way to go, it isn't impossible to imagine a world where access to spells like Terminate, Collective Brutality, Thoughtseize, or even Death's Shadow create a new way to give someone the bird. Such a deck will surely be in the market for an additional discard outlet that could refill a hand in the lategame.
While the glory days of Mardu Pyromancer are long gone, I wonder if a card like Rix Maadi Reveler can gift the deck with enough flexibility in deckbuilding to allow it to find success again. Previously, Bedlam Reveler put some very hard restrictions on the number of non-instant and sorcery spells your deck could contain. By making the switch to Rix Maadi Reveler, you can include more Blood Moons, Lilianas, and impactful creatures.
This switch comes at a real cost, however, as Rix Maadi Reveler is not quite as powerful a party goer as its Bedlam-loving compatriot. The highs can never be quite as high as a two-mana Bedlam Reveler, and the spots where you topdeck a Rix Maadi Reveler without the ability to deal any damage will be exactly the wrong kind of spectacle. Is some deckbuilding versatility and some increased resiliency to graveyard hate enough to make Rix Maadi Reveler shine? I think its going to be a hard sell, but I've certainly got a few shells Rix Maadi Reveler has me excited to try out.
Rhythm of the Wild would probably never find a home in a Modern decklist if it were being asked to play fair. Instead, Rhythm of the Wild will be asked to empower a combination as old as the Modern format itself.
It's pretty easy to come up with a host of reasons why Rhythm of the Wild is worse than current enablers such as Melira, Anafenza, and Vizier of Remedies. It can't be found with Chord of Calling, Eldritch Evolution, or Collected Company; it doesn't contribute directly to your clock, and the overlap that Vizier of Remedies has with the Devoted Druid combo is absent. These are indisputable facts. However, haste and size buffs for all your creatures are not irrelevant benefits. More importantly, Rhythm of the Wild avoids some of the vulnerabilities of the cards above by virtue of being an enchantment. Where is an opponent facing a battlefield of Kitchen Finks and Rhythm of the Wild supposed to point their Lightning Bolt? Fewer vulnerabilities to removal might earn persist combo decks some extra points. In addition, the combo of Glen Elendra Archmage and Rhythm of the Wild is kind of a wild new look. If only there were some other reason for creature-based combo decks to start exploring blue splashes…
7.Prime Speaker Vannifar
I've loved seeing folks discover just how to go infinite with Prime Speaker Vannifar and as few support pieces as possible. While I would love to live in a world where I could get away with playing cards like Breeching Hippocamp and Scyrb Ranger in my Modern Decks, I just don't think these setups are very realistic. Instead, I want to call back to the way Birthing Pod decks used to be played - with a selection of some of the best value creatures in the game and a combo that could potentially kill you out of nowhere.
With Rhythm of the Wild and Prime Speaker Vannifar in your deck, I think you can start to recapture some of that old magic. Finding whatever piece is missing of a Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo, tutoring up the Glen Elendra Archmage that will lock your opponent out of the game, or just turning a Kitchen Finks into a more valuable situational replacement - these are scenarios that seem much more Modern plausible than surviving to the point where your Breaching Hippocamp finally gets to do something meaningful.
It's hard to say if someone is going to find just the right special sauce to make Prime Speaker Vannifar hum, so I currently have it as the best of my speculative Modern inclusions. Expect more on Prime Speaker Vannifar from me in the future.
6. and 5. Judith, the Scourge Diva; and Hero of Precinct One
I don't think it's any secret that Humans has found itself struggling as of late. It's not that the deck is inherently flawed; it's just that it's currently interacting on the wrong axis. The more disruptive elements of the deck, such as Kitesail Freebooter, are ineffectual weapons against the best combo decks, and their clock is beginning to feel a bit too anemic. Enter Judith and Hero of Precinct One. Offering Humans a greater ability to go wide (and some additional reach once they get there) could be exactly what Modern's former top dog needs to rule the roost once more.
Perhaps only Judith makes the cut and simply looks to fill the Mantis Rider slots. This would allow the deck to reignite its brief romance with Collected Company, with a few more lords functioning as super impactful Company hits. Whatever role these cards ultimately play in Humans, they're at least offering new options. Humans in its current configuration may be on the verge of falling solidly into tier 2. Let's see what Ravnica Allegiance has to say on the matter before we banish them to sit with the also rans of the format.
Speaking of Collected Company, it just found its new best friend. Reflector Mage was already pushing into Bant Spirits builds, and Deputy of Detention is a far more versatile card. Company decks gaining the ability to answer multiple type of permanents (and multiple copies) at instant speed could spell a resurgence for the non-tribal forms of Bant Company as well.
Modern continues to be a format where few decks occupy significant metagame shares. You must be ready to answer everything from a Griselbrand to a Training Grounds to an Amulet of Vigor. Bant Company decks were previously extremely polarized builds that excelled in certain matchups and had virtually no chance in others. Deputy of Detention is here to bring some consistency to the archetype and is a creature that can bring its controller back from some extremely difficult positions. Opponents better hope they haven't misused their Lightning Bolts…
Hey, do you think casting any of the following cards in Modern might be a strong play?
Every card that allows more methods of consistently casting Restore Balance, Ancestral Vision, and Wheel of Fate scares the living daylights out of me. As Foretold proved to be a miss, but as previously pointed out by Emma Handy , Electrodominance has a lot going on, including the ability to play some of the most powerful Magic spells ever printed at instant speed.
Many other cards on the list are likely to be great Modern cards. Electrodominance is the only one that has the possibility of someday finding itself on the banned list. The only thing keeping this card from the top of my list is the uncertainty that comes with trying to build a new Modern archetype from the ground up. There are a lot of different problems in Modern, and your deck must have some kind of solution to all of them. Electrodominance pilots are still working to figure their problems out, but when they do, they will be playing with power that belongs in Vintage.
Over the past week, I've often felt like my head was going to explode while people pumped out hyperbole, making statements like "Lightning Bolt is back in Standard." Skewer the Critics is so far from Lightning Bolt in Standard, its laughable. Set up for spectacle is not guaranteed. Three mana is a ton to pay for your burn spell. And it's a sorcery! Can we please insert some reality back into the discussion? Lightning Bolt this is not.
Except in Modern Burn, where Skewer the Critics is basically Lightning Bolt.
Obviously a significant step down from Lightning Bolt, but in the dedicated Burn deck, it's hard to create situations where you are punished for playing Skewer the Critics. Either you're forcing through some damage or you have three mana available. Either situation means your opponent takes three. Skewer the Critics is going to allow Modern Burn to have a greater number of its most dominant openers. I think the power level of this card is such that it instantly replaces any flex slot burn spells such as Shard Volley, and I'm starting to believe that it may just be an upgrade on lower end core spells like Rift Bolt. Burn is already starting to heat up in Modern. With Skewer the Critics, it might be ready to set the world on fire.
I honestly can't believe this card is real. Pteramander is the new Delver of Secrets, except it's actually good in Modern. First, let's talk about the fail state of Pteramander. If your opponent has completely invalidated your graveyard from the very start of the game, Pteramander is a 1/1 Ffyer for one mana. While nothing to write home about, this dusts cards like the two mana 0/1 Tarmogoyf, or the completely uncastable Bedlam Reveler. No matter what your opponent does on turn 0, you're deploying your 1/1 flyer on turn 1.
Beyond this point, Pteramander rewards you for simply playing Magic. The 1/1 sits there, and at the first moment it makes strategic and logistical sense to do so, you get to upgrade to what is basically the baddest beater in the format. Shields don't have to go down when you don't want them too. You don't eat the entirety of your graveyard and prevent yourself from playing additional copies on subsequent turns. You just have mega-Pteramanders floating around your deck for the rest of the game.
Delver of Secrets was routinely outclassed and instilled too many deckbuilding restrictions for too little reward. It was a horrible topdeck in the lategame. Setup for lategame transformations was too inconsistent without access to Brainstorm. Contrast this with Pteramander. It's entirely plausible to adapt Pteramander on Turn 3 simply by doing what your deck will want to do. In the lategame, all your Pteramanders are 5/5 flyers for UU.
The best deck in Modern is an Izzet deck which fuels its graveyard through copious cantrip usage, leverages cheap or free spells, and minorly disrupts an opponent until it can present a difficult to answer flying clock. Pteramander is destined to slot into this deck. More exciting still are the new archetypes Pteramander will spawn on its own. This is the blue card that fundamentally alters the color's capabilities in the Modern format. Aggressive Thoughtseize decks are back on the menu. How about draw-go Azorius Pteramander?
I personally can't wait to explore Grixis Pteramander analogs to Legacy Grixis Delver decks, where your Kolaghan's Commands are returning two mana flying 5/5s. This card is the future of Modern. Get ready.