Fortune Telling: MH2 Speculation, Part 3

Everything eventually ends. As the year wraps up, it’s time for me to bring my Modern Horizons 2 speculation to a close. I need to clear space for the upcoming Kaldheim spoiler season. And hopefully, the return of paper Magic; I’ve spent considerable time and energy trying to figure out how I’m going to incorporate paper results, and I don’t want it all to be in vain.

As a reminder, this series is about existing cards that I think could make it into MH2. There’s no way to predict what new cards may come, but I could discuss the cards I’d like to see reprinted. This is not random speculation; I set down rules in the first article, and I’ll stick to them:

  1. Don’t make Modern into Legacy. Reasonable power levels and it has to make sense in Modern’s context.
  2. No hate cards. It’s too easy/lazy, and also boring. I have to pick cards that encourage brewing and new gameplay.
  3. No low-hanging fruit. Counterspell is obviously ok for Modern; I’ll look deeper and push myself to find hidden gems.

I’ve gotten through all the mono-colored cards, so today I’ll wrap things up. It’s time for the gold card, artifact, and land.

Psychatog

The pool of gold cards is surprisingly shallow, reprint-wise. New players may not know this, but prior to Invasion block, multicolored cards weren’t really a thing. There were smatterings here and there, but Invasion was the first real multicolor themed set and the first time Wizards figured out how to design multicolored cards in a consistent fashion. Since Invasion, every set’s had at least a few gold cards, but there aren’t many from before then. Except for slivers. As a result, my pool of possible reprints are cards from Invasion-Onslaught and some early-set weirdness. A surprisingly high percentage of which have either already been reprinted or are now straight outclassed. Which made my selection much easier.

The most interesting and brewable gold card I could remember (or find, after quite a search) is Psychatog. Dr. Teeth was the creature when I was first becoming competitive, and remained as such for years afterward. It terrorized Standard as the win condition of a UB Control deck that won in combo fashion. The beauty of ‘Tog is the efficiency: the first ability directly fuels the second, which is bolstered by just playing normal Magic. ‘Tog completely controlled the game via tons of counterspells while never missing land drops thanks to Deep Analysis and Fact or Fiction. Eventually, the deck would hit eight mana and could “combo” by floating its mana, clearing the board with Upheaval, then dropping ‘Tog with Force Spike backup.

Various iterations of ‘Tog remained contenders in Extended, but suffered heavily after 2006. See, Time Spiral brought Sudden Shock, which was quickly adopted by Red Deck Wins and Zoo specifically because it killed Psychatog. ‘Tog fought back with Counterbalance, but it was past its prime, and hasn’t seen play since rotating out of Extended.

Potential Utility

As before, so again. Dr. Teeth would naturally fit into a card advantaged focused UB control deck. ‘Tog’s effectively a cannon through through to launch a hand and graveyard at the opponent’s face, and control elements play well with this strategy. Counters are especially important, considering that removal for black creatures is significantly better today than back in 2002. It also incentivizes pure control and card advantage over the value acquisition typical of the current brand of UBx control decks. Thus, Psychatog could naturally draw players away from Uro.

The more interesting possibility is as a discard outlet. Wizards learned from Odyssey block, and have endeavored to keep discard outlets less efficient and repeatable than ‘Tog, Wild Mongrel, and Aquamoeba. It became something of a priority after dredge was unexpectedly busted. Making Psychatog a Dredge card would require a significant retooling of that deck, and it doesn’t particularly fit in other existing graveyard decks. However, it might be decent alongside Life from the Loam and cycling lands, finally fulfilling the promise of those reprints.

The Risk

‘Tog is a control kinda combo finisher. The old combo with Upheaval is way too expensive for Modern (maybe even for Standard) these days. It’s also harder to keep a full graveyard around than back in ‘Tog’s heyday. Or even its Extended days. Plus, to really make ‘Tog thrive requires a massive amount of support, and it’s very hard for a heavy control deck to get broken. Dredge and similar graveyard decks aren’t exactly tearing Modern up, and ‘Tog doesn’t fit into their gameplan anyway. It’d take an as yet unknown deck to really make ‘Tog being a discard outlet dangerous, so the inherent risk is low.

Add in that two of ‘Tog’s favorite partners, Deep Analysis and Circular Logic, aren’t Modern legal making the potential shell around ‘Tog weaker. Couple that with the known hard counter in Sudden Shock and the actually played Abrupt Decay, and ‘Tog’s a pretty low risk printing. Something would have to go very wrong with wider UBx control for Psychatog to seriously harm Modern.

Likelihood

Psychatog is a card that a lot of players remember fondly, and seeing it reprinted would generate plenty of nostalgia. It’s also a pretty low-risk card, so it’s highly reprintable. However, MH2 would need discard synergy for Wizards to actually reprint ‘Tog, since they build supplemental sets around Limited play, specifically draft.

Sphere of Resistance

Artifacts were also surprisingly hard. There’s a lot more choice out there for one: the second expansion set, Antiquities, was also the first artifact set. For two, a lot of those artifacts are really busted. I wasn’t being facetious when I asked not whether but how Kaladesh would be busted; Wizards simply cannot get artifact sets right. Even outside of broken blocks, Magic’s history is littered with busted artifact mana, absurd engines, and frustrating prison pieces. However outside of that, there’s mostly useless jank and outclassed artifact creatures, even in the Commander sets. I’m not sure Masticore would see play anymore.

I choose Sphere of Resistance because it’s the only non-legal artifact that I could think of or find that could see play and wouldn’t just be a Karn, the Great Creator bullet, tribal engine, or simply busted. I don’t think Cursed Scroll is good enough anymore, and Winter Orb violates rules 1 and 2. Sphere is also requires the most work to build around. Unlike decedent Thorn of Amethyst, there’s no work-around to dodge the tax. The flavor text is very accurate. As the only way around Sphere is through, the typical home has been in decks with Ancient Tomb or Mishra’s Workshop, using the mana advantage to power past the opponent.

When that isn’t an option, as it isn’t in Modern, the only other usage is as part of go-under strategies. A deck that drops creatures the first few turns followed by Sphere for disruption and protection would be effective. Such decks are rare in Modern, partially because Delver of Secrets is mediocre and mostly because Prowess is too fast. Prowess can’t use Sphere, because it’s slowed down a lot by taxes, and so a Sphere could open up the meta.

Potential Utility

In Legacy, Sphere is used in Lands, Cloudpost, and Stax to put the screws to Delver decks. That it also gives them hope against terrible combo matchups is somewhat incidental. They’re using their acceleration to power through Sphere as mentioned above and it is theoretically possible that Titan and Tron could wield Sphere too. However, I’m skeptical.

Tron relies on cheap cantrips to survive, far more than any other Modern deck. Subsequently, playing Sphere would be pretty harmful to Tron’s gameplan. Why bother with disruption when you can just drop a bomb? As for Titan, it really doesn’t have a lot of extra mana to spare in the early turns when Sphere matters. It wants to play a one drop, ramp turn 2, then get out Primeval Titan. Sphere doesn’t fit that plan.

A more likely scenario is to pair Sphere with cheap creatures and/or Aether Vial. Delver-style decks suffer heavily against Prowess, but could more easily play under Sphere since it only wants to resolve a spell or two a turn. Prowess needs to play many spells a turn to really do anything, which would give other go-under creature decks more of a chance. Death and Taxes would be a bigger beneficiary thanks to Vial and its much higher land count. Taxes also only plays one spell per turn anyway and only Path on opposing turns, so the impact is muted not by mana but strategy. Sphere also generally plays into the Taxes part of the name quite well.

While Sphere would hit Storm-style combo and Prowess the most, midrange and control aren’t immune. Both decks are inherently clunky and slow, with most of the power coming from 3+ mana spells. Against fast decks, any delay in casting Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath can be catastrophic.

The Risk

If I’m wrong about Tron and Amulet running Sphere it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’d hardly say that’s acceptable. The decks ramp fast enough that Sphere could be potentially backbreaking. There’s enough land hate around that it might not be too much of a problem, since taking a turn off to Sphere keeps them from hitting their best curves too. Eldrazi Tron is another worry, but that deck is so inconsistent mana-wise that I’m not sure it’s something to consider.

Outside that, there’s the overall problem of player frustration. Wizards has stuck with Thorn and Thalia precisely because they feel more fair, and so less obnoxious. They’re not, as in practice their effect is decidedly asymmetric, but there’s a psychological release value from the creature exemption. Wizards doesn’t like players feeling bad, no matter how unjust their feelings are, so they’d shy away from Sphere.

Likelihood

In terms of power, Sphere is perfectly fine. However, the player complaints aspect makes it unlikely. That said, Sphere is the sort of card that could just be dropped into the set if there’s a slot to fill, unlike many cards on my list.

Karakas

And finally, on to the final entry. Karakas is the very obvious choice here, but I tried very hard for it not to be Karakas. There’s a solid argument for it violating rule 3, as Karakas is the sort of card that could (but never would) be printed in Standard. Also, I think there’s more danger here than appreciated. However, a surprising number of old standby lands have been completely outdated. Why bother with Thawing Glaciers when fetchlands or Lotus Field exist? Castle Ardenvale made Kjeldoran Outpost look silly. And that’s not getting into the unfun, busted, or just plain weird lands out there. Yes, Wasteland is too good and Rishadan Port is too hateful.

Karakas is a Plains that also bounces legendary creatures. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s not really exciting or brew-around, but it open a whole slew of options and possible uses.

Potential Utility

The first thing that always comes to mind when Karakas is mentioned is bouncing Griselbrand. No mana to defeat Neoform is a great deal. This is also Karakas’s primary use in Legacy. The secondary is bouncing an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn cheated out by Show and Tell. While Through the Breach is not really a thing anymore, it’s nice to have that kind of answer available in a format. There’s also utility in stopping Jace, Vryn Prodigy from flipping.

The other use is protecting legends from removal. The legend in question is usually Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in DnT, but Leovold, Emissary of Trest is common too. Legacy being very removal light, this is very strong and in Thalia’s case can be close to a soft lock against Delver. Modern could see something similar for DnT, which would have considerable value against the Prowess decks.

The Risk

The problem with Karakas is that the utility is also the risk. Protecting a legend like Thalia is fine, but what about Omnath, Locus of Creation? Suddenly the card becomes an even more absurd value engine, as it can be bounced purposely to draw cards every turn. That’s not a great engine, admittedly, and it’d arguably be better to just beat down with Omnath. However, I’ve seen looping Uro in Legacy successfully grind out players. So long as Wizards insists on making value-generating legends, there’s a huge risk that Karakas would just make them more annoying, maybe to the point of becoming oppressive.

Likelihood

As I mentioned, Karakas‘ power is on a level that I could see being ok in Standard. It might not make much sense in a Standard set, but power-wise Karakas is fine. I think that there’s a decent chance of seeing Karakas in Modern at some point, but I’d prefer it be after Wizards finally learns not to give it all away for free.

And Now, We Wait

With my list done, we’ll have to wait until summer to see if I called anything. I’ll be back next week to finish a piece of outstanding business and finally be done with 2020. To a better 2021!

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