Once upon a time, Modern was a brewer’s paradise.
Countless decks were viable, change came gradually, and it was widely remarked that you could play “whatever you wanted.”
The past six months have taken their toll on Modern, but the spirit of discovery is alive and well. Every new release includes dozens of cards with tantalizing potential. The power level of the format keeps trending upward, but there is more territory than ever for a brewer to explore.
Throne of Eldraine is the latest offering and the set looks absolutely stunning for Modern. I followed the spoilers closely, as I always do, taking notes and organizing my thoughts on cards that showed potential to make an immediate splash, or seemed worth tracking down the road. My “Eldraine Top 10” list quickly grew to a Top 30, and then swelled to a Top 50. By the end, I had a list of 64 cards that seemed relevant for Modern play. Sixty-four! From a Standard set release! My friends, this set is wild.
What follows is a road map of sorts for how I plan to explore the format, a fairly comprehensive Brewer’s Guide to Throne of Eldraine. I first lay out my principles of card evaluation, which are informed by my sensibilities as a “spike rogue,” before proceeding to the cards.
64 cards, four different Top 10 lists, and 7900 words lie ahead of you. Are you ready?
Let’s do this thing.
The Faithless Brewing Method: Heuristics for Card Evaluation
“Hold up. Who are you again?”
My name is Dan Schriever (cavedan on MTGO), and I co-host the Faithless Brewing Podcast (@FaithlessMTG), which is dedicated entirely to developing tournament-worthy brews for Modern. Our method is to choose one card per week that we think has unrealized potential, and brew decks around it. We first theorize why the card has promise, propose decklists that seek to utilize the card in different ways, and then put our hypotheses to the test in MTGO Leagues, Challenges, or competitive paper events. Each show begins with what we learned from our testing about the previous week’s decks. We always want to ensure that our data is relevant and our expectations are realistic; after all, successful brewing is only possible with a detailed understanding of the metagame as it currently exists.
I mention this partly as shameless self-promotion (seriously, if you love Modern, check out Faithless Brewing, it’s great) and partly because our “brewer’s eye view” leads to a slightly different approach to card evaluation than what you might encounter on r/spikes. Briefly put, our goal is to discover The Truth about how a particular card might be used successfully, rather than The Truth about a format or how to best position ourselves to win an event.
To elaborate: Sam Black, patron saint of brewers, sometimes describes his philosophy as wanting to help each card become its “best self.” The goal is to create the conditions needed for a card to succeed, and this takes precedence over questions like “Aren’t you just building a worse version of [Deck X]?” That question is crucial, of course, but it comes at a later stage in our process. In effect, we imagine that we are being forced to build a deck featuring the card in question, reminiscent of the “Ironroot Chef” challenges from the old Community Cup, or Saffron Olive’s “Against the Odds” series, and work backwards from there. What is this card asking me to do? What pieces does it want to be surrounded with? What kind of game state does this card require to be powerful, and what larger strategy will allow me to create that game state? Each new card is a puzzle to unlock, and our first allegiance is to solving that puzzle.
Of course, scrutinizing every card like this would be a time consuming and discouraging process, as most cards simply won’t make the cut in Modern. Additional heuristics help narrow down the most promising candidates. This is where questions like Efficiency, Redundancy, and Fit come in.
To assess Efficiency, we ask, “What does this card do that no other card can do? What does this card do better than any other existing card?” We are always on the lookout for cards that are “best in class” at whatever they do, even if their effect is very narrow or doesn’t have an obvious application given the current Modern card pool. For this reason, most zero and one mana cards are at least under consideration.
We also look for cards that provide Redundancy on existing effects. Does a new printing achieve critical mass of a particular category of effect, that might change what is possible to build around? Guidelines such as the “rule of eight” come into play here.
Finally, Fit encapsulates the entire ethos of the oft-asserted “Might see play in X…” Drawing upon our knowledge of the existing metagame, we ask whether a given printing might compete for slots in an existing archetype, or fundamentally change how those decks are built.
The truly exciting cards end up being the ones that are in a class by themselves, and offer an effect or combination of effects we haven’t really seen before. These are the cards that end up occupying most of our brewing energy and often lead to both our greatest triumphs and our greatest incinerations of tickets on MTGO. For every Niv-Mizzet Reborn, there is a Bolas’s Citadel. The process is what matters, and that includes being honest when assessing our biases and mistakes.
Categories of Card Evaluation
Putting this all into practice, I find that it helps me to organize cards into three different categories when evaluating a new set for Modern. These categories are:
1. Best-in-Class Efficiency
3. Additions to Existing Decks
Some cards will appear only in one category, while others might appear in all three (for example, a card that offers an effect at the most efficient rate we have yet seen, and for that reason might slot into existing decks, but could also be built around as the centerpiece of a brand new archetype).
In the spirit of hot takes, I have ranked the cards within each category in order of importance, loosely understood as their expected impact on the competitive metagame. This is for the benefit of posterity, so that we can all look back later and laugh that I thought Witching Well was the 4th-most important card from Throne of Eldraine. Let’s get to the cards!
Category 1: Best-in-Class Efficiency
These cards are relevant because they offer the cheapest possible rate for their category of effect. They may not immediately find homes in a deck (often because their effect is quite marginal or narrow), but they are worth keeping in mind down the road, as they are the among cheapest options in the Modern cardpool for whatever they do. Any effect that costs zero or one mana is worth consideration in this category. Ordinary effects that are newly available on a different permanent type would also fall into the category. Eldraine offers a quite extensive list here, as the Adventure mechanic led to an abnormally high number of one-mana spells. There are also some truly surprising effects offered at discounted rates, including two cycles of powerful lands.
HM: cheap Food
HM: Witch’s Oven
HM: Specter’s Shriek
HM: Mystical Dispute
HM: Witch’s Vengeance
HM: Inquisitive Puppet
HM: Castle Locthwain
HM: Castle Embereth
HM: Dwarven Mine
HM: Corridor Monitor
HM: Thrill of Possibility
HM: Claim the Firstborn
10. Vantress Gargoyle
9. Drown in the Loch
8. Merchant of the Vale
7. Merfolk Secretkeeper
6. Wishclaw Talisman
5. Witching Well
4. Gilded Goose
3. Deafening Silence
2. Emry, Lurker of the Loch
1. Once Upon a Time
HM Witch’s Oven, Curious Pair, Bartered Cow, Gingerbread Cabin, Gilded Goose, Gingerbrute, Oko, Thief of Crowns: These are the options for producing Food without spending much mana (potentially zero mana, in the case of Bartered Cow, Gingerbread Cabin, or Oko). Food is unlikely to matter in a vacuum, but that fact that it can be produced so affordably means that Food is more accessible than Clues and Treasures if we just want to create artifact tokens. Shape Anew or Indomitable Creativity could potentially make use of Food, decks with metalcraft themes could use it, and there’s an outside chance of a Food deck built around Oko or Feasting Troll King.
HM Witch’s Oven: Deserves special mention as a repeatable source of Food, and a one-mana sac outlet that doesn’t die to removal. Can only be used once per turn, so doesn’t work for infinite combos and doesn’t go off with Cauldron Familiar (yet). Keep this one in your back pocket.
HM Specter’s Shriek: Disrupts more effectively than Thoughseize, Inquisition, or Duress, but exiling a card of your own is disastrous. You can mitigate this by: 1) taking a black card, 2) being empty-handed, 3) wanting to exile an opponent’s card (Wasteland Strangler), or 4) wanting to exile your own cards (Eternal Scourge, Hedron Alignment?). Those scenarios are mostly too narrow to justify playing this over existing options, but if something is printed down the road that rewards putting cards into exile, Shriek is worth keeping in mind.
HM Mystical Dispute: When cast for a single mana, Dispute punches in the weight class of Veil of Summer, Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, or Ceremonius Rejection. Being conditionally cheap, it might seem like a sideboard consideration, but there it competes for slots with sledgehammers like Dovin’s Veto and Dispel. Instead, Mystical Dispute’s fortunes seem to rest on the merits of its main deck versatility (it is rarely dead, just sometimes inefficient). Decks built around the cascade mechanic can also run this safely, so could see fringe application that way.
HM Witch’s Vengeance: As a pure sweeper this is outclassed by Dead of Winter, Anger of the Gods, Plague Engineer, etc. But if you are also playing small to medium creatures of your own, this is a cheap way to maybe get a mini-Plague Wind.
HM Inquisitive Puppet: Thanks to Mystic Forge, cheap artifacts with “ETB: scry” are worth keeping an eye on. Sentinel Totem is now joined by Inquisitive Puppet and Witching Well. Fill your deck with enough of these (or similar effects like Codex Shredder or Bomat Courier), throw in a cost reducer like Etherium Sculptor, and you could conceivably cast your entire deck on the same turn you resolve a Mystic Forge. Puppet is especially interesting because it can provide two mana with Chief Engineer. Crazy? Sure, but check out this 5-0 “Mystic Affinity” list by Tenshii that has two 5-0s already. “Pinocchio Storm” is a long shot, but I’m not gonna lie, I will probably try it.
HM Castle Locthwain: Card draw on a land is a rare thing. Compared to Sea Gate Wreckage and Desolate Lighthouse, Castle Locthwain is a straight up bargain. Best used in a low-curve attrition deck with cheap threats and proactive disruption, so you can play out your hand quickly.
HM Castle Embereth: The previous entrant in this category is Contested War Zone. Go-wide strategies like 8-Whack, Goblins, and Seasoned Pyromancer decks could all consider this.
HM Hushbringer: Similar to Torpor Orb and Tocatli Honor Guard, but also stops death triggers and has slightly more attractive combat stats and a relevant creature type. A useful tool for certain metagames, but not a game-changer.
HM Dwarven Mine: Valakut decks put a lot Mountains into play, and this is also a Mountain itself. The effect is marginal, but good to keep in mind that it exists as a land option.
HM Thrill of Possibility: Instant speed makes this technically best in class over Tormenting Voice. Does that push this into the realm of playability? A tricky question, as Tormenting Voice is underpowered, but how much of that weakness is due to it being sorcery speed is not totally clear. Another candidate for a Phoenix revival, or perhaps something wacky built around Improbable Alliance. Decks like Grishoalbrand that want to move a single key card into the graveyard, but still care about card economy, might also find Thrill helpful in a way that Haggle is not.
HM Corridor Monitor: Mostly worse than Deceiver Exarch in Kiki Combo, but technically cheaper and could be a 5th copy. An alternative to Scryb Ranger in Vannifar chains. The artifact type could be relevant if you are doing a weird mashup of some kind, or if you want to untap a Mystic Forge.
HM Claim the Firstborn: For some reason, Act of Treason effects have typically cost 3 or more mana and have rarely been worthwhile even in limited. Seeing this effect at one mana is surprising and forces us to ask, for the first time, what we can really do with this effect in Modern. MH1 introduced some less stingy sacrifice outlets (Carrion Feeder, Altar of Dementia), and the peculiar wording of Restoration Angel could let you steal a creature permanently if you wanted to. There’s also a world in which Claim the Firstborn is just a useful sideboard tool for decks that win by attacking with small creatures.
10. Vantress Gargoyle: “Giant flying beater” is a pretty small category in Modern; only Mantis Rider, Jace’s Phantasm, and Tombstalker come to mind. “Giant blue 2 drop” is pretty much just Thing in the Ice. Even Tarmogoyf gets outclassed by this on cluttered board states. Granted, it takes work to unlock the Gargoyle’s attack mode, but the power is there to at least make this plausible. “Cast early, enable later” is a much more forgiving play pattern than cards that demand that you meet their conditions before you can even cast them or before they grow out of Bolt range. It has a tap ability with numerous build-around possibilities (Mystic Forge, Lantern, various self-mill tricks) and is even a blue artifact creature if you like Grand Architect. Truly an exciting card, if a confusing one.
9. Drown in the Loch: At some point in the game, this will become a split card Counterspell and Terminate. Only Izzet Charm (very conditional) and Cryptic Command (very expensive) can make similar claims. When exactly this will come online is not entirely clear; outside of dedicated mill decks, this is almost like a Serra Avenger effect on a spell: you can’t cast it in the early turns, but in the later turns it will be one of your most powerful and mana efficient plays.
8. Merchant of the Vale: Does the Arclight Phoenix dream live? Instant speed Insolent Neonate that counts as spell for Phoenix/Aria/Thing in the Ice is at least worth testing, even in Dredge (but not Vengevine). I wouldn’t expect much from the Merchant half, but it’s better than nothing.
7. Merfolk Secretkeeper: A self-mill enabler in the vein of Hedron Crab, Minister of Inquiries, and Satyr Wayfinder. You get the 4 cards right away, so this is somewhat more reliable than a turn 1 Crab or Minister, which might get killed. What is really exciting is that you get a bonus creature to cast later, which should give you more control over triggering Vengevine. Counts as a creature in the graveyard, which occasionally matters for things like Gnaw to the Bone or Skaab Ruinator. I would not be surprised if this becomes a staple Vengevine enabler, worse than Crab but slightly better than Minister, Tome Scour, and Memory Sluice.
6. Wishclaw Talisman: How much should an unconditional tutor cost? Mastermind’s Acquisition is four mana, so by some math you’re getting a 1 mana discount in exchange for giving away the Talisman. But when you consider that you can pay the mana in installments, Wishclaw is actually a one-mana Demonic Tutor on the turn that you use it, which is insanely cheap—rivaling Spoils of the Vault, but without the “Oops I died” component. Decks that want to end the game immediately, e.g. by tutoring for a missing combo piece, will love the efficiency of this card, and it fits naturally into Ad Nauseam’s turn 4 Lotus Bloom curve. There’s no drawback if you win the game that turn.
5. Witching Well: This looks like innocuous Draft filler, but in fact it is likely to become a format staple in artifact strategies. Witching Well is worth more than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts is already a lot higher than you might think. Consider: in a vacuum, Scry 2 is worth roughly half a card.** You also get a Darksteel Relic, which sits on the battlefield helping your Mox Opals, Emrys, or Whirs of Invention — not dissimilar from a Mishra’s Bauble that gets cast early and doesn’t get cracked until later. Once you get to something like Urza or Sai, Witching Well starts to pay you back with an actual card worth of value, on top of everything you already got from the Scry 2 and the early Opal enabler. That’s already a great deal, and we haven’t even considered that the card can be sacrificed to draw 2 more cards later in the game, or in matchups that get scrappy with removal and attrition. If you end up bouncing the Well with Paradoxical Outcome, or even cycling it with Goblin Engineer, you could get that ETB bonus again and again. Add this all together and Witching Well is secretly a powerhouse.
**A few more considerations on the value of Scry 2: almost every artifact deck in Modern is a critical mass synergy deck. You have a bunch of cheap artifacts to enable your “big” cards like Urza, Emry, Sai, Outcome, Karn TGC, Mystic Forge etc. These are all ultra powerful artifact payoffs, but (mostly) they are not artifacts themselves, so building with them becomes a numbers game of finding the right balance of artifacts and payoffs. The ability to Scry matters most when there is a high delta between the values of the cards in your deck, and all artifact decks meet this criterion, so “Scry 2” is even more valuable here than it would be in, say, a random Snapcaster deck. That said, Serum Visions has tension with artifact decks because you can’t always afford to devote precious slots to a non-artifact single-use card selection spell. Witching Well slots into this spot beautifully, a real triumph for Mox Opal aficionados everywhere.
4. Gilded Goose: Part Thraben Inspector, part Birds of Paradise, part caddie for Oko, Thief of Crowns, there are lots of scenarios in which a brewer might choose to Unloose the Goose. Better as a Food source than a mana creature, the Goose’s efficiency depends on what you want to get out of it. If you just want a Food, you can’t do better. As a mana source, “Bolt the Lotus Petal” isn’t really a thing, but I’d assume most players will kill the Goose anyway just in case. Probably best in a deck built around Oko, but I admit to being intrigued by High Alert/Arcades with a curve starting on Goose + Saruli Caretaker. I never said I wasn’t crazy.
3. Deafening Silence: Much like Alpine Moon, a desirable sideboard effect (in this case, Rule of Law) becomes much easier to play when it only costs a single mana. It also doesn’t accidentally hose creature decks, which are often interested in double-spell turns to build pressure, and it doesn’t stop Snapcaster Mage (for better or for worse).
2. Emry, Lurker of the Loch: This card is straight up broken and is likely to break Modern artifact strategies in general, effectively finishing what Mox Opal and Urza started. In terms of efficiency, Emry will usually cost just a single blue mana. This already makes her best-in-class as a Mox Amber enabler, which is a game changer even if the graveyard is locked down by Rest in Peace. She almost can be treated as a mana creature, since she is likely to find an Opal or Amber which you then get to keep permanently. Already we are talking about a card in the stratosphere of Deathrite Shaman, without even accounting for all the other things Emyr’s tap ability can do. Creatures with “Tap: draw a card” generally cost four mana to cast or activate (Archivist, Azure Mage); Emry costs 1 to cast, zero to activate, and her ability is even stronger than drawing a random card and leads to numerous combo applications. Very quickly the efficiency comparisons break down, because Emry is in a class by herself.
1. Once Upon a Time: In the wise words of Brian Gottlieb, “If it’s free, it’s me.” Can’t get more efficient than free. According to Frank Karsten, the average amount of mana spent on a Once Upon a Time played in the first three turns of the game will be less than 1 mana. Yes, there are one mana approximations of this effect, but a card like Incubation/Incongruity doesn’t hit lands, and Ancient Stirrings is colorless restricted (not that you should ever replace Stirrings with this, but they can easily be run in tandem). Once Upon a Time is most explosive when finding a key land, because those are hard to kill and thus lock in their value, but finding a key creature is also great.
Category 2: Build-Arounds
Cards in this category have potential as centerpieces of new decks built specifically to harness them, rather than just slotting into existing archetypes. Most of these cards demand that you jump through various hoops or navigate deckbuilding constraints to unlock their full potential. This is the most exciting category, as cards designed to be safe for Standard often become powerful when given access to Modern’s cheap and efficient enablers.
HM: Lucky Clover
HM: Rosethorn Acolyte
HM: Feasting Troll King
HM: Witch’s Oven
HM: The Cauldron of Eternity
HM: Doom Foretold
HM: Fires of Invention
HM: Irencrag Feat
10. The Great Henge
9. Faeburrow Elder
8. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
7. Grumgully, the Generous
6. Wishclaw Talisman
5. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
4. Vantress Gargoyle
3. Mystic Sanctuary
2. Oko, Thief of Crowns
1. Emry, Lurker of the Loch
HM Lucky Clover: Adventures are stronger than they look in a vacuum, and Modern manabases are robust enough that you can maybe just throw all your favorite Adventures together and call it a deck. Clover is cheap enough to anchor such a pile; the trouble is that the Adventures don’t really synergize in any meaningful way.
HM Rosethorn Acolyte: It has been posited that this provides a marginal upgrade to the 1x Wild Cantor in Neobrand, but I wouldn’t bank on that. Instead, I’d look for a storm build that actively wants to empty its own hand while building up cast triggers. Seasonal Ritual makes it easier to take these game actions, but doesn’t answer the vexing question of why anyone would want to do this. Possibly something like Echo of Eons, Whispering Madness, Day’s Undoing?
HM Feasting Troll-King: Does the Hogaak dream live? Food is relatively cheap, but can’t be produced in large quantities outside of Witch’s Oven and Troll-King itself. Wishful Merfolk digs for the Troll while maybe providing two Foods, and Vantress Gargoyle digs for it while also providing two Foods, but we’re still talking about Standard level cards. Add in some Oko or Gilded Goose to round out the Food supply, and suddenly the deck only has a handful of slots left for efficient Modern helpers like discard spells or self-mill.
HM Cauldron Familiar: The combination with Witch’s Oven doesn’t go infinite with any card that I am aware of, but that could change in the future. Also just an interesting recursive option to keep in mind, for example if playing with Oko or Korvold.
HM The Cauldron of Eternity: In Game 1, this can be cast fairly easily for BB if you work for it. The trouble is that even at two mana, it still costs three per activation, arguably not efficient enough unless you get multiple uses or reanimate something really great. On top of that, any dedicated Cauldron build would likely fold to graveyard hate, and might struggle to balance cheap enablers with worthwhile reanimation targets. That said, this casts Metalwork Colossus all by itself, and Colossus is also a card you can maybe grab from the graveyard if you’ve gone heavy on self-mill.
HM Doom Foretold: If not for the early success of Esper Stax in Standard, I would have ignored this card. The fail case is that their deck ignores the battlefield, so you paid 2BW for a mopey two-for-one, a Gray Ogre, and some spare change. That’s not the worst, but it also assumes you have built your entire deck to ensure that you have useful fodder to sacrifice: a heavy deckbuilding cost for such a mediocre floor. Maybe better as a sideboard option?
HM Fires of Invention: Conservatively, this card provides an extra copy of As Foretold, at the cost of an extra mana plus Teferi-locking yourself. That’s not particularly exciting. The “Wilderness Reclamation” mode is more intriguing: if you have spells to cast and also a way to use your untapped lands, a single Fires effectively triples your mana. Playable mana sinks in Modern are rare, but Tireless Tracker has pedigree and also provides the fuel you need to feed the Fires. Beyond that, options are thin: Walking Ballista, Kessig Wolf Run, Raging Ravine, Inferno Titan, Skarrgan Hellkite, Scavenging Ooze, Hexdrinker, Eldrazi Displacer, Search for Azcanta, Blast Zone, various creature-lands. This suggests a basic R/G ramp shell, but the resulting deck will feel underpowered. The other route would be something like Niv-Mizzet Reborn, but most of the gold spells that fuel Niv derive their value from playing at instant speed, which Fires prevents.
HM Irencrag Feat: Big rituals like this are largely extinct in Modern, so any deck built around this will have a redundancy problem: your best draws require Irencrag Feat, but you will only have four copies and no guarantee of finding one consistently (unless you somehow build the deck to take advantage of Geosurge). A deck built to function without explosive mana turns, but also needing to get paid off when you do have Irencrag Feat, is a tall ask. That said, Dragonstorm is an intriguing finisher, and seven mana can still buy you a Karn or something.
10. The Great Henge: Reads like an engine piece, but it actually comes down after you’ve stuck a cheap, large creature. It then asks you to supply a stream of additional creatures to trigger the enticing draw ability. Luckily, that’s probably how you should build the deck anyway (rather than trying to cheat the Henge into play somehow). It is much easier to get a five power creature than a seven power creature: think Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler, Vantress Gargoyle. But a two mana Henge is much more attractive, which would require something like a fully-powered Tarmogoyf, Rotting Regisaur, Death’s Shadow, Master of Etherium, or Arcbound Ravager.
9. Faeburrow Elder: This starts at 2/2 vigilance that taps for GW, and scales up to 5/5 that taps to cast Niv-Mizzet Reborn. It mainly competes with Knight of the Reliquary: worse the turn you cast it (poor blocker, might die to bolt), mostly worse in combat, and lacking any land synergies. Likely only a consideration for decks trying to do something spectacular with the mana, such as a more creature- and planeswalker-oriented Niv-Mizzet build.
8. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King: “Whenever you sacrifice a permanent, draw a card.” This is an extremely dangerous line of text, so it is probably for the best that they put it on a fragile and clunky 5 CMC creature. If using this fairly, you probably need to ramp hard, and also play fetches + Tireless Trackers; sadly, you still get blown out if they kill Korvold with his ETB on the stack. More likely, this is a card you try to combo off with. Drawing off creatures dying is already available for less mana, but this draws off any permanent type while also potentially attacking for lethal, and also being Goryo’s Vengeance-eligible. Repeatable sac outlets with a heavy self-mill theme are the most likely direction (Grinding Station, Altar of Dementia) but creatures like Carrion Feeder, Viscera Seer, and Skirk Prospector are also considerations.
7. Grumgully, the Generous: Persist combo is now available entirely within the Goblins archetype, and all the pieces are findable with Goblin Matron or Goblin Ringleader. Metallic Mimic was never good, but it missed out on all your Goblin synergies while also diluting your deck, so Grumgully is an upgrade despite further cluttering up the 3 slot. I doubt that grafting this combo into the generic “goodstuff Goblins” will move the needle on that archetype, but a more all-in build using multiple copies of Grumgully with Murderous Redcap and Putrid Goblin might be speedy enough to explore.
6. Wishclaw Talisman: Earlier, I discussed the efficient of this card a supporting role tutor effect for a combo strategy. It is also possible, however, to build around this as a 4-of card draw engine, using Wishclaw in tandem with cards like Teferi, Time Raveler, Karn TGC, Ashiok, and Flickerwisp in some kind of midrange or control build. You can even put it in your Karn wishboard. This provides a tutor-for-anything effect on an artifact, so Goblin Engineer, Whir of Invention, and Emry can all grab this if you need a key non-artifact spell (Paradoxical Outcome, Jeskai Ascendancy, Assassin’s Trophy?).
5. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell: My first thought was, “This effect has always sucked.” But is that really true? Maybe the actual problem was just the heavy restrictions on cards featuring this effect: Pyromancer’s Swath, Pyromancer’s Gauntlets, The Flame of Keld… yeah, Wizards does not want us to get access to this damage multiplier very easily. In order to get around the “dies to removal” aspect of Torbran, we want store up on-board, zero mana sources of damage, so that we can immediately get the bonus as soon as Torbran resolves, without needing to untap. Wrenn and Six, Lava Dart, Gut Shot, Mogg Fanatic, Fanatical Firebrand, Pashalik Mons, Judith, the Scourge Diva, Impact Tremors, Cavalcade of Calamity, Aria of Flame, Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, Cindervines… plenty of cards seem to work with Torbran’s requirements, so I’m more optimistic than most for our bearded friend’s prospects.
4. Vantress Gargoyle: Having argued for this card’s efficiency, we must acknowledge that Gargoyle takes work to unlock, meaning it should be treated as a build-around. Archive Trap and Chancellor of the Spires are among the best options for quickly unlocking attack mode, and cards like Visions of Beyond or Drown in the Loch can perhaps repay your investments. Vantress also has a “Ghoulcaller’s Bell” mode that becomes quite interesting with Mystic Forge or similar engines, or just in a self-mill shell. Lots of cards play in this space, so there’s plenty of directions to explore building around this exciting card.
3. Mystic Sanctuary: Reclaim isn’t necessarily worth a card, or even worth a mana (see: Noxious Revival), but putting it on a fetchable land makes all the difference. As a build-around, Mystic Sanctuary lends itself to loops, and can recur whatever spell that you are using to initiate the loop in the first place. Time Warp stands out, but also Cryptic Command, Deprive, etc. The other mode is to simply upgrade a fetchland into improving your next draw step by rebuying a strong spell (possibly much better, in the case of Terminus/Entreat the Angels). The cost for putting this in your deck is reasonable, the effect is powerful, and this may be strong enough to warrant a fundamental rebuild of archetypes like Taking Turns.
2. Oko, Thief of Crowns: Oko’s abilities are very unique and thus lead to some deckbuilding puzzles. Any Food deck certainly wants Oko, but also virtually any deck with small permanents can benefit from a stream of 3/3 Elk (possibly with haste) and the ability to Elkify opposing threats as well. Then there are extra synergies like erasing negative death triggers (Tidehollow Sculler, Spell Queller), buffing creatures with native +1/+1 counters, or creating tokens for shenanigans like Shape Anew. All of this, and much more, can be done at a very attractive price, so I expect Oko to richly reward players for building around it.
1. Emry, Lurker of the Loch: Here are a few of the cards that Emry combos with: Jeskai Ascendancy, Paradox Engine, Mirran Spy, Paradoxical Outcome, Kethis, the Hidden Hand. It is also extremely powerful as the centerpiece of a fair artifact strategy or an enabler of Thopter/Sword combo. I have already written a lengthy strategy guide for brewing with Emry, as well as dedicated a recent episode of Faithless Brewing to building around the card — lots of people are working on Emry, and I fully expect it to be amazing, so I won’t say more here.
Category 3: Additions to Existing Decks
These cards are likely to see play by slotting into existing archetypes in some numbers. Essentially, they offer effects known to be desirable for one or more decks in the current metagame, at attractive enough mana costs. “This might see some play in X” or “Deck Y might want this” is the name of the game here. Existing decks always see more play than new brews, so you can think of this category as a rough approximation of what an “Overall Top 10” list would look like, in terms of likelihood of becoming format staples.
HM Fabled Passage: There is a universe in which a deck will want a fifth copy of Prismatic Vista. We are not yet in that timeline, but the existence of Arcum’s Astrolabe means we are only one or two “basic lands matter” cards away from some kind of 5c Snow Moon monstrosity.
HM Charming Prince: Nothing particularly exciting here, this is likely to see experimental play in small numbers, in Humans or in fringe strategies like Emeria. The only strategy that really makes headway with this is Bant Soulherder, as Charming Prince functions as both enabler and payoff, smoothing out the A+B tensions inherent to the archetype.
HM Lovestruck Beast: Makes two bodies and fills in holes in your mana curve nicely. 5/5 is large enough to brawl in Modern, but three mana is not great for that privilege. I was briefly interested in this for RG Kiora, until Bonecrusher Giant got printed to quickly gobble up those slots.
HM The Magic Mirror: Mainly of interest because this is actually castable for UUU, half the cost of Mind Unbound. While this is not a reliable Plan A for a deck (they might just destroy it right away), if they don’t kill it within two turns you will run away with the game. This makes it a somewhat plausible as a secondary or tertiary threat, similar to Aria of Flame, although the deck that wants may not currently exist.
HM Questing Beast: So much text, let me simplify: 2GG, 4/4 haste, minor evasion, if you need to kill a planeswalker this also does 4 damage to them, also plays defense and trades with anything larger than it. That’s all decent. Haste is still underrated and four toughness still matters, so I wouldn’t dismiss this immediately. It is legendary and the upside isn’t great outside of narrow synergy with Kessig Wolf Run, so I’d expect this to see 1- or 2-of play at most in green ramp or stompy strategies.
HM Grumgully, the Generous: It only takes a few slots to add a persist combo to Goblins, since they already use Skirk Prospector, Sling-Gang Lieutenant, and Goblin Trashmaster. Helps that Grumgully and Muderous Redcap are both plausible cards on their own.
HM Thrill of Possibility: Might help stave off extinction for a deck like Grishoalbrand, or possibly a Phoenix revival. If there is ever a Modern deck built around “draw two,” with Improbable Alliance, Irencrag Pyromancer, etc., Thrill remains one of the best tools.
HM Glass Casket: Everything we said earlier about the on-board value of Witching Well also applies to Glass Casket. Silkwrap isn’t something you would normally play in Modern, but putting this effect on a tutorable artifact makes it worth consideration. Artifact decks might be in the market for a singleton Casket, since you get many virtual copies thanks to Whir of Invention, Goblin Engineer, Karn TGC, etc. Sometimes you just need to kill a Collector Ouphe, which Casket can do but Pyrite Spellbomb/Engineered Explosives cannot, and having more outs to a troublesome Lavinia, Eidolon, or Emry is not bad thing.
HM Deafening Silence: Mostly an upgrade to Rule of Law, whenever that card is relevant in the meta.
HM Merfolk Secretkeeper: Discussed already, this could provide a boost to Vengevine lists in particular.
HM Muderous Rider: The creature half is weak, so this is mainly a Hero’s Downfall that counts as a creature. Findable off Traverse the Ulvenwald, thus a 1-of candidate for Traverse Shadow. Midrange Zombies, if that is a thing worth doing, would likely want some of these. Weirdly, this can’t be cast off Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, but can be cast of Kess, Dissident Mage.
10. Bonecrusher Giant: As a longtime proponent of R/G Kiora, I have often lamented the Flametongue Kavu-sized hole in the format. Bonecrusher is arguably better than FTK, as cheap removal tends to be the thing you need most urgently in many matchups. Stomp curves beautifully into Bonecrusher, and the option to split up the halves means you can easily fit this into a curve built around a 1-3-5 ramp curve, similar to how Tireless Tracker and its clues nicely use up your leftover mana. RG ramp decks like our Kiora Dragons deck will use this most effectively, but the card is also just strong enough in a vacuum to be considered in other red decks as well, including as a Traverse target.
9. Mystic Sanctuary: Any deck with Cryptic Command might be interested in this in small numbers (even just one as a fetch target), and it may incentivize Azorius Control to return to Miracles. The resulting mana base will get fidgety so this isn’t a lock. I do however think it will be a large upgrade in Taking Turns.
8. The Royal Scions: A tricky card to assess. Repeatable “draw then discard” is not a readily available effect in Modern, as most looters like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy have natural weaknesses (fragile, need to untap with them) and so they rarely see play. Similarly, while +2/+0 to a creature is solid, the value of first strike and trample is uncertain. That said, both effects are better than they look, and Scions comes with a boatload of loyalty and a useful ultimate to at least force the opponent to expend resources against it while you get a few +1 activations. “Draw then discard” is excellent for any deck looking to go into a longer game, and especially powerful with Wrenn and Six. The pump ability is very attractive with giant beaters (Tarmogoyf, Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Awoken Horror), small utility creatures (Snapcaster Mage, Ice-Fang Coatl), or deathtouch creatures (Ice-Fang, Questing Beast). I would expect Will and Rowan to make cameo appearances in Death’s Shadow and Rainbow Niv-Mizzet, while potentially also spawning a new “Wrenn and Scions” Temur good stuff pile using Goyfs, Snapcasters, Bolts, Ice-Fangs, and maybe some Okos and Force of Negation to tie the room together.
7. Drown in the Loch]: Only Dimir Mill seems equipped to play this as a four-of. For other decks, while it can be cast very efficiently, the uncertainty over when Drown becomes active means you can’t really treat it as an early game play. I would expect other UBx midrange and control strategies to adopt this in small numbers (1-2 copies, with perhaps some Thought Scour for insurance). If Vantress Gargoyle aggro ever becomes a thing, Drown will likely have a place there too.
6. Brazen Borrower: This is just a good, useful card in any kind of deck that leaves its mana open. Bounce is an underrated effect, typically held back by being printed on narrow, low-powered cards, but see Teferi for an example of bounce tacked on to an already strong card. Any deck that is interested in Vendilion Clique should consider this instead, possibly in larger quantities.
5. Castle Garenbrig: Kind of like an Eldrazi Temple for Primeval Titan (or Hydroid Krasis, if you want to go rogue). Prime Time decks are particular about their land slots, so this will have competition when it comes to building out manabases, but its raw power and efficiency can’t be denied and I would expect it to be come an archetype staple.
4. Witching Well: For reasons outlined already, I expect this to become a staple of any deck built around Urza, Paradoxical Outcome, Emry, Mox Opal, etc. Maybe not as a four-of, but an important tool in their toolbox nonetheless.
3. Oko, Thief of Crowns: I discussed the build-around synergies of Oko already, but all of his abilities feed each other, so you can slot Oko into any deck with access to Simic mana and get solid results. The fact is, this card is pushed. Oko applies pressure on multiple axes at a very efficient rate, including the ability to generate 3/3 haste creatures or straight up steal an opposing creature, and if that weren’t enough he also answers troublesome permanents and gains life. I expect this to become a format staple across multiple archetypes, some built to maximize Oko, others just using a copy or two as a role player.
2. Emry, Lurker of the Loch: If you don’t want to build a new deck from scratch, you can just slot some copies of Emry into your Urza or Paradoxical Outcome deck and call it a day. Emry does everything well and the synergy with already pushed cards like Mox Opal, Mishra’s Bauble, and Arcum’s Astrolabe means Emry is going to shine in pretty much any deck that can cast her for one blue.
1. Once Upon a Time: Others have said a lot about this card. Amulet, Neobrand, Devoted Vizier, Tron, Selesnya Eldrazi, the list goes on — basically any deck that can use this card should at least test it out in some numbers.
Bonus Category: Knight Tribal
There are 46 Knights in Throne of Eldraine, plus an additional thirteen cards that mention Knights, so I guess we are supposed to try to make Knights happen? Bad news, though: it’s probably not going to happen. Even with all these new toys, Knights are neither fast nor disruptive, and mostly lack enticing payoffs. At best, I expect Knights to offer a subtheme variant to Humans, similar to the Soldiers deck that pops up from time to time. For completeness, here are all the new Knight cards that might (but probably won’t) matter for Modern:
HM: Syr Carah, the Bold
HM: Deathless Knight
HM: Stormfist Crusader
10. Syr Faren, the Hengehammer
9. Inspiring Veteran
8. Venerable Knight
7. Murderous Knight
6. The Circle of Loyalty
5. Smitten Swordmaster
4. Embereth Shieldbreaker
3. Fervent Champion
2. Worthy Knight
1. Acclaimed Contender
HM Syr Carah, the Bold: A really striking combination of abilities, but so cost-prohibitive that you basically need to cheat this in with Goryo’s Vengeance and then also go off with it all at once. That seems laughable, but Syr Carah wants a lot of the same cards that Torbran, Thane of Red Fell wants, and both work with Goryo’s, so that’s at least worth keeping in mind.
HM Deathless Knight: Anything with four power and haste is better than it looks, making this an interesting card for Stompy decks, Devotion decks, or even as a weird Squee impersonator. Has no meaningful synergies with other Knights outside of the black lifelinkers.
HM. Stormfist Crusader: A straight up bad card, but Knights tribal might want something to trigger spectacle and keep the cards flowing.
10. Venerable Knight: A Knight deck will need one-drops, and this is a one-drop. Probably should just run Champion of the Parish though.
9. Inspiring Veteran: Eh.
8. Syr Faren, the Hengehammer: An acceptable attacker if you squint and a cheap legend if that matters. Provides two pips of devotion while potentially doubling up your Aspect of Hydras. Maybe a role player in Mono-Green Stompy, but the colors are all wrong for a Knights deck.
7. Murderous Rider: A useful option for other archetypes, this is technically a Knight and is findable off Acclaimed Contender. However, a Cavern of Souls/Unclaimed Territory manabase can’t readily support Swift End, so you pay a large cost to include this
6. The Circle of Loyalty: You can’t realistically expect to build up a wide board without getting wiped out by spot removal or sweepers, especially post sideboard. Circle probably won’t be cheap to cast, and Knight tribal won’t have many legendaries to trigger it. It remains a useful grinding tool and the Anthem is worth a fair amount, but I would start with small numbers of this.
5. Smitten Swordmaster: Curry Favor is one of the few truly efficient payoffs a Knights deck has access to, so I’d probably start with a couple of these.
4. Embereth Shieldbreaker: As a sideboard card, this is actually not bad at what it does.
3. Fervent Champion: At one mana with useful combat stats, Javier Dominguez might be the best Lord available. The weird Equipment clause is mostly a distraction, but there is some possibility with Sunforger and Stoneforge Mystic.
2. Worthy Knight: Unlike Young Pyromancer and Hero of Precinct One, Worthy Knight shares a type with the cards it asks you to stuff your deck with, mercifully removing that deckbuilding tension. It doesn’t make Knight tokens, but the Human tokens at least trigger Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant.
1. Acclaimed Contender: Decent stats, eligible for Collected Company, and provides much-needed card flow. Equipment clause gives scant hope to the Fervent Sunforger or Circle of Loyalty dream.
Whew! That’s an awful lot of cards with relevance for Modern. Some of them are admittedly long shots, but the vast majority I expect to have eventual uses in Modern, if not necessarily immediate success. Kudos to Wizards of the Coast for an amazing set.
Hopefully this guide can help you think about new ways to brew with Eldraine, or point you toward avenues worth exploring. If I missed anything or got something flat out wrong, please let me know, I am always happy to talk Modern. And if you enjoy this type of content, don’t forget to check out Faithless Brewing and follow us @FaithlessMTG for the latest developments in our efforts to break the format.