4, Jun, 21

Brad Nelson and Sam Black Talk Modern Horizons 2 Design and Testing

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Article at a Glance

During this week’s WeeklyMTG, Blake Rasmussen was joined by Magic the Gathering Professional players Brad Nelson and Sam Black to talk about their time working and testing Modern Horizons 2. During this discussion, we get a peek into the time and process of set testing a magic set, their thoughts on Modern Horizons 2 and some interesting cards designs that didn’t end up making it into the set!

Timing and Testing

Wizards of the Coast

When magic sets are closer to finished with their initial designs, Wizards of the Coast brings in professional players in on contract to test and break their designs to ensure that health of the format that the sets are primarily going to be played in. Sam was contracted back in September of 2019 to start this process, but his contract was cut short due to some other projects that were being worked on at the time. Then in early 2020, Brad, Sam and Brian Braun-Duin (BBD) were all brought in to start testing Modern Horizons 2.

They are given a “set file” which is a document with all the cards that are in the set, and they are set with the task to create decks with these cards and test against existing modern decks to find out the new card’s strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the team was given a secondary document that included cards that were not in Modern Horizons 2 but were going to be released in other sets. One of the mechanics noted on here was Companion from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.

READ MORE: Full Modern Horizons 2 Spoiler Gallery

Sam and Brad’s Thoughts on Modern with Modern Horizons 2

During the discussion, Sam and Brad gave some of their thoughts on Modern as a format with the inclusion of Modern Horizons 2, as well as some thoughts on various archetypes and mechanics. Brad has good feelings about Merfolk with Svyelun of Sea and Sky and Tide Shaper providing much needed utility and power to the deck, as well as Zoo with the inclusion of Territorial Kavu. Brad hopes that Death’s Shadow style aggro decks and traditional zoo decks will diverge and become separate archetypes. Sam on the other hand believes that Reanimator is going to be a new viable strategy in Modern. Cards such as Persist, Unmarked Grave and Priest of Fell Rites provides enough power to the deck that it start to edge its way towards Legacy power. He also thinks that Hardened Scales got some new toys to bring it back into contention, and Enchantress now has the tools to potentially make a splash in the format.

During the “crack a pack” segment of the Weekly, Brad shared his thoughts on a few of the mechanics in the set, namely the Suspend treatment of powerful spells, and the Evoke creature cycle’s interaction with blink effects like Ephemerate. As for the Suspend spells, he noted that despite being powerful spell effects, even when they were cheated into play with Cascade, they never felt overpowered in anyway. As for the Evoke creatures, such as Grief, and blink effects, he said that they did test this, and while it was powerful when it hit, redundant effects do have diminishing returns, and situations won’t always present themselves for this interaction to be abused. Brad doesn’t think that this will be an issue going forward.

One other question came up about all the Anti-Tron cards and whether Sam and Brad had any input going in as to the design and inclusion of these cards. The reality is that the contractors didn’t have any input on whether or not these cards were included in the set. Who did have the say was the set designers, who had inside data from Magic Online that showed that Eldrazi Tron was winning a lot, despite it not being as played or respected. The design team wanted to have some pieces in place to hedge against Eldrazi Tron and Mono Green Tron in case they picked back up in popularity.

READ MORE: The 5 Best Sideboard Cards You Should Be Playing From Modern Horizons 2

What Didn’t Make the Cut

We normally don’t hear about cards that don’t make it into new sets. Wizards keeps this type of information close to the vest, because there is always a chance that those cards might make it into future sets in some capacity. Today was different as we were given a few instances of cards, new and old, that didn’t make it into Modern Horizons 2.

The first was a card that Sam had tested very early in the design of the set. He didn’t give a name, but the card was an Island Fish Land Creature, similar to Dryad Arbor. This means that this creature could be fetched out and had summoning sickness. Where the card was broken was that it was a 3/4 with Defender. This was an issue as it stonewalled aggressive decks for ever getting early damage in. This didn’t make it very far in the pruning process.


Another card that Sam talked about in his article over on StarCityGames was the exclusion of Karakas in the set. Sam very much was against this powerful land being in Modern Horizons 2, because it blanked any legendary creature that you or your opponent could play. He referenced trying to stick a Tasigur, the Golden Fang in Legacy, only to have a Karakas bounce it to your hand immediately. Sam also stated that based on where he thinks that Magic design is heading, Karakas would hinder future design space as legendary creatures have to be created with Karakas in mind.

The last tidbit that we got was that when talking about the suspend spells, we found that the blue suspend spell used to be Tinker and was then changed to Bribery. Brad noted that BBD was heavily testing this iteration of the spell, and my guess is that Tinker would not have fit the mold and been way too powerful when cheated into play with Cascade.

READ MORE: Splinter Twin added to “The List”, Will it be Unbanned in Modern?

Modern Horizons 2 paper release is right around the corner and is out on Magic Online already! What are your thoughts on the Modern format going forward? Let us know down in the comments!

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