Brace for Impact | Dissension | Art By Dan Scott
21, May, 24

Modern Horizons 3 Could Derail Magic. Again.

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Today’s the day. In just a few hours, perhaps even as you read these words, Modern Horizons 3 preview season will officially kick-off. After weeks of leaks and misfires, we’re finally getting the real deal. For most, this is incredibly exciting. But for others, the mere mention of the words ‘Modern Horizons’ is enough to trigger ‘Nam-style flashbacks: such was the huge multi-format impact of both prior sets.

Both sets, Modern Horizons 2 in particular, introduced so many powerful cards that their releases essentially served as unofficial rotations for the Modern format. Not the best move when the big appeal of eternal formats is ‘invest now, play forever.’ Will Modern Horizons 3 shift the goalposts yet again? Will every format speed up and grow more expensive? These are the questions on our minds as we sit on the cusp of previews.

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The Impact Of Modern Horizons 1

Incredibly, it’s been five whole years since Modern Horizons 1 graced our shelves. At the time, it was a bold experiment. A set that sidestepped Standard to print powerful cards straight into Modern. It didn’t waste that opportunity, either. A huge number of staples made their debut here and went on to shake multiple formats to their foundations.

The set list reads like a who’s-who of notorious Magic cards. Force of Negation was a ‘fixed’ Force of Will, but it was still good enough to see play in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician went on to define an entire archetype. It also highlights one of the other interesting aspects of the set: deep-cut callbacks to classic Magic lore.

This was the first real Yawgmoth card we got, which is frankly criminal given his status as classic Magic’s biggest villain. His good buddy Urza also got his first card here, in Urza, High Lord Artificer. Both were very playable, but their existence was great to see regardless, and highly educational for new players.

Modern Horizons taught other lessons, too. About just how broken a card can get. Those who remember the Summer of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis don’t do so fondly. Wrenn and Six was even good enough to catch a ban in Legacy. To say nothing of Arcum’s Astrolabe, which remains banned in Modern, Legacy, and Pauper to this day.

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The Terror Of Modern Horizons 2

Even with those major bans, Modern Horizons 1 felt relatively tame compared to its sequel. Seeing Modern Horizons 2 spoilers roll out was like watching the dial on a nuclear reactor edge slowly into ‘Danger!’ territory. The set pushed the limits of what one mana could get you in Magic with the legendary Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Like Wrenn and Six before it, it was banished from Legacy but continues to terrorize Modern to this day.

Fury also caught a ban, in Modern this time, as one of the most prolific members of the Evoke Elementals cycle. These were creatures that played like Force of Will and could be combined with cards like Not Dead After All to effectively end a game on turn one. The decks running this combo became known as ‘Scam’ lists, to give you an idea of the community feeling around them.

Despite their power, a lot of Modern Horizon 2’s best cards remain unbanned. Urza’s Saga is an absurd staple in multiple formats, capable of providing mana, a threat, and a utility artifact all in one. Other huge cards, like Esper Sentinel and Dauthi Voidwalker also premiered here, alongside the mighty Murktide Regent.

For better or worse, Modern before MH2 and Modern after MH2 are two totally different formats. Although the set included some great reprints, like the Enemy Fetchland cycle, this boost to affordability was negated by all the new power cards players were all but forced to play. For those with the means, these new decks are exciting to play with. For those without, memories of a format where Tarmogoyf was playable are all they have left.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Modern-Horizons-Impact-3

This brings us to today’s announcement. Modern Horizons 3 is about to hit us like a tidal wave, and there’s a very real risk that it completely changes Modern yet again. Those who have bought into decks like Scam and Yawgmoth could soon be sulking back to the drawing board to find answers to brutal new threats.

The few cards that have been, reluctantly, revealed so far certainly support this idea. Ugin’s Labyrinth has a real drawback, but it’s still a Sol land for Modern. Necrogoyf is an absurd threat for just one mana, giving Ragavan a real run -or rather Dash- for his money. The new Flare cycle, headlined by Flare of Denial, feels more balanced than the Forces or Evoke Elementals, but they may end up enabling all-new graveyard-centric decks on their own.

Hopefully, Modern Horizons 3 can temper its impact compared to previous iterations, bringing new decks without squeezing out old ones. Doing so wouldn’t exactly be in the interests of Wizards of the Coast, but it would be in the interests of players. Even if rumors that Modern Horizons 3 will be the last set in the series are true, Magic has been butting up against an unsustainable power ceiling for a while now.

If a proper balance isn’t struck soon, it could end up spinning out of control. In a very real way, the fate of the game rests on the cards we’ll see revealed over the next few weeks.

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