Whisperer of the Wilds
24, May, 24

New Modern Horizons 3 Card Is the Most Blatant Power Creep Yet

Article at a Glance

To no one’s surprise, Modern Horizons 3 is an incredibly powerful set. Despite reassuring words from Wizards, this set is loaded with value and soon-to-be staples galore. Thanks to these cards, there’s little doubt that Modern Horizons 3 is going to usher in a new forced rotation.

Despite all the power on display, it’s a surprise that power creep hasn’t reared its ugly head sooner. After all, on top of all the new cards, Modern Horizons 3 also has plenty of fantastic callbacks to past powerhouses. Rather than upgrading these cards, however, Wizards has iterated on their designs to create surprisingly balanced and fun cards.

Unfortunately, or rather unsurprisingly, it was only a matter of time before power creep properly arrived. More than just showing up, a recent Modern Horizons 3 spoiler is perhaps the most blatant example of power creep yet!

Fanatic of Rhonas

Fanatic of Rhonas

If you were playing MTG back in 2015, Fanatic of Rhonas is going to look very familiar. Harkening back to Whisperer of the Wilds, this card utilizes Ferocious to amplify its ramp ability. In fact, this card is basically identical to Whisperer of the Wilds except for one key difference: Fanatic of Rhonas is good.

Rather than just offering a measly two green mana when Ferocious is active, Fanatic of Rhonas provides four. As if that wasn’t good enough, this Fanatical mana dork also has Eternalize. This allows you to play it again from your graveyard as a 4/4, should it get removed.

Despite being strictly better, Fanatic of Rhonas still costs the same two mana as Whisperer of the Wilds. Thanks to this, it’s safe to say the card is a strict upgrade over this 2015 classic. With that said, it should be no surprise at all that Fanatic of Rhonas is playable. 

Currently, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Whisperer of the Wilds only sees play in Commander. Found mostly in mono-green decks, this mana dork is hardly the cream of the crop, but they do offer some useful utility. Since Fanatic of Rhonas is just better, we can expect it to be an automatic replacement.

While Fanatic of Rhonas will work wonders in Commander, it’s unclear if it’ll see play in Modern. A potential Domain Ramp archetype could emerge utilizing this alongside cheap Ferocious enablers like Scion of Draco and Territorial Kavu, but the need for four green mana in that deck seems misplaced.

This Isn’t Power Creep?

Whisperer of the Wilds

Ultimately, even if Fanatic of Rhonas isn’t destined to get played in Modern, it’s nonetheless obvious power creep. Outside of the somewhat relevant creature types and rarity, this card is just better than Whisperer of the Wilds. Unsurprisingly, quite a few MTG players were quick to point this out, given how obvious the comparison is.

Despite Fanatic of Rhonas being a textbook example of power creep, recently, MTG’s Lead Designer has been dismissing the phenomenon. Responding to recent questions on the topic, Mark Rosewater event went so far as to say that “Power creep isn’t inevitable.” Thankfully, this recent statement did come with a fair few caveats attached.

For starters, Rosewater did acknowledge that Wizards did “Up the average power level in Throne of Eldraine.” This change followed the shift to MTG’s Eternal-focused, or rather Commander-focused, design philosophy. Even if Rosewater doesn’t name it specifically, this is power creep in its purest form.

Continuing in their response to 00no-name00, Rosewater seemed to suggest that power creep didn’t exist. Instead, for non-rotating formats, at least, the power level increase is simply part of their natural lifecycle. While this may be true, this doesn’t stop this inevitable process from explicitly being power creep, by definition.

“Non-rotating formats will go up in power level over time as cards get added to the system, but that’s the nature of non-rotation. It isn’t power creep.”

Mark Rosewater

Following on from this seemingly contradictory statement, Rosewater downplayed power creep even being a problem. While many MTG players are frustrated by classic and iconic cards being made redundant, Rosewater highlighted that other formats exist. Again, while this is true since formats like Old School exist, finding support for these formats and playing them is another story.

Power Creep Is Inevitable

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Even if Mark Rosewater doesn’t want to invoke its name, power creep very much exists and is inevitable. This was outright admitted to in a later statement which showcased just how inevitable power creep truly is. Since MTG is a business, the power level will keep being pushed since that’s what sells.

“There is no viable system where we keep making successful selling sets that don’t create cards that eclipse older cards.”

Mark Rosewater

Even if this process is part of the life cycle for non-rotating formats, it’s still power creep. No matter what name you call it, this is still a major problem. After all, on top of making classic and iconic cards less useful, power creep makes magic expensive.

Individually, power crept cards quickly become multiformat staples that are almost mandatory in many decks. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a recent $60 example of this phenomenon. Beyond individual cards causing problems, power creep can also warp metagames, requiring players to buy entire new decks.

Should this happen once every few years, power crept cards would likely be seen as a welcome treat. Unfortunately, thanks to the aforementioned design shift in 2019, multi-format staples and meta-defining cards have become all too common. Nowadays, a set is labeled a disappointment if a card like Slickshot Show-Off doesn’t break at least one meta.

With this feedback from players in mind, it’s no wonder that Wizards has to keep making better and better cards. At the end of the day, as much as it does cause problems, this is okay as it’s the only option. If MTG wants to survive and keep making money, there’s little choice but to create steadily more and more powerful cards.

A World Without Power Creep

Shivan Dragon

If Wizards of the Coast really wanted to, they could simply stop creating overpowered cards. A baseline could be set and anything pitched above that line could simply be tuned down or cut. In theory, this would fix all of MTG’s power creep problems and save the day… right?

As much as it gets a bad rap, Mark Rosewater is right that power creep is natural and intrinsic to MTG’s design. Without it, almost all MTG formats would quickly grow incredibly stale and boring for most players. Thanks to this, power creep is essentially a mandatory requirement to keep formats exciting and enjoyable. 

Technically, there could be a solution to Magic’s power creep problem that could solve everything. By tuning down premier sets while also releasing more Horizons sets players could get the best of both worlds. Admittedly, if this happened, there’s a high chance premier sets would seriously flop, as they’d lack value and the new multi-format cards players crave.

A better solution may be to give classic power crept icons a new home. This could mean making classic cards like Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage Pioneer legal. Alternatively, Wizards could invent and support a new format that allows these cards to thrive.

At the end of the day, power creep is simply a necessary evil that is intrinsic to the design of MTG. Without it, the game would surely be worse off, so we can’t complain too much really. We can only hope that Wizards of the Coast shows restraint going forward, as releases like Modern Horizons 3 do cause some serious problems.

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