As a fun exercise here on ChannelFireball.com, I’ve compiled a list of the cards which have most defined the Modern format over its long history. Today I have #91 to 100 to offer you, and I’ll be rolling out the rest of the list in the future.
I had two clear goals in mind as I started working on this list. First, I didn’t want it to wind up being 70 percent Modern Horizons cards. Second, I wanted cards to be eligible for the list, even if they’ve been banned in Modern at some point.
I quickly decided that it shouldn’t be best cards in Modern right now. That would skew dramatically towards Modern Horizons 1 and 2, because those expansions are so much more powerful than all of the sets legal in Modern. Plus, it becomes weird to compare card that define a niche archetypes, like Living End, with a staple sideboard cards like Relic of Progenitus.
Instead, I settled on defining cards. Across the history of the format, which cards have contributed the most to making Modern what it is? When scholars write the history books of the format, which cards will be impossible to leave out?
Quality, longevity, frequency of play and uniqueness all factor in.
While Karn can be played in just about any deck, he’s most at home in big mana decks like Eldrazi Tron, classic Tron and Amulet Titan. Accessing silver bullet cards like Grafdigger’s Cage and Ensnaring Bridge before sideboarding is extremely valuable in a format as diverse as Modern.
Karn single handedly got Mycosynth Lattice onto the banned list, since it causes the passive ability to lock opponents completely out of the game.
Kolaghan’s Command is close to my heart. While being extremely punishing against artifacts, it’s templated to give you tons of different options, most of which will result in two-for-one card advantage. Over the years, it’s had a home in Jund, Rakdos, Death’s Shadow and Mardu Pyromancer. However, arguably the best Kolaghan’s Command deck was the old Grixis Control that used it to loop Snapcaster Mages and bury the opponent in value.
Utopia Sprawl is one of the few cards that lets you have three mana on the second turn of the game without exposing yourself to Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push. Bigger midrange decks like Niv-Mizzet and some builds of Omnath have used Utopia Sprawl when they’re not interested in playing with dorky 0/1 creatures.
Another incredible aspect of Utopia Sprawl is its pairing with Arbor Elf, which supercharges your mana and allows the Elf to tap for multiple mana at once. R/G Ponza and W/G Heliod Company have used this combination to good effect.
As Modern’s power level has crept up, Vendilion Clique has started to be left behind. But make no mistake, this card has been a defining staple since day one. Whether it appeared in the main deck or the sideboard, Clique is the quintessential disruptive creature. It puts a clock on combo players and keeps people honest if they sideboard out too many removal spells against control.
Modern is the format of creature-based combo, and Chord of Calling has appeared in a huge range of winning decks over the years. In the old days it would’ve been Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Kitchen Finks, or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel. As time went on, Devoted Druid and Spike Feeder entered the equation, and finally the Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo deck that we have today.
In all cases, Chord of Calling can be used to assemble combos, or find silver-bullet creatures for key matchups and situations.
Scapeshift is Modern’s one-card combo. By finding Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and a bunch of Mountains, you can deal 18 or more (sometimes much more) damage to wipe the opponent’s board or kill them directly. It can be paired with Prismatic Omen or Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to make this possible even in decks that don’t play Mountains!
R/G Titanshift was a pillar of Modern for many years. More recently, you’ll see Scapeshift alongside Bring to Light. In all cases, the concept – and the likely outcome – is exactly the same.
Another combo card, Living End spawned its own archetypes. Although the deck list has evolved over the years, the idea has always been to play Living End as the only card with mana value less than three, and use Violent Outburst and other cascade spells to hit it every single time.
The rest of the deck only needs to be cycling creatures, which fill the graveyard and help you find your key cards with deadly consistency.
Teferi, Time Raveler has come into his own over the last couple of years. It’s great in Azorius Control and multicolor strategies alike. It serves as a value card, and a way to limit the opponent’s options.
Specifically, Teferi stops the opponent from doing a lot of cool things in Modern, including cascading. This weakens Bloodbraid Elf, and kills decks like Living End dead in their tracks.
Yorion is a relative newcomer by Modern’s standards. With Lurrus of the Dream-Den now banned, Yorion is by far the best and most impactful companion in the format. A 4/5 flying that resets all of your Abundant Growths, Ice-Fang Coatls and Eternal Witnesses is extremely strong. And with a card pool as deep as Modern’s, you can get to 80 cards with almost no loss in terms of card quality.
Yorion is a staple of the four-color midrange Omnath decks. It represents a huge structural advantage of these decks relative to other archetypes.
Sylvan Scrying’s most popular home is Mono-Green Urzatron. Before that, it contributed to a totally broken “Eight Post” deck that used Cloudpost, Glimmerpost, Vesuva and Primeval Titan to generate even more mana than the Urzatron decks we’re familiar with.
Lands are very powerful in Modern, and Sylvan Scrying is a contributing part of many of the decks built around their nonbasic lands.
In the comments section below, I invite you to drop either (or both) of two predictions. First, guess a card that’ll fall into the next installment, covering #81-#90. Second, guess a card that’s so iconic that you think it’ll appear in the #1-#10 slot.
And if you want a sneak preview of the list before it appears in written form, you can follow us on TikTok at @ChannelFireball, where I’ll be releasing the list one card at a time.