As a fun exercise here on ChannelFireball.com, I’ve compiled a list of the most format-defining Modern cards over the format’s long history. Today, I have #90-#81 to offer you. 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.
Find the previous installment here:
90. Force of Vigor
Force of Vigor is the first of many Modern Horizons cards that will appear on this list. This set was printed relatively recently by the standards of Modern’s long lifespan. The fact that Force of Vigor and so many other cards can make the list in spite of that disadvantage is a testament to how truly powerful Modern Horizons is.
Force of Vigor is a premier sideboard card for blowing up artifacts and enchantments. It’s been perfect for Dredge and Hogaak decks to destroy Leyline of the Void, and also allows cascade decks to circumvent the no cheap cards deckbuilding restriction. Its value has only gone up as Urza’s Saga has come to dominate Modern.
89. Stoneforge Mystic
While Stoneforge Mystic is much older than Force of Vigor, it was banned for a huge chunk of Modern’s lifespan. It’s the first of many once-banned cards which will appear on this list. Since being unbanned, it’s seen play in a wide range of shells, culminating in the extremely strong Colossus Hammer deck.
Stoneforge Mystic is the quintessential midrange creature, threatening to dominate the game with Batterskull or Kaldra Compleat when it goes unanswered, or to leave behind a card’s worth of value when it is met with a Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push.
88. Force of Negation
Another free spell, Force of Negation has become a staple in a wide range of blue decks including Azorius Control, Temur Cascade and Living End. Particularly when Teferi, Time Raveler (#93) is so devastating against some of these decks, Force of Negation becomes incredibly important. It’s also a way to keep tabs on fast combo decks like Neoform and Goblin Charbelcher.
87. Dark Confidant
Dark Confidant is one of my personal favorite creatures of all time. It represents Hall of Famer Bob Maher, who earned the right to design it by winning one Magic’s early Invitational tournaments. It’s fallen slightly out of favor lately due to cards like Wrenn and Six, Lava Dart and Fire // Ice punishing one-toughness creatures. However, for much of Modern’s life span, Confidant was a staple four-of.
The idea is to trade off resources using discard spells and removal while Dark Confidant gives you a steady influx of card advantage.
Ephemerate was printed in the original Modern Horizons set, but has really come into its own with the release of Modern Horizons 2 and the cycle of “pitch” Elementals. The ability to evoke a Grief or a Solitude, use Ephemerate to blink it twice, and then have it stick around on the battlefield is amazingly powerful, and has spawned many new archetypes.
There’s even a relatively simple game-winning combo where you can Ephemerate Eternal Witness, pick up Time Warp, and then use the rebound to blink Eternal Witness again, picking up Ephemerate itself and repeating the process.
85. Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise is high on the list of the most iconic MTG cards of all time. It sees play in every format that it’s legal, with Modern being no exception.
The most common home for Birds has been creature-based combo decks like Melira Pod and Kiki-Chord. Most recently, it’s a staple of the Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo deck.
84. Ice-Fang Coatl
Ice-Fang Coatl is a match made in heaven with Ephemerate (#86). It sees play in a variety of multicolor decks including Omnath and Niv-Mizzet, where it helps to provide early defense and smooth out draws.
The most amazing thing about Ice-Fang is that however good it is now, it was massively better prior to the banning of Arcum’s Astrolabe, when dedicated snow decks were all the rage.
83. Opt & Consider
This is a two-for-one. Opt and Consider are functionally quite similar. Consider is better, since filling your graveyard is desirable for a lot of Modern decks. However, Opt has been around a lot longer, and has arguably had a larger footprint on the format.
Fury is the first of many Modern Horizons 2 cards to appear on the list. Everything I said about the original Modern Horizons set becomes even more extreme when discussing MH2. Modern as it stands today would be almost unrecognizable to players from before Modern Horizons 2, and all of the revolutionary cards that came with it.
Fury is part of the cycle of pitch Elementals which are absolutely devastating when paired with Ephemerate. It’s also a great standalone card which can shred creature decks when evoked, or when hardcast for five mana. If you’re a fan of Dark Confidant (#87), Birds of Paradise (#85) or Ice-Fang Coatl (#84), then you’re not going to be happy when your opponent casts Fury.
81. Spreading Seas
Spreading Seas isn’t flashy, and it never ceases to amaze me that a bulk-box common from Zendikar can become one of the most important cards in Modern. But Spreading Seas hits just right. Over the history of the format, it’s shut down important utility lands like Celestial Colonnade, Raging Ravine, Gavony Township and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. It’s also a good way to disrupt the opponent’s mana, since many Modern decks center around demanding multicolor mana bases.
Merfolk tribal decks use Spreading Seas to give the opponent an Island, enabling all of the islandwalking Merfolk to attack uncontested. But arguably the best home for Spreading Seas has been in the “Blue Moon” archetype. This is a U/R Control deck that uses Blood Moon to punish nonbasic lands, and Spreading Seas to look the opponent out of colored mana by targeting their small number of crucial basic 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 #80-#71. Second, guess a card that’s so iconic you think it’ll appear in the #10-#1 slot.