Modern Horizons 2 is absolutely chock-a-block with references and callbacks to old Magic cards and characters. Some of them are brazen and obvious, while others are subtler and go a little deeper. So far, people seem to be huge fans of this product, which is very obviously aimed at deeply enfranchised, long-term Magic fans. Today, we’re going to pick apart my favorite Modern Horizons 2 references and in-jokes from the cards we’ve seen so far. This list is, naturally, going to be a lot less definitive than others. I’ve never really read Magic fiction, and I only started playing in 2012, so I wasn’t around for all the ancient characters from ten-thousand years ago. Nonetheless, there’s still heaps I like in Modern Horizons 2 – here are some of my favorites!
For those who weren’t around for Journey into Nyx or Magic Origins, you may have missed out on the little powerhouse that was the Sigiled Starfish, or the “scryfish” as it became known. An unassuming card, it quickly caught on as a crowd favorite and climbed the pick order lists with great speed. Now, just a few years later, just look what power creep has done to our sweet little echinoderm.
I love Sinister Starfish because it’s not an overbearing, in-your-face reference to a super-famous, headline act of Magic’s years gone by. It’s a little treat for rusted-on fans, those who remember the pleasant surprise that was a sixth-pick scryfish. Turning scry into surveil to accompany the color switch is very neatly done, as indeed was bringing back Nils Hamm, who illustrated the original scryfish, to illustrate its successor.
Modern Horizons 2 is filled with stuff like this. Clever little references to cards gone by, reflecting the culture that has grown around Magic and its long-term fans. Maybe some people look at this and don’t see the big deal – it’s a common, it’s not very powerful, it’s nothing compared with the big splashy mythics – but I, for one, feel rewarded for being part of Magic’s culture when we get throwbacks like this.
There are a lot more Kavus than you’d think. Turns out it used to be a very popular creature type, especially around Invasion (which gave us Rooting Kavu, a name that most Australians will find a lot funnier than you’d think). No Kavu, however, is more famous than Flametongue Kavu, which – as far as I understand – used to put a lot of work in, back in the day.
Modern Horizons 2 passes the baton to Flametongue Yearling, an interesting new twist on an old favorite. While FTK is locked in at four mana for four damage and a 4/2, FTY offers you two damage and a 2/1 for two mana, with multikicker scaling those numbers higher and higher. You don’t ever get as good a rate as FTK, but dumping eight or 10 mana into this thing is going to feel pretty good.
That is, as long as they have something to kill with it. My favorite thing about this card is how they haven’t made it idiot-proof, as they do with some newer cards. If you play this onto an empty board, it dies. Its trigger is not a may – it’ll deal the damage no matter what, to itself if it has to. Don’t learn this the hard way: don’t cast a Flametongue anything onto an empty board!
This card… this card, it’s incredible. Not even from a power level standpoint, although it’s not too bad there – it’s just so elegant. What a masterstroke, to use a mechanic from almost a decade ago to create a split card that is not just resonant from a flavor perspective but also makes reference to iconic cards from Magic’s history. I was blown away when I first saw this card, and I’m no less impressed after thinking about it more.
Four-mana sweepers have to do a lot to see play in Modern, with Supreme Verdict the only commonly played example (and even then, it sometimes comes too late). Can Damn change that, and sneakily take its place as a two-mana removal spell/four-mana sweeper split card? Neither half is good enough on its own, but flexibility makes cards a lot more attractive (just ask Cryptic Command).
Playability aside, this card is just so well-executed as a concept on virtually every axis. It is an incredible marriage of mechanics, flavor, culture and history. Even its name was perfectly chosen! I take my hat off to the people who pulled this masterpiece together. Wow.
Noble Hierarch has long been up there as one of the best mana dorks ever printed, if indeed not the best. There was a time when turn one Noble Hierarch was amongst the scariest openers you could have in Modern, and the card was played in everything from Infect to Abzan Midrange. These days, things are different, with Modern being a much more aggressive format, not to mention Wrenn and Six being everywhere.
None of this, however, diminishes the genius behind Ignoble Hierarch. Like Damn, this is a brilliant execution of a very clever concept that expresses part of Magic’s history with a mechanical twist you can’t help but admire. Exalted stays, white and blue mana are replaced by black and red mana, and a Human Druid becomes a Goblin Shaman. It’s the same card, but different.
The best part of the card, however, is the flavor. Mark Zug returns to mirror his original Noble Hierarch illustration – put the two cards next to one another, and admire how Ignoble Hierarch pays tribute to its forebear. Even the flavor text echoes the original card most pleasingly. In my view, this card is once again a slam-dunk.
Every set, the creative team at Wizards likes to keep the coverage team on our toes with a curve ball designed to test us on camera. Blight-Breath Catoblepas, Honored Hierarch and, of course, Fblthp, the Lost. They’ve outdone themselves, this time, however. I really, really hope this card doesn’t end up becoming playable, because I don’t want to have to struggle through all 31 of its characters live on camera.
For those of you who don’t know about this card, it’s based on the fact that across various cards in Magic’s history (Granite Gargoyle, Lightning Axe), flavor texts have made reference to The Underworld Cookbook and its author, Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. Now, both have come to life in Modern Horizons 2, to the joy of all but those of us who make a living from correctly saying the names of Magic cards in front of thousands of people.
It’s pretty great that she makes Food that can be used to kill creatures, as her cooking seems a little sus at best, but that’s not the best part. The funniest thing about Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, however, is the fact that her colossal name prevents her from having a casting cost. The name is so long, it fills the top of the card, and so they had to hard-wire an alternate cost into the card itself!