I’ve had an ongoing project this year on ChannelFireball.com. I compiled a list of the most defining Modern cards over the format’s long history. As 2022 comes to a close, so does the slow roll-out of my top 100 list. Today I have the top 10! These, in my opinion, are the most iconic, most format-defining cards across more than a decade of Modern play.
Check out the previous installments here:
10. Inquisition of Kozilek
If I could pick one card to have in my opening hand every game of Modern for the rest of my life, Inquisition of Kozilek would be very high on my list. Inquisition is one of the secrets behind the long-run success of black midrange decks. It offers a cheap play that’s great against everything from fast beatdown to control to combo to ramp.
Personally, I always play the full four Inquisition of Kozileks in Jund, even at the expense of Thoughtseize. This is because Inquisition is one of the best cards against aggressive decks like Burn, Red Prowess, Zoo and Humans, while Thoughtseize can be a liability due to the life loss.
9. Wrenn and Six
As I moved through the list, I offered a fun guessing game. Could people name a card that they thought would appear in the top 10 list? Well, for the #9 slot, only Lance Fausset was able to nail it. It’s Wrenn and Six!
Wrenn and Six was only printed in 2019, meaning that it missed a big chunk of Modern’s history. Still, the level of impact it’s had in just a few years has it claiming a high spot in the rankings. Wrenn started as a value card in Jund, but has only improved as more powerful lands have been printed into the format.
Wrenn’s -1 ability is so powerful and ubiquitous that it warps the value of cheap creatures and the way players play with them in games. It takes a brave person to sleeve up a Birds of Paradise (#85) deck in Wrenn and Six’s world! And can you imagine how annoying Ragavan (#12) would be without Wrenn to keep it in check?
Wrenn and Six was arguably the best card in the four-color Omnath (#39) decks that dominated the competitive scene for much of this year.
8. Urza’s Saga
Shoutout to two people, Daniel Oquain and C Grun, who were able to predict the #8 slot: Urza’s Saga.
While Wrenn and Six has been around since 2019, Urza’s Saga was only printed in 2021. To achieve such an iconic status in such a short time is a testament to how powerful and how widely played this card is. I can tell you that Urza’s Saga is the highest-ranked card from either Modern Horizons set. It’s certainly the most powerful land that’s legal in Modern, and is likely just the best card in Modern bar none.
For the price of a single land, Urza’s Saga provides you with a massive army (the Constructs it makes are frequently bigger than stuff like Tarmogoyf (#19)). Plus it tutors up silver bullets like Pithing Needle or Relic of Progenitus (#66) or key cards like Colossus Hammer or Amulet of Vigor. That level of power is totally unreasonable, and requires a large number of dedicated sideboard cards for most decks to compete with it.
7. Blood Moon
For me the #7 card was a no-brainer, but only one person – Blair – managed to guess it. It’s Blood Moon!
You can’t play a lot of Modern without having a memorable Blood Moon experience, and this would’ve been true at any point in the format’s history. Blood Moon can range from a value card that shuts off utility lands all the way to something that KOs the opponent singlehandedly. Decks like Blue Moon and Ponza even seek to Blood Moon people while hating on basic lands at the same time for extra punishment!
All of that is not even to mention Blood Moon’s status as a sideboard card. It’s a critical check against powerful decks ranging from Cloudpost to Urzatron to Scapeshift to Amulet Titan.
I’m forever traumatized by Blood Moon. As soon as an opponent plays a source of red mana, I immediately start worrying about it, and consider fetching basics to insulate myself. I think a lot of Modern players can relate.
6. Monastery Swiftspear
Nobody at all was able to guess the card in the #6 position: Monastery Swiftspear!
Swiftspear has seen Modern play since the day it was printed as a staple creature in Burn. There, it pairs with Goblin Guide as a hasty one-drop that can average two damage per turn. It’s also seen play in Zoo and Death’s Shadow, where it can unload fast damage and rack up prowess triggers.
But Swiftspear’s status changed with the reprinting of Lava Dart in Modern Horizons. Now, in addition to being a staple of Burn, it’s the single best card in the Red Prowess archetype. This unassuming (formerly) uncommon one-drop manages to compete successfully with Dragon’s Rage Channeler (#13) and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer (#12). It gets the highest ranking of the three because it’s been around the longest, and is still the best of them across several different red decks.
5. Snapcaster Mage
Peter Sievert and Carlos Oliveros Guntin were able to guess #5: Snapcaster Mage.
A decade of power creep and two Modern Horizons sets has finally allowed Modern to catch up to Snapcaster Mage. But for years, this was the best creature, and one of the scariest cards in the format. I had a rule, “always Thoughtseize the Snapcaster Mage,” to remind me that this card would always be trouble, even when I thought I could handle it. It provides a cheap two-for-one, and a second shot at your best instant or sorcery. We know there are plenty of those available in Modern, and when you add targeted sideboard cards like Timely Reinforcements, it becomes pretty ridiculous.
Sam and C Grum were able to guess #4: Thoughtseize.
Thoughtseize pairs with Inquisition of Kozilek (#10) as a staple of black midrange decks. And yet, Thoughtseize goes so far beyond that. It can go in combo decks to help force through key spells or it can be a sideboard card for creature decks to tear apart combo, control and ramp.
In a format so centered around efficiency, it’s no surprise that many of the highest-ranked cards are very cheap. Thoughtseize is one of those early plays that you can always count on to be effective against virtually any opponent.
It seems fetchlands were a fairly obvious one, as a huge number of people were able to call them correctly. Still, shoutout to all who guessed Windswept Heath, Flooded Strand, Arid Mesa, Marsh Flats, Misty Rainforest, Wooded Foothills, Verdant Catacombs, Scalding Tarn, Polluted Delta, and/or Bloodstained Mire–especially those who called it right away during the first couple of installments.
In addition to smoothing mana, fetchlands do so much more. They shuffle libraries, trigger landfall and fill graveyards for delve and Wrenn and Six. For a brief, shining period, they even powered up Deathrite Shaman (#43)!
Rob, Sam, Noam, C Grun, and Lance Fausset also nailed the #2 position. It’s a category of cards that go hand in hand with the fetchlands (#3): Shocklands.
In addition to being a dual land that can enter the battlefield untapped, shocklands are remarkable in possessing the basic land types. They facilitate cards like Wild Nacatl and Tribal Flames, and make other lands like Glacial Fortress and Castle Locthwain enter the battlefield untapped.
1. Lightning Bolt
That brings me to the number one, most iconic card in the history of Modern. This one too was a no-brainer, and a huge number of people called it to be not just in the top 10, but specifically in the #1 position. It’s Lightning Bolt!
Modern is Lightning Bolt’s format. One of MTG’s most recognizable cards, Lightning Bolt was originally printed in Alpha, and stood out right away. When the Modern format was born, Lightning Bolt was legal thanks to its reprinting in M10, but the other old cards that could’ve rivaled it – Swords to Plowshares, Force of Will, Hymn to Tourach, for example – were left out.
Bolt is the definition of both efficiency and versatility. It’s the best card to have against a fast creature deck, but even against combo or ramp, it can point straight at the opponent’s life total to speed up the clock. It supercharges other defining cards like Snapcaster Mage (#5) and Monastery Swiftspear (#6).
You can’t think about Modern without thinking about Lightning Bolt, and I’m happy about that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top 100 list. I’m hoping it will make older players feel some nostalgia while giving newer players an overview of what Modern has been like over the years. I’m also hoping it’ll generate some interesting discussion, so I encourage you to drop your thoughts and feelings in the comments below. Happy holidays!