Nothing excites me more than a brand-new Masters Edition-esque draft set! Generally I find them very deep and nuanced, with a lot of wiggle room for innovation. After playing one or two Modern Horizons drafts, I didn’t quite get that same feeling. After going even deeper, I’ve started to really enjoy the format and what it’s about.
How to Win in Modern Horizons
One question I get asked repeatedly about the format is whether I’d define it as fast or slow. I think Modern Horizons does a great job at presenting itself as both, but in general I’d define the format as fast.
There’s archetypes like Ninjitsu, Aggro Tokens, Slivers, G/W Tokens, U/R Draw Two etc. that all force you to want to be on the play to get onto the battlefield first. Cards like Man’o’ War and other blue-based tempo spells like Choking Tethers and String of Disappearances also contribute to this. Basically, you want to attack first and set the rules of engagement.
From my experiences, there’s no true control decks in this format, and blue in this format is very much an aggressive color. While Winter’s Rest is playable, it does require some work to turn on, and in my experience removal in general is not all that good in this format.
Is Removal Important?
While I think it’s important to have some removal, unlike most formats, there’s a lot of ways to get punished for having a deck full of removal and light on win conditions. You end up staring down tokens, creatures with persist, creatures that get value from the graveyard like Mother Bear, and you also just don’t have much payoff for getting deep into a game.
There’s not much in the way of mana sinks and top-end bombs that take over the game once you draw them. There’s some of course, but nothing like we’re used to seeing in sets like War of the Spark. Stream of Thought is a good one to lean on for value over the course of a game, but that’s basically your best payoff for getting to 9 or 10 mana and controlling the battlefield. Cast a couple of those and the game ends, but they don’t do much in the meanwhile unless you’re able to mill yourself to the point that you can shuffle in your best spells. The power level of this set is relatively flat, and that does create some great back-and-forth games.
So if removal isn’t that good, what are the best common first picks? Well, it’s still mostly removal. Just because there can be too much doesn’t mean there can’t be too little. You still need to answer blockers and come back when your opponent curves out. Also, instant-speed removal is at a much higher premium because of combat trick stuff like Fist of Flame, which when combined with Spinehorn Minotaur gives the deck an Infect feel. Ninjstu is also a key reason instant-speed removal like Magmatic Sinkhole, Defile, and Mob stay high in my pick orders, while Lava Dart is certainly one of my picks for underrated cards in the set as it breaks up early synergies from the 1/1 evasive creatures for one that ninjitsu decks capitalize on, and having a land in your graveyard is often a benefit for making a card like Igneous Elemental cheaper.
Draft a Mix of Payoffs and Enablers
Modern Horizons has a lot of built-in and cross-synergy, which makes the format super interesting to draft and explore. For example, subtleties like the cycling lands putting lands in your graveyard while also turning the static effects of the “when you’ve drawn two or more cards” creatures on, the smooth synergy of go-wide cards in red-white with the Slivers mechanic, then tying them together with Volatile Claws. There’s a lot to think about each draft, and it can be broken down a lot of the times into enablers and payoffs.
Faerie Seer and Changeling Outcast are very much enablers for the ninjitsu cards. Spinehorn Minotaur is the payoff for any and all of the cyclers that make it hard to block like Choking Tethers, Windcaller Aven, and Quakefoot Cyclops. Springbloom Druid is the ultimate enabler, enabling cards like Murasa Behemoth and Igneous Elemental, while also tying together Snow decks. Springbloom Druid acts as drawing multiples in one card if there happens to be two in your deck.
The key to drafting a linear strategy in this format is finding out where to value enablers and when to move in on payoffs. Should I take my good ninjitsu creatures early, or should I take my Changling Outcasts and Faerie Seer’s first? I generally value the payoffs higher, since it’s easier to replace some of these enablers than it is the best payoffs. But once you’ve gotten enough payoffs you really need to focus in on making sure you get the best enablers. It can be a tricky balance.
Some formats reward you for moving in on a specific archetype early, but I found it better to stay flexible in the first few picks of the draft until you see a clear signal. Often this means abandoning my first few picks, but since the power level is fairly flat, that’s okay and will be made up for later in drafts. In a format like War of the Spark, it’s much harder to abandon that Liliana, Dreadhorde General, because that’s going to account for a ton of win percentage on its own. The cards in this format don’t really get that busted.
How good are Snow Decks?
Snow decks are actually incredibly difficult to draft, and I still haven’t mastered them yet. There’s a couple of different versions, but you are heavily incentivized to play more than just U/G because you won’t always get enough U/G Snow lands to make the payoffs worth it. Abominable Treefolk is the biggest payoff and ends up being a flat-out bomb in the right decks often coming into play on turn 4 as a 5/5 trample that taps something down for a turn and then grows larger each and every turn. Arcum’s Astrolabe can act as a mana fixer, and occasionally when you get like four of them, you can just play off-color snow lands that allow you to cast your base-color cards and play fewer Forests and Islands because of their incredible ability to fix.
Between Springbloom Druid and Acrum’s Astrolabe, the world is your oyster and you can basically play anything you want if you’re the only Snow drafter at the table. Let’s say you open a weak pack and you take Abominable Snowm..errr Treefolk to start your draft. I’d start scooping up any and all snow lands and Astrolabes before taking snow payoffs. The most noticeable way to signal to the rest of the draft that snow isn’t open is when they start to see snow lands missing from the packs very early. This sets off an alarm bell that they won’t get enough and that staying in the archetype is very dangerous. I wouldn’t pass premium uncommons and rares or anything, but you shouldn’t be taking cards like Frostwalla over Snow-Covered Forest early in the draft because the signal won’t be clear. You should get your fair share of Frostwallas and Winter’s Rests and whatnot later once you’ve cut the snow basics from other players. On the other side of this coin, you should be looking for snow lands in each pack regardless of what archetype you’re in to get an idea of what the players around you are doing. If there’s snow lands missing early then you know not to move into that archetype, and most likely to avoid the U/G color combination the best you can.
Another version of the snow deck is a mill deck that takes advantage of Iceberg Cancrix. While you often need three or four of these and then maybe two copies of Stream of Thought, the deck largely just uses the defensive body of the Cancrix to stay alive while also milling the opponent out slowly. My bread and butter for this deck has been Glacial Revelation. This is an incredible way to find the Cancrixes you need and the snow permanents to get the ball rolling on milling them. In addition, it digs deep into your deck, allowing Stream of Thought to thicken your deck with your best spells more plausibly.
Another strategy is milling yourself with Cancrix and Glacial Revelation and then essentially tutoring every turn once you’ve gotten to the bottom of your deck, looping cards into your graveyard with Stream. Though I’ve only had a little success with this strategy and rarely move into it, it’s certainly been an escape route for my failed snow decks and has worked out well at times. Moving out of snow can be quite difficult as the draft progresses as most of your picks don’t work well outside of the archetype. While I think you should definitely take advantage of the archetype when it’s wide open, it’s certainly not one I like to commit to early.
My Best and Worst Archetypes
White has definitely been my worst-performing single color, as I find the white aggressive decks can be quite anemic when they get deeper into the game, and most of the white two- and three-drops are a bit underwhelming. G/W Tokens is likely the best of these archetypes (perhaps U/W when it comes together, but it really needs Soulherder in my experience).
My most successful archetypes are definitely U/B Ninjas and recently R/G Lands. Ninjas is a solid aggressive deck that’s extremely deep at common. Every card with the keyword ninjutsu is strong and the one-drop evasive enablers make the archetype tick throughout the game. The UB Deck doesn’t need much or even any removal as it’s very much a tempo driven deck, cards like Man-o’-War and Choking Tethers can clear the way for the final attacks.
Ninjas is on everyone’s radar at this point, and my pick for best sleeper archetype is R/G Lands. I’ve found it trivial to get two or three Igneous Elementals each draft, and those combined with cards like Springbloom Druid and Lava Dart make it easy to cast cheaper and manage the small creatures of the format. You also get all of red’s great removal in Pyrophobia and Magmatic Sinkhole at common, and utilize the big green creatures like Murasa’a Behemoth and Excavating Anurid.
The strategy is to have bigger ground creatures and take care of any problematic creatures while also playing a bunch of Flametongue Kavus you get fairly late. Of course there’s more synergistic versions of the deck as well with rares and uncommons, but the meat and potatoes at common is often good enough. If you get a bunch of cards like Nantuko Cultivator, Tectonic Reformation, and Ayula’s Influence, don’t be afraid to play 20 or so lands. These decks are also good at splashing when you’re playing Springbloom Druids, Krosan Tuskers, and Geomancer’s Gambit, one of my favorite late picks (as I refer to it, “late-pick gold”). You don’t have to take Geomancer’s Gambit early at all as you’ll usually get them with two to three cards in the pack, but it’s a way to fix mana while also putting a land in your graveyard. It’s a free pickup to enable your Igneous Elementals, with the added upside of dealing with Squirrel’s Nest.
I believe my success with R/G is largely due to the fact that U/B is currently overdrafted; perhaps Igneous Elementals will be taken more aggressively soon and it will be time to switch.
U/R Draw Two is yet another archetype I have consistent success with, but it’s been more difficult to get into recently, I believe because blue has been overdrafted, especially since Man’o’War is one of the best commons in the set.
I’m currently about 35 drafts in and have 16 trophies, so I believe I have a good grasp on the format. I’m enjoying it and excited to explore it even more, as I’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities. With the Mythic Championship in Barcelona rolling around next month, I’m excited to keep pushing the format to the limits.
Tips and Tricks
I’ll leave you with a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way that weren’t necessarily intuitive.
1) Always play your on-color snow lands. I’ve seen countless screenshots of decks with snow lands in sideboards, some of them even including Goatnap or Fallen Shinobi. What if you take an Abominable Treefolk, Frostwalla, or anything that requires snow? The reality is it’s a freeroll to play them as I believe there’s no way to punish you, so you may as well keep your opponent guessing.
2) Activate Crypt Rats one at a time against persist/undying creatures. You can kill Putrid Goblin with three black mana as long as you only use your Crypt Rats in groups of one holding priority between each activation. I missed out on this the first time it came up and my stream chat was kind enough to inform me, and it’s come up several times since.
3) If you can kill Watcher for Tomorrow with the hideaway trigger on the stack, then you’ll prevent them from getting the card they hide away.
Is there any archetype you think I should investigate further? Let me know in the comments below.