Modern Horizons Set Review – Blue

(Urza, Lord High Artificer | Art by Grzegorz Rutkowski)

Blue Horizons

“Sometimes I think that the other four colors are just a vessel to experience the color blue.”

–Patrick Chapin

Blue received a bevy of new and powerful cards in the straight-to-Modern set, Modern Horizons. This set promised to deliver a level of power greater than that we see in a normal Standard set, and it definitely delivered. We have powerful new staples for several archetypes and plenty of pieces will smaller but still very impactful homes. Let’s look at blue’s high-profile cards of the set!


Mythics


Urza, Lord High Artificer

Let’s start off with one of the most divisive and powerful characters in all of Magic‘s history: Urza. In case you haven’t been around the internet lately, everyone lost their minds when Urza was previewed. One of the most venerated character is now a card, and that card’s power matches the hype.

When Urza enters the battlefield, we get a “Karnstruct,” a token artifact creature with power and toughness equal to the number of artifacts we control. Off to a decent start, but it’s his second ability – tapping artifacts to add blue mana – that really heats things up. Artifacts are currently the most popular theme on EDHREC, with over 9,000 decks, and Urza turns every one of them into a mana rock. He’s like a legendary Grand Architect!

However, Urza doesn’t stop there. He can use all the mana he makes to cast spells for free off the top of our deck. No tapping is required. There is not a once-per-turn limit. It’s like a mix of Temporal Aperture and Mind’s Desire. That’s excruciatingly powerful on its own, but this ability just begs to be broken, and with the propensity of artifact strategies being some of the most powerful in all of Magic, I can’t imagine Urza being anything but broken. For example, if your mind immediately went to Paradox Engine, join the club. Like Thrasios, Triton Hero before him, any infinite-mana combo gives this commander the ability to play his entire deck.

I do think there’s room for Urza to be played both fairly and unfairly – either a mono-blue ramp deck that simply powers out big artifacts or an artifact-Storm combo deck – but don’t be surprised if others always approach him as though he’s built to be super-tuned. I think the most interesting thing I’ve seen from his EDHREC page so far is the inclusion of old artifacts like Winter Orb, Static Orb, and Howling Mine, which can be tapped by Urza for mana and then have their effects turned off when they’re tapped. As a result, Stax strategies will also be very powerful with Urza at the helm.

He’s currently the #1 most built legend from Modern Horizons, but I personally expect for him to fall to Sisay, Weatherlight Captain as time goes on. That’s not a knock on Urza by any means, just a testament to the popularity of five-color commanders; the eight most played 5-color decks have more decks than the #1 mono-blue deck. We can also use the initial popularity of Prime Speaker Vannifar as an example, a powerful combo commander who eventually was surpassed by some other less-combo-focused legends that were released in her set. Again, though, this is no knock against Urza; he will slowly climb the ladder of mono-blue commanders, and I think he’ll take one the top 3 spots in due time. His card certainly lives up to the legend.

Oh, and if you’re not looking to play him as a commander, he will do work in the 99. Suddenly turning your field of artifacts into mana rocks is exceedingly powerful. Brudiclad, Telchor Engine or a token-focused Breya, Etherium Sculptor will certainly love to have that around. It definitely feels good to take a hoard of Treasure tokens from a big Spell Swindle and turn them into a hoard of Mox Sapphires.


Echo of Eons

So we’re just going to make a Timetwister with Flashback? All right.

Timetwister variants have always been popular in EDH. Commit // Memory, Time Spiral, and Time Reversal are the most popular versions of the effect in the format, appearing in 4,500, 3,200, and 3,000 decks respectively.

The most fitting home for Echo of Eons will be the Wheel decks: The Locust God, Nekusar, the Mindrazer, and the two-color Niv-Mizzet are some of the most popular. We might also see it in some Spellslinger decks as well; if we look at Time Spiral‘s page, we can see Mizzix of the Izmagnus high on the list of commanders, along with an appearance from Kess, Dissident Mage. While shuffling away your graveyard seems counterintuitive for Kess, refilling your hand for three mana is pretty darn strong. It will be interesting to see where this spell lands among the other popular versions, but getting two uses from this card – or just discarding it and casting it for cheap from the graveyard – could certainly push it toward the top.


Rares


Archmage’s Charm

Modal spells are always popular. The most famous blue modal spells in EDH, Cryptic Command and Mystic Confluence, both appear in nearly 9,000 decks. So does this new spell bring enough utility for its heavy {U}{U}{U} cost? It counters spells, draw cards, and takes tiny things. Let’s tackle them one by one.

Counterspell is played in over 48,000 decks, but that additional blue mana isn’t something to look over. When cast as a Counterspell, this is technically worse than Cancel. A more apt comparison is Disallow, because of its additional utility, and which sees play in over 14,000 decks.

The card draw option isn’t bad, but that heavy blue cost weighs down on your mana base for a simple draw spell. Countering a spell will be the desired option, but it’s nice to be able to pitch this spell and replace it with two other cards if nothing comes up that’s worth countering.

How about that last mode, gaining control of target nonland permanent with converted mana cost 1 or less?

The most obvious target for this is Sol Ring or any of the other powerful fast-mana options. Frankly, this mode is probably what makes or breaks the Charm as a meta call. Only about 6 of the Top 100 most popular cards in the 99 cost 1 mana or less, so there are limited targets, but on the other hand, undercutting someone by stealing their Skullclamp is pretty funny. This charm can steal tokens, too, in a pinch. This final mode is definitely focused more toward Modern, but has its uses.

Overall, these effects are useful as a single package, but the triple blue cost will make it a very tough inclusion for most decks.


Bazaar Trademage

I remember seeing a lot of skepticism around Bazaar Trademage at first. Drawing two and discarding three sounds like a bad deal in a vacuum, but we know from practice that Bazaar of Baghdad is one of the most powerful lands to ever to be printed. Now, we get that effect attached to a 3/4 with flying for three mana. Wait, am I reading those stats right? What an absurd stat line for three mana!

Yes, this isn’t a land. Yes, this is a one-shot effect. And yes, Magus of the Bazaar only shows up in 441 decks at time of writing. I still don’t think this should diminish your opinion of the new Bazaar Trademage[/el]. In a format where reanimation strategies exist, digging two cards and discarding three can be a boon, not a drawback. Champion of Wits, which also has a looting ETB ability, is an interesting comparison. Dredge abilities in particular enjoy returning cards like Golgari Grave-Troll to the hand and immediately discarding it. Decks concerned with the traditional lens of card disadvantage won’t want this effect, but Muldroth, the Gravetide, for example, may find a way to manipulate the discard cards very efficiently.


Force of Negation

Negate and Force of Will had a baby! If you’re familiar with the reputation of the latter, Force of Negation‘s name and mechanics should already be garnering your attention. Free counterspells are incredibly powerful, though this is much more limited than the famous Force of Will; it can only counter noncreature spells, and only do so for free on another player’s turn. This makes the spell much more interactive – no using the free counterspell to protect your own combo on your turn, for example. However, I don’t think these restrictions are too much to worry about; even if it can’t counter creature spells, it still hits five out of the six types, which is nothing to scoff at.

Negate is currently played in nearly 20,000 decks on EDHREC, so we at least know this type of effect is popular. Swan Song is played in nearly 22,000 decks, and the recent Unwind is in over 2,800 decks. The biggest hurdle that Force of Negation will face is your playgroup’s power level. This card seems more focused towards more competitive strategies, and it loses utility against more casual decks. EDH has access to plenty of counterspells already, so it will have to make the cut over the rest, but if Force of Will can see play in nearly 10,000 decks, then Force of Negation has a strong chance to make a dent in the format.


Marit Lage’s Slumber

Whenever a card has the words “Marit Lage” on it, you pay attention. However, I think this is definitely among the weakest of card to bear her name. If you’re playing this in a deck with only snow basics and no other snow permanents, I don’t think this will quite get there; less than a third of your deck (probably less than a quarter, in fact) will be snow permanents at that point, which will make it tough to get ten into play. At that point, Retreat to Coralhelm would likely do more for you on a turn-by-turn basis.

In a dedicated snow deck, things definitely look better, though we have to account for the minimal support snow decks have in EDH. This is a cool-looking card, to be sure, but it will require some extra effort in the 99. Once it works, though, and you finally create your indestructible flying 20/20, make sure no one steals it with an Archmage’s Charm.


Mirrodin Besieged

Wow. This is our big winner for Vorthoses. The Mirrans can put up a fight, but the Phryexians will end the war. It reminds me a lot of the Siege cycle from Fate Reforged. It’s half Efficient Construction and half Monastery Siege. Both are incredibly solid.

The Mirran mode is great for producing tokens for artifact decks – Urza, Lord High Artificer, Breya, Etherium Shaper, Saheeli, the Gifted, Sai, Master Thopterist, and Arcum Daggson like this a lot.

Meanwhile, the Phyrexian mode mimics an artificial Mortal Combat, picking off opponents one by one. Triggering this effect honestly shouldn’t be an issue. If you look at the Card Type Distribution pie chart on any of the aforementioned artifact commanders’ EDHRE pages, you’ll see that they play an average of 21-25 artifacts. Don’t be fooled, though – EDHREC’s algorithms mark cards with multiple types, such as Solemn Simulacrum, as creatures instead of artifacts. The actual number of artifacts in the average artifact-based deck is much closer to 50 than 25. In short, this ability won’t be tough to trigger, and the fact that this is an end step trigger makes things even more sinister, since we could potentially play it and eliminate someone on the very same turn. This is a very effective card that will strike fear into opposing players.


Mist-Syndicate Naga

Ninjutsu is back! I’ve always had a soft spot for the mechanic, especially when we saw it return with Yuriko, Tiger’s Shadow. While Yuriko is an obvious choice for Mist-Syndicate Naga, don’t let that stop you from exploring.

Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, for example, loves unblockable tokens! It probably looks slow, but don’t underestimate the power of repeatable copies. Speaking of copies, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer might want to take a look at this Ninja. While Brudiclad lacks the inherent evasion of Temmet, he makes up for it with numbers. Brudiclad wants to make numerous tokens, and if we’re able to turn all of them into Mist-Syndicate Nagas? Well, we’ll soon have an army on our hands.

How popular will this be? Spawnwrithe, an extremely similar creature in better token-producing colors, is only in 800 decks. I could see Yuriko propping up the numbers because of Ninja tribal, but I don’t see it eclipsing those. I really like this card, but it’s going to find its use in a narrow band of decks.


Uncommons


Cunning Evasion & Everdream

These are two of the most Johnny/Jenny cards among blue’s offerings in this set. Cunning Evasion‘s most obvious use is Ninjas and Ninjutsu. It was literally made for them; if we attack an opponent and they block our Ninja and fail to block another creature, we can bounce the Ninja to our hand and then activate their Ninjutsu ability to swap them back onto the battlefield unblocked. That’s a ton of control over combat. If we combine this with cards that love to re-enter the battlefield, we can double up on our value. That scenario requires an opponent to block, which they may not want to do, but may also be willing to do to help you get extra ETB effects that will take down a common enemy.

Meanwhile, Everdream is a major callback to Evermind. This is the first time we’ve seen Splice return since its debut, and it’s gotten a major makeover. Replacing “onto Arcane” with “onto instant or sorcery” is a massive difference. As long as Everdream remains in our hand, all of our instants and sorceries effectively gain “Kicker {2}{U}: Draw a card.” While three mana is a steep price to pay for a single card, I think it’s better to look at it like a mana sink. I’ve passed turn with unused mana many times, and I could see this being an underrated draw engine in the right deck that has mana to spare.

Additionally, if you Splice an effect onto an instant or sorcery, then copy that instant or sorcery, the copy will also have the Splice text! So if Riku of Twin Reflections copies a Ponder that you’ve Spliced Everdream onto, you’ll draw four cards total. While I think this is more interesting than good, this type of design on a card energizes me to build around it.


Tribute Mage

Welcome to the family, Tribute Mage! The mega-cycle of artifact tutors are incredibly popular. The first, Trinket Mage, currently is played in nearly 11,000 decks. The second, Treasure Mage, is played in around 2,200 decks. The third, Trophy Mage is played in 6,600 decks. Trinket Mage has a total of 266 targets at the moment, Treasure has 188, and Trophy has 479. Tribute Mage has 410 targets. We already know that these cards are good and powerful. So what type of cards can be tutor for?

This card is going to be good, and I think it might usurp Trophy Mage in due time as the second most-played artifact tutor Mage.


Commons


Watcher for Tomorrow

This is the card that I’m going to hype up more than the average player might. I love these types of effects. A delayed Impulse for a 2/1 body? Impulse is played in 7,700 decks, so we know that’s a good effect. And all it has to do is leave the battlefield? I’m already sold. If we combine it with Panharmonicon we get to dig eight cards deep for two cards. That is so close to being Dig Through Time it hurts. It’s a perfect inclusion for any number of blue-based blink decks like Brago, King Eternal, and I know my Aminatou, the Fateshifter deck will appreciate being able to clear cards off the top. It’s also a Wizard for Inalla, Archmage Ritualist and Naban, Dean of Iteration.

Overall, this is one of the cards I’m most excited for, which probably means I don’t have my priorities straight, but I can’t resist being able to dig for the right card.


Honorable Mentions

Faerie Seer is a cute one-drop, and scrying 2 on a creature this cheap is unprecedented. The evasion makes this a great option for decks like Edric, Spymaster of Trest and especially Yuriko, Tiger’s Shadow.

Most of what has already been said about Mist-Syndicate Naga can be applied to Moonblade Shinobi. We Ninjutsu it into play, and we make a token, which importantly has evasion. Once again, Yuriko is pleased. Pondering Mage

Oneirophage is beater for wheel decks and blue-green counter decks. Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend will really enjoy having it around. Any deck that already plays Chasm Skulker might look to include this as well. With how many cards those decks can draw and how many counters they can put everywhere, the flying on this is actually pretty great.


The Setting Skyline

That’s going to wrap it up for the blue review! I hope it was a properly in-depth look at many of the new cards from Modern Horizons. There is a great mix of powerful new pieces and niche role players that will absolutely make this an impactful set, and it’s exciting to think of where these cards will end up in the future.

What cards are you planning to pick up? Which decks are being graced by new upgrades? Let me know in the comments below!

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64