Pattern Recognition #111 - Modern Horizons

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


6 June 2019


Hello everyone, and welcome back to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series. Written by myself, berryjon, I aim to bring to my reading audience each week a different look into some aspect of Magic: The Gathering - be it an individual card, a mechanic, a theme, or even just general history. I am something of an Old Fogey and Smart Ass, so please take what I say with a grain of salt. I enjoy a good discussion on the relevant subject matter!

So, I'm sitting here, the night before this article is due out, and I'm still not sure how to write what I want to say. So please, forgive me if this article is a little more Stream of Thought than normal.

I did Time Spiral last week with the intent that I would show off how Wizards was handling the same subject matter with nearly 13 years apart, and how things have improved in concept and in execution.

And sitting here, staring at the visual spoiler for the whole set, I am filled with nothing but ennui.

Now, don't get me wrong here. Modern Horizons is a beautiful set. It has a little something for everyone from the aggressive combo player to the Control Spike. It brings back player-demanded cards like new Slivers ,like the terrifying The First Sliver, new Snow cards (a personal want of mine) that include Icehide Golem, reprints of cards last seen in non-Modern legal sets that Wizards brought into Modern (like Kess, Dissident Mage from Commander or Shelter from Odyssey Block).

Then, Wizards, the mad and brilliant geniuses that they are, printed cards for some of the game's most truly legendary characters, those that players have wanted to see for years in print. We got Serra the Benevolent, Magic's iconic White Planeswalker decades before Gideon Jura showed up. We got Urza, Lord High Artificer, the man who would war against his brother, Mishra, Artificer Prodigy. We got Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, a man so devoted to his goal of improving the people around him, to raise them up from Phthisis that he would cause more harm than good.

Modern Horizons tweaked old cards to give them new life. Face of Divinity is an improvement over Daybreak Coronet, while Force of Negation is about as close to a Force of Will we'll get in this format.

There's good cards here, I don't contest that at all. But I need to back up a bit to help explain my feelings regarding this set.

Announced a couple months ago, Modern Horizons was toted as a set of cards that were newly designed (with a few reprints from pre-Modern sets) to go straight into the Modern (and older formats like Legacy or Vintage) while bypassing Standard as a format, allowing cards to come into the game straight to the perceived power level of Modern without upsetting the delicate balance that Standard relies upon.

This was seen as a good thing by many players, myself included. My opinion is that Modern has effectively calcified, and a bevy of new cards might shake off some of the rust the format is showing. Then it came out that this set was a homage in many ways to Time Spiral, and that sent the hype train soaring, let me tell you.

As I talked about last week, Time Spiral, and its two supplementary sets in Planar Chaos and Future Sight, are highly beloved by old time players like myself. It was a call back to the halcyon days of our own beginnings, a way to relive the joy of the new while still being what Wizards calls their enfranchised players.

And here, with Modern Horizons, despite some small missteps in the advertising for the set that made people think this was going to be one or the other, we got a set that was trying to do both.

I think this is my first problem with the set. It's trying to do too many things at once without being able to focus on what it needs to do. There's no... let's call it set cohesion. Time Spiral had a story, it had a sequence of events through the three sets that helped shape it. It was the Was, the Could Have Been, and then the What Might Be. And the mechanics and flavour of the set favoured this, from the Timeshifted to the Colour Shifted to the Future Shifted cards.

Modern Horizons is stuck between being a Modern Supplemental Set, and a Time Spiral set. It contains a wide breadth of callbacks, mechanics and cards that could have appeared in sets long past, yet at the same time, aims to be relevant to the power, skill and archetypes that are present in Modern.

Like Cycling! Fun mechanic, but modern playable? With the only relevant cards in this set and in the Amonkhet block? I'm pretty sure the only archetype with even less support by the number of cards that mention it would either be Dredge (which gets some cards in this set), or Infect, which only appeared in one set, and nowhere else! Not even here!

Yes, I am aware that Scale Up got printed, It's definitely a card that Infect will use, but it is still not aimed right at the Infect archetype like some of the other cards in this set are aimed at their respective decks.

But where does a card like Valiant Changeling work in Modern? Changelings aren't a tribe! They support other tribes, but they really aren't a thing on their own.

There's nothing holding this set together at all! So many mechanics that are one off mechanics there to show the players that "Hey, remember this mechanic? Well, so do we! Here's a single card that has this mechanic! Happy Now?"

Looking at you, Chillerpillar.

No, I'm not happy. Not one bit.

Here's the thing. This set is all glitz and glamour, all sizzle and smell.

It's a great set with a lot of great ideas in it, but in the end, that's all they are.


Modern Horizons is a set of ideas. There's nothing here that really shouts out that this is the next big thing, nothing here that says that this is a grand slam, hitting it out of the park as a celebration of what has come before.

Dominaria did that better, which I suppose was one of the reasons why we're getting this set. To help cash in on the nostalgia factor that we enfranchised players bring to the table - and our wallets.

Well, Wizards, there's nothing here for me. I recognize that this might actually be a fun set to draft if anyone was willing to shell out the price for it. But the archetypes are limited in this set. Slivers. Cycling. Lands Matter.

I should do an article about Cycling. That seems fun.

Funner than this set.

So here is the source of my discontentment. This isn't what Wizards wanted to put out. Oh, I'm sure there will be disagreements to high heaven, but in the end, this isn't a set that as what was promised. It wasn't a return to Time Spiral as its missing the cohesion that set had. It's not a Modern set that will change anything, except Commander or Eternal formats. Yes, it has nice cards, but that's just it. It has nice cards. It's not a Nice Set.

And I'm still full of ennui. Still disappointed.

Join me next week when I talk about something that is either Rage Inducing in me, or Cycling.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #110 - Time Spiral The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #112 - Bicycle! Bicycle!

Caerwyn says... #1

I think the problem most people have with Modern Horizons is that it did not meet their expectations. People were looking for a set that would advance Modern significantly, which Modern Horizons did not do.

That's a good thing. Modern is the so-called turn-four format for a reason--Wizards wants to try and keep that as the goal. Modern Horizons was never going to have something that pushed Tron or Humans even farther than they are now. The reasonable prediction is that Modern Horizons would be designed to make less common archetypes more playable, leading to greater diversity in the meta, new possible budget decks, and ways for players to increase the power of their pet decks.

With that as the goal, I think Modern Horizons succeeded very well.

June 6, 2019 1:44 p.m.

I, for one, am very excited for the impact on modern. I expect a large impact. Of course, nothing in the set easily slots into a top deck in modern, but if something did improve a top deck in modern, then there would probably need to be bannings to correct it. Maybe force of negation goes into uw control. But I think this set will be responsible for the breakout of multiple new decks in modern. In fact, I think modern horizons will be responsible for a new deck in the top 3 decks in modern.

June 7, 2019 10:58 a.m.

Optimator says... #3

Wah wah wah boo hoo

June 12, 2019 2:06 p.m.

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