By Frank Lepore
What’s going on, everyone!
This is my first time submitting something to Collector Legion, but my buddy Grim asked me to write something up and, loving the SoCal scene as I do, I was happy to oblige!
I also recently started writing again for CoolStuffInc, so I’ll go ahead and give you the same intro I did there: my name is Frank and I’ve been making Magic content for over a decade now. I’ve written for most of the major sites out there at one time or another, as well as having both a Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8 to my name. My content typically focuses on brews - specifically trying and finding the more obscure cards and decklists that tend to go against the grain - and as a full time Twitch streamer who accepts a lot of deck critiques, I’m in a fortunate position to have a lot of new ideas presented to me.
Today I want to discuss Modern, which has been a format I’ve had some success with. From a popular column entitled Modern Monday that ran for about seven years, to the Oath of the Gatewatch Pro Tour where I played Eldrazi, Modern is a format that’s very close to my heart, both for its diversity and the feeling that you can pretty much do anything you want within it.
That is...until the cards we’re going to talk about today come into play. What follows are the six biggest “villains” of the Modern format, in my opinion. Of course this is completely subjective, but I wanted to pick out and talk about some of the most oppressive cards in the format. Cards that are innocuous enough to be dealt with, and can be easy to play around, but if you don’t...some decks might as well give up on the spot. (These are in no particular order.)
Make no mistake, this one is likely as close to the number one spot as you can get...if I were to number these. With entire decks in Modern that revolve around what lands you have in play, Blood Moon can single-handedly shut down entire archetypes, but that’s not even the worst of it. Many decks run fewer than five basic lands in Modern, meaning if you’re maindecking your Blood Moons, you’re usually going to steal a few wins from unprepared opponents.
Even prepared opponents will end up falling prey the Moon every now and then, as it’s simply a must-answer card for a good number of strategies. Even the decks that can play around it, by fetching out their basics first, are still playing with suboptimal lands than they wouldn’t be if they were able to casually search out their shock lands. Blood Moon is definitely one of the biggest Modern boogeymen around, and for good reason. When you play against someone you might suspect has Blood Moons in their deck, you change your entire play style from turn one.
This is one of my least favorite cards in Modern. If you don’t happen to have something like Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, Maelstrom Pulse, or one of any number of B/G “destroy any permanent” cards (actually, I think that’s about all of them…) in your deck, then you might literally have to scoop. When any deck running Ensnaring Bridge is able to manipulate their hand in such a way as to invalidate all of your creatures, it can be pretty demoralizing.
At least when someone casts something like Supreme Verdict or Wrath of God you’re able to rebuild eventually. At least those still let your creature lands attack. Ensnaring Bridge is a card you simply have to deal with, or you might as well concede. It was also a card that didn’t see a ton of play in the early days of Modern, but now...any deck that unload cheap artifacts has four of these bad boys, ready to shut down even your 1/1 creatures. I’ve definitely won some games by sneaking in with a Noble Hierarch and her exalted trigger...but it ain’t pretty.
Chalice of the Void
Chalice of the Void is less dominating than the other two previous cards on the list, but not by much. There are a lot of decks in Modern that simply fold to a Chalice on two: Burn, Infect, Lantern, and Death’s Shadow are a handful. These decks are comprised of so many one-mana spells, that a chalice for two might as well invalidate 70% of their deck. It’s kind of insane. Luckily, the decks that aren’t impacted by Chalice too heavily are usually fine, with the artifact merely shutting off a path to Exile or a Fatal Push, or some hand disruption.
In case you weren’t aware though, Bogles, U/R Phoenix, and Death’s Shadow are all pretty heavily impacted by the card, and those were the Top 5 slots at Grand Prix Tampa. Each deck had 24, 29, and 26 one-mana cards in their main decks, respectively. The 6th place deck was Lantern Control, with 29 one-drops. The 7th place deck was Tron, with 20 one-drops. The 8th place deck was U/R Phoenix again. That’s the entire Top 8 of Grand Prix Tampa, where nearly 50% of every deck would be effectively shut off by Chalice of the Void. That’s a powerful artifact that seems somewhat underplayed right now.
Leyline of Sanctity
Leyline of Sanctity is still less oppressive than the other cards on this list...I think...but it’s still hard at work shutting down entire archetypes. If you’re playing main deck Leylines, like Bogles was for a brief moment in time, not only are you managing to shut down the entire burn deck you may come across, you’re also invalidating any sacrifice effects on cards like Liliana of the Veil, as well as any targeted hand disruption. A turn zero Leyline against something like Lantern shuts off about 15 cards in their main deck, which is a good 25%.
While Leyline of Sanctity is mainly a sideboard card in Modern, similar to things like Chalice of the Void, playing it in your main deck can be extremely valuable. Even if you shut off a single Thoughtseize, you’ve already gotten a one-for-one from it, and that’s likely the worst possible scenario; often times they will have drawn more than one card that targets you in a single game.
Trinisphere is the card I have the least experience with, especially in Modern, but it seems to be showing up more and more in green “control” decks that pack a ton of land destruction and denial. Often filling the same roll as Chalice on one, when all of your one-mana cards cost three mana, you might as well be playing a different game than you sat down to. Both Chalice and Trinisphere can be built around, but in different ways. Conversely, Chalice is often only going to affect cards that cost one or two mana, where as Trinisphere is going to affect cards that cost zero, one, and two mana, which is a pretty big deal.
Again, if you look at all the decks Chalice of the Void affects, you can easily see why Trinisphere would have a similarly oppressive effect on them. I would not be surprised to see Trinisphere pop up in more decks in the future, so long as the decks themselves aren’t hindered by their own sphere’s restrictions.
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Alongside Ensnaring Bridge, no card enrages me on the list more than this one. More than just an ordinary creature, this is as much of an obnoxious “enchantment” as any of the other cards on the list. The problem with Eidolon is that, even though you likely want to kill it anyway, if forces you to kill it first, because allowing it to survive for longer than it should only amounts to further attacks and further triggers, and that’s the last thing you need against the burn deck. So while you’d like to keep counterspell mana up, while you’d like to bolster your life total with something like Kitchen Finks or Knight of Autumn, the thing you have to do is get rid of this.
Eidolon of the Great Revel makes it so instead of Knight of Autumn gaining you four life, you simply lose two life. It essentially “deals” you six damage and wholeheartedly earns its double red casting cost. This card has a home in one archetype in Modern, and it is likely the strongest, most oppressive card in the deck. In a situation where you don’t actually have removal for this, instead only having spells in your hand that will trigger it, you might as well go to game two.
These have been my Top 6 most oppressive villains in Modern: single cards that, on their own, kind of force you to deal with them before the game can proceed in any meaningful way. I’d love to hear your thoughts of what your own list might look like! Thanks for reading, all, and I’ll see you next time!