To continue our retrospective on 2018 we will be looking at the polar opposite of Friday’s article. These are the cards that regardless of expectations came out in 2018 and have already found success by year’s end. This ranking is based on mtgtop8.com’s dataset of over 700 results from paper and online tournaments that took place in November and December of 2018. This dataset does have a smaller sample size than those of our previous articles but this is necessary as only these two months had all of 2018’s new cards legal. We will continue to approach the 2018 Modern format as a single 100 player tournament.
The following cards have been ranked by dominance rating. This is calculated by multiplying the percent of decks they appear in by the average number of copies that appear in said decks. For frame of reference, a card that appears in 25% of decks as a two of will have a 0.5 dominance rating. For our hypothetical, 100-player tourney this means that there would be 0.5 copies of said card per player in the room; equivalent to a playset of the card per eight-player table.
Honorable Mention: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
With a dominance rating of 0.12, the people’s planeswalker did not make the cut for our list. It should not be that surprising considering our methodology though. Our sample covers only the previous two months, a time at which UWx Control is on the downswing. Furthermore, he is rarely more than a two of which effectively caps his dominance rating at double UWx Control’s metagame percentage. Do not overlook this card as it handily earns the honorable mention.
#6 Creeping Chill: 0.21
Toward the end of the year Modern became cold as the grave as Dredge saw a massive resurgence. This was due in large part to the printing of Creeping Chill. Oddly, many people slept on this card throughout the Guilds of Ravnica spoiler season. Looking back though how did anyone think that a 0 mana Lightning Helix was not worth playing? Yes it cannot hit creatures but it also does not require you to use a card in your hand and is not cast. This card was huge for Dredge and should be for the foreseeable future.
#5 Knight of Autumn: 0.28
This Knight’s well timed printing received much fanfare from Humans and Spirits players alike when it was spoiled. It would allow Humans to drop Reclamation Sage for a much more versatile option and would help Spirits in their difficult aggro matchups. It is not on-tribe for either deck so it is relegated to the sideboard but has quickly been adopted as an auto-inclusion. Being lifegain, a disenchant, or efficient beater based on the situation is serious versatility. From here on out you should expect to see this replace Reclamation Sage in everything but non-white decks and Elves.
#4 Supreme Phantom
Bant Spirits had sat on the fringes of the format for quite some time and had nearly been forgotten before Supreme Phantom hit the format. At the time, 5C Humans was the Modern’s premier tribal deck and others such as Merfolk and Eldrazi had fallen to the wayside. However, Bant Spirits with eight lords has managed to eclipse it at year’s end. This unassuming 1/3 flyer leads to the deck’s most aggressive starts at only two mana and helps it to dominate combat matchups. Furthermore, Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller are much more effective when they are Mana Leak or immune to Bolt respectively. It is simple, effective and was a huge boon to Bant Spirits in the later half of the year.
#3 Assassin’s Trophy: 0.35
Trophy was easily the most hyped card of the year. By many accounts it was going to be the best removal spell in the format and take GBx Midrange to the top of the format. However, in many matchups Trophy will just be an Abrupt Decay that can be countered and gives the opponent a land. In a few matchups though, against Tron in particular, it will be much better though. This versatility has led to it replacing Decay but it has not been a significant power increase for GBx Midrange. They are now weaker against small creature decks (traditionally good matchups) and stronger against big mana decks (traditionally mad matchups). So it mostly has just reinforced their position as the 50/50 deck of the format. Trophy was a significant boon to Dredge sideboards though as they can now answer Leyline of the Void and Scavenging Ooze with one card to free up precious sideboard slots.
#2 Arclight Phoenix: 0.36
Seemingly nobody expected the Phoenix to soar quite as high as it has in the Modern format. At one point this Mythic Rare could be purchase at under $3 and at the time of this writing sits at just over $20. I knew that this card was undervalued but I just expected it to slightly help the fringe UR Kiln Fiend style decks that show up from time to time. I think we all forgot how easy it is to cast three spells in a turn; especially now that Probe is banned. Now we all know that an Insectile Aberration is quite good if it has Haste and costs 0 mana. On the wings of Arclight, Izzet Phoenix is now a Tier 1 deck and seems poised to hold that spot to everyone’s surprise.
#1 Damping Sphere: 0.48
The biggest breakout star of 2018 is good old Wet Ball. Nearly everyone expected this to be a sideboard staple in Modern and it has not disappointed. It is worth noting that being colorless is quite favorable for a card’s dominance rating; any deck can run it after all. But make no mistake that this is an effective hoser for spell-slinging combo decks and overbearing big mana decks alike. I will write about this card more later this week in Staples of Modern 2018: Sideboard but just know that this is a powerful sideboard card and will make an appearance anytime that the aforementioned decks start to dominate.
These cards came out of the gate hard and fast in 2018 and it will be interesting to see where they stand when we revisit this topic a year from now. It is notable that four of the six came from Guilds of Ravnica. Is there anything that you think should have made the cut? In time we will review the Ravnican Allegiance spoiler and see if we can find any tools for Modern 2019. In the meantime another member of the Good Grief Games writing team will be taking over for me tomorrow to look at this past weekend’s tournament results. We look forward to seeing you there.