The Basics of Evaluating Modern Spoilers

Howdy folks. We are deep into Modern Horizons spoiler season and opinions are quite polarized. Not just on the set itself, Commander Horizons and all, but the cards within. It is always difficult to evaluate a card’s potential in the Modern format. It is even more difficult with Modern Horizons because the card designs are far more complex than what we see in Standard-legal sets. Today I would like to go over the basic steps we all should take when evaluating a card.

Compare It  to Existing Cards
Most spoilers die right at this point so we will look at it first. This is especially easy to do in Modern Horizons as many of the cards are homages or straight reprints. Let’s take a look at Prismatic Vista. The fetchlands are absolute staples in Modern so that is a good sign for the very similar Vista. However, compare it to a specific fetchland such as Scalding Tarn. In an Izzet deck a Tarn can find Steam Vents, Mountain, and Island. Vista in that same deck is strictly worse than Tarn as it only finds Mountain and Island. In a Jeskai deck a Tarn can find Steam Vents, Sacred Foundry, Hallowed Fountain, Mountain, and Island. Vista in that same deck can find Mountain and Island and Plains. Unfortunately, Vista just has fewer options than a traditional fetchland. However, you must also look at how the new card is unique from the existing card.

Vista is capable of finding Wastes in decks; something no other fecthland can do. Therefore, an Eldrazi deck that features colored mana may want some number of Vista. However, believe it or not you may even want a card that is strictly worse than what currently exists. Why? Redundancy. You can only run four copies of a card so you may want additional, inferior versions of the effect. Ostensibly, an Izzet deck may value basic lands highly enough that it wants a full set of Scalding Tarns as well as Vistas. They may want access to either basic more than they want access to Steam Vents via something like Polluted Delta. A more apt example would be Neoform adding redundancy to the to the Allosaurus Evolution plan. If a card does something known to be powerful in a unique way it warrants testing. If a card provides redundancy to an effect we know to be powerful it warrants testing.

Also especially relevant with Modern Horizons is to compare the card to itself. I mean that when a card, or a close match to it, has existed previously in another format it can be useful to take another look at it. Often if a card is very good in Legacy, that card will also be good in Modern and vice-versa. A card’s usefulness is based on its intrinsic power level and the format that surrounds it. The Legacy power level is much higher than that of Modern. However, this does not mean that a card’s Modern viability is guaranteed by Legacy playability. Take a look at Opt for example. This card is unplayable in Legacy despite blue being far and away the best color. This is not because Opt is a bad card. It is simply competing with amazing blue cantrips. The best among them, Brainstorm, is even an instant as well. Regardless, it has proven itself to be a Modern staple. The instant speed cantrips, cantrips in general really, are much weaker in the format so Opt can thrive. The reverse is not guaranteed either though. Flusterstorm will not see a ton of play in Modern despite being quite powerful in Legacy. Instants and sorceries are common in both formats so what is the deal? The metagame simply does not support it well. Flusterstorm excels in stack wars and these occur frequently in Legacy as blue on blue matchups are common. This is not the case in Modern so Spell Pierce and Dispel are much more relevant. So when you see a card being ported to Modern assess it based not only on the effect of the card, but the metagame that it will be entering.

Find a Home For It
A card is only as good as the deck it is in, so you have to identify which deck that is. The easiest cards to pick out of a set for Modern are those that slot into an existing deck. An example of this would be Creeping Chill slotting right into Dredge. A common mistake at this point is to just stop and assume the card will be playable. Obviously, Dredge did not just become a 64 card deck. Borrowing from Economics, we can assign a number of utils to a card; it is a unit of utility or simply “goodness points”. These are numbers arbitrarily assigned to compare to products or, in this case, Magic cards. Let’s say a copy of Creeping Chill is 10 utils in a Dredge deck. In order to rightfully add it to the deck, you need to remove a card that represents fewer than 10 utils. This is a simplification but the point is that Creeping Chill does not make Dredge 10 utils better than it was before. The improvement to the deck is 10-x where x is the util value of the card you cut. The takeaway is that to gain, something must also be lost. If you cannot reasonably cut a card for it, it is not worth looking into. At the end of the day, you can never be certain so go ahead and test it.

The harder cards to pick out are those that enable new archetypes. Sometimes these archetypes are entirely novel. We have never seen anything like it before so spoilers in this category often fly under the radar. An example of this would be Vizier of Remedies. Devoted Druid did not have a useful combo partner before Vizier was printed. We knew that two creatures and four mana becoming infinite mana was good but there were many other factors to consider. The Druid could not be summoning sick and infinite mana was useless without a win condition. Therefore, nobody could say for certain whether the combo would form a competitive deck. Brewing is not an easy thing to do. Every great deck was someone’s brew at some point. This process is unavoidable so if you believe strongly in a spoiled card go ahead, brew a deck, and champion it. Devoted Vizier went on to be a proven archetype and your brew could be the next one.

Between the two, we also sometimes see cards that overhaul existing decks. It was not clear to anyone that Unclaimed Territory and Kitesail Freebooter would generate a top tier archetype. It made it more interesting to work on the existing, underwhelming Bant Humans decks though. Or more recently, Arclight Phoenix revived the Suicide Blue archetype that died with the Gitaxian Probe ban. Through some iterations and various players, the potential for these decks was fully realized. The point is that a card can be great but you need to find 56 other cards to surround it with. This can be somewhat easy when you have a 60 to slot it into. Things get really tricky when you have to start from scratch. Or you can go the middle way and reinvent something from the past.

Wrap-Up
You must begin by comparing the new card to what came before. Look for unique characteristics or even direct redundancy in what was previously unique. If it passes the test, start to look for a home for it. Either effect could end up anywhere. A redundant effect might make an inconsistent brew suddenly viable or it just reinforces a tier deck. A unique effect might enable a deck that literally could not exist before. Or it may just add a new element or angle to a tier deck. You never know these things at first glance. Do your research, think it through, and test it out.

I understand that today’s article was very basic in nature but there are plenty of newer players that need these fundamentals. There are also seasoned players that gloss over these things in a rush during spoiler season. In either case I hope that it will be useful to you as we finish up Modern Horizons spoiler season. It has been a fun one and is sure to dominate our discussion for weeks to come. Feel free to come fight it out in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow to close out your week. Until then my friends.

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