The Top 10 Spells in Modern Part 1 – Shared Discovery with Rob Wagner

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Hi all, a potentially controversial article this time around, and I’ve had to split it into two parts  to add suspense and not bore you all in one go. This week I’ll be taking a look at the top 10 spells in Modern. I’ve played the format a lot at this point, and chatted with a bunch of people for their opinions on the format to try to compile what I feel is a pretty definitive list at this point.

Firstly I suppose I should justify looking at the top 10 spells at all. Some people prefer to just try to play some synergistic deck and cram in as many decent on-theme cards as possible. This results in decks like Affinity, which has to play dross like Memnite and Springleaf Drum in order to support in-context bombs like Cranial Plating. I’m not a fan of this sort of thing because if the opponent disrupts your few good cards then you’re left with a load of chaff to battle with.

Another way of doing things is to play all good-cards but try to find synergies within them. This drove my RUG deck from last time where I played many great cards and sought to optimise my interaction along the good cards (best Punishing Fire deck, really good Tarmogoyf deck). With this in mind, trying to build a deck using as many of the best cards as possible which fit together can really make for an excellent deck.


Notable Omissions:

Delver of Secrets – this guy has proved himself in Legacy alongside Brainstorm and in Standard with Ponder. In Modern he suffers from the lack of an excellent spell to manipulate the very top card of your library, and as such you’re often left just hoping for him to turn over. I’m not a fan of playing dice like that and I think there are better options for my mana so I am steering clear.

Knight of the Reliquary – I like this guy a lot, but there are a few problems with him at the moment. The format is quite fast, but not so fast as to make Noble Hierarch something you want in play every single game. Knight, therefore, often only comes down on turn 3 (probably as a 4/4) and uses up your whole turn. Many decks are pretty happy for you to spend your turn 3 doing largely nothing as many decks can kill it, attack past it anyway, or just combo off and kill you happy that you’re not about to burn their face off. If there are a couple more bannings on cards like Seething Song then the combo decks will slow down enough to make it a good creature again in the context.

Thoughtseize – a good card to be sure, but if you start with Fetchland->Shockland->Thoughtseize then you’re 5 life down already, 1/4 of your total. Too many decks in Modern can take advantage of that. Additionally, the best combo decks really aren’t that bothered by it as taking a Past in Flames doesn’t do a whole lot. I believe there are better options for the same role (spoiler!).


#10: Inquisition of Kozilek

The upgraded Thoughtseize I mentioned above. Think for a moment about how many cards in your deck cost more than 3 mana that you care about discarding. I’ll be it isn’t very many (unless you and I have had very different experiences testing against the tier 1 gauntlet of the format). There’s a reason for that – Zoo and Past in Flames will kill you quite quickly if you try durdling around too much so you have to be casting your spells and interacting quite quickly to not fall behind.

While that covers why I believe the card is better than Thoughtseize, it doesn’t necessarily tell you why the card is good to begin with. This sort of spell has two sides to it – 1) it removes a card from your opponent’s hand, and 2) it tells you what the rest of them are. This isn’t a format like Standard where you have Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, Think Twice, Desperate Ravings and Forbidden Alchemy flying around in the blue decks.

In Standard with those cards it is very easy to power through your deck and a single discard along the way really isn’t going to inhibit you. In Modern the decks tend to not go through their libraries very quickly, instead relying on the raw power of the individual cards themselves. As such you can form real plans from one look of the other guy’s hand.

Also, due to the high power level people tend to keep hands based on a couple of cards and removing that plan can really scupper them. Added into the fact that most of the best cards in the format (more spoilers) cost 1-3 mana and you can see why this is an excellent card with which to try to disrupt your opponent’s plans.

#9: Serum Visions

When above I refuted Delver of Secrets, I was very careful in my wording why. I could have easly said that there was no good library manipulation, but the truth is that this is the best you’re going to get. Ponder and Preordain were deemed a bit too powerful for the format, but Serum Visions isn’t all that far behind really (that’s what I keep telling myself anyway).

The reverse of Preordain, you get a card up front and then try to sort out the next couple of draws. This is useful when you don’t need something immediately and just want to improve the general quality of your draws, which is why it is seeing play in every single Blue-mana combo deck. It’s also being used to try to set up Delver of Secrets and what-not, but the card comes with a hidden price.

While 1 mana doesn’t seem like much (and it isn’t), the truth is that you lose tempo each time you cast a spell like this (and Sleight of Hand). Often this is mitigated by either playing very cheap threats (such as Tarmogoyf and Grim Lavamancer) or by finishing the game in one fell swoop via some large combo turn. Preordain and Ponder are more versatile because they give you the choice of card up front rather than being simply cyclers with a bonus.

#8: Steppe Lynx

Possibly one of the more controversial choices in this list, but Steppe Lynx‘s power is slightly hidden. Kird Ape and Loam Lion are fine, but 2 power isn’t as aggressive as you can be. Steppe Lynx is the new Wild Nacatl, in that if left unopposed will most enable turn 4 kills with otherwise average hands.

It looks weak in the mirror, but it holds some unique value in that it doesn’t get involved with “bouncing off one another” like the 2/3 1-drops do. You’ll need a continual supply of lands to really keep going so I wouldn’t want it in a matchup which is likely to go long, but when I absolutely positively have to have my opponent dead ASAP Steppe Lynx is the go-to guy.

#7: Spell Snare

Mental Misstep is a card so good, it has been banned in two of the three major formats. The reason for this is that a lot of decks really want to get going from turn 1, making full advantage of being on the play. Spell Snare has a similar role, but instead it takes the sting out of being on the draw.

A lot of decks aim to do something very good on turn 2, and those that don’t often have important 2-mana spells later on that you can solve for a single mana and a card. This card is being played as a 4-of in Legacy for good reason, and even though Stoneforge Mystic isn’t something we have to worry about quite as much in Modern, the principle remains the same. I hope to actually catch a Watchwolf with one of these in the upcoming PTQ season (check out the card art).

#6: Gifts Ungiven

The last one for this week, everyone who played Standard in Kamigawa Era, or Extended before it changed knows how good Gifts Ungiven can be. When you pack your deck with cards that can take advantage of this quadruple-tutor you can swing a game around in a single turn.

One of the real advantages is using cards that genuinely want to be in the graveyard. During the Thopter-Depths PTQ season I was using it to find Tezzeret the Seeker, Academy Ruins, Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek or similar, and untapping to make excellent use of a game-changing combination.

The current uses seem to be mostly just for “good value” in ensuring you end up with two great spells in your hand, or access to a few excellent spells by the inclusion of Snapcaster Mage. Some people go so far as to warp their deck with the inclusion of Eternal Witness but Green doesn’t really have much to offer Gifts Ungiven (Life from the Loam perhaps). If you do this you are probably really trying to force through some set of cards on the end of a Gifts. The other “common” use for it is finding Unburial Rites and a fatty of your choice, Iona, Shield of Emeria for example.


So, what do you think will make the top 5 spells of this top 10?

Do you strongly disagree with any of the inclusions so far?

I accept that some of my views will differ from your own but I’m not going to give anything other than my honest opinion on the matter :)

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing,


Please let us know what you think below...

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