The Best Card of Each Card Type in Modern?
Modern is Magic: the Gathering’s second most popular format, and it features cards from all Magic sets stretching back to Eighth Edition and original Mirrodin block. There are hundreds of different playable archetypes, both mainstream and fringe, constructed of thousands of set-legal cards, with only thirty-five currently on the banned list. In this series, I’m going to explore Modern in-depth, looking at the format in its current state, analysing what existed in the past, and giving you an idea of what sort of cards to play, or play around.
This is the final article of my Top 5 Modern series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the format, and maybe learned a little too. In this last, ultimate list, I will be discussing what I believe to be the objective ‘best’ cards of each type in the Modern format, as it stands. This takes into account not only playability across a wider format, but also mana cost, its range of potential and above all, value.
What we must bear in mind is that clearly, these cards will not always be the best available choice to make in a given situation. Rather, they are, on a hypothetical empty board state, usually going to swing the game in your favour, or be a fantastic topdeck. They are what I believe to be the most efficiently costed, playable and effective cards in Modern, and you will no doubt be running at least a couple of them in most tier one or two decks.
With that said, let’s move on to our list…
Enchantment: Rest in Peace
Rest in Peace is one of the staple sideboard cards of the format, and one which can actually make white worth splashing on its own. It differs from most of this list in that it’s not a key part of any particular deck, or a card which is often played in the mainboard; however, it’s such an important part of any matchup involving the graveyard that I feel it has to take the top spot.
Not only does it act like a Nihil Spellbomb and exile all the cards that have already been placed in the graveyard, making it very difficult to play around, but it also prevents the graveyard deck from operating for the rest of the game until they can remove it. Unlike Grafdigger’s Cage, it works on every single graveyard-based deck as complete strategy hate, unlike the Spellbomb or Relic of Progenitus it doesn’t have just the one-off effect, and unlike Leyline of the Void, it doesn’t have to be in your opening hand to be at its most effective.
Without this card in existence, it’s safe to say that Modern would look incredibly different, with Dredge, Living End and Grishoalbrand potentially ruling the roost. It’s an integral part of keeping the meta under control, featuring in the sideboard of every white deck in the format, and operating as a key card in any matchup that requires it, being something that the graveyard deck will certainly be aware of and have to work hard to try and play around.
Other great enchantments in Modern:
Stony Silence was considered for this spot as well, and was easily the closest contender, but I had already covered it in my Sideboard article earlier this year, and honestly I don’t believe it features in as many matchups as Rest in Peace, considering the current meta. Though it is also a fantastic piece of sideboard hate, and is also a reason why Affinity and Krark-Clan Combo aren’t running rampant, it falls just a tiny bit behind in my opinion as those decks can still win through it, though rarely; Rest in Peace warps a game so much that it’s difficult to come back from.
Leyline of Sanctity and Leyline of the Void are both good too, but due to their limiting effect of having to be in your opening hand (if it’s not, realistically it’s going to do nothing; Modern is too fast for turn-four hate) I ruled them out as well.
As far as mainboard enchantments go, I thought about Pyromancer’s Ascension, but the issue with this card is although its power level is incredible, sometimes it can just take too long to turn on, and is easily Abrupt Decayed after having no effect on the game. The same goes for Spreading Seas, which has great potential and does replace itself but sometimes just falls flat if they have more lands. Blood Moon could have had this spot a long time ago; however, with the space the format is in at the moment, it feels a little slow, and again it can sometimes have simply no effect on the game at all.
Artifact: Mox Opal
There was very little doubt in my mind as to which artifact would be taking the top spot.Mox Opal is one of the most powerful cards in the format when placed in the right deck, allowing insanely powered plays and incredible mana ramp very quickly. It’s just free fast mana for these decks, and unlike Simian Spirit Guide which some claim is too good, it is reusable every turn. It sees play in every artifact-based deck that can run it, because of how easy it is to turn on, particularly with Darksteel Citadel in the format. It’s not uncommon to see an Affinity deck power out four or five permanents on turn one with this card – and alarmingly, one of them could be Steel Overseer or Arcbound Ravager.
Even aside from Affinity’s blisteringly fast starts, there are other decks which take advantage of this card. The Krark-Clan Combo deck which has become popular very recently uses this to generate more mana for its eggs, and crucially, provide coloured mana for its Faith’s Reward which are a key part of the deck. In addition, the Lantern Control deck uses Mox Opal as a way to get set up more quickly, letting it play one additional mill effect early on which can be the difference between winning and losing against an aggressive deck with fetch lands in it. Put very simply, a conditional Mox is still a Mox, and let’s not forget how good the rest of its pantheon are.
Other great artifacts in Modern:
There are a few other good artifacts in Modern, mainly sideboard cards mentioned above such as Grafdigger’s Cage, which does a great job of hating out Collected Company and Chord of Calling combo decks and doing double-time for the graveyard-based matchups. However, it’s easily killed after sometimes having no effect on the game, and being a sideboard card, it’s not seen as regularly as the Opal.
Lotus Bloom is also not a bad shout, but its suspend mechanic leaves it vulnerable to counterspells such as Remand, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or similar effects, and crucially, it telegraphs which turn you are likely to go off, putting your opponent on guard. Sometimes it can also have the unfortunate side effect that you actually die to a Death’s Shadow before you even get to cast it.
Some of the payoff cards for Affinity are good, such as the Ravager, the Overseer and Master of Etherium, but honestly, the deck would just be so much worse without this mox. I mean, why are we even arguing this? Opal is free fast mana. On a permanent. That hits the board on turn one. It’s just so far beyond the other artifacts in the format.
Tribal: All is Dust
Now, I’ll admit, there wasn’t too much competition for this. However, it doesn’t mean the card is any less legitimate – All is Dust is a brilliant reset button in many Eldrazi or Tron archetypes. It’s fairly easy to cast in those decks, as you have Eldrazi Temple or the Tron lands to generate more than one mana towards it, and it helps those decks stabilise on turn three or four against many aggressive archetypes.
The key element of this spell is that it’s not only a boardwipe, but it will usually be one-sided, as the decks which can easily run it tend to have their threats in the form of Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; or even, in the lower-to-the-ground decks, cards like Reality Smasher, Thought-Knot Seer and Drowner of Hope. Crucially, Devoid cards do not get destroyed, so it’s very convenient for the Eldrazi archetypes as a reset button on a gummed-up board, or to round the corner against fast creature-based decks.
Other great tribal cards in Modern:
There are not many other Tribal cards that make an appearance in Modern, so there is not much else to add here. Tarfire, though it does a good job of bolstering Tarmogoyf and enabling Delirium, is just not even close to the value of All is Dust, and would 100% not be an inclusion in Death’s Shadow were it not for its Tribal type. I believe, though, that even if All is Dust were not a Tribal card, it would still see play in the format, due to its usefulness in Tron, and that’s a reason why I have chosen it over its competitor.
Land: Celestial Colonnade
There are many fascinating and well-designed lands in Modern. There are also many not-so-fascinating lands that just fix our mana pretty well. However, none of these cards match up to the solid power level of Celestial Colonnade. Printed as part of the Worldwake cycle of man-lands, along with other Modern staples Creeping Tar Pit and Raging Ravine, it was dominant in the Standard of its day and now prevails as a landmark staple in Modern control.
Colonnade is just pure and simple value. Although it takes a lot of mana to activate, the fact that it has vigilance means that you can save a counterspell for whatever removal they might have for it, and actually tap it for mana while it’s attacking. In addition, its handy 4 toughness leaves it immune to Lightning Bolt which is what gives it the edge over its red-green brother. It has been the solid win condition of blue-white and Jeskai control decks the world over, since the beginning of Modern really; if someone plays this land on turn one, you know what you’re up against. It’s about as much of a signature card as you can get.
It finishes out the game quickly and cleanly, it’s easy to defend and it beats Lightning Bolt. Really, what more can you ask for from a land?
Other great lands in Modern:
As mentioned above, the other two Worldwake man lands that see extensive play did come into my thoughts, as their power levels are also high; however, both Ravine’s and Tar Pit’s propensity to die immediately to Bolt is an issue, and they are not as easy to defend as Colonnade, due to the decks they are run in and the fact that they have to tap to attack. You can potentially leave yourself very vulnerable when activating these lands, and that can come back to bite you.
Mutavault is also an interesting consideration, as its use in tribal decks such as Faeries and Merfolk is widespread, and its low activation cost makes it incredibly handy. However, due to its reliance on other cards to be good, and the fact that it can only tap for colourless which (believe me) can be a bit of a hindrance in decks that want to use a lot of coloured mana, it just doesn’t match up.
Outside of man-lands, there are many more options that could have been in contention. Eldrazi Temple, the Tron lands, Ghost Quarter all have merit. However, in this instance I think that Colonnade is the clear winner, as it has always been and will probably always continue to be a solid, reliable staple.
Planeswalker: Liliana of the Veil
This will come as no surprise, I’m sure – there is really very little competition for her. She is one of the standout planeswalkers of all time, and by far the best one legal in Modern.
Being able to play her on turn three in a grindy black deck is fantastic, and to this day Inquisition of Kozilek – Tarmogoyf – Liliana of the Veil remains the best possible start in a deck like Jund or Abzan. She doesn’t only see play in these archetypes, though – her effectiveness versus control decks through hand disruption makes her playable in a lot of matchups, so Grixis decks have also adopted her in some cases, and she is a powerful engine in mono-black decks such as 8-rack.
The best part about her is that she can defend herself so easily with her minus – especially against certain strategies which go all-in on one creature such as Death’s Shadow archetypes; she gains value every turn by forcing your opponent to discard when in most cases, you will not have a hand anyway (especially against Control matchups); and her ultimate can be game-winning later on, as it includes lands. It’s one of the most skill intensive planeswalker ultimates in existence, but if you know how to use it and can get her there, it can very easily be a game-winning play. She is just good in almost every single situation, and will force your opponent to at least use a card to kill her, or waste a turn attacking her instead of you.
Other great planeswalkers in Modern:
There are a few other planeswalkers that see Modern play. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a feature in Tron decks, and is spectacularly effective in them, but does take a while to come down, as he costs 8 mana rather than 7. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, arguably one of the best planeswalkers printed in recent years, has begun to see play in the new Counters Company archetype that has sprung up, and though he is effective, he is also quite slow, and in some matchups can have very little effect. The beauty of Liliana is that she is good against everything, in one way or the other.
The only other big, real contender for this place is Karn Liberated. However, Liliana beats him out because she is a true three-mana walker, and Karn is only playable with Tron on turn three. He has a lot of conditions and limitations, so although he can have a similar impact on the game – slightly better as he has more loyalty, you can remove anything and not just a creature with his minus, and you don’t have to discard on his plus – Liliana is playable in any deck that runs black, and is usually at least a three-of in any such deck.
Sorcery: Inquisition of Kozilek
Now, there was some fierce debate in my mind for the best sorcery. In the end, I settled on Inquisition of Kozilek. This card is virtually ubiquitous in Modern, appearing in almost any deck that runs black, with some decks including black on the basis of this and its big brother Thoughtseize. It’s a very versatile card that will almost always trade for something better than itself, while providing you with free information in the process.
It’s particularly good as most of the cards in Modern are three mana or less, which makes it close to unconditional in most situations. In addition, if your opponent is on a mulligan and you can start with turn one hand attack on the play, you gain an incredible advantage very early on by trading one mana and the Inquisition for their best card, leaving them far on the back foot.
Hand attack is a key component of many BGx decks and is now an inclusion in the Death’s Shadow aggro lists as well. Without the information and advantages afforded by Inquisition of Kozilek, these decks would struggle to get a leg up early on, particularly against aggressive decks, as Thoughtseize, while better in some ways, can take a definite toll on your life total.
Other great sorceries in Modern:
Obviously, Thoughtseize is the elephant in the room here. I warred between the two, but decided on Inquisition in the end, mainly because Thoughtseize has such an effect on your life total in an increasingly fast format. Though it is better in a vacuum because it can take away cards like Collected Company and Gifts Ungiven where Inquisition can’t, when combined with the shock lands, fetch lands and fast opponents, the extra 2 life paid can mean the difference between winning and losing. The only exception to this is in Death’s Shadow Aggro, where Thoughtseize’s life loss is an added bonus to the card; but in general in my opinion, Inquisition just has the edge.
As far as other sorceries go, I thought about Lingering Souls, but even though it’s got a lot of value to it, it can be hated out easily and it didn’t seem to be good enough. I considered Collective Brutality which has started to see a lot of play across black decks as well, but it hasn’t yet achieved the same ubiquitousness that Inquisition and Thoughtseize enjoy, due to the extra mana cost. Serum Visions is also ubiquitous, but in a very forced way, because all the best blue cantrips are banned – so though it sees a lot of play, it’s not for the right reasons.
Cathartic Reunion is very powerful, but only in the Dredge decks, which made it a little too fringe for this list; the same goes for Ancient Stirrings which in the right deck is frankly ridiculous, but again, has to be such a build around that it’s difficult to argue in favour of it over IoK. I also briefly considered Anger of the Gods, however, I just don’t think there’s anything that matches up to the power and versatility of pure and simple one-mana hand attack.
Creature: Snapcaster Mage
There are many creatures in Modern – in fact, many really good ones. This category was particularly difficult, because there are so many combo pieces that are creatures, and the great value beaters like Tarmogoyf cannot be ignored. However, after some debate, I reached a decision:
Snapcaster Mage is just so much value. The key part about this creature, and for me what gives it the edge over the other possible candidates, is that if it resolves it will almost always give you some amount of value, even if it trades immediately with a removal spell. The 2/1 flash for 2 is already not bad in an attacking or blocking situation, but the fact that with as little as three mana it can flash back a Bolt means that opponents have to be very wary of attacking into open mana. With five mana, Snapcaster is capable of executing three-for-ones pretty handily with Kolaghan’s Command and with six, Snap-Cryptic Command can sometimes just mean it’s game over. In a control deck, this isn’t too hard to achieve.
Recently, the Grixis Death’s Shadow builds have also been using this creature to supplement their main beater, instead of Tarmogoyf like the Jund versions. The ability to flash back removal on a blocker or hand attack on a control deck is very powerful, and more than anything the best part about Snapcaster is how adaptable it is. As long as there are spells in your graveyard, you can choose exactly when and how you want to use it – sometimes if you’re in dire straits, a Snap-Serum Visions can actually save the day.
Of course, it can get countered by graveyard hate, but the fact that people may have to board in hate that doesn’t actually win the game if played, but only hinders the capability of one playset of cards in your deck, goes to show just how good Snapcaster can really be. Many people will say it’s only as good as the spells it flashes back, but in Modern, you rarely run anything bad – and honestly, it’s the simple versatility of this card that really gives it the edge. It can do whatever you need it to do, provided you’ve played the game out right.
Other great creatures in Modern:
Obviously, there were a lot of other considerations here. I have already mentioned Tarmogoyf, which is a fantastic creature; and Dark Confidant, which can swing a game entirely by itself; and let’s not forget Delver of Secrets. However, the main issue with all of these great cards is that they will trade one-for-one with removal, and sometimes they won’t have done anything at all. Snapcaster will always be a two-for-one if it resolves, barring sideboarded graveyard hate.
On the two-for-one front, I did think about Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher as well, but the lumbering Eldrazi do have large casting costs if you’ve not got an Eldrazi Temple, and Seer doesn’t really two-for-one properly as if you kill it, you receive a free card. I considered Vendilion Clique, too, because of its ETB effect and the fact that it’s a 3-power flier, but again, the downside is that the opponent doesn’t actually go down a card. Those are the closest value-wise to Snapcaster but they still don’t beat it.
Many people are playing Death’s Shadow now, and this is a really good deck, but the namesake takes a LOT of playing around, and can have the propensity to just kill you by accident, as you have to drop a lot of life to make it powerful. By no means is it a bad card, but again, it requires a lot of setup, can just leave you too vulnerable and trades one-for-one with a removal spell, so in my opinion, it just isn’t as good as Snappy.
Instant: Fatal Push
I thought doing creatures was hard.
Surprisingly, my mind has actually changed a few times on this particular one, mainly due to the vast amounts of efficient and well-costed instants that are present in Modern. Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Remand, Abrupt Decay – it’s so difficult to choose one that can definitively be placed above all the others.
I have done my best to select such a spell.
Though a very recent addition to Modern, only printed in Aether Revolt, Fatal Push has very quickly climbed up to the top ranks and now features in 25% of decks, comparable to the kind of meta share enjoyed by Path to Exile. In Jund, it has replaced Lightning Bolt in some cases, which is an unbelievable concept, as Bolt is one of the landmark staples of the deck and of the format itself. That a card printed only one set ago is good enough to displace it speaks volumes about its power.
Fatal Push is so good because for a single black mana it will outright destroy a creature regardless of its power and toughness. As mentioned in the Inquisition of Kozilek section, many important threats in Modern have low mana costs – Dark Confidant, Monastery Swiftspear, Tarmogoyf, Death’s Shadow, Lord of Atlantis, Vizier of Remedies, Thalia…all will fall to just one simple removal spell. That’s without even triggering Revolt; if you save a fetch land to use for this purpose, it can remove the opponent’s large bombs and game-winning creatures like Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Knight of the Reliquary, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Huntmaster of the Fells, Siege Rhino and many, many more.
There is no other spell in Modern that can kill all of those creatures for one mana, even conditionally, besides Path to Exile – and that gives your opponent a mana advantage and thins out their library, so it comes at a price. Fatal Push is one of the best cards to have been printed in recent history, and the landscape of Modern looks very different now it’s here. You could say it’s very… pushed.
Other great instants in Modern:
There were dozens of other cards that could have taken this spot. As far as removal spells go, I believe this is currently stronger than Path, Decay or Bolt in 99% of situations, which is why I ruled those out earlier on in the section.
Most counterspells aren’t even worth mentioning, but interestingly, my second choice for this spot would have actually been Cryptic Command, due to the raw power level of the spell. Though it has a relatively high and difficult to achieve mana cost, the value it can create is definitely at the very ceiling of Modern playable cards. It can be used as a counter, but the fact that it has so many different modes and is able to be played so flexibly gives you a big advantage. The main reason I chose Push is because of the mana requirement; sometimes, in today’s Modern, you don’t get to four.
The other Command that deserved some attention is Kolaghan’s. This card is very good and almost always results in a two-for-one; however, the issue is that it’s got two colours, so it’s a bit more difficult to cast, and although it has a high power level, sometimes you need to deal with what’s on the board, and it doesn’t do that very well if the opponent has a massive Death’s Shadow or Tarmogoyf bearing down on you. Though it’s very good, it’s not as good as Push.
What do you think?
So there you have it. What I believe to be, currently, the top 8, the best of their type in Modern. I hope you have enjoyed this article and this entire Modern series, and I know I have certainly learned a lot about the format along the way, so I would like to thank you, the readers, for your continued support allowing me to produce this content.
Do you agree? Is there a card you didn’t see mentioned, or do you think my second-and-third choices should have beaten out the top spot? Let us know in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading,