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The (Almost) Complete History of Modern Through (Not Exactly) Ten Cards

June 18, 2024
Meghan Wolff

Magic players who love Modern love Modern. Since the format has been around for so long, and because some of the same cards in the first Modern Pro Tour Top 8 in 2011 could still find their way into the Top 8 in Amsterdam this summer, the format has a particular kind of living nostalgia.

Players who fell in love with Tron a decade ago can still play it today, and they probably remember the time Thoralf Severin won a Pro Tour with it. Players who had their favorite deck suffer or disappear after a ban will still talk about its heyday every time they get a chance. So let's recall, fondly or bitterly (or somewhere in between), cards that have defined Modern during the format's 13-year history.

In The Beginning

Some things are timeless, like these cards, and the ban list that they're on.

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin is the reason I pitched this article. Splinter Twin is a card, a deck, an archetype, a play style—a whole personality. I don't know if it's that Magic players will never let Splinter Twin be forgotten, or if it has an arcane power that allows it to reach out from beyond the banned list and into people's memories. Either way, it's a card that many players remember as vividly as if it was played in a tournament yesterday.

At the time of its ban in January 2016, Splinter Twin had won two of the four Modern Pro Tours, including the very first one in Philadelphia in 2011. As last year's Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings winner Jake Beardsley said, "This is every original Modern player's favorite card/archetype and a card many people wish was no longer on the ban list. People love it so much they (and myself) have registered much worse versions of the card/strategy just to feel the rush of passing the turn to an opponent who isn't sure if they're going to get another one."

Jake Beardsley

Marco del Pivo

Or, as Marco del Pivo, who also made the Top 8 at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, said, "It's the card that defines 'Old' Modern from 'New.' After the ban everything for people changed; most of them still believe in a comeback."

Blazing Shoal

You'd be forgiven for not knowing about Blazing Shoal since it hasn't been seen since 2011. In August 2011, ahead of the first Modern Pro Tour, a handful of cards were proactively banned from the format. In September 2011, after the PT, another six cards were banned for overpowered performances at the event; Blazing Shoal was among them.

Christian Calcano, who finished second at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, described it as "the key card in one of the most broken Modern decks from the first ever Modern Pro Tour. [It] killed on turn two and was quickly banned after."

Christian Calcano

How powerful was the card? In the combo infect deck, players could pitch cards like Progenitus or Reaper King to Blazing Shoal, killing their opponent with a single attack. Sam Black placed third at Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011, and overall Blazing Shoal infect decks performed so well the card was never allowed to show its face at the Pro Tour again.

Modern Classics

Like me, these cards are timeless and cast their shadow across the format.

Lightning Bolt

It doesn't get much more classic than Lightning Bolt. A single red mana for three damage that can go absolutely anywhere, it's killed its fair share of everything—from creatures to planeswalkers to, of course, players themselves. Burn loves it. Zoo loves it. Control loves it. Combo loves it. If it's red in Modern, chances are its playing Lightning Bolt.

"It was the original premier removal spell in Modern, creates really exciting moments of tension when players are at low life totals, and is one of the most iconic cards in the game as a whole," Beardsley said.

"It's a famous card from the old days of Magic, it goes in a wide range of strategies, and its efficiency matches the needs of Modern," Reid Duke, most recently the winner of Pro Tour Phyrexia in 2023, said. "It was popular on Day 1 in Modern's Zoo decks, and it will likely still be popular at PT Modern Horizons 3."

Not every format-defining card is one that was banned along the way, including the next one.


If you were to ask me which is older, me or the general concept of "Thoughtseizing" someone, my gut would be to choose the Thoughtseize. I'd be wrong, but Thoughtseize is timeless. It transcends the game of Magic and taps into a primal gaming sense of "I could have succeeded if my opponent hadn't taken that one key piece that I needed."

Originally printed in Lorwyn and around since Modern's first events, Thoughtseize has defined the format by keeping the most absurd and powerful combos and strategies in check—inasmuch as one card possibly can. As Duke explains, "Thoughtseize is efficient and goes in a wide range of strategies. It's the most ubiquitous anti-combo measure. It's the #1 thing holding the format back from being all speed and degeneracy."


Mox Opal was both a tell and a terror when it arrived on turn one. It's strange that Affinity's heyday in Modern is over, at least for now. As another deck that was around from day one, when Chikara Nakajima finished fourth in Philadelphia with Mono-Red Affinity, it remained a longtime thorn in players' sides or the best thing that ever happened to attacking, depending on which side of the Affinity divide you stood on. Either way, Mox Opal's ban in 2020 stopped the wind behind its sails.

That's because Mox Opal was never just a card for Affinity, and it appeared in everything from prison-style decks like Lantern Control, which Luis Salvatto won Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan with in 2018, to Urza ThopterSword that emerged after the original Modern Horizons release. It turns out that a Mox, even one that needs metalcraft to tap for mana, is too often too good.

Honorable Modern Mentions

Whether it's new or old, there are a few cards that remain synonymous with Modern in ways no other cards are.

Serum Visions

Simon Nielsen

Serum Visions: As Player of the Year Simon Nielsen said, Serum Vision doesn't "really seeing much play anymore, but this is a card that was never good enough for any other format but a complete mainstay of Modern for a decade."

Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage: How do you know you needed to respect a card in Modern? "I had a personal rule: always take the Snapcaster Mage with Thoughtseize," Duke said of the longtime Modern staple.


The One Ring: It might not quite rule them all, but it's emerged as one of the newest cards to appear consistently. The One Ring is "a format defining card that currently sees a lot of play in multiple decks in Modern," Calcano said.

Oh, That Deck

It's what it sounds like: some cards are so emblematic of Modern strategies they only appear in one place. They are the cards that make you go "oh, that deck."

Urza's Mine Urza's Power Plant Urza's Tower

Okay these are three cards, but as the old saying goes, "an Urza's Power Plant without a Tower and a Mine is nothing." And sure, again, maybe I just made up that saying right now, but everyone who has ever played Tron (or played against Tron) knows that it's true. Like tapping three lands for seven colorless mana, I'm going to be a little unreasonable right now.

Tron is the deck that Magic players love to love and love to hate, and it's the deck I chose to talk about way back in the intro to this article because it's that ubiquitous. Not just the deck, but the sensation of Tron. Tron is its own entire feelings wheel, the four axes of which are elation, satisfaction, frustration, and rage. Whether you're playing Tron or playing against it, any combination of all four of those emotions are possible outcomes.

Tron. It's Modern.

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You let me get away with naming more than one card in this article and now here I am, doing it again. All of the so-called "pitch elementals" – the cycle of cards from Modern Horizons 2 with enter the battlefield effects and evoke costs with no mana – are powerful, but Grief and Fury were the two that together ran away with the format, forming the core of Rakdos Evoke.

Arguably, with Grief still making a splash a year after Beardsley won the last Modern Pro Tour with Rakdos Evoke, this could have gone in the Modern Classics section as a great example of the new classics of Modern, but I think the oh, that deck, element is stronger. Getting Thoughtseized is respectable. Getting Griefed is technically the same, but also somehow worse? Getting Thoughtseized and Griefed? Are we every playing a game now?

"Obviously I'm biased because I've had success with the card, but I think Grief is really emblematic of what the current modern format is about," Beardsley said. "It's free and proactive, which to me are the two most important aspects of a successful card in today's very condensed games of Modern."

Birthing Pod

I think Birthing Pod has been gone from Modern long enough that it no longer inspires the "oh, that deck" reaction, but at the very first Grand Prix I ever went to someone got their Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki combo online and then asked me "do you know what's happening?" and the sting of that will never go away. And no, I didn't know what was happening: I had, in fact, never played Modern before that.

Personal oaths of vengeance aside, Birthing Pod was a top deck in Modern for years before the ban of its namesake card. The benefit, which turned into the key problem, of Birthing Pod was that it welcomed every great new creature with open arms. It had value. It had a, ever-expanding potential toolbox of creatures for almost any metagame. It had combo win conditions. It really had everything, built around the search power of the Pod.

Its Modern ban announcement sums it up better than I can:

"Over the past year, Birthing Pod decks have won significantly more Grand Prix than any other Modern decks and compose the largest percentage of the field. Each year, new powerful options are printed, most recently Siege Rhino. Over time, this creates a growing gap between the strength of the Pod deck and other creature decks. Pod won five of the twelve Grand Prix over the past year, including winning the last two."

For a format where there are a dizzying array of potential strategies to win with, Birthing Pod was one that cut many of those dreams far short.

Eye of Ugin

It was really fun to see exactly how problematic little Eldrazi made this land. Watching two variations on Eldrazi decks absolutely steamroll the competition at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch by putting Eldrazi Mimics into play for free was jaw dropping.

It led to one of those rare and amazing moments when everyone slowly, over the course of the weekend, went from "Is this real? Is this happening?" to "Oh. Oh no." I think even outside the tournament hall, players around the world collectively felt their reality shift as Modern was redefined (and, a few months later, un-redefined when Eye of Ugin was banned) by the Eldrazi menace.

And then more Eldrazi were never added to Modern again.

Actual Honorable Mentions

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis: A card so powerful it colloquially had a Pro Tour named after it, it was the format-defining (and fast-to-be-banned) face of the first Modern Horizons release.

Summer Bloom

Eli Kassis

Summer Bloom: As Eli Kassis said, it Summar Bloom "broke [Amulet of Vigor]." There was about a year when Summer Bloom rocketed Amulet decks to the top of Modern, but this only merits an honorable mention because Amulet Titan has managed to survive without it. (Perhaps Amulet of Vigor itself is a card worthy of being listed here?)

Treasure Cruise

Treasure Cruise: Is this card included for personal reasons, otherwise known as it is my favorite card of all time? Yes. But also, remember that brief and beautiful time when the only reasonable thing to be doing in Modern was paying a single blue mana to draw three cards? I sure do.

Jeskai Ascendancy: Yeah, this one is personal too. In fact, I think if you've played enough Modern you'll have your own list of cards that take you across Modern history—and that speaks to why the format has a nostalgia like few others.

Modern History Awaits

When I sat down to write this article, I was astonished at how many options came to mind when I thought of cards that have stood out during an event, over a month or a year, or more. This could be a history of Modern in one hundred cards and it still wouldn't be complete.

And now, Modern Horizons 3 is here. Modern Horizons 2 reshaped the format, and the Pro Tour and the months after will tell us whether this successor will do the same. In fact, in just a few short days, this article could already be out of date—and that's a thrilling possibility too.

Watch history unfold with Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3, live June 28-30 from MagicCon: Amsterdam!

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