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The Week That Was: The Most Important Card in Modern

June 25, 2024
Corbin Hosler

What makes Modern, Modern?

The format has been around for 13 years now—it famously began with Infinity Faeries in Philadelphia back in 2011—and in that time some things have remained remarkably consistent, while others have consistently changed in that time.

With Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 now just days away, decklists are nearly locked and the hundreds of players who traveled from across the world to meet in Amsterdam for the final Pro Tour before Magic World Championship 30 are just coming up for air from last-minute tournament prep. Their challenge, besides figuring out the wide-open Modern Horizons 3 draft format, is to figure out just how Modern Horizons 3 will change things for this pivotal event.

To do that, the many testing teams that formed ahead of the Pro Tour had to start simple; before you can break Modern, you've got to figure out where to begin. Modern is a vast format with a massive card pool, a challenge for even the top teams of this Pro Tour season. It has long-established strategies and comes with a slew of archetype-specific experts, masters of their Merfolk (or Amulet Titan, or Storm, or Rakdos… you get the idea).

In order to find out what Pro Tour players are most considering in their deckbuilding leading into the event, we used some highly advanced technology to see what they have in store (we asked the players). There are some answers that clearly stood out.


"Over the last year-plus in Modern, Grief has owned a large percentage of the metagame. Between Evoke, Living End and Necrodominance, you have to be prepared to face it," explained Christian Calcano, who finished second at last year's Modern event Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings. "So, you don't really want to play a deck with a bad matchup against these black decks; it's better to play decks that can function on fewer cards so that a turn-one Grief plus reanimation doesn't completely wreck your game plan. It also forces you to keep riskier hands since you can't mulligan much against Grief decks."

The Calculator says it well. To wit, Grief was by far the most popular survey answer for most important card in the format. Frank Karsten covered the first wave of successful Modern Horizons 3 decklists last week, and we'll have all the spicy tech from the Pro Tour coming to you later this week. While it's not exactly the Grief-fest that Modern has been at times over the past year, some matchups are actually centered more on hand disruption than ever. Ruby Storm and Bant Nadu are best answered before they get onto the battlefield.

No matter what deck players ultimately decide to sleeve up in Amsterdam, it's been built with Grief in mind. When you listen to Beardsley—the man who won Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings with Grief—it's easy to understand why.

"Grief is, at least to me, the card that's most emblematic of the way Modern has evolved with Modern Horizons sets. The straight-to-Modern expansions put more of an emphasis on interaction in a format that had a reputation for being 'two ships passing in the night,' where two strategies would just try execute their gameplan faster instead of trying to stop their opponent," Beardsley explained. "Grief excels at that, and being a spell that can be played for free means it can disrupt in the very small window that the fastest Modern decks have to be stopped. Grief is proactive disruption in that it doesn't require your opponent to have done anything to still be effective interaction. Grief's ability to be used proactively means that abusing the evoke mechanic by playing cards like Not Dead After All allows you to do more than just disrupt, but completely dismantle opposing game plans as early as the first turn, which brings us back to the Modern we talked about before: blisteringly fast, but now instead of racing to execute to our own plan, we instead race to tears yours apart. Grief blends the speed of 'old' Modern with the interactivity of the post-Horizons format, making it the poster child of the present and future of the format."

Before I dive into all of that, I have to say how much I appreciate the insight from Beardsley. Magic, behind the scenes, is a game of extremely high-level technical thinking and Pro Tour prep can get extremely spreadsheet-heavy. One of the best ways to cut through all the math on Modern is to have the best of the best break it down, and Beardsley's explanation tells you everything you need to know.

Okay, so Grief gets us started. But what if we backed things up one step more? What decks can actually play Grief or Subtlety or Solitude in the first place?

"Fetch lands really do define the format," Derrick Davis said bluntly.

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Davis enters Amsterdam in the thick of the chase for the World Championship, and the Pro Tour Phyrexia semifinalist has watched as the cycle of self-sacrificing lands have only become more important and more powerful over time.

"Fetch lands set what you're allowed to do with your mana," he explained. "I've played four-color decks a fair amount since I started playing Modern, with Chord of Calling and stuff like that. It teaches you that your mana matters, what you are fetching and when matters, all that stuff. And with fetchable Triomes now it's so much easier, plus there's decks that now use the fetches to abuse the surveil lands like Undercity Sewers."

I've seen players "miracle" an Atraxa, Grand Unifier into their graveyard off a fetched surveil land just so they could immediately reanimate it, and I think it's pretty hilarious in the best way. Whatever you think of that particular interaction, it's added yet another angle to the ubiquitous fetch lands. And who knows, maybe there'll even be a Brainsurge sighting this weekend?

Davis pointed to ambitious decks like Nadu, Winged Wisdom combo that stretch the mana base in a way that simply would not be possible without fetch lands to tie it together, and he was one of the dozens of players who pointed to the mana as Modern's defining feature.

Speaking of Nadu, the bird was certainly the word among a ton of Pro Tour participants.


"I think the most important card in the format is Nadu. A single game will tell you that it's powerful and worth playing," explained Connor Mullaly, the 2022 NRG Series MVP who just added another NRG Top 8 right before catching a plane to the Pro Tour. "I finished 6-2 in the NRG even with a four-color version of the deck and everyone else I talked to who was playing it was swapping ideas. I've tried a lot of versions, and you can build the deck so many different ways, whether it's more controlling or to combo as fast as possible or making the combo redundant and resilient. The team that can find the best build is going to be in the best spot."

Nadu, Winged Wisdom plus Shuko equals profit. That's the basic premise of the Modern Horizons 3 creature that a huge portion of our field called out, and it has taken the Modern world by storm even as actual Storm with Ral, Monsoon Mage and Ruby Medallion has shot up the ranks at the same time.

Those are two of the decks that Thierry Ramboa has worked on, and both have impressed the Pro Tour regular.

"I tested with Storm, and fell in love with how Ral played out, and that's why it was my first answer as the best card in Modern. But to be honest, it was more to not say Nadu like everyone else!" Ramboa said. "Nadu is one of the best ways to be proactive and can be built to be more grindy. It's maybe the best deck overall, but the Grief shells are also a good contender because Thoughtseize plus Grief helps a lot against the unknown metagame of the Pro Tour."

That unknown metagame is a huge part of what makes Modern so fun to watch. While some of the new cards have drawn headlines there's been success found in these early Modern Horizons 3 days by a ton of archetypes, bolstering the ranks of the "other" decks that make up such a large part of the current winners metagame.

Those were the most common trends, but there's other spells that are a Modern signature too. Plenty of players pointed to Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring, two additions from last year's summer set that have become cornerstones. In the case of Bowmasters, it has a significant effect on how many and what types of one-toughness creatures are played, while The One Ring serves as both a bridge and a win condition in some recursive decks.

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Good old Lightning Bolt also drew praise. With Burn decks making a resurgence in recent weeks, Bolt remains the signature damage spell in Magic and is cementing decks in 2024 just like it did in 1994.

Let's end with a sneaky pick that I think was genius: ANZ Super Series winner James Wilks looked not toward the most proactive cards in the format but to a new reactive spell that has quietly appeared in more and more Top 8 sideboards.

"Pick Your Poison is a flexible sideboard card, and in a format like Modern where you get a low of powerful but narrow hosers for your sideboard, whatever less powerful interaction you choose for your remaining slots should be as flexible as possible," he explained.

Pick Your Poison

"Pick Your Poison covers a good range of problem cards for a low price, and it extends beyond just being a Disenchant by clearing creatures like Murktide Regent. Additionally, if you don't get combo'ed on the spot, it can even hit an opposing Nadu without losing value."

That's Modern, then: anything is possible, unless you want to stop anything from being possible. Both are avenues available to the hundreds of players heading to Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 this weekend, and the action kicks off Friday morning at

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

While all eyes will be Modern Horizons 3 at the Pro Tour this weekend, we're still counting down the weeks to Magic World Championship 30 later this year. The tournament in Amsterdam will almost fully finalize the World Championship list and the event at MagicCon: Las Vegas will crown our next champion.

Before then, Frank and I are looking back at every previous World Championship. This week brings us to 2008, and to a tournament that I think Frank and I both remember fondly for very different reasons. For me, this was the first World Championship I watched after getting into Magic the previous year, and watching coverage I was hooked. The Lorwyn-era event had some enduringly famous cards, as well as some famous players.

The United States team of Michael Jacob, Sam Black, and Paul Cheon won the team event over Australia, and then 329 players from 57 countries competed in the individual portion. When the dust settled in Memphis it was a star-studded Top 8 with participants from five different countries (Japan was again dominant with three Sunday stage players). There was also a dominant deck that weekend, as Bitterblossom, Mistbind Clique, Spellstutter Sprite, Cryptic Command, and all the rest of the Faerie swarm came together for victory in the hands of Finland's Antti Malin.

With Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa making his fourth Pro Tour Top 8 at the event and Kenji Tsumura making his sixth, it was a heck of an introduction to the World Championship!

Antti Malin, 2008 Magic World Championship

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