Time Spiral 2
Modern Horizons has hit the world with a vengeance. It has been dubbed Time Spiral 2, Commander Masters and more. Even so, it still managed to make a big impact on modern. So big that people are already calling for bans.
We’re not immediately interested in how modern is evolving, but it is interesting to note that Wizards clearly has a new design philosophy. Rather than create some auxiliary products to please the Commander crowd, every set now has a decent number of cards that make Commander fans happy (this is even clearer if you are following the M20 previews). As these cards tend to be geared towards grindier and splashier games, this works out very well for us Battle Box fans.
Modern Horizons’ themes aren’t as focused as a normal new standard set’s would be. Most of the cards are designed to fill holes in the different metagames, with the remaining slots used to create a somewhat enjoyable draft environment. As a consequence, there aren’t that many themes to build around, but there are many cool cards to include in our Battle Boxes. Even so, I think it is interesting enough to try and build a mini Battle Box for Modern Horizons. In this article, I’ll touch on some of the cycles in the set and discuss how they fit in the mini Battle Box.
The set has a number of lands that sacrifice to draw a card. In general, I try to avoid any lands that sacrifice because it goes against the spirit of the format. Paying life for colored mana is OK in principle, but I prefer lands that also have the option to produce a colorless mana without losing life. All in all, the lands in this set are not good enough for Battle Box. As a consequence, I’ll be using some generic tap lands from another set for the mini Battle Box. I could have used the snow tap lands from Coldsnap, but that would give each player a steady baseline of 10 snow permanents each game, which is too much.
The Force of Will inspired cycle doesn’t look very relevant at first sight. In a Battle Box, you will rarely have cards that are the correct color and that you are willing to discard. Even so, I think the effects are interesting enough that these cards can be included. The expectation is that you will pay the mana cost, and if you can pay the alternate cost once in a while that is a bonus. Unlike with the original Force of Will I don’t think the regular mana cost is inhibitive. I must admit I actually kind of like these cards.
Modern Horizons also brings a number of new snow cards. Snow is a tricky concept for Battle Box. Because there are so few snow cards in total, you rely on the snow-covered lands to provide enough snow permanents for the snow matters cards to be relevant. The trouble is it’s a very thin line you’re walking. With easy access to snow lands, the better snow cards have the risk of being too powerful, while the weaker snow cards will still be weak. I have included the snow theme in the mini Battle Box because it’s one of the few times I can play around with it, but I would not recommend trying to shoehorn a snow theme into your regular Battle Box. I’ve tried it before and it’s just not worth it. To maximize the fun we can have with it in this set, I have included Marit Lage’s Slumber. There aren’t that many snow permanents in the box, so it will only happen a relatively small percentage of the games where it’s drawn, but I think that’s exactly what you want from this type of splashy effect.
Ah, slivers. The wet dream of every tribal enthusiast. Every sliver is a sliver lord, and their ceiling is pretty high. Normally, tribal themes are impossible to work into Battle Boxes, even the mini Boxes. But there is an enormous number of changelings in the set, and the set also gives those changelings some nice extra payoffs in the form of goblin and ninja interactions. So, because it’s such a fan favorite, I decided to include slivers in the mini Box, but I’m not 100% confident they will work. I didn’t include The First Sliver because it’s not very budget friendly and it may just be a bit too good to give that many cards cascade. However, if you like slivers and don’t mind spending the money, I think you’ll be fine if you do decide to include it.
Other than that I have just thrown together cards that are fun on their own. Luckily, the set is full of those. You can find the final list here.
The Top 20
Once again, Wizards has provided us with a wealth of new Battle Box cards:
20. Treefolk Umbra
In general, the Umbra effects are nice for Battle Box. They give a creature a nice boost and cancel the first removal spell thrown at it. I also like the “assign damage equal to toughness” ability, but because it normally affects all creatures it just doesn’t work in Battle Box. In an average box, more creatures would suffer from the effect than benefit, and it’s not worth it to warp the rest of your box to the effect. Because the umbra only affects one creature, it can be used to maximum effect.
Destroying creatures with flying is a useful effect, but normally it sits in your hand as a dead card a lot of the time. Giving the card cycling neatly solves this issue. The cost is a little high, but if you have similar cards in your Battle Box at the moment, I would swap them out for this.
18. Rotwidow Pack
Basically a Giant Spider with the ability to generate additional spiders. Its activation cost is quite high, so I would only include this in Boxes that don’t already have a lot of activated abilities.
17. Thundering Djinn
A 3/4 flyer for 5 mana is not great, but certainly not useless. Getting to deal 1 (or sometimes more) damage to any target is a nice bonus, especially now that planeswalkers are likely to become more prevalent in Battle Boxes.
16. Answered Prayers
Surprisingly, Wizards has not yet done a lot of these effects. I think having a creature that is relatively easy to turn on and that’s safe from creature removal outside your own turn is better than it seems. The conditional activation works better than just having to pay some amount of mana, in my opinion.
15. Cunning Evasion
At its most basic level, this allows you to swing and then save any blocked non-token creatures. Of course, having to cast them all again might take some time. On a deeper level, this will make blocking decisions more interesting. Do you block the creature with the ETB trigger so your opponent can trigger it again? We’ll have to see how it pans out in practice, but I expect it to have more impact than you’d think.
Not really a new card, but the first time it’s been printed in a modern bordered set. Paying 3 to return a creature to your hand is not always a good move in Battle Box (where you’re drawing a live card each turn anyway), but I think it is just interesting enough to make the list.
13. Bazaar Trademage
A cheap flyer where the downside is you discard one more card than you draw. Of course, the secret upside is that you get to select which cards you keep, and in my experience the average Battle Box hand always has a few cards you’re not planning to play for a few turns. I think this will prove to be a fun and interesting card.
12. Saddled Rimestag
Another interesting bonus for having creatures enter the battlefield. Because the average Battle Box has 50%+ creatures, you can expect this to happen more than every other turn. I think that makes this card fine value, especially in the early turns.
11. Kaya’s Guile
Modal spells are always nice, and choosing two options is even nicer. I think none of these options are oppressive, but they will be relevant in most games. And even getting to do all 4 will usually not break the game. A nicely balanced card.
10. Giver of Runes
A new and updated Mother of Runes. The addition of colorless to the list is certainly relevant, as is the extra point of toughness. And even the fact that it can no longer protect itself is a plus in this format. I think this will be a fine Battle Box card.
9. Crashing Footfalls
Although you’d rather not draw this when you’re behind, in my experience you are always happy to save mana in a Battle Box game. Getting two Rhinos for 1 green mana may just be worth waiting a few turns.
A 2/1 for 1, a 4/4 for 4 or a 6/6 with protection from everything for 9 total mana. It’s possible that protection from everything will prove to be too oppressive, but I’m willing to give it a try. A good reason to include some sweepers or edicts in your Box.
7. Reap the Past
Returning cards from your graveyard to your hand is often a little weak compared to your other options. Being able to return X cards (even at random) may just be good enough to make it.
6. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Finally we meet the man behind a number of iconic cards. In a well-built deck, his abilities would obviously be too strong, but in a Battle Box they are sufficiently durdly that there should be no power level issues. I’m curious to see how much fun he is.
5. Seasoned Pyromancer
Refreshing two cards in your hand while making two elemental tokens is great. And getting to make two more (at instant speed) once the Pyromancer is in your graveyard is just gravy. I think it is powerful without being oppressive, which is a great place to be in this format.
4. Sword of Truth and Justice
As swords go, this is actually one of the less oppressive options. Without a focused deck, it will generally not proliferate too much. I would not include it in Boxes that have nothing to proliferate though; I think it will work best in Boxes with a +1/+1 counter theme.
3. Mist-Syndicate Naga
Ah, Ninjutsu. I like the suprise factor ninjas inherently have, and creating a copy of your 3/1 is a fun payoff compared to some of the other options out there. Your opponent had better get some blockers or your army will quickly grow out of hand!
2. Deep Forest Hermit
I always had a soft spot for Deranged Hermit, and I think vanishing is an even better drawback. It doesn’t cost you extra mana, but you do only have a few turns before the hermit leaves again.
You will need other creatures for this to work, which is a slight drawback. But then the possibilities are endless. Reset a blocker, retrigger and ETB trigger, and get a +1/+1 counter for your trouble. A cool card that will have a place in most Battle Boxes.
Thank your for taking a trip to the Horizons of Modern with me. Don’t forget to check out the Modern Horizons Mini Battle Box. I’m getting ready to dive into Magic 2020, which also promises to bring a lot of cool stuff to the format. So see you soon!