Taking Stock of Modern Horizons Updates and the London Mulligan Change
It has been almost four months since Modern Horizons was initially announced, and in that time public perception of its effect on the format has changed drastically. Wizard’s stated that the goal of the set was to bring to bring forth “Cards that build up favorite Modern strategies, create new ones, and bring plenty of flavor to matches where Modern cards are legal.” This created the initial impression of a significant change to the Modern landscape, but rather in the interest of diversity than simply raising the format’s power level.
Spoiler season was the first major deviation we saw from WOTC’s vision. As more cards became known, the community seemed to feel as if the set would not have a lasting impact within the format. It was labeled “Commander Horizons”, and many statements were made about how only 10 or so cards would make the breakthrough to competitive play.
By examining the week one Magic Online results we can quickly dismiss this opinion. Between the top 32 decks of the Modern Challenge and the initial batch of 5-0 league decklists, there are 48 different cards from Modern Horizons making an appearance. In other words, 48 cards that were not legal in MTGO’s Modern events prior to last week now can have arguments made about their potential longevity within the format. While some of this is obviously due to experimentation during the first week, the sheer diversity of cards making an appearance is too much to ignore. The bare minimum is that Wizard’s got their wish about bringing “flavor” to the format, while the ceiling is that they may have gotten more than they bargained for.
The acclimation of Modern Horizons isn’t the only thing that the format has in store for it though. On June 3rd Wizard’s developer Ian Duke announced that moving forward from Core Set 2020, all competitive formats will be adapting the “London Mulligan”. This is the same mulligan rule that was used at Mythic Championship II in London (Hence the name), and created a large amount of controversy about its intended versus actual effects.
The True Winners of the London Mulligan
For those unaware, the London mulligan differs from our current mulligan rule (The Vancouver or “Scry” mulligan) drastically. Instead of drawing a hand of one less card each time and then looking at the top to scry, you are now going to draw seven with each mulligan and put one card on bottom for each mulligan taken. This means you will see seven cards every single time before deciding to keep or mulligan again. Assuming you are willing to mulligan to one, this is 21 additional cards you will have the opportunity to see. To get a better perspective on this, Frank Karsten wrote an article focused on the math surrounding the London mulligan back in March. He was able to determine that if you are mulliganing to one you are 10.7% more likely to see a particular card. Even scarier, on the tame scenario of mulliganing to five, you are 5.5% more likely to see that card. While these statistics may seem marginal, over the course of hundreds of games they will drastically change your results. In a world where matchups are becoming more and more polarized, having a 5 to 10 percent better chance to find your combo or your hate card such as a Leyline, is going to add up quite fast.
In formats such as Standard and Limited, I think this rule will accomplish exactly what Wizard’s intended and create more interactive gameplay along with less non-games. In older formats such as Modern and Legacy, it’s a bit more complicated. Looking at the results from Mythic Championship London we see a metagame breakdown consisting of Tron as the most played archetype at 14.6%. This is 2.6% more (13 copies) than the next most popular archetype. In a tournament of only 515 players, this is a sizable gap, but it's popularity isn't suprising. Tron is looking for a specific set of cards in order to realize its maximum potential, and through the London Mulligan, it can better accomplish this. For further proof we can look to the MTGO results during the London Mulligan’s time there and see the once rogue deck of Neoform putting up tier one results.
With so much changing in Modern and Mythic Championship Barcelona fast approaching, I would like to highlight three archetypes that made an appearance this week on Magic Online. Not only did they gain significantly from Modern Horizons, but will continue to do so through the adoption of a new mulligan rule. Let’s take a look at some examples from the June 15th Magic Online Modern Challenge:
Today's list was played by MCWINSAUCE to a 5th place finish. Blue-white control picked up a lot of important tools through War of the Spark and its planeswalkers, and it continues to gain traction with Modern Horizons. The addition of a free Counterspell via Force of Negation offers protection from our opponents explosive starts, as well as backup on turns we tap out for a planeswalker. Fact or Fiction, while only a one-of in this list, is a new weapon control now has to sway any sort of grindy matchup in its favor while disregarding removal. It also provides an excellent mana sink on any turn we choose to leave up Cryptic Command.
The reason this deck gains from the London Mulligan is Force of Negation. Historically, counterspells that come at the cost of card disadvantage such as Force of Will, are either incredible or horrendous in certain matchups. Being able to pick and choose when to mulligan for them, or mulligan them away, is a large benefit to this strategy. I imagine it will be correct including more than two copies of the card going forward.
Funnily enough, many of the same people who made snide remarks about the power level of Modern Horizons are now calling for an emergency banning due to what the set did to this archetype. The list is from the winner of the challenge, where 4 of the top 8 were Bridgevine decks. Hogaak, Altar of Dementia, and Carrion Feeder were exactly what this deck needed to make the jump to tier one. Hogaak threatens to end the game incredibly fast by beating down or going off with Altar. Hogaak can be cast with relative ease given how many cheap creatures Dredgevine can both put in play, and into its graveyard. It is nice to have sac outlets that end the game quickly either by dealing massive amounts of damage in Carrion Feeder, or Altar putting more cards into your bin and then milling them out.
Similar to the Tron example earlier, Dredgevine is looking for a certain set of cards to operate optimally. Your draws without a way to discard or mill yourself do essentially nothing, and finding those enablers easier is extremely beneficial.
Going to the sideboard we would usually see another Modern Horizons card in Shenanigans, but the winner's list incorporated Flamekin Harbinger to help find Wispmare or Ingot Chewer, which is a new piece of technology. The four copies of Leyline of the Void, three copies of Wispmare, and the pair of Harbingers are the most important cards in many matchups with Leyline including the mirror, and being able to mulligan to them more efficiently will drastically improve our postboard game plan. Even without the London mulligan this deck managed to put eight copies into the top 32 of the 6/8 modern challenge and six copies into the top 32 of the 6/15 challenge. Faithless Looting has been on the hot seat for quite a while now, but this may be the one that finally causes the hammer to drop.
I would call this one my sleeper pick but I don’t think that’s accurate as it’s definitely on everyone's radar. This list is from the 6/8 challenge, played by Finalnub. The reason I find Neoform so interesting is that it did not get to showcase itself at MC London due to the awkward timing of War of the Spark, and it had such a dominating presence on MTGO during the short time of the post-MC London mulligan trial. The only pickup we see from Modern Horizons is the card drawing land Waterlogged Grove. Although, I should note this is a sure upgrade to Yavimaya Coast. But the real reason I'm looking at this archetype underneath a microscope isn’t the new cards.
This is potentially going to be the greatest abuser of the London mulligan. As I’ve said ad nauseum throughout this article, decks looking for a specific set of cards are going to benefit the most, and Neoform generally wins the same turn it finds those cards. I would start paying very close attention to the Magic Online results starting when the London mulligan is adopted there on July 2nd.
Both Modern Horizons and the London Mulligan will be highlighted professionally at MC Barcelona in late July. As excited as I am to be playing and practicing for the event, I'm even more excited to see what my opponents will bring to the table to abuse these changes to the Modern format. Modern has always been labeled a format where you can play anything, and while I feel that is still true, I would hope the thing you’re doing can go toe to toe with a few decks that are potentially broken.
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