Tribal Update Report: Modern Horizons 2


The Tentacled One
Before the cards in Modern Horizons 2 were revealed, there was a looming question. The first Modern Horizons was the first experiment at releasing cards directly into the Modern format, circumventing Standard power level concerns. And in hindsight, we now know that the first set in this series was one of the early sets subject to the power level creep WotC implemented in its “Philosophy of Fire.” The confluence of those two novel set design aspects had a dramatic effect, and Modern Horizons was one of the most power-packed sets of all time. The effects of the set were severe in any format that allowed these cards. This isn’t a gripe, although it could be part of one. Like I said, there was a looming question. Would Modern Horizons 2 be as powerful of a set as its predecessor? That was the question on everyone’s minds. Well, it was on my mind anyway, which is the important thing.

In theory, it could have gone either way, right? Although it’s a bit of an oversimplification and I knew that, I saw this set as a kind of barometer for the “Philosophy of Fire.” If WotC were concerned about the catastrophic power spiral that the philosophy was seemingly imposing on the game, they would probably try to scale things back, to make Modern Horizons 2 more balanced and finely targeted than the first Modern Horizons. If they had dollar signs in their eyes and saw pushing the power level as a way to make more money, long term consequences be damned, then the new set would be even more obviously overpowered than Modern Horizons. Of course, it could be somewhere in between, and that seemed likely. So I was ready to try to feebly gauge which side of the spectrum things were weighted toward. Were they continuing to push the power level, or were they scaling things back a bit? Well, the prerelease for the set has arrived (assuming that venues in your area are reopened for business, that is). I picked up a box of this set already, and the full release is less than a week away as I write this report. So, we’re all free to view the full set and make our own judgments on where the power level sits. And in my estimation, the answer is clear: this set is bonkers. With the possible exceptions of all-reprint sets like Eternal Masters and Ultimate Masters, this just might be the most power-packed set to date.

Again, I must emphasize, this isn’t exactly a gripe, although I could be building a case for one. While I am accusing WotC of pumping the power level of this set in an effort to boost sales that might eventually undermine the long-term health of the game, the set itself looks amazing and fun to play with, and some of the design elements on display here are ingenious. I’m a fan. I’m also worried about what the future is going to look like, for reasons I already outlined in my article about the Philosophy of Fire in 2019. Oh, and since the topic is being raised all over on the web, the prices for Modern Horizons 2 products are ridiculous and this could lead to even bigger problems than the power level issue, as too many players too quickly become priced out of playing. But that’s beyond the scope of this report, and perhaps a topic for another thread.

Having started this report setting the context for this set as one that I think is overwhelming, I still need to establish what that means for Tribal formats. After all, War of the Spark was another early Philosophy of Fire set, and had a high overall power level with some amazing standout cards. But it was rather low-impact for Tribal gameplay because the power of the set was not really loaded onto anything that Tribal decks could take advantage of. Creature type focus was a kind of theme in the first Modern Horizons set. This time around? Not so much. Frankly, I was surprised at how powerful this set appears to be, but I do think that for Tribal format purposes, it isn’t as much of a game-changer as its predecessor. There are two caveats to this. Firstly, this set has a strong multicolored theme, which should favor tribes that can take advantage of that. Secondly, this set has a plenty of cards that do things when they die or can easily be recurred, so graveyard-based decks might also be favored here. And now, on with the report...

New tribes
None. But wait! For the first time since I started these reports, we have something to put here even though the set doesn’t introduce any new creature types. We don’t have any new tribe, but we do have one new tribal card. My reports on new sets have always included a category for tribal synergies that might be of interest, but an actual card with the tribal type might go a step beyond that.

Altar of the Goyf: This is a tribal artifact with the lhurgoyf subtype. It gives all of your lhurgoyfs trample and boosts all of your attacking creatures for the number of card types in your graveyard. In preparation for a hypothetical CPA Tribal Game 16 that never happened, I built a Lhurgoyf Tribal deck. So I feel qualified to state that this thing would be extremely valuable to that archetype.

This the first new card with the “tribal” card type in over 11 years. So until now, I never had to give any thought to whether this strange card type even matters for our purposes. Is it just like any other non-creature card that provides some benefit to a particular creature type? Could or should this card type affect the rules of Tribal format deck construction? I’m inclined to think not, but it’s a valid consideration. It’s beyond the scope of this report, and might be a one-off anyway. If WotC revisits this card type in a more meaningful way in the future, I may need to do things differently. But there you have it.

New additions to existing tribes
Angel: Three new cards. The two uncommons are fine creatures, but don’t really fit what Angel Tribal needs. The mythic rare is insanely strong, but expensive. Still, it might top the curve in an Angel Tribal deck.

Archer: One new card. I was about to say that it probably doesn’t matter, but then I checked my notes on this tribe. They’re in a rough spot, and the new card is a reasonable card in a workhorse sort of way. Not great, but well worth consideration in what’s mostly been a lackluster tribe.

Archon: One new card. Expensive, but powerful enough to make up for that in spades. This thing is truly impressive and would be an amazing creature to top the curve or cheat onto the battlefield for most tribes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Archon Tribal would normally be invested in white, because all the previous archons were white. This new one is mono-black. Now, I still wouldn’t rule it out, but that does temper the potential here somewhat.

Artificer: One new card. Mild potential in a red-based Artificer Tribal deck, but not something I’m really happy with.

Assembly-Worker: Two new cards. I had to refresh myself on this tribe. In setting up the tiers for my preliminary report, I rated this tribe Tier 4 almost entirely on the strength of the unique and potent Mishra’s Self-Replicator. There were only just enough other members of the tribe to build a legal deck, and they were mostly filler and support to help the main attraction get going. It’s tricky to evaluate this sort of deck, because it’s inevitably clunky and inefficient, but always has the potential to be explosive, and there are some decent synergies for the tribe. These new cards don’t directly support the concept I pitched as being Tier 4, but they could bring down the mana curve of the deck. So yeah, maybe?

Beast: Five new cards. The commons are generally Limited format fodder or unsuitable for our purposes. The uncommon shows great promise. One could easily build a deck around it. Is it the best beast ever? No. Is it an auto-include in every Beast Tribal deck? Not really. But it’s a very strong card and warrants some attention. I’d experiment with it.

Berserker: Two new cards. Earlier this year, we got a bunch of these guys in Kaldheim and I opined that the tribe was shaping up to be a bit stronger, albeit not in any kind of dramatic or cohesive way. Unfortunately, these new cards are both based around the Delirium mechanic. So they’re not really a good fit for Tribal gameplay, at least not until graveyard-based value decks taking advantage of tempo and board control become the norm for new beserkers, which seems unlikely.

Bird: Four new cards. I don’t think I’d dismiss them all as Limited format fodder, but they’re also not really what I’m looking for in a Bird Tribal deck.

Camel: One new card. It looks cool and I kind of like the idea, not that it’s actually a strong card. Meanwhile, Camel Tribal is egregiously deficient. WotC, help these poor guys out.

Cat: Four new cards. They’re actually all artifact creatures, which kind of works but is also a bit weird. Probably no impact anyway.

Cleric: Four new cards. Their abilities are all over the place, so it’s a matter of figuring out whether Cleric Tribal could make good use of any of these individually. And Cleric Tribal already has tons of options. I don’t think any of these make the cut in what I envisioned.

Construct: Two new cards. One of them is a crappy Triskelion knockoff, and the other is amazing. A lot of the time in a Construct Tribal deck, this thing is just going to be a 2/2 flying creature that draws two cards on entering the battlefield and costs a single mana. I’ll take four of them.

Cyclops: One new card. It is mediocre and doesn’t shore up the deficiencies of this tribe.

Dauthi: One new card. Back when I first tried setting up the tier rankings for the shadow clans of Rath, I settled on Tier 6 for Thalakos (too weak), Tier 5 for Dauthi (mediocre, but maybe reasonable), and Tier 4 for Soltari (better utility than the other two. I didn’t foresee that changing much because WotC seemed unlikely to revisit Rath and these tribes in the future. Well, that day has arrived. The Dauthi just got what is easily their strongest member. This thing beats up all other shadow creatures and steals their lunch money. I mean, it’s a rogue anyway, so just play Rogue Tribal and your deck is probably ten times better. But if you do insist on Dauthi Tribal, this new card is your build-around.

Demon: One new card. Not worth it.

Devil: One new card. It’s black. The question of whether Stone-Throwing Devils is a valid card in someone’s tribal format might be key here, because we’re getting more motivation to run black. I keep coming back to that. Anyway, the new devil is great too.

Dinosaur: Three new cards. They’re interesting, but I’m skeptical of their potential.

Dog: Three new cards. All do different things from each other and none of them jump out at me as something that takes Dog Tribal to the next level. The tribe has some decent individual cards, but nothing cohesive.

Dragon: Six new cards. Most don’t really fit what Dragon Tribal is about, but a couple are intriguing. In the right deck, I’d test them out.

Druid: Two new cards. One is lackluster and the other has a Squirrel Tribal synergy. So nothing for the tribe this time around.

Dryad: One new card. It has superb potential in an Enchantress deck, but probably not in a Dryad Tribal deck.

Efreet: One new card. It’s reasonably strong and is sitting in a weak tribe. So even though a lack of tribal synergies is, on its own, discouraging, I wouldn’t rule this out. Perhaps Efreet Tribal could move toward a coin-flipping theme? It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.

Elder: One new card. This tribe continues its slow march toward being able to run all one-off expensive creatures, and most of them have powerful abilities. But it’s an uphill battle.

Elemental: Eleven new cards. These include the new incarnations, all of which are also elementals. I’m not immediately seeing how anything here slots into Elemental Tribal, but the overall card category is magnificent, so there’s probably something worth exploiting.

Elf: Five new cards. Mostly they’re unsuitable for the tribe, but the one with the Landfall ability could probably combo off in some obnoxious way. Not bad.

Frog: One new card. It’s a throwback to Chub Toad, but combat is not where Frog Tribal excels. I guess it replaces Chub Toad, if anyone was still running that anywhere.

Gargoyle: One new card. At least this one doesn’t have protection from red. For a minute there, I had flashbacks to Mooseman’s gargoyles murdering me while my red dragons just sat there and watched.

Giant: Two new cards. They seem decent, but not really good fits for Giant Tribal.

Goat: Two new cards. They’re weird and not very good.

Goblin: Three new cards. One of them is an excellent cost-reducer for red/green decks, one of them is a solid option for a coin flip deck, and one of them is an excellent mana dork for Jund decks. None of them do anything special for Goblin Tribal decks.

God: One new card. Merfolk synergy, so the god part isn’t really helpful here.

Golem: Two new cards. Interesting utility here. This is not, I suspect, what Golem Tribal is looking for.

Gorgon: One new card. It shares all the weaknesses I brought up with this tribe in my original report.

Homunculus: One new card. How did I even rate this tribe originally? Tier 4? Seems a bit high. Or perhaps not. Well, the new one is stronger than most of the old ones, but it’s all-in on an artifact theme, which this tribe doesn’t support too well.

Human: Twenty-eight new cards. And an obligatory “who cares?” because Human Tribal can already do anything and everything. Have fun looking through all 7.9 billion humans to build your perfect Human Tribal deck.

Hydra: One new card. It’s a reasonable “maybe.”

Illusion: One new card. It’s cute, but not worth playing.

Imp: One new card. Well, it would be garbage aside from the Madness cost, which is a bargain if you’re in the right sort of deck. Wait a minute! When I originally rated Imp Tribal in Tier 5, I noted that Skirge Familiar was a combo piece, but that almost nothing else in the tribe was any good. The new imp is perfect for Skirge Familiar. Not enough to build a deck around, but it’s a start.

Incarnation: Five new cards. This tribe gets some of the most powerful cards in the set. There’s also no reason to think that they’d work well together. Mechanically, they kind of clash. They’re not particularly good with the old members of this tribe either. There’s no synergy to build on and this creature type pulls in too many different directions with a tiny card pool.

Insect: Two or three cards, depending on how you look at it. Out of the two real ones, one of them is designed to be a synergy for the old “modular” mechanic from Darksteel. The other is a bit wonky and probably doesn’t make the cut. We’ve also got something new and unique, which defies classification. This set contains a planeswalker with an ability specifying that it counts as a 1/1 insect creature as long as it isn’t on the battlefield. That’s a strange mechanic, but I guess it functions sort of like how the Changeling mechanic does, only just for the one tribe.

Kavu: Two new cards. I did some cursory experiments with this tribe years ago and, from what I remember, the best things to be doing with the tribe were not really what these new cards do. They’re not bad, but Kavu Tribal might not be the place for them.

Kirin: One new card. The good news is that this is almost certainly the strongest kirin card so far. The bad news is that the tribe as a whole is garbage.

Knight: Two new cards. They’re mediocre.

Lhurgoyf: One new card. I once built a Lhurgoyf Tribal deck, and this thing would have been great there.

Lizard: One new card. I like it, but this tribe still sucks.

Manticore: One new card. It’s an oddball and the tribe remains trash.

Merfolk: Four new cards. They’re pretty good. Worth testing in Merfolk Tribal, which is already ridiculously strong.

Minotaur: One new card. I don’t think that Minotaur Tribal is poised to take advantage of the Madness ability, but this card is a reasonable beater.

Monkey: One new card. The card is extremely good, but not good enough to carry this dud of a tribe.

Myr: Three new cards. They might be good enough to make the cut, but they’re not really special or helpful.

Nightmare: Two new cards. This tribe was in a rough spot when I wrote my initial report, but it has grown up since then, and I don’t think these new cards contribute enough to warrant inclusion in a deck.

Noble: One new card. Squirrel Tribal synergy, so no help for Noble Tribal here.

Nymph: One new card. I gushed about it in the Single Card Discussion forum already. I really like the card, but it’s really tuned toward an “Enchantress” archetype, which Nymph Tribal probably doesn’t support. On the other hand, Nymph Tribal was Tier 5 before this set, because it was too deficient to do anything. We do have other enchantment creatures among the members of this tribe. Even an awkward Sythis-based deck that plays bad nymphs just to serve in an engine alongside good enchantments would probably outcompete most of what you could do with a Tier 5 tribe.

Ooze: One new card. It’s got a tribal synergy going on, so sure. Seems fine.

Ouphe: One new card. It seems OK, but has no real advantage in an Ouphe Tribal deck.


The Tentacled One
Peasant: One new card. Um, it makes squirrels. Cool? Peasant Tribal remains virtually unplayable.

Pegasus: One new card. I don’t like it.

Pirate: Three new cards. The monkey is so potent that it makes the cut in any red-heavy Pirate Tribal deck. The other two are questionable.

Plant: One new card. I don’t think that Plant Tribal really wants to go five-color, so this loses most of its luster.

Rogue: Four new cards. A couple of nice options here. Rogue Tribal is looking good.

Samurai: One new card. This is only the second green samurai ever, which makes it a bit awkward.

Salamander: One new card. It’s good, but the tribe has nothing to do with what this new card does.

Scout: Two new cards. They’re pretty good. Worth testing.

Serpent: One new card. It has a token-based mechanic, which Serpent Tribal doesn’t really support.

Shaman: Six new cards. Some good ones too. Shaman Tribal just got a bit of an upgrade.

Skeleton: One new card. Typical Skeleton Tribal silliness, which I love. Drawing a card off this card is neat. I’d run it.

Snake: Two new cards. They’re alright. Maybe not worth it, but they’re decent options.

Soldier: Eight new cards. Mostly, this is a hodgepodge of revisited mechanics, and we get no actual tribal synergies here. On closer inspection, a couple of these are so good that you’d want to run them anyway.

Sphinx: One new card. Well, the artifact synergy is nice and Sphinx Tribal already has a bit of that going on. So yeah, this could be good.

Spider: One new card. It’s mediocre.

Spirit: Three new cards. Low impact.

Squirrel: Three new cards. In my previous report, Squirrel Tribal finally gained enough membership to depart from Tier 7 and actually get a deck. Two of these new squirrels have tribal synergies and the third is pretty good on its own. Wow.

Starfish: One new card. This tribe now has three members. It remains Tier 7.

Thopter: Two new cards. I don’t think they’re worth running.

Treefolk: Two new cards. One of them makes squirrel tokens, but neither contributes much to Treefolk Tribal.

Vampire: Three new cards. They’re decent, but not strong enough for Vampire Tribal.

Vedalken: Two new cards. Either could be useful in the right deck, but I don’t think that deck is Vedalken Tribal.

Viashino: One new card. The ability might be a bit redundant, but it’s worth consideration.

Warlock: Four new cards. Some good ones too. Remember back when this tribe first came out and I scoffed at it? That was what, a year and a half ago? Ah, times have changed.

Warrior: Five new cards. Probably no impact, but this tribe is crazy anyway.

Whale: One new card. It’s a strange one, of course. Low impact.

Wizard: Fourteen new cards. Some of these are highly unusual, but I don’t think Wizard Tribal makes use of them.

Zombie: Four new cards. None of them make the cut.

New tribal synergies to look out for
Chitterspitter: Squirrels!
Drey Keeper: Squirrels!
Harmonic Prodigy: This card is a wizard and has synergy with both wizards and shamans.
Magus of the Bridge: I never even stopped to ask the question of whether Zombie Tribal would like a Bridge from Below effect stapled to a creature, but here we are. You could make a lot of zombies, especially with Gravecrawler loops.
Nested Shambler: Squirrels!
Scurry Oak: Squirrels!
Scuttletide: Is this the first Crab Tribal synergy ever? I can’t think of any others. Interesting.
Squirrel Sanctuary: Squirrels!
Underworld Hermit: Squirrels!
Verdant Command: Squirrels!

You might have picked up on this already, but the set really empowers Squirrel Tribal.

Overall set analysis
The obvious comparison is to the first Modern Horizons set, and I don’t know if that’s particularly fair or informative. While some aspects are related and both are power-packed sets, they approach things very differently. A simplistic explanation would be that the first set in this series was partially a callback to the mid-90’s, both in terms of real reprints and themes revisited and reinterpreted for the Modern format. In contrast, this set does more to explore the 00’s, and broadens its scope. It reminds me more of Time Spiral Remastered than it does Modern Horizons.

In general, I think the power level is through the roof on this one and I am considering some kind of retrospective examination of the “Philosophy of F.I.R.E”, maybe on the two-year anniversary mark of my article on the subject. Because the sets focus on different areas, I suspect that MH2 will be even more impactful on some areas of casual play, while MH1 will remain the more impactful set when it comes to tribal themes.

Winners and losers for this set? Tier adjustments?
The biggest winners this time around seem to be…
  • Constructs
  • Crabs
  • Incarnations
  • Lhurgoyfs
  • Merfolk
  • Oozes
  • Pirates
  • Rogues
  • Scouts
  • Shamans
  • Soldiers
  • Squirrels
  • Warlocks
There’s a procedural matter here that needs to be mentioned, but doesn’t actually have anything to do with the cards in this set! Remember my Kaldheim report? We got “Phyrexian” as a new creature type, but it wasn’t retroactively applied to old Phyrexian creatures, which made it seem entirely pointless. Well, it looks like WotC finally got around to adding the creature type to Phyrexian creatures from previous sets. On the one hand, this is pretty cool. On the other hand, I am bewildered that this took them five months. Yes, there have been a lot of Magic cards since Antiquities, but the catalog isn’t that big and the sets that do or don’t have Phyrexians are generally easy for any knowledgeable individual to ascertain. It’s the work of a few hours at most, not five months. Anyway, Phyrexians didn’t get new cards in Modern Horizons 2. But there are a couple of reprints that do show the subtype now and the “Living Weapon” mechanic has been amended to use the creature type too. More importantly, the membership of this tribe jumped up from 1 in February to 227. So Phyrexian Tribal gets promoted out of Tier 7. Where do they belong? Let’s see. I’d guess probably Tier 3. They’re potentially Tier 2. I worry that I’m underrating them. They have several creatures that are known to be very, very good. For now, my recommendation for reporting purposes is Tier 3.

I also propose the promotion of Squirrel Tribal to Tier 3.

Ban list update recommendation

I still intend to do a full evaluation of this at some point. For now, I’ll note that if Plague Engineer isn’t already banned, then Phyrexian Tribal becomes ridiculous.

I hope you like squirrels! Also, this set is insane.


The Tentacled One
Where are the Goblins? I'm starting to get annoyed, here...
The thing about goblins since last year is that the Goblin Recruiter + Conspicuous Snoop engine is so powerful that almost nothing else of a tribal nature can compete with it. All the tools are already there, and it's possible that no new goblins will break into the optimal list. A new goblin would have to push out something already there, and everything there is already amazing. Remember when we were using Goblin Ringleader to get goblins from the top of our library into our hand? Now we can use Muxus, Goblin Grandee to put even more goblins from the top of our library directly onto the field. Goblins are basically the best.

MH2 isn't a particularly goblin-heavy set. MH1 had 8 goblins, while MH2 has just 3.

What MH2 does do that most recent sets have not is give goblins a bit more of an option for more of a green-heavy deck. Ignoble Hierarch is a flexible mana dork that can make red and both of the secondary colors that a Goblin Tribal deck might be inclined to splash. Goblin Anarchomancer is a decent cost-reducer on a 2/2 body. I used to run a green splash in Canadian Highlander Goblins, but I've since swapped that out for black. Still, if you do want to go green here, the new goblins are valid options.