The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of Modern Horizons 2 Commanders

(Grief | Art by Nicholas Gregory)

Modern Times

The horizons are rising—for the second time, no less.

Welcome back to The 600, the article series all about baseless speculation. As the title suggests, our line is 600 decks. If a commander gets an "Over," I'm guessing it'll command over 600 decks one year from now. If it gets "Under," I believe it'll have fewer than 600 decks. There's also one Can’t-Miss Pick, which is my called shot of the set. Check back around June 18, 2022 to see how all my picks fared.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the set!


Svyelun of Sea and Sky

To paraphrase American war hero Aldo Raine, I’m putting together a special team. We’re gonna be doing one thing, and one thing only. Playin' Merfolk. Just cast those Lord of Atlantises, Merrow Reejereys, Merfolk Sovereigns, and what have you, then go to town (or Atlantis, as it were). Seems simple enough.

But I have my reservations. For one, Merfolk is only EDHREC's 17th most popular tribe. Furthermore, Svyelun is currently priced as high as $54.99. That figure should decline, but maybe not by much, especially if a Merfolk deck surfaces in Modern.

I really want to go Under, but I've been burned by tribal commanders before (Ayula, Queen Among Bears in the original Modern Horizons, for instance). I wish I wish I'll guess correctly about this fish.

My prediction: Over

Tourach, Dread Cantor

Tourach appears to be sporting a cape and boxers, which is an outfit I often rocked on Saturday mornings when I was eight (my cape was a blanket).

Of course, I never had Protection from white, which counters the second most popular card in EDH, Swords to Plowshares. The counter-per-discard effect is appealing, though discard often draws hate, since it's annoying. And sure, it’s cute (or perhaps self-aggrandizing?) that Tourach casts Hymn to Himself via Kicker.

Lots of text, but it's leaving me unimpressed. The more I look at him, the more I think Tourach will be more popular in Modern than EDH.

My prediction: Under

Captain Ripley Vance

Captain Ripley Vance (or CRV, if you're into the whole brevity thing) can deal a ton of damage. On turn three, for instance, you could go Seething Song into CRV into some other spell for an immediate four damage. Or imagine Ripley with Infuriate, Brute Force, and Unleash Fury. Just remember that Ripley's trigger resolves before the third spell resolves, so get her powered up before spell number three. Maybe slap a Grafted Exoskeleton on her for the goofiness factor.

That's sweet, I'll admit, but you're now down three cards without much to show for it. Maybe you kill a creature, maybe you blast someone for a bunch, but is that really worth playing gimmicky combat tricks?

Also, we’ve seen similar trigger conditions on Jori En, Ruin Diver and Firja, Judge of Valor, yet they only command 478 and 170 decks, respectively. CRV asks for more than either of those commanders, yet arguably does less. Not seeing it here.

My prediction: Under

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

If this evaluation was based on typeline alone, Ragavan would be my Can't-Miss Pick. A Monkey and a Pirate? Sign me up!

Alas, we must evaluate the entire card. In a typical four-player game, Ragavan will likely find an open attack for the first three or four turns. That's a lot of pilfered Treasure, and maybe even some juicy cards to steal from your opponents.

But once the game develops, Ragavan will struggle to find safe passage. There are ways to slip through (Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner, Access Tunnel, Whispersilk Cloak), though I'm unsure the payoff is worth the work. And not to get hung up on prices, but this Monkey Pirate is preordering for $100 in some places.

Ultimately, I believe some players will play Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer because it’s both fun and funny, but most will find the power level too low, and the price too high.

My prediction: Under

Aeve, Progenitor Ooze

Kudos to whoever designed this card (was it you, Mr. Rosewater?), because it's undeniably cool.

Without access to Storm staples like Manamorphose and Baral, Chief of Compliance, it's challenging, but certainly not impossible, to make Aeve work. Players will rely on classic green mana ramp in tandem with creature-bouncing cards, like Wirewood Symbiote, Scryb Ranger, and Temur Sabertooth. And don't forget Growing Rites of Itlimoc // Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, Early Harvest, and Noxious Revival.

Also, notice that Aeve benefits from any Ooze, making the tribal route totally viable. While Ooze decks rank very low (just 174), I suspect Aeve might be enough to boost those numbers.

My prediction: Over

Thrasta, Tempest’s Roar

Thrasta isn’t an Elder Dinosaur, but it sure does remind me of Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Both have laughably prohibitive mana costs that are relatively easily reduced, plus trample and big stats. Ghalta leads 792 decks, placing it 8th on the mono-green power rankings and 206th overall. That's a solid showing, and Thrasta is arguably better. So does that mean Over?

Not necessarily. After all, compare Thrasta to our last commander, Aeve, Progenitor Ooze. You'd think a Dinosaur and an Ooze wouldn't have much in common, but these two do: both want to be preceded by several spells and both are mono-green.

That leaves Thrasta as the odd dino out. It's a solid commander, to be sure, but I think Aeve is the more interesting of the two, and therefore more likely to get more decks.

My prediction: Under

Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar

This card is clearly a cruel jape on MTG commentators, but it's also pretty interesting. I'll take a one-mana 3/3 any day, especially one that comes with its own cookbook.

I doubt they stock many copies of The Underworld Cookbook at Barnes & Noble, but it's cute that it fuels future castings of Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. It also creates Food tokens, which one can feed to guests in order to kill them (note that deathtouch creatures will always die, no matter their toughness).

Yes, this is probably the silliest non-silver-border card anyone’s ever laid eyes on. But it’s also unique, interesting, and flavorful, in more ways than one.

My prediction: Over

Sythis, Harvest's Hand

They say not to bite the hand that feeds you, though I suspect many players will want a piece of Sythis. Enchantment themes are super popular, as evidenced by the success of Tuvasa the Sunlit and Estrid, the Masked.

This card is excellent. Low cost, high upside, and an archetype players already enjoy. What more could you ask for?

My prediction: Over

Yusri, Fortune's Flame

If I learned anything from No Country for Old Men, it's this: never trust a dude who forces you to call coin flips.

That heuristic applies here for sure. I don't trust Yusri. It only triggers on attacks, for one, which assumes you have an open attack, which isn’t always the case. Furthermore, how often are we realistically going to win five flips? I’ll tell you: 3% of the time.

"You fool!" some readers are saying. "What about Krark's Thumb? And what about other coin flip commanders?"

Alright, let's take a look...

Hmm, those are surprisingly high numbers. Though I don't love the card myself, I'm here to speak for the people.

My (reluctant) prediction: Over

Carth the Lion

Many Magic: The Gathering players ask the question: how many planeswalkers can I stuff into one deck? The answer, if Carth's your commander: every single one that’s green, black, Golgari, or colorless.

In case you were wondering, 59 planeswalkers fit that criteria. Let’s say you play 30 of them, since many are either too narrow or just plain bad. That means that every time a planeswalker dies with Carth on the battlefield, you have a 93% chance of drawing a replacement (thanks, hypergeometric calculator).

What’s more, I think our brains are trained to shorthand “costs an additional” text as downside, when here it’s the opposite. It means our planeswalkers will reach ultimate abilities faster and be more resilient to attacks.

Superfriends is a tried-and-true EDH archetype, and Carth is an excellent addition.

My prediction: Over

Chatterfang, Squirrel General

Squirrels must always be taken seriously, despite the fact that they are, in fact, Squirrels.

Players have loved the tribe ever since Odyssey, despite their scarcity. Yet Kaldheim’s Toski, Bearer of Secrets is the only other legendary Squirrel in EDH (there’s also technically Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher from Unsanctioned, but she’s literally unsanctioned in our format).

All this is to say that Chatterfang is a bit of a unicorn, in addition to being a Squirrel. So does that mean it’ll go Over?

I believe so. This critter doubles your token output and converts excess Squirrels into efficient removal that even circumvents indestructibleAnd it triggers for any token, meaning we get free Squirrels with our Clues, Treasures, and Food.

Chatterfang is exciting, unique, whimsical, and pretty darn powerful, too—all the trappings of a popular commander.

My prediction: Over

Grist, the Hunger Tide

If Grist was made of pizza or Crunchwrap Supremes, I would understand the name better. As it stands, I’m not looking at this artwork and feeling hungry. Quite the opposite, actually.

Anyhoo, Grist’s static ability is what makes it eligible as a commander, in case you were wondering. Its +1 effect is notable since it pushes Insect tribal, and tribes are often popular—even the random ones. The -2 is nice if you’re sacrificing an Insect token, but the -5 is less potent than it might appear. I mean, a single Bojuka Bog completely hoses you.

Grist is efficient and interesting, true enough. But efficiency matters more in Modern than EDH, and I believe interest in the card will quickly wane.

My prediction: Under

General Ferrous Rokiric

This guy's name reminds me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. His text reminds me of Rienne, Angel of Rebirth—though that's a far less positive association.

General Ferrous Bueller and Rienne both have red and white, plus they both care about gold cards. In my Core Set 2020 article, I liked Rienne, Angel of Rebirth enough to make it my Can’t-Miss Pick. But the Angel rewarded my faith with a whopping... 290 decks.

I won't make the same mistake here. Life moves pretty fast, and if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could get an Under.

My prediction: Under

Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp

Never mind that “Glimmerwasp” sounds like a mid-70s German prog rock band—this is actually a decent commander.

“Destroy target artifact you control” seems downright counterproductive at first read, but it's actually perfect for redistributing counters on Modular creatures. It’s also an insurance policy for Zabaz itself: if you pile tons of counters on it, you risk losing them all to exile effects. However, so long as you have one red mana available, you can destroy Zabaz in response and pass the counters. It’s even useful for artifacts that want to be destroyed, such as Ichor Wellspring and Mycosynth Wellspring.

I actually like this card more than I thought I would. Plus, it’s a Boros commander that doesn’t mention the words “attack,” “extra combat,” or “Equipment,” so you’d think that would be enough for an Over.

Sorry Zabaz. Much as I’d like to give it to you, I’ve seen minimal online buzz about you. Plus, Modular is too obscure a mechanic—and not even that popular, as I remember.

My prediction: Under

Lonis, Cryptozoologist

I'm appreciative of this gift, oh great Wizards R&D. I’ve been waiting five years for a commander with Investigate. What’s more, Lonis studies my favorite field of pseudo-science: cryptozoology! Long live Bigfoot, Mothman, and the Loch Ness Monster!

At just two mana, I’m thrilled with the rate here. Every subsequent creature essentially cantrips if you need lands, or adds to your stockpile of future discoveries. When you're ready to cash in those Clues, don't forget that Lonis still triggers cards like Ulvenwald Mysteries and Tireless Tracker.

Investigate is a popular mechanic with little support. Adding a flagship commander with some real pop is a great way to boost those numbers.

My prediction: Over

Piru, the Volatile

My dog gets fed at 5 pm, so she tends to get volatile around 4:45. And, like my dog, there's a lot to love about Piru once you get around the volatility. Big stats, an excellent keyword pairing, a nasty death trigger, and shades of Elder Dragons of old.

But that mana cost is wildly prohibitive. Also, the upkeep tax is super annoying (and your friends might call you out if you miss it too often). And another thing: Eight mana is a ton, especially in a non-green deck. If this gets killed once—which is likely, since it has neither hexproof, nor wardnor indestructibleyou may never cast it again. You'll gain a lot of life, though, since this has lifelink. But 10 mana for the second cast out of the command zone? Yikes.

If all that criticism doesn’t convince you, just check out the performance of the original five Elder Dragons:

Woof. Those numbers don't bode well for our volatile friend here.

My prediction: Under

Garth One-Eye

I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but this is one of the coolest Magic cards I’ve ever seen. To quote r/EDH commenter FarrelMFajar, “That's one way to get around the Reserved List.”

And boy is it. Sure, you'd prefer to have your Black Lotus on turn one. But who cares!? You have Black Lotus! If you get free Superbowl tickets, you don't complain about sitting in the nosebleeds.

The metagame flavor here is also delectable. Garth casts six spells: One of each color, plus the colorless Lotus. All six come from Alpha, Magic’s first-ever set, and each offers a powerful situational effect. Disenchant and Terror answer specific threats, Regrowth and Braingeyser restock your hand, and Shivan Dragon provides additional board presence.

Look, I usually won’t buy singles for more than $30, but I’m sorely tempted to go for Garth. I expect many EDH players will do the same.

My prediction: Over (Can’t-Miss Pick!)


Recap

Over

Under

Can't-Miss Pick

Keep your eyes on the horizon, folks. That's the end of this one!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Titania, Gaea Incarnate. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.