Modern Horizons prerelease is this weekend and the full spoiler is out! Today, let’s look at some of the coolest and most interesting designs, as well as a couple that may have missed the mark slightly.

Alpine Guide is another cool experiment in red’s temporary acceleration, previously seen on cards like Hardened Berserker, Pirate’s Pillage, and Cheering Fanatic. Here, it promises to be permanent if you can keep your guide alive. This ability is stapled onto Frontline Rebel, an already playable card (albeit not a stellar one). This is a very cool quest to staple onto an aggressive creature—keep them alive and you’re up a card, and one tied together by solid flavor. This is a pretty darned cool design both mechanically and narratively.

While we’re talking about exciting, Glacial Revelation promises more cards for three mana than any spell not named Timetwister or Wheel of Fortune (or one of those cards that duplicates their effects). It seems unlikely that there are going to be enough awesome snow cards to make a Modern snow deck, but the idea of building a casual snow deck that can draw four to six cards off of this is really exciting. This is a great example of not only creating something for people to brew with in Modern, it’s a great example of making an exciting quest for Limited and kitchen table games.

As a card, Fountain of Ichor is fine. We’ve not yet seen a Guardian Idol version of Manalith; and the combination of ramping, fixing, and a reasonable threat are a solid package. However, this card suffers from its use of terminology and the story the mechanics tell—I’m guessing that this is bubbling fountain of tar and beneath it lies a dinosaur graveyard? A subterranean land of dinosaurs? It reveals a robot dinosaur, not a living or zombified one. But Kaladesh doesn’t have robot dinosaurs (at least, none that we’ve seen). Maybe it’s a golem like the ones Ixalan’s merfolk use, but it is strange seeing something that feels so different from what else we’ve seen on Ixalan.

There’s also the bigger issue of the word “ichor.” Ichor means something very specific in Magic—that the Phyrexians and their glistening oil are present. This is not the intent of the card—Alison Luhrs confirmed that on Twitter (see below), but it’s another distraction in a card that struggles to come together. The design all makes sense; but where Alpine Guide‘s components all serve to unify and strengthen the whole of the design, Fountain of Ichor‘s disparate components weaken it.

We’ve seen permanent Humble effects before. While Reprobation might be the strongest one ever (which still doesn’t make it a strong removal spell outside of Limited), there’s one little piece of brilliant design at work—it makes a creature into a Coward. Why’s this important? Well, back in Lorwyn, there was a card called Goatnap. Unsurprisingly, it stole goats. Surprisingly, there were no goats in the set. The trick was recognizing that every changeling was a goat, but it nevertheless confused or annoyed players that there wasn’t an actual goat to kidnap.

Putting this line of trinket text on Reprobation means that once in a blue (blood?) moon, Pyrophobia‘s awesome line of text (“Cowards can’t block this turn,” a reference to Boldwyr Intimidator, will stop an actual coward from blocking, and not just Changelings. That’s a smart bit of design. Then again, it does make Goatnap look even weirder because they printed a coward but they still didn’t print a goat! Maybe that’s the joke, though, even if folks who don’t get the reference might be just as confused as folks were in Lorwyn.

Winding Way might be my favorite design in Modern Horizons. It takes Mulch, a strong build-around in Limited that has seen fringe Modern play, and makes it better. Now, you can get lands when you need them in the early game and creatures beyond that point. That’s a simple tweak, but normally this increased flexibility comes at a cost—Seek the Wilds will never provide card advantage or put the extra cards into the graveyard and Gift of the Gargantuan costs four mana. However, in Modern Horizons, the card gets to be stronger. I’m excited to put this card into a new cube I’ve been building, to play with it in Limited, and potentially to see it in Modern.

There’s something beautiful about cards that have barely any text whatsoever and yet do interesting things. There’s something hilarious about this card technically only having two words on it yet having nine lines of tiny text. And there’s something truly exciting about what this card offers—you never know what you’re going to get and you’re never going to be up a card, but you’re going to get something and you get to get something every turn of the game. This is a gorgeous design. I’m looking forward to casting this knowing full well that I’ll be overpaying for a spell every time I do.

Bellowing Elk is a great example of good templating and how a little bit of attention to digital and tournament play can improve the play experience. Because no trigger goes on the stack, it neither needs to be remembered, nor requires an unnecessary click. That isn’t much in and of itself. But in a game as complicated and click-heavy as Magic, and in a format as complex as Modern Horizons, everything that you can do to smooth out the player experience and reduce cognitive load pays dividends.

This looks like a cool piece of art for a Tarkir cantrip, but it sure doesn’t read to me as “this attacking person is teleporting to safety.” I know that art gets recycled from time to time and that this might not be one of those cases, but it really looks like recycled art that doesn’t make sense for the context of the card.

The card itself? It’s fine. It makes sense for blue to get a Reconnaissance variant. You can do a lot of tricks with this, although you’ll need to recur some good ETB effects before you stop being down a card.

A Phantom Warrior that’s a ninja to trigger your ninjas is a neat choice. I don’t think this will be very good at that job—three mana is a lot to pay every turn, but a simple callback design like this is nice, even if it may be more trap than trick.

You haven’t lived until your Crypt Rats poisons the world, only to reveal that it was an Azra Smokeshaper in disguise the whole time. I haven’t lived yet, but I fully intend to assemble the might of the ninja-Pestilence-rats.

I have questions. Nether Spirit being on Innistrad makes sense, and the art callback to Eldritch Moon is cute. However, it makes one wonder—is an Eldrazified Nether Spirit a Wharf Infiltrator?

Rootwallas are awesome. They just are. They’re great role-players in Limited and have been part of Magic’s history since Tempest. Snow is an even older mechanic; and while it has bigger issues being in Standard than do Rootwallas, it’s a delight to get to play with them together. I have no idea why so many snow creatures are cold-blooded, but it’s a fantasy game with adorable snow-lizards. More so than anything else in Modern Horizons, I’m excited to combine my two favorite colors and cast all the green-blue snow permanents. That’s perhaps the best part of Modern Horizons—there are so many different things to engage with, so many weird, couldn’t-happen-anywhere-else cards, that there’s something for almost everyone. The set looks like an absolute joy to play, and after the busiest work month of my life, I’m excited to slam snow permanents, blink things, and make bear armies.

Those are some of my favorite designs in Modern Horizons. Here’s looking forward to prerelease this coming weekend. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Deadly Recluse. In some formats, it’s a Doom Blade. In others, it’s a weak-hitting two drop. It’s a super context-sensitive card that punishes aggression and is punished by both control decks. It does a whole lot for a Squire with two keywords.

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