No Middle Ground: Kaldheim Spoiler Week 2

It’s an odd set where there doesn’t appear to be anything amiss. As I’m writing this sentence, there is nothing that even vaguely resembles anything dangerous. Which is not a bad thing. It’s just weird, given that we’ve had the companions, Astrolabe, Uro, Oko, and Hogaak in the past two years busting everything. And that’s not even counting shakeups from cards like the MDFC’s. A non-Core expansion being fairly meh for Modern is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, that means Wizards has corrected itself.

Not a lot has changed since last week. There are a number of interesting cards that might find the right niche and see Modern play. And then there are the cards I’m focusing on today, which are either busted in half or unplayable. I don’t see a middle ground. The problem is that they’re either combo pieces or build-around cards, and those are always extremely hit or miss. As such, I’ll be laying out the opportunities and problems for each. However, first I need to update something from last week.

‘Snow More To See Here

I previously mentioned that while snow was back, it didn’t really mean anything. There was no payoff to having snow lands besides Ice-Fang Coatl, but there was still no harm to playing snow basics. And that continues to be the case. There have been a number of cards that care about having three or more snow permanents spoiled, but none of them are Modern playable. Double whammy of too expensive and too small an effect. There are also a few cards that benefit snow permanents, in particular Jorn, God of Winter. Problem is that Jorn is slow; Modern can already mass-untap permanents, and those effects don’t see play. Which makes snow seem like a bust.

At least, the Kaldheim snow permanents seem a bust. One preexisting snow permanent stands to benefit from Kaldheim: Scrying Sheets. For years, Sheets’s only purpose was to draw more Snow-Covered Mountains for fringe Skred Red decks. Even at the height of snow’s saturation pre-Astrolabe ban, Sheets wasn’t seeing play because it missed most of the time. However, that might be changing thanks to Kaldheim adding snow instants and sorceries. There aren’t many, and most of them aren’t remotely playable, but some are close enough that turning Sheets from… well, Sheets, into a worse Library of Alexandria that may in fact be playable, is becoming a possibility.

Tundra Fumarole

The only snow spell that I’m absolutely certain will see play is Tundra Fumarole. This is not because it is uniquely good for Modern, although it being (technically) a free spell is nothing to sneeze at. No, I know that I will see it because (assuming he comes back when paper comes back) there was a Skred Red Prison player at my LGS and I always played him at FNM. No other tournaments, just FNM. And he will, absolutely will, be playing Fumarole so he can kill something and drop Ensnaring Bridge or Karn, the Great Creator in the same turn. He will do so several times a match because that was just how those matches went. I can already feel my blood boiling with frustration and barely restrained rage.

However, Fumarole might be decent for Red Prison decks just in general, rather than just to torment me. It kills a decent chunk of Modern-playable creatures and planeswalkers without help, and planeswalkers in particular can be a problem for Skred decks. Prison decks also tend to be clunky thanks to relying on 4+ mana planeswalkers and Stormbreath Dragon to do all the heavy lifting, and a free-ish kill spell might act as much-needed wheel grease. For a deck that can’t really double-spell under normal circumstances, Fumarole may be a huge boost. It also dodges Chalice of the Void, which is common to those decks. And again, at the bare minimum, Skred decks run Sheets already and Fumarole increases the snow density. I’m interested to see if I’m the only one to have Fumarole pointed at my stuff for that reason.

Graven Lore

Under normal circumstances, a five-mana instant draw spell would not be a consideration. Fact or Fiction is cheaper and in many ways better and sees very little play these days. Which would normally disqualify Graven Lore. However, it has enough upside that it could make the cut. It’s a snow card and can be found with Sheets, which granted isn’t a huge boost to playability. However, it also synergizes with Sheets. Lore will scry a max of five cards in a snow deck, meaning it can be used to draw the three cards you want/need on the opponent’s end step and then set up a Sheets activation. Which is a bit niche but a huge card advantage swing.

However, even without Sheets, Lore is potentially a powerful top-end card. It’s scry first then draw, which is extremely powerful (see also: Preordain vs Serum Visions). This suggests that Lore can be used to close the door for a control deck. Either what they need is in the top five cards or they dig eight cards deep, which makes it statistically likely that a key spell is actually found. The issue in Modern is that Lore is competing with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for that slot, and it isn’t easy to beat out a planeswalker. Teferi does more and will keep accruing value for several turns. However, not every control deck has access to white, and many lean heavily on Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In that context, Lore could fulfil the same role of Jace support that Teferi does.

Snow Moon

I’d planned to end it there, but as I was typing the thought occurred: Would Fumarole and Lore see play together? A lot of their playability is being snow and synergizing with Sheets coupled with benefits for slower decks. And there exists a slower UR deck that could use some help. Blue Moon has been hanging around for years and plays primarily basic lands. Is there benefit to going for a hard snow basic manabase with Sheets as a payoff? Previous incarnations of Blue Moon were tempo decks, and they’ve largely fallen out of Modern. Too low-power, too reliant on counterspells. Perhaps going deeper on Blood Moon and snow would invigorate the archetype. At very least, the removal improves thanks to Skred.

Either Busted or Worthless

There’s a minor theme of really swingy combo pieces in Kaldheim. It’s not like they’re tied to the set themes or mechanics, and to my knowledge, neither Rosewater or Wizards has acknowledged it, but there are a higher than normal number of cards that are either busted combo pieces or bulk rares. It seems like they wanted to print combo pieces for Commander and really went out of their way to limit their potential in constructed. And it worked; the power of these cards will be very hard to access consistently.

These types of cards are very hard to evaluate because it all comes down to the reliability of the shell and the opportunity costs in said deck. There’s always potential in these cards, but realizing it is very hard. Or impossible if the opponent interacts at all. So take it under advisement: The three cards I’m going to discuss here might be worthless, but they could be absurd. There’s not much middle ground, and I’ll be evaluating them as such.

In Search of Greatness

First up, I’m certain that In Search of Greatness will see in play in Modern. Again, it’s because I know a very specific player will play it against me assuming I ever see him again. He’s tried to make Pioneer-style Green Devotion work in Modern, and I’m certain that he’d try Greatness there, because I see it as fitting that deck: ifyou open with a Leyline (preferably Leyline of Abundance, but any will do) and have Greatness on turn 2, turn three Nissa, Who Shakes the World comes down and the ramp goes quickly out of control. Which he would certainly use for a Genesis Wave but a more sane person would probably just Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Either way, it’d be very hard for anyone to come back from that start.

That is assuming that everything comes together in the right order. Such a start is not really as Magical Christmasland as one would imagine (I’ve seen those devotion decks do very nutty things surprisingly often). However, is Greatness an effect that such a deck needs? It’s surprisingly easy to ramp into turn three Nissa as is, though doing so precludes also dropping Ugin the same turn. However, all of this is assuming that Greatness would actually ramp the deck. Greatness doesn’t count itself, so there’s no playing Greatness in a vacuum and getting a three drop. The only way to jump the curve is to have additional permanents besides Greatness, and the opponent will probably have something to say about that. And without permanents in hand at the start of upkeep that qualify, all Greatness does is scry 1. Which isn’t nothing, but it’s not good enough.

There are so many qualifiers about Greatness being good, that the name becomes very appropriate. There’s huge potential when everything goes right, but there are a ton of opportunities for it all to go wrong. And when it isn’t just being absurd, it’s pretty terrible. It’s not reliably a ramp spell, it’s something else, and I feel like treating it as ramp won’t pan out.

However, maybe it should be seen in a different light. A lot of Greatness’s problems (bad without the right spells in hand at the right time, needs a lot of setup) can also be said of Show and Tell, and that’s been a Legacy Staple for years. That deck has to cantrip a lot to position itself to make Show good, similar to the effort and investment necessary to make Greatness work. I have no idea how to set it up nor can I figure out it would ever be better than existing options for cheating in big things. But it does seem like this is the way to go.

Pyre of Heroes

Pyre of Heroes was the first non-land card I saw spoiled from Kaldheim. And it looked promising. For half the cost to cast but twice the cost to activate it was a tribal Birthing Pod. And immediately I saw a ton of speculation to exactly that effect. And then nothing. I haven’t seen chatter or updates on any brews in over a month. I’m not sure if brewers went silent to hide their tech, everyone gave up, or something else. I don’t know. However, I do know why the straightforward approaches fell off.

Why bother with Pyre in a tribal deck? It’s a tutor that is neutral on both card advantage and board position. All it does is find a different card up the chain. Humans wouldn’t bother. Turning Noble Hierarch into Meddling Mage against a combo deck is decent, but that’s as good as it gets. Goblins doesn’t need Pyre, they have Goblin Matron. Elementals has Flamekin Harbinger and Risen Reef to burn through their deck. Playing Pyre as a tribal tutor is unnecessary.

However, what about playing it as Pod was in either value or combo form? Combo Pod was capable of turn-three wins, and Value Pod is why the card is banned. And there is potential in either approach. However, the problem is that tribal component. The old Pod chains don’t work, and the solution (as far as I could find, anyway) isn’t very good. The only way to bridge the gaps in either the value or combo chains is to use changelings. This is a problem because on their own, they’re not very good. Which is a huge problem for the value chain and prevents the combo chain from going off in one turn. The extra mana is less prohibitive than I thought, but still a problem too.

If someone figures out how to make the chain work fluidly, there’s real promise here. Otherwise, Pyre will join Prime Speaker Vannifar on the pyre of false Pods.

Tibalt’s Trickery

And finally, we have the combo piece that Wizards took inordinate lengths to keep as inconsistent and weak as possible. What Tibalt’s Trickery‘s wall of text actually means is that it’s a Polymorph for spells, but it’s hard to set up. And definitely isn’t a break, and it’s weird that you think it as, which is why Rosewater seems rather worried about its implications. Trickery counters a spell, mills between 1-3 cards, and then casts the next spell with a different name in the target’s library. Any spell. Which could be a better one than was countered, so it will never be used defensively without massive amounts of help. At which point, why not run a normal counterspell?

However, its potential as a Polymorph effect is tantalizing. And it’s been suggested, that it can be exploited. The level 0 suggestion is a deck of lands, Trickery, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and Shadowborn Apostle. Which is the best way to drop a turn 3 Emrakul I’ve heard in a while. However, such a deck could only guarentee a 4/7 chance to hit Emrakul, and would 100% lose to Meddling Mage. So I’ve seen others working on diversifying the threats, which makes the deck have a very Hypergenesis feel. Much like a theoretical Modern Hypergenesis deck, such a Trickery deck would be absurd when it comes together, but easily disrupted and prone to failure. I’d keep my eye on Trickery, but not really worry.

Silent as Snow

It looks like we escaped Kaldheim without another Uro. Or even Mystic Sanctuary. All that’s left to do is start working on these cards and find out how well the crystal ball’s working.

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