Opting into Modern

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
9/8/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Most of the cards in Ixalan, like any new set, are primarily geared towards impacting Standard. New sets typically only have a handful of cards that impact Modern. In the case of Ixalan, Opt is one of those cards. Invasion seems like a lifetime ago; so many players never got a chance to see this powerful blue card draw spell in action. Over Magic's history card draw spells that cost only a single blue mana, tend to see a ton of play, but Opt has never been legal in Modern, and cards like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain are better than Opt in Legacy, so Opt really hasn't been played in quite a while. Despite Opt not seeing a ton of play in Legacy, it will definitely have an impact on Standard and Modern. Blue control decks in Standard will play Opt; it is much better than a card like Hieroglyphic Illumination, which normally gets cycled.

Opt vs Serum Visions

In the case of Modern there's a bit more to the debate, as there are already some good card draw spells for a single blue mana. The best is Serum Visions, followed by Sleight of Hand, and both see a good amount of play. When looking at Opt it may appear that it is a strictly worse version of Serum Visions, as Serum Visions allows you to scry two, versus Opt being scry one. However, this simply isn't the case, there are a few factors that, once taken into account, creates an argument for Opt being better than Serum Visions.

First of all Opt is an instant, while both Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions are sorceries. For a control deck with countermagic and spot removal, Opt being an instant is a huge upside. Let's take a look at an example of a control deck that might want Opt instead of Serum Visions:

There are plenty of times, when playing a deck like W/U Control, you are faced with a decision: cast Serum Visions to dig for lands (or action), or hold up a Counterspell like Mana Leak or Cryptic Command. However, this deck does have plenty of cards it's casting on its main phase, so there will be plenty of spots where you are unable to hold up a Counterspell anyway. The decision of which card draw spell to play is close, and since the deck doesn't really want more than four of a Serum Visions sort of effect, it will be either Opt or Serum Visions that makes the deck, and likely not both.

Being able to flashback Opt with Snapcaster Mage at instant speed does offer much more flexibility, compared to Serum Visions. In this case we are talking about needing to commit three mana at sorcery speed, so that is even more significant than the disadvantage of casting Serum Visions normally at sorcery speed. Also, if you do have Serum Visions on turn one it will normally be better than Opt, as you can hold up whatever removal or countermagic after the first turn. It is when you are deciding to cast a Serum Visions later in the game that Opt has the potential to be better. There certainly is some amount of additional value gained by Opt being an instant, especially in a deck with plenty of reactive instants and flash creatures like Snapcaster Mage. However, this isn't enough of a reason to make Opt better than Serum Visions. There is another key part to Opt, and that is that you get to immediately draw your card after scrying. This provides more immediate gratification the very same turn you are casting Opt. In the case of Serum Visions you are not getting the cards you scry to the top immediately. Oftentimes you want a card seen with Serum Visions immediately in hand. There is another factor that plays into this as well, and it is shuffling. Many Modern decks are constantly shuffling due to fetchlands. If you cast a Serum Visions and then crack a fetchland you are forced to shuffle away cards that might be on top of your deck from a Serum Visions. In the case of Opt if you do scry a card to the top of your deck it is then immediately drawn, and there is no downside to shuffling after casting it.

How Much Better Does Storm Get?

There are only a couple of decks that may want to play Opt, Serum Visions, and Sleight of Hand. Storm is one of those decks. Storm is perhaps the most obvious deck that Opt goes straight into, and also happens to be one of the best performing decks over the past few months. Storm didn't need another tool, but it got one. The question is do you play the full 12 one mana card draw spells? Here is where the deck stands before we add Opt to the mix:

I don't think you want a full 12 card draw spells for a single blue mana, the number is likely going to end up around 10. There are still other important spells like Rituals, Manamorphose, and of course Gifts Ungiven that really aren't cuttable. Opt does seem like it could be slightly better than Sleight of Hand, though the two cards are very similar here. Storm doesn't care a ton about Opt being an instant, and both cards have the potential to dig you two cards deeper. Sleight of Hand does provide more immediate information as you get to see your top two cards, while for Opt you have to make a decision on the scry before drawing your card. The decision on whether to play more copies of Sleight of Hand or Opt essentially boils down to whether Opt being an instant has more value than seeing your top two card before drawing the card.

Whether Storm decks end up going with more Opts or more Sleight of Hands, the two cards are extremely close in power level here. This leads me to believe that the power level of the Storm deck as a whole won't go up by that much. The biggest advantage Storm gets is the potential to play more than eight strong one mana cantrips, but there are Diminishing Returns at that point.

Is Opt good for Modern?

The conclusion that Opt will likely see play in Storm, but won't change the power level of the deck significantly, bodes well for Opt in Modern. Printing a one-mana card draw effect in blue is scary, as some of them have been banned because their power level is too high. Preordain and Ponder were simply a bit too strong, so the best card draw spell in Modern over the past few years has been Serum Visions.

Modern is a fast format, so it makes sense that the best card draw spells are the ones that cost the least amount of mana. This isn't Standard where a card like Sphinx's Revelation could be the best card draw effect. In fact, remarkably few card draw spells are played in Modern, outside of the ones that cost one mana. If you are paying more than one mana, there generally needs to be some other effect attaching to drawing cards, like in the case of Cryptic Command.

Opt is sometimes going to be better than Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions, while other times it will be worse. Even though this is a new card draw spell that will see play, it is a pretty safe inclusion to Modern when compared to the card draw effects we already have. I'm sure Wizards thought a lot before moving forward with this reprint, and it's a good one.

Other Homes for Opt

Any deck that already is playing Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, or preferably both, is where we are most likely to see Opt. This is essentially every single blue midrange deck in Modern. However, there are decks that are going to want to play Thought Scour over Opt, if they are trying to fill up their graveyard. A deck that comes to mind here is Grixis Death's Shadow. I have a feeling that Death's Shadow deck will not end up playing Opt.

Thought Scour is important for the delve creatures, so it becomes a question of whether Serum Visions is better than Opt, and that is a close call. In spots like this where Opt and Serum Visions are close I expect most players will be more inclined to play Serum Visions, because they know how good it is. Opt has something to prove if it is going to be considered one of the best card draw spells in Modern.

Hoping for a Miracle

Taking Turns is one of those off-the-radar decks that should be able to make use of Opt.

This deck has plenty of cards it wants to play on the opponent's turn, and Opt is an instant. Opt would be good enough to play in this deck even without its interaction with Temporal Mastery, but the fact that it is great with Miracle cards should make Opt a four-of here. Being able to cast Opt on the opponent's turn and then find a card that has Miracle is sweet. There aren't many good ways to find a card with Miracle on the opponent's turn, but Opt has the potential to exploit this interaction.

Here is a straight White-Blue Miracles list that we can add four Opt to:

Opt is better than any of the card draw effects in the deck for this archetype. I think Quicken is the one I want to replace the most; you don't really need to cast sorceries at instant speed, since you can miracle a card like Terminus during the opponent's turn anyway. We are seeing Miracles decks in Legacy without Sensei's Divining Top, so they certainly could make the transition to Modern. I am not saying that this is the optimal list, but it does provide an idea of what a Miracles deck might look like.

There is even potential to add an additional color for a card like Bonfire of the Damned. A deck like this could end up being good, if the Modern metagame is in a spot where sweepers are well positioned. There are likely many more off the radar decks that Opt fits perfectly in. Opt is a role player, but it has the potential to be a pretty important one for blue decks.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield




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