Magic: The Gathering Modern Horizons spoilers season started Sunday, and the power level, diversity of mechanics, and historical callbacks in what we’ve seen so far have been very exciting. Late last week, an unofficial leak (booo!) seemed to tease what could potentially be the Buy-a-Box promo card for Modern Horizons (MH1). In an official Magic article posted today, Dan Musser previewed the promo, revealed it was another reprint, and confirmed it was indeed Flusterstorm.
For those not familiar with the concept of Buy-a-Box promos, they are special cards that cannot be opened in booster packs from the set they are printed with and are only able to be acquired by pre-ordering a box (or from the secondary market after the set is released). They are usually limited in quantity, which means they can fetch a high price if the card is playable. Considering Flusterstorm is a Legacy and Vintage staple, it could easily go for more than the last playable BAB promo, Nexus of Fate.
Now, let’s move on to the interesting part.
In a format as fast and unforgiving as Modern, the bar for playable counterspells has long been set at one to two mana — with the exception of Cryptic Command in control decks. Among playable 1-mana counterspells that see play in Modern, its essentially just Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, Dispel, Ceremonious Rejection, and Stubborn Denial in specialized decks. While Flusterstorm has some crossover application with most of these, the most direct comparisons are Spell Pierce and Dispel.
Looking at these side by side, their individual strengths and overlapping applications become clear:
Spell Pierce is the most universally useful, countering Planeswalkers, artifacts, enchantments, instants, and sorceries. Best in the early game, Spell Pierce’s usefulness falls off as the opponent makes land drops. However, it can still punish casting on curve into the mid-game and threatens to punish mana-efficient plays through the final turn.
Dispel can only counter instant spells and is the most narrow card in our lineup. However, Dispel has often seen play in control decks as a mana-efficient way to win “counter wars.” One player will find an opportune window to resolve a threat, and both players use their resources that turn to fight over it with countermagic. Most countermagic found in control decks costs 2-4 mana, so having a Dispel in hand during key counterwars puts you at a significant advantage in terms of mana efficiency.
Flusterstorm has historically bridged the gaps between these two cards. In tempo and creature decks, Flusterstorm protects threats from removal spells early on, it allows the control player to have the last word in counter wars, and it also has the very specific application of being the perfect counterspell to protect a storm player’s combo turn. Of course, the nature of the storm mechanic makes it the perfect card to bring in against the storm combo as well, so it cuts both ways.
Flusterstorm in Modern
I don’t expect Flusterstorm to have quite the impact that Force of Negation will have in Modern, but I do expect it to see notable play in sideboards. I predict it will likely replace Dispel entirely as a counter-war trump card in control sideboards, replace 1-2 copies of Spell Pierce in UR Phoenix, and potentially see play over Spell Pierce in Infect as well.
There is also an aggro-combo deck featuring Nivmagus Elemental, utilizing a host of 0-1-mana spells with a select 1-mana storm payoff. The deck wins by increasing the storm count via casting its cheap spells, casting a storm payoff, exiling extraneous spells on the stack to the elemental’s ability, and then swinging in for lethal in one huge turn. It also has the pretty effective plan B of winning via Death’s Shadow or Prowess triggers on Monastery Swiftspear. There are many forms of it — some play Tainted Strike, Kiln Fiend, and the various pacts — but Flusterstorm is an excellent reason to splash blue in any version.
Buy-a-Box isn’t the end
We’ll be covering Magic: The Gathering Modern Horizons spoilers for the entirety of the next two weeks, not just the buy-a-box, so be sure to come back and catch our daily spoiler roundups, plus breakdowns of the more impactful cards from the set.
What’s your favorite card spoiled so far? What card do you hope will be reprinted in Modern Horizons, and why?