At the Magic: The Gathering Modern Horizons spoiler season has just wrapped up, and the set is full of gems for the Modern format. The set was originally designed as a follow up to Time Spiral, which was driven by nostalgia and callbacks. Like its predecessor, almost every card in this set is an homage or reference to a part of the history of this game.
It’s going to be hard for anyone to catch every single nod to past cards in Modern Horizons. But we’re here to give it our best shot! We’ll be separating them into groups based off the cards’ colors, and today we’re starting things off with blue. Read on for a breakdown of each of these homages!
Bazaar Trademage serves as a callback to Bazaar of Baghdad, with the former’s enter-the-battlefield effect matching up with the latter’s tap effect. Additionally, Trademage is a 3 mana 3/4 flyer, just like Serendib Efreet (a card made famous when it was misprinted with a green border in Revised). Both those cards are from the Arabian Nights-themed plane of Rabiah, as is Trademage itself.
The flavor text is also a riff on the flavor of Squandered Resources, with an Aladdin-style retrain. The Aladdin motifs seem taken from the Disney version, given the colors of the flying carpet and the parrot.
The flavor text and effect of this card reference Walker of Secret Ways. Both can return Ninjas to your hand. Cunning Evasion lets you attack with multiple creatures, return a blocked one to your hand, and then Ninjustu it in by swapping it with the unblocked one.
Echo of Eons is a homage to Timetwister, a member of the so-called Power Nine, the most powerful cards in the game. It has the mana cost of Time Spiral, an attempt to “balance” Timetwister that was hopelessly overpowered. Its flashback cost is the same as the original Timetwister. Effects such as this card always exile themselves nowadays to avoid infinite loops, and as flashback exiles already, it wasn’t needed to be spelled out.
Everdream has the same effect as Evermind, with splice onto Arcane replaced with splice onto instant or sorcery. Its art is a direct recreation of the art of the original Evermind.
Force of Negation combines Force of Will and Negate. The ability to be cast for free by exiling a blue card homages Force of Will while the countering being limited to noncreature spells calls out Negate. The art matches both the Alliances and Eternal Masters versions of the cards. They all show a blue mage taking down a red fire spell.
This card is a snow version of Hedron Crab. Both are Crabs that mill a player for two, but Iceberg replaces landfall with a “snowfall” ability. The art directly references the original crab by swapping the hedron with a block of ice with a fish in it.
Mari Lage’s Slumber is a call out to Dark Depths, a powerful legendary land that’s a staple of many Legacy decks. Controlling 10 permanents reflects how the original Dark Depths would summon Marit Lage if you remove all 10 ice counters from it, and the snow theme is reflecting the original Dark Depths land. Having 10 permanents on the field also recalls the Rivals of Ixalan mechanic, Ascend.
In Modern Horizons, Mirrodin Besieged references an entire set as well as a previous cycle. Mirrodin Besieged was a set showing the midpoint in a conflict between the native Mirrans and the invading Phyrexian horde. As that was the set where the two sides were evenly matched, this card lets you choose between them. The mechanic of choosing two options tied to a faction is pulled from Fate Reforged, which did the same gimmick to reflect you choosing the Khans of Tarkir timeline (where dragons were extinct) or the Dragons of Tarkir timeline (where they ruled).
This instant transforms two of your creatures into Phantom Monsters until the end of the turn. The art is a reference to the Richard Wright interpretation first seen in Eternal Masters.
Phantom Ninja is identical mechanically to Phantom Warrior, except for its creature types. It has the same mana cost, power toughness, and ability. The art even is a direct homage to the Greg Staples art first seen in Eighth Edition. As unblockability works well with the Ninjustu mechanic, this was a natural fit.
When Pondering Mage enters the battlefield, its effect duplicates the card, Ponder. The art of Pondering Mage shows the mage literally casting Ponder. This is a zoomed out recreation of the card’s art first seen in Magic 2010.
This card is identical to Sift, except it is an instant.
Scuttling Sliver has the effect of Horseshoe Crab with the ability’s cost changed. All the Slivers in the original Tempest set that granted abilities with costs had those abilities cost 2 generic mana. Trilobites are physically similar to horseshoe crabs, thus the extra creature type.
In Modern Horizons, this card is a counterpart to Chain Lightning. While that card used Lighting Bolt as its inspiration, this one uses Unsummon. Both are one-mana instants. This is the second time a blue version of Chain Lightning was made after Chain of Vapor debuted in the Onslaught set. The art homages the Christopher Moeller design of Chain Lighting that debuted in Premium Deck: Fire and Lighting. That art also had three figures being struck by a chain of the spell.
Tribute Mage is part of a series of blue Human Wizards that add an artifact of a specific converted mana cost to your hand. Each begins with the letters Tr, costs 2U, and is a 2/2. Trinket Mage searched artifacts that cost 1 or less. Trophy Mage searched artifacts that cost 3. Treasure Mage searched artifacts that cost 6 or greater. Tribute Mage searches artifacts that cost 2. In its art is Sword of the Meek, an artifact that costs 2.
In Modern Horizons, Twisted Reflection homages not a card, but a common example of how the color pie works. Head Vision Designer Mark Rosewater often states that two in-color abilities can combine to form an ability that is out of color. Blue can shrink creatures’ power, and blue can switch creatures’ power and toughness. Doing both together would create a kill spell, which is a black effect, not blue. This card lets you pay black to combine both effects, making it in pie in each of its modes.
This card represents Urza, the iconic Magic: The Gathering character. It takes during the Brothers War that he fought against his brother Mishra. This was before his Planeswalker spark activated. Thus, why he is a creature and not a planeswalker card. Urza at the time was the High Lord Artificer of the Kingdom of Yotia. The tokens he makes are the same ones made by Karn, Scion of Urza, as Urza created Karn. The ability to make one blue mana for each artifact you control is based on Tolarian Academy, which Urza founded. His final ability is identical to Temporal Aperture, an artifact Urza used when he experimented with time travel in his quest to defeat the Phyrexians. Tolarian Academy and Temporal Aperture were used together in combo decks during Combo Winter. This was an era of degenerate decks that began with Urza’s Saga that led to several bannings.
Watcher for Tomorrow used the hideaway mechanic, previously only seen on lands. The keyword was created because the shared rules text was too large to fit on the card if not compressed into a keyword. Each Hideaway land debuted in Lorwyn and would be referenced in the follow-up Shadowmoor set, where the creatures shown hiding in the lands awakened.
That’s all for this slice of the pie. Stay tuned as we break down all the hidden gems of Modern Horizons. Spot any references we missed? Make a post down in the comments!
Jim Harbor is a writer of articles, plays, comics, songs and animation.