Oh no, now I like another Magic: The Gathering format I have to keep up with

A winged woman holds out a staff
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

I like to play Magic's Commander format, because it lets four people sit round a table slinging nonsense at each other and that's a good time. It's a social game, where the above-the-table deals between players can be as important as the cards in your hand. I also play Standard, usually in Arena, because I like to pit a deck I've built—or modified from somebody else's decklist—against the internet and see how it measures up. But the wild proliferation of other Magic: The Gathering formats? Leave me out.

I tried Historic/Vintage, where all those old cards from before the designers understood "balance" are legal, and it just meant being thrashed by people with cards I'd never heard of that did things I didn't understand. Modern, which lets you play older cards than Standard but newer cards than Historic—the cutoff point is 2003's eighth edition—didn't appeal to me at all. It's less likely to end in a turn-one wipeout than Vintage, but the cards and combos are still more powerful than the ones in Standard? Nah, I'm good.

This is what I thought, and then I watched a half-hour documentary about Modern Horizons 3 and my defenses crumbled.

Regular Magic expansions have a theme, like cowboys or murder-mystery or fairytales, and part of the fun is seeing how that theme is interpreted as new mechanics and cards. The Tales of Middle-earth expansion leaned into the things that make Tolkien's work different from other fantasy, which meant it wasn't just a great Magic set, but it also changed the way I think about The Lord of the Rings. That's cool! The Modern Horizons sets don't do that. Each one is just about coming up with new cards, or reprinting old ones, specifically to suit the Modern format. That means they need to be high-power and competitive, and that's all.

But as that documentary highlighted, this gives designers a chance to take their gloves off and make some real haymakers. It also means every new card is  somebody's idea of a fun thing to add to Magic. Nobody has to make a card for Gollum because you have to have a card for Gollum. It's all stuff that will be fun to play.

Look at Reef Worm, one of the reprints (pulled in from Commander 2014). Its stats are 0/1, the lowest they can be without being dead. When the Reef Worm inevitably dies though, you get a free 3/3 fish. And when that fish dies, you upgrade to a 6/6 whale. And when the whale dies? You get to drop a 9/9 kraken on the board, because there's always a bigger fish. Other cards are entertaining because of how many options they have. Thraben Charm lets you pick from three different things it can do, while Kozilek's Command lets you choose two out of a list of four possibilities. Other sets have cards like this, but less of them, and for more mana.

I went to a prerelease event for Modern Horizons 3 with an open mind, and found out that, yes, a set full of cards designed to be fun is a fun set to play. I played my Kozilek's Command to summon four spawns, then followed it with Thraben Charm, choosing the ability that does two points of damage for every creature you've got. Swinging for eight points of damage like that feels real good.

I still lost the match though, because my opponent had a deck of cards that were just as powerful, Which is the part I hadn't expected to enjoy. It wasn't just that I had a hand full of Eldrazi nonsense and giant fish, it was seeing what my opponent could do in return. Which turned out to be a lot, because these cards cost less mana so you can take more of those swings per turn. 

I don't know if I'd want to play Modern all the time, because I imagine the shine would come off once my expectations shifted and this level of combo became my baseline, rather than a fun holiday in Crazy Town. But I'll definitely try it again, and helpfully this is the first Modern-only expansion to be released in Arena, so I can play it in the digital realm as well.

Modern Horizons 3 will be out in paper form on June 14, and is available in Arena now.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and Playboy.com, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.