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I Cautiously Dived Into The Modern Horizons III Pre-Release And Lived To Talk About It

A novel’s worth of mechanical text

In the leadup to Magic: The Gathering‘s Modern Horizons III release, my early exposure to the fan discourse around this set is that it is notable for being both hardcore and expensive. Myself, I’m a casual with some 30 or so games under my belt over the past four years. The Modern format that the set takes its name from spans innumerable cards over decades of cycles, with serious format adherents having a reputation for spending big dollars on the near-limitless potential of their decks. So a set that aims to condense the heady highs of Modern’s potential for gobsmackingly powerful plays is something I thought I had no business going near, much less in the enthusiast atmosphere of an in-store pre-release event where seasoned players eagerly wait to discover the set’s secret array of reprints and new cards.

Suffice to say, when Wizards of the Coast hit me up to see if I would like to attend an in-store pre-release for this fan-favourite set, the stomach cramps immediately kicked in and I agonised over the skill ceiling before me. Luckily I took the plunge and enjoyed a thrilling night with wicked cards while watching on as this community buzzed with feverish anticipation.

The Modern Horizons III pre-release at Plenty of Games in Melbourne was packed to the rafters. Players lined rows of tables, with last-minute punters squeezing through the doors in the hopes of a seat at the tournament that marks the event. Across the space were dozens of focused, downcast gazes as players hungrily fingered through a fresh stack of cards pulled from the six Play Boosters in their pre-release packs. Aside from accessories, these folks could bring little more than their experience and aptitude, unsure of just what possible options the set has in store for them. Nobody here had seen more than a couple of handful of cards before the release, previewed by Wizards and even some Aussie outlets. This puts everybody on a nervously unknowable playing field.

A few of my mates who have only ventured into the hobby in the past 12 months decided to rock along, happy to cop the staggering $90 fee (that covers their boosters and then some). Having decided to happily opt out of any tournament play and instead do some low-stakes sealed play with some gracious fellow press, I took a couple of occasions from the sidelines to get a vibe check from my fresh-faced friends who had braved the tourney. They informed me that they were getting creamed amidst the sky-high skill ceiling, but had a great time doing so and got their money’s worth in card value.

Players coming to the table at a Modern Horizons pre-release event are here for powerful cards that can be played for cheap mana costs with staggering amounts of utility and synergy. Rather than being an extension of the current expansion cycle that has extended the series’ themes and worldbuilding, Modern Horizons releases appeal to players by ensuring that virtually every card should be a contender for your 40-card deck. There are no basic common cards here. Instead, virtually every common card has a paragraph worth of effects text with riveting potential. That’s only a slight exaggeration, you will still go cross-eyed taking it all in. This is about as intimidating a smattering of cards as you could hope to confront a novice player with.

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There is also the return of the Eldrazi, this set’s curious creature and thematic hook. A devouring race of termite creatures that effectively drain the mana from the planes it invades. As such, these are uniquely colourless species and will require players that utilise them to be properly equipped with the typically uncommon lands and artifacts that generate specifically colourless mana.

Galvanic Discharge How to Draft MH3 Riddle Gate Gargoyle MH3 Draft Guide Winter Moon (Modern Horizons 3 #213) Polluted Delta (Extended Art) Emrakul, the World Anew (Borderless Concept) 

Having only ever dipped into sealed deckbuilding on one other occasion, I was surprised by how straightforward the draft archetypes effectively narrowed me towards an interesting and functional deck with minimal agonising. After being advised to divide my pile of approximately 80 freshly pulled cards as per their colour profiles, the options immediately become far more parseable. Adding to this sense of relief is the draft archetypes insert included with the pre-release kit, which tells players about how this set has been engineered to accommodate sealed play. Specifically, the flavour of decks players can expect to find when combining certain colours. My cards favoured richer deckbuilding options if I went with a white-blue deck, known as the “energy flyers” archetype. It does what it says on the tin, giving me flying creatures that will be annoyingly out of reach of my opponent, while also juggling the returning mechanic of energy. This is a resource tracked by counters that are spent and charged to unleash powerful additional abilities.

Over the course of a couple of hours, I won and lost a game. I wish I could say my sole win came down to seeing the Matrix code in my cards and delivering a stunning play of combos. Alas, I was a cheeky bastard and had snuck a Winter Moon into my deck that had come up at just the right moment. After interrupting an expensive late-game spell from my opponent, I was able to play the Winter Moon at an attractively cheap cost of two mana. This card restricts all players to only untap one mana per turn, crippling any player who has exhausted all their lands on the turn prior. With my opponent all tapped out and myself rolling in lands and options, I quickly moved in for the kill. There was a deliciously satisfying, shared satisfaction between myself and my opponent that such a double-edged sword had been implemented in such a game-stealing manner. That’s my spicy taste of the Modern Horizons experience as a freshman.

Modern Horizons III is a pricier MTG release, with boosters fetching an average RRP of 30% more than standard sets. The common rarity cards often hold dollar values, a factor likely wasted on series beginners. For those who don’t balk at the higher price of admission, table-play with similarly skilled players is about as high-octane as Magic gets.

You can pick up Bundles, Collectors and Play Boosters, and Commander pre-cons at EB Games, JB Hi-Fi, and your local games store.

Modern Horizons III is currently available in-store and on MTG Arena

Written By Nathan Hennessy

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