Magic players love lists. We’re no different here at CKL. In fact, we reeeeeeally love lists…so much so that we’re starting a brand new series, the Modern Power Rankings. Similar to football and baseball power rankings in which writers rank the teams with the greatest all around offensive and defensive personnel, we’ll focus on a different category each time, including creatures, spells, enchantments, etc, based on their current level of effectiveness in the Modern metagame. Today, we focus on creatures, keeping in mind the premier choices for removal in Modern at the given moment.
While nearly everything is susceptible to Path to Exile (Stormbreath Dragon snickers), resilience to Lightning Bolt and/or being larger than 2 cmc (and even better, 4 cmc) remains the primary ‘barrier to entry’ for modern creature spells. For the longest time, Lightning Bolt reigned supreme and creatures like Mantis Rider would never be considered viable due to the abundance of 3 damage spells. Now, we see plenty of three-toughness creatures floating around because Fatal Push absorbs quite a bit of the real estate that Bolt once consumed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of Lightning Bolt, but Fatal Push relieves some of that pressure. As a result, creatures like Tarmogoyf, which are typically strong against removals like Bolt, are suppressed by the arrival of Push. It may be the most expensive creature in the format, but you’re certainly not going to see the lhurgoyf on the list this time.
In addition to considering their ability to stand up to the most common removal spells in the format, the following list represents the creatures who are poised to do the most damage, provide the most utility, and/or are costed efficiently enough to provide the most “bang for your buck”. You will not see creatures like Devoted Druid or Baral, Chief of Compliance on this list as these types of cards are only powerful specific to their deck’s particular strategy.
Without further ado, here are the current 10 best creatures in modern:
10: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia fills a very specific void in creature strategies occupied only by herself. While this 2/1’s stats and mana cost make it vulnerable to all three of the removal spells previously mentioned, its taxing effect for these types of spells is a very useful and desirable effect for creature strategies. In fact, this effect is SO useful that this legendary creature is one of the few that gets played in multiples of four nearly every time it shows up in a deck. A Supreme Verdict or Wrath of God requiring an extra mana, will delay a board sweep by at least a turn (often more if the fifth land drop is missed), and will frequently provide a crucial attack phase in a beatdown strategy. Beyond that, First Strike is a very relevant keyword. Because of it, this creature is not afraid to attack. Without it, the risk of losing its tax effect may be too great.
Appears in: 5C Humans, Death & Taxes, Eldrazi & Taxes
9: Primeval Titan
If your plan for Primeval Titan is to destroy it with a Terminate, or even worse, Path to Exile, its impact has likely already been felt. To be able to search for two lands without the stipulation of being basics, is incredibly powerful, and again, rather unique to this member of the top ten creatures in Modern. This creature appears most commonly alongside Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and often in the Scapeshift decks, but can also make use of other utility lands such as Slayers’ Stronghold (paired with Amulet of Vigor to give haste immediately). No matter what, it requires immediate attention because each attack repeats this devastating advantage swing and effectively reduces the number of lands that you will draw in subsequent turns. Often times, that isn’t too big of a factor because you’re already blasting your opponent to death with Valakut and attacking with one of the largest creatures that is played in Modern…oh yeah, with trample.
Appears in: Amulet Bloom, Scapeshift, Titan Shift
8: Tireless Tracker
Tireless Tracker may not appear with as many copies as other members of the list, but it is played as a one and two-of in a wide variety of Modern decks as it provides (again) a unique effect, excellent versatility, and devastating card advantage. Tracker first made its impact in Standard Bant Company decks making use of Evolving Wilds for extra clue tokens, but really shines in Modern where fetch lands are so prevalent. Green creature decks, which are often hungry for card advantage engines can use Tracker to turn top decked lands into a second, and sometimes third chance, to draw something more useful. Though it often appears without other inclusions to maximize value, Tracker is good friends with Knight of the Reliquary and Courser of Kruphix in Creature Toolbox decks, as well as Azusa, Lost But Seeking and Sakura-Tribe Elder in Amulet.
Tracker may be the most controversial inclusion on this list, and at number 8, may seem as if it is ranked ‘too high’ but let’s face it, there are few creatures in Modern that will rival this one when it comes to value and versatility. Tracker has this market cornered and, until a new creature is printed that provides similar advantage at this rate, it will maintain its position. There are few other creatures in Modern that can provide as much value as Tireless Tracker.
Appears in: Company Decks, Amulet Bloom, Jund, Abzan, Scapeshift
7: Vendilion Clique
The knowledge of your opponent’s hand, in it of itself, is a vital piece to an informed game plan. Add to that the ability to remove the most vital piece of your opponent’s hand and an aggressive three-powered flying creature with flash and you’ve got an incredibly versatile creature. At it’s worst, Clique is a surprise blocker to trade with an attacking creature (looking at you, Spell Queller, Mantis Rider). At its best, Clique can take the best top deck away from an opponent before they even have a chance to cast it and then attacks for lethal on the next turn. Currently, Modern doesn’t see a ton of flying creatures. Those that are played, generally trade with Vendilion Clique but few outclass it. I am always a fan of playing at least one copy in any blue control deck.
Appears in: Ux Control Decks, Faeries
6: Geist of Saint Traft
Value? Check. Resilience? Check.
In certain match-ups, a resolved Geist of Saint Traft simply cannot be answered. I’m often reminded of how ridiculously strong this card is when my opponent is forced to use a Path to Exile on the attacking angel token only for it to reappear the next time Geist attacks. Though its effectiveness is diminished against go-wide creature decks, Geist’s impact in games where it shines makes it strong enough to be included at number six on this list.
Appears in: Ux Control Decks, Jeskai Tempo, Bant Spirits
5: Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Tasigur is often compared to Tarmogoyf based on the fact that it can be consistently cast for just one or two mana and provides a huge undercosted body. Whereas Tarmogoyf is susceptible to Fatal Push, Tasigur is not. This is a big deal. Beyond that, Tasigur provides a repeatable card advantage engine useable by UB or GB decks based on its hybrid cost. Tasigur finds a home in aggressive decks like Death Shadow due to its ability to attack early and often with the path cleared by cheap removal spells. It is also included as one of few creatures that a UBx control deck. Here is where I find it the most devastating. When your opponent is tempted to board out most of their removal against a creature-light deck, Tasigur’s impact is really felt. It allows these types of decks to pivot into a ‘protect the queen’ type of strategy when a long and grindy control match-up is expected.
Appears in: Death’s Shadow, UBx Control
4: Thought-Knot Seer
Thought-Knot Seer is a truly ludicrous creature. At four mana, being able to exile or force the removal spell it demands (Bolt won’t work, and Push won’t either without Revolt) typically sets up for a very painful turn five at the hands of Thought-Knot’s counterpart, Reality Smasher. The most insane part of this is that Eldrazi decks are able to cast this creature as early as turn two with just two Eldrazi Temples! Outside of the Eldrazi Tron builds, Death & Taxes pairs Thought-Knot with Eldrazi Displacer to repeat its ETB trigger at each of your opponent’s draw steps to police his or her draws. With few removal spells being truly live against this creature, this type of hand disruption can make Seer very difficult to destroy.
Appears in: Eldrazi & Taxes, Eldrazi Tron, G Tron, U Tron, Bant Eldrazi
3: Death’s Shadow
It should be unsurprising to see Death’s Shadow on this list as it is the namesake of one of the current most powerful Modern decks. Paired with fetch/shock lands, incidental Thoughtseize damage, and Street Wraith cycling costs, a turn three Death’s Shadow often demands immediate attention. The mere existence of this creature in Modern significantly changes the way we play against decks that might contain Death’s Shadow. If we damage our opponent too much and too soon, we will likely be faced with a creature that is just too large to remove. Cards like Stubborn Denial provide valuable insurance policies for Death’s Shadow and fellow deck-mate, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, who also appears on this list.
Appears in: Grixis and Jund Death’s Shadow
2: Walking Ballista
Beyond providing a colorless win condition for infinite mana combos that is incredibly hard to interact with, Walking Ballista is just a solid mana sink for big mana decks like Tron. It also benefits from +1/+1 counter effects like Gavony Township and flourishes in brews with Winding Constrictor, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer (though there are few decks that currently play this package). In Vizier Company decks, where Ballista commonly appears as a win condition, a single copy is all that is necessary to almost guarantee the win when the combo is assembled. Whereas alternatives like Rhonas the Indomitable can be exiled, Walking Ballista includes the built-in ability to put itself into the graveyard to later be returned to your hand with Eternal Witness. For Tron builds, casting an early Ballista for X=2 does not mean that it isn’t getting any larger as ‘Tron-fecta’, assembled after Ballista is cast can provide the needed mana to put additional counters on the creature. As long as you provide the mana, he’ll continue to fire the arrows.
Appears in: Company Decks, Eldrazi Tron, G Tron, U Tron, GB Constrictor
1: Snapcaster Mage
We are, once again, living in the “age of the mage”. Birthing Pod was once banned citing that WoTC would continue to print powerful creatures, thus making it better and better. The same is true for Snapcaster Mage. We will continue to see more powerful instant and sorcery spells being printed and the coming of Fatal Push at the beginning of 2017 reminds us of that. Not long before Push, Kolaghan’s Command entered the world of Modern, providing a nice little tool for Snapcaster to repeat a powerful two-for-one effect or return another Snapcaster from your graveyard to continue the cycle. Bolt remains a great friend to Snapcaster as well and Snap/Bolt decks have returned in a big way this year in the form of Jeskai Tempo.
Snapcaster means that you’ve got a virtual four extra copies of the best spell in your deck with a 2/1 flash body attached to them. For that reason, Snap is likely the best blue card in Modern and solidly holds the #1 spot on our first Modern Creature Power Rankings.