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July 9, 2015

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Hallowed Moonlight: Is there room in Modern sideboards?

Note: I won’t talk about the card in Legacy or Standard. For the former, it’s unlikely it will surpass Containment Priest’s utility. As for Standard, with a meta that changes weekly, we would have to see how Origins plays out.

Social media was excited for Hallowed Moonlight as soon as it was spoiled. Readers quickly saw its applications against many Modern decks:

– Token decks (Splinter Twin or otherwise)
– Reanimator decks (Reanimator, Vengevine)
Aether Vial-based decks (Merfolk, Death and Taxes)
Collected Company decks (Elves, Combo)

That’s A LOT of decks. It seems like most decks in Modern are trying to cheat in creatures somehow. Containment Priest saw quick uptake in Legacy when it was released in Commander 2014. Can we expect the same of Hallowed Moonlight? Let’s look at the card.

The card:

0016_MTGORI_EN_HRR-215x300

Note: Its effect is a replacement effect, meaning the creature would actually never enter the battlefield. “Enter the battlefield” abilities will not be triggered.

Pros:

At a glance, it looks pretty useful and low risk. Creating the possibility to grant you enough tempo or card advantage to seal the game.
– You can set your opponent back significantly and net a card in the process.
– It hits tokens.
– You can play it while still running your own creature-cheating shenanigans.
– It cantrips for 1W in a pinch.
– White is an easy splash.
– It’s not a permanent, so it isn’t weak to removal.

But is it enough?

Cons:

With sideboard slots at a premium, is this card good enough to make the 75?
– One-time use with no ongoing effect
– Holding up 1W for the right moment can be onerous if your deck doesn’t play during your opponent’s turn.
– Not powerful enough to be a silver bullet

As with any reactive spell, there will be times you will sit eagerly with Hallowed Moonlight in your hand and it will go unused. When you do use it successfully, your opponent may try execute the same strategy next turn and you won’t have a solution.

How hard does it hit those Modern decks?

Let’s take a closer look at the decks it hits the most and estimate the impact of a resolved Hallowed Moonlight.


Low impact

While Hallowed Moonlight can give Aether Vial a hard time, AV decks can play around it. The decks can usually simply… cast the creatures.


Medium impact

While it would be best to use board wipes or creature removal, I would be happy to have Hallowed Moonlight as a Dismiss. It is worth noting that resolving Company or Chord is not necessary for the decks to be successful, sometimes leaving you wishing you’d had a Path to Exile in your hand instead.


(and other token strategies) Medium impact

Though similar to the example above, more spells in token decks are opportune targets so it becomes more viable. However, an unresolved token generation spell does not significantly stunt the deck.


(and other recursion based strategies) High impact

I think it goes without saying that decks that focus on dropping a large creature (or several mediocre creatures) from a graveyard (or your hand) to win the game would be impacted severely by the card.


Low impact

As we all know, Splinter Twin decks don’t necessarily win with infinite tokens. If they do execute the combo, you can stall them for a turn, but you can be sure you will have several million Deceiver Exarchs coming at you next turn.


Low impact

Though optimistically, it can punt 2 Vengevines or 3 Bloodghasts to the exile zone, giving you first class tickets to value town, the creatures just aren’t entering the battlefield in any kind of reliable way. Since Vengevine and Bloodghast abilities are “may” triggers, the deck’s pilot could easily play around the card.

In the circumstances above, what would the impacts have been if the card was Wrath of God, Path to Exile, Rest in Peace or Stony Silence instead? Also, you may note the decks above do not include several (currently) top tier decks making up over 50% of the meta (according to MTGTOP8). Hallowed Moonlight has no impact on these decks.

Overall

Does Hallowed Moonlight do enough? The answer, I think, is no. Your sideboard should be hitting more decks and hitting them harder. Hallowed Moonlight is too narrow and suffers from the same fate as Shadow of Doubt. Sure the card can severely affect a board state in a select few match-ups, but it’s simply not doing enough to the rest of decks. Cantripping (for two mana) for a surprise card is simply not an acceptable consolation prize when that card could have been more useful. And sometimes, you need to draw into a reactive answer, not a proactive one.

Potential decks:
I think this card is far from being mainboard material in this meta. If reanimator decks escalated in popularity, you may be able to slip Hallowed Moonlight into an end-of-turn deck like a UWx shell. Though every time it crosses my mind, I can’t help but feel I’d still prefer a card like Negate.

What about you, modern player, does Hallowed Moonlight deserve a spot in your sideboard, or even your mainboard?

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-Patrick Burt