Last week, if you told me that anything would change in Modern, I flat-out wouldn’t believe you. The format was healthy, and the diversity was exciting for a huge portion of the player base.
From a competitor’s standpoint, I hated Modern. It was too tough to get an edge with deck choice. You would play and learn a deck over and over only to discover its weaknesses, which every deck had, and inevitably just choose something you were comfortable losing with.
This diversity also made me a huge fan of the format as a spectator. Watching Modern events is always interesting. Different decks do well each week, which usually means that you have a different viewing experience every time. Watching Jon Stern morph into Burn-Control in the semifinals of GP Toronto this past weekend was simply amazing to watch.
I thought changing Modern was a bad idea, because keeping the format exciting clearly outweighs keeping the format good for competitive players in the grand scheme of things. The format had quite a bit of shelf life left and I would have personally waited until it didn’t to experiment.
I could hardly believe it when I saw Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf were both unbanned. But this is the world we live in now. As a competitor, I like any change to this seemingly perfectly balanced format so that I can perhaps get an advantage. As a fan of the game, I’m a little worried at how this may impact Modern overall.
I think Bloodbraid Elf was relatively safe to unban. It’s slow, requires you to commit 4 mana for a random effect at sorcery speed, and will likely only slide into a couple of decks effectively. I think unbanning it alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor is both poetic and necessary. Bloodbraid and Jace have long been rivals and it’s fitting to see them compete against each other yet again.
Jund is of course the first deck that comes to everyone’s mind when it comes to Bloodbraid Elf, and with good reason. Bloodbraid Elf and Jund ran over Modern for a period of time, and that deck only got stronger. I do believe that Bloodbraid Elf took the blame for the existence of Deathrite Shaman, and since then it’s long been overdue for an unban.
Here’s a rough draft of a Jund deck with newly unbanned Bloodbraid Elf:
I expect Modern Jund to look a lot like this from the get-go. All the hype is surrounding Kolaghan’s Command with Bloodbraid Elf, and this gives Jund decks some staying power to out grind other grindy decks such as U/W Control, Jeskai Control, and Grixis Control.
Kolaghan’s Command bringing back Bloodbraid Elf provides this deck with a loop of card advantage similar to Snapcaster Mage with Kolaghan’s Command. What has been somewhat overlooked is how well this same plan will work with Liliana, the Last Hope. Liliana, the Last Hope was already seeing more and more play, and I think she will continue to see an uptick in play due to her natural synergy with Bloodbraid Elf.
The existence of Bloodbraid Elf will have a huge impact on Death’s Shadow, potentially displacing it altogether. Death’s Shadow wants you to use your life total as a resource in the early game, disrupt your opponent’s plan with hand disruption, then close out the game before the opponent draws out of it. Decks like this Jund deck want to play a more grindy game by 1-for-1’ing and using Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek to make sure that nothing gets out of hand. The deck will then lean on Bloodbraid Elf and Dark Confidant to pull ahead on cards and eventually bury the opponent. This Jund deck can win fast on the back of Tarmogoyf, but mostly, it will just aim to win with value.
Death’s Shadow will suffer from a rise in fair decks. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf will both fit best into interactive fair decks, which are well suited to combating Death’s Shadow, leaving the deck a little behind in an unbalanced metagame. I believe, at least in the short term, that we’ll see a lot more Bloodbraid Elves than Death’s Shadows.
Bloodbraid Elf has been played in other decks before alongside cards like Knight of the Reliquary, and could also see a new home with Ancestral Vision. I’m highly skeptical of Ancestral Vision Bloodbraid Elf decks because the cascade mechanic doesn’t play particularly well with countermagic, and decks with a heavy enough blue requirement to suspend a turn-1 Ancestral Vision will likely want to play countermagic. As far as Bloodbraid Elf in Naya decks, I don’t think it will gel as well as Jund does, so while you may see some decks like this, I think Jund will be the big winner here.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
So I wasn’t around the first time Jace, the Mind Sculptor was dominating tournament Magic. I was just getting back into Magic when Jace got banned, and hadn’t started playing Standard yet. For this reason I may be naive, but I do think that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a fine card for Modern.
I’ve seen U/W Control play cards like Dragonlord Ojutai, Jace, Architect of Thought, Gideon Jura, and the list goes on. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is now clearly and cleanly the best win condition blue decks will have access too. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Snapcaster Mage will define blue decks now, and I think that’s fine.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor lines up poorly against a few things. For one, we just witnessed a finals of Burn and Bogles at a Modern GP. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, while a fine way to close games out against these decks, isn’t going to be close to your best card in these types of matchups.
Cards like Collected Company, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, and now Bloodbraid Elf all match up pretty well against Jace, the Mind Sculptor, especially if you throw a Lightning Bolt in the mix. I think that having a 4-mana planeswalker adds some interesting gameplay to these matchups. Slamming Jace onto a clean board into some of these cards will turn some wins into losses. With more planeswalkers in the format, because of Jace and more Lilianas to go with Bloodbraid Elf, more planeswalker removal might be necessary. You might see more and more copies of Dreadbore, Maelstrom Pulse, and even Hero’s Downfall.
Jace will not be the focal point of every blue deck, but I believe that out of the gate you’ll find multiple copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in almost every deck that can cast it. Here are a few archetypes that will benefit from Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Here’s an example U/W Control deck that focuses on Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and uses Terminus as its sweeper.
This is basically a typical U/W Control deck that leans on Jace, the Mind Sculptor to close the game out, and also to put Miracles onto the top of the deck. Cards like Opt and criminally underplayed Censor can allow you to set up a Terminus on the opponent’s turn.
While Miracles may not be the direction U/W wants to go, Jace does provide you with the ability to go there. Cutting the miracles package and playing a more traditional U/W Control deck may be a bit cleaner and better.
Something like this:
Vendilion Clique will be an important card for winning Jace battles and also pressuring opposing Liliana of the Veils as well. So you’ll see more of those than usual in my deck lists. Jace, the Mind Sculptor may just slide better into Jeskai or Grixis Control, though. Jace has the ability to take over games on its own if left unchecked so I like the idea of playing it with cheap interaction—both Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push are excellent ways to keep the board clean for Jace, and having the ability to play hand disruption or sideboard into it for combo decks leave me liking the idea of Grixis Control at the moment.
Here’s a rough draft:
I may be taking some liberties with my Jace decks by failing to add any fast clocks. Jace can close games but is relatively slow, and it’s possible Tron will just outdraw you if you’re not attacking their life total, but it’s really just highlighting that Jace can both stabilize a game and then finish it in one neat package.
Delve creatures will get much worse in the face of a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Having to delve one extra time is doable. A third time—that’s just a disaster. If delve creatures start seeing less play, Fatal Push gets so much better than it already is and you have less need for cards like Terminate or Dismember in black decks.
I think Jace will also see play in blue-based combo decks as an alternate win condition that also draws cards to set up. Emrakul Through the Breach is a good example of a deck that could force a player to commit to killing a Jace while untapping and “comboing.”
There’s no doubt about it in my mind—Jace, the Mind Sculptor will see a ton of play, but I’m okay with that personally because I like to play interactive Magic.
How do the unbannings effect the format as a whole?
Both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf tend to find themselves at their best in midrange and control strategies. For this reason, in the short term Modern will be more interactive. Decks playing these cards will likely see an uptick in metagame share due to excitement of playing with new and powerful cards. Players will be figuring out play patterns and decks, and interaction will be at a high point for Modern. I also think this phase may be short lived.
We saw Burn and Bogles at the top of the last Modern Grand Prix and these two decks aren’t too worried about playing against either of these cards too much. The scenario I see is that Jace and Bloodbraid both have immediate impact, and both see more than their fair share of the metagame. After the honeymoon phase, reality will strike and the metagame will become more settled.
While it will largely depend on how successful the decks containing these two unbanned cards are, if they do prove to be real players in the format, we’ll continue to see faster linear decks that don’t care about Jace, the Mind Sculptor or playing against a lot of Jund. Decks like Bogles, Burn, Dredge, and Tron will see increased play, while decks like Affinity, Lantern, and Death’s Shadow become scarcer and scarcer because none of those decks want to play against Jund or Grixis Control type decks anyways.
Initially, I see these unbannings as a good thing for Modern as I like to play interactive Magic and both of these cards incentivize that. What I fear is that these unbannings will eventually lead to a smaller metagame share of midrange and control decks in the format overall, which will lead to less interactive Magic and more “coin flipping.” If a best Jace deck and a best Bloodbraid deck become the very obvious control and/or midrange choices, we may see players who played other versions of interactive decks jump ship to goldfish-style decks and then there’ll be even less interaction than they’re already was. Depending on your tastes, this could be a good thing, but I personally have never had fun staring down a turn-1 Slippery Bogle.
If I had to pick which of the two would have a bigger impact on Modern, my professional opinion is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor will have a bigger impact overall on the format. I think Jace, the Mind Sculptor will become a Modern staple and Bloodbraid Elf will likely only see a fair share of play in Jund, which will wax and wane with how the Modern metagame shapes up. I’m really excited to start playing some Modern queues on Magic Online, and to test out some of our new toys and decks.