4-Drops in Modern
Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the poster boy of Magic and its bad boy, as well as the queen of midrange, have returned to Modern. Well, Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn’t necessarily ever legal in Modern, given its dominance in Standard, but has been given the green light thanks to Modern’s growing size and power level. I mean, how many 4-drops were there in the Top 8 of the last Pro Tour? One. There’s only one 4-drop in all of the main decks of the Top 8 decks. That means that if you want to play 4-drops, they either have to sweep the board, stay in your sideboard, or be incredibly powerful, because Modern is a volatile turn 2-3 format. Now the question we have to ask ourselves is whether these two 4-drops are too good, or will they be kept in check due to the speed of the format? Hard to say, but I will be looking to put them to the test!
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
No planeswalker has won me as many matches as good old daddy Jace. Most of the time, when trying to control the game, a control player will draw cards to pull ahead and then finish the game with some kind of finisher. With Jace, the Mind Sculptor, you can skip to step 3. Its +2 ability can close out the game easily once you’ve used the Brainstorm enough times to get ahead. The first place I would look to put JTMS would be in a deck that can deal with early aggression and be as reactive as possible, as JTMS will take care of the rest.
We are going to see some other card choices with the new unbannings, especially in the decks featuring the new cards themselves. No longer do you have to fiddle around with multiple different threats such as Secure the Wastes, Search for Azcanta, Torrential Gearhulk etc.—now you can rely on your ace, Jace.
With JTMS you can play more reactive cards as well, such as Lightning Bolt and Spell Snare. I even snuck a Spell Pierce into the main deck to go along with 4 Snapcaster Mages to counteract other Jaces. I mean, even if it’s a situational card, you can just Brainstorm it away with JTMS.
Since you want 4 Jaces, you can’t afford to play too many 4-drops, meaning the number of Cryptic Commands has to go down. This is less of a problem, given that the reason you are playing Cryptic Command is to have a lean way to gain card advantage without losing too much tempo, given that Modern is so fast. With JTMS, however, drawing cards is easy.
Lastly, since we now can effectively Brainstorm in Modern, I expect to play a few more fetches in any list featuring JTMS. Sideboards will change in some major ways as well, such as Spell Pierce getting the nod over Dispel or a threat like Vendilion Clique. Jace is typically at his best against midrange, maybe it out of the format. That is, if it weren’t for…
Bloodbraid Elf, slayer of Jaces has been out of the format for some time, but now she’s back. BBE, unlike JTMS, was banned for a very different reason, which was an era of B/G/x dominance started by Deathrite Shaman, the most hated Elf in Legacy. Since Deathrite Shaman had just been printed in Return to Ravnica, Wizards was afraid to eliminate it so soon, so they sent the only other playable Elf packing. Deathrite Shaman was one of the best ways to enable more 3-drops such as Liliana of the Veil, and BBE played very well with this since of course you want to load up on 3-drops—they’re the best thing to cascade into. The question is, will she be the same after years in exile and without her longtime partner Deathrite Shaman?
Yes. Sure, BBE is no longer backed by one of the best 1-drops of all time, but she gains a better removal spell in Fatal Push. She also has better 3-drops to cascade into such as Kolaghan’s Command, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Tireless Tracker. So what would a good ol’ Jund list look like in the new era of BBE?
Bloodbraid Elf even changes the way B/G/x is built. No longer do I suspect that you would be inclined to play Junk instead of Jund, now that the upsides of Path to Exile and Lingering Souls are so easily conquered by Fatal Push and Bloodbraid Elf. Ancient Grudge, Raging Ravine, and Lightning Bolt are just that good. Fatal Push helps you get to the point that an extra body matters, but it’s also a worse hit off cascade, especially against some matchups, which is the reason for the 3-3 split with Bolt. An uptick of Kolaghan’s Commands and a full set of Liliana of the Veil also get the nod, with those being the best hits in your main deck. Even the sideboard has been filled with powerful 3-drops such as Fulminator Mage, Tireless Tracker, and Liliana, the Last Hope.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor… and Bloodbraid Elf?
As I’ve always said, two good things together become doubly as good together. Like kebabpizza, right? I mean, why does one have to exclude the other? When I’m thinking about Bloodbraid Elf, it takes my back to one of my favorite decks that I’ve played, Temur Visions in Legacy. The point of that deck was similar to Living End in Modern. Cascade into something you usually can’t cast—Ancestral Vision—with the help of Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf, and set it up with Brainstorm and Sylvan Library. Slowly, that deck basically got unbanned into Modern. First Ancestral Visions, but not BBE. Heck, even a way to Brainstorm is back!
To play this number of 3-drops to go with BBE and JTMS without having the power of the reactive cards in black you need some mana acceleration. Usually, that’s solved by counterspells in blue, but you can’t afford that given that you’re playing 4 BBE. To enable the dream of casting free Ancestral Visions, you also have Goblin Dark-Dwellers doing the same thing. JTMS and Courser of Kruphix are sweeter than candy. Yum. Folks, welcome to value town.
In my mind, Bloodbraid Elf seemed safe to reprint. Sure, it’s powerful, but 4-drops these days in Modern have to be absurd to see play. The only few that are played either lock up the game (Witchbane Ord), or sweep the board (Supreme Verdict), win the turn after (Gifts Ungiven), or do literally everything (Cryptic Command).
JTMS, however, was a lot more surprising to me. I guess I should have seen it coming given the spoiled pictures of the Masters 25 boosters, but JTMS has always seemed too powerful to reprint and perhaps too expensive in actual market price. Thinking about it, JTMS in Legacy is as powerful as it is because you can literally throw away cards to gain tempo (Force of Will) and protect it from manlands with Wasteland. Because of that, it’s almost too powerful, although Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast are somewhat holding it in check. In Modern, you don’t have the same tools to help JTMS be the ultimate wincon that it is in Legacy, and this format may be too hard to control. Given that this may be the case, I would say JTMS is safe too, but with more caution. Even the price might not be an issue—if it doesn’t dominate, you don’t have to play it to compete in Modern since the format is so diverse to begin with.
With these coming back, I’ll be excited to try them. What shells would you try?