Do you know that feeling of anticipation when you’re going to reunite with an old friend whom you haven’t seen for years? It tends to be a bit of excitement, a bit of nervousness, and a lot of uncertainty that all mixes together and results in a pretty mean tummy ache. Will it be the same? Will they still like the all the stuff that they used to like? What if they’re not how you remember them? Maybe they’ll be boring and disappointing. Worse yet, maybe you won’t be good enough for them anymore.
Bloodbraid Elf is unbanned, and I’m wracking my brain to remember what things were like the last time she was around. More importantly, what will things be like now that she’s back? It’s a challenging exercise because a lot has changed in Modern’s 7 year lifespan. Decks have come and gone, new sets have been printed, and cards have been banned and unbanned. It’s safe to say that Modern has left Blightning and Jund Charm behind since the last time Bloodbraid Elf was legal. Then again, plenty of exciting weapons have been added that we can pair her with now.
The Last Time Bloodbraid Elf Was Legal
The first time that I paired Bloodbraid Elf and Liliana of the Veil together was the 2011 Magic Online Championship. Forgive me for being self-centered, but that seems as good a place as any to begin the story of Bloodbraid Elf in Modern.
reiderrabbit, 1st place at 2011 Magic Online Championship
This was a strange brew for a number of reasons. It was inspired by Tommy Ashton’s Jund deck that he played in the Modern portion of the World Championships that same weekend. He was the first person I’d seen playing a deck like this one since the old Extended days.
I took Tommy’s deck and geared it as best I could for a single match against Florian Pils, whom I strongly suspected would bring Zoo. This is why you see an overabundance of removal and weapons for creature mirrors, as well as a slant toward Inquisition of Kozilek and Kitchen Finks rather than Thoughtseize and more aggressive threats.
For a brief time, this version of Jund was a strong deck. It was a killer of Zoo—Modern’s most played deck at the time—while also having nice game against combo, Faeries, and anything else you might run into. (By the way, Bloodbraid Elf was a reasonable consideration for Zoo decks at the time, although it was not found in the most common builds). You’ll notice, of course, that the Punishing Fire-plus-Grove of the Burnwillows combo was a major strength of this early build. Punishing Fire was soon banned, and Jund had to adjust accordingly.
Despite not being one of the best decks at the time, Yuuya Watanabe won the 2012 Players Championship (the progenitor of today’s World Championship) with Bloodbraid Elf Jund. His version was fairly basic, with 4 copies of all of the “obvious” cards before rounding out his discard and removal suite with some 1s and 2s. Gearing for a field of aggro and blue control, he was heavy on creaturelands and heavy on answers to Geist of Saint Traft. This was about the “fairest” you would see Jund until the banhammer started to hit a few year later.
Yuuya Watanabe, 2nd place Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
Less than three months later, we find Watanabe in the finals of the Pro Tour, again playing Bloodbraid Elf Jund. This time, however, falls in the midst of Jund’s golden age, where Bloodbraid Elf and Deathrite Shaman were both legal at the same time. This is the period where Jund earned its reputation and struck fear into the hearts of Modern players everywhere. Bloodbraid Elf was banned, and Jund was still too good. Deathrite Shaman was soon banned as well.
Bloodbraid Elf Today
Deathrite Shaman remains banned, which means that Bloodbraid Elf is left in the role of medium-speed value card, rather than being the scourge of the format it once was. That being said, there are some great new cards that can now be paired with Bloodbraid for the first time. Maybe they hold the potential to make her better than ever.
Fatal Push is neither a good nor a bad cascade, but the fact is that its existence makes Jund a much better deck than it has been in the past. Extra 1-mana removal (and black mana is usually painless on turn 1) changes close matchups into great matchups. I’m excited to see Bloodbraid Elf in a world of Fatal Push.
Remember that there’s value in making your fourth land a fetchland for the turn you cast Bloodbraid, just in case you cascade into Push.
Sometimes Scavenging Ooze is so good that I feel like I’m getting away with murder when I play with it. It’s both a utility card and a power card, and it dominates the late game in a wide variety of situations. It simply does so much for 2 mana! A 2-drop creature that scales in power level as the game goes on is the perfect cascade.
A discard spell that does something else if the opponent is empty-handed. A removal spell that does something else if the opponent doesn’t have a creature. Collective Brutality will always range from a solid cascade to a great one. And yes, you can choose to escalate when you cascade into Brutality.
These are the real game-changers, as they represent an inexorable late-game engine when you have Bloodbraid Elf in your deck. They’re both great to cascade into, and great to cast on turn 6 after your first BBE has done its job and hit the graveyard. The Elf is not just a one-shot value card anymore—it’s something you can recur over and over again to bury your opponent.
Perhaps not for traditional Jund, but Traversing for a Bloodbraid Elf is an appealing idea. I think a 1-of Elf could fit into existing Death’s Shadow decks, and building a more dedicated delirium deck with BBE might be possible as well.
Building Around Bloodbraid Elf
The color blue has an interesting relationship with cascade. Ancestral Vision is probably the best cascade in the format, barring combo decks like Living End. But permission spells are blanks, and Snapcaster Mage and cheap cantrips are a little bit dicey. I’ll touch on Temur at the end of the article, but this section will highlight Jund-colored cards that change in value in the presence of Bloodbraid Elf.
Cards That Get Better
Lightning Bolt and other burn spells get better with cascade. There are times when a removal spell will be just what the doctor ordered, and there are times when one will be useless. Having the ability to go to the dome provides a fallback plan, and makes burn spells improve relative to non-burn removal. That’s not to mention that pairing your haste creature with a burn spell unloads damage at a pretty scary rate. Other winners outside the Jund colors include Lightning Helix and Tribal Flames.
3-mana spells tend to make great cascades. You can measure how broken your Bloodbraid Elf is by how much mana worth of value you get. At 5 mana (say, cascading into a Lightning Bolt), you have a very strong, but fair card. At 6 mana (hitting a Tarmogoyf) you have something special. At 7 mana (either Liliana, Kolaghan’s Command, etc.), there’s little your opponent can do besides throw up their hands in disgust.
Life gain cards are good cascades. Bloodbraid Elf improves your ability to fight into the long game, so you don’t want to get punked out by a quick rush or a flurry of burn spells. This is even more true if you want to be playing Dark Confidant (which I do). Scavenging Ooze and Collective Brutality are clear winners, and it might even be enough to make Kitchen Finks a consideration once again.
Cards That Get Worse
Cantrips like Mishra’s Bauble and Nihil Spellbomb are marginal choices for G/B/x midrange that probably won’t make the cut alongside Bloodbraid Elf. Lowering your chances of hitting something to impact the board does weaken Bloodbraid in a noticeable way.
How I Would Build Jund
Mind you, it’s been 5 year since I cast a Bloodbraid Elf—I won’t get it perfect on the first try. Nonetheless, I’ll walk you through my process for the first Jund deck I’m going to try out after Wednesday’s Magic Online downtime.
I’ll be playing either 24 or 25 lands. 24 was stock when Deathrite Shaman and Bloodbraid Elf were legal together. 25 was stock in the pre-Deathrite Shaman days, and I personally remember playing 26 in some of my own decks. But Modern has sped up a lot since those days, and the 1- and 2-mana spells have gotten better and more important. We’ve come a long way since the days of nothing, nothing, Blightning.
Creaturelands are also worse due to the speed of the format and the printing of Field of Ruin. I’d love to play 24 with a couple Nihil Spellbombs, but since cantrips pair badly with Bloodbraid Elf, I’ll probably start with 25 lands. 4 will be basics, and 4 or 5 will be creaturelands.
I’ll skip Grim Flayer, in part because I’m losing my artifact cantrips. I would love 3 Scavenging Ooze, and a singleton Grim Lavamancer or Kitchen Finks might be nice. But the 3-drop spot will be crowded with 6 Lilianas alongside Kolaghan’s Command and Maelstrom Pulse.
Even going as low as 4 or 5 discard spells in the main deck, that’s a lot of great options, and they won’t all make the cut.
Other Shells for Bloodbraid Elf
Temur will undoubtedly appeal to a lot of players. You could potentially jam three of Modern’s most recent and exciting unbans—Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Ancestral Vision—all into the same deck!
Of course, Bloodbraid and Ancestral work together like a dream, and would be a great way to prey on opposing midrange and control decks if everyone is jumping to play with Jace and Bloodbraid. But from what I know of Modern right now, it doesn’t sound like a realistic strategy. Having so many cards that do nothing before turn 4 is a recipe for disaster, and the fact that you can’t pair permission spells with cascade means that you’d be dead in the water against combo decks.
While there’s a lot to do in the Temur colors, the first thing I’d try would be to add Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but leaving Bloodbraid Elf on the bench in favor of keeping permission spells and a couple of Huntmaster of the Fells.
Bloodbraid Elf is going to be amazing in any creature deck, and it’s particularly awesome alongside Tribal Flames. If Jund is a little too slow for your tastes, you can try running people over with Wild Nacatls, Bloodbraid Elves, and burn spells.
Blood Moon Decks
Bloodbraid is a perfect fit into the existing G/R land destruction deck. In general, it’s the perfect top-end for a deck looking to capitalize on Blood Moon.
There’s a ton of ground to cover just fitting Bloodbraid Elf into existing decks. Who knows what new brews might be possible, or what ancient archetypes Bloodbraid might revitalize? And that’s only one of the two cards that got unbanned! This is a very exciting time to be a Modern player, and I can’t wait to see how things shake out in the coming weeks.