For the past couple Modern Pro Tours, I knew almost exactly what I wanted to play immediately after the Banned & Restricted List updates. In fact, for both tournaments, I had something like 73/75 cards in my deck set two weeks before the event. Historically, new sets rarely impact Modern significantly, so I expected most of the change to come from new (un)bannings. I was so confident that once again nothing would be different for the upcoming Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch that I had the genius idea to book my flight to arrive in Atlanta the night before Pro Tour (Thursday) and do all of my PT preparation on MTGO.
That was a very silly mistake. Oath of the Gatewatch is probably the set with highest volume of Modern-relevant cards in recent history. I am not saying I expect any individual cards to find themselves as powerful and banned as quickly as Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time. Despite that, there are over 20 cards I expect to see Modern play and, for the first time in a while, I’m sure we will see new decks based around a new set’s mechanics in the form of colorless mana and the sweet new Eldrazi.
Today I will talk about the cards that I think might see play in the best and most beloved archetype ever: BGx midrange. Please be aware that I am discussing these cards with a specific focus on the style of decks I play and therefore how I expect them to perform. These cards may certainly see play in other decks but that is not my focus here. In the same vein, I will not be discussing cards that I can’t play with my Overgrown Tombs such as the new Eldrazi and colorless cards.
Oath of Nissa
This is an effect we never have in GBx decks so it is pretty hard to evaluate. It is important to have turn-1 plays in Modern, no matter what they are: mana creatures, removal, or discard. Oath of Nissa offers the possibility for turn-1 card selection to the mix.
Considering a typical BG deck, you will have approximately 24 lands, 16 creatures, 4 planeswalkers, and 16 other spells. With almost 3/4 of the deck being hits, it is unlikely that Oath of Nissa will completely whiff. The more important question is this: How often do you want to search for a land after turn 1? This isn’t the only problem. BG decks usually want to answer the opponent’s threats before winning with their own. Having an early card that does not help find removal spells does not necessarily advance your goals.
But it’s not all bad. Several Oaths would allow you to play fewer lands, helping to somewhat reduce the risk of late-game floods. You may also be able to take advantage of its second clause if you run several double-colored planeswalkers such as Liliana, Chandra, Gideon, and Garruk.
Verdict: Oath of Nissa will eventually see play. Abzan is likely a better home for Oath than Jund, due to Jund’s already-great turn-1 spell named Lightning Bolt. It might even fill both ends of Abzan’s spectrum—as a 3-4 of in the smaller ones with fewer lands and more 2-drops, topping off with Liliana, or as a 1-2 of in decks featuring Siege Rhino that currently fill their 1-drops with some number of Noble Hierarchs.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
At first glance, I don’t think Nissa is powerful enough to see play in traditional BGx builds. It may be the missing link for an Abzan Tokens strategy though. BW tokens is a BGx deck that lacks the best removal spell ever printed (Abrupt Decay) and still occasionally puts up good results in high profile tournaments. I know it attacks from a different angle with an army of tokens blah blah blah, but in the end it is in fact an underpowered Jund deck.
With Nissa, a 3-color tokens deck can be real. Nissa can act as both another (very needed) anthem effect and a token generator. Nissa naturally replaces Spectral Procession (please don’t jam this card in 3-color decks) and green gives you a great improvement in Abrupt Decay.
Verdict: It will not see play in normal BGx midrange deck but has a chance to make a new deck (Abzan Tokens) real.
Bonds of Mortality
When this was first previewed my social media feed was full of “Bogles is dead” and other similar comments. If you are one of those people who believes that, I am sorry to tell you that it is not true. Bogles is not dead.
This card is obviously powerful versus the hexproof strategy and it would see play if there were only 4-5 decks in Modern. Unfortunately, Modern has over 20 viable decks and you don’t have the luxury of playing such a narrow card. Despite being a cantrip, you should almost never have room for this card unless you know a large percentage of your field is Bogles. (Even in this case you’re still probably better off with multiple Engineered Explosives.)
Verdict: Will see no play in BGx decks at all.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Kalitas has some impressive abilities. As a black 3/4 for 4, it is surprisingly hard to kill. It dodges Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and Slaughter Pact. Lifelink is a nice bonus in a field filled with Zoo/Burn decks. Unfortunately, his second ability isn’t the same as Anafenza’s, meaning it doesn’t shut down decks like Living End and Grishoalbrand. That’s a bummer, but it does still shut down persist creatures, Voice of Resurgence, and others, specifically against Collected Company decks. You even get a token for your troubles.
Kalitas’ problem is the quality of competing 4-mana spells. In Abzan, Siege Rhino is an all-star. In Jund, the new rising star
Lingering Souls Pia and Kiran Naalar competes with existing options like Olivia Voldaren and Huntmaster of the Fells (because Bloodbraid Elf is still banned). This isn’t even getting into the possibility of 4-mana planeswalkers. Kalitas may find a place in straight BG. With the new manland (more on that later) and Eldrazi decks on the rise, BG might be a viable choice because of its good mana alongside multiple Wasteland effects (Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter). BG lacks a stand-out creature at 4 mana and Kalitas could find a home there, especially if Collected Company decks become incredibly popular.
Verdict: It might see play in straight BG versions and/or if the graveyard hosing becomes especially relevant. It should never replace Siege Rhino.
I will start with the verdict here: It will see play.
For years I wanted a black Anger of the Gods. In fact, the only reason I played Jund (instead of Abzan) at Pro Tour Born of the Gods two years ago was because of Anger. Not killing Nacatls is a big deal versus the many Zoo variants, but as someone who has played a lot of Drown and Sorrow in his life, a “Drown in Anger” is just what the doctor ordered.
Company decks are sprouting up regularly and are pretty poor matchups for BGx. I hope this card fixes it. Sometimes Abzan chooses to forgo the -2/-2 effects because they play poorly with Lingering Souls. Instead, the default has been hard sweepers like Damnation or no sweepers at all. The exile clause on Flaying Tendrils is incredibly relevant though, and I’d start week 1 by splitting Tendrils and Damnations, provided you’re in the market for either.
The next question is whether Jund will play this over Anger of the Gods. The major upside is killing Etched Champion and the major downside is not killing Wild Nacatl. I would say no, but to be fair, I don’t think Jund should play either when a colorless, instant Pyroclasm is available. Of course, this is conditional on the exile clause not being incredibly important for your expected field.
Linvala, the Preserver
I called it Whitetusk when it was first spoiled. Sadly, 6 mana is a lot more than 5 in Modern (especially for these decks). The gain life clause might be irrelevant since you only need it versus Burn and you usually have a lower life total, so it would be fine if it “misses” versus other decks. The biggest problem is that she doesn’t guarantee the extra body. Thragtusk doesn’t see Modern play because of the 5 life it gains or because it attacks for 5. It sees play because it is the green Lingering Souls. Being certain you will have an extra (big) body when Thragtusk dies is the most important part.
Verdict: It will not see play in BGx decks.
It would be awesome to blink Rhinos, Kitchen Finks, and Thragtusks, right? Yes, it would. Sadly it would involve a colorless mana in an already stretched mana base. The 3/3 body is far too smalle for 3 mana, and 3 mana to blink is too steep. The effect is very powerful, so it may inspire a new deck with pain/filter lands to produce the much-needed colorless mana.
Verdict: It won’t see play in traditional versions of BGx.
This is the closest we get to Bloodbraid Elf (in Jund colors. We will not mention the evil color that shall not be named even though it starts with BL and ends with UE and has an unbanned Bloodbraid Elf with flash). When Abbot of Keral Keep was released, I tried several builds with it as a pseudo-Bloodbraid. In theory it should be the same if I have a lower curve and always play it on turn 4 with the upside of being an option on turn 2. The reality was that flipping a land was really bad and made the card closer to Elvish Visionary than Bloodbraid Elf.
Dark-Dwellers is a completely different animal. It is in fact a non-flash Snapcaster Mage that you can only cast on turn 5 but compensates with a very large and relevant body. The effect is powerful and the body is relevant. The big problem is that it costs 5—which is a LOT more than the 4 needed to cast our beloved Elf. Some might be quick to point out that some people (ahem) have played up to 4 Thundermaw Hellkites in their Jund decks in the past. While that was surely a metagame call, those Thundermaws were also paired with the best Birds of Paradise ever (Deathrite Shaman), and even supplemented those with Lotus Cobra. Still, current Jund lists play some 4-drops and eventually even some 5s, so I expect the Bloodbraided Goblin to find a place eventually.
Verdict: It will see play unless the metagame shifts to something super fast. It should not be a 4-of.
The important question will always be whether to play this or Anger of the Gods. The pros and cons of each are both very real, meaning the correct answer will always depend on your expected metagame. In the dark, I would play Kozilek’s Return. Affinity can be really hard if you don’t have dedicated hate and sorcery-speed spells are often insufficient against them. Collected Company can combo-kill you at instant speed so even though Anger is better vs. Company, its upside of being an instant can still provide some level of insurance.
Verdict: It will see play (and not only in Jund).
Gold and Lands
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
BGx decks have a lot of good 2-drops, so Ayli’s got a steep hill to climb. She doesn’t pass the Lightning Bolt test, which is an important strike against her. Deathtouch makes her a good blocker vs. non-Bolt decks (which are not that common). You can live the dream of playing a Rhino and sacrificing it to gain a lot of life, but even that fails to turn on Ayli’s “ultimate.” I love her design and believe she will find a home in some sort of Martyr/Soul Sisters strategy, but not in BGx. We have too many other high-quality 2-drops for her to get a slot.
Verdict: It will not see play in BGx decks (but it will be a real pain from the gain life strategies).
Oh Hissing Quagmire, I have been waiting for you for seven years. Every set that’s brought a new set of lands would leave me for enemy creaturelands. I waited so long for you, and you ended up disappointing me.
I promised I will not complain any more about the power level of this card, especially compared to all the others in the cycle. Instead I will be positive and say that it will see Modern play.
Why would it see play? Well, first it adds both black and green mana, which are the core colors of this strategy. You need a minimum amount of each of these to make your deck operate.
On pure stats, a 2/2 is not exciting. It dies to Bolt and will not survive most combats. Lightning Bolt is the most common removal spell in Modern, but decks without it do exist. Those decks will be stuck spending harder removal on it (like Path to Exile or Dismember) in order to avoid trading off their Tarmogoyf for the land. Even then it won’t be a complete blank.
Quagmire’s biggest problem is the quality of the rest of the cycle. Raging Ravine is amazing—one of the best finishers ever. Stirring Wildwood’s bulk and reach make it especially valuable vs. decks like Affinity and Infect. Treetop is the best of the creaturelands, despite producing only a single color. Even Shambling Vent, the newest addition of the bunch, can provide some much needed life gain against Burn.
If I had to say now with no testing, I would not expect Jund to play more than 1-2 copies of Hissing Quagmire, and even then it would be mostly to have more reliable mana sources to cast Liliana on turn 3 (or a 5th creature land after its 4 Raging Ravines).
Abzan has a bit more room for it due to the absence of a BG or BW version of Blackcleave Cliffs. (Dear WoTC, please finish this cycle.) Stirring Wildwood and Shambling Vents aren’t in the same league as Raging Ravine, meaning Quagmire has more room to see play as it provides the most important colors. It will definitely see play as a result.
The biggest winner as a result of Hissing Quagmire is the straight BG midrange deck. While Treetop Village is playable there, Quagmire makes it possible to run a full set of Tectonic Edges/Ghost Quarters and maybe even more colorless lands if the metagame calls for it. I can imagine a version that even plays 6-8 creaturelands for even more value. BG has a much better and less painful mana base, which is useful in aggressive fields full of Zoo/Burn. It also has more flexibility to run more utility colorless lands, which is especially important given the recent rise of Eldrazi/Tron decks where additional Wastelands are incredibly important. Even the “BG splash Souls” versions get better since it has a pretty good mana base, WHILE keeping the mirror’s trump.
Verdict: It will see play.
There’s new life for BGx decks in Oath of the Gatewatch. It will improve existing decks, give room to new variants, and possibly even resuscitate others. Will BGx still be a top contender? Probably. The combination of Thoughtseize–Tarmogoyf–Liliana is still very good and the deck is a big pile of synergy and power.
If BGx isn’t your thing or if you want to try something new, I’d recommend trying new builds with the Eldrazi cards. There’s a lot of potential there, from aggro strategies to full ramp, and some midrange builds in between. I will be very surprised if the Top 8 of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch doesn’t have any colorless aliens.
That’s it for now. Next time I’ll talk about how the changes to the Banned & Restricted List will impact the most beautiful archetype in Magic.