Announcement Date: January 28, 2013
Effective Date: February 1, 2013
Magic Online Effective Date: February 6, 2013
Modern[card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] and [card]Seething Song[/card] are banned.
For an explanation by Eric Lauer, check here.
I used to hate [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. For many opponents, playing a card at random was much deadlier than a free [card]Demonic Tutor[/card]—they couldn’t botch it. Of course, that was back in Standard.
Modern feels completely different. Here, we have way more cards that can recoup from or ignore a two-for-one. Four mana is a lot, and in order to get to that stage of the game Jund has to play a variety of removal and discard, which makes for some awful cascades. Against certain combo decks, say Splinter Twin, tapping low for a random card and a 3/2 means instant death.
Jund still dominates, but that only makes sense. With the best broken cards banned, a fair deck has to take over.
Yet, in the name of keeping things fresh, [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] got the ax. After the announcement, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were lit up with players mourning the loss. These initial, emotional responses were rife with overstatement, even declaring, “The Death of Jund.”
The loss of Bloodbraid is more of a nerfing than an earnest attempt to kill the deck. The problem is that a lot of people enjoyed playing Bloodbraid specifically. Without the excitement of cascading, how many people would’ve bought into Jund, and the format in general? Much of the fun of playing eternal formats is living out a bit of Magic history and playing with cards from the good ol’ days. If we didn’t want that, we’d play Standard.
I digress. On the smaller scale, I’m not entirely upset with this ban. They avoided hitting the expensive cards in the deck, and the archetype will live on. The main difference, format-wise, is that countermagic is much better.
I’ve been brewing crazy stuff like [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card] with [card]Lingering Souls[/card], but I know, deep down, that my tournament lists all start with:
4 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] 4 [card]Spell Snare[/card] 4 [card]Remand[/card]
And so on from there. There’s no good reason not to run a pile of countermagic anymore, and it should be very profitable to do so for a time.
What’s the best tactic against said wave of countermagic? Folks could turn to [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] (Thanks Zac Hillw et al.!). Combined with [card]Primeval Titan[/card] and some removal, [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card] could walk over the format. [card boseiju, who shelters all]Boseiju[/card] for Scapeshift accomplishes something similar, but is vulnerable to [card]Tectonic Edge[/card].
More likely, people will play enough UW to make [card]Aether Vial[/card] look attractive again.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for post-banning Jund lists. ChannelFireball’s own Owen Turtenwald has a pretty sweet one:
Both [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] have seen some play in Modern Jund already, making it a natural swap. [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] might make a fine one-of as well.
With the deck getting weaker to countermagic, [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] seems strong.
Without the deck’s primary form of card advantage, the splash for [card]Lingering Souls[/card] looks more attractive.
But [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] isn’t the entire news. [card]Seething Song[/card], the last powerful ritual left in the format, also got the ax.
My reaction mirrored LSV’s:
Aaron Forsythe, I want you to know that I love and appreciate all the work you put into the game. Your attitude makes it clear that you’re one of the good guys, even if I don’t always agree with your decisions, like this one.
That said, what the fig? Don’t get me wrong, I believe Wizards has the best of intentions, but that doesn’t reflect the incompetence of their actions. This is like sending a peace envoy to Antarctica, or Jar Jar Binks to the Galactic Senate. Congrats, you did something. No, it was not particularly necessary or desired.
In Lauer’s article, he mentioned how Storm is a tier deck, which made it a target for banning. Yet, many combo players question the deck’s strength. Don’t take my word for it, take Adam Prosak’s:
But if Storm sucked, then what about all those stats that Lauer rattled off in his article? That time it Top 8’d a GP, or how well it performed on MtGO? Strangely, neither Prosak nor Lauer is wrong, here. The deck’s adequate finishes are not irreconcilable with its level of suck.
In my experience, the deck is good in a field of Jund and decks that prey on Jund. The weak matchups are the blue decks which, as we established earlier, will probably get better with [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] out of the picture. That means Wizards is pulling the plug on Storm when it’s about to start flatlining anyway. Maybe it wouldn’t have fully died without action on their part, but we’ll never know.
But We Said No Turn Threes
Yeah, Wizards said they were going to aggressively ban in Modern. Yeah, they’re being true to their word. It sucks that they have to be so ham-fisted about it, though. And if they are going to be strict about policing turn three kills, why did Storm get hit while Infect was left untouched? If anything, that deck kills turn three much more consistently.
Storm was a tier deck that did kill on turn three sometimes. It also lost to a [card]Spell Snare[/card] into [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. That wasn’t the only way to attack it, either. Over just the past few days of playing Storm, I’ve lost to:
An overloaded [card]Counterflux[/card].[card]Engineered Explosives[/card].
An active [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card].[card]Liliana of the Veil[/card].
My own deck bricking its pants.
A slower combo deck packing more interaction than me.[card]Rule of Law[/card].
A single [card]Dispel[/card].
The deck is not resilient at all, and winning through a bit of permission, let alone dedicated hate, takes an incredible amount of calculation and skill. This goes beyond in-game technical play, as altering a few slots can drastically change how the deck performs, and sideboarding has a very real risk of destroying your own deck.
Meanwhile, Eggs can also win on turn three, and it actually won a Pro Tour. On top of that, the deck is miserable to play with and against, and when inexperienced players pick it up they constantly go past time, which in turn slows down tournaments (much in the way of [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]).
I’m not saying that Eggs needs to go. I’m saying that banning [card]Seething Song[/card] makes about as much sense as the Chewbacca Defense. Perhaps it’s a red herring, strategically timed to keep us from questioning [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card].
Chewbacca is a Wookie, but he lives on Endor. It doesn’t make sense!
Even though Jund got nerfed, stronger players than me think the archetype will survive. Couldn’t the same hold true for Storm? They didn’t ban [card]Past in Flames[/card], after all, possibly under the idea that the archetype could still be playable.
Unfortunately, [card]Seething Song[/card] into [card]Past in Flames[/card] is the combo. The most common way to go off is to cast [card]Past in Flames[/card] with enough mana to flash back your first ritual after it resolves. When we had [card]Rite of Flame[/card], that was five mana. Currently, it’s six.
Getting to six mana with only [card]Pyretic Ritual[/card] effects is really hard, and borderline impossible through disruption. Remember that you still need to find and cast a win condition, which takes more mana and cards. Jumping two mana instead of one, ala [card]Dark Ritual[/card], is the only real way to make [card]Past in Flames[/card] a viable win condition.
After a fizzle, a topdecked [card]Seething Song[/card] is the best draw to flash back [card]Past in Flames[/card] and attempt to go off again. If your opponent has picked your hand apart with discard, a topdecked [card]Seething Song[/card] acts as two cards, effectively giving you a chance to get back into the game. Without [card]Seething Song[/card], the deck is pretty much the same against countermagic (awful), but it worsens against black decks.
Now, the deck is almost strictly worse than Twin, Eggs, or a dedicated [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card] list.
Long Term Damage
The main reason I decided to write this article is because, this time, I agree with the haters. If the metagame were a program in some computer, a video game that people played for free or little investment, I might feel differently. In that case, it would be a risk-free experiment. We could see if [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] was the glue that held the format together (à la [card]Force of Will[/card] in Legacy) and unban it if bad things happened, no harm no foul. However, this is a collectible card game, and the act of acquiring a deck presents a number of real challenges for many people. As a player, I see any bannings when the format is, on the whole, “quite diverse” as a slap in the face.
Meanwhile, Storm is targeted out of some questionable level of playability (as opposed to dominance), and because it kills turn three “frequently.” And we know it’s really frequent, because they found that information by “looking at the results of games.” Actual games, people. At the very least, I’d like to know how many games were deemed enough and how often “frequent” means. Treat us like concerned investors who need our fears assuaged, because we are.
What incentive is there for a player to buy into Modern? Trying to figure out what might be safe is headache-inducing. On the one hand, a card might be popular because it’s fun, and banning it makes the game less fun overall. On the other hand, banning one of the more played cards might force innovation, making for a more interesting format. So banning the popular cards makes the game more popular? That logic has more twists than an M.C. Escher painting.
Perhaps we can get some clarity by examining some actual reasons we’ve been given for past and potential future bannings:
1) It’s too popular.
2) It’s too unpopular.
3) Enables turn three kills some questionable amount of time, and is some amount more viable than other decks with turn three kills.
4) Is a vanilla 3/3 that makes other vanilla creatures not named [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] look bad.
5) Too many green decks might use the card.
6) Makes decks too consistent.
In a normal format, bannings happen when there’s a wide public reaction to the top deck, a public outcry to a stagnant format. How many actual complaints were there about [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]? Were people feeling forced to play Jund because it was that much better than the competition, or was it merely a reasonable entry point into the format?
In both Standard and Legacy, Wizards takes care with their bans, acting only when they receive a ton of complaints due to an overly stale format (and sometimes not even then). Players can invest, fall in love with archetypes, and enjoy them as long as they like without fear. Eventually, Standard will rotate, or a Legacy archetype might fade into obsolescence, and the owners of those decks can put them to rest with dignity.
In contrast, Modern is a basket of kittens, and Wizards is a deranged hobo with a shotgun.
“Come on, take a kitten,” the hobo says, “there’s a whole basket!”
“I dunno, I don’t want to get too attached,” you say.
But the kittens are mewing all cute and adorable and the hobo is awfully insistent.
You see where this is going, and I’ll let your deranged brain abbreviate. After things proceed rather traumatically, the hobo sticks around to console you.
“It might’ve bitten you, or something. It sure looked like a biter. Did you see those teeth? History gives more props to the people that end animal attacks than the people that prevent them. I’m trying to prevent you from getting attacked.”
The hobo stops, stares.
“There now, dry those tears. I have something that’ll cheer you up. An almost-full basket of kittens!”
*Image Credit: Rhombus Media