By now you've all heard the news: Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song are banned in Modern! At this point, Modern is a well-developed format with a defined metagame, a rich history, and a secure future. I've thrown myself into the world of Modern, and I've spent the week looking backwards, forwards, and side to side in an effort to analyze what these bannings are likely to mean. While I may not have all the answers yet, I'm eager to share what I've come up with.
Before diving straight into decklists and strategy, let me briefly mention my personal impressions of the bannings. Normally, I'm not one to complain, comment, or even think about the decisions that Wizards of the Coast makes; my job is simply to do my best with whatever I'm given. However, I'm particularly supportive of and excited for this month's bannings. (This is coming from a player who, in a year and a half of Modern's existence, has only had success with Storm and Jund). Banning Bloodbraid Elf was a good decision for the same reason banning Wild Nacatl was (I was also a Zoo player at the time!). Jund and Zoo may not have been unbeatable, but they were head and shoulders over any decks in the same category as themselves.
The 2011 World Championship was the only major Modern event that took place after the Great Bannings (Ponder, Preordain, Cloudpost, Blazing Shoal, etc.) but before Wild Nacatl got the axe as well. According to coverage, Zoo made up nearly 30% of the field in that event and was nine times as popular as the second-biggest nonlinear creature deck! Now, Zoo only won 52% of its matches—good for a top deck but not necessarily oppressive—but what happened when Nacatl was out of the picture? Zoo's slice of the pie turned into RUG Delver, U/W/R Delver, Jund, Tokens, Birthing Pod, Aggro Loam, and Noble Hierarch decks, and, of course, you could still play Zoo if you wanted!
Last week, if you wanted to play a deck that won by attacking with creatures, you were playing Jund or else you were probably making a mistake. Jund contained all of Modern's best cards and attained a level of power and efficiency that wasn't possible for creature decks in any other color combination. Not only that, but as a top deck, it was especially good at beating other creature strategies. Its high amount of removal and discard could shut down anyone trying to get ahead through synergy or going bigger through mana creatures.
Jund trounced aggro and kept it out of Modern almost completely. It barely tolerated the existence of one Noble Hierarch strategy—Birthing Pod—but certainly nothing like Mythic. The guaranteed value of Bloodbraid Elf combined with manlands meant you couldn't easily out-card them and you could hardly even hope for them to get flooded!
Yup, if you were playing a creature deck, you were playing Jund. Now, with the banning of Bloodbraid Elf taking it down one notch, suddenly you can play Jund or you can play Doran, Bant, RUG, BUG, Zoo, Tokens, White Weenie, Boros—nearly anything you can think of! The most direct impact of banning Bloodbraid Elf will be to increase the diversity of creature strategies.
As an aside, Jund will still be perfectly playable without Bloodbraid Elf, and I wouldn't even be surprised to see it remain the best deck in the format. But this is undeniably a blow, and it will serve to make Jund a lot closer in power level to the rest of the format. Most importantly, it will dramatically reduce the popularity of the deck, particularly in the short term.
If you are sticking with Jund, Huntmaster of the Fells is the most direct replacement for Bloodbraid Elf, but there's no rule that says you have to directly replace it. Feel free to lower your mana curve with more discard spells (as many as six), Grim Lavamancer, Kitchen Finks, or extra removal. The B/G core which really made the deck great remains unchanged.
Regarding Seething Song, I have no strong opinion. Storm was certainly not the best deck in Modern, nor did it really preclude you from playing whatever strategy you wanted since anti-Storm sideboard cards were so readily available. However, if people were having less fun because of Storm's existence, then I have no bad feelings about getting rid of it. It certainly does fit with the stated goals of the format, which include not having decks that consistently kill before turn 4. The remaining deck capable of that is Infect, but at least there you have some kind of fighting chance by just playing blockers and removal.
The impact of banning Seething Song will probably be restricted to nerfing Storm. Perhaps a reduction in the number of Rule of Laws will indirectly help Eggs, which I feel will be a good deck choice in the coming weeks. For a brief discussion of Storm post-banning, see my comment attached to this week's Magic Online video.
Today's article will be about the banning of Bloodbraid Elf. Not specifically about what the loss means for Jund, but about what's suddenly possible now that Jund is on the same level. But I won't be haphazardly tossing out untested strategies either. There are a number of decks—the list won't end with what I discuss today—that have a ton of potential in Modern and were being held down only by the success and popularity of Jund. These are tried and true strategies that have had success in the past and should be poised to make a comeback immediately if anyone is daring enough to take up the mantle for their next PTQ.
A turning point in Modern came at the Players Championship in August. Jund was a known quantity before the event, but from Yuuya Watanabe's win there until the present day, Jund never faltered in its status as Modern's top deck.
The Players Championship stands as a relic, though, of what the top players in MTG will do when Jund isn't oppressive. (Owen Turtenwald and I had expected that zero or one of the sixteen players would choose Jund, and I'm sure the rest of the players made similar predictions.) Two teams—six players of the sixteen—chose to play Zoo in the highest-stakes tournament in Magic.
Modern is a world where fetchlands and shocklands offer pristine mana bases to aggro players and represent three or more free damage on their opponents. It's a world where the combo decks are relatively fair and manageable (even more so now). Eggs, Living End, and Reanimator are best attacked through sideboard cards anyway, Scapeshift can be raced, and Splinter Twin, Birthing Pod, and Infect can be beaten with just a respectable clock and efficient removal. It's a good world for Zoo!
There are dozens of respectable ways to construct Zoo, and there's nothing to say that the list above is the one for you or the best in any objective sense. However, I think it'll be a good starting point.
Deathrite Shaman, Grim Lavamancer, Knight of the Reliquary, and Tarmogoyf are some of Modern's most powerful cards, but they all strain your graveyard (Tarmogoyf to a lesser extent) and can't all be played in four copies. I've constructed this deck to "try out" Deathrite Shaman in the sense that there's easy access to black mana and much to do with a little acceleration if a Dark Confidant sticks.
However, this deck isn't reliant on the Shaman in the sense that it'll still be easily able to cast its spells on time without him. Shaman is an interesting tool, as it represents damage through blockers, a great answer to Kitchen Finks, and some incidental hate against graveyard strategies. It's also a great target for Ranger of Eos! However, I've only included three copies because of the strain on your graveyard and because you'd ideally want to play a Cat or Ape on turn 1 anyway.
I caution care regarding the very tempting curve of Deathrite Shaman into Geist of Saint Traft. Even a Domain Zoo deck should be centered on three or four colors and only "splash" the fifth for Tribal Flames since you want to be able to operate on two lands and have a little flexibility in which duals you search for. My Haunted Zoo deck from a few months ago played cards of all five colors, but it had a higher land count (23-24) in addition to plenty of mana dorks, and even then the mana was bad!
This deck is slanted for the Birthing Pod matchup, which is sure to be a popular deck in the coming weeks and is one of the closer matchups for Zoo. This means there is a large benefit to building with it in mind. Deathrite Shaman, Grim Lavamancer, and Dark Confidant are the best cards against Pod since they can dominate a game regardless of blockers and Pod has a very hard time removing them. Lavamancer and Confidant in particular can provide a steady stream of removal, which is crucial to keeping the Pod player low on mana and preventing them from establishing a defense. Grafdigger's Cage and Torpor Orb will be very helpful from the sideboard, but I wouldn't play more than three copies between the two of them.
Leyline of the Void and Stony Silence are your sideboard package against Eggs, and each card will play double-duty if you bring this deck into an uncertain field. Similarly, Thoughtseize is a universal hate card against combo and control and is the best thing available against Scapeshift. The Scapeshift player will need a mix of ramp, removal, and the actual card Scapeshift to beat you, and Thoughtseize can strip whatever they're low on. It increases their chances of missing a beat, which will be all you need to run them over.
RUG Delver was once on track to be Modern's top deck, particularly when it won Grand Prix Turin in the hands of Antonino de Rosa. However, it never had an easy Jund matchup and relied on stealing games with Vedalken Shackles, Threads of Disloyalty, and Blood Moon. When Abrupt Decay was printed, Jund closed the lid of RUG's coffin.
Perhaps I was the only one to notice, but nobody ever nailed that coffin shut! Vedalken Shackles is unbelievable card, and I mean that in the most literal sense; every time I have the card in play, I question how I can possibly be playing with a real, legal Magic card. And it's not seeing a single bit of play right now!
That's not the only thing strong about RUG. Snapcaster Mage combined with removal and permission provides strong game against everyone. The Island-heavy mana base in the RUG colors offers the absolute best sideboard cards in Modern, including Blood Moon and Ancient Grudge.
I really love the shell of this deck. I love the smooth mana base, I love Shackles and Blood Moon, and I love Snapcaster Mage with cheap removal and permission. It's a great deck for shutting down whatever the opponent is trying to do. It's particularly strong against Birthing Pod and combo decks.
I have an alternative take, which is a more controlling deck that maintains the same shell.
Either of these would be excellent choices for a PTQ.
We're all familiar with the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors as it exists today. How would the game change if Rock was suddenly banned and you got disqualified for throwing it? Splinter Twin beats up on Scapeshift, Tron, Affinity, Eggs, Birthing Pod, and nearly every other popular deck in Modern. The only thing stopping it from completely dominating was its bad Jund matchup!
- 4 Spellskite
- 4 Deceiver Exarch
- 3 Grim Lavamancer
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 4 Pestermite
- 2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Splinter Twin has never been my cup of tea personally, and I'm not an expert on the deck, so I'll keep this brief. But without ten million Thoughtseizes and Abrupt Decays to contend with, I see tons of potential in Twin. It's yet one more good choice for the Modern PTQ season.
Jund players! Storm players! Don't despair, there are great decks out there just waiting for someone to pick them up!
I am Rakdos. I'm extreme and uncompromising. I want power for the sake of power, and no amount will ever be enough. I refuse to be shackled by rules, and I have no interest in acting the way people think I should act or playing MTG the way people think I should play MTG. In game, my goal is to put my opponent's back against the wall and give them no room to breathe. I deprive them of resources, wait for them to stumble, and finish them quickly.