With Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf coming off the shelf this weekend, there's a lot to review. The Modern format is going to change significantly, if only because people want to see what all the fuss is about with these two classic, powerful midrange cards. My gut tells me that neither card is inherently "too good" for the format and that the numbers will be skewed in the opening weeks as people try out all sorts of shells for both of them, but I'm happy that they will likely lead to more interactive and fair decks.
Having top-end cards that are interactive permanents in Modern is a big deal, because it gives you a reason to play fair. While Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been in a few combo decks over the years, it mostly promotes the player to kill opposing creatures, cast discard spells, and ultimately use Jace, the Mind Sculptor to refuel after trading a bunch of one-for-one spells. I expect this time will be no different. Modern is full of weird, linear combo-type strategies, and very few of them will want something like Jace, the Mind Sculptor at the top end. Because of that, I think Jace, the Mind Sculptor, while powerful, will ultimately be just another powerful spell in Modern.
Bloodbraid Elf could rejuvenate the B/G archetypes, giving them a four-drop that can regain lost momentum from taking the early turns to deploy stuff like Liliana of the Veil. On top of that, the free spell you hit from Bloodbraid Elf will usually help you catch up if you've fallen behind against decks featuring faster mana while also giving you an extra card against decks trying to play fair.
I never thought Bloodbraid Elf was "too good" for Modern. It was just a side effect when Deathrite Shaman first saw print. And instead of banning the root of the problem, WotC decided to slow the deck down a little by giving Bloodbraid Elf the axe. After a few months of Jund still dominating Modern thanks to Deathrite Shaman, it eventually hit the bin alongside Bloodbraid Elf, but was never reconsidered for unbanning. In the years following, Jund decks tried over and over to find the best four-drop replacement. Olivia Voldaren took the spot for a while, but Huntmaster of the Fells and even Thrun, the Last Troll all had their day in the sun. But now, with Bloodbraid Elf let out of the cage, I think it's pretty clear that we're going to be seeing it in the four-drop slot from now on.
Bridging the Gap
Both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor will affect how we approach building our decks in the new Modern format. It's not rocket science. For starters, no one knows how to build the "best Bloodbraid Elf" deck yet. No one knows what the best blue shell for Jace, the Mind Sculptor is going to be. We've had less than a week on Magic Online, and it isn't even legal in the real world yet. But you can bet your bottom dollar that we have an idea of what we need to be doing.
These aren't new cards. They've been around for years, causing problems in Standard or Legacy. We know that Jace, the Mind Sculptor tends to be much more powerful when you can protect it. We know that Bloodbraid Elf is good in virtually any situation, but it's important to balance the proactive and reactive spells you play alongside it. Hitting a removal spell on an empty battlefield is a bit awful, but hitting a creature when you desperately need to draw a removal spell is equally frustrating.
Both cards will have their challenges, but I think the most important part of understanding both of these cards is finding the best spells to mold around them. These are the finishers. We just need to figure out how the best way to get to that point in the game where we can safely cast these cards.
Let's start with the obvious:
Kolaghan's Command looks to be one of those cards whose stock is going to go through the roof. Not only has it been a staple in some number for the last few years, but it's one of the most versatile cards in Modern because it gives you a cost-efficient way to interact with artifacts, which play a big part in the Modern format. On top of killing artifacts, Kolaghan's Command can also interact with small creatures, slightly disrupt the opponent's hand, or help refuel as the game goes late by getting back something like Snapcaster Mage.
But now that you don't need blue in your deck to make bringing back a creature an insane part of the card, I expect to start seeing four copies in virtually every Bloodbraid Elf deck. It will be the card you want to hit most on Bloodbraid Elf, simply because it will have uses in any situation. Even if all you do is deal two damage to the opponent and make them discard a card, that's better than flipping over a useless Fatal Push on an empty battlefield. And when you get the full value of killing their creature and getting back another Bloodbraid Elf, you'll feel like you hit the jackpot.
Kolaghan's Command only gets better as you add creatures to your deck that you're super happy about getting back. "Raise Dead" is rarely an effect that sparks excitement, but alongside Snapcaster Mage in the last few years it has increased in value. While Bloodbraid Elf won't let you "go off" by getting back another Snapcaster Mage, you still get another free spell on the following turn, which is huge when you're fighting on both the card advantage and battlefield advantage fronts. And as a Jund deck, those are two metrics you care very much about.
I don't know how much better Remand is going to get now that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is in the mix, but I do know that Remand is exactly the kind of card I want to be casting if I'm trying to interact with my opponent while also trying to hit my fourth land drop. Remand is traditionally only good if people are trying to get a little bit bigger in Modern. When Affinity, Hexproof, Burn, and the like are at the top of the class, Remand is pretty mediocre. But when people are trying to play fair, cards like Remand gain a lot of value.
Since Bloodbraid Elf wants spells you can cast on an empty battlefield, I assume Lightning Bolt will see a huge increase in play. That means creatures that survive Lightning Bolt but usually die to Fatal Push, might get a little bit better. The fact that Lightning Bolt also targets Jace, the Mind Sculptor is also important, as it can punish players who go for the Brainstorm effect instead of using the +2 to protect it.
Red is also a natural pairing for Jace, the Mind Scuptor, as it can fit into a Temur or Blood Moon style deck, and will ultimately need removal to help protect it. U/R decks tend to be light on ways to kill larger creatures, though, so I could end up being wrong on this one. Either that, or U/R players start to play more stuff like Dismember, Roast, or splash color with hard removal like Terminate or Path to Exile.
Last Line of Defense
Not only do these cards encourage you to play some other key spells, but those key spells will eventually increase the stock of some tools we've forgotten.
Spell Snare is one of those cards that always seems like it should be good, but rarely ends up being better than a filler card. But now, with both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor entering the format, two-drop cards are going to start seeing more play. For one, Tarmogoyf is going to come back in a big way. Tarmogoyf always fit neatly into Bloodbraid Elf decks, so that should be a no-brainer. But Jund in general tends to rely on a lot of two-mana spells. Dark Confidant and Scavenging Ooze are great targets, but that's just the beginning.
Spell Snare is also a fine card in a number of other Modern matchups. Storm has a tough time resolving their two-mana creatures, Affinity is flush with powerful two-mana spells, and even stopping Burn from landing their Eidolon of the Great Revel is a big deal. Spell Snare will have targets in just about every matchup, but now there will be a greater impetus on the second turn because curving out will start to become more important.
Spell Snare is also great in blue-on-blue matchups because a lot of counterspells cost two mana. Aside from Logic Knot, which has become a blue staple over the last year or so, Spell Snare still interacts with stuff like Remand or Mana Leak. In addition to that, countering Snapcaster Mage will still be as important as ever in a resource battle involving Jace, the Mind Sculptor. For all these reasons and more, I expect Spell Snare to make a comeback in a big way in Modern.
Dreadbore is another card I think will be seeing a lot more play in the coming months. While it can't be cast at instant speed, that isn't really a problem when dealing with Planeswalkers, which will now be played in a much higher density. Not only will you see Jace, the Mind Sculptor running rampant, but Bloodbraid Elf will cause an increase in the numbers of Liliana of the Veil (and perhaps even Liliana, the Last Hope).
But Dreadbore isn't just a way to kill Planeswalkers. It's another great way to handle gigantic delve creatures, like Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler. I could see Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf making their way into a Death's Shadow shell, and having something like Dreadbore to kill the big delve creatures might be the only thing that saves you. Yes, Terminate has been a fine card for getting the job done there, but do you remember how annoyingly good Liliana of the Veil was in the Death's Shadow mirrors? Against Grixis? Against basically any fair deck in the format?
I don't think Dreadbore numbers will skyrocket, but I do expect most B/R/X decks to play at least two of them in their 75. If not, I expect they'll regret it when they're facing down a Liliana of the Veil ultimate on the next turn or a Jace, the Mind Sculptor after a +2 in order to play around Lightning Bolt.
While Engineered Explosives probably won't be great against a deck featuring Jace, the Mind Sculptor, I can almost guarantee you that it will be good against a deck featuring Bloodbraid Elf. While expensive, an Engineered Explosives on X=2 will sweep most of their creatures under the rug.
But what I like most about Engineered Explosives is that it gives you an out to random stuff people might throw at you. Blood Moon, Hexproof, or other random artifacts/enchantments might be problematic in the coming months as people start playing less interactive stuff to punish the Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf players for having "too much interaction." If you go under their interaction completely, you negate a lot of the advantages they might normally gain. And if people do ultimately take this route, cards like Engineered Explosives should start seeing a lot more play.
A Brief Glimpse of the Future
Magic Online is a great tool for honing your skills, but it is also a solid resource for finding new ideas for decks. And with two huge cards coming off the banned list and Magic Online being the only place they're currently legal, I thought it would be sweet to share some of my favorites that have popped up in the last week or so. Let's start with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Nothing super special about this deck, but it is a fine start for a Grixis Control deck featuring Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I'm not a huge fan of Countersquall, as we're not trying to kill our opponents quickly, but I do like just about everything else. But maybe try to fit in another Spell Snare or two!
Certainly a much different take on how to use Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but I've grown fond of the "Taking Turns" deck over the last year or so. I love the synergy between Jace's Brainstorm effect and Temporal Mastery. I also love the whole Tolaria West package with As Foretold and Living End. Whoever built this deck seems to have a good head on their shoulders.
Be still, my beating heart.
And now, for Bloodbraid Elf:
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Eldrazi Obligator
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 2 Hazoret the Fervent
This deck hits hard and fast. So many creatures with haste. So much "value" with two-for-ones, like Bloodbraid Elf, Matter Reshaper, and Thought-Knot Seer. Fast mana with Eldrazi Temple too? This deck looks pretty awesome on paper, and I can't wait to give it a try.
Seal of Fire is genius alongside Bloodbraid Elf. And finding a way to put Bloodbraid Elf into a Death's Shadow deck is giving me nightmares already. I love it. Steve Mann has already been working on variations to this deck, including a version that plays both Manamorphose and Mutavault. I don't know much about it, but it sounded pretty interesting.
And finally, porque no los dos?
I don't know what's going on here, but I love it.