Jace, the Mind Sculptor was merely a distraction.
The card we should've been worried about was Bloodbraid Elf all along!
Releasing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf at the same time kind of made sense looking at it from the perspective of "Hey, at least if Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a problem, Bloodbraid Elf is good against it and will keep Jace in check!"
But what happens when the solution to Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a bigger monster than Jace itself?
I've felt Bloodbraid Elf would be safe to unban in Modern for a long time, but that confidence has been wavering now that Bloodbraid Elf was actually freed and I've had some time testing with it. That alongside this weekend's Magic Online Championship metagame, which featured seven out of twenty-three players picking up Jund, paints an interesting picture.
What is Bloodbraid Elf's place in Modern? Is it actually broken? Can the historically resilient and flexible Modern metagame adapt? It's time to look at the Jund reviver and Jace destroyer. Similar to my initial analysis of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, here are all my opinions and findings about Bloodbraid Elf after the first few weeks of playing with it, featuring the decks I built and tested, along with my thoughts on how to best beat Bloodbraid Elf decks.
Finding 1: Jund is not only the de facto starting point for G/B/x Midrange; it's the deck to beat in Modern.
Thanks to Bloodbraid Elf, of course.
Jund has periods of success but had fallen off the Modern radar quite a bit before the unbannings, and felt more like a "45% win rate against the field" deck. Now it feels like it's been restored to its former glory and feels more like a "55% win rate against the field" deck once again.
Bloodbraid Elf added a lot to Jund. It tops out the curve nicely, which was otherwise lacking. It provides card advantage and aggression. It's great with the deck's powerful three-drops, like Kolaghan's Command.
There might still be some reasons to play variations of G/B Midrange that aren't Jund. Abzan for Lingering Souls, for example, since Lingering Souls is one of the best ways to win a grindy midrange matchup. Heck, maybe Lingering Souls and Bloodbraid Elf fit together somewhere. Still it's hard to compete with the raw simplicity, power, and efficiency of Bloodbraid Elf in Jund.
For example, whiffing with Bloodbraid Elf by cascading into a removal spell with no targets or a Thoughtseize when your opponent's hand is empty. These might seem like big problems, but in reality they don't actually come up that often and you still get a 3/2 haste out of the deal.
Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are surprisingly relevant at most stages of the game and so is your removal. It's also more likely you'll hit a card that's always good, like Tarmogoyf or Liliana of the Veil. Just make sure to activate a Liliana of the Veil you already have on the battlefield before you cascade if you were going to anyways, in case you hit another one.
It's a legitimate concern, since your life total can be an important factor in some matchups or when Dark Confidant is going for multiple turns. But once again the reality of the way games play out seems to favor Bloodbraid Elf.
First of all you only have four copies of Bloodbraid Elf, and four damage isn't a huge difference from just a regular three-drop, which you have plenty of.
There are also plenty of matchups, usually combo and control, where your life total is mostly irrelevant.
Finally you have plenty of ways to kill off your own Dark Confidant if it gets to a point where it becomes necessary. Chump blocking with Dark Confidant is also usually an option where your life total is precious.
I wouldn't put too much stock in worrying about Dark Confidant flips or trying to pack in the absolute best three-drops to cascade into rather than just building the best overall Jund deck you can and letting the cascades happen.
Even though a four-drop might seem a little expensive for a Death's Shadow deck, which usually have very low curves, it works out fine.
Bloodbraid Elf does end up cascading into Mishra's Bauble or Traverse the Ulvenwald sometimes, which can be fairly unexciting, but it's still not bad by any means. If you have delirium, cascading into Traverse the Ulvenwald is sometimes exactly what you want to be doing anyway, since it allows you to find and cast a Death's Shadow if you have an extra mana, find another Bloodbraid Elf, or whatever helps you most in any given situation--even a land like Ghost Quarter, or Street Wraith to grow Death's Shadow.
This deck can have some excellent starts thanks to Noble Hierarch and Blood Moon, and draws cards like crazy in the late game.
The reason why I'm not in love with the deck is the lack of interactivity you have in a lot of matchups. Temur usually relies on counters as a way to interact with non-creatures, but since you have Bloodbraid Elf you don't want to be cascading into a useless Logic Knot.
There are ways to work around this thanks to Izzet Charm and Cryptic Command, but they both come with their own drawbacks. Izzet Charm is fairly underpowered in Modern right now since spending two mana for Spell Pierce or Shock is not what you want, although the versatility is nice. Cryptic Command is a little tricky to cast in a three-color Blood Moon deck and is competing with both on Modern's hottest new four-drops. It's hard to justify Temur when you can get the excellent Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek from Jund.
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Shaman of the Pack
- 2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Finding 5: Bloodbraid Elf is similar to a more consistent Collected Company in Elves.
You've heard of Elf on the Shelf, now get ready for cascade into Ezuri Renegade!
One advantage to Bloodbraid Elf is that it has lower variance (never thought I'd say that) since it's guaranteed to cascade into something, whereas Collected Company doesn't always hit two creatures--sometimes not even one. You're never happy just getting a Llanowar Elves consolation prize with either card, but they both have much better results than a single Llanowar Elves on average. Bloodbraid Elf has a much less exciting high end overall though and can't be played at end of turn after Supreme Verdict resolves.
The biggest downside to adding Bloodbraid Elf is you stretch your manabase a little bit more, losing access to some basic lands which means you take more damage from Stomping Grounds, and you give up Horizon Canopy and a white splash. That does add up. The other downside being Bloodbraid Elf makes your Collected Companys a little worse since you can't hit Bloodbraid Elf with Collected Company.
Finding 6: Playing a bunch of Elves and hoping they swarm your opponent isn't a half bad strategy right now.
It also makes the deck more resilient to removal-heavy decks trying to pick off your important Elves. Bloodbraid Elf gives you two threats and more opportunities to reload against mass removal.
Finding 7: Bloodbraid Elf pushed Jund to the top of the Modern metagame and Jund is currently the best home for Bloodbraid Elf. There are decks that are good against Jund, but Jund is still capable of Junding out any deck.
Overall, Jund is top tier, but there are some decks right now that I feel have a good matchup against it.
B/R Hollow One is another deck that has the raw explosiveness to power past Jund as well. A lot of the decks that have a solid matchup against Jund have relatively high fail rates, but that's been how the metagame has started to adapt. Speaking of which...
Dmitriy Butakov absolutely nailed it (and won the Magic Online Championship as a result) with four Leyline of Sanctity maindeck in G/W Hexproof to punish Jund. Leyline turns off Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and what is one of the scariest cards for G/W Hexproof, Liliana of the Veil. It was a great metagame call and great deck construction, since this is definitely one of the decks you don't want to play against if you're on Jund.
Finding 8: Based on my initial impression unbanning Bloodbraid Elf was a mistake… but not a major one.
Whereas unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor was fine!
I certainly didn't expect that.
Now that I've had time to play a reasonable amount, in my opinion, Jund is the overall best deck in Modern, and has reduced the number of other top tier archetypes I'd want to play in the format, which has overall reduced the quality of the format. The nice thing is that Jund is beatable if that's what you're looking to do, but you do have to work for it. Modern has usually adapted to whatever gets tossed at it, and I think it might be able to survive Bloodbraid Elf.
Interestingly, Jace, the Mind Sculptor has felt much less powerful and oppressive, but I also expect Jace decks to take more time to figure out.
It's still way too early to consider any sort of bans again, but these have been my initial impressions of the new Modern format.
I hope you enjoyed this and I look forward to seeing what tech to take down Bloodbraid Elf emerges. What do you think? Is Bloodbraid Elf too good in Modern? Do you think it should be banned again? When? Is it completely fine?