It's been a little over two weeks since the announcement that shocked Modern, with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf being set free to almost everyone's surprise. Since the announcement, Modern on Magic Online has been the Wild West with everyone scrambling to try to find the best homes for these two powerful cards, which has almost eliminated all traces of the existence of the old metagame. In its place we have a chaotic format where all sorts of different archetypes are competing for spots among the top tiers of the metagame as players start to determine which ones are more successful than others. Determining what decks to play in this kind of format is incredibly challenging; therefore, today I wanted to write about my findings on the state of Modern heading into the Modern Classic this weekend at #SCGWOR and the Modern Open next weekend at #SCGDFW.
Both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf are Format-Defining Cards
Let's start with a good baseline. Talk about Jace, the Mind Sculptor dominated the Magic airwaves post unbanning announcement, including from myself who wrote an entire article about the blue planeswalker, but the impact that Bloodbraid Elf would have on the format was originally undersold. I'll get to more about Jace later, but so far Bloodbraid Elf has singlehandedly revitalized almost every deck that has green and red in it, something that I did not see coming right away. It's seeing success in aggro and midrange decks, which isn't much of a surprise, but it's been so good that even the ramp decks are utilizing it!
Both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf will be played in a wide variety of strategies moving forward, a fact that only a handful of four-mana spells can claim in Modern. Keep both cards in mind when designing or refining decks.
The Format is Faster and More Proactive Than Before
Both of the new cards promote having a faster format in their own way. The presence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor gives people less incentives to try to play other decks that will try to grind their opponent out of resources, as that is the exact axis Jace wants to compete in. Instead, decks are trying to go under the Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks, with both direct damage spells and haste creatures being preferred as ways to attack a resolved Jace.
Similarly, Bloodbraid Elf also promotes having proactive spells in your deck instead of reactive, as you don't want the card that is cascaded into to be a dead card. For example: cascading into a Path to Exile when your opponent doesn't have any creatures on the battlefield won't have any impact, but hitting a Lightning Helix instead will at least cause a six point life swing even when there isn't a creature to point it at. Add this change in deckbuilding to the fact that Bloodbraid Elf has haste, and the decks from before that are able to add Bloodbraid Elf, such as Jund, have increased in speed and can finish games quicker.
These factors have produced a wide variety of fast, proactive decks, such as Domain Zoo, with all fourteen maindeck non-creature spells being able to deal direct damage to the opponent.
Control is in a Rough Spot
The biggest nightmare when trying to design a control deck is having a chaotic format filled with a wide variety of fast, proactive decks, and that's exactly what we have right now. It's hard to have the right answers in your deck when you don't know the questions you'll have to answer. Many proactive decks are fighting on a different axis as well, and until the metagame starts to form it's incredibly difficult to build a successful control deck, even with access to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. To make matters worse, almost everyone has control decks in their sight when building sideboards, as they are in everyone's crosshairs right now due to the hype around Jace the Mind Sculptor. Cards like Choke, Boil, and Thrun, the Last Troll hardly saw the light of day before, and they are now almost commonplace. These factors have led the control decks to struggle so far, but I expect them to be successful when there is a defined metagame and decks for them to target.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is Dominating
I've been hearing from many people that they believe the hype around Jace, the Mind Sculptor was overblown and that it won't have much of an impact on the format, but I still don't believe that to be the case, and the numbers are showing Jace to be dominant. Even with control decks struggling out of the gates, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is everywhere. In the most recent Magic Online 5-0 decklist article, which had a whopping 73 unique archetypes, this is the comprehensive list of non-land spells that were in more decks than Jace, the Mind Sculptor:
That's it. Not only did 25% of the decks have Jace, the Mind Sculptor in them, every single one of them used at least two copies. It's such a powerful card that it can fit in to an insane amount of different decks and make them instantly better. This is especially true for the proactive decks that can use the card advantage Jace, the Mind Sculptor provides as a backup plan when needed, such as with Restore Balance.
I only expect this trend to continue as people experiment with more and more ways to abuse the power of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Moving into the first couple weekends of Modern events on the SCG Tour®, I would recommend having a proactive strategy that also has Jace in it rather than a reactive one that relies on it to win the game, at least until the metagame is more defined.
Tron has Taken a Hit
Before the unbannings, G/x Tron was arguably the best deck in Modern after completely dominating GP Lyon. Even though Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf as individual cards don't seem to hurt the archetype, what they have done to the format has. With fast and proactive decks everywhere, G/x Tron isn't able to stumble as much and get away with it. On top of this, both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor pair well with Blood Moon, which is now seeing much more play than before. Even Eldrazi Tron has started to take a back seat to G/R Eldrazi, which is much faster with access to twelve creatures with haste. I've thought of G/x Tron was one of the best choices for Modern tournaments for months now, but as of now I wouldn't recommend sleeving it up at#SCGWOR or #SCGDFW with the new speed of the format.
U/R Gifts Storm is Ready to Make a Comeback
There isn't a more consistently fast deck in the format than U/R Gifts Storm, and it's still as good as ever. With the control decks struggling and format being more proactive, U/R Gifts Storm is poised to prey on the other linear decks, especially now with the target off its back. Many early versions of decks that people are trying out are rough around the edges, and U/R Gifts Storm is exactly the type of deck that can punish untuned decklists. The window is small, as the interactive decks will catch up and people will react with more hate in their decks if the deck starts doing well, but the window is now for U/R Gifts Storm.
My Top Five New Decks
Finally, I'd like to take the observations from earlier and apply them by talking about five intriguing new decks moving forward into #SCGDFW. These are the decks that I think are positioned well right now in the wide-open metagame and will be the first place I start when looking for a deck to play.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Eldrazi Mimic
- 4 Eldrazi Obligator
- 2 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
I'm starting off with the deck I'm the least confident in, but it's still very exciting. We've seen how powerful both the Eldrazi Aggro shell and the Hollow One shell are on their own, and combining them makes a ton of sense. Although it doesn't dig as much as Ancient Stirrings, Faithless Looting still does a good job at helping you find more copies of Eldrazi Temple and can also fix your hand when you're flooding out, which is one of the biggest problems these Eldrazi decks have struggled with. I also really like the use of Ramunap Ruins to help when you're flooding out, giving the deck just a little bit more reach when needed. This deck will have consistency issues over a long tournament, with the draws that involve early Hollow Ones or Eldrazi Temple being much stronger than others, and it has an incredibly poor sideboard for a Modern deck, but there is a ton of raw power in the deck that makes me want to try it out.
As far as the blue control decks are concerned, I've had the most success with Esper due to the power of Lingering Souls, which does a fantastic job at protecting Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I'm skeptical about having four Field of Ruin in a three color deck, but there's no denying how good the Ixalan land is, especially when the shuffle effect is paired with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. At least we are just barely splashing black and don't have to rely on casting Thoughtseizes early. I really like the full playset of a hard removal spell (Path to Exile) over the conditional Fatal Push, as well as the playset of Snapcaster Mage. Many control decks shave numbers here and there and end up playing two or three of most spells, but each card that is a four-of in this deck deserves it, and I like the consistency having so many four-ofs provides. I don't really care for the Sphinx's Revelation in the sideboard, but this is still one of the best control decks I've seen so far.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
This is the frontrunner for the kind of deck I'll be playing in the #SCGWOR Modern Classic if I don't make day two, but it will probably be a little more on the midrange side where I'm much more comfortable. Strangleroot Geist is an incredibly underrated two-drop for the archetype and is an awesome hit off of Bloodbraid Elf. I also really like Goblin Rabblemaster in the three-drop slot as another threat that, if left unanswered, will take over the game immediately. This deck should absolutely have four Tarmogoyf and four Noble Hierarch, but with the price of those two cards, it could have been a budget consideration. I'm not sold on the non-Bloodbraid Elf four-drops or four copies of Tireless Tracker in a twenty-land deck, but overall Bloodbraid Elf is putting G/R decks back on the map.
Popular streamer Daniela Diaz has been having the most success she's ever had with her pet deck, U/R Kiln Fiend. This deck plays a similar game as Infect in that it has a consistent turn 3 to turn 4 clock when left untouched, but it also plays a solid late game due to the cantrips and Jace, the Mind Sculptor from the sideboard. Plus you're also able to have free wins with the help of Blood Moon. Put it all together and you have one of the scariest decks to face right now. Just like I mentioned with U/R Gifts Storm earlier, this is the window to play U/R Kiln Fiend while it's under the radar and the metagame is all over the place.
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Spell Queller
- 3 Vizier of Remedies
- 1 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Ever since Vizier of Remedies was printed, the Counters Company decks have been seemingly ready to breakout. They win some games in spectacular fashion, but against enough disruption, the core of the deck starts to get exposed as it's filled with cards that are individually weak on their own. However, if you add Jace, the Mind Sculptor to a must-answer combo that threatens to win the game with some regularity on turn 3, then I'm instantly intrigued. Jace forces your opponent to first stop your combo pieces and then also have an answer to Jace or else you'll gain enough resources to be able to combo again. I could even see a more tuned version of this deck adding in the Knight of the Reliquary and Retreat to Coralhelm combo as well, completely overwhelming opponents. This is definitely a deck to watch out for moving forward.
So there you have it, my observations on what's happening in the current Modern format after the unbannings of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. We're in a wild period where everyone is trying to decide what decks will define the metagame, which has led to a rise in fast, proactive strategies. Even though this won't always be the case and the reactive decks will gain traction when they are fine-tuned, in the meantime it looks like the best thing to be doing is to jam your favorite linear deck and hope it gets past your opponent. There's nothing wrong with this as it's the natural beginning of a new metagame. And even though Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf look to be format staples in many archetypes moving forward, Modern still looks like it will be incredibly healthy and diverse for the foreseeable future.