Which Modern Cards Get Better Thanks to the Unbans?

Announcement Date: Monday February 12, 2018

Modern: Jace, the Mind Sculptor is unbanned. Bloodbraid Elf is unbanned.

Paper Effective Date: Monday February 19, 2018
Magic Online Effective Date: Wednesday February 14, 2018

In terms of power level, Bloodbraid Elf and Jace are probably fine for Modern. They are not inherently overpowered. Especially when you compare them to turn-3 storm kills, turn-3 Karn Liberated, or an Affinity player who dumps their entire hand by turn 2! What’s more, there are plenty of ways to interact with them, and they’ll promote more interactive Magic overall.

But I do fear that their unbanning may ultimately make the format narrower. Before the unbans, we had Grixis Shadow, Mardu Pyromancer, Traverse Shadow, Abzan, B/G Midrange, and Jund as viable black midrange decks. With Bloodbraid Elf in the mix, there may be a risk that all of these decks converge into the same Bloodbraid Elf build. I don’t think it is super likely that this will happen, but it feels like an unnecessary risk to take when the format was healthier than ever. Why fix what wasn’t broken?

Likewise, we had a large variety in blue control decks, including Jeskai Tempo, W/U Control, Grixis Control, Madcap Moon, Grixis Shadow, U/R Breach, U/B Faeries, and U/R Pyromancer. All of them relied on different win conditions, leading to diverse gameplay. In the new Modern, there is a risk that all of them universally adopt 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor as their win condition. If that were to happen, then competitive diversity would be reduced and gameplay would become more repetitive. I hope this will not be the case.

What I do hope is that existing archetypes remain viable while Bloodbraid Elf and/or Jace, the Mind Sculptor spawn entirely new, interactive archetypes. That would be the ideal outcome: a more diverse, more interactive Modern.

But no matter how the format will turn out, there are lot of cards that get better in the wake of the unbanning: cards that synergize with Jace or Bloodbraid Elf, as well as cards that cleanly answer them. In this article, I’ll discuss a bunch of such cards.

Bloodbraid Elf’s Best Friends

In the same way that Violent Outburst can cascade into Living End, Bloodbraid Elf can cascade into Ancestral Vision. This offers new possibilities for Temur-based decks—probably with both Jace and Bloodbraid Elf in the same shell. Interestingly, when Ancestral Vision was unbanned, the corresponding announcement stated: “With the current banned list, including Bloodbraid Elf, the types of cascade cards usually played with Ancestral Vision are not available.” Well, now they are.

Cascading into Living End is also a possibility. You’re not guaranteed to hit Living End, as these decks tend to run such cards as Fulminator Mage or Beast Within, but that’s still not a bad hit. I remember playing a Living End deck with a singleton Bloodbraid Elf, and it’s a valid option to keep in mind.

Next on the list of potentially sweet spells to cascade into are Stone Rain (in R/G Land Destruction) and Ezuri, Renegade Leader (in Elves). The Elf option is particularly exciting because Bloodbraid Elf is a member of the tribe and because Bertrand Joseph-Pare showed the power of the deck with his Top 8 finish at GP Toronto last weekend. But for both decks you run a large risk of cascading into a low-impact spell like Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves. Or even worse: Bonfire of the Damned or Chord of Calling! While the dream cascades are appealing, this inconsistency may preclude inclusion of Bloodbraid Elf in decks with multiple mana accelerants and x-spells.

Ultimately, I think that the most realistic buddy for Bloodbraid Elf will be Kolaghan’s Command. Back in the day, Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning was the dream, but Kolaghan’s Command is probably even better. The instant provides guaranteed value, can demolish strong Affinity starts, and can return Bloodbraid Elf from your graveyard to set up a powerful card advantage chain in the late game. We’ve never gotten to see them in action together, as Bloodbraid Elf was banned before Kolaghan’s Command was released, but I’d expect to see them often in the near future.

Besides, a Jund shell seems better than a Temur shell because you’d rather cascade into Thoughtseize than into Mana Leak. Here is a rough draft.

Jund with Bloodbraid Elf

Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s Best Friends

The best home for Jace, the Mind Sculptor may be in proactive blue decks that contain enough cheap blockers to protect the planeswalker and that don’t need 4 Cryptic Command. Think Grixis Shadow, U/R Pyromancer, maybe Esper Goryo’s, or Bant Knightfall. Bant Knightfall in particular can ramp into a turn-3 Jace with Noble Hierarch, which sounds somewhat scary.

But we’ll leave these options for now and instead turn to a mechanic with which every Legacy player will be familiar: miracles. Without Brainstorm or Jace, the mechanic never had an impact on Modern. That may soon change. Riverwise Augur, fresh off of its printing in Rivals of Ixalan, already did a reasonable Brainstorm impression and propelled a player, fittingly named counterbalancetop, to a 5-0 finish at a recent Modern event. And now we get Jace too!

Here is a rough draft, inspired by counterbalancetop’s deck.

White-Blue Miracles with Jace

Besides Terminus-based decks, a “Taking Turns” deck with Temporal Mastery, such as the one that Daniel Wong piloted to a Grand Prix Top 8 last year, will also be happy to include Jace. Jace seems like a perfect addition for such a deck, as it can put Temporal Mastery on top of your deck, act as a personal Howling Mine every turn, and bounce Snapcaster Mage so you can keep the Time Warp train rolling.

Attacking Jace

If you don’t want to play Jace yourself but instead want to beat players who do, then what kind of cards go up in value? Well, there are a number of cards that line up well against Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I selected 4 creatures and 4 spells. Let’s start with the creatures.

First on the list is Hazoret the Fervent. Since a fresh Jace can get up to 5 loyalty at best, a 5-power haste creature for 4 mana it is the perfect foil. If the opponent Brainstorms, then Bloodbraid Elf or Mantis Rider are excellent counterplays too, but if they fateseal then you need Hazoret to take down Jace right away. Hazoret is a powerful card by itself, shrugs off Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push, and enjoys the ease at which Modern players can empty their hands. At the Pro Tour, we already saw several players run a singleton Hazoret, for instance in the sideboard of their Mardu Pyromancer deck, and I expect to see an uptick.

Notion Thief is the super-sweet response to an unsuspecting opponent who resolves a turn-4 Jace and goes for the Brainstorm activation. If you respond with Notion Thief, then you get to draw 3 cards, your opponent draws none, and they still have to put 2 cards on top of their library. Finally, Notion Thief attacks Jace on the next turn. It’s the ultimate blowout.

Geist of Saint Traft is not as much of a blowout, but it does pressure Jace effectively. Whereas a lone Death’s Shadow or Tarmogoyf is easily bounced to set up a stable board, Jace cannot protect itself against a hexproof creature.

Or from a protection-from-blue creature. Even though my latest Affinity list had 4 Master of Etherium in the main deck and 4 Etched Champion in the sideboard, I will surely move an Etched Champion or two to the main deck as it lines up so well against Jace. It’s also excellent against Bloodbraid Elf! Given how well it performs against both unbanned 4-drops, Etched Champion is a big winner.

Jace’s Defeat scores perfectly on the flavor spectrum. I mean, given its name, Jace’s Defeat has to be a good answer to Jace, right? In actuality, it is not that much better than Disdainful Stroke or Negate, which also have utility in countering Karn Liberated or Scapeshift. So I kind of doubt that Jace’s Defeat will find widespread adoption. But it’s a flavor win for sure!

Dreadbore and Blightning have seen Modern play before, and both can keep Jace in check to some extent. Back when both cards were legal in Standard, Blightning (especially when it was cast via Bloodbraid Elf’s cascade ability) was Jace’s nemesis. And Dreadbore is a possible improvement over Terminate if planeswalkers get more popular. I could see Jund deck adopt 1 or 2 copies.

Finally, Pithing Needle is a good answer to any planeswalker, especially when it can strand multiple copies in your opponent’s hand.

Handling Bloodbraid Elf

It’s been a while since we had a premium 3power creature in Modern. Bloodbraid Elf doesn’t attack or block favorably in the face of 4-toughness creatures, so I expect that all of them go up in value.

My favorites are Restoration Angel and Thrun, the Last Troll. Restoration Angel can ambush an unsuspecting Bloodbraid Elf while re-triggering enters-the-battlefield abilities—it’s a good trump. Thrun, the Last Troll is suitable because it doubles as a powerful card against Jace decks.

In closing, I’ll say that even though the changes to the Modern ban list are risky, they are exciting. I’m curious to see new brews, existing decks being tweaked, and new gameplay patterns.

And best of all: The Magic Online players who were infatuated with Jace and Bloodbraid Elf now get their loved ones back on Valentine’s Day. You gotta admire the beauty in that.

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