Five Things I've Learned About Post-Unban Modern

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
3/8/2018 11:02:00 AM
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#1: Lantern Control is Still Great

Surprise, surprise. I still like the deck formerly known as Lantern Control. In fact, I was thinking earlier today that if I ever have a daughter, I will name her Elsie. Elsie -> El Sie -> L.C. -> Lantern Control. It's a stretch, but we'll make it work. I was worried that maybe Lantern would stop being a playable deck in Modern with all the changes made to the format. Bloodbraid Elf and Jace are, after all, both very powerful cards against Lantern Control. Both cards allow an opponent a chance to see cards that aren't influenced by the Lantern lock, and decks that play Bloodbraid Elf are also generally decks that are naturally strong against Lantern Control anyway.

However, in practice, it hasn't really worked out like that. Bloodbraid Elf has ranged from being insanely good against Lantern Control to being the reason I've won the game. How could Bloodbraid be the reason I've won the game? Well it costs four mana and sometimes by the time my opponent has gotten to the point where they are casting her, I've already reached a point of stability. If that Bloodbraid had instead been a cheaper card that was able to more quickly interact with the game, it might have made a difference, but even earning a two-for-one with Bloodbraid on turn four doesn't matter if the extra card doesn't interact with Ensnaring Bridge in a meaningful way. With that said, fast curves that are backed up by Bloodbraid into something like Kolaghan's Command are absolutely devastating against Lantern. Bloodbraid Elf is just a high variance card vs. Lantern Control.

 Bloodbraid Elf
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I have played against a lot less Jace, the Mind Sculptor than Bloodbraid Elf in my testing with Lantern Control, but Jace is only really an issue in decks that also have a gameplan that is very strong against Lantern. For example, Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a control deck is just another good card against Lantern Control that can still be dealt with via Pithing Needle. In a lot of those decks, Jace is just replacing something like Jace, Architect of Thought, another card that needed to be hit by Pithing Needle anyway.

Where Jace scares me is at the top end of a deck that also can put a lot of pressure on Lantern Control in other ways. For example, Jace at the top end of a Grixis or Sultai midrange deck that can also pressure my life total, deal with Ensnaring Bridge and maybe even has other threats like Liliana of the Veil could be a real problem. Thankfully, I have not played against many decks like this, for whatever reason.

I've played eight competitive Modern leagues on Magic Online post-unban with Lantern Control. My record is 31-9, which is a respectable 77.5% win rate. In those 40 matches, I'm a surprising 8-3 against Jund with Bloodbraid Elf. I think that this is a small sample size, and I would not guess that the matchup is favorable for Lantern Control, but at the same time, I would not say it is much worse than 50/50, if at all. I would still not want to bring Lantern into a field full of Jund, but at the same time, I don't think the presence of Jund as a highly played deck invalidates playing Lantern Control either, since I think Lantern is still very good against a lot of the format.

#2: Bloodbraid Elf is Better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor

I would have not guessed this to be true at the time of the unbans, and maybe in a few months, this won't be true. Right now, however, Bloodbraid Elf has had a much higher impact on Modern than Jace by a fairly huge margin.

Weirdly enough, I think Bloodbraid Elf is actually better now in Modern than it was back when they actually banned it. It may seem weird to think that a four-mana 3/2 haste has gotten better when years of sets have come out and the power level of the format has increased, but I have a working theory as to why this is the case. Bloodbraid Elf is a card that is actually better in a faster format, and the format is way faster now than it was in the days of grindy decks like Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin.

 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
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In faster formats, people can't play as many slow, plodding, card-advantage generating cards because you don't have time for that. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is an example of one such card. Cards tend to trade off early, and people are pushed into playing leaner, cheaper options instead of bigger, clunkier ones.

Bloodbraid Elf thrives in that kind of environment, because the 3/2 body is actually big enough to be relevant against smaller, cheaper threats, and the natural card advantage that doesn't require any additional mana investment is a great way to pull ahead, especially against other decks that have eschewed traditional two-for-ones in place of cheaper interaction.

While Bloodbraid Elf seems like it would be great in a grindy format, because it's yet another two-for-one in a format that values two-for-ones, that isn't actually how it works out in practice. The reason is that Bloodbraid isn't always a clean two-for-one. Sometimes the body gets bricked in combat and sometimes you cascade into a spell that doesn't have impact on the game. In a true two-for-one format, something like a planeswalker or a threat that has the opportunity to be even more than a two-for-one, like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, would be a superior threat.

I think the presence of Bloodbraid Elf has vaulted decks like Jund and Red-Green Eldrazi to being two of the top five decks in the format. I think it has also given a lot of legs to Ponza, a perennially tier two archetype that has been inching its way ever closer to tier one with the addition of Bloodbraid Elf. Elf's influence hasn't stopped there, though. I've seen people testing all kinds of other Bloodbraid Elf decks like Temur, Tribal Zoo and even Elves with Bloodbraid. I'll be interested to see if any of those decks end up being good.

#3: Hollow One and Bogles Are Tier One

Ok, I've been raging about this internally for a long time here, so please bear with me while I let it all out. It's Bogles. One G. The card after which the deck is named is called Slippery Bogle. That's how you spell Bogle. B.O.G.L.E. There is no second G in Bogle. Part of speech: Noun. Can I use it in sentence? Absolutely. The Slippery Bogle, which is also the deck's titular creature, received many enhancements and attacked the opponent for lethal when it was played in the deck called Bogles, just before the person playing this deck went to game night at a friend's house where they played a completely different game, spelled differently, featuring a completely different word, called Boggle.

 Slippery Bogle
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Look. The deck just simply isn't called Boggles. That is just objectively wrong. Please stop throwing an erroneous second G into the mix. Seeing it written that that way boggles my mind and also leaves me incapable of further rational thought because my brain throws an unrecoverable error. If you want to sit down and tell me that we're going to play a game where you play some hexproof creatures and put some enchantments on them while also spelling as many unique words as you can possibly spell out of a cube of adjacent jumbled letters, then I'm all for calling it Boggles. But if you're going to leave the unique word part out of it and simply focus exclusively on the hexproof and enhancement part, then I'm going to have to very disrespectfully demand that we do it the right way and refer to this deck as Bogles.

I don't ask for much, but for the love of Obzedat, can we please do this one thing right? It's killing me, and I don't think I can live much longer in a community that fosters and encourages such wrongness. With that said, Bogles is tier one. Bogles has now won GP Toronto and also the Magic Online Championship last weekend in the hands of notorious Magic Online grinder Butakov.

Bogles didn't always play Leyline of Sanctity in the main deck, but the addition of that card has really improved the deck immensely against a lot of strategies that would naturally prey on Bogles, including Jund, where it gives protection against discard spells, two out of three abilities on Liliana of the Veil and Lightning Bolt. Leyline also gives Bogles game against decks like Storm, Burn and the myriad of other discard or Lightning Bolt decks.

Bogles is a strategy that naturally preys on other creature decks, and with Bloodbraid Elf coming back these decks are at an all-time high. Bogles also preys on Control decks, thanks to Umbras protecting against sweepers, and with Jace, the Mind Sculptor coming back, these decks are also at an all-time high.

Hollow One is a deck that I initially dismissed, but after it made Top 8 of the Pro Tour and after I've had a chance to play some games with the deck, I think I was completely wrong to do so. The deck is actually very good.

People frequently want to dismiss decks like this because they are high variance. Being high variance doesn't make a deck bad, it just makes it occasionally inconsistent. Sometimes an inconsistent deck is still the best choice in a tournament if what it is doing is very powerful. I'd rather play a Hollow One deck that is 60% in a lot of matchups, but sometimes you have really horrible draws, than play a consistent midrange deck that does the same thing every game but is 47% against the field.

With that said, I actually don't even think this deck is that high variance. Sometimes you have insanely great draws that nobody can beat where you put multiple Hollowcious Ones into play on turn one, but it's not like the deck just curls up and dies when you don't do that. It still plays resilient threats like Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix, and powerful threats like Gurmag Angler. Even Flameblade Adept, a card that looks really bad, is actually pretty devastating in practice.

 Hollow One
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I like that Hollow One is really good against grindy, removal-based strategies, which seem to be increasing in popularity with the powerful return of Bloodbraid Elf. You could do way worse than playing this deck in Modern right now.

#4: Jace Is a Threat, Not an Answer

I think people are still trying to build their Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks wrong. Jace works best as a top-end threat, not a control card in a deck with a million other expensive cards. Jace is better in a tempo, midrange or combo deck than a control deck. If I was invested in making Jace work in Modern, I would focus all my time and energy there. Force your opponent to answer your other threats, then bury them with Jace, or alternatively, use Jace's -1 ability to win a race if it comes down to that. Trying to win with Jace in a Glacial strategy (referring to both the speed of the strategy and potential use of Glacial Fortress) just doesn't work for me.

I've started to see decks doing well that have been adopting this style of Jace, the Mind Sculptoring, and I'm excited to see where it leads. I think Bloodbraid Elf is a much more obvious card to build around than Jace, the Mind Sculptor is, so it may take us way longer to build more optimized Jace decks. Bloodbraid is also a card that has been legal before, whereas Jace never was, so we have to start from scratch to build our Jace cake.

I think this looks like a good Jace shell. Jace is just another good card in this deck, not the focal point, and this deck puts a lot of pressure on the opponent to deal with the various threats in the deck, making it more likely that Jace can have a big impact.

Other than the fact that I think Disrupting Shoal is a very bad card, this deck also looks like a really good shell for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer put enormous pressure on the opponent early in the game, which sets up Jace very well, and this deck isn't held back by clunky cards like a bunch of Cryptic Commands, Supreme Verdicts, Sphinx's Revelations, Gideons, etc. that make it tough to effectively play Jace, the Mind Sculptor in an advantageous spot. I think this deck might be a bit fragile in that it relies a lot on being able to get value out of Mentor or Young Pyromancer, but this is still the direction that I would be trying to build Jace decks.

Faeries is another shell that I think is a solid home for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Bitterblossom protects Jace and a heavy dose of discard and removal paves the way well. I'm skeptical of Mistbind Clique or a 2-2-2 split of Mistbind, Jace, and Cryptic Command as being optimal, but this is yet another deck that puts pressure on the opponent early and then has access to Jace, the Mind Sculptor as another good threat in the deck, rather than a focal point.

I think we're only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and I'm interested to see what the decklists finally look like when the Jacetanic sinks.

#5: Modern is Still Wide Open

It's hard to see immediately which decks are being pushed away from the format or invalidated because of the return of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but so far the format does still appear to be healthy and diverse. The only deck I know for sure that has taken a hit is the various Death's Shadow strategies, which seem ill-equipped to handle copious removal into Bloodbraid Elf or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Having Death's Shadow reduced in market share isn't exactly a huge negative to the format, though, as that deck pushes some boundaries on what is fun or fair in Modern as it is.

The point is that Modern still seems open to playing a variety of decks. For example, did you know that Mono-Blue Prison was a deck? I didn't. Maybe this deck has existed for a long time, maybe this is something new. I just know I've never seen it before but I got destroyed by it on Magic Online recently and I was talking to Seth Manfield who later also got destroyed by the deck.

At any rate, the fact that this deck is going 5-0 in leagues is a good sign that there is still room to experiment and the format hasn't just degenerated into Jace vs. Bloodbraid least not yet.

Last weekend, this deck won the Modern Classic at the SCG Open, which from what I heard had about 400 players in it. While I have seen this deck before, it has been quite a while since I have seen it be played and it's pretty sweet that it is now making a comeback. Eldrazi is great against midrange and control strategies, which makes it a natural foil to the direction the format is shifting.

In fact, that SCG Classic had 16 unique archetypes across the entire Top 16, which is a great sign. One of them was this next deck, which I think legitimately has a claim to be the best Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck in the format right now, at least until people crack the code.

Now this is a Glacial deck I can actually get behind. Is Taking Turns going to be Taking over the format? No. No it won't. But it's still a very playable and surprisingly good deck right now, and there are a lot more gems in the rough like this one that are still fine choices for an upcoming Modern event.

Modern will survive. Modern will thrive. Modern will never take a dive. Modern is still open. Open for business.

- Brian Braun-Duin

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