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Building with Busted 4-Drops

The recent update to the Modern ban list has evoked a wide range of reactions from players. While many think the unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor was long overdue, a comparable number of others believe that these changes single handedly ruin what was a great format. The initial consensus among both factions is that change will be imminent, but to what extent is still a point of contention.

I personally believe that the unbannings were a mistake, but I’m not too interested in elaborating further at this time. What has happened and what’s going to happen, is of little concern to me. A core concept of competitive Magic is learning to deal with what’s out of your control and concentrating on what you can control. At the moment, I’m just focused on finding out how I can win matches with these new tools at my disposal. I haven’t gotten my hands on the format since the unbannings, but I’ve been keeping a close eye on the early results. While neither card has been particularly dominant, they both have seen a reasonable amount of success across a wide variety of archetypes. Having personally never played with either card extensively, I’m a bit surprised at how many strategies they’ve made their way into. At first glance, they both just seem liked cards that incentivize you to exchange resources with your opponent and play a longer game, but others have proved to me that they’re more diverse in application than I anticipated.

Take a look at this deck for example.


While the card advantage aspect of Bloodbraid Elf is still relevant here, the tempo advantage Bloodbraid Elf provides is what this deck is really interested in. This updated take on an old classic takes the generic Zoo shell, and packs it full of high impact cards like Tribal Flames, Mantis Rider, and Boros Charm in order to power up the Bloodbraids in the deck. The deck is capable of the same blisteringly fast starts that Zoo is known for, and this iteration of the deck also has a lot of reach and staying power. If the format does continue to shift toward decks looking to exchange resources, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zoo unseat Humans as the premier aggro deck of the format. If the need for disruption is lessened and removal becomes more prevalent, it stands to reason that the deck that has an easier time closing out games would be a better option. With an appearance in every batch of 5-0s since the unbannings, this deck is definitely something that everyone should be looking out for.


If Jund is looking to grind players out with Bloodbraid Elf, and Zoo is looking to get people dead with it, then this deck is the middle ground. Aside from stock Jund, this was the first deck I thought of after learning that Bloodbraid Elf was going to be released onto the format. It has the ability to pressure opponents more than a typical Jund deck and it can assume a controlling role in a number of matchups, so an aggressively slanted creature with a built in two-for-one slots into the deck nicely. It also makes the White splash unnecessary, so you get to clean up your mana a bit. When you need to be grindy, you can just starting traversing up some Bloodbraids instead of Ranger of Eos. The one problem this deck might face is the fact that it’s potentially too middle of the road. This is a problem many Death's Shadow lists have suffered from, and it’s why I’ve been an advocate for streamlining most versions of the deck for a quite a while now. Without the Temur Battle Rages, the deck’s goldfish may be a bit too slow against combo. And even with access to Bloodbraid, the deck is likely still a dog against most other Bloodbraid decks and Jace decks in any sort of long game. If the format remains in the same state it has over the past year, where every style of deck is represented, then having a deck that ranges from mediocre-decent against everything is actually reasonable. The idea of combining Bloodbraid and Traverse is still pretty appealing though, and I’m curious if a Death's Shadow shell is actually the best fit for it.


As I mentioned, I generally look to make my Death's Shadow decks leaner in order to remedy the problem of being spread too thin. But in this case, I think cutting the card itself and incorporating the Traverse package into a traditional Jund shell is promising. If the format becomes centered around the emerging grindy decks, then this deck has a lot going for it. Casting Bloodbraid Elf turn after turn seems like a pretty easy way to close a game out against any deck looking to play fair. This list is incredibly rough, but the concept is appealing.


The last Bloodbraid Elf deck I want to touch on might just be the best of them all. I believe this deck was originally created by eldrazi enthusiast, Ben Weitz, prior to the last Pro Tour. After initially seeing the list, I immediately noted it as something pay attention to. I had never been a fan of Eldrazi Tron because it seemed like the portion of the deck that wasn’t the Eldrazi creatures was terrible. The rg Eldrazi deck does a better job of powering out the creatures, and the addition of Eldrazi obligator added a completely new dimension to the deck. The strategy always had an inherent weakness to decks that aimed to go over the top of it, but Obligator can single handedly swing a game in one of these matchups. I knew the deck had potential, and Grzegorz Kowalski's win in Lyon confirmed this, but what I didn’t think of was how Bloodbraid Elf could push the archetype over the top. Fortunately, the MTGO hive mind is always there to remind me that I’m dumb. This may have already been one of the better decks in Modern, and it only stands to improve with the addition of one of the most powerful cards in the format to it.

I’m certainly optimistic about the future of Bloodbraid Elf in Modern, and I expect it to see a ton of play, but I suspect the majority of my early testing will be centered around Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The undisputed best planeswalker in Magic has the potential to turn the format on its head, and I don’t think I’m capable of overcoming the FOMO and playing a non-Jace deck. There are several existing decks that you can add some Jaces to and call it a day, but I think the card is worth building your deck around. Finding the best way to play Jace might just be easiest way to win in the upcoming months.


I was a Hyper fanboy before Gerry T made it cool, so it’s no surprise to me to see him putting up results with an innovative list. Kelvin made the decision to incorporate a few copies of the planeswalker into his trusty Bant Company deck, and I’m fully onboard with that decision. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and think of Jace as a control card, but in reality it’s actually a better card if you’re being proactive. The Bant Company deck has the ability to clog up the ground and just sit behind a wall of creatures as you pull ahead with a Jace. Jace also aids in dealing with a problem that many Collected Company decks have struggled with; the decks can be underwhelming when you don’t actually draw a Company. When you’re trying to play a bunch of fair creatures, you’re at risk of just getting one-for-one’d out of the game. With Jace in the mix, Company has the ability to mix it up with basically any fair deck. Another edge this deck may have over other Jace decks is the fact that it can pressure opposing Jaces. Cards like Knight of the Reliquary don’t exactly line up well against Jace, but the deck is full of sticky creatures like Voice of Resurgence. Clearing the board before slamming down a Jace won’t exactly be an easy task for an opponent.


If you are looking for a control deck to play Jace in, I’m a fan of this approach. Discard spells play great with Jace, so I really like the decision to trim counterspells for more of them. You can rip your opponent's hand a part before jamming your Jace, and you have the ability to Brainstorm them away when they’re dead cards in the late game. I also like the idea of using Bitterblossom as a way to easily protect Jace. The curve of Thoughtseize, Bitterblossom, Jace, has certainly not aged too well, but it’s probably still effective. Another interesting thing about this list particularly is that, comparative to most other control decks, it has some game against Tron. I think it’s still heavily unfavored because of the inability to clock the opponent, but it does do a decent job at interacting with opposing lands which might be enough to occasionally steal some games against poor draws. Having the ability to do this is relevant because Tron is a natural foil to Jace decks. If the Jace decks do start to dominate, having a plan for Tron is a necessity.


After doing some tinkering with a Ben Friedman Grixis list, I had the idea to take the concepts from the ub deck above and push them even further. I wanted my Jace deck to be as Jundy as possible, and I wanted to have a plan against the big mana decks. This deck is looking to shred your opponent's resources on basically every front before locking them out with Jace and Kolaghan's Command loops. And against big mana, you can recur Fulminator Mages with Command and Rise // Fall to buy you enough time to establish a soft lock. It’s possible that eschewing counterspells entirely is incorrect, but I hate how poorly they play with the planeswalkers in the deck, and they aren’t really exciting in any of the fair matchups. Another questionable decision is the omission of a real clock. Throwing a couple Tasigur, the Golden Fangs into the deck could be sufficient, but opening yourself up to removal just to have a slightly better chance in a few matchups if you draw the card in a timely manner isn’t where I want to be.

Even in a format as difficult to disrupt as Modern is, adding two cards as powerful and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf isn’t going to go unnoticed. These cards are here to stay, and they’re going to do some damage. If you plan on playing Modern anytime in the near future, I highly recommend you either find a good way to be playing them, or that you have a good way to beat them.


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