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Exploring Bloodbraid Elf


Last week, I talked about some rough outlines of various decks in the Modern format that could leverage the power of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Since then, I have been playing a lot of Modern with various Jace decks and my results with them have honestly been fairly mixed. While Jace is almost certainly going to be a staple of the Modern format moving forward, I think he is unlikely to be the overbearing powerhouse that many predicted him to be. Modern is a format that is fairly fast and brutal. This means tapping out to play a planeswalker on the fourth turn is often a hard sell, especially if you are not already ahead on board.

While I only mentioned it in passing at the end of my last article, Jace was not the only card that came off the ban list. In addition to Jace, there was another powerful Magic card that was reintroduced to Modern:

Bloodbraid Elf

The more I play games with and against both Jace and Bloodbraid Elf, the more I get the feeling that Bloodbraid Elf might actually be the more impactful unbanning. In terms of the things you generally want to be doing in Modern, Bloodbraid Elf ticks off more of the necessary boxes.

Unlike Jace, Bloodbraid is a card that does not require you to be ahead on board for it to be fantastic. In fact, Bloodbraid Elf is the type of card that can quickly catch you up should you find yourself behind. It also allows you to take an aggressive stance in most games, something you generally want to be doing in Modern.

Last week, I closed with a Temur Kiki Combo deck powered by Eldritch Evolution. After playing some sets of matches with it, I really like the direction that deck is going. We get to play a lot of quality cards, have a small toolbox for solving problems, and just have an "oops I win" button to press on occasion:

Izzet Charm is a card that I have really taken a liking to in these Temur Bloodbraid Elf shells. Because we are going to be cascading through our library, playing traditional counterspells like Remand and Mana Leak becomes really awkward. Izzet Charm allows us to have a splash of countermagic in our deck, that is always going to be a live hit to cascade into.

You will note, unlike the list I started with last week, Jace has been relegated to the sideboard here. This is because we only have so much room for expensive cards in Modern and Bloodbraid Elf tends to advance our primary game plan a bit better than grinding card advantage with Jace does.

If you are interested in seeing some of the first iteration of this deck in action, you can find it on my YouTube channel here.

If you are a fan of Temur, but are not a fan of having some of the more fragile combo enabling creatures in your deck, I have also been tooling around with completely fair deck in these colors:

If you have never used a Jace activation to stack an Ancestral Vision on top of your deck to cascade into with Bloodbraid Elf I would highly recommend giving it a try. In addition to Izzet Charm providing a touch of countermagic like in the combo based build, this fair deck has a bit more room for expensive cards like Cryptic Command.

Manamorphose may seem a bit odd on the surface, but it provides another cantrip effect for making tokens with Young Pyromancer, while also randomly making our Bloodbraid Elves effectively cost two mana. It also has some application against opposing Blood Moon decks.

Ratchet Bomb is not a card we see that much of in Modern, especially in 3-color decks that can leverage Engineered Explosives, but the dynamic of possibly cascading into an Engineered Explosives makes it a good bit worse.

If you want to see a bit of this fair Temur deck in action you can check out my video with it here.

If you want to maximize the often aggressive pressure that Bloodbraid Elf provides, slotting it into something with piles of reach and other hasty threats is a natural direction to go. There have been a couple of different Bloodbraid powered Zoo decks putting up results on MTGO recently:

This deck is all about getting people dead. Twelve 1-drops plus Tarmogoyf backed up by Bloodbraid Elf and Mantis Rider mean our creatures will apply a lot of pressure very quickly. This is also a quasi Burn deck with 14 Red cards that deal 3 or more points of damage each. No inclusion of Atarka's Command is interesting to me, but I could see where Boros Charm is a bit better on average since it can provide defense against cards like Supreme Verdict.

While the main deck does not contain any Black cards, we want Swamps in our deck to power up Tribal Flames anyways so we have some Black utility cards in the sideboard. Thoughtseize helps us interact with combo decks that might be faster than our aggro deck and Lingering Souls can help us grind a bit in more attrition based matchups.

If the above list is a touch too linear for you to start, another Wild Nacatl based Bloodbraid Elf deck also finished 5-0 in a MTGO league recently:

Unlike the other list that is all in on racing and reach, this configuration has main deck disruption in the form of Inquisition of Kozilek. Overall this deck has a slightly higher curve than one with more 1-drops, but having more expensive cards in our deck means our Bloodbraids will generate more advantage on average.

Another possible home for Bloodbraid Elf is one of the decks that put up strong results at the Pro-Tour:

I think Bloodbraid Elf actually goes a long way to helping solve one of the issues this archetype had previously, needing to splash too many colors. Previous iterations of this deck played four and even five colors to have access to counter magic and more importantly Lingering Souls for a grindy element. Bloodbraid Elf in conjunction with Kolaghan's Command provides value that Lingering Souls can only dream of.

Bloodbraid Elf also importantly provides additional threat density, especially in the face of graveyard hate like Rest in Peace which turns off Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

Finally, it would be criminal to talk about possible Bloodbraid Elf decks in Modern without talking about the best Bloodbraid deck of old:

Reid Duke is the utmost authority of all things bgx in Modern, so his above deck list would be my starting point for the archetype. I really like his inclusion of both 25 lands and four basic lands, including a basic Mountain. Remember that while Bloodbraid Elf is powerful, it does cost four mana. This means we need more total lands in our deck in order to be able to play it on curve consistently.

The relegation of Thoughtseize to the sideboard may seem odd at a glance, but I like this as well because the life loss from it can really add up in fair matchups alongside Dark Confidant.

If you want to see some of this Jund deck in action you can check out my video with it here.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, while I am still excited to keep brewing with Jace in Modern, I am not that surprised that the more aggressive Bloodbraid Elf feels more powerful in Modern. Modern has always been a format about getting your opponents dead, rather than grinding advantage. Bloodbraid Elf plays into wanting to do the former, while also doing the latter as a bonus.

What has your testing with Jace and Bloodbraid been like so far? Which decks have jumped to the front as your favorites so far? Let me know in a comment below!


--Jeff Hoogland

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