As I’m sure you’ve heard by this point, both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf were unbanned in Modern on Monday. Both of these unbans are sure to majorly shake up the Modern format, despite the subtle hints that they won’t from the official announcement.
As any self-respecting Magic player, I have strong opinions on anything related to the game, and this is certainly no exception. I really don’t like these unbannings, and I think they’ll have a net negative impact on Modern and the health of Magic as a whole. Here’s why:
Modern Was in a Good Place!
These unbannings came just 8 days after a Pro Tour that saw an incredible amount of deck diversity and great matches of Magic. While some might argue that Lantern Control taking home the trophy is a bad thing, I actually think its victory will put a massive target on its back, which in turn will push it slowly out of the format.
I was planning on writing my article last week on why Modern shouldn’t be a Pro Tour format, but I realized when I sat down to write it that I fundamentally disagreed with at least half of my complaints about Modern! For the first time in at least 5 years, combo decks weren’t too dominant, and we saw all types of fair decks see play. This was further reinforced at Grand Prix Toronto last weekend, where we saw 7 different archetypes in the Top 8, with only 1 of them making top 8 the previous weekend at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. For those keeping track at home, that’s 13 different archetypes out of 16 decklists that saw the most success these last two weekends. That’s pretty close to unprecedented diversity in any format, and was a good indication that Modern was in a healthy place.
So why, why oh why, would you want to change that?
Wizards’ defense to this is that these unbannings won’t actually change much, thanks to the Pro Tour not containing a high density of 4 mana sorcery-speed spells. Deckbuilding changes massively whenever a card (or cards) gets banned or unbanned. While you might say that Jace, the Mind Sculptor isn’t great against B/R Hollow One or Burn, it’s incredibly easy for a chain reaction to be set off where a Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck or a Bloodbraid Elf deck, despite containing what are apparently too mana intensive sorcery-speed spells, do quite well against those aforementioned aggressive decks and the true power of these cards is seen.
As a similar example, it would be equally strange to unban Punishing Fire because none of the Top 8 decks at the Pro Tour contained a creature with toughness 2 or less. Just because a card would be somewhat ineffective in a top 8 or deckbuilding has somewhat moved away from it doesn’t mean that they’re safe to introduce to a format. Both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor (certainly the latter) are on the premium end of card quality in Modern, if not right at the top of the pile. So why risk introducing them and throwing off the balance that was being struck in Modern?
Bloodbraid Elf Might Push Jund Too Hard
It’s important to not only look at Modern as a whole in its current form, but also to look at each card and examine why they were banned to begin with and what effect they might have on the format. Bloodbraid Elf is up first, one of the iconic cards from the Jund decks that were so very effective in the early days of the format.
Why did it get banned to begin with? The answer is really that Jund was far and away the best deck in the format, and Bloodbraid was the easiest target. Deathrite Shaman was the true offender, but it was a relatively new card and it would have been bad optics for the 1/2 creature to be banned so quickly. So instead, the powerful 4 mana cascade creature got the axe. At its core, Bloodbraid Elf is an inherently powerful card. It presents a 2-for-1 every time it’s played, and haste means that it can interact with the board in a proactive and positive way the turn it enters, mitigating some of the downside found in creatures that are weak to removal spells.
Cascade is an incredibly swingy mechanic, and Bloodbraid‘s 4 mana cascade led to many free copies of Liliana of the Veil, Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and Abrupt Decay being put on the stack. Value-based midrange decks have been struggling a little as of late, but the return of Bloodbraid Elf gives them an incredibly reliable source of card advantage, and that can only mean that they’ll be more prevalent now than before. Of the two cards that will be unbanned, I think Bloodbraid is far and away the safer of the two. We know how it interacts with Modern and we know what kind of decks it will go into. While I do think that there’s a real danger in Jund decks once again climbing firmly to the top of the format, seeing what Bloodbraid can do without Deathrite powering it out makes me more bullish on this unban than the other.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is Simply Too Powerful
Speaking of the other unban, I’m still fully wrapping my head around the fact that they unbanned Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This card has never been legal in Modern. It was flagged as a card simply too powerful for the format that was being created. Granted, several of the cards originally on the Modern banned list have since come off, but it boggles my mind that Jace was deemed ok for the format.
There’s a saying about Legacy: If you’re playing something that costs 4 mana, it better win you the game. The subtle joke surrounding this saying is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the iconic 4 mana card of the format, and very few fair decks play anything but Jace in this slot. The 4 mana planeswalker represents an endless stream of card advantage, the ability to control both the board and the opponent’s draws, and it offers a win condition through its ultimate that is very hard to beat. This card is clearly powerful, and it can be oppressive in slower formats. But good news! Modern is balls-to-the-wall fast right now!
Like the unban announcement boasted, there were a very limited number of 4 mana sorcery-speed spells at the Pro Tour. But, what if the format slows down, even a little? What we then find is a format where the best decks that are casting 4 mana sorcery-speed spells are all Jace decks. Why? Because it’s so very clearly the best option at that mana slot. The logic of Jace being a safe unban because of the speed of the format isn’t an inherently short-sighted one, but it’s one that trusts that the format will remain the same. Furthermore, unlike Bloodbraid Elf, which one could argue was at an appropriate power level for Modern but just got caught in the crosshairs, there is very little reason to unban Jace. People never got to experience it in Modern. They never thought it was unfairly targeted by the initial banned list. And they very rarely called for it to be unbanned (it was frequently more of a meme than anything). Don’t expect Jace to dominate the format the first week it comes into Modern, but I would be shell-shocked if it wasn’t banned again in the next several years. Between now and then, anything could happen.
The last comedic part of this banned & restricted announcement is that it will go into effect on MtGO on Wednesday, but will not affect paper Magic until after this weekend’s Modern Grand Prix in Lyon, France. For those of you going to Lyon, good luck! And enjoy the last weekend of a great and diverse format before the proverbial shit hits the fan.
Until next time,
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