Banlists and you, Modern Shakeup Edition

Good day, Ladies and gentlemen! Unmistakable is here once more with a serving of Rain of Salt. To hallmark our return to content creation, I’d like to take a brief look into the banlist change of early February. It’s a bit of a post-mortem due to the time between then and now, but after spending the latter half of 2017 complaining about the lack of unbans I feel it’s only fair to give it a fair weigh-in. And so, we go:

 

Modern

Bloodbraid Elf – UNBANNED

bloodbraid elfFirst up, I’ll address the more aggressive of the two unbans. The day of a potential unbanning of Bloodbraid elf has been spoke of in hushed whispers amongst the Modern community for the best part of half a decade, and it’s time has come a mere two weeks following the 5 year birthday of its ban decision. The latter half of 2012 into January 2013 was a dark place for modern: Innistrad block had just concluded, giving the potent midrange deck access to the now marquee card Liliana of the Veil, while granting access to the powerful cascade target of Geralf’s Messenger. Bloodbraid formed the top end of the curve, ready to pull out Tarmogoyfs, Dark Confidants, or a collection of the best non-Path removal spells in Modern. The deck was powerful, consistent, but had it’s counters. It was still hurting following the ban of Punishing Fire, and was finding its feet once more.

Enter: Return to Ravnica.

The fall set of 2012 brought instant jund staples Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay, and sent the deck into overdrive. The ability to crank out a Liliana of the Veil turn 2 is a tantalising opportunity, and Decay protected from early aggression with an iron fist. Something needed to be done, and it was Bloodbraid that took the fall. Right before Gatecrash was released, Wizards took our elf friend behind the shed and shot it square in the head, hamstringing the unbelievable tempo that Jund was known for. The deck would continue its dominance for another year until the banning of Deathrite.

That was the story of the ban, but what about the story of the unban?

In the month since her unbanning, Bloodbraid is solidifying a satisfying, though not yet warping, hold in Modern. Bloodbraid Jund is on the rise, almost catching up to aggressive staple deck Grixis Shadow in popularity – every build runs the full set, unsurprisingly. In the elf’s absence, Jund has gained toys such as Fatal Push and Kolaghan’s Command, all of which aid to the trademark Jund flexibility and brute strength we’ve come to expect.

Oh, but that isn’t all. Upon looking through standing and statistics, Bloodbraid is staging a revitalization in the archetype of Ponza, or RG Land Destruction. Armed to the teeth with Stone Rain, Molten Rain and Blood Moon, this deck cranks land screwing effects out and wins through attrition (or Stormbreath Dragon). It has always been a popular deck amongst those in the community without a soul (Yami, here’s looking at you Kiddo), but the unbanning of Bloodbraid elf has finally sped up its beatdown plan to competitive levels, much to the joy of people who enjoy watching stax games play out – myself included.

 

Jace, the Mind SculptorUNBANNED

JtmsAh, the elephant in the room. I love it. Ol’ JTMS in modern hasn’t much of a story to tell, he was one of the first no-brainer bans at the format’s inception. Preceding this banning, Jace was EVERYWHERE – extended, legacy, cube, being one of the first cards to be banned in Standard since the Mirrodin fiasco 6 years prior – he was everywhere. But, in the shadows, he watched. And waited.

Now, following his release into modern, people went ballistic. This is the Mind-Sculptor. Scourge of Standard. Powerhouse in Legacy. All-star in one of my all time favourite decks. He’s going to be immediately format warping and destroy Modern through some sort of conspiracy to bring players back to Standard, right?

…well, as it happens, this couldn’t be further from the case. In the first few weeks of new modern, Jace was everywhere. The community wanted to rightfully break him, so put him in every control build they could muster. Blue Moon. Jeskai Control. Dimir. Azorius. I even saw a few Breach decks running Jace for the raw potential of his card advantage engine. As the meta has evolved to accommodate for him, the more inhospitable the environment looks towards our 4-mana planeswalker. I believe this is for a couple of reasons:

First off, the Modern metagame is aggressive. A lot of turn 3 plays are capable of threatening or outright killing an unprotected Jace. A lot of the decks that aim to go one for one in the early game to power out a JTMS on curve were ultimately disappointed by the sheer amount of tempo generated by the big decks in the format. On turn 3 decks are slamming down 2-3 Hollow Ones, Liliana of the Veil, Mantis Rider, or even Karn Liberated. Jace can’t permanently stave off any of these, and gets easily dealt with by all of these if played on curve. The control decks that want to properly profit from a Jace aim to do so to benefit a longer control game, but that has strategic dissonance with what is needed to survive in the Modern metagame. there are no Counterbalance locks, or Ancient Tombs/City of Traitors to power out Chalice of the Voids and slow games down to allow Jace to do what he does best. As such, a deck made to abuse Jace’s power needs some form of stalling power that is yet unseen in the format.

Second, Jace is a 4 drop in a format where you aim to win on turn 4. As such, the 4 slot on the mana curve is a distant luxury. Of the most popular decks in the format, Humans, Burn, and Jund (sans Bloodbraid Elf) top out at 3. Any exceptions, such as Tron or Hollow One, cheat heavily on their mana costs – as such, anything above 4 is put in the deck with the intention to be cheated out much earlier than turn 4. Because of this, fitting Jace can be tricky, and can make any deck looking at utilising him slower than is ideal.

To illustrate this, let’s have a look at this decklist, from the recent SCG IQ in Danbury. First of all the eye is drawn to the 4 slot of the curve, being nearly as high in population as the essential 1- and 2-mana slots. The ballooning at the top end of the curve makes itself known, with most of those slots being devoted to heavily impactful tempo swings like Cryptic Command or Supreme Verdict, and the Scourge of Standards Past only features in a meagre 2 slots. In this list Jace forgoes the raw card advantage engine and focuses him into the stalling, tempo stealing category of his peers in the slot. In this slot, he won’t come down on curve unless they game is won by turn 4 (unlikely), and will likely follow up on stolen tempo from a board wipe. The card advantage he promises is bolstered earlier by Spreading Seas and Serum Visions, the former helping to stall the game out and the latter able to double on value with the few Snapcasters in the build. This is an example of the best usage of Jace going forward, for now. In the long run he won’t have nearly as big an impact as Bloodbraid, and that’s ok.

 

Well, that got out of hand, but that sums up the latest unbannings! What do you think, guys? Am I reading this wrong? Or have I nailed it? Be sure to let us know and if you like this, be sure to follow us on Facebook to be kept up to date with everything Rain of Salt related! Until next time, Unmistakable out!

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