What Happened? Modern Unbanning Thoughts

Hello everyon-oh jeez, what have we here?

A pair of unbannings in Modern? Bloodbraid Elf and in the infamous Jace, the Mind Sculptor? What does this all mean?

Unbanned Jace

Reactions online are mixed. Following a Modern Pro Tour and GP with a wide variety of decks, many people were strongly advocating no changes in the Banned and Restricted List to preserve the current environment. Unbanning these feels like they might be trying to ‘fix something that isn’t broken’ as the common saying goes.

Some people think this will actively ruin Modern, I caught one such person on camera.

I don’t think the format is destroyed by any means, but I don’t necessarily think it will be ‘improved’ either by these unbans. I’m going to talk about why, and have a quick look at each card.

We don’t need to talk about *why* Jace was unbanned. We know. They warned us!

Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf was previously legal in Modern, and frankly I didn’t think it really needed a ban. It is very powerful, yes, Cascading into Liliana or whatnot can be pretty backbreaking. At the same time though, in game ones especially, Bloodbraid isn’t always relevant.

In a format like Standard, you can be reasonably sure every opponent will have *some* creatures to kill, or some cards in hand, or that any creatures you Cascade into will be important. However in Modern, this is regularly not the case. I played Jund in Modern for a fair amount of time, and while you’d often cast Bloodbraid because it *could* give you a great outcome, you would regularly hit a Lightning Bolt against a Wurmcoil Engine, or Abrupt Decay against control, or Thoughtseize against Burn, getting you nowhere. Gruul Scrapper isn’t tearing anything up.

The biggest danger now though, is seen to be Kolaghan’s Command.

Kolaghan's Command
Value’s Command

I will concede that the pairing of these cards will force decks to adapt to this extremely potent long game plan. I mean, it’s not like people could continuously play this over and over before to grind people out before Bloodbraid, right?

Snapcaster Mage
Picture unrelated

For real though, as a whole, permanents that die to Kolaghan’s Command will definitely get worse. That’s not a format killer though, realistically. Decks will adjust to trends as they always do. Affinity and Lantern will get blown out in game one a bit more often, and that’s fine with me.

Jace, the Mindsculptor

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Better than all?

Jace is a busted card, no doubt about it. It’s polarising, and honestly unbanning it would have made me concerned about Wizard’s bottom line (due to attendance hits from players afraid of him) if it wasn’t coincidentally alongside a fancy set that features him as a reprint.

Both for financial and gameplay reasons lots of players are concerned, but many of the concerns are missing the mark. Jace is tremendously strong when played into an open board with no answer, and it’s great against three and four mana creatures without abilities. But this is Modern, and those scenarios are not all that common.

Tapping four mana at sorcery speed is a real cost in Modern. Against many decks you simply can’t afford to do that, or you might end up dying on the spot. Even if you’re not instantly dying, Jace will have a tendency to die immediately too.

Of course, you thought of that though, built your deck entirely around Jace and making things safe for you to cast him, right?

However, even building your deck with the express purpose of resolving a 4 mana sorcery speed card carries an inherent cost in deck building. You need to do some deck-building gymnastics to fit in appropriate interaction for the various linear decks, and all the different angles people will try to interact with you on.

Notion Thief
Is it time for Notion Thief? Please be time, please please please please please please please

So, if the argument is, ‘ah, but they’ll play all these cards to stop me from winning on the first 8 turns of the game, then play Jace with Cryptic Command backup, then it’s game over’ then I would say ‘…yes?’ Ral Zarek probably does it in that spot. Maybe not Tibalt, but like, Gideon would. (any decent Planeswalker really)

Jace, the Living Guildpact
Even this one, and no one’s even thinking about returning his calls.

Okay, that’s a bit of a facetious line, but the point is that it’s the rest of the deck that gets you into that situation where you play/resolve/continue to use a Planeswalker. That’s pretty hard to engineer, Jace is just the best possible version of that finisher.

With all that said, Jace will see play. I just can’t imagine this world that other people are picturing where suddenly, everyone puts four Jace in their deck and they are all simultaneously unbeatable. I expect Jaces in top 8s, but it’s not going to be standard where I expect 28-to-32 Jaces in every top 8.

As for the cost issue? Well, MTG Finance isn’t really my thing, but it’s not wildly different than not owning Liliana of the Veil or Tarmogoyf or Snapcaster Mage. Yeah, it’s not great to have Modern-legal cards costing around $100 apiece. That will make some decks simply out of reach for many players, but that’s always been the case for decks like Jund. I can only hope that supply of Jaces is increased enough to avoid awkward scenarios where they end up costingĀ  $200 each.

For what it’s worth, though it’s an extremely(!) common conspiracy theory on various comment threads, no, OBVIOUSLY Wizards are not going to unban Jace for only a few weeks/months until they sell out of Masters 25. It *is* possible he gets re-banned, but I think it would at least take 18 months or so.

You can still compete in Modern without any of these cards. Bogles and Burn were just in the final of a GP, and neither are interested in playing nor care about playing against Jace for the most part. Also the Grishoalbrand deck, and Lantern, and Affinity, and Scapeshift, or Humans, etc.

Lantern will be too busy Needling Jace to play it.

Alright, so am I happy with the unbannings overall?

Well, not exactly. While I think the format will survive and be fine, I don’t like that it will encourage decks that try to completely ignore the opponent. It’s much easier to have a one-track mind and try to kill the opponent than try to fight through Jaces and Bloodbraids. I don’t like that this is going to (somewhat justifiably) be seen and remembered as a blatant cash-grab by a large portion of the player base.

Remember, that given how long it takes to print sets, design packaging and so on, Wizards literally planned Masters 25 with this unbanning in mind to build hype. This makes arguments about ‘improving’ the format of Modern feel extremely hollow to me, even if (and it’s totally possible) than Modern will actually be better overall after this. We don’t know yet.

Ah well, whatever. I look forward to the next few tournaments of my opponents tapping 4 mana for a spell, only to discover that all my cycling monsters are suddenly in play.

See you next time!

p.s. This is clearly a song featuring Jace and Bloodbraid performing a duet about the Modern format





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