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JUNDSTICE PREVAILS KAYURE PATEL 25/02/2018

January 28th 2013 was a dark day for Modern. A day when our lord and saviour died for the sins of another. In the preceding months, Jund was dominating Modern GPs, due to its ability to power out turn 2 Liliana, backed up by powerful disruption and large threats. The deck won three of the previous four GPs, and was the runner up in two. Bloodbraid Elf was banned. The reasons cited by Erik Lauer were that WOTC wanted to ban a card that Jund played four copies of, but wasn’t seen in other decks. All evidence pointed to Bloodbraid Elf.

A crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit

A year later, after distorting the format by causing all black or green decks to run him, the real culprit and one mana planeswalker, Deathrite Shaman was banned. Unfortunately, with Bloodbraid Elf still on the ban list, Jund had lost too much of its power, and now languished behind other midrange decks with more powerful tools, such as Abzan (Siege Rhino), Temur (midrange with a twin combo) and Jeskai.

For five long years, the fair and reasonable Bloodbraid Elf languished in jail, surrounded by design atrocities like Mental Misstep, Hypergenesis and Skullclamp. Sitting in its cell, looking out through the bars of prison, our four mana, sorcery speed hero will have seen players dying on turn 2 to Griselbrand, turn 3 to Blighted Agent and multiple 4/4s with sphinx heads being made on turn 1.

Weaker than Bloodbraid Elf

On February 12th 2018, WOTC parole board finally realised their mistakes and freed Bloodbraid Elf into the Modern world again. “As a four-mana card that doesn't necessarily win the game on the spot, Bloodbraid Elf […] should provide further incentive for deck builders to move up the mana curve and play interactive games.” Explained Ian Duke to the delight of myself (@BloodbraidElf), millions around the world, and no doubt his brother, GB enthusiast Reid Duke.

Unfortunately, much as when Avacyn was released from the Helvault, freedom came at the cost of releasing a giant card advantage machine with game ending power. Avacyn was lucky, she only had to fight Griselbrand. Bloodbraid Elf must, once again, keep Jace the Mindsculptor in check.

The hero Modern deserves

The first deck we naturally think of when looking to play Bloodbraid is Jund – her home in Standard, and her most successful home in Modern.

Jund by heterotic (6-2, Modern Challenge)

4 Liliana of the Veil
1 Liliana, the Last Hope


4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Dark Confidant
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf

4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Thoughtseize
2 Fatal Push
2 Kolaghan's Command
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Terminate

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
3 Bloodstained Mire
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
2 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
2 Treetop Village
1 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Wooded Foothills

Sideboard

1 Thoughtseize
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Collective Brutality
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Grim Lavamancer
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Surgical Extraction

This list is remarkably similar to lists from 2013, albeit with power upgrades in new cards, such as Liliana, the Last Hope, Kolaghan’s Command and Fatal Push. However, while Jund was the scourge of modern then, times have changed and the format has evolved.

Brian Braun-Duin explained this concept with great eloquence in his latest article:

The problem with powerful cards like Jace is that they speed up the solving of a format [...] History seems to support this. Take Legacy, for example. Treasure Cruise came out and pushed a lot of decks out of the format because they weren't powerful enough to compete. Shardless Sultai is the prime example – it couldn't compete with Treasure Cruise, but then after Cruise was banned it still didn't seem good enough to compete.

The reason is that powerful cards like Jace or Treasure Cruise force us to build our decks better. When they eventually get banned, that doesn't suddenly mean that we lose the knowledge we've gained or the shells we've built to surround these cards. We learn that we can replace cards like Treasure Cruise with cards like Gurmag Angler, and suddenly our decks are still better than what they used to be, even though the offending card is gone. The decks that got pushed out of the format stay pushed out of the format.

 

We can see this with the way midrange has evolved beyond Jund. Originally, Jund would look to disrupt with discard and removal and force the game to a low resource top decking war, which it could win with manlands and powerful, cheap threats. Now the premier Thoughtseize midrange decks in the format are Grixis and Jund Death’s Shadow, which can play out similarly, but the threats are larger and cheaper and the topdecks are more frequent due to playing 6-7 fewer lands.

Recently, builds of Jund Shadow have been playing a maindeck Ranger of Eos, as a Traverse the Ulvenwald target which provides lategame value. However, this is at the expense of playing white, rather than blue and losing access to Stubborn Denial, or simply playing three colours. What if instead of Ranger, Bloodbraid was our value 4 drop? Luckily, Mr Mann has done the hard work for us.

Jund Shadow by RandomDrooler (5-0, Competitive Modern League 16/2/18)

4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Death's Shadow
4 Street Wraith
4 Tarmogoyf

2 Dreadbore
4 Thoughtseize
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
4 Fatal Push
4 Kolaghan's Command
4 Mishra's Bauble
2 Seal of Fire
1 Tarfire

1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Forest
1 Mountain
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wooded Foothills

Sideboard

1 Ancient Grudge
1 Blood Moon
4 Collective Brutality
2 Grafdigger's Cage
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Magus of the Moon
1 Minister of Pain
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Yixlid Jailer

Removing the fourth colour in favour of more Bloodbraid Elf also allows us to remove Lingering Souls from the sideboard to have a more streamlined manabase. Whether this is right is going forward is unclear – in the last days of Jund, players began to splash white for Lingering Souls and Ajani Vengeant (Ajundi) because cascading into the former was incredible. With a powerful 4 mana, 3 loyalty planeswalker roaming the streets, Lingering Souls may still be a necessity for the midrange decks.

Due to the power and deckbuilding creativity provided to us by having Bloodbraid Elf in the format, there are a number of other shells that are no doubt worth exploring, ranging from Zoo to As Foretold combo. However, when doing so, in the back of our minds will always be the question – “can this beat a Jace deck?”

Jace, the Mind Sculptor – better than all

I love Bloodbraid Elf, I think it’s a sweet card, a powerful card and a fun card. However, this is Modern, where decks like Tron, Bogles and Hollow One have no interest in sweet plays or fun. Modern has, for a long time,  been a format where many decks are possible, but the busted things have been the most successful in the time before they’ve been banned – Jund, Pod, Twin, Eldrazi, Dredge. Bloodbraid Elf is an excellent Magic card, but it isn’t busted. Jace is busted. Play Jace, while you can.

About Kayure Patel:

Kayure began playing Magic competitively around the release of M13. After minor success on the English circuit, his breakthrough year was the 2015/16 season, when he was a member of the English World Magic Cup team, the winner of GP Bologna with Blue-White Eldrazi and attained Silver Level Pro status. One of the founding members of Team Axion, and current captain, Kayure has a keen desire to help English Magic thrive and will always take time to speak to any player. Though his best results have come in Modern, Kayure’s love for the game means he is happy playing any format.