Modern Madness: Exploring the Unbans


Inevitably countless articles have already been written about Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf being back in modern. And I usually would be more interested in the innovations in standard this week, but too much discussion about Jace and BBE has been about the apparent decks – UW control, Jeskai, Grixis control, and Jund. But there’s more potential than just those four decks. If we start to explore successful strategies in the past, we can see alternative strategies might have merit. Our journey begins back when Extended was a format, and contained the original Ravnica and Alara Reborn. The card we are looking at is Congregation at Dawn. Decks in extended used Congregation at Dawn to grab BBE + X to cascade into a strong turn 3/4, while also letting you have a toolbox setup.


I was first alerted to this strategy when Michael Jacob was telling a story of a botched Path to Exile ruling that cost him the match. Nevertheless, this strategy has some potential even today. While taking a turn off to cast Congregation is precarious in a deck designed to put down board presence, the value gained by stacking BBE + Eternal Witness is similar to that of Collected Company. Both cards want a large number of 3 CMC or less creatures in the deck. The appeal to Congregation is that being an instant allows you pick the perfect card for the opponent’s deck. Playing against storm? Get BBE + Eidolon of Rhetoric. Is your opponent playing a ton of non-basics? Get BBE + Magus of the Moon followed by Selfless Spirit. You get to play more silver bullets because you can just tutor up an Eternal Witness to return them, plus you have BBE to mitigate the card disadvantage of Congregation.


A second strategy uses Jace alongside Platinum Emperion. While I’ve been playing Madcap Moon since Kaladesh, more recently players picked it up on MTGO for Modern Challenges and for the Pro Tour. There haven’t been many innovations in the archetype, as a bunch of us had 5-0s throughout last year with various pieces of tech (Entrancing Melody, Kefnet’s Last Word, Sower of Temptation, Abrade, Search for Azcanta, Spreading Seas, Nimble Obstructionist). Jace, however, is a perfect compliment to this strategy. A deck like Madcap Moon desperately needed another answer to big creatures like Primeval Titan and Tarmogoyf, while also needing a way to close out the game once the opponent is locked by Blood Moon or Platinum Emperion. Jace is a powerful way to do that, while also minimizing the need to Vendilion Clique Emperions from your hand. Madcap Experiment also gives a way to shuffle the deck through Blood Moon (even though you need an Emperion in the library or play to do this). In addition, a turn of Blood Moon into Jace +2 Fateseal can present a soft lock in a lot of situations. You can stop the Valakut player from drawing Nature’s Claim, or stop Tron from drawing Karn. Blood Moon also limits the ability of players to kill Jace. Your Jeskai opponent might ordinarily be able to Detention Sphere a Jace, but with a Blood Moon in play they can’t Sphere with counterspell backup, leaving you free to resolve whatever you want.


A third option for the new bans is to put Jace into Scapeshift lists. Since the printing of Bring to Light, there hasn’t been a reason to eschew this consistency for a better mana base, especially in a world full of Search for Azcanta (which slots exceptionally well into BTL Shift lists). Jace may allow the Scapeshift lists to return to their roots – playing the role of a control deck that ends the game with single spell. Jace and Search for Azcanta pair very well together, as Search can find Jace, while also making brainstorms better, while you’re also incentivized to play Search since it flips to a land very quickly, acting as acceleration on turns 4/5 for Scapeshift. In addition, the nature of the deck ensures that you should have a means to shuffle, since the Temur versions tend to play more fetch lands, in addition to the numerous Farseek’s and Search for Tomorrow that you play. Jace is also an alternate win condition, while helping stall vs cards like Gurmag Angler or Death’s Shadow, without having to spend a card to cryptic them. Against some decks, a turn 3 Jace is also crazy strong. Maybe your Jeskai or UW opponent taps out for Search for Azcanta, leaving you a window to resolve Jace. That’s it for this week, and I’m sure we’ll see some unique Jace decks in the next few days, as Modern 5-0’s start to get posted.