Before Ancestral Vision was unbanned in Modern, it struck me as one of the more deserving cards on the list. Given the choice between playing against Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a format where tapping four mana at sorcery speed can often just leave you dead, and a Treasure Cruise analog that required an investment of a mere one mana, my impression was that Jace would be a much safer unban. I still believe that Jace would be a totally reasonable card to have in Modern, though at this stage my thoughts on Ancestral Vision are very different.
My reasoning against unbanning Ancestral Vision was that no deck that was soft to Lightning Bolt would ever be able to beat a deck with Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, and Ancestral Vision. It's just too easy to string together this redundant interaction and inevitably get far enough ahead on cards to win the game. What I wasn't respecting was the percentage of the field that is good to great against a reactive Lightning Bolt deck. Many of the linear decks will struggle immensely against the Ancestral Vision decks, though decks like Bogles, Living End, Tron, Valakut, and various combo decks will make it so that most of your cards don't matter. In these matchups, waiting four turns to draw three cards will rarely be game-breaking.
Modern has historically been a disproportionately proactive format, with the diversity in opposing gameplans being a major contributor to the importance of being able to kill your opponent quickly. Since the unbanning of Ancestral Vision I've made a few attempts at fitting it into a proactive shell, and while there were matches that I won handily, the premise was fundamentally flawed. In a format where being able to win the game by turn four is nearly essential, Ancestral Vision will commonly be a liability.
Despite coming to the conclusion that I didn't want Ancestral Vision in my deck, I acknowledged that other people would want the card in theirs. Thus I held the belief that the best way for blue decks to compete with opposing Ancestrals was to cast their own---a holdover in philosophy from the days of Treasure Cruise. As such, I reluctantly ended up with a full set of Ancestrals in my sideboard. It was clean in the sense that Ancestral could just replace Delver when Delver wasn't great, but I strongly disliked dedicating so many sideboard slots in such a diverse format for specifically one matchup, even if the card did come in in other matchups.
The fact that Ancestral Vision and Treasure Cruise both have the text "draw three cards" had me concerned about mirrors where just drawing more copies of that exact card would win the game. It turns out the differences between the two cards are significant. Treasure Cruise advantage quickly snowballed, and a countered Treasure Cruise was just fuel for the next Cruise or a top-decked one. A countered Ancestral Vision means at least four turns before a copy that has not yet been suspended could resolve. My plan in blue mirrors already involved being heavy on countermagic. Since removing Ancestral from the sideboard of Grixis Delver I have concluded that being able to consistently fight counter wars, while also having fewer topdecks that can't be cast immediately, has left me feeling favored.
I now have the experience to say that I was just wrong about Ancestral Vision, and while the controlling Ancestral decks are great in the proper metagame, they are not so good that Ancestral Vision is the only way to win a grindy game. In fact, the matches that I was losing to the Jeskai Nahiri decks almost always came down to Celestial Colonnade. Terminate gets boarded out against them for being terrible, though once the Colonnade is activated it's the only card you want. With Ancestrals in my sideboard the plan I was committing to was keeping up on cards, though ultimately my cards were on average worse than theirs, which left me trying to play their game.
While having cards in hand is important, the things that matter most in the matchup are making land drops, countering haymakers, and not dying to Colonnade. Ancestral Vision is a ham-fisted way to attempt to do these things. I'd rather just have cards like Cavern of Souls to keep up on lands and resolve all my Snapcaster Mages, and Ghost Quarter to hit their Colonnades (and for extra game against Tron and a few other decks packing problematic nonbasics). Flexibility is the quality I value most highly in Modern sideboards; Ancestral Vision offered some but I didn't need a card to bring in against Jund and other good matchups, so it was really only expressly for blue mirrors. That's just too narrow for so many slots, and now that I believe it to be unnecessary, it's out.
There is some consideration for playing Tectonic Edge over one or both Ghost Quarters as they're better against the blue decks, though they are worse enough against Tron that I'm on this configuration for now. I'll also say that a copy of Negate could be better than the fourth Countersquall given that double/triple black isn't always a given, though Countersquall is better enough that it gets the nod for now.
As an aside, I also gave Ricochet Trap a whirl briefly, which wasn't really much different from siding Ancestral. Basically, it made it justifiable to take the draw in blue mirrors, which I believe you're supposed to do in Modern, while giving you no top decks that required suspending and still technically having access to Ancestrals. The matchups are largely about making land drops and eventually killing the opponent with Lightning Bolt and Countersquall, and removing time counters from Ancestral was really the first thing in a long time that made taking the play seem worth it post sideboard. Ricochet Trap could also be used to fight counter wars, which was a nice bonus. It ended up feeling way too narrow though, and not different enough from Ancestrals to be justifiable if Ancestrals weren't worth it.
Building for Ancestral
While I eventually concluded that Ancestral Vision is not for my deck, it's absurd to claim that the card is actually unplayable. One of the best uses of Ancestral Vision that I've seen has, unsurprisingly, been Gerry Thompson's adaptation of Jeskai Control.
Using Nahiri to rummage away Ancestrals when they suck is the industry Standard, though the major innovation here is Timely Reinforcements. Timely Reinforcements, while not great against every deck, really solidifies your position against the decks you naturally prey on while playing well with both Ancestral and Nahiri. The biggest drawback to both cards is the potential to die before they matter, and Timely Reinforcements is great at diminishing this drawback in many matchups. I haven't seen a Grixis deck that I'm happy to play Ancestrals in yet, though Gerry's Jeskai build does a tremendous job of capitalizing on the deck's game one strengths with a good selection of hammers to combat the bad matchups out of the sideboard.
Of course, the Nahiri plus Emrakul technology is the primary reason to play Jeskai over Grixis. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is great and all, though he simply doesn't have Nahiri's ability to proactively win games from out of nowhere. Sitting on your hands and trying to interact with everything just isn't a winning line in Modern, in the absence of some serious haymakers to make up for any blank draw steps such as superfluous lands. Gerry's Timely Reinforcements enable the deck to play a reactive game in a way that facilitates proactively turning the corner on turn four/five, which is something that other builds of Jeskai, and every build of Grixis that I've seen, have been lacking.
The other place that I've seen Ancestral Vision integrated into Modern well is in Taking Turns. It's a fringe deck with some obvious strategic weaknesses, notably the fact that Howling Mine isn't a very good card. Letting your opponent draw cards can often lead to game losses, though Howling Mine has generally been accepted as the best way to ensure that you continue to take extra turns one you start---until now!
Reiderrabbit is of course the MTGO handle of Reid Duke, who recorded a video with the deck for Channel Fireball since 5-0ing this league. Ancestral Vision is sort of like a slow, one-sided Howling Mine, and for this deck's purposes it is a significant upgrade. Removing Howling Mine from the deck means giving your opponent fewer free cards, but it also gives you more game against slower blue decks. Ancestral is a must-counter, whereas Howling Mine is a card they're happy to let resolve to draw them into more counterspells.
I'm a big fan of Timely Reinforcements in this deck as well. Efficient haymakers give you the best odds of surviving to resolve an Ancestral Vision, and they also happen to be some of the best draws. Further, against many aggressive decks Timely Reinforcements is very close to a three mana Time Walk, and it's this sort of efficiency that is necessary to support Ancestral Vision.
Another Tool in the Modern Arsenal
My initial reaction to the unbanning of Ancestral Vision was that it would likely find its way back to the banlist in time if it was at all playable, though as I experimented with the card in Modern it became clear that this was not true. Ancestral Vision is a very powerful card, though its drawback lines up in a way that the card is fundamentally at odds with the format. Ancestral Vision simply does not slot into every blue deck in Modern, and in fact it takes significant work to support the card.
Modern is a format where efficiency and tempo are dramatically more valuable than card advantage. As such it makes sense that the best-looking Ancestral decks currently feature Timely Reinforcements as a tool to offset the tempo lost by the Ancestrals. As much as I would love drawing extra cards to be the best thing we could be doing, it's simply not true in an abstract sense.
Ancestral Vision is still a new tool in Modern, and while I believe Gerry's and Reid's lists are the best we've seen thus far, I'm also inclined to believe there is more space to explore. The lessons that these lists offer is the importance of remaining somewhat proactive, and the need for supplementary, efficient haymakers. I'm still big on Grixis Delver in Modern, though I have faith that players with the drive to brew can expand on this theory and produce new ways to use and abuse Ancestral Vision.
Best of luck to the brewers, and thanks for reading.
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