Beating the Heat: Anti-Jace/Bloodbraid Tech

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As the first tournament results since last month's landmark unbans roll in, it has become abundantly clear that Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are going to be major players in the metagame going forward. Competitive players need a plan to face these cards. Fortunately, Modern's card pool has plenty of options for exactly this purpose, most of which are also good cards against the current field.

In this article, we will explore some such tech cards, what existing archetypes they fit into, and examples of how to successfully incorporate them.

Choking Hazard

We'll kick things off with a classic piece of sideboard hate that not only stymies Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but blue decks in general: the dreaded Choke. Thanks in part to the powerful planeswalker, blue decks are now common enough that this card is worthy of consideration, and Choke is an undeniable haymaker against those decks. Its easy mana requirements also make it splashable for most decks incorporating green into their manabase (provided they don't also have blue, of course!).

One natural home is Jund, where Choke is usually the checkmate move in the BGx midrange vs. UWx control match. Here's a list that recently did well with it in a Modern Challenge:

Other decks that could potentially consider this card are RG Ponza (where it can help overcome the deck's weakness to cheap countermagic), Naya Zoo (which is usually in the market for a bit of help interacting with blue decks that are light on creatures), and perhaps even Elves as way to deter control players from playing expensive sweeper effects.

Read the Omens

Next up is a seemingly innocuous but highly effective option for decks in white to fend off Bloodbraid Elf-fueled aggression: Wall of Omens. It blocks the Elf cleanly, maintains card parity by drawing an extra card, and only costs two mana to put down.

This cheap cost is especially relevant, as many decks that have opted for the Elf (such as the Ponza deck that took down the latest SCG Open) are pairing the cascade creature with a variety of mana acceleration tools, such as Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl. This means that Elf can hit the battlefield as soon as turn three, which represents a lot of pressure in a hurry. However, Wall is cheap enough to come down and hold the ground even when the opponent is on the play, making it very easy to use the Wall for its stated purpose. Even when drawn later in the game, the attached cantrip ensures that it's never truly a dead card.

When looking for decks that can easily incorporate this card, the obvious answer is UW Control. It's a deck that has the long game in mind (so Wall's defensive bent fits in the gameplan), has need of early blockers for aggressive decks (Path to Exile isn't always enough), and has powerful incentives to keep the card train churning in its planeswalker win conditions. Here's an example of a UW Control deck that incorporated Wall and scored a Top 8 in the Dallas SCG Open:

While I feel Wall is a welcome inclusion in this deck, finding other homes for it has proven a bit trickier. It could potentially be slotted into a Death and Taxes shell in order to prevent them from being overrun (as the deck is somewhat soft to being rushed by creatures beefier than theirs) and provide a way to generate value with blink effects like Eldrazi Displacer, Flickerwisp, and Restoration Angel. But its inability to provide offense could prove problematic in matchups where Taxes is the aggressor. There could also be room for this card in a value-oriented creature toolbox deck, where the defensive body could come in handy early, then become Eldritch Evolution fodder in the midgame.

Feeling of Dread

Next, we'll talk about what I feel is an underrated piece of anti-Jace tech in Dreadbore. While sorcery-speed removal is not very popular in Modern, certain cards that perform functions you cannot find elsewhere (like Maelstrom Pulse for BGx) will see the light of day. I believe Dreadbore's high degree of versatility is enough of an incentive to merit serious consideration.

It also has the benefit of being in very removal-dense colors in red and black. This means the few gaps in its coverage (most notably manlands such as Celestial Colonnade) can likely be addressed by some combination of Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan's Command, or even its most direct competitor in Exterminate!.

Here's a Mardu Pyromancer list that employed it to good effect in an MTGO Competitive League:

Other decks that could consider this technology are Jund (some lists have already incorporated it), Grixis Shadow, Grixis Control (to gain a leg up on the Jace deck mirror), and Traverse Shadow. My opinion is that it currently outshines the likes of Exterminate!, and that any deck with access to these colors should at least kick the tires on it.

Coming of the Tide

I'd like to cap things off by bringing it back to my favorite deck in Merfolk, and the adjustments I have made to account for the new metagame. I mentioned dabbling in a green splash before the unbans, but that plan is obsolete in the current climate: Master of Waves lines up too well against the likes of Bloodbraid Elf, Lightning Bolt, and the like to consider a Merfolk 75 without it.

The card I'd like to highlight in this article is one that was fairly commonplace in metagames past, but had faded from sight until now. Tidebinder Mage is a card that not only lines up well against the Bloodbraid Elf itself, but it is also handy against many of the other creatures found in decks featuring the Elf. It can lock down mana accelerants like Arbor ElfBirds of Paradise, and Ignoble Hierarch to slow down your opponent's development, or it can lock down stand-alone threats like Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf to give you the edge on the board.

I've incorporated Tidebinder in the following list, which has me on pace to qualify for the Modern Magic Online Championship Series Qualifier tournament on the 1st of April:

I have extensively tested the configuration presented here, and I have been impressed by Tidebinder's ability to swing the tempo of the game in my direction. The rise of decks like Hollow One and Ponza have also made them applicable enough against the field to justify playing the full four copies. I think that any Merfolk pilot looking to navigate the current field should strongly consider this card.

Siding Out

As the metagame evolves, players refine their strategies and hone in on the best tech for the situation at hand. This suite of flex-spot cards is the first adjustment to the arrival of Jace and Bloodbraid, but it is likely far from the last. If you have any sweet anti-Jace or Bloodbraid tech you've been working on, drop me a line in the comments.

7 thoughts on “Beating the Heat: Anti-Jace/Bloodbraid Tech

  1. Hey Roland, what do you think about the 7-8 Seas variant of Merfolk in the current meta? I want to believe it has legs given the narrowing of the meta around three color midrange and Tron, but we storm’s performance this weekend, I’m just not sure if its worthwhile if 2 color combo is going to tick up to fight all the midrange strategies.

    1. Your mileage may vary, but I see too many creature decks for it to really be worthwhile. Tidebinder is strong against midrange while also addressing the likes of Zoo and Hollow One, and you have Tron mostly covered with Rejection and whatever 2-mana counterspell you choose to jam anyway.

  2. No notion thief or counterflux? No rule of law? Cause like the cleanest competitive answer to both cards is snapcaster mage I believe. Blocks elf while usually finding something to handle the cascaded spell, pressures jace or can just mop up his five counters when paired with a bolt. Electrolyze is another tolerable answer to bbe, or courser of kruphix which can generate ca while cleanly blocking elf and putting some pressure on jace (although kind of weird vs jtms fateseal)

    1. I didn’t find very many results to back Notion Thief or Counterflux in my research, likely because there’s no slam-dunk home for either. I think I’d reach for Eidolon of Rhetoric before I would Rule of Law. Snapcaster is pretty good against BBE, but it’s hard to consider a card that the majority of players in those colors have been playing anyway to be “tech”. Courser’s a good one, though. Didn’t think of that.

      1. I’m sure thief is way too cute. Restoration angel is another card that lines up well vs bbe but almost nonbos with wall there. They may not swing bbe into the wall so you don’t get to try the ambush. Chord and company both have a similar effect tho of flash blocking an elf profitably or putting bodies out eot to pressure Jace.

        And while it’s not like people don’t play snap bolt anyways if you believe Jace and elf are the cards to beat then snap bolt can still be better than usual or very well positioned.

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