Bloodbraid Elf: Proving Its Weight in Modern

It’s been almost two months since Bloodbraid Elf came off the ban list, and we’ve seen a wide variety of lists running the four-drop. In this week’s article, Hans ponders the effect Bloodbraid Elf has had on Modern and compiles a compendium of recent deck lists playing the elf!

The dust has settled, brewers have had their time testing out decklists, and we’ve seen players casting Bloodbraid Elf in tournaments, both online and in paper. We’ve seen articles discussing possible homes and configurations for the unbanned elf, and even our very own Gianluca Aicardi here on Cardmarket wrote about Bloodbraid Elf and Jund. What I want to focus on today, then, is assessing the power that Bloodbraid Elf has demonstrated so far in Modern. I’ve also taken the liberty of looking through other websites in order to come up with a compilation of decks that have run Bloodbraid Elf to varying degrees of success since the unbanning.

How Powerful Has Bloodbraid Elf Been?

In the context of the two cards that were unbanned in the February 2018 announcement, players within the Modern community focused more on Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s potential impact to the format rather than Bloodbraid Elf’s. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is, after all, known as “Big Daddy Jace” – the Jace that dominated Standard and became an iconic card featured in articles, videos, and historical discussions about the game. Bloodbraid Elf is a powerful card the same way Siege Rhino is a powerful card, but not in the same way that Jace was. This makes it all the more fascinating that in almost two months since these two cards were unbanned, Bloodbraid Elf has made a bigger impact in Modern by reinvigorating old archetypes and even giving a power boost to a previously unplayed archetype, Red-Green Midrange.

Bloodbraid Elf
"Bloodbraid Elf, better than all"?

Digging through the various MTGO league lists and Modern GP results sums up why Bloodbraid Elf has been the better performer thus far: BBE is proactive, provides a rare form of card advantage in archetypes that can play it, and is cheaper. I’ve reiterated many times in my articles that proactive, linear decks are the best strategies in Modern. Contrary to Wizards’ now-outdated philosophy that Modern is a “turn-four format,” games involving Tron, Humans, and Hollow One consistently lead to board-states that are effectively unwinnable for their opponents by turn three. Reactive decks that hope to draw the right half of their deck in order to answer the multitude of threats that one may face in a given Modern tournament fare much worse than proactive strategies that work to enact the same, linear game plan over and over again. Bloodbraid Elf, in aggressive strategies, enables this by cascading into redundant cards that pressure the opponent’s life total. Even in more midrange-y strategies such as Ponza, Bloodbraid Elf increases the chances to hit the crucial land-hate cards, such as Blood Moon or Stone Rain. Titanshift, a combo deck, is one of the more surprising homes for BBE, but the role of the elf in that deck (as is in every deck it slots in) is to increase the consistency with which the deck carries out its proactive game plan, and that role is the same in even Titanshift.

Speaking of facilitating consistency, the added benefit of increasing consistency comes with the bonus of a 3/2 body with haste, and this form of card advantage is quite rare in the decks that run Bloodbraid Elf. Aggro decks such as Naya Zoo don’t have access to the kind of card advantage that blue decks run (in the form of Snapcaster Mage and Search for Azcanta, to name some examples], and they don’t play midrange planeswalkers that can accrue value over the course of many turns. The same can be said for decks like Ponza and Titanshift. Although they have access to a card like Tireless Tracker, their game plan isn’t to grind out their opponets via Kolaghan’s Commands and Liliana of the Veils. Bloodbraid Elf is an on-color card advantage engine that also fits these decks plans – a rare combination – thus has been incorporated into these lists.

Tireless Tracker
The other "four-drop" card advantage engine for green decks.

Finally, the price of Bloodbraid Elf compared to Jace, the Mind Sculptor is something to be considered, and I’m not talking about their respective converted mana costs. Bloodbraid Elf is available for around five euros on Cardmarket, whereas Jace is sitting around eighty euros. While it’s likely to assume that the most competitive players will not hesitate to shell out the necessary amount of cash to play the cards that they believe will give them the best chance to win, the fact that Jace (and the decks that play Jace) is that much more expensive than Bloodbraid Elf has a non-zero effect on how much likelier that someone tests and plays Bloodbraid Elf in his or her deck instead of Jace.

All of this goes back to the question at hand: how powerful has Bloodbraid Elf been? The best way to answer that would be for us to take a look at all the different homes for Bloodbraid Elf. I’ve compiled the deck lists since the unbanning (other than Jund) from MTGO leagues and Modern Grand Prixes to give a snapshot of what Bloodbraid Elf decks look like.

Ponza by Andrew Wolbers (23rd Place, GP Phoenix 2018)

Titanshift by Michael Strianese (5th Place, SCG Modern Classic Cincinnati)

RG Eldrazi by Michael Hughes (8th Place, GP Phoenix 2018)

Naya Zoo by Nate Sturm (4th Place, SCG Modern IQ Falls Church)

Jund Elves by Demonfire89 (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

5C Tribal Zoo by pedakey (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

RG Midrange by PuntThenWhine (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

4C Coco Knightfall by MoountainMaster13 (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

RG Aggro by kylehl (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

5C Company Humans by SAI_2011 (5-0, MTGO Modern Competitive League)

The Verdict

The ubiquity of Bloodbraid Elf in these decks says a lot about its power – namely, that Bloodbraid Elf is powerful enough for a deck to consider splashing, even if that means sacrificing a certain percentage of a deck’s synergy. The most interesting evidence for this is the last deck that is mentioned in this compilation: the Five-Color Humans that splashes three copies of Bloodbraid Elf. While this particular iteration of the archetype is anything but a stock list, the decision to include Bloodbraid Elf in such a synergy-based aggro deck supports my assessment of the card’s power-level.

While it could be appropriate to call the deck-building influence that Bloodbraid Elf has as “warping,” the card is a healthy addition to Modern, and I’m happy to see it being played in a wide variety of decks. Cascade as a mechanic has an element of randomness that can be off-putting for some, but Bloodbraid Elf tends to go into decks that are on the fairer spectrum of Modern. As with any exploitable mechanic like Cascade, however, I will be looking forward to each new card in future sets that could potentially be broken in combination with Bloodbraid Elf. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the swings and excitement that the elf has brought to a bevy of decks in Modern.

That’s all for this week – What are your opinions about Bloodbraid Elf’s power in Modern? Do you think there are still innovations involving the elf out there that haven’t yet been explored? Or do you even think that the ubiquity of Bloodbraid Elf is problematic? Let me know in the comment section below!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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