On Bloodbraid Elf. (Yes, I’m going there.)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the (unlikely) banning of Bloodbraid Elf from Standard. While I don’t think I need to explain the perspective of those calling for said banning, those opposed seem to collectively feel that the card “is not too strong,” is “beatable,” and that “if you don’t play the card, you don’t get a vote” (that last part can be attributed to Patrick Chapin).

As you may be aware, Bigheadjoe and I have mentioned a petition to ban BBE on our podcast, Yo! MTG Taps! However, despite our annoyance at the prevalence of Jund decks, this petition was created as a combination joke-meets-social-experiment; we weren’t actually serious, nor did we expect it to get anywhere.

Nevertheless, I do have something to say on the subject.

Primarily, what does it mean to say a card is “too strong?” Does “too strong” = “unbeatable”? “Extremely difficult to beat?” If so, I do not feel that BBE is too strong.

But if “too strong” means “clearly the best single card in the format, to the point where it is the centerpiece of over 30% of tournament decks,” then yes, absolutely, Bloodbraid Elf is too strong. (and don’t tell me it’s not the centerpiece to the Jund deck, because if you feel that way, you’re fooling yourself.)

The problem with Bloodbraid Elf is not that it is unbeatable. The problem is, anything that reduces variety in the game to this degree makes the game much less fun. I don’t know if that qualifies Bloodbraid Elf as “ban-worthy,” but there is clearly a problem with the presence of this card in the format. Personally, I just don’t think the problem is big enough for Wizards to do anything about it (beyond possible cascade hosers in Rise of the Eldrazi or M11; see also: Great Sable Stag > Faeries/5CC).

I’d like to close with some quotes by LSV on today’s MagicTV, which is what inspired this post:

I think the biggest mistakes are cards that, overall, make less fun than they create.” (2m10s)

Bloodbraid Elf has certainly lessened my enjoyment of the game, and many other players too that I’ve talked to…I wish they hadn’t printed Bloodbraid Elf.” (3m06s)


Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 13 – Now Available!

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 13 – Respect the Eye is now available for download!

Check it out over on MTGCast!

We talk about the first official Rise of the Eldrazi spoiler, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth! (Get your Eyes of Ugin!!) Also: GP Madrid and the SCG $5k Richmond.

See Kozilek spoiled on Magic Arcana!

Is Walking Atlas – the new Serendib Efreet, or something more?

Mananation – Eldrazi basic land playmats (check out that artwork!)

GP Madrid Coverage

SCG $5k – Richmond Coverage

**We now have STICKERS! Send us your mailing address and we’ll get ‘em out to you!**

Baltimore Open – March 13th. For more info, to go:

Contact us at yomtgtaps [at] gmail [dot] com

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Chapin’s List (UW Control)

Pro-Tour San Diego: Patrick Chapin and his Blue-White Control deck were featured in a video deck tech late on Friday evening. See below:

So, sideboard notwithstanding, I wasn’t far off. Looks like Chapin ditched the Calcite Snappers (regrettably, considering the moniker I used for the deck in my last post), but otherwise a very similar list to what I have above. I’m actually surprised how close I was to getting the same manabase—I’m only off by +1 Scalding Tarn. Chapin does indeed run 2 copies each of Mind Spring and Martial Coup, along with maindeck Flashfreeze and Celestial Purge.

Notice also the FOUR copies of Cancel in Chapin’s deck.






At first, this seems a bit odd. Before now, the problem with most of the playable counterspells (Flashfreeze, Negate, Essence Scatter) was that they were narrow, which often made it difficult to have the correct counterspell for the situation. Enter Worldwake: along come Jace, the Mind Sculptor AND Halimar Depths—both of which help to correct this problem. With these cards, it is much, much easier to have the right counter at the right time. Still, Chapin & co. chose to run 4 copies of Cancel. Why?

The “problem” with Cancel has always been blatantly obvious. Counterspell=good. Cancel=bad. The only difference between the cards is the extra 1 mana. It might not seem like much, but imagine if the price of a staple such as gasoline increased by 33% (oh, wait…it has). Sucks, right? But Worldwake has also gifted us with a means of making up that difference: the mother-lovin’, Everflowing Chalice. As Chapin explains in the video, Chalice may be the “best signet ever,” due to its versatility.

For the curious, here are the differences from my original list:

-3 Calcite Snapper
-2 Negate
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Scalding Tarn

+2 Cancel
+2 Flashfreeze
+2 Martial Coup
+2 Mind Spring
+1 Celestial Purge

Lastly, here’s Chapin’s maindeck (as he had it arranged in the deck tech):

Jace and friend

Photo by Alexander Shearer

[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Flashfreeze
[4] Cancel
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[2] Mind Spring
[2] Martial Coup
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Treasure Hunt
[3] Oblivion Ring
[1] Celestial Purge
[3] Day of Judgment
[1] Path to Exile
[2] Arid Mesa
[1] Negate
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[4] Plains
[1] Scalding Tarn
[3] Island
[4] Halimar Depths

EDIT: Added Chapin’s sideboard:

[3]  Baneslayer Angel
[1]  Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[1]  Essence Scatter
[2]  Flashfreeze
[3]  Kor Firewalker
[1]  Mind Control
[2]  Negate
[1]  Perimeter Captain
[1]  Plains

It Gets By With A Little Help From Its Friends

A pre-Worldwake look back at post-Zendikar blue.

Blue was never bad. Just not as good as we’re accustomed to.
A 450-lb man who loses 150 lbs—a full 33% of his body weight—would certainly not be considered “skinny” by any means.

This, I feel, sums up the current state of blue in Standard. While blue may have been worse between October and January than it ever has been, in hindsight I think it was a mistake to say it was “bad.” Counterspells were narrow and card-drawing was much less effective, true, but the color still had its strengths.

To wit: There was a time when many considered Morphling to be the best creature ever printed. With a wealth of abilities previously unheard of, Morphling could pump itself to 5/1, stack damage, and then become a 1/5; it could gain Flying; it could gain Shroud. It could untap itself, doing a passable impression of Vigilance.

Now compare Morphling to Sphinx of Jwar Isle:


For 1 additional mana, the Sphinx enters the battlefield with Flying. It enters the battlefield with Shroud. It enters the battlefield as a 5/5, and for all of these Morphling-esque characteristics it requires no more mana than the inital investment. It trades faux-Vigilance for an ability that—in a format with fetchlands, cascades, and soon Treasure Hunts—may be even more relevant. (Not to mention “Knowledge is Power” is the unofficial mantra of the blue mage, right?)

Could the Sphinx actually be better than Morphling?! Well, yes and no. It’s all about context, and when Morphling ruled the skies, blue spells were at their best. (And as much as I would’ve loved to see it, if Morphling were to have been reprinted it would likely occupy the slot in your trade binder right next to Meddling Mage.)

Still, the Sphinx exemplifies the quintessential blue finisher quite nicely: difficult to block, and easy to protect.

No, blue was not bad. Rather, it simply could not stand on its own. Yet, with another color or two along for support, blue found a way to stay strong. With a bit of persistence, blue-based control strategies started showing up as early as six weeks into the post-Zendikar format! At Worlds (late November), a Standard RWU Control deck was in the Team Finals, and Gerry Thompson unveiled his “Spread ‘Em” deck. As Conley Woods put it:

Typically, control decks are only able to emerge as “good” decks once a metagame as been firmly established. This is because the deck needs to know exactly what problems exist in order to determine which answers it must run. (Blue Uprising)

The difference between pre-Zendikar blue decks and those we’ve seen of late, as Conley goes on to point out, is that usually the counterspells are more versatile. This allows them to appear a bit earlier, as their answers don’t have to be so specifically tailored for the metagame. It is this loss of versatility, coupled with the loss of Instant-speed library manipulation, that fueled the perception of blue’s demise.

So, now we have Worldwake. Now we have the Mind Sculptor himself to help sculpt our hands into the ideal mix of answers and threats. We can dig for Treasure in the Halimar Depths, and accelerate our mana by drinking from the motherlovin’ cup. BLUE IS BACK!!!1!!


Not so fast. Let’s take a step back.

Blue mages—like starving children in a frenzy over a hunk of stale bread—have managed to drive the price of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to near-Baneslayer levels. I’m not exactly saying the price is unwarranted, because the card is certainly a piece of beauty, and I hope it’s every bit as good as people are expecting. But it has yet to prove itself. Had JtMS been released while Lorwyn was Standard-legal, I’d have been surprised to see it reach a pre-sale price half as high as it’s seeing now.

But, but…we’re SO HUNGRY!!

Worldwake is certainly giving blue a nice shot in the arm, don’t get me wrong. But I think we’re putting the cart before the horse, here. Blue mages are feeling so under-nourished from Zendikar that what may turn out to be a Happy Meal is looking like Thanksgiving Dinner.

So yes, go test your blue-based control decks. Play your Jaces, and your Treasure Hunts (I know I will be). But don’t set your expectations so highly that anything less than “bah-ro-ken” is a disappointment. I don’t think Mono Blue Control will be a reality, but pair it with a pal and I think blue control decks will be just fine.


A Yo! MTG Taps! Video Supplement – Coverage of the Worldwake Prerelease!

Recorded at Dream Wizards Games in Rockville, MD.

Apologies for low audio. We recorded with an iPhone, and I did my best to try to clean it up, but it’s still a bit iffy.

No footage of actual games, but hosts BigHeadJoe and Joey talk a bit about their experiences at the Magic: The Gathering – Worldwake prerelease.