Released Back into the Wild

Posted in Event Coverage on February 21, 2014

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

Two cards unbanned, one card unbanned, and the entire format changes. Welcome to the new face of Modern. At first glance, it may not look too different from the Modern you played a few months ago. Many of the top decks are the same, and the field is comprised of a fairly predictable mixture of the available decks. Yet there were some places that these changes to the Modern banned list hit (and helped) pretty hard.

"There's less Jund," Team CFB Pantheon's William Jensen began. "It's all anyone really played, so..."

At that, Jensen hit at the largest, most obvious difference between the way things were and the way they are now.

Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.

With Deathrite Shaman now forced to watch the Pro Tour stream from home instead of in person, Jund has lost one of the biggest tools in its box. Jund has always been the deck of incremental advantages, adaptability, and cards that are virtually never bad. Now, things aren't quite the same.

"So Deathrite Shaman being banned only really hit Jund," No. 2 Ranked Player Josh Utter-Leyton of Team ChannelFireball elaborated. "There were other decks that played it, but it was only the Jund Midrange decks that were really hurt by it. Pod played Shaman, but it was fine just putting in something like Noble Hierarch, and it was even happier to not have to play against the Shaman. Before the banning, Jund was one of the top two decks in the field alongside Pod. Shaman filled out Jund's curve perfectly. Now, it doesn't have anything it can play at one mana that is good at any point, which hurts Jund a lot. It's certainly a playable deck, but it has been dropped down to be on par with everything else instead of sitting above."

With Jund beginning to fall off, other decks are going to be able to make up some ground where they previously couldn't. First off, there are the decks that were done in by the specific actions of Deathrite Shaman.

"Graveyard decks and strategies in general are much better now that they don't have to try and figure out how to win through a Deathrite Shaman," Jensen explained.

Utter-Leyton completely agreed.

"With Jund weakening," he added, "it opens up a chance for a number of combo decks and the non-interactive creature decks. Jund has always been strong against those thanks to cards like Liliana of the Veil, the discard, Dark Confidant, Scavenging Ooze...that core of cards is so strong, and Jund always had an excellent sideboard. Now that Jund's stranglehold is being lifted, it opens the door for a lot more variety, so you'll be able to see more decks being played, which is awesome."

"There are also certain decks that struggled against the full power of Jund," Jensen's teammate, No. 3 Ranked Player Reid Duke added. "Splinter Twin comes to mind, as an example. The fall of Jund opens up creature strategies, which is funny because then you have Wild Nacatl coming in and closing off creature strategies..."

Wild Nacatl
The return of this kitty cat has certainly shaken things up.

Speaking of Wild Nacatl, its impact is almost as stark as that of the Deathrite Shaman.

"Yeah, having Wild Nacatl in Zoo is like night and day," No. 12 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald said with a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"To put it simply," Duke laughed, "your chances of winning the game are way higher when you have Wild Nacatl in the deck. Our team both felt that Zoo was going to be both the biggest deck and the strongest deck, so went really out of our way to make sure that we had good match-ups against it. For example, I'm playing a Black-Green Rock-style of deck, which is a lower power level than Zoo, but I wanted to play cards like Kitchen Finks and Scavenging Ooze."

Utter-Leyton held a very similar opinion.

"There are two different kinds of decks you could be playing with Zoo: Zoo with Wild Nacatl and Zoo with Kird Ape," he said. "One of these decks is a good deck, and one of these is not a good deck. The difference between these two is just so enormous. It's like taking an extra turn off of the clock. As someone who has played Zoo with Wild Nacatl not being legal, I can say that Wild Nacatl is a big deal. It's like a free extra Lightning Bolt."

On the opposite pole of the positive impacts of the changes to Deathrite Shaman and Wild Nacatl, the unbanning of Bitterblossom has hardly been felt at all. Upon the announcement of Bitterblossom's unbanning, social media was abuzz of the potential abuse that we might see at the Pro Tour. After walking around the floor for one day, I find it hard to think of a time I've felt more underwhelmed by a card. Apparently, most of the players coming to play at the Pro Tour decided that Bitterblossom wasn't the tactical nuke that many people on the Internet thought it was going to be.

The rise and reign of Faeries, after many of the game's top teams tested it, was heavily hyped going into this event, but its expectations fell short.

"I thought it was a really good move to unban Bitterblossom because it's not oppressive," Duke told me "It's just a unique and powerful card that could be played in Modern if you wanted to. All of these Pro Tour competitors didn't see Bitterblossom was unbanned and then rush to go build a deck around it. But if people wanted to play a token strategy or the Faeries deck, now they have another great tool, which I think is a really good thing for this tournament."

"I think that when it was banned, it was a preemptive ban," Turtenwald elaborated. "They had Extended, and they knew what was good in that, so they banned a bunch of stuff that they knew would make Modern boring. It's the exact same way that this tournament worked out. They banned Deathrite, and all of a sudden you have to reevaluate everything in the context of a world without it. The decisions were made to keep the format from getting boring, and it isn't."

Bitterblossom isn't not making a big impact here at the Pro Tour because no one took the time to figure it out. Almost all of the representatives from the major teams admitted that they had given Faeries a look but quickly dismissed it.

"The problem is that it's playing a bunch of cards that don't really do anything," Utter-Leyton explained. "Mistbind Clique and Scion of Oona are just too expensive and don't do enough to be competitive in this format. Spellstutter Sprite and Cryptic Command and Bitterblossom are all fine cards, but the rest of the deck just isn't strong enough to be a viable competitor in Modern."

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