Last weekend I brought Blue Moon to GP Phoenix and finished in 21st place with the deck. In this article, I will explain how I settled on the 75 cards and why I think it is a well positioned deck in the current Modern metagame. Here is the list that I submitted:
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Serum Visions
3 Cryptic Command
1 Harvest Pyre
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Logic Knot
2 Spell Snare
3 Blood Moon
1 Spreading Seas
2 Flooded Strand
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Keranos, God of Storms
3 Relic of Progenitus
Why There is No Combo
The question that I was asked most frequently was why I omitted the Through the Breach/Emrakul package from the deck. The main reason that the combo was included in the deck was that prior to the unbanning of Jace,the Mind Sculptor, the deck required a win condition. However, Jace is a sufficient win condition, and provides the inevitability required to win the game if left unchecked. There are some situations where Jace is not enough, such as Tron getting to 10 mana and casting Ulamog, or Storm being able to combo through your countermagic, or recursive threats from Dredge and Hollow One decks taking over the game, but most of the time it does the job.There are also disadvantages to having the combo in your deck. In Modern, the first three to four turns of the game are critical, so I think it is extremely harmful to exclude cards such as Spell Snare and Electrolyze that can help you stabilize. Also, the opposing discard spells become much stronger when you have this many cards in your deck that are not relevant until turn 5, as the little interaction you have can get stripped away and you have lost the game before the combo could be assembled. Even if your opponent does not cast discard spells, the creatures in aggressive Modern decks can kill you before turn 5 very easily and need to be answered in a timely fashion, so having a hand clogged with non-interactive combo pieces can seal your fate. The last point I will make is that you are giving up consistency. With the low curve and access to 7 cantrips, my mulligan rate with this deck is less than 10%, and this would not be the case if some of those cheap spells turned into Through the Breaches and Emrakuls. Basically, I feel that the presence of the combo in this style of deck is a relic of the time prior to the Jace unbanning, and Jace is such a powerful card that the other cards' primary focus should be to facilitate playing him on a stable board as early as possible and using the card advantage he provides to close the game out.
Why Blue Moon is the Best Jace Deck
When the Jace and Bloodbraid unbans were announced, I was extremely excited to find the best Jace deck I could. I was on a hiatus from Magic when Jace was legal in Standard, so my only experience with the card is playing with it in Legacy and Cube drafts.I knew that the card would be extremely powerful in a Modern format that is also defined by powerful but fragile decks. I narrowed my search down to the best Snapcaster Mage deck that included the powerful planeswalker, as Jace could slot into Noble Hierarch decks and combo decks as well. The first deck that I tried was UW control with Jace shoehorned in, and I quickly realized some major flaws with this deck. Jace works best with cheap interaction, and the curve of UW was already pretty high with sweepers, Cryptic Commands, and Gideons. Also, the Bloodbraid unban made Jund a popular strategy again, and Dark Confidant is a major problem for UW to answer cleanly. Imagine casting Path to Exile on a turn 2 Bob and ramping your Jund opponent into Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Liliana). The nail in the coffin for UW for me was that against URx decks, UW felt extremely disadvantaged as the access to Lightning Bolt to interact with Jace was extremely important, and the URx deck would be able to defend their walker much easier.The next deck to try was Grixis Control, which showed more promise as access to discard is extremely appealing in this format. There likely is something here, but quite frankly I ditched this plan as I couldn't settle on a list that I liked. I tried just finding room for 3 Jace in Corey Burkhart's latest build, and tried Lars Dam's list from the MOCS and both seemed suboptimal to me. I am sure with enough refinement, this is a viable strategy though. One of the main issues I found with these Grixis builds was that the mana just didn't come together far too often, and having to play 4 Field of Ruin to have a chance against the big mana decks severely hurt the mana base in my opinion.I moved to the Blue Moon list after Grixis considering the mana issues I was having, and I really liked it but also tried Jeskai and UB builds just for completeness. The issue I had with Jeskai was an abysmal Tron matchup, and also found similar mana issues to Grixis, while having access to Path to Exile and strong sideboard cards was simply not worth it. It's possible that the UB lists that I tried were not ideal, but this two color combination seemed to be far too reliant on having discard on the early turns. I really struggled to interact with the board favorably and cards like Liliana or opposing Jaces were extremely problematic, leading me to play clunky cards like Hero's Downfall.Back to Blue Moon, this mold of Jace/Snapcaster deck seemed to be the smoothest in many areas and access to Blood Moon solved a lot of the issues that the other builds had. While it is an issue that you cannot use fetch lands to shuffle away bad cards with Jace activations with Blood Moon in play, it answers many of the natural predators of this strategy such as Tron, Valakut, and creature lands, while providing the added benefit of simply locking your opponent out of the game by fatesealing away basic lands or cards they can cast with the basics they have in play. I surprised myself with how quickly I was drawn to this deck, as Blood Moon has been a card I have thoroughly despised in the past.
I'll discuss some of the decisions I made in terms of card selection here, while excluding obvious cards such as Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar - This card does a lot of work and fills many roles at the cost of four mana. It provides a viable win condition that is not weak to single-target removal, provides flying blockers to protect a Jace, and in a pinch can be used as removal, so it seemed like a low risk inclusion. I never really hated it so it was there from start to finish. This is a flex spot though so I welcome anyone to try other options.
Harvest Pyre - I actually did not play any games in testing with this card. I decided that Spreading Seas was underperforming and I was worried about decks like Eldrazi and Hollow One, so including a main deck answer to big creatures seemed like a no-brainer, and the card overperformed at the GP.
Logic Knot - Midway through testing I decided that 3 Cryptic and 2 Spell Snares were not enough hard counters, and the first Logic Knot was a relatively free inclusion. It served its purpose well.
Spreading Seas - Early versions of the deck had as many as 3 of this card. I really wanted to focus on locking the opponent out, but over time it simply did not seem worth the spots that could be used on other interaction. Furthermore, drawing multiple in game ones where it was useless felt pretty bad despite the fact that they cycled. I do think having access to one is worthwhile though.
Remand - Combined with Blood Moon and Jace, this card can be as good as actual Time Walk. This is much better than Mana Leak ever could be in this deck, and playing four is unquestionable.
Keranos, God of Storms - I had a flex sideboard spot that I wanted to be used for grindy matchups such as Jund or blue mirrors, and I think Keranos is well positioned at the moment as there are not a lot of clean answers to him. It also isn't impossible to attack with, as I did this at the GP with Jace, Clique and Snapcaster in play.
Grim Lavamancer - This is a relatively low risk inclusion, and I'd expect a lot of creature decks to board out removal so he can steal some games.
Relic of Progenitus - This was originally two copies, and I added the third late in testing as graveyard decks appeared more frequently online. Such decks are among the deck's worst matchups.
Matchups and Sideboard Plans
The sample size in the month I tested for GP Phoenix is not large, so some of these perceptions may be inaccurate due to variance or caliber of opponent and draws, but here are the matchups with the most popular decks from day 2 of the GP, and how I would sideboard against them:
Burn - Slightly favorable. Blue Moon has a lot of cheap interaction, ways to counter burn spells, keep the creatures off the board, doesn't do a lot of damage to itself with its manabase, and Jace is a fantastic closer here. Most games end with Blue Moon at 5 life. While the best draws from Burn are unbeatable, this definitely feels like a good matchup.
Jund - Too close to call. Both decks are playing some of the best spells available to their colors, and it is a massive grind-fest, so a lot of it just comes down to the top of the deck. The best curveouts from either deck are near unbeatable, and while I don't mind my matchup here, I am realistic about the percentages. If I'm favored it is not by much.
Tron - Decidedly favorable. This is one matchup where I believe Jace extremely swung the percentages in this decks favor. While Oblivion Stone could be problematic, the combination of Moon and Jace with countermagic is really hard for the Tron deck to beat with most draws. Even if the enchantment doesn't hit the battlefield early enough, there are other ways the Tron draw can be stifled with a Spell Snare on Sylvan Scrying, or Vendilion Clique taking away the payoff card while putting a clock on them.
Hollow One - Decidedly unfavorable. I actually didn't play against this deck at all prior to the GP with Blue Moon, but on paper it looks like a nightmare matchup. Coincidentally, I beat it when I played against it at Phoenix, but my opponent did not have a turn 1 Hollow One in either game. The combination of both big and recursive threats is problematic, however Bloodghast is nowhere near as troublesome out of this deck compared to Dredge, as returning it requires a card instead of simply one third of a Life from the Loam.
Humans - Extremely favorable. In testing I never came close to losing this matchup and it is hard for me to concoct a draw from the Humans deck that can beat this. I played Humans at GP Santa Clara and PT RIX, so I am extremely familiar with the deck, and a Snapcaster/Bolt deck with access to Blood Moon and ways to remove Vial postboard is a nightmare. Most of my games online ended with the Humans player discarding to hand size while getting pecked to death with a Snapcaster.
Affinity - Extremely favorable. Slightly less favorable than the Humans matchup, as an Etched Champion sneaking under countermagic can run away with the game, the rest of the deck is poorly positioned against Blue Moon however. This may actually be unfavorable for Blue Moon before sideboard, but the post-sideboard games are close to unlosable.
RG Eldrazi - Decidedly unfavorable. I played against this deck once online and it felt unwinnable, but I defeated it the one match I played against it at the GP, so it isn't as bad as it would seem. I believe this matchup is slightly better than the Hollow One matchup as well.
Eldrazi Tron - Slightly unfavorable. On paper this seems like a bad matchup, but I played it once online and once at the GP and won both times, so my perception could be wrong here and definitely needs more data points. In any case, both of the matches seemed extremely difficult, and it is really hard to keep them off of colorless mana as they typically run 3 Wastes and potentially have Mind Stones as well, so you generally have to counter or kill their Eldrazis and have to dodge a couple of topdecks.
Ponza - Uncertain. I never played this matchup and this deck has evolved a lot so it is hard for me to say with certainty which way this should go. My inclination is that it is good for Blue Moon, as being able to slow them down by killing mana dorks and having countermagic for the land death means the game will most likely play out in a fair way, in which case the Jace, Snapcaster, and Cryptic deck should win.
Bogles - Decidedly unfavorable. I hesitate to say this is extremely unfavorable, because Bogles does have a massive fail case, and post-board Engineered Explosives with many ways to dig through the deck to find them is a big game. I only played against this deck once online and I won, as I removed the hexproof creature and then fatesealed away any creatures with Jace and won at 1 life, but pre-sideboard games felt close to unwinnable barring the Bogles player mulliganing to death.
Storm - Decidedly favorable. I tested against this deck a fair amount, and it is an extremely interesting matchup and I felt very comfortable when I played against it and won at the Grand Prix. The flash threats are critical in this matchup, as you need to put a clock on the Storm player without tapping out. I will often slow them down after sticking a threat with an end of turn Cryptic on a land as all of the mana matters in the impending battle on the turn they are forced to go for it. Playing a Jace is a risky proposition, and one I will often only do when I have information from Clique and at least 2 counterspells to back it up (often Remand and Snare on turn 7). Spell Snare is the best card in the matchup, and even if you have Bolt in hand, it is almost always correct to just not let the Baral/Electromancer hit the battlefield.
TitanShift - Extremely favorable. As a former TitanShift player, I would not want to face this deck. Remand has always been great against the card Primeval Titan, and Blood Moon is great against Valakut and Scapeshift. Bloodbraid Elf isn't a big issue since it is often just a 3/2 with a Rampant Growth attached, and we can use our otherwise dead removal on it. Post-sideboard Tireless Trackers can be annoying, but the value it provides is limited as the rest of the deck is so poorly positioned.
Sideboard plan: Stare menacingly at opponent
UW Control - Extremely favorable. This appears to be the only blue control archetype that was popular at Phoenix, so I will use this as a platform to discuss how great this deck is in the blue control mirror. I lost count of the number of matches, but I am undefeated against other blue control decks with Blue Moon. In particular with UW, they are extremely disadvantaged in the Jace vs Jace battle since they cannot point direct damage to it. How these games often play out is both sides stare at each other until one has a flash threat such as Clique, and then when one feels it can safely deploy a Jace, it will and then the other player is allowed to play their Jace. As the blue-red mage, you can easily remove theirs with Bolts, and then you win when you have Jace and they don't. Another way they play out is playing Blood Moon with counterspell backup, and the UW deck generally does not run a lot of countermagic, and it is almost impossible for them to win once Blood Moon is in play. Jeskai and Grixis are better equipped to deal with Jace, but they have the disadvantage of Blood Moon being more of a game ending spell against them. Vendilion Clique is the best card in these matchups, and I think the other blue control decks can get a leg up by playing more of them, but currently they are playing zero or one.
Grixis Shadow - Slightly unfavorable. One of my losses at the GP was to Grixis Shadow, and I would be lying if I said it wasn't a tough matchup. The combination of discard plus massive creatures is tough to overcome, and they are equipped to operate on very little mana so Blood Moon isn't that great against them. It's possible that I need to play this matchup more to develop the proper strategy to beat them, as most of my matches against the deck feel winnable.