When you hear players talk critically about the Modern format, invariably the discussion will veer towards the direction of the banned list. Whether it begins with certain wishful statements crooning which cards should become available to the format, or which shouldn’t be allowed to stay, nearly everyone has an opinion on what Modern should look like.
And opinions are like—well, let’s just put it down that everyone has an opinion.
But for all the cards spoken of, and for all the selfish / anecdotal evidence that justifies each reason, it’s the red enchantment from The Dark—and 8th edition—Blood Moon, which really turns up the dial of the discussion from wishful thinking to fierce vitriol. I’ve often heard and participated in these debates, and the arguments which arise as product of Blood Moon’s provocation have been, I believe, largely a result of misunderstanding what role Blood Moon plays in the format. That, even though we’ve all had our bad beats stories, Blood Moon might be misunderstood, and instead of labeling the card as unfair I believe if more of us can respect the card, perhaps some of the misdirected focus can shift forward.
Before we can make the case, we can ask the question at hand: What is it about Blood Moon that’s so contentious?
Blood Moon says I win. So fuck you.
A number of discussions i’ve had with people about Blood Moon have revealed an overblown attitude as to why they are putting the card in their deck. People love to cast Blood Moon in a format full of fetch land / shock land / man land / utility land mana bases. As much as WoTC wants us not to play with outright land destruction, as feel-bad as it is to have your resources attacked, players know that attacking mana has a very real power across many of the games of Magic you’ll play. Some players will take any chance they can get at blowing up a land. Blood Moon’s upside, its ultimate potential, is to blow up ALL of someone’s lands by rendering them basic mountains.
Some modern players are into this idea. In fact, some of these players will run copies of Blood Moon aggressivley, even to their own detrement. Because competitive players like free wins; they like to ‘get’ the opponent. It feels dirty, but that dirty which makes you smile. Enough so that a player will sacrifice their own equity just for the chance at that ultimate upside.
“Why are you playing Blood Moons in your affinity sideboard?”
He looks at me tersely, darkly.
“To punish greedy mana bases.”
“But your best threats are lands.”
He grumbles something about how i’m wrong and how it doesn’t matter.
As a result, people have indeed gotten ‘mooned’ and have as a result become embittered by Blood Moon. A few will go to the lengths of playing more basics, but will have an awkward mana draw and still get ‘got.’ So they grow even more bitter. And they begin to turn from Blood Moon, calling it unfair, bullshit.
So we have a group who loves Blood Moon, and a group who hates it.
So why is this play pattern for Blood Moon repulsive?
Because there is, to my eyes, an inherent confusion in the manner people choose to play with and against Blood Moon. Something doesn’t quite add up to me when half the people I speak to consider it a nurtured baby, and the other find it hideous and ban worthy. For me, it starts with defining Blood Moon as a threat.
Threats versus Hate Cards in Modern Sideboards
Let’s get something squared off here. In my mind, a sideboard for your modern deck contains a mixture of threats, hate cards, and answers. Threats and answers allow you to shore up the matchups you need the few percentage point in—the few percentage points that elevate your matchup along a game winning track. For instance, when you build Abzan Midrange, you will put some threats in your sideboard that deal with other midrange decks: cards like Sigarda, Host of Herons or Thragtusk will often come in when cards like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek could lose their value. Maybe you have planeswalkers like Garruk Wildspeaker or Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Against small creature decks you’ll put in cards like Damnation and Engineered Explosives, or Zealous Persecution. These are all different than cards like Stony Silence, Kor Firewalker, or Creeping Corrosion. These are narrow hate cards that give immense percentage points against a small assortment of decks. In this case it would be against Affinity and Burn. Cards like Stony Silence, like Choke—these are a different sort of card.
So where does Blood Moon fit in? Is it a threat, or a hate card? This has been going through my mind for weeks now, and I think the answer is that Blood Moon is a threat.
Think about it. It doesn’t specifically hate on any specific deck—except Amulet Bloom, frankly—but it comes in against a variety of strategies from decks that can employ the use of Blood Moon against their opponents. The correct use of Blood Moon is to attack cards like Celestial Collonade, Inkmoth Nexus, or Raging Ravine. And sure, sometimes you arrive at a game state where you are presented the opportunity to cast an early Blood Moon and generate an immense value from it resolving. Sometimes you can lock someone out of playing spells.
This play pattern denotes a threat, not a hate card. And guess what? If more people played against Blood Moon as a threat, I think they would make better choices when considering both deckbuilding choices and in-game decisions. Because you can play around it. The amount of times you straight up lose to it are no different than when you straight up lose to any other threat you were not prepared for. It’s not a matter of hating out a strategy, its a matter of attacking at an angle the opponent might be soft to.
Your lands are not sacred.
A lot of commotion I’ve heard when they discuss the banning of Blood Moon is that WoTC somehow agreed to leave the lands alone. This is close to preposterous and they must not be thinking about the cards that do attack our mana in modern.
- Leonin Arbiter
- Ghost Quarter
- Tectonic Edge
- Aven Mindcensor
- Fulminator Mage
- Sowing Salt / Crumble to Dust
- Surgical Extraction
- Shadow of Doubt
- Ajani Vengeant
- Magus of the Moon
In fact, I will take this a step further. If we were to ban Blood Moon, we would no longer be given a tool to attack mana bases and more people would suddenly be playing five color good stuff decks. Amulet would soar in popularity. The whole rigamarole would quickly appear to have sublimated into a more interesting and diverse format. And, freed of a threat that keeps it in check, yeah, it would change the format. But it would most definitely be for the worse.
I don’t want to live in a world where I am not threatened by playing all five colors in an eternal format. We need cards like Blood Moon people have to respect. Respect that you’re soft to it if you are, and find the ways you can mitigate that weakness and find an answer. If you can’t, then you will deserve the loss you take when you get locked down by Blood Moon. There are a number of ways to combat the threat. Either by sequencing your lands properly, playing cards that attack the enchantment either directly or indirectly, or simply building a mana base that acknowledges the threat of Blood Moon. These are a few surface ideas.
As an anecdote, last year at Grand Prix New Jersey I faced Blood Moon five times over the weekend. Only once did it lock me out. Every other time I simply floated a black and green mana with it on the stack, and then Abrupt Decayed it immediately. The time it got me, it got me. I was already behind, and he used it to shut the door. But each of the other times, I recognized it as a threat post-sideboard, and knew I had to answer it instantly if I was to beat it. My deck was inherently soft to it, so I had to have a plan. It worked out. I lost 20% of the times it was cast against me. I won every other game it was cast.
So keep your Bood Moon, and don’t lock yourself out when you cast it. I can’t describe to you how many games i’ve won when my opponent keeps a hand because they believe Blood Moon will easily win them the game. And yeah, if I didn’t respect it, I might just lose to it. But I do respect it, and I think my opponent often overvalues it. You can see it in their eyes when they cast it—theres no other card in Magic that acheives it. It’s a big flaming eff you burning through their eyes. I see it, I see it, and right then is when I strike.
Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.