MTG Modern: Probing Mishra’s Baubles’ Longevity

A Thought Exercise: Gitaxian Probe and Mishra’s Bauble in Modern

Commonalities between Moderns’ past and present free cantrips

Author: Ricardo Caetano da Silva

“Probe You” – The Infect player hastily exclaimed, whilst eagerly reaching out for their pen before even considering taking any further game actions.

The Jund player begrudgingly fanned out the contents of their hand onto the battlefield, exposing all of its flaws and possible avenues for the opponent to capitalize on the vital information they were about to obtain.

“Information is key, and you are going to give it to me for free.”

This was a recurring scenario in Moderns’ past until Gitaxian Probe was finally deemed too powerful for the Modern format.

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Months before the ban was announced, discussion on what the actual issue with Infect was, started taking place amongst the formats’ most avid supporters.

In the initial stages, the majority of the player base was pointing the finger at the then recently printed Become Immense as the culprit for Infects’ dominance.

After all, what could be an even bigger issue than a 1-mana instant spell dealing more than half of the required poison damage to win the game?

What is the problem? The enabler or the payoff?

As we have learned with the passing of the years, Wizards of the Coast rightfully identified the enabler to usually be the problem, and not the pay-off.

This list of payoffs has only grown since. With Arclight Phoenix, Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Demilich, Stormwing Entity, Murktide Regent, and an existent viable Storm Deck entering the frame (only to name a few), it is even less feasible for Gitaxian Probe to be considered a viable unban target.

But what about Mishra’s Bauble?

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In this article I will be taking a look at the many advantages Mishra’s Bauble has over Gitaxian Probe, and by the end of it you may very well have been persuaded to change your mind.

That is, if you are not already erring towards the camp of Mishra’s Bauble being an innocuous free cantrip with just about as many ridiculously strong synergies as Gitaxian Probe had back in the day.

Gitaxian Probes’ superiority

I would like to start out by addressing the two biggest advantages Gitaxian Probe has over Mishra’s Bauble – the first one being, as already made apparent in the prelude – the information you gain.

Mishra’s Bauble in comparison reveals the top card, but it does not expose your opponents’ game plan and most likely sequence of their next turn(s). This is, especially for decks with similar play patterns as Infect which thrive on being able to play around everything your opponent can muster and want to end the game as quickly as possible, a very big downside.

The only way to meaningfully accomplish this in the current Modern metagame is to play discard spells like Thoughtseize, an omnipresent card in Modern which, according to mtggoldfish.com, is played in 21% of the current best Modern decks (and in every black deck playing Mishra’s Bauble).

In conjunction with Mishra’s Bauble, you actually get to see one additional card and define the most likely turn sequence your opponent will be taken accordingly.

Now, will you decide to disrupt your opponents’ curve and hinder the efficiency in which they get to use their mana, or will you take a different avenue?

Example hand from Izzet Murktide:

You use Mishra’s Bauble on your opponent and see a Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer on top. You now use Thoughtseize and the revealed hand is as follows:

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You now know that the best avenue may not be to take the castable threat you are currently holding too (Dragon’s Rage Channeler), but rather to disrupt the hand on a different axis – like for example taking the most impactful card in the later stages of the game – in this case Expressive Iteration or Murktide Regent.

This is, admittedly, restricted to Mishra’s Bauble decks also running Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, and as such is still a significant difference between the two cards.

The delayed draw

Even though both spells are considered cantrips, Gitaxian Probe makes you draw the card on the same turn you cast it, something which is especially relevant for decks hoping to overwhelm the opponent with efficiency or using every ounce of the available resources to win in a burst-like fashion, i.e., Infect or Hammer Time.

This was, in my opinion, the biggest shortcoming with the attempt of trying to replace Gitaxian Probe with Mishra’s Bauble in Infect, and although this is not something Mishra’s Bauble will ever able be to replicate, the delayed draw does have some advantages.

The fetch land interaction and dodging discard spells

Aah, fetch lands, a defining factor of Moderns’ environment. Many of the best Modern decks play between 6 and 10 of them. By targeting yourself with Mishra’s Bauble before playing a fetch land, you can actually decide if you want to draw the next card. If this is something you are not interested in, simply use the fetch land and hope that the top of the deck is kinder to you this time.

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Additionally, by playing Mishra’s Bauble and only using it on your opponents’ turn, you get to hide a card from discard spells like the aforementioned Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek.

While these subtle interactions are not nearly as significant as drawing the card right away, there are other upsides Mishra’s Bauble has over Gitaxian Probe. Let us take a look at them!

The difference in card type: Artifact vs. Instant

Case 1: Lurrus of the Dream-Den

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The release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths brought along a devastating change to Magic: The Gathering constructed formats. By trying to replicate one of the recipes for the success of EDH, Wizards of the Coast decided it would be a good idea to give every deck access to a Commander.

The big difference? There are, at the time of this writing, 1243 legendary creatures in Magics’ history, but only ten companions, thus extremely homogenizing the decks if the companion is worth playing. And in the case of Lurrus, it definitely seems to be. The impact was so big that Wizards of the Coast was forced to errata the entire Companion mechanic.

For Lurrus, this errata was not enough to bring its prevalence in Modern to a halt. Nowadays, Modern is a format mostly defined by its low mana curve and efficiency, and Lurrus feels right at home in such an environment.

What does this have to do with Mishra’s Bauble? Unlike Gitaxian Probe, Mishra’s Bauble is actually a permanent, and as such is re-castable with Lurrus. You may do this once every turn for free if you feel like it!

As this interaction implicates no deck-building restrictions whatsoever other than the ones already stated on Lurrus of the Dream Den, the consistency it brings means that every time you decide to play Lurrus as a companion, you will also play Mishra’s Bauble.

There can be exceptions. Some lists of Hammer Time forego playing Mishra’s Bauble for example. Hammer Time is currently considered to be one of the best decks in Modern and the delayed draw is similarly problematic for it as for Infect.

This may not necessarily be an issue in some peoples’ eyes, but consistency, homogenization, low deck building cost, and recurring gameplay paths / patterns have all been contributing factors to multiple bans in Moderns past.

Case 2: Dragon’s Rage Channeler & Unholy Heat, Delirium & Prowess

Many new cards from the recent Modern Horizons 2 set are now prominently featured in the Modern format, and ”Darcy” has proven to be one of the strongest of them all.

Mishra’s Bauble pulls double duty here by both triggering Darcy’s ability and contributing to Delirium. Now, add a fetch land to the mix, and you are already halfway to having Delirium without even using a single mana, all while surveilling your way through your deck.

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There are other cards with Delirium in Modern, but none see the same amount of play as Darcy and Unholy Heat. Traverse the Ulvenwald, Grim Flayer, and Tarmogoyf are others, just to name a few.

Cards with Prowess which are seeing or have seen play in Modern and also benefit from Mishra’s Bauble: Monastery Swiftspear, Soul-Scar Mage, Stormwing Entity.

Case 3: Artifact Synergies

Urza’s Saga / Affinity / Emry, Lurker of the Loch / Urza, Lord High Artificer / Convoke

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Mishra’s Baubles’ artifact type does not only provide an easy route to activate Delirium, it also has plenty of other synergies across Moderns’ format. Powerhouses of the recent past such as Urza, Lord High Artificer, Emry, Lurker of the Loch, or whole strategies which profit from a free artifact lying around (Whir Prison, Lantern Control, Affinity) are all hoping to make a comeback.

This list will only grow over time, and Urza’s Saga is a recent example of this. Funnily enough, the prevalence of Urza’s Saga in Modern is currently keeping the other aforementioned artifact-based decks in check.

Since its inception in Modern, the amount of artifact removal being played in sideboards has increased considerably, something which is especially problematic for decks relying on artifacts or wanting to hide behind an Ensnaring Bridge.

This becomes apparent when looking at the price history of Engineered Explosives and Shattering Spree. A few weeks after the release of Modern Horizons 2 (and Urza’s Saga), their price jumped considerably.

Screenshot of Engineered Explosives’ price history from mtggoldfish.com
Screenshot of Engineered Explosives’ price history from mtggoldfish.com

Screenshot of Shattering Spree’s price history from mtggoldfish.com
Screenshot of Shattering Spree’s price history from mtggoldfish.com

Other subtle differences worth mentioning:

Conclusion

The number of incremental advantages, synergies and ways to exploit Mishra’s Bauble will only grow over time, and cards like Birthing Pod or Green Sun’s Zenith are all sitting on the Modern bench for similar reasons.

Mechanics like Revolt, Delirium, Prowess, Metalcraft, Affinity, and the like are bound to show up again in future sets, and Mishra’s Bauble enables all of them for virtually no cost. The fact that Mishra’s Bauble is also a free cantrip means that decks playing the card are slightly more consistent at doing their thing than others.

The card is currently prominently featured in 27 % of the most played Modern decks, with an average of 3.8 copies being played in those decks.

Taking into consideration that the top 5 cards are all reactive cards (other than Lurrus of the Dream Den), Mishra’s Bauble is the most represented card in the format which does not serve the purpose of interacting with the opponent.

All the facts stated above give me the impression that Mishra’s Bauble is one of the most likely candidates for a ban in the future, if not the frontrunner. It must be said that the Modern metagame looks very diverse nonetheless and decks playing Mishra’s Bauble range from Burn to Jund Saga, so no particular strategy is currently dominating the format.

Mishra’s Bauble’s prominence may also just be a symptom caused by another potentially problematic, Lurrus of the Dream Den. Since there are no big Modern tournaments taking place, there is also no need for Wizards of the Coast to take any action, but this may change in the future.

Although I personally enjoyed casting Gitaxian Probe in the past, the ban made a lot of sense in my eyes, and I am curious to see if Mishra’s Bauble will be following suit someday.

I hope you enjoyed reading this short analysis as much as I did writing it, until next time, and thank you for reading!

Ricardo Caetano da Silva


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