Pattern Recognition #308 - Bounce

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


11 January 2024


Hello Everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series. Also the only one. I am a well deserved Old Fogey having started the game back in 1996. My experience in both Magic and Gaming is quite extensive, and I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. I dabble in deck construction, mechanics design, Magic's story and characters, as well as more abstract concepts. Or whatever happens to catch my fancy that week. Please, feel free to talk about each week's subject in the comments section at the bottom of the page, from corrections to suggested improvements or your own anecdotes. I won't bite. :) Now, on with the show!

And welcome back! It's bloody cold outside, so I'm enjoying being inside and writing this. But I still have writing to do, so here we have it. Today's article is about bounce. No, not about the ladies. Not at all. No, we're going to talk about something that does when it can't control things more directly. And that is just... bounce it.


There it is, in all its glory. A card that was the absolute terror in so many formats that it wasn't funny at all, and a card that I have a special place in my heart for because of it.

First of all, Bounce is a colloquial term. It, unlike Mill, is not going to ever be keyworded into the game. It is used in the context of returning a card from the stack or the battlefield - most likely the latter, as the former is a very narrow effect that is basically a more traditional Counterspell, but with extra steps.

Bouncing is not a new effect, and in fact is considered to be so part of 's core colour identity that every Standard and non-Standard set will have a Bounce spell at common in some form or another. In fact, the most recent set - Wilds of Eldraine - had three! Though one was in a Commander Precon, but it counts! They are Johann's Stopgap, Scalding Viper, and Faerie Slumber Party. Murders at Karlov Manor will have some, and so will every future set.

Bounce spells occupy a curious and I think often overlooked part of 's arsenal. A lot of the time, players tend to focus on their more aggressive and productive abilities. Counterspell, Clone and Stroke of Genius. As in, countering, copying and drawing. I will not disrespect any of these. Not at all. But Bouncing is something often gets ... passed over because it isn't permanent as other options available to this color, and I hope I an get some of you to see it in a new light with with article.

What I see people have as Bounce's biggest drawback is in how you don't really stop anything. A bounce spell puts a creature or an artifact back to its owners hand. So what? They'll just replay it later, and you're down a card. It's not worth it when you can counter it, or Pongify it or Control Magic it. What's the point?

I've met people who think this. I'm not making this stuff up, unfortunately.

So let me make a claim here, and then go back to try and justify and prove it.

Bounce Spells are the Ultimate "Lose your Turn" spell.

You see, players tend to play spells on their turn, getting effects and what not. This is all normal and reasonable and everyone does it, even you. Except for degenerate mono- players, like myself as you shall see. But sometimes, the players are playing their spells to build up their board state, and they will build up on that further next turn. What Bounce does is it sets players back. Removing a key piece of their infrastructure at an inopportune moment (for them) can set them back a turn or more as they need to recast the spell - putting at risk of an actual counterspell, or other removal - with resources they were planning on using on something else.

In a way, Unsummon can be a Time Warp in that the opponent effectively repeats their turn - while drawing a card in the process of course. You force them to repeat their actions, while you have probably spent less mana on a bounce spell than they did on their own plan, which means you have more mana to advance your own board state at the same time!

This is Bouncing at it's most effective, but there are other, more narrow, but no less effective lines you cna take as well.

Targetted bouncing can remove a key attacker or blocker in combat. Taking out a blocker before it has a chance to block it a long-time staple of this type of card, as it both removes a permanent from the board, it also protects your own attacking creature. And given 's pretty... extreme dichotomy in creatures, you're often either sending in creatures that you shouldn't be, or that you need to throw stuff out there to try and connect, or to turn a lethal-for-you multi-block into a safe mono-block.

I'll take a sidebar here and just explain a rule for newer players. If a creature with trample attacks and is blocked, damage is dealt as normal for a trampling attacker. But, say, if you were to block a trampler then bounce the blocker of an attacking trampler, then there is no blocker to absorb any damage, and all of it goes to the defending player, planeswalker or battle. This actually came up in an Arena game earlier today (the day I'm writing, not the day you're reading this, and my opponent did exactly that when I had attacked with my rather large Botanical Brawler, and they chose to bounce their own blocker. Yeah, it didn't go too well for them.

Anyway, tactical removal of threats before they become a threat to you is the most common, but by no means the least. Bouncing your own permanents is perfectly viable, and while so far I've been talking about 's options with regards to Control, is more than willing to throw its hat into the ring to bounce things around. Or rather, the way that handles bounce is as an aspect of how it handles protection. After all, you can't do something bad to a creature that has if it's not there anymore now, is there?

Allow me to tell you guys about a time and a place long ago, when Wizards was doing weird and fun stuff, and actually printed multiple cards in a set to see how this owuld play out in a limited format - and that's just a pun, but it works all around. Look at Stonecloaker, Stormfront Riders and Whitemane Lion, all from Time Spiral block - Planar Chaos specifically. All of them are creatures that bounce a creature you control back to your hand when then enter the battlefield - including themselves. Stonecloaker is repeatable instant speed graveyard hate, and that instant speed is great protection for something else. The riders reward you with Soldier tokens when you do this sort of bouncing, as it can bounce itself and one other creature, so you can do it again. And Whitemane Lion is a hilarious combo piece that does work in God-Eternal Oketra decks among others. I really need to build that deck one of these days.

Of course, other colours can get on this as well. has occasionally looked at bounce sideways, but either as part of a set's mechanic, such as how Pyroclastic Hellion or Wayward Guidebeast help enable Landfall, or as a very old card that has ties to how and used to steal from each other. Active Volcano is... hilarious in the right context. Very rarely though, it'll be a drawback for empowering a creature, like Scrappy Bruiser or Oni of Wild Places.

And of course, there's Dead / Gone, where the latter was an attempt to see how well played with more aggressive removal, but that didn't pan out at all.

Oh, and in doing my research, I really want to get my hands on an Omen of Fire now.

And of course, by sheer dint of doing everything as long as it's attached to a creature, has the very limited ability to bounce a creature to its hand, with Temur Sabertooth being a powerful enabler, and Wirewood Symbiote an elegant benefit to Elfball decks.

Oh, and ? Nah, let's not go there.

So in the end, I think Bounce works because it's temporary. No, not in the way you're thinking. In this day and age, putting something into the graveyard isn't that much of a reliable method of actually getting rid of something. In fact, cards can be more valuable in the yard than they are in the hand or in play. Are you going to help them with that?

No! Don't send things to the graveyard where mass recursion is a thing. Send it back to their hand and force them to recast it all over again! Unless of course it has some obscene ETB effect, or Cascade, then you might want to use Counterspells there.

Bouncing is a valid and vital tool for that can't be countered, but can be targeted, like using Narset's Reversal on a lethal Banefire. Or Unsummon on Koma, Cosmos Serpent. It's an option and you should never turn it away, even when the god-king of 's control isn't a counterspell at all.

Cyclonic Rift

Yeah. That.

So with that in mind, let me show you the deck that took me to ~~Second~~ Fifth at last week's FNM. I lost out on the four-way dice roll for second.

Baral, Bouncer of Compliance

Commander / EDH berryjon


This deck has the basic support structure of a typical Baral Deck, but instead of throwing around counterspells left right and center, I'm more focused on the cost reduction and using that to pay for y bounce effects. There are win conditions in there, naturally, from the classic Thassa's Oracle and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries to the slightly more hilarious (and which won me a game!) Triskaidekaphile and just spamming out Constructs with Metallurgic Summonings into Mechanized Production to see how that works in this deck. Eh... so-so?

It's the deck I showed off in last week's video actually.

But it was fun, and it put people off their game because they knew how to pay around counterspells. But around Bounce spells? Not so much.

Thank you all for reading, and I'll see you all next week when I talk about something else. What, I don't know yet. But it'll be there.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job (now), but more income is always better, and I can use it to buy cards! I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #307 - Magic for my Dad The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #309 - Deserts

wallisface says... #1

I think you’ve vastly oversold bounce effects here - particularly for competitive formats. In formats like Modern for example:

  • The amount of mana you’re spending for a bounce effect is unlikely to heavily outweigh the cost of what you’re bouncing.

  • Decks that would actually want to even consider such effects would generally be some form of control - which typically rely on acquiring a resource advantage over the opponent (which bounce effects are completely counter-productive to).

  • The density of cards that have powerful ETB effects is very high, to the point where there’ll be a swath of targets you can’t even afford to bounce because its just giving your opponent free power. This makes the quantity of practical targets very low.

I feel those above 3 points apply to virtually any constructed competitive format, which is backed-up by them almost never appearing in any of mtgGoldfishes lists of most-played cards. Even in sealed/draft bounce effects are seldom sought-after.

There’s still definitely a place for bounce effects - as you mentioned Cyclonic Rift sees play in edh (though, only because it resets every other players board). But I think overhyping bounce effects has the risk of steering newer players down the wrong direction of card-analysis - in general there are much better ways to interact with an opponents boardstate.

January 11, 2024 6:56 p.m.

sergiodelrio says... #2

It can be really "fun" against Tron tho... I used to have a modern bounce deck that also ran Cephalid Constable and pretty much all the bounce spells that also hit lands.

"What if you never hit your third land drop?" was the name of the game, and I have some very fond memories of ragequits.

However, the deck was inconsistent (mostly besause there are only 8 land bounce spells in modern and because of everything wallisface said) and had many bad matchups.

January 15, 2024 9:41 a.m.

Please login to comment