Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Arcane Sanctum. We have a lot to dive into these next few days as the dust has started to settle with the recent changes to the Modern format. So let’s dig in.
On Monday February 12th Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro LLC, presented us Modern players our first chance to play with Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern. While we did get Bloodbraid Elf back (after a 5 year jail sentence) I will talk about that special moment in the next article.
For several of us control mages, especially those of us in The Azorius Senate, we were pleased to see The Living Guildpact become part of the Modern metagame. However most of the community response I saw felt summed up to this:
Really. It was pretty bad, and some of the banter back, and forth, became a little mean spirited. Getting back an iconic card that will bring even more attention to Magic’s most popular format should be viewed as good news, right?
When trying to discuss with players the (truly) overpowered options available currently in Modern from a turn 3 Karn, Liberated, followed by a turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Or a spell that let’s you search for 4 cards that will win you the game regardless of which two you are allowed to play, and you only spend 2U for it. Or a spell that has the same converted mana cost as Jace, costing 2GG, that wins you the game on resolution. Regardless of which example was given players felt their superior overpowered plays were worse than Jace. Outside of attempting to save the universe from Eldrazi Winter traditional control has been hated so much by the community at large it appears we are playing this game:
While it may not feel that way for some many in the community were calling for it to be re-banned not even 12 hours after the announcement. Keep in mind that outside of MTGO he can’t be played in paper until February 19th. A week after the announcement. The hate, and vitriol coming from those who were against the unban had me concerned that Vigo the Carpathian was going to walk out of his painting bringing destruction, and malice to the world.
All memes aside (even though they come from a place of honesty) the overreaction was pretty absurd. How can a single card cause so much hate? Initially I was not for Jace returning as of the weekend before the announcement. Looking at the effects that Jace, the Mind Sculptor has there is one that is not on par with effects or spells from any other colors, and that’s his 0 ability: Brainstorm. Green has card selection with Ancient Stirrings. Both Red, and Black have ways of getting rid of creatures, and White has a way of dealing with any non-land permanent where as Jace does it temporarily. With the fetchlands in Modern manipulating the top of the opponent’s library can be a concern, but these lands help correct that (albeit until you shut off or remove Jace). So needless to say there are ways to fight him, which we will look at in a moment, but initially I was more for banning cards that are problems for control decks instead of removing Jace from the banned list.
To be clear here I am not talking about that Jeskai “Control” deck. It’s a glorified Burn deck. I’m talking more of the traditional Blue/White Draw-Go style that has (and should have always been) at the foundation of this game since it’s creation.
It should be a surprise to no one how fluid the ban list for Modern is. A concern Wizards of the Coast had when making the first Modern ban list was information they had from Standard, Extended (which Modern replaced), impacts of cards in Legacy if any, and a Community Cup event where Modern was “tested”. That was 2011, also known as a long damn time ago. A lot has happened, and the card pool has become much larger. There have also been many changes in Modern to justify cards being removed from the ban list, and with the exception of Golgari Grave-Troll, nothing had proven itself to become banned again (although I still think Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle needs to go).
Speaking of the Troll when it was removed from the banned list it brought interest to one of the most controversial mechanics ever made: Dredge. Before Shadows Over Innistrad, and Kaladesh blocks were available Dredge allowed players to experience the powerful mechanic with the Troll getting a chance to be played in Modern for the first time in January 2015. Being a part of the initial banned list with Jace it was never allowed in a format that has truly utilized it’s graveyard as a resource since it’s inception. With the printings of Insolent Neonate, Prized Amalgam, and Cathartic Reunion Dredge was suddenly more powerful than many other strategies. After 2 years of time in the format the Troll was put back on the banned list. Many feel the same will happen with Jace, however I tend to disagree. A lot of the reaction is based on what he last did in Standard during the summer of Caw-Blade (which I talked about in Part 2 of my “Something To Ponder” series here). That wasn’t Jace’s only impact to the game, and it wasn’t all bad.
Shards of Alara through Worldwake
I have played Magic a long time, playing way before there were Planeswalkers cards, and still here now. This next section is not meant to come off as knowing more, but to show a factual history of the impact Jace has had on the game since it’s release. There are many currently active players who were not playing Magic when Jace, in this form, was first presented to us in Standard.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor debuted in the set Worldwake, released in February 2010. Prior to that release the sets available in Magic were:
- Shards of Alara
- Alara Reborn
- Magic 2010
Looking at the meta from just those sets I see these decks at the top of the meta:
- Jund Midrange
- Elfrazi (and Elf deck using Eldrazi Monument)
- Bant Midrange
- Naya Midrange
- Boros or RDW decks
- Turbo Fog (Azorius colored decks using Jace Beleren to mill your opponent)
- “Junk”, now known as Abzan, Midrange (where the Black was for Maelstrom Pulse)
- …and more
The color fixing with these sets gave players a variety of options to play an color combination of decks up to and including 5 color decks. The tri-lands in Shards of Alara often times provided the 4th or 5th colors to splash for, and the format was slow enough to where there was not a dominate deck.
After his release Jace did not have any real impact on the format. It reached 9th place in an Azorius Control deck at Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur piloted by Sukham Kiwanont in the spring of 2010, and Jace decks never finished higher than that. When looking at the impact of a card it feels most are measured based on these factors:
- Pro Tour and Grand Prix wins
- Pro Tour and Grand Prix top 8’s
- Number of decks in the top 8 of those tournaments
- Number of decks getting to day 2 of those tournaments
- Overall percentage in the known meta
If a card, and the deck it’s in, takes up a larger portion of the meta while meeting the other criteria on a regular basis then things can become warped around that deck. This was not happening during the early parts of 2010, and there was talk that Jace was not even that great.
The deck that Jace was more popluar in upon his introduction into Standard though was not a control shell, but a Bant Midrange deck known as “Mythic”.
4 Baneslayer Angel
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Rhox War Monk
4 Qasali Pridemage
4 Noble Hierarch
3 Dauntless Escort
3 Rafiq of the Many
2 Birds of Paradise
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Stirring Wildwood
2 Glacial Fortress
2 Halimar Depths
2 Sunpetal Grove
1 Sejiri Steppe
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Day of Judgment
3 Bant Charm
3 Vapor Snare
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Oblivion Ring
This Bant Midrange deck played as many mythic rare cards as it could, and was relentless in it’s assault. Being able to provide giant threats, protect it’s board state, and punch through your defenses gave it multiple angles to attack. While control decks did exist during this era it was Mythic that garnered the most attention from the playerbase.
Rise of Eldrazi, and Magic: 2011
In late April of 2010 Rise of Eldrazi was released, and the meta started to take shape driving both Mythic decks, as well as Control decks further to the top tables of tournaments. Mythic was still king mostly due to these two cards being added. One from Shards of Alara that went unplayed, to one from Rise of Eldrazi that brought the aforementioned card out of the bulk bins.
Was Jace necessary in these decks? Probably not, however if you drew an Eldrazi Conscription you can put it back in the deck with Jace’s “Brainstorm” ability, attack with a creature triggering Soverigns of Lost Alara’s ability, and essentially casting the 8 mana enchantment for free. The core of “Mythic” remained the same, and was more streamlined with these two cards allowing the deck to take control of the metagame.
Rise of Eldrazi also allowed some players to continue on the path of Azorius Control type strategies with these two new cards:
Gideon Jura is one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever prevented, and something needed for control decks in white. His ability to control how aggro decks attacked gave control decks the extra turns it needed to seal the game. Wall of Omens also helped in that regard by being a buffer for your life total. It also helped that Gideon could also return the attack as well which was a first for the Planeswalker card type. Some decks were starting to splash Red for Ajani Vengeant, however it wasn’t until the release of Magic: 2011 that Control decks would take on a form that would bring peace, and Justice to the meta.
Mana Leak was among some of the key reprints in Magic: 2011. We also had the first reprints of the original Lorwyn planeswalkers which was key back then. During this era both players could not control the same Legendary permanent. One way for people to beat a Jace, the Mind Sculptor was to play a Jace Beleren, and thus there would be no more Jace. Along with these reprints we also obtained new Leylines such as the white one in Sanctity. This level of protection prevented Lightning Bolt from targeting the player, and then redirecting to a planeswalker. Azorius Control decks adopted that splash of Red more in the summer of 2010, and became known as Super Friends.
Deck names were so great back then. Let’s take a look at an example deck.
4 Wall of Omens
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Ajani Vengeant
2 Gideon Jura
4 Day of Judgment
4 Mana Leak
4 Spreading Seas
4 Path to Exile
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Tectonic Edge
2 Arid Mesa
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Mind Control
2 Kor Firewalker
This deck was a tapout strategy that still had some draw-go play to it in the early turns, and attacked the opponent’s manabase. It’s win conditions were nothing more than the massive planeswalkers it can place on the battlefield. Each one complementing the other, and the tap out strategy, it eventually put a lock on the opponent where they could not win due to the advantage presented on the board.
While these two decks were the dominating Jace, the Mind Sculptor based decks during it’s initial run in Standard none were truly dominant. We still had Jund, Elves, Boros, and RDW decks in Standard. Vampires was also a known strategy to combat planeswalkers, and other brews were abound in the format. Things were, in a word, fine.
After Shards of Alara left Standard
When Scars of Mirrodin was released in October of 2010 it caused the Shards of Alara block, as well as Magic: 2010, to leave Standard. While some of the new cards we received from Magic: 2010 it was the departure of one key card that allowed planeswalkers, specifically Jace, the Mind Sculptor, to run unapposed.
Without Oblivion Ring the only cards left not in Blue to oppose Jace were Duress, and Lightning Bolt. It proved to not be enough, and once we received Sword of Feast and Famine the domination of Caw-Blade decks began.
Sure there may have been Tezzerator decks that would appear here, and there. However the dominance, as well as the meta percentage Jace/Stoneforge Mystic decks took in the Standard format was not something seen since Affinity. If you want to read up more on the history of Caw-Blade I talk about it here.
There are many who also feel Jace was removed from the ban list to sell Magic 25, a non-format specific reprint set coming out soon. I don’t personally think that’s the case, but why not make even more money when releasing a set? One of the largest issues Wizards of the Coast has with Modern is how to get us Modern players to buy packs of new product. Magic 25 would have sold regardless of Jace’s place in Modern, and now it will draw more attention from those looking to play this format. Modern has a very large card pool with plenty of answers to planeswalkers. This is why we usually only see Liliana near the top tables at big events as the others don’t have quite the impact she does on a game state. This version of Jace can not only help bring traditional control decks back to the top tables, but also bring along a few friends (Gideon, and Elspeth respectfully) with him.
He will not go back onto the ban list. Ever. As a matter of fact I don’t think a true draw-go deck will be the best home for him, although Azorius Control will now get to a tier 1 or solid tier 1.5 status, and win at least one Grand Prix in the next year. Wizards of the Coast is very careful with printing cards that can be too powerful for a certain color, and the only two ways that Jace goes back on the shelf are the following:
- New blue cards are printed to make Blue based (and truly this applies to only Blue White) decks too powerful or restrict brewing in their colors
- EVERYONE plays near the same 75 cards of a deck that provides Jace vs Jace matchups on camera. This is similar to the Caw-Blade problem.
I see neither scenario likely, if ever, to happen. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is here to stay. Long live The Senate.
That’s all for today everyone. I hope you enjoyed the ride down memory lane, and looking back at Jace’s impact on Standard before it became a problem. Hopefully this also gave you ideas to construct a non-control deck to utilize him, and provides some insight on what will more than likely happen with him now being legal in the most popular format for this game.
Until next time…
TAP MORE MANA!!!