Now that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is unbanned, it’s time to see what we can do with it.
To many players, “seeing what we can do” will simply amount to tuning various iterations of Jeskai, Grixis and U/W. I grant that these are the obvious places to start. I also grant that if Jace becomes a problem, these sorts of decks will be contributing factors.
I am not here to discuss those decks though, for I am forever a fool. My mind craves stupidity.
The unbanning of Jace has prompted me to revisit an old archetype.
Here’s my starting list:
Ben Winokur – Mono Blue Shoal
The first and last time I sleeved-up this archetype was for a tournament at 401 Games in Toronto, where there was a Library of Alexandria on the line for First Place. My deck contained four copies of the now-banned Gitaxian Probe, which was obviously nutty with Thing in the Ice. I promptly 8-0-1d the tournament and took first prize (not to say the deck was the best in the room, but it was extremely fun). They banned probe shortly thereafter, and I gave up on the deck.
I confess that my mind did not really return to this deck when Opt was printed, which it might have if I had realized that the requisite density of cantrips for Thing in the Ice had been restored. In fact, the only reason I thought to brew in this direction again was because of some buzz on social media about the rising stock of Disrupting Shoal in a protect-the-queen (Jace) metagame.
So what is this deck?
It is a Disrupting Shoal Jace deck that doubles as a slow-burning tempo strategy. The entire idea of a slow-burning tempo deck may sound like a misnomer, and indeed it probably is, but I can think of nothing better at this time. We are occasionally (read: very occasionally) going the distance with Delver, but usually waiting for a Thing in the Ice to flip, with Snapcasters and Cliques for additional malleability. But, in all, we are not winning quickly, even though we are utilizing tempo spells like Vapor Snag, Cryptic Command and Remand.
I think that this strategy is more powerful than meets the eye. We effectively maximize the power of Shoal and Spell Pierce, each of which will be excellent against opposing Jaces (I also think that Pierce is an underrated card in Modern). Imagine resolving a Jace and casting Disrupting Shoal on your opponent’s Lightning Bolt targeting it, or pitching a Cryptic Command to Shoal in order to counter their own Jace while you’re tapped-out. These are the kinds of swings that make your own Jaces absurd. We even have cards like Thing in the Ice which can promptly flip while tapped out if you manage to resolve a Disrupting Shoal at the right time, bouncing the opponent’s board and further protecting Jace.
The sideboard fills in what I take to be the most significant holes: it contains hosers for decks like Affinity and Lantern, trumps for cards like Death’s Shadow and Lingering Souls, as well as additional resources for fighting Tron and Primeval Titan (though I suspect Remand, Snapcaster and Cryptic do a good job against them already). The additional lands are also crucial in games where you are leaning extra hard on your four drops. I have considered trying to squeak a Faerie Conclave into the deck to play into this further.
A few remaining holes, as I see them, are the following:
We are playing 25 cards that flip Delver; this is the lower end in a format where you can’t proactively set up Delver flips with Ponder and Brainstorm. It is possible that we drop Delver entirely, possibly for something like Spellstutter Sprite which already pairs well with our Mutavaults. That said, I think having something genuinely aggressive is a good thing to have in a deck without much reach. Faerie Miscreant is a middle-path option.
The maindeck having merely 18 lands with several four-drops and Snapcasters means you are dependent on cantripping into mana fairly often. I think this is doable, given the set of Remand and seven cantrips.
I am playing three Jaces. Better players than I have already insulted me for not jamming the fourth. They are probably right to do so, but I am tempted to say that a deck with this land count should not be pushing things too far toward the top-end. We also see enough cards that I think finding Jace is easy to do. It is also easier to protect it on-curve than decks lacking Disrupting Shoal, so that you have to find extra copies less often. At least, that’s the theory.
Vapor snag is a bad card. True, but them’s the breaks. If there is something better in-slot, I’m happy to hear about it.
Psionic Blast is a bad card. Well, I’m not actually convinced this is true. Blast into Snapcaster plus Blast can close some situations pretty quickly. Not to mention it is one of our few three drops to ensure that Disrupting Shoal has pitch-able cards all the way up to four casting cost.
I am happy to be convinced that this strategy is pure trash. At any rate I am not so delusional as to think that this is going to be the optimal Jace strategy, even if Disrupting Shoal turns out to be as good as I hope. It is important in these early days, however, to explore the conceptual space available. I treat this list as a step in that direction.