What Jace, the Mind Sculptor Means for Modern

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Hello ladies and gentlemen,

It’s been a while since I produced content for ManaDeprived.com. In fact, it’s been 4 or 5 years since I produced any MtG content at all. However, the recent Modern unbannings made me theory craft a lot about the future outlook of the format and the respective influence of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf. So much that I decided to write an article on the topic in my free time!

It is hardly a secret that Jace’s unban is probably going to warp the Modern format substantially. In fact, coming back from GP Toronto, members of our car talked about the possible bans and unbans that could take place on Monday. One thing we were adamant about was that Jace was not a safe unban. However, I do think that most people are wrong as to why Jace is potentially format-warping. The current article will explore where Jace will be at its best (hint: it is not as a finisher in a clunky UW control deck), and what cards in the format will get better or worse because of the MtG poster boy.

1) The first obvious implication of having Jace legal is that high-costed creatures without any come into play effects are going to get worse.“Yeah, such insight Seb, you really nailed it out of the park with this one…”

The important and not necessarily obvious part is that delve creatures are going to get much worse. Believe me, having your Gurmag Angler bounced by Jace will be a nightmare, the same being true for Tasigur. This means that Jund or 4C Death’s Shadow builds will probably get the edge over Grixis ones. It was already starting to be the case, but Jace’s unban will probably cement that fact.

P.S. No, Jace is not a good inclusion in DS decks, which only play 17-18 lands.

2) Concerning removal, we may see Lightning Bolt become the 1 CMC removal of choice again over Fatal Push, as answering Jace will be a big game. If black ends up giving space to red (I don’t think that will be the case, however, as discard is too important), it could also mean that creatures that die to Push but not Bolt will get better; think of Knight of the Reliquary or Courser of Kruphix.

3) Decks that play efficient 1 mana spells will now have a good way of going into the late game without getting out-card advantaged. Without Brainstorm to convert excess lands in spells (see Legacy), decks full of 1 mana spells (e.g., Death’s Shadow) often found themselves empty handed versus opponents with 3 or 4 cards in hand in the late game. This was often the case in Death’s Shadow vs. Jund or Abzan matchups.

Jace promotes the use of efficient 1 mana spells to clear the way for him. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek ensure that he will resolve through counterspells or that a bigger threat (e.g., Karn Liberated) won’t come after you tap out for Jace. In turn, Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile ensure that he will resolve on a clear board. In exchange, Jace rewards you by ensuring a steady flow of cards going into the mid-late game. Then again, mana development will also be of consideration: current configurations of DS decks play too few lands to support Jace, even if their game plan theoretically fits with him.

Speaking of which… You know what creature pairs really well with efficient 1 mana answers? Yeah: Snapcaster Mage. These two will certainly make a formidable team in the near future.

4) Jace does not pair well with clunky control spells. Sure, it offers control decks a better than average finisher, but it is not where he will shine the most. Do not think that UW Control with Cryptic Commands, Detention Spheres, and Supreme Verdicts will all of a sudden become fantastic just because Jace has been unbanned. These kinds of deck struggle up to the last minute for board control, and dropping Jace and having it survive is nearly impossible to do in most situations. Leaner control decks like Grixis with plenty of cheap interaction and discard should be able to better capitalize on Jace than UW. Jeskai would be in the middle of these two, being clunkier than Grixis but less than UW. So, where will Jace be fantastic if not in a control shell?

5) Jace will be busted as a maindeck or sideboard option for decks with mana acceleration. Why? Because, obviously, turbo-ing out Jace is fantastic: it enables you to play mana accelerants and offset their inherent card disadvantage by brainstorming and fetching away excess lands or mana dorks. But the most interesting aspect is the following: it enables any aggro-tempo deck to have a fearsome diversity of threats. It is easy for control decks to answer creatures. It is also easy for them to answer big spells from Tron with a bunch of Negate effects, especially post-board. What is very difficult for them to do is answer creatures and Jaces from the same deck in the right order. Open a hand with full of counterspells: get wrecked by early Noble Hierarchs and Knights of the Reliquary. Open a hand full of removal: get wrecked by Jace. This is why Mardu Vehicles is the bane of control decks in Standard: it plays basically all of the hard to answer threats (Heart of Kiran, Hazoret, Chandra, Scrapheap Scrounger), which control decks have to answer in the correct order not to die. Vraska’s Contempt is very good against Hazoret, but terrible against multiple Toolcraft Exemplar starts.

Another example can be found in Eldrazi Tron or Lantern, which often dedicate maindeck or sideboard slots to Pithing Needle effects. Against pre-ban UW Control, Needles were very good because they stopped mana denial from Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin and answered planeswalkers or Colonnade beatdowns in advance. The adoption of Jace by control decks will change nothing to the fact that Needle is excellent against them. But what about Jaces from Bant Knightfall, or Sultai tempo lists? Pithing Needle is terrible against a deck with 20 lands, 10 removal/discard/cantrip spells, 16 creatures, and 4 Jaces. Do you want to take the chance of siding in needle effects when they are only effective vs. 5% of the opponent’s deck? Again, you can open a hand with 2 Pithing Needles and get stomped by a turn 2 accelerated Geist of Saint Traft or Knight of the Reliquary.

6) Jace will give a better fighting chance to black midrange decks versus Tron or Valakut. Beforehand, the plan was to stall Tron/Valakut with discard spells in order for an aggressive threat to quickly close out the game. Death’s Shadow was very good at that, but clunkier creatures such as Tarmogoyf often failed to do so in time. Now, Sultai builds will have a clear path to victory: put a hole in their game plan by thoughtseizing them and ensure they never recover by fatesealing them with Jace. By the way, Wurmcoil Engine from Tron just got a lot worse (see point 1).

With that said, how would I build Jace decks? First, here’s a list of the already existing decks that could integrate Jace in the main or sideboard:

Jeskai, Grixis, and UW control: Jace as a maindeck finisher.
U/R Storm, G/U Infect, U/R Pyromancer, Merfolk: Jace as a sideboard card against control and midrange decks.
Bant Knightfall, Bant Counters Company, Temur Tempo, Jeskai Breach: Jace in the maindeck and/or sideboard as an alternative win condition that smooths out draws.

Despite these viable options, I would be more tempted to build a Jace deck from the ground up. I would gravitate towards a Sultai shell, as it could contain all of the best elements outlined above, namely:

1) Discard spells into fateseal to KO combo and big mana decks.
2) Noble Hierarchs to turbo out Jace.
3) Tarmogoyf to protect Jace, present a diversity of threats, and clock other Jaces/the opponent.
4) Snapcaster Mage to take advantage of the insane 1 CMC spells in Sultai colors.

Here’s a sample of what the decklist could look like (warning, this is completely untested and based only on theory crafting!):

Creatures (11)
3 Noble Hierarch
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf

Sorcery (14)
4 Thoughtseize
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Serum Visions
4 Thought Scour

Instant (8)
4 Fatal Push
1 Dismember
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Spell Pierce

Planeswalkers (7)
3 Liliana of the Veil
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Manabase (20)
20 lands including 2 Twilight Mire and 2 Creeping Tar Pit

Sideboard (15)
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Negate
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Creeping Corrosion
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Ceremonious Rejection
3 Collective Brutality

Ultimately, the color requirements of the above decklist might mean that Birds of Paradise is a better choice than Noble Hierarch, or that mana dorks (and green) should be dropped in favor of Grixis colors. Corey Burkhart’s love affair has much to gain from the presence of Jace.

Brewing with Jace does seem like a lot of fun, even if playing against it probably won’t be as exciting!

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