Jace, the Mind Sculptor – historically, the best planeswalker of all time – has been unbanned from Modern for the first time. Every January or February, it feels like the Modern format gets completely shaken up, and this February 12, 2018 Banned & Restricted Announcement was no exception. I’m hearing a lot of concern that this unbanning was a mistake, that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is too good a card for Modern, and that we will inevitably see Jace get locked back up, maybe even within a year.
I’m having a more tempered initial reaction. I admit to being biased, but I’ve always wanted to see Jace, the Mind Sculptor get set free in Modern along with Bloodbraid Elf – a creature that can do a lot of work at keeping Jace in check. One could even question how good Jace actually is in the current Modern environment. Yes, Jace is a powerful card, but we’ve yet to see how it performs in the context of Modern. Just look at the list of top-tier Modern decks, and count how many of them would probably laugh at you for tapping out on turn four for a Jace. Burn, Affinity, Humans, Tron, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Valakut, Storm, Dredge…the list goes on. A lot of other previously-banned cards have flopped since their debut in Modern; maybe Jace could be headed the same way.
The truth about Jace’s strength in Modern probably lies somewhere in between. We blue control mages love to play the victim in Modern, but blue decks have won a lot of Modern Pro Tours and World Championships. And control decks have actually been doing well in recent times, with Jeskai Control and Blue-White Control being the most popular. Daniel Fournier already covered how Jace might fit into those existing decks in his article here: http://manadeprived.com/fourniers-take-unbans-finding-new-home-jace.
Yes, in the context of a Jeskai or Blue-White Control deck, tapping out for a turn four Jace might not always be safe or have much impact on the game. Those decks are probably waiting a bit longer, until turns five through eight, to be able deploy Jace and hold up countermagic or removal, and therefore might only want two or three copies of the planeswalker.
But is there a new type of deck that would want all four copies of the Mind Sculptor? In the past, we saw Jeskai Control decks with four copies of Nahiri, the Harbinger that always wanted to have one on curve. Maxing out on Nahiris also worked out because extra copies could be discarded to the first. Similarly, Jace can “brainstorm” and shuffle extra Jaces away. Nahiri and Jace both have the ability to protect themselves, alongside game-winning ultimates. Granted, Nahiri Jeskai decks eventually fell out of favor because of how hostile the format became for four-mana planeswalkers.
We as a Magic community are slow to evolve and try new things in Modern. Part of this is how expensive it is to acquire new decks and new cards, and also how rewarding it is to master the ins and outs of one particular deck. Two of the more recent, major impacts on blue decks in Modern were the printing of the Khans of Tarkir fetchlands and Fatal Push. Last year, we saw a bunch of Death’s Shadow decks explode out of this. Jace, the Mind Sculptor might be the final missing piece in order for a wave of Blue-Black based control decks to finally become viable.
The other key cards that would form the basis of this new control shell: Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Liliana of the Veil, Fatal Push, and Ancestral Vision. One-mana discard spells have proven to be the best type of interaction, compared to things like Mana Leak and Remand, in a format as fast as Modern and filled with Cavern of Souls and Aether Vials. It’s also easier to tear your opponent’s hand apart with discard spells and then land a Jace, rather than waiting until you can play Jace and hold up countermagic in the same turn. At the very least, you get to see your opponent’s hand and gain the information of how safe it is to tap out. Liliana of the Veil is a natural fit for any black midrange deck, but also doesn’t play well with your own countermagic. While Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage have long been the best blue spells in Modern, maybe it’s time for blue decks to go sorcery-speed instead of trying to cast spells on the opponent’s turn.
Jumping straight into Esper! I modeled this list to be a Blue-Black version of Reid Duke’s Green-Black midrange deck splashing white for Lingering Souls and, of course, the best sideboard color in Modern. Lingering Souls is an obvious pairing with Liliana of the Veil, and fills much of the same role that Electrolyze does in Jeskai. I want a high number of fetchlands to go with Jace’s brainstorm ability, plus enough turn one, untapped blue sources for suspending Ancestral Vision. Tron is going to be a tough matchup, with your best plan being Surgical Extraction on an Urza’s land. You may want some Fulminator Mages in the sideboard, or to just give up on the matchup entirely.
Cutting down to two colors allows you to fit the full amount of Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin to help fix the Tron problem. This land denial package is potent and part of the reason why I like Blue-White Control so much. The removal in this deck is worse, and it will have a harder time dealing with artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers. I’m skewing the discard split in the direction of Thoughtseize to try to help deal with things you can’t otherwise answer.
Blue-Black in general has always lacked a good win condition, and Jace provides that. Creeping Tar Pit also happens to be a good way to pressure opposing Jaces. I’m excited to start exploring these types of Liliana-Jace decks to see what kind of potential they have. If Jace ends up underperforming in the Jeskai and Blue-White versions of control, the number of copies will just be trimmed down to adjust. But a Blue/Black/x, tap-out style Jace deck will really test what this “new” planeswalker has to offer.
Lastly, I want to showcase a more fringe Jace deck that I am terrified of. This one comes from the “Quad-Sleeved U/B Turns” guy, and how he’s said he would update his list to make room for Jace.
Taking Turns by Daniel Wong
I don’t know much about this archetype, but Jace seems like a great fit in this deck. Humans has got to be a poor matchup, but I would think that you’d be able to make up for it by preying on other blue decks. You even have miracles that you can now set up with Jace. And if you don’t have a Jace yet, just Commandeer your opponent’s!