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Ode to the Task Mage – Jaya, Fiery Negotiator in Dominaria

“Of course you should fight fire with fire. You should fight everything with fire.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

There are little aspects that make MTG more than its set of rules and the text on its cards. These things can be unique to each person; it could be some bit of flavor, art or a character that really resonates with you. For me, one of these things has always been Jaya Ballard, Task Mage

 

 

I picked up Magic with the Ice Age set, back when I was five years old. Jaya was in the background of everything, adding a bit of spice and Flare (pun intended) to the cards, the storyline, and the overall flavor of the set. At that time, her main appearances were in the flavor texts of the (usually red) cards.

Would I still have loved MTG without Jaya Ballard? Probably, but having something grab you like Magic grabbed me – that doesn’t follow an exact recipe. It’s a combination of small, subtle factors, and all I can say is that Jaya has always made things more fun.

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage

I vividly remember when Jaya got her first card, as a legendary creature in Time Spiral. I was even fortunate enough to play with her in a big Sealed Deck tournament. I didn’t win the event, but I’m pretty sure I thrashed all of the blue players I faced!

Next came her long-awaited appearance as a planeswalker in Dominaria

Jaya BallardJaya's Immolating Inferno

Frankly, she kind of stunk. But I didn’t mind! That meant she could get passed around the table in a booster draft, and I could always come up with some wacky plan to try and make her work.

I did manage to 3-0 a Pro Tour draft with double Jaya’s Immolating Inferno. On the final turn of the final match against Brian Braun-Duin, I cast Inferno, he countered it with Wizard’s Retort, I cast Final Parting to find my second copy of Inferno, and killed him with it all in the same turn!

“GOTCHA!”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

Consider all of this my long-winded way of introducing Jaya, Fiery Negotiator, which was previewed yesterday as a Standard-legal card from the upcoming set, Dominaria United.

Jaya, Fiery Negotiator

Unlike the old Jaya planeswalker, the Fiery Negotiator looks amazing. Like really, really amazing. I’d say not on the level of Oko, Thief of Crowns or Wrenn and Six, but perhaps in that next, elite tier of planeswalkers which might include Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and The Wandering Emperor

The first thing I thought of upon seeing Jaya was a direct comparison to Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant

When Elspeth was released, she was the best planeswalker in Magic. She remained so until Worldwake and the printing of the legendary Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

There are now many planeswalkers equal-to or stronger-than Elspeth. Still, even in recent times I pick her highly in Vintage Cube Draft, and occasionally even reach for her in competitive Modern.

What makes Elspeth good? In short, it’s a high loyalty with a plus ability that protects herself. 

The most common template for a planeswalker involves a minus ability that impacts the battlefield, and a plus ability that does not. Think Teferi, Time Raveler, Liliana of the Veil, Kaito Shizuki, Sorin the Mirthless and tons more. 

But Elspeth, as well as the new Jaya, can simultaneously increase her loyalty while throwing stumbling blocks in the way of opposing attackers. This forces the opponent to either ignore the planeswalker – we know how bad a prospect that can be – or else make an enormous effort and dedicate an obscene amount of resources to kill her with damage. 

“Frankly, destruction is best left to professionals.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

So right up front, Jaya has this quality that made Elspeth the best planeswalker in Magic for several years. Now give those tokens prowess as a strict upgrade! This allows them to easily attack for two or three damage at a time, and gives you the flexibility to set up for even bigger, more explosive turns.

The Knight-Errant was mostly about the tokens she could create. Jumping a creature was certainly useful for pushing damage, but neither that nor the ultimate were abilities that could stand on their own.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Jaya, on the other hand, goes much deeper. I love the minus one ability, which provides card advantage and digs you towards action. Since it’s a minus ability, we should expect it to be stronger than the plus on Chandra, Torch of Defiance. But it passes that test by a very comfortable margin. Chandra could “miss” by hitting a land or an uncastable spell on turns where you really needed to generate some value. Jaya’s ability allows you to play lands, plus multiplies your chances of making a useful play by offering two cards instead of one. 

Next we come to Jaya’s -2. Like Elspeth’s +3/+3, this doesn’t seem like a standalone ability. In other words, you need more than just this to put the planeswalker in your deck, particularly since this ability requires you to have a reasonably strong board presence in order to use it. 

Still, when things are going well, you can use it to kill a troublesome creature, attack into opposing blockers, and leverage an advantage into a decisive win. It won’t come up all the time, but when you do use this -2 ability, it’s likely to be quite strong. 

“Yes, I think ‘toast’ is an appropriate description.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

Finally, we come to the ultimate, which creates an emblem that should usually (granted, not always) result in a win. The obvious pairing is with burn spells, letting your Lightning Bolts deal nine damage. However, tripling the effect of Expressive Iteration or Riveteers Charm can also be absurd. I’d expect to win virtually any game where I’m able to cast two spells post-emblem. 

 

Header - Possible Decks for Jaya

If I truly believe that Jaya is one of Magic’s elite planeswalkers (I do), then I should be prepared to use her in a variety of decks across multiple formats. In this section, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, and suggest some possible competitive homes for the Fiery Negotiator. 

Legacy

Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are among the most played cards in Legacy right now. This bodes well for Jaya for two reasons. First, a big threat that dodges Pyroblast, Swords to Plowshares and Prismatic Ending all at the same time is highly desirable. Second, red is simply a great color right now!

“Just the thing for those pesky water mages.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

It’s not out of the question that you could simply play Jaya fair and square in a Jeskai Control or Izzet Delver deck – either in the main deck or the sideboard.

Beyond that, I think Jaya will certainly see play in Red Prison. This is a mono-red deck that powers out big threats using Ancient Tomb and Chrome Mox. Specifically, there’s one version that plays lots of planeswalkers and Jokulhaups, which more or less wipes the board of everything besides the walkers. 

Jokulhaups

Strategically, you don’t need to double-copy Jokulhaups, but it still sounds totally sweet, and I hope I get to do it at least once in my life. 

“Some have said there’s no subtlety to destruction. You know what? They’re dead.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

Modern

I’m excited to try Jaya in Jund, Rakdos, Izzet Murktide, Grixis Death’s Shadow and other Modern midrange decks. I once made the finals of a Modern Grand Prix with two copies of Chandra, Pyromaster in my Jund deck. Jaya is clearly much, much better!

I’d also like to try her in any of the Red Prowess shells. A noncreature threat like Jaya might be just the ticket for winning grindy matchups and beating up on control decks. Additionally, each 1/1 prowess token can become a deadly threat all on its own when Lava Darts and Light Up the Stages start flying. 

“The best way to learn from a book on pyromancy is to burn it.”

– Jaya Ballard

Pioneer, Explorer and Historic

Jaya makes a perfect compliment to Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Sorin the Mirthless for Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer, Explorer and Historic. She could be a sideboard consideration for Mono-Red, Boros Heroic and Izzet Phoenix decks for all of the same reasons mentioned above. 

Standard

It’s difficult to know what Standard will look like, with a massive rotation scheduled alongside the release of Dominaria United. We’ll be saying goodbye to Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Strixhaven and Forgotten Realms.

“Once great literature – now great litter.”

– Jaya Ballard, task mage

Still, I feel pretty confident that Jaya, Fiery Negotiator will be one of the premier cards legal in the new format. We could see her in Mono-Red, in R/G Ramp, in U/R-based control decks or in R/B-based midrange decks.

Specifically, the Riveteers and Maestros color combinations ought to be well-supported due to the trilands and the many powerful gold cards from Streets of New Capenna. On day one, I expect to be sleeving up some Jayas and some Riveteers Charms.

How about you? How do you plan to use Jaya, Fiery Negotiator, and what are you looking forward to out of Dominaria United?

 

2 thoughts on “Ode to the Task Mage – Jaya, Fiery Negotiator in Dominaria”

  1. Nice fan piece, too bad she is semi situational at best.
    +1 single creature creation is easily beaten.
    -1 in decks with tons of good cards you can be force to throw away some with it or you could just get 2 lands that both require them to enter tapped or sack for basic.
    -2 prevent damage indestructible etc
    -8 given the ease of dealing with the plus only proliferation or creature heavy decks will really see this often enough to matter. Proliferation has better targets and creature decks won’t have the ability to capitalize on it much.

    All in all she is more hype then use due to how limited her skills makes her.

  2. Thanks for the write-up! Evaluating new cards is always tricky, so I’m grateful to hear other opinions. All I know is that I’m excited to try her, so until the set is released, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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