Hard to imagine, isn’t it? After all, Jace has always been the best of the best, the face of degenerate Magic, the epitome of Spike. Let’s let that first line sink in.[card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] is getting worse. [draft]jace, the mind sculptor[/draft]
Part of this is due to the M14 rules update. One of the best parts about Jace was that it preemptively answered your opponent’s. By doing so, it cut off a draw engine, denying an out to get back into the game. The [card]Meddling Mage[/card] effect provided a huge chunk of inevitability, and without it players are turning to creatures—win conditions that still end games and planeswalkers.
The hate cards continue to evolve, getting more brutal by the year. Before, the worst that could happen was your opponent dealt with your Jace, say with a haste creature or a [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card]. Now, there’s the risk of a well-timed [card]Notion Thief[/card], permanently swinging the game. Sculpting minds has never been more dangerous.
Even before the rules change, Jace was losing ground to other powerful effects in the format, most notably Liliana. Now, with stock in Jace dwindling, more people turn to Lili as another way to swing games.
Shardless BUG, by Andrew Tenjum[deck]Main Deck
2 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
3 Underground Sea
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Baleful Strix
4 Shardless Agent
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Abrupt Decay
2 Force of Will
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Liliana of the Veil
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Hymn to Tourach
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Baleful Strix
1 Notion Thief
2 Arcane Laboratory
2 Force of Will
1 Life from the Loam
In the last two weeks, Tenjum has wracked up Top 8s at an Invitational and Open with this deck, and we can safely assume he knows what he’s doing. Since BUG originated with three Jaces, and enjoyed that number for some time, Tenjum must feel the card is getting worse.
As for the rest of the list, I love it. Quad-[card]Baleful Strix[/card] is definitely the right number, and I like the bump up to three [card]Wasteland[/card] with the [card life from the loam]Loam[/card] in the board. [card]Arcane Laboratory[/card] is one of the most effective hate cards against [card]Omniscience[/card] in this type of deck, and it also has its uses against Storm. In one match, Tenjum’s High Tide opponent was forced to blow a [card]Force of Will[/card] on the card.
The lack of [card]Thoughtseize[/card] did make him weak to Reanimator, which was the only deck he lost to in the MN Open.
Despite the decline of Jace, BUG is adapting and remains the deck to beat at this point. If you’re looking to beat it, consider the variety of [card]Punishing Fire[/card] strategies out there.
Esper Deathblade, by Dave Shiels[deck]Main Deck
1 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Flooded Strand
4 Marsh Flats
4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground Sea
4 Dark Confidant
4 Deathrite Shaman
1 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Meddling Mage
1 Diabolic Edict
4 Force of Will
2 Lingering Souls
1 Supreme Verdict[/deck]
Shiels has made a career out of UW Stoneforge Mystic decks, and he knows the archetype as well as anyone. I caught his ear for a second at the Invitational, and he was adamant about how far Jace has fallen, how it’s harder to defend, less worth defending, and doesn’t deny the opponent their own broken planeswalker. Like Tenjum, he’s still running two because the card is that good, and he’s also adding Liliana to the mix.
Other proponents of the deck have added [card]Lingering Souls[/card] to the main, much has Shiels has added [card vendilion clique]Clique[/card]. Without the ability to legend-rule the opponent’s ‘walkers, it’s important to have a board presence. If we have a hoard of Spirit tokens when the opponent drops a Jace, we can attack it away. If the Jace comes down first, we’d much rather draw a way of dealing with it than a planeswalker of our own, especially when our answer leaves value behind. Creatures are overpowered.
The M14 rules change impacts all legends, but most of the mirrors are simple to understand. In the Jitte mirror, whoever gets counters first should win. With [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], it’s rare that you’ll attack first and lose. Jace, on the other hand, is such a complex card that much of the strategy is altered, and whoever lands Jace second isn’t necessarily at a disadvantage if his deck is better at handling an active planeswalker.
You Clique your opponent on his end of turn and see a grip of spot removal and two Jaces, one of which you take. You untap, play your fourth land, and have the option of slamming your own Jace or holding up [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card].
Before, it would be silly to trade planeswalkers when you could just leave REB up. Now, you can jam that sucker into play and start activating, grinding value a full turn earlier. When the opponent plays his Jace you can untap and REB it then.
In a format of dueling Jaces, REB’s stock goes way up. Not only does it do all of the sweet things it used to do, including 1-for-1’ing [card]Ancestral Vision[/card], but now it’s an instant speed [card]Vindicate[/card] that your Jace can draw into.
As these cards like REB get better, [card]Detention Sphere[/card] and [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] get worse. You can still answer your opponent’s Jace before playing your own, but it’s not like you want to duel Jaces, draw into a Pulse, and kill both planeswalkers. That’s not value. That’s not fighting fire with fire, it’s fighting fire with, I don’t know, something stupid. Donuts, it’s fighting fire with donuts. How silly would that look?
You’re deep in game one with UW Miracles against Esper Deathblade. You’ve stalled on land, but had double [card]Force of Will[/card] to stay in the game. Finally, a timely [card]Brainstorm[/card] hits land.
The opponent goes hellbent for [card]Batterskull[/card]. You send the Germ farming and untap, play your fourth land and slam Jace.
Before, there were a host of opposing Jaces to contend with, and an immediate fateseal was defensible for denying a possible topdeck. Now, there’s only the miser’s [card]Vindicate[/card] to worry about, and the risk-to-reward ratio has tipped further into the draw more cards side of things.
Not to say there won’t be times to fateseal. Whether the game is locked up, or if you’re against a combo deck with a number of “win the game” cards to draw into, or just want to deny the opponent gas, fateseal will continue to be a useful tool.
While the Jace vs. creatures tactics haven’t changed, they matter more.
Ripening a Jace is like ripening a [card]Brainstorm[/card], what I think of as the AJ Sacher technique. It’s been some time since AJ wrote his article on Brainstorming, which popularized holding the card as long as possible, waiting until that perfect moment to find something crucial. Patience prevents getting locked by the top of your library, that awful feeling when you have to redraw a pair of dead cards in the middle of a close game. The AJ technique isn’t always correct, like in a combo deck that values velocity highly, but holding Brainstorm is particularly effective in the aggro-control decks that populate the Legacy metagame.
Well, Jace is an aggro-control card and much of the same strategy carries over, including waiting to draw cards. For example, imagine landing a Jace against a hellbent opponent and bouncing his lonely [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. Said opponent untaps, replays ‘Goyf and ships the turn back.
After drawing a blank, we need to either bounce ‘Goyf again or fire off the 0 and draw some cards. Now, if those cards brick the Jace is lost, and likely the game with it. If we wait a turn, the opponent has another random card, but we get a full card deeper as well. Against a deck like RUG Delver, a random topdeck could likely answer a planeswalker directly, and we’re better off drawing towards an answer then and there. Against BUG, however, with only a single [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] as a direct answer, we’re better off giving Jace another turn to ripen.
When facing multiple smaller creatures, say Elves or Spirit tokens, the bounce doesn’t always work. In those cases, fatesealing has a similar effect of buying another draw step, of getting one card closer to an answer.
Fateseal vs. Scry
Jace has four abilities, the +2, 0, -1, and then the +2 again. The decision of whether to target yourself or the opponent with the +2 has always been tricky, and it depends on a variety of factors.
Say you’re facing down an active [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]. Fatesealing an opponent with an active Top in play is worthless, as they’ll simply respond by spinning. However, Jace is still a great win condition, and in those situations a mixture of Brainstorms and scrys is often correct. Both abilities get you a card deeper, but a Brainstorm doesn’t bring you closer to ultimate and a scry doesn’t put the fresh card in your hand.
The Jace mirror functions the same as Jace vs. Top in that you’ll never really want to fateseal an opponent with an active Jace in play, as they’ll be untapping and seeing a fresh 3 regardless. On top of that, they’ll be setting the top card of their deck.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look into Jace. It’s not the ultimate Jace primer, but learning why the card’s value is changing and how to adapt is important.
To feed your craving for tech, I have an update on the Slivers deck I played in Minneapolis. I didn’t do well, but I had a ton of fun, and I’m convinced that the deck is a reasonable choice for a fair metagame. Indeed, I’ve received a few messages from people crushing smaller events.
I lost several matches to my mana base, which ran too many colorless sources, making it hard to cast the sideboard hate bears and leaving me vulnerable to opposing [card]Wasteland[/card]s. I’d halfway realized that going into the tournament, as I had shaved a Wasteland and traded out [card]Reflecting Pool[/card]s for random duals, but I didn’t go far enough.
5c Meathooks[deck]Main Deck
3 City of Brass
4 Ancient Ziggurat
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Tropical Island
3 Tarnished Citadel
4 Galerider Sliver
4 Striking Sliver
2 Heart Sliver
4 Syphon Sliver
4 Crystalline Sliver
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Sinew Sliver
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Predatory Sliver
4 AEther Vial
3 Meddling Mage
3 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Gaddock Teeg
1 Maze of Ith
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Mindbreak Trap[/deck] [card]Tarnished Citadel[/card] rarely sees play, and for good reason, but it’s a strong fit for this deck. It casts Vial, fills colorless costs painlessly, and activates [card]Mutavault[/card], just like [card]Wasteland[/card], only it also taps for colored mana to cast that crucial or [card]Meddling Mage[/card] when you desperately need it to.
Most of the Slivers seemed vital to the Zoo-like aggression. [card]Striking Sliver[/card], aside from being a one-drop, stymies the opponent’s aggression and lets you attack into [card]Baleful Strix[/card] and [card]Batterskull[/card] Germs with impunity. [card]Syphon Sliver[/[card]card] wins[/card] any race, and comes down exactly when you need it to. [card]Heart Sliver[/card] was the weakest by far, and might’ve won some games as [card]Hibernation Sliver[/card], which seems strong against sweepers and even targeted removal if [card]Crystalline Sliver[/card] hasn’t shown up. On top of that, it could pull a sweet imitation of vigilance combined with [card]Aether Vial[/card].
In MN I ran a 4 [card]Force of Will[/card], 4 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] sideboard package with only a few hate bears, but the bears overperformed while the Forces were always fought through. [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card], while not typically a tool against [card]Show and Tell[/card], becomes one when they have to [card]Cunning Wish[/card] for an answer to the [card]Meddling Mage[/card] you put into play.
The [card]Maze of Ith[/card] in the board looks odd at first, but it’s a solid piece of colorless removal that has tested well. When on the back foot against a fast [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], or [card]Batterskull[/card] draw, Maze is one of your best cards. It gets hit by [card wasteland]Waste[/card], but so do all the other lands.