Magic 2015 is now known in its entirety and the internet has been abuzz with joy and Slivers and oh mai god a new Jace! Let’s take a look at Jace, the Living Guildpact and gaze upon our new omnipresent blue overlord.
Jace, the Living Guildpact
Uh… Ok, not quite what I was expecting. Honestly, he looks like the worst Jace to date, and may join Jace, Memory Adept hiding in sideboards. He isn’t even as good as Memory Adept was at ending control mirrors so he may not even have a home to begin with. For current Standard I have no idea where you’d even try to include him because blue midrange isn’t really a thing and Courser of Kruphix decks don’t want him in a format with Esper Control.
I even mocked him up as everyone’s favorite planeswalker: Chandra Ablaze.
Still, maybe I’m overreacting at a +1 which feels like a scry 1 and a bounce spell that basically turns your Jace off if you choose to use it. Ultimate sure is sweet, though I’m not sure the argument “My planeswalker is really good if it lives for four turns unharmed!” is a real one. Just about every playable planeswalker is putting you in a highly advantageous position if it sits in play for four turns. Let’s check what the ever-knowing internet has to say about it.
“Yeah, he (Jace) feels really bad.”
“Not sure who this Jace was designed for… Certainly not tournament players.”
“Let’s be honest here… The new Jace is awful. But how awful?”
“Awful? I dont think so, he’s definitely not as big of an advantage engine as AoT, but his abilities are still quite good.”
“Jace, the Living Guildpact provides exactly that kind of advantage, and is an instant threat to win the game if not dealt with. In fact, I’ll be the first to say it: Jace, the Living Guildpact is the blue Domri Rade.”
“Every player, professional and otherwise that I have talked to about this new Jace thinks it’s unbelievable. Why is it that people without a deeper understanding are quick to dismiss it?”
Ok, so polarizing seems like the proper term to use when talking about Jace. Another common argument that I’ve seen is that this Jace is good because people thought the last Jace was crap, and look how wrong they were! So I jumped in the Wayback and took a sampling from forums and articles about Jace, Architect of Thought when he was previewed.
“The -2 seems decent. Overall, not too impressive.”
“Is Jace 4.0 good? Hell yeah it is!”
“JTMS ruined Jace forever. WotC will constantly be afraid of repeating the mistake so we are going to get a slew of underwhelming Jaces.”
“Jace, Architect of Thought is a fine addition to the Jace line of deck construction accessories. I think a fair section of the same people that aren’t impressed with this planeswalker were mostly the same ones who talked up Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or some of the recent planeswalkers into world-beaters and got burned.”
“Jace, Architect of Thought is impressive, nearly as impressive as the number of idiots who didn’t bother reading the +1 ability.”
“Jace (Architect of Thought) sucks even though the FOF ability is sweet. If the +1 did anything we could talk about him, but they ruined him by giving him a bad plus ability.”
This is a collection of comments about Jace, Architect of Thought. Mind you Jace 4.0 spent about a year on the bench before hitting its stride and becoming a staple planeswalker post-Theros. I harp on this a lot and I’ll continue to do so until it sinks in—ready? Context is king. It is the only thing that matters when making anything more specific than a vague, “this card is good” statement that doesn’t mean anything. Some metagames dictated that Liliana of the Veil and Jace, the Mind Sculptor both largely it out for significant chunks of their Standard formats despite being legal. Stoneforge Mystic isn’t a real problem without great equipment—add that and suddenly she’s the best 2-drop in the game.
What does this have to do with Jace 5.0? Well I can tell you it isn’t Tibalt-bad, and then I can tell you how useless that sentiment is since we’re comparing it with the complete bottom of the barrel. I think it has no hope in current Standard alongside his brethren and post-rotation a lot needs to go right for him to be more than a role-player. The best comparison I could make isn’t with another Jace, but rather Ashiok, which had a similar hype cycle. Both are planeswalkers defined by what they do in the midrange matches, the blockers available, and how they awkwardly slot in against other kinds of opposition. Ashiok was, at best, a role-player in Esper Control off and on and a few odd control shells. In Theros Block Constructed it was a reasonable card alongside Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, which are the two cards that stole the show. Planeswalker-wise, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was the centerpiece with no questions asked.
So yes, I remember the reaction to Jace, Architect of Thought… Just like I remember the reaction to Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. The card that was heralded as the underrated gem of Theros. People were too harsh and demanding and weren’t giving it a fair shake. It came, saw some play for two weeks, and then fell off the map for the next nine months. While nobody has claimed Jace is going to be a breakout card at the next PT like Ashiok, I think this counter-backlash to people who don’t like Jace is equally overblown. If Jace ends up being playable it’ll likely be as a role-player in a format none of us have seen yet. Regardless, you just need to be willing to adapt to what’s happening now and not worry about rotation until we know what Khans brings to the table.
Nissa is the planeswalker I do like from Magic 2015. I underrated how powerful Garruk, Primal Hunter was and was immediately shown the error of my ways, which made me a little more open-minded toward 5-6 mana planeswalkers, which paid off when I saw Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The Burning-Tree Emissary equivalent of a planeswalker was not was I expecting for the next big green ‘walker. Yes, I realize that slots her firmly into heavy/mono-green territory and while that’s a limitation it isn’t like green is really hurting for playables. It just has a Supreme Verdict and Tidebinder Mage problem and Nissa helps immensely with the former. Not only are the 4/4 lands legitimate threats, but it makes nearly all of your topdecks into threats instead of half your deck being a whiff once you hit turn six onward. Throw in built-in protection from Abrupt Decay, Detention Sphere, Banishing Light, and non-Mizzium Mortars red removal and things are quite cheery.
Untapping your lands and immediately slamming a relevant 4- or 5-drop is another big deal that’ I’m amazed hasn’t generated more excitement. Usually I’m a buzz-kill on those kind of cards despite their history of being good, but untapping a bunch of Forests and slamming Polukranos or holding open four for Advent of the Wurm seems so strong. Hell if you want to go Magical Christmas Land, mine is playing Nissa into Kiora which nets you two planeswalkers (both +1’d) and shuts off the opponent’s biggest creature threat on the board. Drawing extra mana dorks or Coursers in the midgame isn’t very impressive, but when you can Nissa and lay them as blockers on the same turn it helps that little bit. Which is what green devotion really needs right now, some more small edges to take advantage of, since the shell of the deck is already full of powerful things. Her untap ability with creatures on the board also makes Chord of Calling a ridiculous threat/bluff if they want to try and wipe your Nissa using creatures.
Obviously she’s limited to whether green devotion or other significantly heavy-green archetype is playable despite MBC, Mono-U Devotion, and Supreme Verdict still ruling the roost. This limits how much immediate impact she’ll have on the format and honestly it may not be enough for her to break through. However, between her, Reclamation Sage, and Chord of Calling I feel like green can at least take a run at it. Chord of Calling in particular I think opens up some sweet options that I’ll go into later this week.
Alternatively the fair green decks may be better served by going deep with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard.
By far the biggest issue with the toolbox approach is that Yisan simply takes too long to really get going in a format where every deck has 12+ removal spells. If he gets going, then it’s Easy Street, since you can nab multiple threats, and while you don’t quite get the value of just grabbing a Pack Rat; grabbing Lions, Oozes, and singletons should be enough to take it down. By far my favorite part has to be that decks have to respect Chord of Calling and Advent of the Wurm together, which makes for some awkward end of turn play. Nabbing a Spirit of the Labyrinth in response to a Sphinx’s Revelation is clearly the dream, but just having the toolbox options give a nice angle for a deck that typically haslittle play to it.
Of course who needs play to their deck when you have burn?
Stoke the Flames seems tailor-made to go alongside Young Pyromancer. Not only does it have a reasonable damage-to-mana-cost ratio, it gets a boost from having any little chumps hanging around that can be tapped for mana. Elemental tokens and Firedrinker Saytrs may be useless toward the late-game, but this is a nice way to dome them to 4, buyback a Chandra’s Phoenix, and replay it on the same turn. While you can’t overload with 4-drops in Burn, in the creature-centric red aggro plans this card could have an immediate home. Let’s take a look:
You may also notice one other potential addition in Aggressive Mining, a card I want to try as a singleton or two-of in red decks as a way to refuel later in the game. It also presents a number of interesting sideboard options since using your 4-drops to draw four cards is a big strategy change from all of your 4-drops dealing 4 damage to target player. It encourages a slightly heavier land count to make use of it and also requires cutting back on any other expensive drops so if you go for aggro mining you aren’t stuck with a hand full of uncastables. It would be lovely to have some cheaper artifact mana to go alongside it and also allow us to use Shrapnel Blast, but right now we don’t really have the utility to make that a realistic option.
If you prefer the creature bashing aspect of red decks instead, Hammerhand is an underrated card with a few sweet setups in heroic decks. Even in normal aggro decks there’s a lot to be said for simply holding it and adding haste and another point of power for one extra mana. That takes a lot of the sting out of drawing it later in the game. That should be what pushes the card into playability with removing a blocker being a sweet bonus. Feels like a slam for red heroic. Akroan Crusader must be jumping for joy somewhere alongside Matt Nass and his collection of 2-power donks.
That’s all for our first look at Magic 2015, next week we’ll take a look at the rest of the set. I hope everyone enjoys their prerelease this weekend, I’ll be in Boston attending a wedding so I’ll be ducking out of the prerelease for the first time in years. Best of luck and remember to pick red!