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Feature Article – Jace and Stoneforge Banning (English)

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. I am truly sorry that it has been more than a month since the last time I wrote an article. Please excuse me as lately I have been a little too busy. I spent three weeks in the Czech Republic for Grand Prix Prague, and just when I returned home to Japan, there was Grand Prix Singapore followed by Pro Tour Nagoya. Moreover, all the events were different formats!

I practiced for limited in Prague, and then I returned to Japan to prepare for Standard and Block. Soon after that I needed to prepare for another limited Grand Prix in Kansas City. I set aside most of my time for practice, but even that was not completely sufficient. My results in Nagoya were poor, and the major reason for this was because I could not find a deck I was satisfied with.

There are still various things I could start writing about from the times when I wasn’t traveling, but… Well, for example I could discuss how things were going well until the middle of my trip to Nagoya before the Pro Tour was over, or cover some topics about limited even though the release of Magic 2012 is swiftly approaching. I could provide tips about Caw Blade, the deck I played at Grand Prix Singapore (I finally succumbed to the dark side). This would cover almost everything, and although I would feel ready to hand the article over to the translator after discussing these things, there is also the other subject on everyone’s mind: the banning of [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] in Standard and that format’s fresh start.

In the midst of the discussion about new decks following the banning of a card, I could share the article I wrote about my plan to improve Caw Blade… but even if it’s only my imagination this idea makes me very nervous. Although I went to the trouble of writing that article and it would be unfortunate if it never saw the light of day, I don’t think I will lose face because of this one. Perhaps this subject matter has been discussed many times already this past week, but I think that I will write about my thoughts on [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] nonetheless.

On Jace, the Mind Sculptor:

I think the banning of [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] was unfortunate but inevitable. Honestly, I feel that Jace was too strong of a card. I think that those of you who read my discussion of Blue/Black Control understand this, but the best way to put it is that for a long time things were such that blue decks played [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and 56 other cards. This was not limited to Blue/Black Control: with Caw Blade and pretty much every blue deck [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] was the key card in the matchup. To put it strongly, this was because whether you could get Jace on the battlefield and protect it was the only thing that mattered.

I think the best exception to this rule that I can come up with is Blue/Red Splinter Twin. Circumstances with this deck are somewhat different, but this is because it is a two card combo deck. Besides, if the Splinter Twin player is in a position where they find themselves able to control Jace for an extended period, I think that their path to victory is the same is that of any other deck.

I said that I had written an article about Caw Blade, but the truth is in that article most of the match-up references I made discuss how to manage Jace and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. Kazuya Mitamura summed it up quite accurately when he said: “Once you activate the same Jace’s [card]brainstorm[/card] ability twice, the game is effectively over.” He is exactly right. Because the current Standard environment is flooded with ways to shuffle your library, brainstorming twice is practically like drawing six new cards. Even now if Jace isn’t dealt with or if your opponent gains a six card advantage potentially including counterspells I would say that they have already won and that there really is nothing standing in their way. At times like these even if a new set was released with new cards spurring the design of new decks, those that played Jace would construct their decks with countermeasures to ensure its survival in the metagame. Rather than have an environment like this where there was no way to combat a card (for example, I think even a fast deck like Standard Affinity could not protect itself from Jace) the final decision was to ban it, I think with good reason. This was because it was so clearly unhealthy for the format.

However, because of this turn of events the number of new opinions about builds of various decks has increased dramatically. Try looking back at the most recent card valuations: I feel that whether a card was resistant to [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] was always an item to consider. For example, [card]Jace Beleren[/card] is extremely effective against [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] because he can be played first, and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] can stop [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] for just one mana. You are stronger because your own [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] became easier to resolve.

At any rate, a spell that for the past year and a half that was constantly limiting deck construction and was expected to phase out three months in the future was abruptly dealt with this week. I think that there is no question that it will increase deck diversity, and have a positive effect on Standard.

As someone who likes to play blue, it makes me a little sad to see that the cards of interest remaining for blue players are mostly limited to [card]Mana Leak[/card] and [card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/card], but I believe that blue cards also went unused due to their concealment beneath [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]’s shadow, and I don’t expect these to be ignored for much longer.

On Stoneforge Mystic:

Whether or not it was the weekend of Grand Prix Kansas City I do not recall, but in interviews regarding the upcoming bannings I frequently heard people say that [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] should be banned. “If you ban just [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], you only bring [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] back to life,” I would answer. But these few words were not enough.

[card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] definitely controls the Magic environment. This is an indisputable fact. For example, by my twelfth round in Grand Prix Singapore, I had played against Caw Blade or a Dark Blade mirror match for nine of the twelve rounds. Even before that, [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] had flourished at the Legacy Grand Prix in Providence.

But is [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] really at fault here? I have a somewhat complex point of view on the banning of [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card].

The idea that Caw Blade was strengthened because every build included a copy of [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] following the release of New Phyrexia is a compelling one, but this is heard most often from those who have played against Caw Blade and not with it. That is to say, [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] should be a card that combats Caw Blade or a card that combats [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]’s card draw.

I ended up abandoning Blue/Black Control at Grand Prix Singapore, and while this is only one of the reasons, I thought that the [card]Sudden Impact[/card] effect of [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] was very well suited to punish [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. This was because none of the previously released swords had triggered abilities which could damage Jace. When I played Blue/Black Control, my opponent had two awkward options: destroy a planeswalker with their equipped creature, or attack me and get the sword’s triggers. However, [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] doesn’t care. When you attack your opponent, you can still destroy Jace with the sword’s ability. Conversely, if you have Jace in play keeping the number of cards in your hand below three is very difficult. This is because brainstorming gives you at least one additional card. And in a situation where your opponent brainstorms but still only has only two cards in hand, all you have to do is attack Jace: the other card is insignificant.

Because of the protection from white granted by [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] Caw Blade’s [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] could not chump block other sword bearers, and additionally basic removal cards like Condemn began to come out of sideboards. I have seen several copies of [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] in the sideboards of Vampire decks, and I was able to see in a new light what must have been the manner of use for this card that R&D had hypothesized. There can be no doubt that for Chikara Nakajima many a deciding blow against Caw Blade was dealt thanks to [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] up until the finals of Grand Prix Singapore.

If this was the only new equipment card from New Phyrexia, maybe things wouldn’t have fallen out this way.

But there was another equipment card that drove Caw Blade over the edge. Of course, that card is [card]Batterskull[/card].

Against most other decks the [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and [card]Batterskull[/card] package paired with counterspell back up is out of control. First off, you must deal with [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] by your opponent’s next turn, and even if you do eventually [card]Batterskull[/card] will hit the board with help from Jace and their counters. Furthermore, when you kill the token if they can manage to suit up a hawk, you are still faced up against an improvised [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. And as an added bonus, this one has vigilance.

When on the play in the Caw Blade mirror match, what should your turn two [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] fetch? I stopped my futile resistance and submitted to the popular school of thought at Grand Prix Singapore. Prior to the event [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] was favored slightly, but I thought it was sufficiently possible that the other two options might be marginally more useful depending on my hand. However, in reality it was something else entirely. It was truly rare that I had sufficient counterspells or [card]Divine Offering[/card]s from the sideboard in my hand for [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] to be useful, and with the exception of when I already had [card]Batterskull[/card] in my opener, in almost every circumstance it was the first equipment I grabbed with Stoneforge. From Day 2 of the event onward, it had reached the point where my opponent and I implicitly understood that for both of us, the first target would be [card]Batterskull[/card].

This parallels what is happening to the format’s removal spells.

Until last week, the Standard format’s single strongest removal card was not [card]Dismember[/card]. It was [card]Divine Offering[/card], without a doubt. This is because more than 70% of Standard decks use [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], and of those decks most automatically include [card]Batterskull[/card]. From a beatdown perspective, this living weapon has to be dealt with by any means possible, and this remains the same even from a control perspective. If you leave it alone, it restores infinite life to your opponent. A Standard environment in which it is necessary to play [card]Disenchant[/card]-style cards main deck is extremely unhealthy. And the major reason this happened is not the swords, and it’s not [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. It’s [card]Batterskull[/card].

I can understand the circumstances surrounding [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] and [card]Batterskull[/card]. One was a card essential to the current metagame, and living weapon was Phyrexian keyword ability and thus limited to being printed in this block. However, despite the fact that releasing excessively powerful equipment all within the same block is the original cause, I can’t help but wonder how they can use [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] as a scapegoat when it has only three months left in Standard?

And the Caw Blade deck itself raises some questions. Even if they stopped before banning Stoneforge, their purpose would be achieved. It seems to me that without [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] Caw Blade will not maintain its worth as a deck. Simply removing Jace should sufficiently weaken it in a visible way. The banning of [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] leaves some questions behind. Why not solve the problem by printing [card]Batterskull[/card] in Innistrad or a later set, or choose one sword (maybe [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card]) and set it aside for a later expansion?

In any case, all that remains now is the fact that I have lost the deck I planned to play at the Japanese National Championship in the second week of July. And my concern is that an environment without [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] is something outside of even R&D’s expectations. Banning cards is their last measure, and it is not difficult to guess that they aim to rehabilitate decks that until now have been trampled down because of Caw Blade.

In these circumstances, do you think former tier one decks that were destroyed by Jace’s raw power can have a come back? I wonder if R&D has worked out a deck that can stop [card]Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle[/card] when [card]Rampant Growth[/card] comes in with M12. As for the Japanese National Championship and the next three months being overrun by [card]Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle[/card], I truly hope that R&D has considered these things. I think I will also endeavor to avoid this outcome, but we shall see when the results from Japanese Nationals go up in three weeks.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura

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