For months I’ve been silently mulling over what to write about. I’ve brewed some budget Modern decks to explore cheaper entry into the format, I’ve started diatribes about the proper fixation of options in a toolbox-style deck, and I’ve tried to force cards from new sets to work with my tier four pet decks (it turns out that Riverwise Augur just doesn’t have the chops to make it in Four-Color Saheeli). None of these ideas have yielded an article that I have been very proud of for lack of personal excitement regarding the subject matter. But now, Wizards has graciously thrown us all a little bit of a curve ball. We have two incredibly powerful new toys to play with in Modern; Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf.
The impact of this news can already be seen affecting the Magic community. Jace has shot up to $150 and is out of stock almost everywhere despite knowledge of a reprint happening in roughly a month. People are speaking out against the coincidental timing of the unbanning and reprinting of big daddy Jace. The cries of those who were around for a Standard of ages past are warning of the end times for the format. A solemn few are weeping and curling up in a corner, clutching forlorn copies of Splinter Twin close to their chest. Among all of the bedlam, I want to focus on a single quote from the unbanning announcement Wizards posted:
“Jace and Bloodbraid Elf are powerful options that fill similar roles in different decks as curve-toppers in the four-mana slot. Adding attractive options at the same mana cost in different color combinations at the same time mitigates the risk that one or the other could pull too many decks toward it at once.”
I respectfully disagree with this statement. I’m almost certain that more people will be brewing with Jace than they will be brewing with Bloodbraid, so the format will need to adapt. We need to be ready to kill quickly to prevent a Jace from coming down in the first place, or to keep up enough pressure to clear the Jace from the board before it takes over the game. If we ever get to the point where our opponent has Brainstormed twice with a Jace, we’ve essentially lost the game. So, let’s try to prevent that. Let’s hunt ourselves a Mind Sculptor.
Know Your Enemy
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -Sun Tzu
For us to try and bring down the blue menace, we have to know where we will encounter him. The shell that seems most intuitive for Jace is a UW Control deck, filled with removal, board wipes, counterspells, and card draw. These decks will likely wait until turn 6 or 7 to deploy their Jace, running their opponents out of creatures and cards in hand beforehand. From then on the game plan becomes accruing card advantage with Jace and eventually going for the ultimate.
However, this is not the only strategy in which you may find your opponents casting a Jace. Mind Man works just fine in midrange decks, keeping you ahead on board with the -1, and keeping you ahead in card advantage with the 0. GBx decks may shift towards going blue to include Jace, which arguably does its job much better than the existing top end of Chandra, Torch of Defiance in Jund decks.
Thinking even further, we could see Turbo Jace decks start to pop up. The card really is powerful enough to justify such an archetype, and using a combination of Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch to power out a Jace turn three (or sometimes even turn two) could very easily be worth it. Dumping your hand and then filling it right back up with Jace helps make up for the early card disadvantage and helps you find gas very easily, especially in conjunction with fetchlands to shuffle away dead cards.
Finally, Lantern Control might just want a copy or two of Jace. It’s not hard to cast with all of the fixing, provides a steady stream of card advantage while the lock continues, acts as another copy of Codex Shredder, and can be another win condition if something goes wrong. I don’t expect this to impact the deck too much as the slots are tight and the deck already does what it wants to do pretty well, but it’s worth considering.
Despite what many people are saying, Jace does not signal the end of Modern as we know it. I personally do not think it should have been unbanned, but we certainly have the tools to take it down. The most obvious solution is to be faster than the decks that will be playing the infamous ‘walker. Modern is a fast format as a whole, but one of the fastest and most consistent decks is Burn. Slow control decks already have a hard time keeping pace with the speed of Burn, and adding a durdly four-cmc planeswalker into the list certainly won’t help. Creatures and burn spells can constantly pressure both the opponent’s life total and Jace’s loyalty, forcing the opponent to play with limited resources.
Infect is another deck that may see a rise in popularity thanks to its speed. The deck can fairly consistently pump out wins by turn three or four, but suffers from having to put all of its eggs in one basket, so to say. This makes the strategy weak against decks with lots of cheap removal, because Infect’s copies of Vines of Vastwood and Blossoming Defense are usually outnumbered by the opponent’s copies of Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt. I would guess that most early Jace decks will not be playing Fatal Push, and with a diminished amount of spot removal, Infect might be able to slide in some early wins.
Humans fits into the same slot of “fast aggressive creature deck” as the aforementioned decks, but exchanges some speed for a fair amount of disruption. Both Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage are very good against Jace decks, preventing them from playing their Jaces or their answers. Humans can present a very sizable board to supplement the disruption, which makes it another great choice.
Finally, I want to talk about Tron decks. If you’ve played blue in Modern before, you know how miserable it is to try and fight through a turn three Karn Liberated. In most cases, it’s simply impossible to do so, as your opponent ticks up and down, attacking your hand and lands (which are the two things you want to protect as much as possible when playing a slow control deck). The same logic applies to Jace decks, which are going to try and get ahead later in the game. This just won’t be possible against Tron decks, and as such, I see them as a strong contender in the future metagame.
Developing New Solutions
With Jace hogging all the spotlight, it’s easy to forget about the other card that has finally seen the light of day once again. Bloodbraid Elf is a really good Magic card that was punished for the sins of a certain graveyard-obsessed shaman. BBE provides a hasty body with a free, random spell from your deck, which is really big game. The haste on the elf lets you put pressure on opponents or, say, four-cmc planeswalkers that come in with three loyalty. The free spell automatically makes BBE a two-for-one, which lets you keep pace with control decks which are similarly looking to two-for-one you. It’s hard to tell if these advantages will be enough to bring down Jace, but there are two different decks that I could see trying to take on that task.
The first is the classic home of Bloodbraid Elf, good old Jund. Remember when I talked about decks that could keep up enough pressure having a chance against Jace? Jund isn’t the fastest deck in Modern, but it makes up for this by having such a high individual card quality. Each threat in Jund must be answered immediately or they will win the game all by themselves. Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil, and of course, Bloodbraid Elf, all provide a quick clock or enough advantage to cause problems. With Bloodbraid Elf back in the deck, I would love to see lists with Blightning start to pop up again, as the card absolutely destroys control decks playing Jace, but that’s probably a bit far-fetched.
The other deck that Bloodbraid Elf might make the cut in is Zoo. We haven’t had a proper Zoo deck in Modern since Bloodbraid was banned (except Suicide Zoo, which eventually evolved into just Death’s Shadow midrange decks), and it might be time once again for the archetype to shine. Like Jund, the deck contains many threats that are individually very powerful. Cards like Knight of the Reliquary, Loxodon Smiter, Wild Nacatl, and Geist of Saint Traft all provide a lot more power and toughness than their mana costs might suggest. Bloodbraid Elf fits right into these decks, giving you another creature or burn spell for free. The deck could even play copies of Tribal Flames to increase the clock if the manabase is colorful enough.
Don’t Freak Out!
While the unbanning of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf was a shock to many, we should take it in stride and get excited about having such powerful new options available to us. The format will adapt to the changes that are made, as has been seen time and time again. If Jace ends up being too powerful and Wizards needs to ban it, then at least it was a fun experiment. It might feel bad to sit across from your opponent while they fateseal you five times and then switch your hand with your library, but try to have fun with it. They probably really enjoyed getting to play with an awesome planeswalker, just as you should have fun playing whatever brew you’ve cooked up to try and combat it. Now get out there and cascade your way through some Jaces!