Jace and the Planeswalker Dilemma

Posted in Serious Fun on July 21, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Welcome to Jace Week! This is the week where we talk about Jace and everything related to Jace. Jace has seen six different planeswalker versions, along with his latest legendary creature version—so I'm going to have plenty to talk about. At least that's what I thought when I started writing.

The Dilemma

My difficulty with Jace is twofold. The first is a metagame issue. Almost all of the Magic I play is at a variety of kitchen tables and the occasional Grand Prix or convention.[1] When planeswalkers first arrived on the scene, most casual players weren't sure what to make of them. We generally treated them as permanents that let you cast one of three (or four) sorceries on each of your turns for free. Everyone knows that getting to do something repeatedly for free is broken, so we did all we could to eliminate planeswalkers as quickly as possible. This meant that planeswalkers had to be pretty amazing to justify casting something that you would likely only get to use twice, at most. For Jace, that meant you would draw two cards. That's not nothing, but I could do the same thing and more with any number of enchantments, which wouldn't get targeted and make me the Primary Threat at the table. Jace Beleren did scale, so you could let everyone at the table draw an extra card on your turn, but either Temple Bell did it better, or it was obvious you going to try to mill someone out, so better just to kill Jace.

The second difficulty arose from how I viewed Jace in his various forms. As more versions of Jace were made, it seemed like Jace could be boiled down to three things: The controller draws a card, everyone draws a card, or opponents put some number of cards from on top of their libraries into their graveyard (aka "mill"). Given the high visibility of planeswalkers in my group, there have always been other cards available to do these things. That Jace could do all of these things in a single card was great, but it was rarely worth the trouble of being a large target.

Thankfully, those early days have started to fade. A couple of players in my group have run decks with multiple planeswalkers, to the extent that the opponents were left to choose which planeswalkers needed to die first. This forced the group to really examine which planeswalkers were truly a problem, and which could be tolerated (at least for a while). While we are still wary of a planeswalker on the battlefield, they will often at least get a chance at survival.

And new Jace, while staying true to his other forms, also diverges to an alternate path. Rather than directly drawing a card, Jace offers card advantage in a different way!

Jace, the Creature

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy starts out as a looter, and not a particularly special looter either.[2] This ability on Jace is unreliable. You aren't going to be running Jace for his ability to dig deeper into your library, since it is completely dependent on when you play Jace. If you play him right on curve or close to curve in the early game, you'll likely get to loot for a few turns, since you'll have few cards in your graveyard that early in the game. If you play Jace later, you'll likely have enough cards in your graveyard to flip him the first time you loot. Even if you would prefer the creature side to the planeswalker side, you don't get a choice. If you loot with five or more cards in your graveyard, you are getting Jace, Telepath Unbound. If you were looking for Jace to help you draw cards, you could choose a different Jace, or a different looter to get more reliable results.

Jace, the Planeswalker

The +1 ability is fine in one-on-one games. You know your opponent's creature will either be blocking your creatures or trying to attack you, so giving it -2/-0 is a good thing. In multiplayer games, it just isn't as good.

I can understand the value of giving a creature -2/-0 until my next turn. The creature's ability to attack or block is stunted, since it is less likely to kill any opposing creature in combat. Jace puts this out there and leaves it to you and the other opponents to take advantage of it. The problem is, I only want to give the creatures that are attacking me -2/-0. I don't want to neuter an opponent's creature if they are going to use it against another opponent. This is one of those abilities that if you could do it at instant speed, you'd be thrilled about it. As it stands, you need to give plenty of care when you decide to use this ability.

The -9 ability turns your cards into milling machines. Counter their spell, make them mill five. Play a creature? Mill five. With a few ways to draw cards, a blue player could realistically play two or more spells per turn, milling ten cards along the way. The difficulty is the -9. Once Jace the Creature flips into Jace the Planeswalker, it will take four turns to reach the ultimate ability. And Jace can't flip until the turn after he gets played, so you are looking at a minimum of five turns, realistically. That just takes so long, I'm not sure how effective it would be. Although, Lightning Greaves and Doubling Season can make this happen on one turn, assuming you already have four cards in your graveyard.

Jace, Milling Prodigy

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The deck is loaded with instants and sorceries that find land and mill cards. The deck has a counter theme to take advantage of the Doubling Season, but that is there to ensure Jace, Telepath Unbound starts with ten loyalty and can immediately get his emblem. If you are able to keep him alive, you can use his -3 ability to replay all the sorceries and instants in your graveyard, while milling an opponent for five cards at a time. Multiple Jaces could mean multiple emblems, and that will wrap up games very quickly.

While this deck can work, I think Jace, Memory Adept can do it better. Milling an opponent for ten at a cost of 0 loyalty can really get things moving. You can opt for mill cards that mill for X, and mill multiple players, rather than smaller, cheaper cards that demand some setup to win games.

Jace, Telepath Unbound's real meat lies in the -3 ability. This ability moves away from drawing you cards and instead lets you get a little more out of the cards you have already played. You will have at least five cards in your graveyard when he flips, so you can use this right away. You still have to pay the cost of the card, but it lets you reuse the cards in your graveyard. Jace also lets you threaten the use of any card in your graveyard. Your opponents can see everything you have in your graveyard and what you can choose to do. Often the threat is all you need to keep an opponent or two off your back. The threat is limited, since you'll have to play the card on your turn, so you aren't all that threatening on your opponents' turns. Still, reusing cards is gold in multiplayer games.

Considering all this, I see Jace, Vryn's Prodigy fitting well into a modified version of the Kytheon deck from last week. Last week's deck gave up some surprise to run Equipment; a choice that would make more sense for multiplayer games, since the Equipment would stick around. With Jace, you get double use of the sorceries and instants. That extra use, along with the increased effectiveness of a surprise spell, lets us revamp last week's deck into something new.

Jace and Kytheon, Teen Titans

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This deck offers us a handful of surprises, and lets us sit with a few warning cards in our graveyard. Jace is good to his friends.

Something else . . .

In Jace's storyline Alhammarret helps Jace to focus his skills while using him to carry out dangerous tasks. Their relationship ended with a battle of minds that left Alhammarret wondering how to breathe.

In an article from a couple weeks ago, I referred to Alhammarret as "Al" and referenced one of my favorite videos, "You Can Call Me Al." With some help from GatheringMagic writers Brandon Isleib, Ant Tessitore, and James Arnold, we've made some adjustments to the lyrics.


"You Can Call Me Al(hammarret)"

A sphinx walks down the street
He says "Why am I soft in the head now?"
Why am I soft in the head?
The rest of my life is so lost
I need a photo-album
I want a shot at recollection
Don't want to end up a card
In my owner's graveyard
Boneshredder, Boneshredder
Wolves in the moonlight
Far away my well-lit door
Mr. Beleren, Beleren
Get these mutts away from me
You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

If you'll come back home to Vryn,
I can be your long-lost pal.
I can call you Bele'
And Bele', when you call me
You can call me Al…(hammarret)

A sphinx walks down the street
He says "Why am I short of attention?"
Got a short little span of attention
And woah, my mind is so blank
Where's my wife and family?
What if I die here?
Who'll be my role model?
Now that my role-model is
Gone, gone
He planeswalked somewhere far away
To some forest lovin' little elf-eared girl
All along, along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations

If you'll come back home to Vryn,
I can be your long lost pal.
I can call you Bele'
And Bele' when you call me
You can call me Al…
Call me Al…(hammarret)

A sphinx walks down the street
It's a street in a strange place
Maybe it's his third time
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign sphinx
He is surrounded by the sound
The sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Ruffians and legionnaires
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says "Amen!" and "Hallelujah!"

If you'll come back home to Vryn,
I can be your long lost pal.
I can call you Bele'
And Bele' when you call me
You can call me Al...
Call me Al...(hammarret)

Bruce Richard


[1] Which reminds me, I'll be at Gen Con at the end of the month! If you're around, look me up! I'd love to get in some games with my readers!

[2]"Looter" is a term used to describe creatures with the ability to draw a card, then discard a card. The first card able to do this was Merfolk Looter.

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