Ode to Jace

Posted in Top Decks on June 27, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Planeswalkers are among the most exciting parts of a new set, and when I found out that I got to preview a new blue Planeswalker for Magic 2015, I was very excited. In fact, not saying anything about it until now was a trial, and I can't imagine what it's like to know the whole set a year ahead of time. Luckily, the time for secrecy is at an end, and I can now reveal the newest and shiniest model of everyone's favorite Planeswalker:

There are some striking similarities between this Jace and The Jace That Will Not Be Named, with the -3 ability immediately bouncing to the forefront. Still, let's go through this from top to bottom, because it's always interesting and difficult to analyze new Planeswalkers.

The +1 ability is worth more than scry 1 and less than scry 2, although the fact that it dumps a card in the graveyard is potentially relevant for some decks. The later the game gets, the better this becomes, and once lands are just blanks, this actually can be almost as good as drawing a card. Overall, the +1 is strongest as a way to fuel the minus abilities, which is where the bulk of this Jace's power lies.

The -3 ability is the dangerous one, and it's what is going to determine how often this Jace beats Jace, Architect of Thought over the next few months. It is almost the opposite of Architect of Thought in what it is good against, which does set up an interesting set of options for Standard. Architect of Thought is very hard for groups of small creatures to kill, while Living Guildpact does quite well against big creatures. I can imagine playing Jace on turn four to bounce Black Devotion's Nightveil Specter (on the play) or Desecration Demon (on the draw), and that scenario seems pretty appealing. In fact, playing a split of Jaces lets you play the one that's best for each given situation, as long as you are aware that too many Jaces could lead to some awkward legend draws. This ability also bounces noncreatures, and returning Detention Spheres, other Planeswalkers, and even something like Thassa on an empty board. I have ambitions of bouncing Hall of Triumph after killing Master of Waves, which then kills a whole board full of Elemental tokens.

Jace's ultimate is one of the more threatening ones in recent history. Not only is it incredibly powerful (Timetwister, but only you draw, is not weak), but Jace starting at 5 and immediately hitting 6 means that an ultimate for 8 is not that long in coming. I can see matchups where Jace hits the ground running and only ticks up toward his ultimate. I also doubt you are losing any games where you ultimate, barring being incredibly far behind on board while you do so (and what kind of board exists where Jace survives to ultimate while still threatening to kill you immediately?).

Overall, Jace is a powerful addition to the Planeswalker options we have right now. Because you can't cash him in for a couple cards right away like you can with Architect of Thought, it's going to be an interesting few months of having access to both of them. If the format is not overrun with small creatures, Living Guildpact might be the card blue decks want, especially the more proactive blue decks. The threat of playing a four-drop that bounces a four+ mana card and stays in play doing things is very real, and as long as you can protect Jace from Mutavault, Jace will have a rippling effect on which expensive cards weak to bounce end up seeing a lot of play.

Let's take a look at some decklists!

Mono-Blue Devotion

This is the mono-blue deck I played in Chicago, with a couple Jaces on the top of the curve. I really like the idea of playing Jace in an aggressive deck, as bounce becomes almost as good as removal when you are pressuring the opponent. Playing a two-drop into a three-drop into a Jace seems incredibly hard to beat, especially if the Jace hits something juicy like Desecration Demon, Nightveil Specter, or Polukranos. The mirror especially is so tempo-based that if you can Jace the opponent's four and defend Jace afterwards, winning should not be difficult. Jace is a little soft to control decks, and this is a deck that already has problems there, but Game One was already bad, so relying on a sideboard full of counterspells seems like a reasonable plan.

As for a more Planeswalker-focused deck, Bant seems interesting (and takes advantage of the exciting new Ajani):

Bant Superfriends

This might be too much of a mashup between Bant Control and some kind of midrange deck, but playing just a collection of awesome Bant cards that work well with Planeswalkers seems like it could be interesting. I particularly like that Ajani can shortcut right to a Planeswalker ultimate, which is a lot less win-more than it seems. If you have something like Jace or Kiora out, and use the +1 once or twice, the opponent might think he or she has an extra turn to deal with it and not use a Detention Sphere or Hero's Downfall, instead opting to answer something else. If you drop Ajani and ultimate out of nowhere, I have a hard time imagining losing, and even the threat of that will make opponents respect your Planeswalkers more. I don't think Ajani fits into the normal Bant Walkers deck all that well, because Ajani does need some amount of creatures to be good, but a midrange deck like this may be well-poised to take advantage of it.

The decks that will harness Jace's power best are the decks that can consistently have a board presence and take advantage of the -3 to pressure the opponent. Because of that, I'm much more optimistic about Jace showing up in tempo decks than I am in him showing up in control decks. I like that Jace is expanding his range, as he's been a control mainstay in all of his previous iterations, and having a Jace who rewards a different style of deck is very interesting. As with most Planeswalkers, the best use is not always immediately apparent, and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes some time to really figure out how to use Jace's vast and powerful talents in the most effective manner.

LSV

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