Sometimes I have an unhealthy obsession with playing specific cards that leads to endless nonsensical brews. Other times, however, the cards just happen to be good and nobody is playing them. I am of the opinion that Jace Vyrn's Prodigy is of the latter, and should be seeing play in Modern and maybe even in Legacy.
A natural assumption would seem to be that Jace is too weak for Modern, utilizing the classic argument that it is just going to die to Lightning Bolt. While yes, that is certainly true some of the time, not only can our opponents A: not kill everything, but B: we can build our decks to help circumvent this possibility. In that regard, I think Jace compares somewhat favorably to Dark Confidant – a real threat with large upside should we untap even once with the creature on the battlefield.
The fact is that once Jace flips he is actually quite robust and incredibly difficult to remove. In the worst-case scenario he can absorb upwards of three hits from Tarmogoyf but he is also effective at essentially blanking an opposing Snapcaster Mage or flipped Delver of Secrets.
As a result of Jace's striking similarity to Snapcaster Mage, it makes the most sense to compare them directly, especially when the latter is already such a major cornerstone of the format.
- Snapcaster Mage can flashback counterspells. This is the key difference between the two when it comes to comparing them as tools for deckbuilding. In the majority of situations, we would be naturally incentivized to play both of these creatures if we are even having a conversation about Jace, although I will be including a decklist later in this article that this is not true for.
- Snapcaster Mage is better on offense. Lines including playing a Snapcaster Mage on end step and flashing back a Lightning Bolt to start getting aggressive are incredibly common. On the other hand, Jace has no power and lacks any element of surprise.
- Drawing cards (and looting) is an effect that correlates in power with its format. Serum Visions is not necessarily a great Magic card, but as the best cheap manipulation spell in Modern it is absolutely vital to the format. While Jace's front side may not seem like much, every activation in Modern is highly relevant as manipulation is so desirable and underpowered. Jace also naturally fuels the format's Delve threats.
- Jace is a relevant piece of board position. As I mentioned before, the fact that Vyrn's Prodigy is able to turn into a planeswalker with a high amount of loyalty for a low mana cost can be quite relevant for diversifying a board position. Due to the fact that the majority of removal spells in Modern are damage-based, it can actually be quite hard to kill him should he flip and start ticking up – which can contribute to letting your creatures dominate combat or protecting other planeswalkers.
- You are paying for Snapcaster Mage's ability on the front end. What I mean by this is that Jace is a great card to play early, an actual two drop, while Snapcaster almost never is outside of Gitaxian Probe. Further, it is much easier to set up explosive lines where you play multiple spells in the same turn. Playing a Thoughtseize and flashing it back with Snapcaster Mage requires four mana in the same turn while the same play involving a Telepath Unbound is merely two. While to some degree this may sound silly or elementary, the further you push the power level of a format, the more valuable it becomes to have this flexibility in deciding when your mana can be tied up. It can be difficult to deploy multiple Snapcaster Mages from your hand at times, while you will almost never run into this issue with Jace. This notion of having a Snapcaster Mage in reserve through Jace Vyrn's Prodigy also segues nicely into my next point...
- Jace is exceptional with Liliana of the Veil. Liliana encourages grindy games where both players are playing off the top of their deck and are crunched on resources. Classically, Liliana isn't necessarily as effective with Snapcaster Mage or counterspells due to how most blue decks in Modern want to keep cards in their hand to react to their opponent. Jace not only doesn't have this problem, as it is required for it to be on the battlefield for a turn before it can flashback a spell, but it is also a planeswalker that can naturally tag-team with Liliana to either protect her or allow sequences like flashing back a Lightning Bolt to remove a small creature to clear the way for Liliana's edict.
While I promise several lists including Liliana (where, again, I believe the card to be at its best), I actually think it more appropriate to start by trying to incorporate Jace into the most “pure” of Snapcaster Mage decks just to see what it would look like: Jeskai Control
There are a lot of things to like about placing Jace in this deck. We're basically going to be killing or disabling our opponent's creatures all of the time, which can give us some rather polarized matchups. Also, the manipulation and redundancy of power level in Jace allows us to not have to play stinkers like Think Twice and other cards that are often required to bridge the gap. Finally, niche cards like Molten Rain and Rest for the Weary get much better as they are all but guaranteed to be cast repeatedly.
You may notice that I took special care to not include too many counterspells in the deck as not only is Jace a two-drop that can help replace some number of Mana Leaks but we ultimately have to be a little more proactive as a result of his presence. That in itself may be the flaw here, and although I don't even hate Cryptic Command as a glorified bounce spell, we can probably just do better by modeling after existing shells:
This is the deck I've been brainstorming for the past week, the major influence for writing this article, and likely is the shell I'll be playing in the Open Series in Charlotte this weekend. It's not difficult to notice how similar this concept is to Jund, and that's exactly what I modeled the deck after right down to the manabase. Kolaghan's Command is heavily prevalent in a variety of Grixis decks due to its power level in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage, and with even more analogues of that effect when coupled with Jace, I believe this deck to be incredibly good at grinding opponents out.
As with Jund, a heavy portion of our game plan is leveraging discard to cripple our opponent's gameplan. In contrast to Jund, we will be doing that again and again. One of the more elegant aspects of Jace is that not only is he excellent for flashing back discard effects but he is a great creature to curve into after a first-turn Inquisition of Kozilek while also being able to loot them away when engaged in a topdeck war.
I've alluded to throughout the article the vital nature of Liliana when coupled with Jace in this deck, but it's worth mentioning again that the major goal of this variation of Grixis is to get both players to a similar stage in the game – a place where both players are living off the top of their decks but one has a Kolaghan's Command and Snapcaster Mage at the ready with Liliana in play.
The inclusion of Spell Snare may seem a bit odd and could be incorrect, but the logic surrounding it is that it is an excellent piece of insurance on the draw and also a great tool for fighting through Snapcaster Mage wars. I also don't actually want too much discard, but I doubt I'll come to the correct conclusion on the number. The vital nature of a piece of discard to this strategy may make it so that it is necessary to have six of the effect in the maindeck, but for now the last Thoughtseize sits in the sideboard.
Speaking of the sideboard, I really don't know what I'm doing here yet. Grixis doesn't naturally have many great tools for fighting Burn, and the currently popular cards are Vampiric Link and Dragon's Claw, neither of which are spells – which I want as many as possible of. While Fulminator Mage is most commonly used because it can both be a threat and is excellent with Kolaghan's Command, I've settled on Molten Rain for now because against land-centric decks like Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron I just want to repeatedly cast disruption spells that can be recurred with Snapcaster Mage and Jace. While I've been able to get away with very little countermagic in the maindeck, I actually think it's quite good from the sideboard. If we are ever able to untap with a Jace against a combo deck, they are stuck in a weird catch-22 where if they ever tap out they can be severely punished by a sequence involving a Negate and then the Grixis deck untapping with multiple pieces of discard or land destruction available to annihilate their position. Further, these spells are also effective against burn and are still strong with Snapcaster.
Anger of the Gods worries me a bit from a castability stand point, as the deck is so heavily geared towards hitting BB, but the exile effect is something I desire. I could see a split involving Pillar of Flame and Damnation, or embracing a more Jund sideboard plan and playing some copies of Leyline of the Void.
One of the coolest interactions in this Sultai list is Scavenging Ooze coupled with Jace. Should you ever find yourself in a standoff or your hand is simply poor, Scavenging Ooze can repeatedly tear apart your graveyard and prevent Jace from flipping until actually desired to do so.
While this deck is relying on leveraging the effectiveness of Night of Souls' Betrayal in a slew of matchups , and Jace is able to effectively contribute to that cause, losing Kolaghan's Command may be too big of a punch to the overall power of the deck. That being said, I could see this type of strategy being a great metagame choice in a field dominated by decks like Splinter Twin, Infect, and Affinity.
As a bonus thought and decklist, if I'm not playing a deck in a similar style to what I've outlined today I'll probably be taking an old flame of mine for a swim now that it's gotten a new pool toy: Merfolk!
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Harbinger of the Tides
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 3 Master of Waves
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Silvergill Adept
Now that Harbinger of the Tides exists, I'll finally admit that Aether Vial is probably correct to play in this deck. Other than that, a lot of the little choices represent my preferences. I think Merfolk is a deck built on being highly aggressive and redundant, and have no desire to cut lords like Merrow Reejerey due to its ability to let you “combo off” especially now that it even has some natural synergy with Harbinger.
The weirdest card in my sideboard, Boomerang, is another catchall... but while most lists online play Echoing Truth, I'd rather have another tool against Amulet Bloom. The counterspell mix is about being cheap and aggressive, while cards like Remand are great against Tasigur, I want to be as efficient as possible and give myself as many opportunity to attack with Mutavault as I can, hence my choice to only play one-mana spells.
It may be easy to notice that several of my articles lately, including the last one I wrote about on Jace, are somewhat formulaic. It is simply my intention to dissuade the notion that new cards aren't “good enough” or that the rules regarding formats and their expectations simply are hard and fast. We keep getting awesome cards printed for us, so we should try them! Let me know if you've tried Jace already in Eternal formats or had positive experiences in Modern with other cards in Magic Origins.