I did not see that coming.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is back on the menu and immediately after the Modern Pro Tour returned, as well. What was the reasoning behind this odd timing?
Modern's return to the Pro Tour, shining a spotlight on the format, makes this a great time to revisit past decisions and see if they still make sense in the current era. The data we gathered both from the Pro Tour itself and from the several weeks of Magic Online play as pro players tested for the event have helped us cross-check our decisions against what's doing well in the real world.
How long ago did they lock in a decision to unban Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Months ago? Weeks ago? Days ago? I would guess it's closer to months, maybe multiple months, rather than days or weeks, and it feels like the Modern Pro Tour had little to no impact on this decision. Which would make sense, since right now Modern is basically amazing any way you slice it and certainly doesn't need any changes. So in that regard the timing is odd.
That said, even though these unbans might seem strange and out of the blue (and red and green) personally I'm excited to see what happens in terms of what they'll shake up. The brewer in me is pleased, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor lover. It makes me want to play more Modern despite just having played it a ridiculous amount testing for the Pro Tour.
So what impact will these two cards have on the Modern metagame?
Today I'll mostly be skipping over Bloodbraid Elf, since it's far less interesting to me, and my opinion as well as the general consensus has been that Bloodbraid Elf probably won't break anything in Modern.
But what about Jace, the Mind Sculptor? He is the big question mark. My initial impression is... I have no idea.
It seems like Jace should be completely busted, but maybe he ends up doing basically nothing?
For now let's imagine there will be three broad levels of impact Jace, the Mind Sculptor will have on Modern:
1. Mild impact: Jace, the Mind Sculptor turns out to be not that great in Modern and appears in a few control decks and sideboards. Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek have a new drinking buddy to commiserate with and share stories about the glory days.
2. Moderate impact: Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a staple in control decks and appears in a lot of Modern decks that run blue mana, revives old archetypes, and spawns a bunch of new archetypes with varying degrees of success. The rest of the format has to adjust a little, but Jace decks are very beatable and life goes on.
3. Huge impact: The darkest timeline. Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets used and abused in interesting and powerful ways, both expected and unexpected, and warps the format around his gloriousness. All other decks bend the knee or get destroyed. Nothing ends up being able to compete with Jace decks, Middle-earth falls into shadow under the rule of Jace's massive mind and Jacecoin, the new cryptocurrency, surpasses Bitcoin in value. Eventually Jace has to be resealed, sent to the super duper ultra banned shadow realm to join repeat offender Golgari Grave-Troll.
All of these options seem plausible. My gut reaction was feeling somewhere in the middle between two and three.
How could Jace, the freakin' Mind Sculptor not get broken at some point?
To be fair, presumably Jace was unbanned because Wizards is confident he is safe to unban. I assume they did a bunch of testing and found it would be fine and the more I think about it, the more I feel Jace won't break anything. The tricky part is how much can they know? They don't have thousands of minds all trying to break it at once for a prolonged period of time. Jace is a complicated card and it might take an unexpected deck to break it.
Jace doesn't obviously fit in too many top archetypes that already exist. Mostly just control decks. There's plenty of other options though, like Grixis Death's Shadow, U/R Gifts Storm, Lantern Control, Bant Knightfall, and Merfolk. The real interesting thing will be the new tempo decks and unique control decks that try and abuse Jace.
But for now let's begin at level one and look at control decks, starting with the first place and best place to start sculpting minds: U/W Miracles.
You may recognize this as the former best deck in Legacy…
Seriously though, there's a lot that doesn't translate from Legacy to Modern, even without Sensei's Divining Top in the mix for either, namely Brainstorm, Ponder, and Portent to smooth your draws and enable Terminus, as well as Force of Will to shut down combo decks.
Still there might be enough tools to complete the entire Miracles picture in Modern now that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is another piece of the puzzle. The big winner here is Terminus, thanks to Jace's Brainstorm ability setting up it's miracle cost, and the big loser is Dan Ward and Bogles.
Telling Time is no Brainstorm by any means, but it's probably still a no-brainer in any deck looking to unlock the power of Terminus. Terminus does seem like a nightmare for any creature deck to play against, but to be fair, so is Supreme Verdict. Terminus does seem better overall though, especially against some decks like Dredge, Living End, or Bogles, and now you "get" to play Telling Time, which helps you get rid of your bad cards anyways when you're not playing against a creature deck. Telling Time is a solid card by itself, especially when you can further manipulate your draws with fetchlands, and cast it at instant speed on your opponent's end step against combo decks while holding up counter magic.
Search for Azcanta fits the theme of helping you hit your miracles, albeit not that consistently. We're still mostly playing Search for Azcanta because it's a good card, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor plays a similar role as card draw/win condition in the deck, so it's possible Search for Azcanta is a little less necessary despite the synergy.
Opt is good for enabling a Terminus during your opponent's attack step, but Telling Time can do that as well, and I'm a little bit afraid of overloading the deck with too much card draw and not enough meat.
Temporal Mastery is worth trying, although it might end up being a little bit too clunky. Any time you can cast it for two mana is going to be a good time, but the dream is taking an extra turn with Jace on your side of the battlefield.
Entreat the Angels is a great way to close out a game, the question being how necessary is it to actually win? It might be that Entreat the Angels is powerful enough to warrant more slots, but now that control decks have Jace, the Mind Sculptor do they actually need or want any other ways to win the game?
Getting our eyes back on the prize, Jace, the Mind Sculptor does a lot for the deck. It can be card draw, removal in the form of bounce, and a win condition. All you really need to be doing is keeping parity with your opponent, not dying, and then Jace will do the rest.
Also note that control now has a free win condition. The best win condition. Jace's ultimate. With Jace you don't need to be worried about running enough win conditions, or not being able to close out games. It all happens naturally.
After you've established control over the battlefield, made it nice and empty, and feel you've drawn enough cards, then it's finally time to start winning. Jace's +2 manipulates your opponents' draw steps and makes sure there are no surprises. This phase of the game feels much like a cat toying with a mouse trapped in a bathtub.
Miracles is the big one but here a few other blueprints for other control decks.
This build of Jeskai kind of hedges our bets, not fully committing to the Terminus plan, but still has plenty of ways to enable it as well. You could just toss Jace into an existing Jeskai shell, ignoring Terminus and Telling Time entirely, but for now the more exotic options seem promising.
Snapcaster Mage gets a little worse since you're increasing your number of six-drops and four-drops, and also seems a bit less necessary as a win condition and card advantage engine in the late game now that you have Jace.
You're pretty much doing the same things you were before, except with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Sounds good to me.
So this is what it looks like to hedge our bets and take it easy with the miracle mechanic, but what about when we go all in?
Behold: Turbo Miracles!
Temporal Mastery gets extra value with Search for Azcanta or Jace on the battlefield, but we're still mostly running it because we can get it miracled easily rather than trying to force synergies with it.
Mishra's Bauble takes on a whole new meaning with miracle cards. Since you draw the card with Mishra's Bauble the turn after you use it, you can activate it, taking a peek on top of your library to check for miracles, then fetching if you don't like what you see, and draw the card on your opponent's turn which allows you to use miracle.
That means with three measly mana you can use Telling Time, draw into Mishra's Bauble and Terminus, and then use Mishra's Bauble to draw the Terminus you conveniently put on top of your deck with Telling Time. Same goes for Jace using his 0 ability instead of Telling Time, except you'll need five mana.
Jace Is The Place
Those are my initial ideas on where to put Jace, the Mind Sculptor now that he's free to terrorize Modern. Do you think Jace will live up to the hype, or will Modern's harsh metagame beat him into submission? I know one thing, the next few months of Modern are going to be very interesting.