I hope you like playing blue.
The unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor is undeniably a huge boon to blue decks everywhere in Modern, help that I don't believe they needed at all. Blue was already arguably the best color in Modern, with four of the nine decks at #PTRIX that had 5% or more of the metagame share being blue with Grixis Death's Shadow, Jeskai Control, U/R Gifts Storm, and U/W Control. That's of course not even counting Five-Color Humans with their sixteen maindeck blue cards. Snapcaster Mage has been the most played creature in Modern for quite some time now without help from the most powerful planeswalker ever printed.
That's now no longer the case, and the fact is Jace, the Mind Sculptor is Modern-legal. As a midrange player, I spent the first day of this announcement mourning my ability ever to register a non-blue deck again, but the fact is with Jace being legal now in Modern I don't ever plan on playing a Modern deck without it as I believe it is just that good. This doesn't mean I have to play any individual strategy, as the variance of Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks in the format will most likely be incredibly wide, but my tournament choice has been reduced from "What deck in all of Modern do I want to play?" to "What deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor do I want to play?" This is fine, it's just how life is now. Like I said before, I already spent my day mourning, now it's time to move on and face the new Modern format head on. Before I get to some first takes on new Jace decks, I want to talk about a couple misconceptions that I hear many people say about Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks.
The reason behind thinking that turn 3 Karn Liberated is fair is because in order to be able to cast Karn regularly on this turn you need to build your deck with around thirty unique cards in order to do it. These cards do not interact with your opponent in any way to protect you or even help out really unless you can achieve the combination of Tron lands necessary to cast your powerful threats. This process is also easily disrupted by a wide variety of methods throughout the format.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor, on the other hand, works best when you put cheap interactive spells and fetchlands in your deck, which are already the best cards on rate in the format. You don't need to play big draw spells like Sphinx's Revelation or clunky win conditions like Nahiri, the Harbinger; you just need to play lands, interaction spells, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and call it a day.
To summarize, the opportunity cost of putting Jace, the Mind Sculptor in your deck is basically non-existent, which is why I believe it will see widespread play throughout the format, while having Karn Liberated in your deck means you need to play with a set of specific cards to enable it.
But Jace, the Mind Sculptor didn't even win that game! The other cards did!
This is the kind of statement I have heard a lot from players frequently when watching games with Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks for the first time. I'm going to use the VS Video that Brad Nelson and I recorded two months ago as an example, with Jace Jeskai vs. Bloodbraid Jund as the match. A popular comment was that the bevy of removal spells did in Jund and Jace didn't do as much. Well, take a look at the decklist that I used for this video:
Brad would frequently use a discard spell to take my removal spell before playing his threat, only to have me draw another removal spell. That's because with Jace, the Mind Sculptor as your win condition you have the ability to maximize interaction to ensure you can stay alive to the mid game where it will take over for you. Snapcaster Mage is similarly very effective with cheap, interactive spells, and the two of them combine together to give your deck an absurd amount of redundancy. Even in the games where Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn't drawn, it still had an impact to help Jeskai beat Jund because of the ability to design the deck in such a fashion where the abundance of interactive spells made sure Jeskai didn't stumble.
The flexibility in deck design is one of the biggest reason why Jace, the Mind Sculptor is such a powerful card as it even impacts games where you don't draw it, and this obscure impact on the game is often missed by players.
With those two responses on the record, let's get to some first day rough drafts of new decks utilizing Jace, the Mind Sculptor:
This deck is a Ross Merriam special, built after the Turbo Land decks of Standard's past. It was one of his favorite decks to ever play, and we've even discussed trying to make the deck work again in Modern before the announcement that Jace, the Mind Sculptor was unbanned. Immediately after the announcement, Ross went to work putting the list together, and after running it through some matches I was instantly hooked. This was the list I submitted for the Team Modern Super League on Tuesday but plan on continuing to refine it.
The goal of the deck is to simply play as many lands as possible with the help of Oracle of Mul Daya, generating a substantial mana advantage which is also compounded by Lotus Cobra. Then when you're making an abundance of land drops there's no better win condition than Tireless Tracker, which often helps draw multiple cards a turn while the advantage spirals out of control. The deck doesn't necessarily have some big finish that it's working towards, just drawing a ridiculous number of cards with Tireless Trackers that become the largest creature on the battlefield.
Besides being Oracle of Mul Daya copies five through seven, Courser of Kruphix plays a vital defensive role in the deck. The deck doesn't interact well with the opponent or even block well, so the biggest worry with the deck is being run over by aggressive strategies. Courser is the one card that blocks well and is much better positioned in the new format than I thought at first glance since it can be bounced effectively by Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Between Bloodbraid Elf and Lightning Bolt, two popular cards to fight Jace, the Mind Sculptor, having four toughness is a key number moving forward. It also doesn't hurt how well Courser works with Jace's Brainstorm ability to play the land put back on top of the deck.
I originally started with three Temporal Mastery in the deck but have since moved it up to four. Getting to play extra turns with the deck when each turn means another Jace, the Mind Sculptor or two more land drops thanks to Oracle of Mul Daya has been incredibly powerful. With the mana this deck generates, quickly hardcasting a Temporal Mastery while doing other things with your turn is completely reasonable. Many people are focused on some other miracles right now, but I believe Temporal Mastery is a card that could break out in multiple archetypes thanks to its synergy with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
While I've been very impressed with the maindeck so far, the sideboard is a mess. Currently I'm splashing for Ancient Grudge, Lightning Bolt, and Blood Moon, but Blood Moon has been quite underwhelming which is making me look at other colors as the splash options. Between double digit fetchlands, Utopia Sprawl, and Lotus Cobra, splashing is incredibly easy in the deck, and therefore the options for the sideboard are vast. It's what I plan on working hard on moving forward, but this is a promising deck I'm really excited about playing.
We're brainstorming with the numbers in the decklist here but I believe Jace, the Mind Sculptor can find a home in the Death's Shadow decklists as well. For that I prefer the Traverse the Ulvenwald versions to help hit land drops to get to the requisite four mana, but Death's Shadow games are often long enough that Jace could make a great impact on them.
I also believe I would prefer to be on the Tarmogoyf side for the secondary creature right now over the delve threats, as the delve threats fail the Jace test miserably. Having a Tasigur, the Golden Fang or a Gurmag Angler bounced back to your hand, especially if you're holding another copy in hand of either, is backbreaking. That's enough to scare me away from the delve threats for now.
Dreadbore is a removal spell I haven't thought too much about over the years but think it's in a prime spot to be a breakout card. Both Grixis and Jund decks will seemingly be popular options for the midrange players moving forward, and Dreadbore is one of the best hard answers to a resolved planeswalker. It's cheap enough that recasting it from a Snapcaster Mage is a pretty easy proposition to fulfill.
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 2 Ramunap Excavator
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Is it better that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a better fit for the G/W Company deck that I normally play than Collected Company? If Jace was green or white I would say absolutely, but splashing it at double blue is really difficult to do. Not taking too much damage from the manabase is crucial in this deck, as surviving is your main objective, and therefore, basic lands are at a premium. But also this deck needs to play plenty of Plains and Forests in order to facilitate Knight of the Reliquary, meaning that if you want lots of basics and lots of Plains and Forests, then casting a double blue spell is difficult.
To this end I would be interested in playing Oath of Nissa that can not only help fix your mana requirements but also look for a specific creature you are looking for. It also works well with Jace's Brainstorm ability to move cards off the top of your library, because that's an ability that needs even more help. With us not having to mold the deck around Collected Company it's possible it can evolve into a more interactive deck and have more four mana creatures, such as Oracle of Mul Daya, basically a Courser of Kruphix and Azusa, Lost but Seeking put together.
I will mostly have to move away from the deck looking so similar to G/W Company to greater utilize Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but this is another shell that I will be working on in the coming weeks.
I can't see the future and don't know exactly what will happen to Modern with Jace, the Mind Sculptor being unbanned, but for the foreseeable future it looks like I'll have to be playing blue, and therefore, I'm feeling as such. Many players who are smarter than me and have been around longer believe that Modern is vast enough to absorb the bomb of Jace and come out diverse, but I'm skeptical. Hopefully I'm wrong and I can go back to playing G/W Company like I want to. I'll definitely be playing it at #SCGINDY this weekend, which also lands on my birthday, and hopefully not for the last time.