I was wrong.
There, I said it.
Thankfully, I was in good company. When Wizards of the Coast announced that they were taking Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf off the Modern banned list, the feeling among the writers here on StarCityGames.com® was almost universal fear. Most of us have been playing long enough to remember Jace in Standard, and Jace has long been heralded as the best planeswalker of all time.
The general feeling was that both Jace and Bloodbraid Elf would be a huge shot in the arm to the format's fair decks, causing a serious shift in the metagame. Any fair or middle of the road deck would crumble under the power and card advantage of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf, and decks would either need to adapt them (or some other powerful late game card advantage engine) or just try to be really fast to get under them. This would cause the middle of the format to get scooped out, further polarizing it between very fast decks and slower, grindy midrange and control decks. Decks like Five-Color Humans would be early casualties of the midrange arms race and not be able to compete.
Obviously now in hindsight we were all comically wrong. Humans is one of the best decks in the format, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf are mostly MIA.
Aside- Amusingly enough for a long time I was very much for unbanning Jace in Modern. I spoke numerous times in articles about how I felt the format was just too hostile for a somewhat fragile four mana planeswalker to succeed, and that I didn't think Jace would make much of an impact. It's funny that once it became a reality I got some serious cold feet.
So why has Jace failed?
Many Decks Don't Care About Card Advantage
Frankly, many Modern decks just don't care about him.
Modern is a very linear format, with most decks being about putting together some sort of absurdly powerful combination of cards. U/R Gifts Storm casts a bunch of spells and kills you; Tron plays seven and ten mana spells on turn three and four; Titan Shift just kills you with land drops; B/R Hollow One just puts a bunch of durable creatures onto the battlefield, many for free; Affinity attacks you for eleven on turn three with a Cranial Plating; and so on.
Once they get rolling, you drawing a few extra cards for some incremental advantage off of a planeswalker feels like a joke. All the card advantage in the world won't save you when you're dead on turn four.
Jace Is Fragile and Hard to Keep on the Battlefield
Jace, like most planeswalkers, is best played on an empty and stable battlefield. The problem is, keeping your opponent to an empty and stable battlefield on turn four in Modern is absurdly difficult.
The decks that do care about card advantage and playing a bit more of a normal game of Magic, and therefore would be concerned about their opponent having a Jace on the battlefield, still do a great job of going wide and make landing a Jace very difficult. Think Humans, Elves, Hollow One, and so on.
Jace isn't Safe Even on an Empty Battlefield
Even more damning is how much heat Jace faces even when his controller is able to get him down onto an empty battlefield.
Haste creatures like Mantis Rider and Bloodbraid Elf, creature-lands like Celestial Colonnade, end of turn Collected Company or Aether Vial activations, direct planeswalker removal like Dreadbore or Detention Sphere, and many other things I'm forgetting all make your four mana investment look like a really bad Brainstorm. Even if you're able to +2 to fateseal you're not really gaining much advantage and your Jace may just die anyway.
But of course, we are forgetting perhaps the biggest reason that Jace is never safe…
Jace starts on three loyalty and most desirable ability is a 0. It's not too complicated to see why Lightning Bolt is such a clean and powerful answer. What's even more important though is the effect that the mere possibility of Lightning Bolt does to the Jace, the Mind Sculptor player. Losing your four-mana planeswalker to a one-mana instant is not acceptable, so Jace usually ends up +2ing to start against any deck that may have Lightning Bolt. We've already established that Jace is never that safe, and if you lose your Jace the following turn having only a fateseal to show for it you're not getting your mana's worth.
Put simply, it's a rough world out there.
It's not entirely without precedent either.
When Jace was first legal in Standard during the domination of the Standard Jund deck, he was never that impactful for many of the same reasons we've listed here. Obviously the overall power level of the Standard format was much lower than Modern, but many of the same principles applied. It wasn't until Bloodbraid Elf and friends left the format that Jace really took over.
So What is a Modern Control Player to Do?
Both Jeskai and U/W Control were doing reasonably well before the Jace, the Mind Sculptor unban, and it was easily assumed that Jace would slot right into to those decks and offer them a significant upgrade in power level.
And slot in they did.
For the first few events, most players were playing between three and four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in their decks. But then something happened... everyone started to realize that Jace just wasn't that good. It went down to two copies, and then one, and then it got to the point where it was time to ask "do I even want to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the most powerful planeswalker of all time, in my deck at all?" It was starting to feel like a "no thank you," leaving control players back where they were before we started this whole silly unbanning thing.
So that was it.
" Jace may be the hero Modern deserves, but he's not the one it needs right now."
Forget Jace exists and go play your control deck the way it was before the unbanning and call it a day.
What if a new hero showed up?
Perhaps even with "Hero" right in his title?
Teferi's name has pedigree, but nothing close to the clout and moxy of Jace with his four abilities and menacing cowl. Still, while Teferi may not be the hero we deserve, he is the one we need right now.
It's puzzling to consider that a new, five mana, two color planeswalker could unseat the greatest planeswalker of all time, but here we are. After playing with Teferi in Modern control decks, it's abundantly clear that he is vastly superior to Jace at present.
Let's run down the reasons why Jace is bad, while contrasting them with Teferi.
"Many Decks Don't Care About Card Advantage"
At their cores, Jace and Teferi exist to draw a bunch of cards and win you the game through raw card advantage. Jace is a little better at this as a Brainstorm is better than a random draw, but what about the decks that don't really care about card advantage? That's the case where untapping two lands is a godsend.
Being able to deploy your planeswalker while also leaving mana up to cast Logic Knot or whatever other interactive spell you have is an incredible advantage, giving a level of tempo not usually seen in a sorcery speed five mana spell. Against linear decks you must interact or die, and Teferi lets you do that.
Teferi's ability to also deal with any oddball permanent is also fantastic; Karn Liberated, Blood Moon, Tarmogoyf, Ensnaring Bridge, Liliana of the Veil, Daybreak Coronet... whatever it is it can be gone. It's hard to overstate how valuable that kind of flexibility is when you're playing a format with so many off the wall decks.
"Jace Is Fragile and Hard to Keep on the Battlefield"
While both Jace and Teferi can go right to five loyalty, Teferi gets to do so while drawing a card and allowing you to interact with your untapped lands. In the worst case scenario of Teferi dying you've still at least drawn a card, but more often than not your opponent is going to have trouble dealing the full five through your two (or more) open mana. Teferi also keeps going up each turn, making it harder and harder to kill as each turn goes by.
"Jace isn't Safe Even on an Empty Battlefield"
Teferi never has to fear Lightning Bolt unless you are getting rid of a troublesome permanent essentially for good, and then once again he's still a two for one. The two mana you gain from untapping your lands also opens you up to a whole host of interactive spells, making most of the heat Teferi would face the following turn far less effective. A turn five Teferi untap gives you the following interactive tools:
And whatever else you may have in your deck or sideboard. That's quite the wall of interaction to get through! It's just like getting to play Chandra, Torch of Defiance in Standard and immediately +2 for two mana to Lightning Strike something.
Despite being an extra mana and an extra color, Teferi ends up being easier to cast, easier to defend, and allows you more interaction than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It's a crazy world, but we are living in it.
What's that? You want a decklist too?
It's actually amazing how simple the swap is: Jace out, Teferi in. Otherwise it's just a pretty stock Jeskai Control list we've been seeing in Modern for the last year or so. Does Teferi make Jeskai Control the deck to beat in Modern? No, but he does improve an already good deck that has a number of great matchups among the formats top decks.
The title of this article may sound like clickbait (and frankly I may have not believed it myself if I hadn't tried it first hand), but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria really is the real deal.
If you want to play control in Modern, Teferi is the hero you need.