“Jace is a pretty ridiculous card although I think the way the Standard format works out right now it's pretty well contained. Blightning and Bloodbraid Elf are both really powerful cards that are in a bunch of decks that happen to be very good at fighting Jace. It's a card that allows blue control decks to have a way to just take control of the game. If it's not dealt with pretty much immediately the game just gets completely out of hand.”
That's what I had to say about Jace back at Pro Tour San Diego on the Magic Show. I believe the rest of what I said that wasn't posted on the show was something like “I don't think Jace has the right supporting cast just yet but when it does it's going to be one of the defining cards in Standard.”
One of the defining cards in Standard is I think an understatement. I would go so far as to argue that Jace is the single defining card in Standard right now and essentially every successful deck is built with Jace in mind.
Let me present Exhibit A:
This past weekend Dan Jordan won the StarCityGames.com Standard Open: Boston with this list. That alone would be a pretty impressive accomplishment but the fact that he won the Charlotte Open exactly one week prior with the same deck borders on outrageous.
What makes this deck so powerful? One could certainly argue that it's because it plays so many individually powerful cards that have excellent synergy together and to an extent that's true. I'd argue that what makes this deck so good is that in a format defined by Jace it is simply the best Jace deck.
Let's take a look:
Lotus Cobra and Explore especially together give this deck the ability to produce a tremendous amount of mana very quickly but both of them most significantly ramp the deck to the magic flashpoint of four mana – i.e. the cost to play Jace. Mana acceleration also allows the deck the ability to play more spells a turn so it can take better advantage of the additional cards provided by Jace than a deck constrained by playing just one land per turn.
Speaking of playing more than one land per turn Oracle is the card that lets this deck really explode. Oracle is a powerful card in its own right and has shown up unassisted in various ramp decks but the combination of Oracle and Jace is truly soul crushing to play against. The pair not only nets you up to three extra cards per turn but they let you rip through the land clumps that can otherwise prevent Jace's Brainstorm ability from running away with the game. Even a single turn with the combination can put a player so far ahead in both cards and mana that it's incredibly difficult for the opponent to come back.
Even the deck's removal and utility suite is perfectly set up for a Jace-filled format. Mana Leak lets you stop Jace before he comes down and also lets you to protect your own Jace when you cast it thanks to the mana advantage provided by Lotus Cobra Oracle and Explore. Indeed the fact that the format's defining countermagic is Mana Leak makes those accelerators that much more powerful because you can often ramp your mana past the point where your opponent's Mana Leaks can stop your key spells – like you know Jace.
Lightning Bolt serves a twofold purpose in the Jace war. It isn't only the most efficient creature removal spell available for protecting your own Jaces but three damage just happens to be Jace's starting loyalty. What a lovely coincidence! Bolt also handles opposing accelerators like Lotus Cobra even on the draw which is a major reason why Copperline Gorge out of Scars of Mirrodin was a big upgrade for this deck.
Goblin Ruinblaster is new as a maindeck card to Dan's Boston list but similarly saw maindeck play in San Juan where the original block incarnation of this deck took Paulo Brad Nelson and Josh Utter-Leyton to the Top 8. Ruinblaster is yet another piece in the Jace puzzle since he can keep your opponent off of Jace mana even on the draw if you have an accelerator and threatens to largely lock out the game if you can get Jace online with him in play to bounce.
Those cards plus Preordain and Frost Titan make up all of the non-land cards in the deck. Preordain is the glue that holds every blue deck together these days and Frost Titan is the catchall solution to whatever problems might ail you that also happens to kill your opponent very quickly.
This is the best Jace deck because it has all the tools to make the most of Jace as well as many of the best tools to fight against opposing Jaces. Unlike many Jace decks it's very proactive which is both fundamentally important in the current format and a huge boon when fighting opposing planeswalkers. While some other decks fight the Jace war by playing more Jaces in the form of Jace Beleren this deck can just resolve a Lotus Cobra on the second turn and strand little Jace in the opponent's hand generating a relevant board presence along with a massive mana advantage.
While Dan Jordan won the last two StarCityGames.com Standard Opens with U/G/r it is far from the only Jace deck around. Allow me to present Exhibit B:
Nick has been on something on a tear himself winning New York States a TCGPlayer.com 5K event and finishing in the Top 4 of the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Charlotte. Much like Dan Jordan Nick has done so with the same deck. While I firmly believe U/G/R is the best pure Jace deck there's much to be said for U/B as well.
I've been playing a great deal of U/B Control myself and the biggest reason for that is Duress. Duress is an incredibly powerful card in fighting the Jace war not only because it can strip a Jace or Mana Leak from your opponent's hand but also because it provides you with an incredibly valuable commodity – information.
A battle between two Jace decks resembles a game of chicken – who will blink first? The U/G/R deck attempts to get the leg up in the fight by jumping out to a mana advantage playing first which means even if their Jace gets countered their opponent can't land a Jace of their own – at least not the really scary kind. The threat of playing your own Jace into a Mana Leak and seeing your opponent land a Jace makes the early turns of a blue control contest in Standard a tenuous stalemate. But if you know what's in your opponent's hand perfect information gives you the ability to sculpt the perfect line of play. I've said on multiple occasions that I'd play Peek if it were legal in Standard right now simply because information is so valuable in the first few turns of the game. The fact that Duress forces them to discard a card is obviously powerful but the value you gain certainly doesn't end there.
The other big weapon U/B has in the Jace war is Creeping Tar Pit. For a long time Creeping Tar Pit was the best of the Worldwake dual lands that just didn't have a home but like Jace it's found the supporting cast it needs to shine. Tar Pit like Lightning Bolt has the magic front end of “3” which means it can rumble with a Jace and take him down. Unlike Raging Ravine Creeping Tar Pit can threaten to destroy Jace on both the play and the draw which means you can't land a Jace and Brainstorm right away against an active Tar Pit unless you want to lose him to a single attack.
Interestingly the threat of Creeping Tar Pit makes Jace Beleren better in U/B than pretty much any other deck since your opponents are much more likely to play a Jace and Fateseal giving you the opportunity to legend rule it with little Jace. Duress also improves little Jace's position in U/B since you can clear the way for him to come down and strand Mind Sculptors in your opponent's hand even on the draw which is a dangerous prospect without that window and that information.
While I'm not completely sold on it myself Trinket Mage is another card in Nick's version of U/B that is oddly effective in the Jace war. Trinket Mage is a fine card to tap out for on the third turn giving you some value by fetching up an Everflowing Chalice usually. Much like Lotus Cobra Trinket Mage provides a non-trivial board presence that helps threaten opposing planeswalkers and he's particularly unpleasant for your opponent to bounce since he effectively draws you a card every time you replay him. Elixir of Immortality can give you an edge in long games when both you and your opponent exhaust most of your important resources though it's certainly terrible when you draw it and it does nothing to win the most important fight in control on control – that of course being the Jace war.
It may seem like I'm putting too much emphasis on Jace here given that there are a wide variety of other decks out there that don't have Jace that have been successful. I'd argue that all of those decks exist and are successful essentially because of their relationship with Jace. In fact I'd argue that there are three types of decks in Standard altogether – decks that play Jace decks that attempt to rush Jace and decks that attempt to trump Jace.
Exhibits B C D and E
- 4 Memnite
- 1 Molten-Tail Masticore
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 3 Spikeshot Elder
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 4 Pawn of Ulamog
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 4 Viscera Seer
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Joraga Warcaller
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Nissa's Chosen
- 2 Sylvan Ranger
- 4 Vengevine
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
This is the Standard format. There are hyper-aggressive decks like Mono-Red Zombies and Elves that try to beat Jace with all out aggression and damage and there are decks that try to beat Jace by going bigger which in this case pretty much means only Primeval Titan which is more a combo card than a creature.
It's telling that you don't see a single white card in any of these lists especially when U/W Bant and Naya were so popular just before Alara block rotated out. The reason for this more than anything else is that white lost its only effective ways to fight against Jace – Elspeth and Oblivion Ring. These two cards were among the best weapons in the Jace war and were crucial to the ability of decks like U/W Control to compete in the Jace war. Now white has nothing and has unsurprisingly fallen to the wayside and been relegated to gimmick decks like Quest for the Holy Relic to even try to compete.
As I said many months ago Jace is indeed a ridiculous card and his impact has exceeded even my expectations. If you're going to play Standard he is public enemy number one. If you're building a deck for Standard the first thing you should ask yourself is how your deck handles Jace. Either you're playing with him or your deck is built to beat him – probably both. Know your plan or plan to go home early – it's that simple.
Until next time