Grand Prix: Dallas is in the books and the results from the event have led to quite a backlash towards a certain card…
If you've been on Facebook or Twitter this week you probably already know that I'm talking about Jace the Mind Sculptor.
I usually don't get involved with this side of the game. I just check the Banned and Restricted list update when it goes up at midnight to see if the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast have changed anything. If they have I get to work on the “new” format. This time however I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the matter.
Jace the Mind Sculptor shares many traits with cards that have been banned in the past. This didn't occur to me the first time I saw a post about the potential of Jace being banned – but the more I looked into it the more I could see it.
Sensei's Divining Top: Games took too long and became boring and stale when it was in play.
Sensei's Divining Top was notorious for causing unintentional draws at events. It was such a problem that Wizards of the Coast banned it in Extended. I don't think the card was overpowered in any way but the fact that it severely disrupted tournaments made it an absolute menace. Rounds always went to time in events where people were playing Tops and even the extra five turns would often take thirty minutes. This was just too much of a hassle to deal with so the card had to go.
This was not just Sensei's Divining Top's fault. It was the decks people were putting it in. Counterbalance control decks were created to abuse the combo of Counterbalance and Top – and players would simply sit there and wait for their opponents to play something just to activate Top and counter the spell.
Now I don't think that Jace the Mind Sculptor is a slow card on its own since it can only be activated once a turn. However the decks that play Jace the Mind Sculptor tend to be pretty slow… Caw-Blade is the most popular deck right now and that means that there will be multiple mirror matches every round.
This mirror match takes a long time to finish if the players are not playing at a fast pace. At GP: Dallas I played against a number of friends of mine who were also playing Caw decks. Before each of these matches I had to explain that our games would go long and that we would need to play quickly if we wanted to have enough time to finish three games.
David Shiels (Champion of GP Dallas) actually had three unintentional draws during the Swiss of this event playing Caw-Blade mirrors.
Skullclamp: Everyone was playing it.
Skullclamp was banned because of its power level and also because it was taking over the game. The Top 8 of US Nationals had 30 copies of this card the year it came out. It was hard to find a deck that was not being influenced by this card in any way. Even ramp decks like Tooth and Nail were built in such a way that they could abuse the Clamp.
- 1 Darksteel Colossus
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 1 Triskelion
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Fierce Empath
- 3 Vine Trellis
- 3 Viridian Shaman
- 3 Wirewood Herald
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 4 Wood Elves
- 1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- 20 Forest
There are many reasons why this is bad for a format.
Reason number one:
The first reason why Jace the Mind Sculptor is bad for the format is because it costs so much to obtain. A Standard staple has never cost anywhere near as much as Jace the Mind Sculptor. It's very difficult for a player on a budget to get a playset. It's also an awkward time to purchase since it's getting close to the end of its (Standard) lifespan unless WotC decides to reprint the card.
Now I don't believe that mythic rares are ruining Magic. I actually like the idea of investing in the good mythic rares and always having the most expensive part of any deck so that it's easier to get new decks. It's very easy to buy some cards to finish off a deck if you already own Jace the Mind Sculptor Gideon Jura Lotus Cobra Titans etc.
Top Standard decks have always been worth a decent amount of money so that's not a new issue. The perk to having it this way is that the most expensive cards go in multiple decks. This means that if an archetype gets bad the most expensive cards will not lose value so you won't lose as much of your investment.
There have been times when I bought a deck and then watched it go bad within a month losing all of its value in the process. That sucks a lot more than having to invest in some long-term staples.
The problem with this is that the best performing decks in Standard all use this card. It's very hard to compete without them. Now there's another side to this argument that I'll get to a bit later in the article.
The second reason why Jace the Mind Sculptor is bad for the format is that it's gotten very boring to watch games with it in the format. The last couple of years have been very exciting for the world of Magic. SCGLive and GGsLive have created an amazing amount of live entertainment. I love that I can still watch Magic when I'm at home for a weekend.
However it's not that much fun when the same matchups play out over and over again on the screen or when the only way to show something else is to film two interesting decks that are no longer in contention for Top 8. This is the big Catch-22 of producing this type of media. I hear it all the time from followers and from the people behind the scenes. No one wants to watch another Caw-Blade mirror…
The Top 8 of Grand Prix Dallas had to be very boring to watch since it was between three different matchups the entire time. This takes away from the usual excitement that the Top 8 of a high-level event should generate.
I could even feel the lack of excitement in the tournament hall of this Grand Prix. I never put my finger on it when I was there but I think I understand now. Over the whole weekend it seemed as though people weren't as excited to be there as they usually would be – although I only observed the pros I was around so I could be wrong.
Because the format was so stale and nothing new developed it just turned into work. The games themselves were interesting to play – since it's Magic – but the stories being told between rounds just blurred together.
Arcbound Ravager Artifact Lands: Power level
Affinity was one of the most dominant decks that I have had the um… pleasure… of playing with and against. I know there were other more powerful decks in the early years of Magic but Affinity put the biggest strain on the game during my time playing. People simply quit playing instead of going to FNMs where they would just get beat by this deck. Even if you had a dedicated anti-Affinity deck you'd still lose at least 40% of the time.
I know that Affinity was an entire deck not a single card but removing Jace the Mind Sculptor from the format would do the same thing except take a bigger portion of the decks in the format with it. Caw-Blade U/B Control and RUG would simply cease to exist as we know them. I don't know if this would make the format healthier or not. All I know is that it would remove the most dominant decks from the format.
Almost Every Card That Has Ever Been Banned: Warping the format
Cards get banned for many reasons. I named a few of the reasons but the most important is to keep the format as healthy as possible. Wizards of the Coast wants us to have as much fun as possible while we play their game. This is why they never ban a card without a very good reason. They don't want to admit they're wrong and have to show it by getting rid of mistakes but they'll do so to keep the gamers happy.
So is Jace the Mind Sculptor warping Standard? It's in some of the most powerful decks and is winning more events than anything else but that doesn't mean it's format warping. I actually believe that Jace the Mind Sculptor's popularity is due to another card that's warping the format. The true culprit of Standard is not a planeswalker but a land – Valakut the Molten Pinnacle.
Valakut has been a very big problem in Standard since Shards block rotated out and Primeval Titan rose to prominence. The format slowed down to a point that most decks could not race Valakut anymore. Valakut became the fastest combo deck.
This meant that decks would either have to go under the deck – by killing the Valakut player before they could kill them around turn 5 – or they would have to take control of the game to the point where Valakut was unable to win. It became clear pretty quickly that it was impossible to take a Fauna Shaman deck into a tournament and expect to beat a Valakut player. This is why the fastest aggro decks survived while the rest became obsolete.
Before Mirrodin Besieged control decks needed to dedicate quite a few slots to their Valakut matchup (or give up on it entirely) which let aggressive decks compete with control.
There was a good push and pull in this metagame. However this all changed once Sword of Feast and Famine was printed. Thanks to the sword U/W Control decks could achieve a favorable Valakut matchup without dedicating many slots at all. This in turn freed up slots for U/W decks to improve their aggro matchups.
Valakut's presence makes Jace the Mind Sculptor as strong as it is. All of the aggro decks have to go fast and hard or else they cannot beat Valakut. Because the aggressive decks are so similar to one another this means that U/W decks can easily load up on spells that are good against all of the (viable) aggressive decks. If people started building aggro decks to beat Caw-Blade they'd become too slow to compete against Valakut.
The reason RUG did so well in Dallas is because the deck plays Jace the Mind Sculptor and it has a good matchup against Caw-Blade. While Caw-Blade gets to prey on Valakut RUG gets to prey on Caw-Blade. This is the normal progression of a metagame.
The only problem is that Valakut is so heavily played that there really isn't much room to go from here. I think we'll be stuck in this rock-paper-scissors metagame for a while unless the next set changes things or a banning does occur.
Jace the Mind Sculptor would be weakened if Valakut were banned from the format. This would open the door to more green-based aggro decks and would make the format a lot healthier. Even a deck like Mono-White Aggro which just goes big would be able to compete against Caw-Blade – but it's unable to be played currently since it could never dream of beating Valakut. There are numerous decks just like this waiting to be unleashed on the metagame if given the chance.
Jace just has the target on its head because it does such a good job at beating the Valakut decks. Think about what would actually happen if they banned Jace the Mind Sculptor. Valakut would rule the format once again and things would be way less interesting than they are right now.
The thing that people don't think about is that losing to Valakut is much worse than losing to Caw-Blade. I know it doesn't feel that way to most because of how we remember things. Valakut beats us quickly and we move on. Caw-Blade does it in a slow grinding way that can take many turns. It feels much worse to sit around and watch a Jace the Mind Sculptor gradually take over the game than it does to scoop to triggers from one of the most powerful lands ever printed.
But the fact is the games are more fun and more interesting against Jace decks than they are against Valakut decks.
So to recap I think that Jace the Mind Sculptor is a very powerful card that shares many traits of cards that have been banned before – but it's only problematic because of the grip that Valakut has on the format. Ban Valakut and Jace gets weaker. It's just that simple.
Regionals is this weekend and I cannot wait to see what happens. Regionals is one of the best tournaments of the year because Nationals is so much fun. The chance to play on the Nationals team has been a dream of mine since I started playing this game and I just get more bloodthirsty for it every year that passes.
I know that this is a very awkward time to tell you what I would play but I wouldn't play anything other than Caw-Blade this weekend. This is the list I would play if I were competing.
The most interesting thing about this list is that I'm only playing with one Day of Judgment in my entire 75. Josh Utter-Leyton was trying to talk me out of playing this card at the Grand Prix and I would not listen. He was correct and I played the entire tournament regretting my decision. I do think that one is a good number since it's an out to random situations. Drawing live is always a plus.
Originally I wasn't playing any Baneslayer Angels but it works very nicely as a part of my anti-aggro strategy. Day of Judgment is not really good against the existing aggro decks so I'm instead trying to slow them down with cheap one-for-ones like Condemn and Oust. This usually sets up some amazing turn 5 Baneslayer Angel plays.
Play slow and consciously.
Win some matches.
Have a great time.