Last time I presented CAB JaceTM to you
, a deck I think is perfectly positioned in the current metagame. Why? Because the major decks being played are Counterbalance, X and Taxes, Goblins,
and Fish, exactly the decks CAB Jace is designed to prey on. For those that missed the article, here’s the decklist once
My last article got roughly the responses I expected: Some interest in the deck, suggestions on how to change it, and disbelief concerning the deck’s
actual viability. As I said last time, yes, I know the deck looks really weird. I was also going to talk at length about possible tweaks to both the
sideboard and maindeck and provide you with a few in-game situations to get a feel for the deck, but the article is already 5000 words (as of finishing
the matchup guide), and I don’t feel like getting to 6000 today, so instead I’ll pass them out as bonus snippets at the end of my next few articles.
I’ll however finish each section with a short list of additional cards that have proven to be valuable during testing or tournament play. If you have
specific questions or suggestions, I’ll be happy to answer in the forums, though.
Today, I’ll go over the major matchups I’d expect to see, providing you with the game plan appropriate to each matchup and the main threats to look out
for. I’ll also give sideboarding plans, though I suggest you don’t follow my words slavishly. There are always situations in Magic when you can’t
follow the plan you would 90% of the time, simply because of how the cards fall. In a dedicated control deck such as this, being flexible enough to
adapt your plans to the situation at hand is of the utmost importance. In addition, every player I know plays a given deck slightly differently, and
his plans have to reflect that to provide optimal value. Finally, your sideboard should probably be different from mine because you know more about
your metagame than I do, so prepare for it.
Playing the Abomination
One thing I’d like to address before going over specific matchups is the role Cunning Wish plays while sideboarding. In many matchups, you don’t need
the specific solutions provided by the Wishes, and the card itself can be quite clunky. A prime candidate to board out, right? Well, it depends. The
problem is that this deck is vulnerable to Pithing Needle on Engineered Explosives (EE), followed by a second on Jace. If you suspect your opponent
might have Needles, it’s therefore advisable to keep at least one Wish around (with the amount of filtering the deck has and the time you can buy,
finding a one-of is quite possible). If they don’t, and you don’t think you’ll need Dismantling Blow, Wing Shards, Extirpate, or Pulse of the Fields,
replacing some of the cards I suggest boarding out with Wishes is often a good idea. Now let’s get to the meat!
Your goal here is to stay alive long enough to let either Punishing Fire recursion or Forbid take over the game. As such, try to maximize your chances
for either to happen. Slow-roll Groves so that Wastelands hit something else; make sure you fetch for a lot of red mana, and don’t forget to use the
synergy between Swords and Fire. If a Jace comes down, you should Brainstorm until you can get either dominating engine online before starting to
fateseal. Also, don’t be afraid to run out an early Jace to soak up some damage and get a Brainstorm out of the deal; the games usually turn into huge
card-advantage fights, meaning you’ll have time to draw into another one.
Mazes are pretty fragile because Goblins usually has both Ports and Wastelands, so you shouldn’t rely on them to stay alive. In particular, Force a
first-turn Lackey you can’t immediately kill even if you could just drop a Maze to hold it off.
Speaking of FoW, its role is to stop first-turn Lackeys you can’t handle otherwise, Goblin Ringleaders, and Siege-Gang Commanders. Don’t counter Vial.
Your removal engines and the four Explosives make it easy enough to either play through Vial or deal with it before it becomes really dangerous (on
four, when they start hitting Ringleaders).
When sideboarding, you want your Needles (set them to Wasteland; this is correct most of the time even if they have a Vial) and the fourth Punishing
Fire. What comes out is more difficult because the maindeck is already that good against them. I usually shave numbers a little, cutting Treasure
Hunts, Tops, and Mazes. With Fire-Grove, you can even remove a Forbid if you feel like it (before the recursive removal was added, locking Goblins
under Forbid was the main way you’d win).
Another tribal deck, another matchup where Fire-Grove shines, so remember the tricks mentioned for Goblins. Other than that, though, the matchup plays
out quite differently. Instead of a long, drawn-out war for card advantage, you’ll usually be able to ramp them out rapidly by fatesealing away their
good creatures (aka not Cursecatcher) and Wastelands (to protect Mazes) once Jace can come down and live. If the board has been cleared, Fish simply
doesn’t have the drawing power to crawl back into the match.
The main ways you lose to Fish involve either Kira, Great Glass-Spinner (yeah ironic the one non-Merfolk in the deck is actually their best creature)
or what I like to refer to as “Merfolk’s combo-kill” – turn 1 Vial into turn 2 Standstill.
Kira is mainly a problem if she was slow-rolled for exactly the right moment. What Merfolk needs her to do is come down before the recursion has dealt
with their board but after you have taken enough damage to make one or two swings lethal. Because she disables Mazes, she allows for big alpha-strikes
from boards that were completely stalled beforehand, and afterwards you usually need a full turn to deal with her. That means another Merfolk or
Mutavault played during the same turn as Kira is often enough to deal the few missing points of damage the turn after the big attack. There aren’t many
ways to play around her; mainly make sure you don’t milk your Mazes for maximum card advantage before deploying Engineered Explosives to clean the
board and kill things in response to Vial on three being activated.
Vial into Standstill is, in my experience, something most decks won’t beat (hence the “combo” moniker) because it provides Fish with both
the tempo and the necessary cards in hand to drop a fast clock while countering twice. Your best chance of beating it is usually to break the
Standstill during their end step with some form of removal as soon as you can play around Daze. If they don’t clock you incredibly fast, it’s usually
worth waiting until you’ve hit three mana before playing your first Maze so that you’re ready to break the Standstill at will while slowing down the
damage or by drawing a bunch of Mazes while they have a non-ideal creature draw.
Some things to look out for:
Break Standstill during their end step. It’s usually worth taking the damage of another attack, so they can’t redeploy on the same turn, giving you
time to use your spot removal to clear out their current offense and keep it at a point where Mazes can handle it afterwards.
Their best Lord isn’t Lord of Atlantis but Merrow Reejerey. You don’t block anyway, and Reejerey allows them to take combo-like turns or, particularly
annoying, tap your Mazes. So when in doubt, kill the Merrow.
Maze is a lot better against Fish than against Goblins (value it higher accordingly) because they only have Wastelands to kill it (Reejerey should die
anyway), and they usually have fewer creatures that hit harder. Mazes also allow you to kill Kira without losing card advantage (Maze it, the ability
gets countered, then hit it with removal).
Try to Fire things in response to Vial activations, so that they can’t Vial in Lords to save their guys. In the same vein, if they have an open Vial,
Fire the one-toughness guys instead of Lords if you don’t also have some way to deal with a Vialed-in Lord.
After game one, you transform into a board-control deck. Take out Forces (the only thing worth 2-for-1ing yourself against is their “combo
kill”) and Forbid (you don’t need the lock, and they are clunky) for REBs (Red Elemental Blast), the Punishing Fire, and Needles.
Other solid sideboard options: More Blasts, Firespout.
If you lose to Zoo, it’s almost always because a) they had 10+ points of burn resolve or b) Sylvan Library went online, so those are the two things you
should concentrate on avoiding losing to. Hold your Forces back if at all possible; play Mazes early, and do whatever else allows you to prevent
damage, even if you give up on possible card advantage. Use removal other than EE if you can; that way, you have an answer to Library available without
using up a counter. Maze also is insane here because it deals with the big guys (making Punishing Fire more relevant) and forces them to overextend
This is the matchup where Pulse of the Fields really shines (another reason Sylvan is so annoying), so try to set up for it. Use your Groves for
colored mana whenever you tap them, and don’t Fire your opponent at end of turn just because you can. If you get them to thirty life and find a Wish,
the game usually ends right there. Basically, if you can just keep trading one for one without taking too much damage, you’ll Wish into Pulse or drop a
Jace at some point and ramp them out in short order. For a deck built on consistency, Zoo is surprisingly weak to an active Mind Sculptor fatesealing
away the burn, so profit from that.
I usually remove a Punishing Fire and a Forbid for the Negates in the sideboard. You want to have a counterspell for Sylvan, Fireblast, and Price of
Progress that you can keep open as easily as possible (Spell Snare would be excellent for this matchup) and are otherwise well set up against them.
Punishing Fires are weak early because so many of their creatures survive it (reconsider for Steppe Lynx/Goblin Guide builds) but are a solid tool
later on to keep their creatures from overwhelming your Mazes, especially once you have five mana to double-Fire Nacatls and Kird Apes.
Other solid sideboard options: Blue Elemental Blast, Hydroblast, Firespout, Vindicate, Samite Ministration, Spell Snare, Perish, Nature’s Claim (so
that Wish can kill Sylvan for four mana, needs a Tropical)
Hold your counters for Glimpse, Intuition, and Natural Order (or Regal Force, if that comes up). If they can’t combo you out in some way, the fact that
most of their deck gets killed by Explosives for one and Punishing Fire makes this pretty easy. They don’t even have Wasteland to break up your
There isn’t really much boarding you want to do; bring in the Negates and the Punishing Fire for two Mazes and a Treasure Hunt, so that you’re better
at fighting the combo plans. If they have Vengevines, you can consider bringing in the Crypt for another Treasure Hunt, though I’d probably rely on
Wish->Extirpate and your Swords to take care of that problem.
White Weenie/Death and Taxes/Green and Taxes
Even though this is not a Tribal deck, the matchup plays out quite similarly to the one against Fish only without the Standstills. Their ways to beat
you are creature-based (Mangara/Dark Confidant/Knight of the Reliquary), so if you can keep your Mazes and Groves around while holding back a Swords,
they don’t really stand much of a chance. Their small creatures die, and the big ones can’t find their way out of the Labyrinth. They’re also really
bad at dealing with Jace because most of their creatures are so small, and Mangara rarely gets to lose summoning sickness (try to keep some form of
instant removal around all the time so they can’t Vial him in end of turn).
Board Needle for Wastelands and Mangara, remove some countermagic and you’re good to go for game two. Depending on the version, the fourth Punishing
Fire might want to come in (if they’re all small guys because they don’t run green).
Other solid sideboard options: I honestly haven’t tested anything specifically against these, though I’m quite sure Sower of Temptation and Control
Magic would be pretty sick
They’re rather slow for an aggro deck, so you can often leverage your removal into getting a Jace down, at which point continuous Brainstorming will
allow you to keep up even with Loam as long as they haven’t hit a Wasteland. If you ever get Forbid online, you’ve just trumped Loam (keep countering
it; if they keep dredging it, they’ll deck first; if they don’t, their draw engine is dead), and if you can Extirpate either Wastelands or Loams,
you’ll do fine. If they Wastelock you early, concede rapidly, so that you can bring in Needles. Don’t overload on graveyard hate; your problem with
Loam is really the Wasteland recursion, so if you can deal with that, you should be fine. Therefore, Needle Wasteland more than once (if they know
about the Needles, they’ll bring in Krosan Grip) and rely on your removal/Mazes to stop their creatures. Once you hit a Jace, the game usually goes
downhill for them pretty fast.
If they don’t have Confidant, I take out all the Punishing Fires (nothing they have really cares), otherwise I usually remove a mix of Forces and Fires
for Needles and the singleton Crypt. Yes, just having another out to Bob is worth having an otherwise pretty useless card in the deck.
The only way you should lose to modern builds (without Decree) is their sticking a Jace too early for you to deal with or by getting Waste-locked. If
you don’t give them openings to do either, it’s usually smooth sailing. Buyback Forbid with random removal whenever possible; you’ll find more before
they can put you on a relevant clock, and if they can’t counter back, their knowing about Forbid slows the game down to a crawl – exactly where
you want it to be, as you have more Jaces and Fire-Grove, which they simply can’t beat outside of extremely rare situations.
Don’t counter Standstill (on an empty board); Wastelands and Mazes make it hard for them to force you to break the Standstill at inopportune moments,
meaning it usually only loots once you Fire them during their end step.
Sideboarding is very build dependent but invariably starts off by removing your Swords to Plowshares (StPs) for Negates, one REB, and one other card
you fancy, most often Forbid if you don’t need Needles or graveyard hate. I like keeping one blast in the sideboard because it allows you to have more
ways to kill Jace thanks to the Wishes.
There are three different decks that fall into this category, but all of them play out similarly. Against regular Counterbalance decks without Jace or
Natural Order, you’re already set up perfectly, and you should rarely drop a game against them. They have to get the lock early and kill you through
your Mazes before you can resolve an Explosives or Jace through Counterbalance, something they pull off very rarely. Depending on their creature
count/choices, I usually don’t sideboard at all or at the most bring in a REB/Negate for the third Fire.
Against the Natural Order version, the situation is similar, but they now have a way to win. If they get off Natural Order early enough, you’ll die
because you need a Wish to deal with it. So what you should concentrate on is preparing for the big counter war over Natural Order. Stockpile Forces
and Forbids ignoring anything that won’t kill you. During sideboarding, a mix of Punishing Fires and Swords should come out for the REBs and Negates.
Finally, there are the true control versions of Counterbalance with few creatures and Jaces. Again, the matchup basically revolves around their
four-mana spell because the rest of their deck is hard-pressed to kill you. They usually have more countermagic (especially post-board with REBs) than
the Natural Order versions, which means keeping Jace off the table is harder than stopping Order. On the other hand, you can deal with Jace far more
easily than you can deal with Progenitus: he can be Fired away, Exploded, or Jaced. Still, if they get a Jace down under Counterbalance, you’re in
trouble, which in turn makes their lock far more relevant than in the other versions. Definitely the hardest version to beat but still favorable. Your
sideboarding plan remains the same; take out removal, and stock up on countermagic.
Their threats are Crucible (because of the Waste-lock), Smokestack, and Armageddon, so try to keep countermagic up as often as possible while ignoring
their other lock pieces. Engineered Explosives is your MVP here because it gets around Sphere effects quite easily (if you announce it for zero, and
Spheres force you to pay more, the additional colors still count for sunburst) and allows you to blow up multiple permanents at once and makes it so
that they need a really large number of Chalices to lock you out (you can get around Chalice at zero by using colorless mana for the x-cost).
Board Negates and Needles for Fires and a few Swords; the remaining Swords, Mazes, and EEs leave you with enough defense even if they board into a
creature plan, and Mazes can be sacced to Smokestack in a pinch.
Stop their Enchantress effects, and their deck crumbles. Don’t stop them, and they’ll crush you. You’re roughly equal in Enchantress effects versus
things that stop them (4 Presence, 4 Argothian, 4 Sterling Grove vs. six counters, 4 Explosives, and 2 Wishes that can deal only with Presence), but
you have a lot more ways to dig for your answers while they have Replenish for the blowout. They can’t really do much about you sticking Jace on four,
though, which is sweet because he will find you whatever answers you need quite rapidly. Forbid is really good here because it makes bad cards
(removal) into good cards (counters) and provides the lock late game (as does Ruins EE), freeing Jace to put the game away.
Post-board, they have pretty sick hate (Choke and City of Solitude) while you get some more countermagic and ways to stop Replenish instead of your
useless removal (Fire stays because it fuels Forbid). Overall, this is a very close matchup that will be decided by play skill and how good they are at
drawing Enchantress effects.
Uhm, pray they mulligan to one every game? If that doesn’t work, try to make each game take as long as possible by countering discard outlets and using
your removal. Hopefully, you can win one of the first two games by hitting graveyard hate early enough. If you do, there’s a solid chance you’ll be
able to pull off the draw simply because you’re so good at killing things.
Board anything that can counter their enablers or work as graveyard hate while removing a mix of Jaces, Treasure Hunts, Forbids, and the Wishes. This
is the one matchup I board out Jace; he’s extremely slow, and you usually don’t actually need to kill a Dredge player; they deck themselves faster than
Your best bet for game one is that they try to win with Empty the Warrens while you have EE or go for an unprotected turn 1 win while you have a Force.
Otherwise, represent countermagic as much as possible to stall until Forbid comes online, which at least makes things complicated for them. Top is your
best friend here because it allows you to float a counter safe from discard.
During sideboarding, take out as much of your removal as possible for cards that might do something at least. Needle can name fetchlands (or Top
against Doomsday); graveyard hate messes with Ill-Gotten Gains and Cabal Ritual (Extirpate on Infernal is actually very good against the U/B version),
while REBs hit cantrips. Your whole plan here is to slow them down until Forbid gets going, so anything that helps a little is appreciated.
You can’t board out all fifteen removal spells, which means EE usually stays in because it can mess with LED and Top (if they have Doomsday). The first
things to go are Mazes; afterwards, you have to make a judgment call. If you suspect creatures, Swords are still the most efficient defense because
they allow you to kill Swarm or Bob while still representing countermagic. Punishing Fire, on the other hand, fuels Forbid and can be used as a win con
that doesn’t make you tap mana main phase, which is obviously better if they don’t have creatures but might cost you if they do. Either way, you’ll
have to get lucky to win this without a lot of additional countermagic in the board.
We’re still missing an agreed-on list here, but the matchup is pretty bad either way. If they try to Snap their Cloud of Faeries, you’re looking good,
and if they only have four Forces to deal with Forbid, that gives you a viable path to victory. Post-board, if they still have less than eight
counters, the Forbid plan works out surprisingly often, so there is hope. If they’re Solidarity, though, you’ll just have to hope they fizzle.
Sadly, I can’t tell you what to counter because that depends on which resource they’re short on, so generally applicable strategic advice is limited to
“don’t tap out” and “counter Time Spiral, duh.”
Again, bring in everything that might be useful for your removal, only this time keep Punishing Fire over anything else. The other twelve removal
spells don’t interact with them at all, so Fire is clearly the pick (if they run Snap, StP is probably better than some of the marginal cards you would
board in, too).
This is probably your best combo matchup simply because all your removal but Maze is actually good (Fire may not kill Painter, but every list I’ve seen
has Welder, Magus of the Moon, or both). Strategically, this is pretty easy: Don’t tap out, drop Explosives on one as soon as there is a Grindstone on
the table, kill Painter on sight, and avoid getting tricked by whatever shenanigans they try to pull (Welder, Intuition, etc).
Bring in additional countermagic and Needles, and I’m quite sure this is actually somewhat favorable post-board. Take this assumption with a grain of
salt, though, as I have only a very few games to go on.
Another matchup that is much better than ANT but still nothing you want to run into regularly. Jace can answer Show and Tell for things that aren’t
Progenitus, Maze makes Sneak Attack a lot weaker. General anti-combo plans apply; take out removal for anything that could prove useful. Here, Mazes
are likely better than Fire and StP.
Considering this is a combo deck, your matchup is surprisingly good. The reason I personally wouldn’t touch Belcher in any tournament I care about is
that it has such a hard time beating Force of Will. Sure, sometimes you can combo through it, but most of the time, it just ruins you. Against CAB Jace
in particular, Belcher is further hindered by the fact that Empty the Warrens isn’t going to get there a lot of the time (four Explosives) and the
availability of Forbid, which practically ends the game once it comes online, meaning all the removal isn’t really much worse here than the creatures
other blue decks have. You may not put them on an actual clock, but your draw engine is a clock in itself. Stopping their first attempt usually
translates into an easy win, so mulligan very aggressively.
Post-board, things get even better as you get to board in more countermagic and Needles while they slow down to get a few answers that their deck is
not particularly well set up to use. Remove Mazes first, followed by Fires. Leave in all the Swords to deal with possible Swarms (if you happen to have
eight cards that are excellent against them, cutting one StP is fine, I guess), and definitely don’t cut EEs, as they allow you to deal with Goblins or
kill their mana.
New Horizons/Team America
If they don’t get to kill your Mazes, you should be fine. So hold them back till you need them; don’t shuffle them away with Brainstorm or Top; Force
Sinkholes, and do whatever else you can to keep them around. This is the reason that, against Horizons, Knight of the Reliquary is their number-one
threat – it fetches more Wastelands. There isn’t all that much to say about the matchup that’s very different to what you’re supposed to do with
any deck. Get basics; play around Stifle; protect your lands until you have enough mana; bait Wasteland with your least useful lands; you know the
drill. Once you’ve established your mana base, you usually win without much difficulty because they run so few actual threats; getting there is the
I usually bring in Needles for Punishing Fires (they don’t have relevant targets) and additionally switch out Forbids for Negate against Team America
(Horizons has more creatures and fewer spells you need to counter early, so I’m less likely to bring in Negate).
This has its own category because of the combination of Mongooses and burn. Their Goyfs and Cliques die with sweet regularity, but Mongoose is a pain.
You only have Explosives (and Wish) to deal with it, which takes time, meaning you end up low on life and get burned out a lot. Your plan here is to
fight over Mongoose as hard as possible, and you should Wish for the unlikely Pulse of the Fields if given the opportunity to get it online. Board the
same as for Team America, but use REB instead of Negate. You might even consider cutting a Jace and a Treasure Hunt (you rarely have the ability to set
these up early enough to matter) for additional countermagic.
Junk/Black disruption decks
This plays out very similarly to New Horizons or Team America; only this time, your stuff doesn’t get stifled but Vindicated, and your spells aren’t
countered but discarded, making it easier to fight their disruption with Brainstorm and Top. They also have Dark Confidant, making Punishing Fire
better. Again, protect your Mazes, kill Knights, build up your mana base, and things should work out.
I board Negates and Needles for Forbids, a FoW, and two Fires, though taking out two Forces of Will instead of two Punishing Fires is also a viable
plan because you don’t want to help them empty your hand, and Fire kills Confidant (recurring it also makes Hymn weaker).
There are probably a dozen other decks in Legacy you might run into, but this covers quite a large spectrum and addresses pretty much any real deck
I’ve played against in a long time. I know Affinity is missing, but I haven’t had time to test against it yet (it’s far less played here than it seems
to be in the States, making it a low priority – and it also explains why I haven’t run into it yet). Simply from experience with the deck and
seeing Affinity in action, it seems like a lot depends on how explosive an opening hand Affinity gets. Hitting double black to move around Plating in
response to Maze also seems important. Considering creature size in the typical Affinity list, though, I wouldn’t be scared, as the removal should slow
them down until Fire can kill anything Maze doesn’t stop. At that point, you only need to make sure Ravager and Disciple don’t hit the board at the
same time, and you should be good.
If there’s anything else I’ve forgotten, let me know in the forums, and I’ll remedy that. For those interested in playing the deck, I hope this helps
you get started and makes the task of learning how to play the deck less daunting. Maybe seeing the actual game plans will even have convinced a few of
the doubters that there is method to my madness. If you like playing long, drawn-out control games during which all the options get stripped from your
opponents by and by, give the deck a try. You’ll be happy you did!
That’s it for today; see you next time when I’ll talk about something that has nothing at all to do with this deck. Until then, ramp, ramp, ramp the