Filthy Brain Games

Brewer of the century Matt Higgs has been picking his brain for even more great ideas for your #SCGCOL Classic…and he has a familiar friend helping him this week!

At most every junction in Standard, there always seems to be a choice for you to make. Will you play the best deck in the format, or will you play the deck that beats the best deck in the format? The match up-oriented questions have changed over the years, but there are frequently two main choices for a player looking to compete at the highest level in Magic: aggro or control? Jund or Cruel Ultimatum? Goblin Guide or Cryptic Command?

Now that decision has arisen again; do we drive down the vehicles path, or aim for the long-game via Delirium?

The outliers are not nearly as consistent or, frankly, as fun as these two options, so folks looking for a competitive list have generally fallen on these two. But, as always, there’s a third option: do something new. There’s always, if you will, a grey area.

Think about it. Brain in a Jar and its colorless nature provide it the flexibility and enjoyment needed for any color combination. Brain in a Jar has already been tested before, and almost all of those same pieces exist, if you want them. The ability to cast sorceries at instant speed means that Brain in a Jar remains relevant at any point in the game, making the spells you have better.

Brain in a Jar is full of promise and hope, and several decks have already leveraged these folds into fortune. Every instant and sorcery printed gives us another option, and the more powerful the effect, the better the Brain gets.

Brain in a Jar has already seen prominence thanks to spells like Rise from the Tides and Engulf the Shore, so which spells from Kaladesh can help grey matter?

Wait, what?

Brain in a Jar’s main weakness is the time and energy it takes to get to its most powerful spells. Hijack and Dramatic Reversal have one critical word: “untap.” Each of these spells can be cast with a low-level Brain in a Jar, and it allows you to untap the Brain in a Jar to activate it again, skipping a turn and getting you closer to the payoff that you always hope for when sleeving those synapses up.

At the top end of a deck, these spells each provide power and fun. At the end of the day, the spells you cast in this way should win the game.

Let’s work this brain with some untapping!


In the end, only one creature stood out to me to be worth inclusion in the maindeck: Glint-Nest Crane. This Sea Gate Oracle for artifacts combines a nice pair of wings with a way to dig deep into your deck for an on-time Brain in a Jar. “On-time” can be turn 3, as you can cast and activate it in the same move. This deck is considerably weaker and less fun without its leader, Brain in a Jar, so we have to concede some of our deckbuilding synergy and velocity towards consistency.


Brain in a Jar is all about the spells it allows, so this is a critical section, and the numbers matter. Clutch of Currents, while a bit sluggish in many applications, is exactly what we want: a one-mana removal spell that can hit any creature. Its sorcery speed is mitigated by Brain in a Jar; a freshly cast Brain can make this instantaneous and easier to cast (you can use a Mountain to cast it instead). Hijack, while not normally removal, absolutely is removal here. If your opponent attacks with a creature that another one of its creatures could kill, you can two-for-one when you flash it in via Brain in a Jar to block. It happens more often than you might think, and your opponent won’t be able to help but to play around it after they see it the first time.

Cathartic Reunion and Geistblast are perfect partners. Cathartic Reunion is one of the most powerful digging cards in Standard, facilitating the movement of five other cards from one zone to another. The cost is steep, and the risk is high (a lowly Negate three-for-ones you), but to sift deep through your deck for the best spells for two mana, I’m willing to take a chance. Geistblast really drives the plan home. Because you’re not spending as much mana casting your strongest spells, you’ll have plenty of mana left over to amplify those game-ending spells. Devils’ Playground is fun when it makes four Devils, but how about eight Devils? The combat math becomes very difficult (and hilarious) at that point.

Hedron Archive is a bit odd, but the ability to charge a Brain in a Jar (or two), combined with the ability to hit it with Glint-Nest Crane gives this deck another way to cast its biggest spells, and it can help you get to awaken with Part the Waterveil!

Before building Brain in a Jar’s sideboard, I tried the deck out, determined to build a sideboard after some actual testing.

With this time of year being particularly busy, I only gathered basic data and feedback from a few close friends willing to humor with yet another Brain in a Jar deck. First thing I noticed? Devils’ Playground was way better than I thought it’d be. With the exception of boogey-vehicle Smuggler’s Copter, lots of things sit on the ground, and there aren’t many decks these days that go wide enough to stop this many devils. Secondly, this deck was very consistent. Cathartic Reunion, cracked Hedron Archives, and Glint-Nest Crane all helped me make sure that exactly what I wanted in my hand was either there or within reach. Brain in a Jar comes with a very relevant scry ability, as well, but using that ability effectively took some practice.

The deck was weakest against control, where the few threats it had could be countered and its Wandering Fumaroles easily fissured. Out of the sideboard, I’d need considerably more threats and better ways to answer theirs.

Confirm Suspicions seemed like it had the highest upside. Between countering a spell with a high-counter Brain in the Jar and stapling on an at-will Concentrate, this seemed like the answer of choice, now that Eldrazi and their cast triggers have fallen aside a bit. Thermo-Alchemist, in lieu of some of the do-nothing artifacts like Hedron Archive, can provide additional threats and is harder to deal with after the opponent sides out their Grasp of Darkness and Incendiary Flow. Plus, the untap triggers for spells like Hijack stack, so you can convert Hijack into extra damage with a couple Thermo-Alchemists out.

Harnessed Lightning and Fiery Temper both deal with Smuggler’s Copter, and Fiery Temper can be cast cheaply with either Brain in a Jar or as a madness spell with Cathartic Reunion. The deck can change significantly post-board, and these two removal spells help normalize it.

This deck had its issues, but it was really fun to play, and Brain in a Jar continues to be one of my favorite artifacts in Standard. For those worried about the economics of picking up a third deck, this deck is also very affordable, with two colors, no planeswalkers, and only a couple mythics.

Comments from Last Week

Amongst many kind remarks, my colleague Emma Handy responded to my article with some excellent deckbuilding advice.

“…I think the reason Colossus wasn’t good in your Mono-Black list is that it didn’t play to Colossus’ strengths particularly well. Shaving Sanctum of Ugin chains and Vehicles is a recipe to dilute the potency of free ten-power colorless creatures.

If you were to stick to a mono-black approach to the deck, I’d strongly recommend upping the Skysovereigns and Caravan (and the end of your article implies that Caravan will get the full-playset treatment in the next iteration of the deck), and reintroduce Sanctum of Ugin in conjunction with an emerge creature or two. A portion of games are won on the back of the advantage that Elder Deep-Fiend provides in conjunction with the built-in recursion that Metalwork Colossus provides. It isn’t particularly hard for me to imagine a grindier version of the deck like this making great use of Distended Mindbender in the same way.

I’m glad the deck played reasonably for you. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at an SCG Open event by a significant margin, so I hope the deck was at the very least a fun deck to play 🙂 You’re awesome and I love your stuff, even if I don’t always take the time to comment!

Thanks for your thoughts, Emma! Enjoy your stuff, too!

Emma helped reign me in on what often proves to be a difficult issue for my decks and strategy in general: focus. The cantrip cards like Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot and Prophetic Prism are fine, but they don’t do much. Since publishing the article last week, I have cut Prophetic Prism, closing the door on the splash a bit, and adding Skysovereign, Consul Flagship in higher quantities, a decision that has played out very well. Emma’s suggestions were apt, and the deck is better now that its focus is on free 10/10s.

Dumb idea: You know who really, really likes having high-CMC, self-discounting creatures? Combustible Gearhulk. Surely there’s some sort of red discount Madness (“clearance sale?”) deck waiting to be built. Ditto for Sorin, Grim Nemesis; he likes “Bob”-ing for Colossi too.

– Daniel Nettleton

Love the idea, Daniel. Though, to be fair, I’d call it a”Fire Sale.”

Combustible Gearhulk has been on my mind lately in a Refurbish build with cards like Cathartic Reunion to fill the graveyard and give great targets. Mardu seems an appropriate color combo, too. I like the idea of curving Skysovereign, Consul Flagship into Combustible Gearhulk, giving them a terrible choice, then smashing with the Flagship.

Sees Woodland Wanderer deck… can’t pay attention to anything else going on in the article. LOL

– Craig Michael

You and me both, Craig. That deck was, and is, sick.

Brain in a Jar will continue to cultivate itself as an alternative to the current system. This, admittedly, is only one deck, and it only touches on two colors, but that’s about all the time I have in a given week. White, green, and black all have options, too. What has your recent brewing with Brain in a Jar included?