Innovations – Jace, the Mind Sculptor In All Formats

Monday, March 15th – Jace, the Mind Sculptor is proving to be a hit across a number of Constructed formats. Patrick Chapin is one of the card’s biggest fans, and today he suggests strategies and decklists that utilize the powerful planeswalker in everything from Block Constructed to Vintage!

Today, I thought I would talk about Jace, the Mind Sculptor (for a change, hehe). Let’s start with Block Constructed and work our way up, as I think New Jace has potential in each of the major Constructed formats.

U/W Block
Patrick Chapin

4 Treasure Hunt
3 Into the Roil
4 Cancel
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Rite of Replication
1 Summoner’s Bane
4 Sphinx of Lost Truths
1 Vapor Snare

4 Journey to Nowhere
4 Day of Judgment

4 Everflowing Chalice

4 Halimar Depths
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Sejiri Refuge
1 Kabira Crossroads
2 Tectonic Edge
4 Plains
3 Island
2 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn

2 Archive Trap
4 Hedron Crab
4 Kor Firewalker
4 Devout Lightcaster

1 Spell Contortion

From the sound of things, U/W Control is the second most popular archetype in the currently underplayed Block Constructed format. The format is not being focused on, as it will not be a major tournament format until Rise of the Eldrazi finally hits, but in the meantime there are certainly a number of gamers that are looking for a way to escape the trap of continual Jund mirror matches and a Thopter/Sword DD and Zoo metagame.

The primary strategy is similar to the Standard version, with Sphinx of Lost Truths helping cover for Mind Spring, and plenty of random filler cards trying to make up for the lack of good countermagic. One of the most interesting features of the format is how narrow it is. With Vampires dominating, and only U/W as an additional major archetype, you can be sure that the majority of opponents you face in every event will be one or the other, leading to very hoser-based metagame moves by people (such as the Mill sideboard plan). Mono-Red aggro, Valakut, and White Weenie all make appearances, but none are particularly popular.

I am waiting until Rise of the Eldrazi to really sink my teeth into Block, but I thought it prudent to include Block Constructed in my Tour de Jace, for posterity’s sake.

Next up, Standard…

As you can see, Yuuya has made a couple of minor changes, the most notable of these being the addition of two Elsepth, Knight-Errants, replacing Iona and a counterspell. Yuuya is -1 Cancel, -1 Negate, -1 Oblivion Ring, -1 Celestial Purge, -1 Iona, +1 Essence Scatter, +2 Path to Exile, +2 Elspeth. I would probably play this style if I was playing in an event tomorrow. However, I am planning on doing some particularly serious brewing before Grand Prix: Brussels.

One of the interesting things about control decks that 90% of players do wrong is not take into consideration that they must be fluid. You are a Blue Mage and must be like water, flowing around any obstacle, taking whatever form is necessary to envelop your adversary. Look how many different Five-Color Control decks that Gab, Wafo, Bucher, Parke, Shuhei, Gindy, and I played last year. Did people do well with Five-Color all year? Yes, there were some people that did well at each point, and interestingly, it was often the same people.

Was Five-Color the most winning deck in general? Okay, by the time Gindy, Yurchick, and Anderson showed up and swept the U.S. titles, Five-Color was fairly busted, being able to out-power and compete with consistency even against Faeries. However, in Block Constructed, Worlds 2008, Kyoto, and more, Five-Color often was not putting up the average finishes that Faeries, Boat Brew, or White Weenie was. What does this mean? Many might be quick to snap guess that “Five-Color is just so hard to play.” While that might be partially true, it is certainly not the only explanation. Besides, it is not about skill at Magic, it is about proficiency with this specific deck. I think I might have edge on Tomohiro Saito in the U/W or Five-Color mirror match, but he is MUCH better at Magic than I am. Do not mistake proficiency with Control decks as being “Good at Magic.” So many aspiring Control players tell themselves (and anyone that will listen) that playing a Control deck is some kind of “noble work.”

Many Control decks are difficult to pilot and very punishing if one missteps, so many extrapolate that this somehow means if you play a Control deck and don’t do well, it’s “okay because at I played a deck that requires a brain. Anyone could play Jund, etc.” What these people often fail to appreciate is that part of the skill of Magic is deciding what deck to play. If they try to play a control deck that is out of their proficiency range or that is so 4 weeks ago, that the metagame has shifted, then who “played better,” the guy losing with control or the guy winning with Jund?

To be clear, U/W is still awesome, and in fact, I think it is the best. What I am saying is that it is obvious that the proficiency required is high; what is not so obvious is that it is a very reactive strategy that was built during a time where no one was expecting it. Now, it is always in every single tournament player’s gauntlet. Jund, Boss Naya, and U/W are the three decks that stone cold everyone tests against. If you are just copy/pasting the list that we played in San Diego, you have to realize that just about every decent opponent you face will have logged in games against your exact list. How many games do you suppose you have logged against his or hers? Maybe they are playing Boss Naya or Gortzen’s Jund, but what if they aren’t?

One of the advantages that we had in San Diego was that our opponents did not know the pace of the games and how they would play out. It was not just that people would do things like Stoneforger up a Basilisk Collar expecting Wall of Denial. During the course of the game, opponents would not know the exact composition of our countermagic, our removal, our victory conditions. Many people thought they should be attacking our manabase, not realizing that is our strongest point. Others did not know what spells to counter. Do you counter Treasure Hunt?

Like with Five-Color decks of last year, U/W players (and stubborn Grixis mages) would do well to adjust their strategy, hit from a different direction. Let’s take a look at two competitors in Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur that did just that.

My fellow StarCityGames.com writers Brian Kibler and Sam Black showed up with a different twist on U/W Control. Pushing even further in the direction of Tron, they de-emphasized Jace, the Mind Sculptor, instead trying to get the most bang for their buck with the X-spells Mind Spring and Martial Coup. The Knight of the White Orchids (with Fieldmist Borderposts and Path to Exile) help provide additional mana to fuel their particularly powerful Stage 3. They both seemed to fair well against Jund and Naya, so it will be interesting to see if this style of U/W catches on. The primary differences between their lists were that Kibler had Spreading Seas and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, where Black had Iona(s!) and Divinations.

One particularly interesting feature was that in direct rebellion to the gaining popularity of the much maligned Cancel, Kibler and Black actually came with absolutely no maindeck permission, instead playing true tap-out U/W. I wonder how many of their opponent’s played around permission they never had?

Something important I want to mention is that this sort of U/W might be just the cure for mages out there that have tried their hand at U/W control and not found much success, but like the archetype. With the de-emphasizing Jace, removing Halimar Depths, Treasure Hunt, and no maindeck permission, as well as the ability to literally brute force people with X-spells, this is a FAR more forgiving build that does not force the pilot to make as many potentially game-losing decisions on a nearly turn by turn basis.

Now, this is to take nothing away from people that select such a strategy, just as we don’t think any less of people that shoot a lay-up instead of always taking 22-foot shots just inside the arc… it is simply a matter of choosing the shot you think is best given your situation. Kibler and Black are world class mages that can sink the 22-footers, but they both drove to the lane and it paid off. One would do well to not get stuck in the trap of trying to impress yourself or others with how hard a deck you pilot. You know what is far more impressive? Actually winning the tournament.

Personally, I think it is crazy to not play 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptors, but I am definitely interested to hear Kibler and Black’s thoughts on their decks later this week. Let’s continue on to the current PTQ format (and soon to be GP: Yokohama), Extended.

This NLU variant is untested, but it shows more ideas that I want to try for the new Extended. Whatever I play in Houston, there is a good chance that it will contain Jace, the Mind Sculptor. There isn’t too much that is revolutionary in this build, though I don’t know anyone that has mustered the moxie to try Treasure Hunt in Extended yet. It is very possible that Extended is just not a good home for Halimar Depths, at least not in this sort of Blue deck, but that is not to say that Ponder wouldn’t be, as I was liking Ponder even before Treasure Hunt.

I think that the manlands are going to start seeing more and more play in Extended, as people realize that they really are on the Treetop Village curve. I also think that this is an excellent time for Bant Charm, and that it is one of the stronger cards in the format. Imagine playing against Dark Depths and coming with 4 Path, 4 Bant Charm, 4 Cryptic Command, not to mention permission, card draw, and maybe even Threads and a fast clock. Whose Tarmogoyf is growing bigger than yours?

It may be that you want Extirpate type stuff to help combat Thopter-Sword, but that is going to take testing. Whatever you play, make sure you beat Thopter-Sword DD. It is a good deck, but it is much easier to hose than something like Jund in t2, which is just all good cards.

Next up, the winner of a PTQ side event at GP: Kuala Lumpur…

Okay sure, this deck doesn’t have any Jace, the Mind Sculptors in it, but you know what I want to try…

Chapman’s build is an interesting evolution of the Trinket Mage solution style of Extended deck, which always has a loyal following. If you are one of these people, you might do well to see what you can take away from his build. In addition, he really pushes the envelope with his abuse of the breakout hit, Stoneforger Mystic.

Stoneforging Basilisk Collar (works great with Trinket Mage to!) and Jitte is nothing new, but fetching Sword of the Meek to set up the Thopter-Sword combo is an exciting twist. Muddle the Mixture helps fight unfair decks like Hypergenesis, but also helps push towards this plan when needed.

One of the things that is so exciting about marrying the Trinket Mage strategy with the Stoneforger strategy is that those are two men who were born to carry equipment. One of my favorite articles I never wrote was “Appreciating Spellstutter: Someone Has To Carry The Jitte.” Faeries is no longer the powerhouse it was, but I remember so many times discussing decks with people that would end up cutting the Vendilions, eventually leading one to want to cut the Spellstutters. Right around this time, they would look down, see they have 6 guys and wonder what happened. “You know, someone has to carry the Jitte…”

The point is that there is a very real value to these cheap bodies that don’t cost a card, especially when you have three different pieces of equipment (and if you have any shame at all when equipping a Stoneforger with a Sword of the Meek to hold off a Nacatl, you need to get over it!).

Two important take-aways:

1) Stoneforger is the real deal. The White Trinket Mage, this guy is very strong, potentially fetching even more powerful cards, while providing a body at a cheaper cost. There is definitely a part of me that keeps imagining using his activated ability to put a Tatsumasa onto the battlefield, but I am also a small child.
2) Muddle the Mixture is one of the best counterspells in the format. It does most of the work Negate does (another great counterspell, right now), but also provides an incredible library selection element to a lot of decks that really appreciate it. Two-mana spells are incredible in Extended (just look at Spell Snare), and this is a versatile way to get a lot more consistency out of your deck. I think more decks than just Thopter-Sword would do well to consider playing more Muddles these days.

Continuing our ascension towards ever more powerful formats, we reach the second most powerful “real” format, the increasingly popular Legacy.

This is just a prototype, but there are a number of thinking points to consider. First of all, having a strong Enlightened Tutor package doesn’t mean you have to go all out and run 4 Enlightened Tutors. Maybe it’s crazy, given that you are already going to all the trouble of running the bullets, but part of that is that with Brainstorms, Treasure Hunts, Tops, Scroll Rack, and Jace, you have a lot of ways to find what you are looking for. If you think that Halimar Depths with Treasure Hunt is good, try Brainstorm (which literally becomes Ancestral Recall).

Sensei’s Divining Top is obviously awesome in this capacity, but one of the most exciting Treasure Hunt combos is Scroll Rack. In fact, Scroll Rack’s price has more than doubled since the printing of Treasure Hunt, and one can only assume that savvy Legacy players have been snatching them up, in anticipation of which way the wind will be blowing come GP: Columbus.

Before I get too far into this build, I do want to talk about another library manipulation spell I did not play, but am considering: Ancestral Knowledge. Ancestral Knowledge is an oft-overlooked spell from Weatherlite that is particularly powerful with Treasure Hunt. The ideal line of play is generally going to be something like turn 1 Mox Diamond and Ancestral Knowledge (what idle line doesn’t involve Moxes? Hehe!). You put your best card or two on top, followed by all of the land, exiling the remaining cards.

Pay the upkeep and draw the card you wanted (or even do it a second time if you so desire). Then Treasure Hunt, drawing an average of around 6 cards (4 to 4.3 from Ancestral Knowledge and 1.6 to 1.7 from the Treasure Hunt itself). By the way, if you are one of the people hung up on 1.7 cards not being a real concept, you would love Quantum Physics.

So you Treasure Hunt, draw literal DI, then on your next upkeep, you Brainstorm in response to the upkeep trigger (presumably putting back two of the one million lands you just drew). When you don’t pay the upkeep, Ancestral Knowledge will “force” you to shuffle your library. How can one best take advantage of this synergy? I am not sure, yet, but it definitely seems worth exploring.

Okay, back to the deck we are actually talking about. Classic U/W: some permission, some removal, some card draw. Maybe its greedy, but how victory conditions do you really need? Just Jace people out, right? The faint of heart should feel free to add an Elspeth, maybe even a second Celestial Colonnade.

Are the Jaces really pulling their weight? I happen to be of the opinion that Planeswalkers actually gain a lot of value in Legacy because of how many opponents you will face that don’t do that much attacking, and even the ones that do generally have a lot fewer threats than in lower-powered formats. The bar is certainly much higher for what it takes to be a good enough card for Legacy, but I think that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is definitely at that level. Even if your deck is not a dedicated Jace deck, even if you don’t play Treasure Hunt, I think every random non-Natural Order Counterbalance deck should have at least two of these slide in right off top. Jace is such a versatile and powerful card, I imagine it seeing play in a wide variety of decks, especially since Blue decks in Legacy really don’t have as many good options for four-drops as in lower-powered formats. (Since cards like Cryptic Command don’t translate as well, though Sower of Temptation is another nice cross-over).

Finally, Vintage:

As you can see, my Vintage Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not too much of a variation of The Deck builds, and I really do think that Jace could have a home here. It is a four-mana sorcery that doesn’t win the game, but in many ways it is a sort of weaker Blue Necropotence that might as well be drawing three extra cards a turn. It also provides additional creature control and is an excellent back-up victory condition.

I suspect that you may want to cut Regrowth for Spell Pierce, as the Wastelands, artifact removal, and Spell Pierces all work excellent together. This deck really is a total blast to play. Too bad proxies have nearly killed Vintage. Hopefully people won’t let the same thing happen to Legacy, and who knows? Maybe someday enough people who care about Vintage will actually take a stand and fight back against proxies. Some will probably hate me for saying this, but it’s true and on some level. I think most of them know it, but are too addicted to proxies to give them up cold turkey. Besides, so many people have become invested in Legacy that they no longer care to save Vintage. Maybe the gradual removal of the reserved list from the history books will help. I mean, who wouldn’t want a Player Reward dual land?

See you next week, when Next Level Magic finally goes on sale! The 420-page full color expanded text will be available Monday March 22nd, here on StarCityGames.com, and will be ready to ship. If you are reading this column, then you already know the level of excellence to expect with this complete collection of Magic theory and stories from my 17-year career in the game. I am so excited… the book turned out insane! See you then!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”