So Many Insane Plays – Attacking Jace

Tuesday, September 14th – Stephen designs a foil deck to keep Jace/Time Vault in check, and runs you through a game to show you how to beat Jace down!

There is no deck in the history of Vintage that can’t be reliably defeated. The card pool is so large and diverse that every threat (whether card or strategy) has many answers — enough to design a counter-strategy, also called a “foil.”

On the other hand, certain archetypes sometimes dominate the format, and necessitate restrictions to balance the metagame.

How can both statements be true?

The primary explanation for this paradox is that each statement is true under different time frames. Any deck, in a particular configuration in a particular moment in time, can be defeated. Nonetheless, over time, certain archetypes dominate because they are able to adapt to the foil by incorporating counter-tactics that takes away the foil’s advantage.

This is why tournament dominance by a “best deck” isn’t defined as “winning almost every tournament,” or even “making 80% of Top 8s.” The gold standard for dominance is closer to 40% of Top 8s, and only over time. This is why Legacy Flash, despite being the obvious best deck and earning a ban, still only put three players in the top 8 of Grand Prix Columbus.

Certain foil decks are sometimes called “trick” decks, because they are designed with the knowledge that a simple adjustment to the targeted archetype (or its metagame) will render the foil useless. For example, just after Forbidden Orchard was printed, my team played an Oath of Druids deck at the second StarCityGames.com Power Nine tournament. Our Oath deck featured Spirit of the Night and Akroma as win conditions to generate eighteen damage within two turns — generally enough to win the game. The deck only needed to achieve control long enough to trigger Oath, and then it quickly comboed out.

We designed the deck with the knowledge that Platinum Angel defeated our plan, and included no answers to Platinum Angel because we expected to face none. Sure enough, at the very next SCG P9 tournament, Platinum Angel was common, and both Control Slaver and Workshop pilots played with Platinum Angel as a Tinker target.

While trick decks lack the staying power to keep the metagame’s target deck from winning over time, a sequence of trick decks can do just that. And that’s what

happen in a healthy metagame.

The more common explanation for the paradox is that some foil decks are very weak to other strategies. For example, Painter’s Servant decks are excellent foils to traditional blue-based control decks because you feature maindeck Red Elemental Blasts/Pyroblasts — which become all-purpose removal with Painter’s Servant in play. However, playing a deck with five to eight Red Elemental Blasts maindeck is a significant disadvantage when playing against Workshop decks, against which you are heavily disfavored as a consequence.

Thus, the foil sometimes can’t serve as a foil if there are other metagame/market forces that weaken its strategy. This explanation, however, is overstated. For example, if you have a metagame with 40% Jace/Time Vault Control and 15% Workshops, the Painter deck remains an excellent foil. In a rock-paper-scissors dynamic, you are more than twice as likely to face your metagame’s target in the early rounds as your metagame enemy — and even less likely, over time, to face your enemy in later rounds. Consequently, in many Vintage metagames, Painter’s Servant may be an excellent metagame choice.

Jace/Time Vault Control is currently the deck to beat in Vintage. The question right now is whether it will be a dominant deck, or whether it can be foiled over time — and thus kept to a healthy (but not overwhelming) percentage of Top 8s. Painter’s Servant is a potent option, because Red Elemental Blast is so good against Jace.

Another possibility? Storm combo. Jace generally wins the game through card advantage. After Brainstorming two or three times, the Jace player achieves control over the game or is able to combo out using Time Vault, Tinker for a robot, or Yawgmoth’s Will. One of the strongest answers to the opponent Brainstorming every turn is throwing huge bombs onto the stack, like Ad Nauseam, Timetwister, or Necropotence. These are the best answers to a resolved Jace that don’t involve killing Jace. This is one of the reasons that many Vintage players think TPS may be a natural foil to Jace Control.

Another option is to try to prevent Jace from resolving in the first place. There are several ways this can be accomplished: One is by denying the opponent the mana to play Jace. Workshop decks do this most effectively, with every Sphere making Jace increasingly less castable. On the other hand, once Jace resolves, its effect is devastating for the Workshop player, and the prevalence of anti-Workshop tactics like Nature’s Claim and Trygon Predator make this an increasingly difficult angle of attack.

Another way to prevent Jace from resolving is to emphasize Duress effects. Duress and Thoughtseize both nab Jace, and decks that run many Duress effects have a good chance of preventing Jace from resolving simply by preventing him from being played in the first place. Take a look at the deck that made top 8 at the Vintage Championship:

This deck has many tools against Jace — including Vampire Hexmage, which doubles as Jace removal. With this many Duress effects, you reduce the possibilities for Jace resolving to three primary possibilities:

1) Your opponent has turn 1 Jace;
2) Your opponent Forces (or otherwise counters) your Duress, and then plays Jace;
3) Your opponent topdecks Jace.

While your opponent can win with Jace in any of those scenarios, limiting your opponent to those scenarios reduces the dominance of Jace in the game.

Decks with creatures also have the advantage of “distracting” Jace. Since the most abusive use of Jace is to repeatedly Brainstorm, creatures can draw Jace’s attention by forcing the controller to use Jace’s Unsummon ability rather than draw three cards.

With all of these ideas in mind, I think a Grow deck might be a foil to Jace Control.

Consider the advantages such a deck has over Jace/Time Vault Control:

Duress effects

. With seven maindeck Duress effects, Grow has many of the advantages of the contemporary Suicide Black list that made Top 8 at Gencon, in that it can stop Jace from hitting the stack.


. ‘Goyf and Dark Confidant can both attack Jace, and ‘Goyf almost always can kill Jace, forcing the Jace controller to decide between bouncing ‘Goyf until they simply can’t, or Brainstorming once.

Virtual card advantage

. By playing only eighteen mana sources, Grow will draw business spells and disruption when Jace decks are drawing mana or other dead cards like Voltaic Key. This is perhaps the most important advantage that Grow has over other blue decks. Preordain is a printing that helps Grow dig even further for just one mana.

I put Grow up against Owen Turtenwald Vintage Championship-winning Jace Control list.

The Jace Control list won the die roll, electing to play first.

Jace/Time Vault Control’s opening hand was:

Mox Jet
Mox Sapphire
Tropical Island
Misty Rainforest
Merchant Scroll
Vampiric Tutor
Nature’s Claim

This hand is fast and should develop easily.

Grow drew:

Mox Emerald
Misty Rainforest
Imperial Seal

This hand is a classic Grow hand in the sense that it’s mana light, but disruptive.

Turn 1:

The Jace/Time Vault control player plays Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, and Misty Rainforest.

The Jace/Time Vault control player has the option of playing Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall, doing nothing, or waiting to Vampiric Tutor for something — perhaps Tinker or Jace.

If the Jace player had a blue spell in hand instead of, say, Nature’s Claim, Merchant Scroll for Force of Will and Vampiric Tutor for Tinker may be a viable, game-winning line of play.

The Jace/Time Vault control player taps the Sapphire and the Jet and casts Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall — leaving the Misty Rainforest in play, able to fetch a land to play Ancestral, Vamp, or Nature’s Claim on demand.

The Grow player draws Mox Sapphire for the turn. They play Mox Sapphire, Mox Emerald, and Misty Rainforest. They break Misty Rainforest for Underground Sea (putting them to nineteen life).

Imperial Seal here can find Ancestral Recall. Next turn, the Grow player can play Duress and Ancestral Recall on the same turn.

On the other hand, being on the draw and not disrupting the opponent at all will allow the opponent too much free reign. Duress effects are most potent on turn 1, as they see the maximum number of cards to choose from. That narrows the options to Duress or Thoughtseize.

The question of whether to play Thoughtseize or Duress is a difficult one. Thoughtseize has the advantage of being able to take any non-land card. However, there is really only one creature spell that you’d want to take: Dark Confidant.

The issue here is whether you believe there is a chance you’ll want to take a non-creature spell now, and a creature spell next turn. In that case, you want to play Duress first, and Thoughtseize second. However, if you think you may want to take a creature spell now, and you’re fairly confident you won’t want to take a creature spell next turn, then you play Thoughtseize first.

The Grow player knows that the Jace/Time Vault control player already has Ancestral Recall in hand, and the mana to play it. Since they played Scroll on turn 1, it’s safe to assume that they probably don’t have a Dark Confidant on hand. If the Grow player plays Duress, they’ll expect the Jace player to cast Ancestral in response. In that case, it’s possible that they will draw Dark Confidant, making Thoughtseize the best play. For that reason, the Grow player plays Thoughtseize (seventeen life).

In response, the Jace player has two options: They can play Vampiric Tutor for Tinker, or they can play Ancestral. Vampiric Tutor for Tinker is an attractive play to many players. In round 7 of the Vintage championship, Nick Coss played Bob Maher for Top 8. On turn one in one of the games in the
match, Nick played turn one Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind.
Watch that match here to see what happened

. (Scroll down to the Vintage Championship section, and scroll to round 7).

Early Tinker is a risky proposition, especially if you don’t run Leviathan as your Tinker target now that Jace is so prevalent. But even with Leviathan, most decks can find answers before dying unless they are disrupted. In this situation, the Grow pilot can Imperial Seal for Hurkyl’s Recall and easily resolve it (although the Jace player does not know this).

The Jace player breaks Misty Rainforest for Underground Sea, and plays Ancestral Recall. It resolves, drawing: Mana Drain, Force of Will, and Mox Pearl. Their hand is now: Tropical Island, Mox Pearl, Mana Drain, Force of Will, Nature’s Claim, and Vampiric Tutor.

Vampiric Tutor is the most threatening play now, since Tinker can be protected with Force and possible Mana Drain. If you take Force of Will, then you’ll have to fight through the Tinker by using Imperial Seal for Hurkyl’s. The upside to this line of play is that the Tinker will be spent, the Jace player will lose two cards (both Vamp and the sacrificed artifact). The downside is that it will require a lot of resources to counteract, and something might go wrong. The safer play, I think, is to take Vampiric Tutor.

The Grow player takes Vamp, and then taps his Moxen to play Tarmogoyf, which is already a 3/4.

Turn 2:

The Jace/Time Vault player draws another Mana Drain, allowing them to play Mana Drain and Force of Will, assuming a control role for the moment. They play Tropical Island and Mox Pearl and pass the turn.

The Grow player draws an Underground Sea. This will allow the Grow player to empty their hand. The Grow pilot plays Sea, and casts Duress. The Jace player debates countering it, but if they Drain it, then they won’t be able to Drain any other play.

The issue here is whether to take Mana Drain or Force of Will.

The Jace control player has two Mana Drains. While that may appear to be a bottleneck, it’s not. The control player can play Mana Drain this turn and Mana Drain next turn,

they can play Mana Drain with Force of Will backup. Thus, the Mana Drains are not redundant. If the Grow pilot takes a Force, then they can Drain this turn and next turn. If they take a Drain, they can Force or Drain this turn, and hard-cast Force of Will next turn. However, there is a chance that they’ll draw another blue spell, and be able to Drain and Force next turn.

It’s a close call — but the Grow player decides to take the Mana Drain, especially since the next play is going to be Imperial Seal for Ancestral Recall.

The Grow player taps the other Underground Sea, and casts Imperial Seal (fifteen life) for Ancestral Recall. Then, the Grow pilot taps the Sapphire and the Emerald, and plays Tarmogoyf, emptying their hand.

The control player has a dilemma: counter ‘Goyf? If they counter the ‘Goyf, the other ‘Goyf’s power goes to four. If they don’t, then they’ll be facing six damage a turn at a minimum, and Jace won’t be able to stop them.

They hard-cast Force, tapping down, to counter the ‘Goyf. The Grow player attacks for four, sending the control player to fifteen.

Turn 3:

Two turns have elapsed, and both players have disrupted each other mightily. The Grow player emptied their hand disrupting the opponent, but managed to resolve a Tarmogoyf, and has Ancestral Recall on top of their library. The control player is facing a four-power ‘Goyf — but has plenty of time to find answers,

a Mana Drain in hand.

Their hands are decimated, and both will live and die off the top of their libraries… Which is precisely the situation the Grow player wants. The Grow player has a four-turn clock on the board,

virtual card advantage from the fact that they have more business spells and fewer mana sources in their deck. The resolution to this game then is the answer to this question: can the control player win the game before dying to ‘Goyf, especially now that Jace isn’t particularly helpful?

The Jace/Time Vault control player draws Mox Ruby on their turn. The irony of this draw is that it’s emblematic of the match. The Jace/Time Vault player is playing a larger mana base than the Grow player, of which Mox Ruby is a critical distinction. As you would expect, the virtual card advantage of a tighter mana base is manifesting at a critical juncture, giving an advantage to Grow.

The Grow player draws the Ancestral Recall and attacks for four damage, sending the control player to eleven life.

Turn 4:

The Control player draws Scalding Tarn. Again, the larger mana base is producing less useful mid-game topdecks. Contrasted against the Tarn, the Grow player draws Duress on the turn.

The Grow player plays Duress, which is Mana Drained. The possibility of this topdeck was part of the rationale behind playing Imperial Seal for Ancestral. Now clear, the Grow player casts Ancestral Recall, drawing Sensei’s Divining Top, Duress, and Duress.

Now that Grow player has drawn all four Duresses, which is perhaps too many. It will keep the Control player out of the control role, however, and enforce the fact that if the control player is going to win, it has to be on topdecks.

The Grow player plays Top, then casts Duress. In response, the Jace/Time Vault control player casts Nature’s Claim on Mox Pearl, going to fifteen life. ‘Goyf attacks for five, sending them down to ten.

The Grow player’s board is:

‘Goyf, Top, Mox Sapphire, Mox Emerald, Underground Sea, Underground Sea, with a Duress in hand.

The Control player’s board is:

Underground Sea, Tropical Island, Scalding Tarn, Mox Jet, Mox Sapphire, Mox Ruby, with no cards in hand.

Turn 5:

This game’s certainly outlining the principles I wanted to explain in this article! Sure enough, the control player topdecks Jace and plays the planeswalker, leaving an Underground Sea untapped.

Now what? What meaningful options does the control player have in this situation? Is bouncing ‘Goyf a foregone conclusion — or is a simple Brainstorm here worth it, with the expectation that Jace will be slain by ‘Goyf, but that an additional turn of life will have been purchased? What about three additional turns?

Jace bounces ‘Goyf, and passes the turn.

The Grow player activates Top in their upkeep, not content to simply rely on the mathematics of superior topdecks. He sees: Force of Will, Mana Drain, and Force of Will. Because they must replay the ‘Goyf, they can’t cast Drain cannot be cast this turn. The Grow player only has four mana on the table, and one is tapped. Therefore, they draw the Force, replay the ‘Goyf, and pass the turn.

Turn 6:

The Jace player draws Force of Will. Perfect. Now, Jace can bounce the ‘Goyf, which can then be countered with Force, and then Jace can begin its work of generating card advantage and not just tempo. Jace bounces ‘Goyf, and passes the turn.

The Grow player will have none of it. They activate Top on the end step, seeing Drain, Force, and Preordain — a card that has been noticeably absent from this game so far.

Manipulating Top is a critical Vintage skill. Here, the situation is defined by the four mana available to the Grow player. They have to devote two mana to replaying ‘Goyf every turn, while Jace keeps bouncing it. They’ll also either want to Duress here (to clear the path just in case something important gets drawn), or have Drain up with Force of Will in hand, and a blue spell kept on top of the library.

The question is: should the Grow player hold up Drain or Duress instead? Drain is the more valuable card in this late-game context, and should be preserved. Therefore, Preordain gets moved to the top of the library, above Drain and another Force.

The Grow player draws Preordain, then casts Duress, taking Force. They then replay the ‘Goyf.

Should the Grow player play Preordain, putting the Drain or Force into hand, and keeping the other on top, or should they just leave the mana up to Top at end of turn? In this situation, the game is won by keeping control. No further cards are needed. Therefore, Preordain will be kept in hand as Force fodder.

Turn 7:

The Control player draws Sensei’s Divining Top. The chief advantage that Grow has over the “big blue deck” is virtual card advantage — an advantage that’s virtually eliminated when the opponent has Top in play or is Brainstorming with Jace. Jace has been kept in check, and only has one loyalty now, but now Top is available. Perhaps the control player should Brainstorm here, and then Top? The Scalding Tarn in play will allow the control player to see even more cards.

If we Brainstorm, we can then Top, shuffle, and Top again, seeing seven cards this turn! If we bounce ‘Goyf, we can Top, shuffle, and Top — seeing just six cards, but keeping Jace alive.

The ballsier play is to Brainstorm with Jace, banking on the fact that you will see so many new cards that you can probably find the Tinker or Yawgmoth’s Will to end the standoff and win the game… But that’s not a given.

The safer play is to simply bounce the ‘Goyf. However — and this is the decisive factor — if you just Brainstorm, the Grow player will likely attack with the ‘Goyf, buying another turn as if you had bounced it.

Therefore, I think the correct play is probably to Brainstorm.

The control player activates Jace to Brainstorm, drawing: Spell Pierce, Spell Pierce, and Forest. They put back Forest and Spell Pierce. They then tap Mox Ruby to play Sensei’s Divining Top. The Grow player considers it, but declines to counter it.

The control player breaks Scalding Tarn (going to nine) for another Underground Sea, to shuffle the library. They then Top, seeing a disappointing Inkwell Leviathan, Underground Sea, and Mox Emerald.

The Grow player uses Top on the end step, seeing Drain, Force, and Island. They untap, draw Mana Drain, and attack Jace, killing it.

Turn 8:

The control player draws Underground Sea, and activates Top, seeing Leviathan, Mox Emerald, and Volcanic Island.

The Grow player activates Top on their end step, seeing: Force of Will, Island, Yawgmoth’s Will. They untap, draw Force and attack for five, sending the control player to five life.

Turn 9:

The control player draws Mox Emerald, and activates Top seeing a depressing Volcanic Island, Inkwell Leviathan, and Misty Rainforest. The game is over.

This game illustrates one mode of attack against Jace control decks: Duress effects, creatures, and virtual card advantage, all features of Grow. It
also illustrates,
as I suggested last week

, how a Gush-based Aggro-Control deck might be a very nice foil to Jace control decks, should their dominance continue.

We saw how Jace was rendered somewhat docile through the presence of a ‘Goyf, and could not perform its work of Brainstorming. We saw how multiple Duresses stripped the deck of the ability to play Jace, except as a mid-game topdeck. We saw how virtual card advantage manifested in a real game context.

But we also saw the arc of the Grow deck: how the early disruption package of mostly black spells and tutors morphed into a blue control suite protecting a green creature. At the same time, you can imagine how Jace decks can win games like this by executing a Tinker or Yawgmoth’s Will in the mid-game. We saw the strengths and weaknesses in two decks, and, perhaps, saw how Vintage might look in the near future.

Until next time,
Stephen Menendian