The Kitchen Table #264 – Modifying the Jace and Chandra Decks

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Friday, December 19th – Throughout the history of Magic, there have been a lot of special collections of cards that have been packaged and sold, not in random boosters or starters, but in set amounts. We’ve seen preconstructed decks and gift sets, From the Vault: Dragons and Portal Starters. From learning the game to getting your hands wet with mechanics old and new, WoTC has regularly printed materials that are non-random ways of purchasing cads.

Hello all, and welcome back to another romp though all things casual. I am your romper guide thingie, so stick with me before things get tough.

Throughout the history of Magic, there have been a lot of special collections of cards that have been packaged and sold, not in random boosters or starters, but in set amounts. We’ve seen preconstructed decks and gift sets, From the Vault: Dragons and Portal Starters. From learning the game to getting your hands wet with mechanics old and new, WoTC has regularly printed materials that are non-random ways of purchasing cads.

All of which is a simple preamble to say that I am writing today about the Jace and Chandra decks. What I want to do today is go over the principles that I would use to create the Jace and Chandra decks, were I in charge of them, parts of the decks I like, and then go over actual changes to the decks I would recommend. You can take that last part as either how I would have made the product had I been in charge, or how I would modify the product to play better. Both work as interpretations.

Why am I doing this work now, a month after their release? Well, now I’ve had a chance to play around with the decks a bit and have them in my own hands, so now I feel qualified to talk about these things.

Now let’s look at the product:

Presentation and Principles

These ready-to-play 60-card decks showcase some of the best control and burn cards from throughout fifteen years Magic history. Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra has two mythic rare cards, six rares, and six cards with newly commissioned artwork, including foil alternative-art versions of Jace Beleren and Chandra Nalaar.

This is the preamble for the product, so let’s take a look. You get two standard sized decks (plus three tokens for Hostility), and you can shuffle and play. Jace and Chandra are foil alternate arts, and you have some other alternate arts, plus rares and stuff.

Principle #1 — The decks should be playable. It is obvious from these statements that the decks should be good right out of the box. And luckily, they are. These are solid decks. Good job WoTC!

Principle #2 — These decks should showcase some of the best control and burn cards we have. Umm. Here we have some issues. There are some strong hits, and some serious misses, and we’ll talk about each later.

Now, these products are obviously geared towards the casual player. The casual player is the largest chunk of WoTC’s buyers, so that naturally makes sense. As such, WoTC should have a third, unstated principle:

Principle #3 — This product should maximize appeal to the casual player.

A perfect example of this is Counterspell. Tournament players don’t need more copies of Counterspell, but many casual players out there may not even have a full set, so tossing in one makes sense.

Now, there are a few things I’d like to see. First of all, since this is supposed to be a showcase product (as it says), I would personally like to see:

Abe’s Principle #1 — This product should be highlander. There are thousands of cards to choose from, and since this product is meant to be a showcase, it should not be duplicating cards. This is not a precon deck from a new set, and shouldn’t be built like it is.

I also have another two:

Abe’s Principle #2 — Where possible, throw online a bone or two by having a few cards in here that won’t be available online for a while. It’s nice to see a few powerful cards coming out of the woodwork for those who prefer the online game.

Abe’s Principle #3 — More foils and alternate art, please. A lot of casual players don’t want fancy cards, they just want the cards. Ben Bleiweiss pointed out in a column on this site that foreign cards are often used to trick out tournament players’ decks, but not those of casual players.

However, not every casual player is cut from the same cloth, and a lot of people make that mistake. Not every casual player likes Verdant Force. Many casual players have been playing for years, and they like this product because Jace and Chandra are alternate art foils for their decks.

What I want to see are either alternate art foils of cool cards, or just foils with new borders of older cards that have significant play value. So, for example, you could have an alternate art foil of a card printed as recently as Shards, and I’d be happy with that. Or I could get a foil new border version of an old card. However, what I don’t want is an alternate art card that’s not a foil. That’s not much to me.

Am I going to replace a foil Fact or Fiction or a foil Counterspell with the alternate art ones that are not foil? Hardly. At least on my list, foil trumps alternate art. Here’s how it goes:

Foil Asian Signed >Foil Signed>Foil Asian>Foil>Artist’s Proof>Alternate Art>Signed>Asian>Normal Card>White Bordered Card

At least that’s my list. So an alternate art, non-foiled Incinerate doesn’t make the cut over my 10th foil one.

On the other hand, if it comes from a set where there is no foil, then its value rises. An alternate art black border Evil Presence gets played over a normal one.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the alt arts here:

Seal of Fire — Not even a good choice card wise for Alt Art, and it’s merely sufficient artwise. This is a poor choice all around for the extra effort.

Incinerate — Not bad in terms of prettiness. There are better and there are worse. I prefer the Ice Age one. I’d love to have seen that in new borders foiled.

Counterspell — This is the real winner. Best Counterspell art ever. I like the way flame looks in the Blue border (see also: Force of Will). This would have been an amazing choice for foil.

Fact or Fiction — Not bad either. I know some who like it better than the original, but I guess I just like the Hanna and Squee interaction of the original.

Jace — I prefer the hidden face Jace better than the new one, but it doesn’t suck or anything.

Chandra — I actually like this one better, she seems to have a stronger pose to me.

Alright, now, with these principles in place, let’s go over the things that I like.

The Good Stuff

Frankly, I think this is one of WoTC’s better products out there, and I like JvC better than a lot of stuff like Goblins v Elves or others.

Let’s take a look at the goods:

Playable Decks- Despite some holes, I think the decks are, overall, solidly powerful, and you could take one, shuffle it up, and begin playing against someone with a regular deck. You’d lose likely more than you won, but you’d be in the game at least.

The Beginning of Strong Card Selections — There are a lot of cards here that really help out the casual player. Incinerate, Counterspell, Flametongue Kavu, Fact or Fiction, Jace, Chandra and such. You really do well with some of these cards. My fault lies in the fact that the floor for the product is pretty low. Sure, you have some goods, but then you are quickly reduced to Flamekin Brawler and Condescend.

Fun Concept — The idea of these decks is really good. They are fun to play and it was a great concept (and it feels a bit like Pokemon or other similar games. Charizard vs Blastoise!)

The Bad Stuff

The Drek — There are some cards in here that have absolutely no business in their decks, and the worst offender is Waterspout Djinn. This card has never been a control card, it never will be, and it is lousy in a control deck. Any traditional Blue control deck would rather have an Air Elemental than a Waterspout Djinn. This is awful. There are some other cards that stick out here and there as well.

Anti-Synergy — There are some elements that work against each other. One great example of this is all of the firebreathing in Chandra’s deck. She also has three hellbent cards. It is hard to dump your hand if your creatures require you to tap out every turn.

The Changes

So, here are the changes I would make. Ready? Remember my principles above.

Jace’s Deck

Out: Waterspout Djinn, In: Forbid. I’ve already talked about how Waterspout Djinn sucks in this deck. The deck has two hard counters — Counterspell and Voidmage Apprentice. Since one costs seven mana to use, that leaves just Counterspell. The deck needs more hard counters, and this is where Forbid comes in. No question, Forbid is a classic of Blue. No question, it meets the standards of being good to showcase the color. No question that it gives online players a powerful tool that they may not be getting for two or three years until Exodus is printed online. It also helps out casual players because they get access to a new selection of cards. This would be foil. Foil, new border Forbid. That’d have been hotness.

Out: Terrain Generator, In: Faerie Conclave. Seriously, which lands feels more controllish to you? Terrain Generator does work decently well with the bounce cards (Gush, Daze, Fathom Seer), but there will be only one of each. Faerie Conclave is just a better call.

Out: Brine Elemental, in: Mana Drain. Brine Elemental is good in combo decks with pickles, but nothing sterling on its own. I want you to check something for me, if you care. Look at the Reserve List and then double check. Mana Drain is not on it. WoTC can reprint Mana Drain anytime they want. Now, I don’t think they are going to print it in an expansion or core set anytime soon, but wouldn’t it have been an amazing reprint here? You want to show off the best cards in the color? Now, imagine this — New border, foil, Mana Drain. If that doesn’t make your inner Magic player orgasm right there, nothing will.

Out: Condescend, in: Echo Tracer. Since the deck has a morph subtheme, this is a perfect choice there. Since it has a bounce subtheme, this is a perfect choice there as well.

Out: Repulse, in: Undo. Repulse is great, but I have to pull out one. A good adjunct is Undo, with its ability to bounce two critters back to their hand. Its card disadvantage but more tempo advantage than normal.

Out: Spire Golem, in: Ghost Ship. Ghost Ship regenerates, which is rare enough. Both were commons, and both of these are 2/4 flyers. Replacing one with the other is easy enough.

Out: Mulldrifter, in: Deep Analysis. We have two Mulldrifters, so let’s put in one of the best card drawing commons of all time. That’s what we want the set to do, right?

Out: Wall of Deceit, in: Wonder. We have two Walls so we have to pull one. This gives you a creature you aren’t afraid to throw in front of Chandra’s creatures or burn, and it helps all of your creatures. Again, it is also a classic of the color, which is what we are looking for.

Out: Fledgling Mawcor, in: Thieving Magpie. I’m not a fan of the Mawcor, which seems to suggest to newer players that Blue can burn too. Although it used to be able too, I’d prefer these classics to stick to the modern color pie. The Thieving Magpie replaces a flyer with a flyer, and gives the deck another Ophidian-ish creature to nip over for a card as needed.

Out: Counterspell, in: Morphling — This was originally Steel Wall but I thought that might be too strong for Chandra’s deck to handle. Then I decided to bump my rare count up one in each deck, so I had an empty slot, ideally for a rare, in the deck. This is a classic Blue creature which gives you a way to keep at least one creature from dying to burnification. This would be an ideal foil, with the old art in a new border.

Out: Fathom Seer, in: Merfolk Looter — You can pitch and draw as needed, which is a strong supplement to a deck with a lot of card drawing.

Out: Man-o’-War, in: Puppeteer — I decided to change commonalities on this one, so sue me. There are so few good iconic Blue common creatures through the ages, that I thought I’d slide up one and give you a tapper/untapper for your deck. Easy to burn, but useful to keep things off your back.

Out: Mind Stone, in: Quicksand — I’d rather have one more land that an accelerant. You don’t want to drop Mind Stone on the second turn against Chandra. You want to drop creatures or keep mana open for countering.

The New Jace Deck:

23 Islands
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Quicksand
1 Gush
1 Daze
1 Ancestral Vision
1 Counterspell
1 Forbid
1 Mana Drain
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Jace Beleren
1 Repulse
1 Condescend
1 Deep Analysis
1 Undo
1 AEthersnipe
1 Man-o’-War
1 Willbender
1 Wall of Deceit
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Morphling
1 Spire Golem
1 Ghost Ship
1 Guile
1 Riftwing Cloudskate
1 Quicksilver Dragon
1 Ophidian
1 Thieving Magpie
1 Martyr of Frost
1 Fathom Seer
1 Echo Tracer
1 Errant Ephemeron
1 Air Elemental
1 Bottle Gnomes
1 Puppeteer
1 Wonder
1 Voidmage Apprentice
1 Mulldrifter

And that’s a deck. We have cards for use online that are not there already — Mana Drain, Forbid, Daze, Gush. We amped the color in terms of classic cards by adding things like Wonder, the counters, Deep Analysis, and such. We also added some cards that just fit the deck perfectly, like Echo Tracer. We are also now fully highlander.

Now let’s do the same with Chandra.

Chandra’s Deck

Out: Demonfire, in: Hammer of Bogardan — I want a recursive tool against counters to deal that last few points of damage to Jace after he gains control. As mentioned before, hellbent does not really work with this deck too much. Although it carries a price tag of a couple of bucks, I’m sure that many casual players were disappointed to find that one of the three red rare slots was given to simple X spell. Now we keep burn, but use something that still works against Jace.

Out: Rakdos Pit Dragon, in: Fledgling Dragon. With all of the burn flying around, it should not be too hard to get threshold. I initially wanted to drop in Shivan, but frankly, it was just in Vault, so I don’t want to double reprint it this recently. Therefore, we got a Shivan wannabe.

Out: Seal of Fire, in: Lightning Bolt — With new borders and foiled please.

Out: Incinerate, in: Chain Lightning — This is another obvious inclusion.

Out: Fireball, in: Kaervek’s Torch — The Torch keeps a bit of the anti counter nature that Demonfire had while still giving the deck a nice X spell.

Out: Fireblast, in: Thunderbolt — With the x/4 flyers in Jace’s deck, this is pretty good against that player.

Out: Mountain, in: Sol Ring — With new border, alternate art and foil. I know it was a judge promo, but this would be hot as a generally available card. In order to not drop the value of the judge promo, I would commission new art for this as well. Jace’s deck gets Mana Drain and Forbid, Chandra’s gets Lightning Bolt and Sol Ring. We have to help out our friends.

Out: Fireblast, in: Browbeat — I have no idea why this card did not make the cut, but it deserves to be in this deck, no question.

Out: Firebolt, in: Rolling Thunder — I pulled an X spell for a 3 damage spell earlier, so now I am pulling a small damage spell for an X spell in return.

Out: Slith Firewalker, in: Anger — Again, just adding a few cards to help the deck out a bit. The deck had Guile and Hostility as a nice little cycle. I am adding Wonder/Anger as another.

Out: Oxidda Golem, in: Mogg Fanatic — You don’t have one in the deck? Come on!

Out: Soulbright Flamekin, in: Ghitu Slinger — Another classic common card that you can include. It also gives you a card that’s not online already.

Out: Inner-Flame Acolyte, in: Jackal Pup — Jace’s deck has slowed a bit. Punish him for it! It’s also a good choice for foil, but not really a casual favorite.

Out: Soulbright Flamekin, in: Avalanche Riders — It gives the deck a hint of tempo. They have haste, which meets the deck’s theme.

Out: Ingot Chewer, in: Goblin: Flotilla — That Jace thinks he’s so clever with all of his flyers. Well, now you have an islandwalker to hit him with! Who’s sneaky now? Huh!?!? Plus, Ingot Chewer is not so good when we pulled two of Jace’s four artifacts out. You actually have two in your deck, so you have a strong chance of not even being able to play the Chewer for fear you hit your own Sol Ring or Oxidda Golem.

Out: Flamekin Brawler, in: Sandstone Warrior — This is a real firebreather.

Out: Furnace Whelp, in: Crimson Manticore — Yeah, I know, it’s not that great and it’s technically a rare. Well, you know how they bumped Jace and Chandra in this set up to Mythic, even though they were never previously published as such? Well, I’m bumping down the Manticore. I want to give Red three flyers just like it had before, and I don’t want to reprint any of the cool dragons and I need it to be uncommon. That means no Dragon Whelp. What are my other options? None, really. Enter the Manticore, which would be serviceable as an uncommon.

Out: Keldon Megaliths, in: Shivan Gorge — We don’t want CIP tapped lands. You don’t want to lose momentum against Jace. We are pulling the hellbent too, and this can hit Jace for one a turn, no matter what his counter situation looks like.

The New Chandra Deck:

22 Mountains
1 Shivan Gorge
1 Sol Ring
1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Cone of Flame
1 Rolling Thunder
1 Kaervek’s Torch
1 Fireball
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Incinerate
1 Magma Jet
1 Seal of Fire
1 Fireblast
1 Flame Javelin
1 Hammer of Bogardan
1 Firebolt
1 Chain Lightning
1 Thunderbolt
1 Browbeat
1 Chartooth Cougar
1 Fireslinger
1 Flamekin Brawler
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Flamewave Invoker
1 Furnace Whelp
1 Hostility
1 Inner-flame Acolyte
1 Oxidda Golem
1 Pyre Charger
1 Slith Firewalker
1 Soulbright Flamekin
1 Crimson Manticore
1 Anger
1 Avalanche Riders
1 Ghitu Slinger
1 Sandstone Warrior
1 Goblin Flotilla
1 Jackal Pup
1 Mogg Fanatic

And there you have it.

Some changes I looked at included to placing Hydroblast and Pyroblast in the decks, fitting in one legendry ally (Arcanis and Jaya Ballard were my choices here) and trying to fit in Wheel of Fortune (but it’s on the reserved list and I can’t see Jace playing Windfall.). Still, there are some strong goods here. The list of classic cards increases to include Mana Drain, Lightning Bolt, Wonder, Anger, Forbid, Jackal Pup and more. From cards that fit the deck to cards that are all time classics, these decks would be much more interesting. Why not edit your decks and see how these play?

Oh, and by the way, you could charge more for my suggested decks (along with suggested foils and alt art) and people would be happy. Would you pay 20 or even 25 dollars for a foil Mana Drain, Jackal Pup, Morphling, Lightning Bolt, Forbid, Jace, Chandra, alt art Sol Ring, plus a foil Counterspell and Incinerate with the new art? Sure you would! And printing these cards does not cost any more (making them foil probably costs a bit more, and commissioning new art probably has a cost as well, plus getting the rights for older art), but the point is that printing Inner-Flame Acolyte is no less expensive than printing Chain Lightning. (Yes, I know, collectors of Mana Drains get upset. Let me tell you, I have a playset of Mana Drains, and I’d still be happy to see the JvC decks have a new bordered foil one). The point is, you could make more money and still make people mega happy.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Until later…

Abe Sargent