Unbinding The Telepath Within

Jace, Telepath Unbound is an intriguing planeswalker – his ultimate is either a do-nothing or a game-winner, and his -3 ability sounds like Snapcaster Mage’s but is very different. The Boss puts Jace through his paces in a variety of decks.

Magic Origins has been nearly completely spoiled, and this time around it’s the cards that say “draw a card” that have caught my eye. I like to beat down as much (if not more) than the next person, but even I appreciate some good old fashioned card advantage (read: durdling) from time to time.

First let’s talk about this guy who is my vote for second-best Planeswalker in Magic Origins behind Kytheon, Hero of Akros:

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is extremely good. You don’t really need to focus on flipping him as soon as possible, just as you shouldn’t worry about growing a Tarmogoyf as soon as possible. Just play Magic naturally and Jace will prove to be a worthy creature.

Merfolk Looter has been something that Standard has gone without for a long time. The overcosted replacements have been embarrassing. Rummaging Goblin? Research Assistant? It’s been so long that most of us have forgotten what it’s like to have good card selection tacked onto a creature. Heck, this one can even block the occasional Goblin token.

The only real requirement for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is that you play some number of instants and/or sorceries that you wouldn’t mind casting from your graveyard once Jace has become a planeswalker. This means spells other than reactive ones like Dissolve or other counterspells, and hopefully something more proactive like a card draw spell such as Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise. It’s nice to get Jace flipped then immediately use him and your graveyard to cast a big delve spell from your graveyard. This gets your graveyard small again so that a future Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy can be active for awhile alongside Jace, Telepath Unbound. Remember: once a planeswalker’s spark has been met, he or she must flip, as they have no control over their power within.

Next up is a card that walks a fine line between “do nothing” and “unbeatable.”

When evaluating a card for the first time, it’s easiest to compare it to cards of similar function from the past. Here Sphinx’s Tutelage has similarities to Grindstone and Curse of the Bloody Tome.

Grindstone hits any cards of the same color including lands. This means Grindstone will trigger continuously alongside Painter’s Servant where Sphinx’s Tutelage will not. Outside of Legacy applications, this minor change shouldn’t impact the effectiveness of the card. Grindstone also costs three mana per turn to activate while Sphinx’s Tutelage only requires that three mana investment once.

Curse of the Bloody Tome has seen minor sideboard play, mainly in Pauper decks, and has largely been regarded as too slow. Sphinx’s Tutelage is far, far better than Curse of the Bloody Tome was. Big Toots triggers once for every card drawn, not just a single time per turn cycle. This means you’re guaranteed a trigger on your draw step and then future ones, depending on how much card draw your deck has incidentally – or perhaps purposefully – included.

Let’s look at an archetype that’s sort of disappeared as of late as the more powerful Esper Dragons archetype has pushed it off the map. Good ol’ U/W Control.

Alhammarret’s Archive is a really sweet one that I imagine will go under the radar for a while while the more flashier mythics from the set get the spotlight.

What’s better than ultimating an Ugin? Drawing 14 and gaining 14 of course.

Seriously though, while Alhammarret’s Archive doesn’t immediately impact the board, it will act as a constant source of value – similar to card such as Keranos, God of Storms. With eight lands that gain life in the deck you’ll be earning back hit points here and there seemingly effortlessly. Ojutai’s Command also shows up in conjunction with Alhammarret’s Archive as a baseline draw two/gain eight with options to counter big creatures and bring back Jace.

The first card that pops into mind when I saw Alhammarret’s Archive was Mirari, a card that saw its fair share of play once the right home was discovered for it. The word “double” is a very dangerous one to put on cards, and one that can get out of hand quickly.

The real payoff of Alhammarret’s Archive is drawing double the cards when you draw any additional cards other than your draw step. Alongside Treasure Cruise, Alhammarret’s Archive acts sort of like a delayed Concentrate – not necessarily the best when your deck is already slow. What Alhammarret’s Archive has going for it though is that once you’ve made it through the sluggishness of the card, the ball will continue to roll until the opponent is completely card advantaged out of the game.

Clash of Wills makes an appearance here mainly as a two-mana Force Spike like Silumgar’s Scorn that is still reasonable in the mid- and late-game. Don’t be stubborn and refuse to play Clash of Wills because it’s a strictly worse version of past cards like Power Sink, Syncopate, and Condescend. Clash of Wills fills a hole that has been missing in Standard since the loss of Mana Leak and Essence Scatter: a way to counter a creature on turn two without having to commit to something like UU and filling your deck with Dragons.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy may have a huge target on its head here, but that should be okay. You opponent can’t really keep in a bunch of removal spells just to kill your Merfolk Looter. Left unchecked, Jace will put in serious work and is worth the upside of enabling opposing removal spells. Also there needs to be at least a few two-drop creatures for Ojutai’s Command to pull back. Seeker of the Way and Soulfire Grand Master are creatures that pop to mind, but I don’t like how you need to play your spells on your turn for Seeker of the Way to be good nor how there aren’t any direct damage spells here for our Soulfire Grand Masters.

Talent of the Telepath seems like a strong card that can complement the Sphinx’s Tutelage decking plan while sniping a juicy instant or sorcery. The Spell Mastery ought to be active when you can to cast it, making for strong plays against the right deck. Two Dig Through Times? Sweet!

Hallowed Moonlight is a nice cantrip that looks to be a solid answer to the abundance of Deathmist Raptor shenanigans going around. Of course, Hallowed Moonlight hits more than just Raptors. Any token, anything from the library like from Collected Company, or anything from the graveyard all get snagged by Hallowed Moonlight. It’s very similar to the Legacy staple Containment Priest, and I have to say that I like Hallowed Moonlights applications better and prefer “draw a card” over a 2/2 body in most instances.

Next up we have a tried-and-true archetype, originally designed by Yuuya Watanabe:

Jace is a perfect fit for Jeskai Tokens. He fuels Treasure Cruise, is a target for Ojutai’s Command, and filters your draws in your part-combo, part-aggro, part-control deck. Jace gets extra sweet value whenever you have him with an active Jeskai Ascendency for extra loots.

Jeskai Tokens also fills the main criteria needed to make Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy a good card: plenty of instants and sorceries that are great to cast from the graveyard. Sometimes it’s the last burn spell to finish off the opponent and sometimes you’re developing your board with Hordeling Outburst, and sometimes you’re refueling with Treasure Cruise. Whatever it may be, be sure that a flipped Jace will make good use of his -3 ability in this shell.

Ojutai’s Command is quickly becoming a maindeck inclusion in Jeskai builds, including the ones piloted by Patrick Dickmann and Kevin Jones in recent tournaments. It’s a card that took a while to get played, but recently simply an Essence Scatter effect has been really good. People are trying beat each others’ huge creature with a bigger creature and countering a card like Dragonlord Ojutai, Dragonlord Atarka, Whisperwood Elemental, or Hornet Queen is the best way to deal with them rather than trying to fight them after they’ve resolved. Eight two-drop creatures to return is a nice number to ensure that your Ojutai’s Commands have a healthy number of available modes.

Here, Sphinx’s Tutelage comes out of the sideboard to punish players that focus too much on killing your small creatures after sideboard with cards like Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow. Jace, Treasure Cruise, Jeskai Ascendency, and to a small extent Ojutai’s Command all help to accelerate the “milling” effect of Sphinx’s Tutelage. This card feels similar to Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to me as in it’s a three-cost threat that is hard to remove and will win the game if left unchecked.

There may need to be more controlling cards in the sideboard, like having access to more than four counterspells whenever the Sphinx’s Tutelage package is brought in. As of now the deck isn’t capable of fully transitioning and blanking all opposing creature removal spells, as there are simply too many creatures for us to take out. Still, the idea is powerful enough to take some people by surprise.

Analyzing milling as a U/W Control win condition and as a sideboard strategy makes me wonder if an aggressive milling strategy is finally possible. There seems to be a slight theme in Magic Origins supporting it and there are a few mill cards tucked away in Standard right now. Here’s an extremely raw, and not very highly recommended, list from what’s been spoiled from Magic Origins so far.

Some Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and End Hostilities to go with Altar of the Brood? Black mana and some high-toughness creatures to go along with Phenax, God of Deception? There are many ways to improve and it’s doubtful that’s the archetype is close to a real deck, but for those that are interested in trying it out for themselves the tools are certainly there.

One Day’s Undoing undoes all of your hard work, but we don’t really expect that to see play.