Jace, Architect of Thought – Fact or Fiction?

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Jace, so when it was announced at the MTG panel at San Diego Comic Con that there’d be a new version of Jace in Return to Ravnica, I was pretty pumped.

Over the weekend at PAX, Wizards revealed this guy:

I’ll be honest; my first impression was disappointment. A Fleeting Distraction effect without the cantrip? A weak Fact or Fiction? A better Bribery that requires a planeswalker to sit around on the table unmolested for four of my opponent’s turns?

That’s what it looked like to me at first, but then I started thinking about it a bit more.

Let’s break it down. Jace’s first ability gets better the more creatures your opponent has on board, thereby discouraging the use of cards like Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt (both of which have been Standard all-stars since being printed). In fact, it really just discourages strategies relying on small creature swarms entirely. Creatures with 1 power are rendered completely ineffective. Immediately going up to 5 loyalty means it’s going to take a lot of small dudes (each with at least 2 power) to handle Jace if your opponent decides it’s in her best interest to try and get rid of him ASAP.

Alright, so Jace can deal with the swarms of little guys just fine. What if you’re facing down a fatty? IT’S TIME FOR SOCKS WITH SANDALS!

Sticking a Jace alongside Tamiyo, the Moon Sage will be a nightmare for creature strategies. Tamiyo locks down the big threats, and Jace makes sure the little guys are more like kids wearing Halloween masks than actual scary monsters.

Superfriends aside, Jace does not match up well against larger creatures, so you’re going to have to find another answer. Fortunately, Jace’s second ability is great at helping you dig for a solution. While it’s not exactly Fact or Fiction, it’s closer than you might think.

At the same converted mana cost, an unmolested Jace lets you see six cards (where FoF only showed you five). It also gives your opponent an additional opportunity to make a poor split. Back when the original Fact or Fiction was in Standard, there was a guy at my local shop who would cast FoF and simultaneously reach into his bag and pull out a bottle of Advil to offer to his opponents. A cheap gag, sure, but anything that gives your opponent the opportunity to make an error is a good thing. (It’s important to note that cards in the pile that isn’t chosen are put on the bottom of your library, not in your graveyard, so you’re unable to abuse Jace with Snapcaster—but then again, that’s what Forbidden Alchemy is for!)

The bottom line is, Jace’s -2 either gives you a) two cards or b) the best card in your top three—and sometimes it’s going to be c) both. A freshly cast Jace is going to give you the option of doing this twice unless your opponent decides to spend resources to get him off the table.

In my original reading of the card, I thought Jace’s ultimate said “each opponent,” not “each player.” Getting the best spell out of both my own deck and my opponent’s seems like it should be a game-ender, but like most ultimates, the win is only implied; it’s still left up to you to do the work (Note: whatever spells you decide to cast can still be countered!). I have visions of playing free Nicol Bolases, but until we know more about what the post-RTR Standard format looks like, there’s really no telling what the best targets for Jace’s ultimate could be. Being that it’s not the most likely thing in the world to happen, I’m content to sit back on his first two abilities to help buy me time and resources to win the game, rather than rely on activating his ultimate.

While the Architect of Thought is certainly no Mind Sculptor, I’ve come a long way from my initial disappointment. It’s a card I’m excited to try, and I think there’s a reasonable chance it sees play in the new Standard format post-rotation. I expect the first place I’ll put it is in a U/W Control deck alongside some cards with the new Azorius mechanic, Detain. That plus new Jace and Tamiyo seem like a recipe for an excellent late game.

[Modern] In Testing: Pre-Worlds Updates to Flash Delirium

If you haven’t read my last post regarding the genesis of this deck, check it out here).

Here’s my most recent list:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
1 Familiar’s Ruse
3 Cryptic Command
3 Punishing Fire
3 Thirst for Knowledge
20 Instants

3 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Vendilion Clique
13 Creatures

1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Artifacts

3 Island
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Mutavault
1 Academy Ruins
24 Lands

In anticipation of a more aggro-heavy format, I went back to the Punishing/Grove combo, and also added Tarmogoyf back into the deck. While it doesn’t fit the instant-speed theme, it seems necessary for both early defense and added pressure. One of the things I found was that the deck wasn’t enough of a draw-go control deck to sit back and pick away at an opponent’s life total with a 1- or 2-power dude. Tarmogoyf fills the role nicely.

Another massive hole in the previous version was the lack of card draw. The Ninjas and their curiosity were great when they worked, but they weren’t reliable enough to provide the card advantage/selection that I found myself craving in many of my games. In a word: Cute. Thirst for Knowledge is making a noticeable impact in the games where I’ve seen it. While I’m discarding 2 cards far more often than I’m dumping an artifact, it hasn’t really been a problem (due in part to Snapcaster Mage, who can get use out of any instants or sorceries you decide to dump). One of my favorite “tricks” is to use Thirst mid-combat as a pseudo-pump spell for Tarmogoyf. They rarely see that one coming.

Obviously, these changes demanded some casualties from the previous version. I’m still loving the miser’s Familiar’s Ruse, so for the moment it’s staying. The 2 Ninjas, Venser, and a Vendilion Clique all bowed out to make room for 4 Tarmogoyf. The artifact count has been reduced to just one of each (although I’m likely including more in the sideboard), and a land was cut to make room for 6 more instants (3 each of both Punishing Fire and Thirst for Knowledge). I noticed I kept getting flooded, and since the deck can run reasonably well off just 4 lands, I felt safe doing this. With that in mind, however, I shaved the 4th Cryptic Command, which made room for the aforementioned miser’s Familiar’s Ruse.

The addition of both Tarmogoyf and Punishing Fire required a reworking of the manabase. The new color requirements meant that the 4th Mutavault was the first to go. I considered cutting the Academy Ruins, but having cut down to just one of each artifact, in addition to newcomer Thirst for Knowledge, I’ve kept it in for now. Watery Grave seemed unnecessary (I don’t think I ever needed black mana, not even once).

The Modern format is fairly difficult to grasp at the moment, especially post-bannings. It hasn’t had much of a chance to get any momentum, but I’m hoping Worlds and the upcoming PTQ season will help cement this format in the hearts of players, like Legacy before it. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Modern decks coming out of Worlds this week, as this is most likely to have the biggest influence on the upcoming PTQ season. If I had to guess, I’d say the format will initially revolve around Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. The best decks will be those that can use the combo most effectively, and those that can best neutralize its effects. (Honorable Mention goes to Spell Snare.)

  

Further updates to come. In the meantime, keep an eye on my Twitter account (@AffinityForBlue), as I’ll be tweeting from Worlds this week. You can also expect some content on Episode 87 of Yo! MTG Taps! (coming up after Thanksgiving).

[Modern] In Testing: Flash Delirium

When Snapcaster Mage was previewed at Pro Tour Philadelphia earlier this month, it was the talk of the tournament floor. Personally, I was excited to fit it into as many decks as possible. I already had Modern on the mind (it being the format of the Pro Tour), so the wheels were immediately turning in that direction.

I was already testing a Previous Level Blue style deck with the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combo, but was somewhat unimpressed. The manabase felt clunky, and the Punishing/Grove combo was not as strong as I’d expected. Not to mention the fact that the deck was clearly too slow for the then-current environment, which was saturated with blazingly fast combo decks that made it difficult for a control deck to thrive.

The bannings announced on September 20 changed all that. The loss of a key accelerant (Rite of Flame) plus the two best one-mana cantrips in the format (Preordain, Ponder) should significantly slow things down, providing an opportunity for control to get a grip on the format.

I decided to dismantle the deck I was testing and start from scratch, using various Previous Level Blue decks and Mystical Teachings decks as inspiration. Here’s what I ended up with.

Flash Delirium:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
4 Cryptic Command
14 Instants

3 Vendilion Clique
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Spellstutter Sprite
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
13 Creatures

3 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
8 Artifacts

4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Mutavault
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Academy Ruins
5 Island
25 Lands

The result leans towards Aggro-Control, something like a pre-Bitterblossom Faeries deck (did those even exist? Sure they did. Just ask Zvi). The amount of synergy in this deck is somewhat staggering. Not only are the individual cards powerful on their own, they work together to provide quite a bit of versatility. This is my kind of deck.

Of the 35 non-lands in the deck, 27 of them can be cast at instant speed (or pseudo-instant speed in the case of Ninja of the Deep Hours‘ mid-combat ninjutsu ability); hence the name, “Flash Delirium” (the name of one of my favorite MGMT songs).

Speaking of Ninja of the Deep Hours, its inclusion may seem questionable, but it fuels one of the trickiest (and, frankly, coolest) interactions in the deck. With so many flash creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities, Ninja acts as a one-use Riptide Laboratory that draws you a card (sometimes more than one) and allows you to return and reuse any of the other 11 creatures. Value! For the moment I’m going with the Ninja, but another idea I had (which doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive) is to play a copy or two of Familiar’s Ruse, which gives you a similar effect without the need to attack.

Moving on to the sorcery speed portion of the deck, Sword of Feast and Famine should be no surprise to anyone. With this many instant speed options, the deck is able to fully capitalize on the Sword’s untap trigger, while the protection the Sword offers can facilitate ninjutsu in a pinch, or help a Ninja slip by and draw you a card.

  

The manabase is built to take full advantage of both Vedalken Shackles and Engineered Explosives. Nearly every land is an island (or can fetch one), ensuring that the Shackles fit any creature you might encounter. The inclusion of all four blue Ravnica-block dual lands allows you to go to the full 5 Sunburst counters if necessary. Mutavault, while not an island, is a faerie, which can be relevant alongside Spellstutter Sprite (as anyone who plays Legacy or who played Standard when Lorwyn was legal will tell you). Lastly, Academy Ruins is there to pick up any broken Swords, Shackles, or dead Explosives that might have found their way into the graveyard.

This is still a rough and somewhat untested list, but it’s what I’m currently working with. I haven’t yet come up with a sideboard (it sort of depends on how the format shapes up), but I’ve got my eye on the usual players: Thoughtseize; Krosan Grip; Pithing Needle (and possibly Trinket Mage to fetch it; can also grab Explosives); Wrath of God; Lightning Bolt (or possibly Helix, but it might be a stretch). I’m also considering an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or two.

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear ’em.

Follow me on Twitter @affinityforblue.

UPDATE: A lot of people have been asking about the list, and while it is my intention to write up a full post after some more testing, I figured I’d throw out a few updates. After discussing the idea with Mike Flores, we both determined that the deck is likely lacking two things: more power/pressure, and probably more card draw as well. I’ve shaved some numbers, cut the Ninjas from the deck entirely, and added Tarmogoyf and the Punishing/Grove combo back into the deck (as Shaheen Soorani pointed out in his recent article on SCG, the format is looking fairly aggro-heavy). I’m currently playing with 2 copies of Familiar’s Ruse as well, which has been stellar. Next on my agenda is to get a few copies of Thirst for Knowledge into the deck. Theoretically, Snapcaster Mage will mitigate the downside of discarding spells off of a Thirst. I’m considering shaving a land, because it feels like the deck gets a little flooded more often than I’d like. More details to come.

On Mana Leak.

Wow. Considering the fact that for the past several hours, whenever I think about the fact that Mana Leak has been confirmed in M11 I’ve been pretty much speechless, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to tilt the pitcher and see what pours out.

First off, we haven’t seen Mana Leak in Standard since 9th Edition rotated out in 2007.

Three. Years. Ago.

Back then, it was often seen hanging around with cards like Compulsive Research, various blue Signets, Mystical Teachings, and the Pickle twins, Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental.

There was no such thing as a Planeswalker card. By the time Lorwyn hit the scene, Mana Leak had been gone for nearly three months.

Remember Faeries? No? Let me help you out:

   

See, Faeries didn’t have the help of Mana Leak. And anyone who played during Lorwyn’s time in Standard will tell you: Faeries didn’t NEED Mana Leak. Faeries had their own version of Mana Leak in Spellstutter Sprite, not to mention one of the best blue spells (and probably my favorite) ever printed, Cryptic Command. And that’s not all. Scion of Oona was around in case anyone tried anything funny, like attempting to somehow remove your Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom. (Ah, yes…Bitterblossom. That’s a story for another day.)

But us, now, in 2010? We could really use a Mana Leak. Counterspells nowadays are either incredibly narrow, terribly situational, costed too highly, or some combination of the three. What used to be Scion of Oona is now Hindering Light.

Alongside Deprive, blue mages now have a realistic opportunity to play a GOOD counter-suite. In the early game, Mana Leak is essentially Counterspell; and in the late game, Deprive fills the same role.

The question now becomes whether it is worth it to counter a spell in the current Standard. We’ve become overrun with creatures and planeswalkers as of late. Generally, we’d rather deal with creatures in another way (Day of Judgment, instant-speed spot removal if necessary) since we have ways to remove them after they’ve hit the table, and summoning sickness gives us the opportunity to do so without giving the creature a chance to make an impact. The exceptions to this are creatures with haste and those with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

So, what creatures are we seeing in Standard that would fall into those categories? Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle… Do you really want to spend a counter on those? Sphinx of Lost Truths, sure, that’s one I’d counter. Ranger of Eos, too. Bloodbraid Elf? No. And as much as Mike Flores wants me to “admit” it, I do not want to counter a Vengevine.

Okay, so that leaves Planeswalkers. I am perfectly happy spending a counterspell on a Planeswalker, as even though it seems like a one-for-one, we all know the card advantage that ‘walkers provide. But if the only spells worth countering in Standard are Planeswalkers, wouldn’t it be acceptable to just run Negate and take the risk of facing the occasional Sphinx or Ranger? Why do we “need” Mana Leak?

The truth is, permanents—creatures, specifically—have become so powerful that even “good” counterspells have lost a step. We need our counters to be versatile or they’re not worth running at all (see also: Standard). I’m beginning to wonder if that hasn’t been Wizards’ plan all along: Weaken the counterspells, then make creatures better and better until “classic” counterspells are balanced. Are we reaching a point where Counterspell itself would be a fair card to reprint? Think about it. No one expected Lightning Bolt to come back. (Hell, I remember being excited to see Incinerate come back in Tenth Edition!) Creatures were pushed to a degree that made Lightning Bolt no longer the powerhouse it once was, hence the return of the most classic burn spell ever printed.

Is it so crazy to think that perhaps Wizards is pushing the game to a level where Counterspell is balanced?



Be sure to check out the latest episode of Yo! MTG Taps! over on StarCityGames.com!

On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.

Wally Mnemonic

A few quick thoughts on Mnemonic Wall.

The other day, I compared Mnemonic Wall to Eternal Witness. While this comparison still applies, I can’t help but think that the Wall may be even better than I originally thought.

Consider the applications of being able to clear the board with Day of Judgment against an aggro deck, then follow it up with Mnemonic Wall to simultaneously retrieve the Wrath from the graveyard AND put your opponent in a situation where they have to either a) play a creature that the Wall can’t profitably block, or b) overcommit to the Day of Judgment that’s now back in your hand.

On its own, it’s a two-for-one; but in the context of a deck with multiple X-for-one Sorceries and Instants, the Wall can bring back anything from Mind Spring to Mind Shatter, from Day of Judgment to Martial Coup. Or perhaps, “Hm, I think I’ll have that Blightning back, thanks.”

And lest we forget: It blocks! It blocks Bloodbraid Elves and Sprouting Thrinaxes, Kor Firewalkers and Nissa’s Chosen. It’s a great chump blocker to give you one more turn to replay that Wrath. It’s also one more permanent to sacrifice to any Annihilator Eldrazi that may somehow make their way onto the board (not that that’s a great reason to use it, but in a control deck that tends to have few nonland permanents, it’s something to keep in mind at least. Sometimes a land may be more important to keep around than an 0/4 wall).

Lastly, a blurb from Evan Erwin’s Twitter: “Mnemonic Wall seems pretty good with Reveillark in Extended. Just sayin.”

Of course, I’m not sure what else Rise of the Eldrazi has in store for us, but at the moment, Mnemonic Wall looks like an exciting, constructed-playable card that should at least make the short list when building any blue-based control deck.

CURRENTLY READING: The Glass of Time by Michael Cox.