Jace, Memory Adept – Under the Hood

It’s been a while, but I wanted to drop a quick post with a few initial thoughts on the latest Jace to (potentially) grace Standard, since the Mind Sculptor has been banned and the original will be rotating in October.

If you haven’t yet seen it, here it is:

Jace, Memory Adept

Yeah, seems…neat.

To me the obvious comparison is Venser, the Sojourner. At the same converted mana cost, their first abilities are comparable, as typically with Venser you’re blinking Spreading Seas and Wall of Omens, etc. Venser’s starting loyalty is lower, but both ‘walkers can immediately go to 5 loyalty, so that’s a wash. On the following turn though, Venser hits 7 loyalty while Jace only reaches 6. This could be very relevant if you’re attempting to reach the ultimate against attacking creatures or a deck with burn. While Jace’s +1 is more “guaranteed” (since you actually need something decent in play to blink with Venser), Venser has the slight edge here in my opinion for the versatility. Blinking a Sun Titan, or any Titan for that matter, often gives you more than a single card’s worth of value, and having to option to blink-“untap” a land in a pinch is useful more often than you might think. There’s a plethora of options here to find interesting permanents with enter-the-battlefield abilities that can be used (and hopefully abused) with Venser.

Skipping the middle ability for a sec, both planeswalkers reach their “ultimate” in the same amount of time (4 activations if left unchecked), and both should win you the game. However, while Venser gives you an emblem that applies for the duration of the game, you only get one turn with the cards from Jace before you need to discard back down to 7. Drawing 20 cards is immensely powerful, don’t get me wrong, but if you can’t put those cards to use the majority of that advantage goes to waste. Not only that, but you have to be careful, since there’s a nonzero chance that you deck yourself. Keep in mind: Using Venser’s +2 for three turns puts him at 9 loyalty, meaning that he sticks around for more blink action after you get his emblem. Jace has to survive an additional turn if you want him to stay in play after his ultimate.

The middle ability on Jace, Memory Adept is probably the most interesting one. In the context of the current Standard, it is “just” a milling strategy. No question, if you let your opponent keep Jace around for too long, he has the potential to be a killer, but it has no real effect on the board, and if this is the route you’re going, you’ve got to worry about protecting Jace. However, all signs point to Innistrad (the fall 2011 set) as a graveyard-based set. It’s exciting to consider whether in the future we will have a reason to want to mill our own library. This is a common thing in Legacy (Dredge, Breakfast), but not usually in Standard. Flashback has already been confirmed (via D12) as a returning keyword in Innistrad.

For the moment, it seems like you can get more value and versatility out of Venser, but if there’s a reason to want to stock our own graveyards, Jace, Memory Adept could be where it’s at. Also, if there are hardcore good milling strategies coming down the pipe, Jace could actually be a staple in those sorts of decks. The Eldrazi giants are rotating, and WotC loves to create tension in their strategies, so pushing milling as a win condition seems to fit perfectly into a graveyard-based block. That’s my prediction anyway.

Be careful to avoid the trap of comparing this new incarnation to Jace, The Mind Sculptor. It’s a different card with different applications, and should be treated as such.

It’s stronger than it looks at first glance. Playable? Maybe, maybe not. But remember, Wizards wants planeswalkers to be playable; Aaron Forsythe even admitted that Chandra Ablaze was a failed design. This Jace’s power may not be immediately apparent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It may just be waiting for some friends. (Remember Stoneforge Mystic before Swords?)


Why I’m excited for Venser (and you should be too).

I mean, first of all, it’s freaking Venser.

Remember how good the original Venser was a few years back? Of course, the new Venser has little to do with his previous Legendary incarnation, aside from representing the same character. However, this version may have even more of an impact on Standard than the Shaper Savant.

Venser, the Sojourner was the first major card spoiled from Scars of Mirrodin. Being a huge fan of the first Venser (shocking, I know), I was super excited to see what his planeswalker self would be capable of. However, to be honest, I was sort of let down at first.

A Sorcery-speed Momentary Blink? Hm, okay, what else?

Make my creatures unblockable? What creatures? Baneslayer? Celestial Colonnade? They don’t really need it, being that they have Flying.

What’s his ultimate? Exile stuff. Seems spicy, but so does every other planeswalker’s ultimate ability. To be playable, his non-ultimate abilities need to have an impact in case he never reaches his ultimate.

So, with my initial impression out of the way (“he’s okay, but really needs to be built around to be any good”), I moved on to other Scars of Mirrodin spoilers, which were pouring forth at an alarming rate. Elspeth Tirel, Koth (KOTH!), Mox Opalman, Elspeth seems so good!Geez, how am I gonna deal with this Koth guy? Should I just play red?

But when I stopped for a little while, for whatever reason, Venser kept scratching around on the inside of my skull.

So I took a (figurative) page out of Patrick Chapin’s book (Next Level Magic, which you can buy here!) and took another look at Venser from a different perspective: What would make this card good?

I sketched out a list based on an amalgamation of Next Level Bant and U/W Sun Titan Control, trying to get the most possible advantage out of Venser while not relying too much on him. (Looking back, I was definitely overcompensating for Memoricide and therefore wanted to diversify my threats.)

2 Preordain
2 Condemn
4 Mana Leak
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Wall Omens
4 Sea Gate Oracle
3 Jace Beleren
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Day of Judgment
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
3 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sun Titan

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
5 Plains
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tectonic Edge

Here is the (entirely unedited) e-mail I sent to Bigheadjoe (my co-host on my podcast, Yo! MTG Taps!—but you knew that already, right?) in the wee hours of the morning on September 10:

○ Condemn, Mana Leak, DoJ, Journey, Tumble Magnet – disruption
○ Preordain – card quality + cantrip
○ Wall, Oracle, Beleren – cantrips, blink targets
○ Sun Titan – gets back all the cantrip permanents, also gets back Journey and Tumble Magnet (if destroyed or discarded to SoLT or something). Sick blink target.
○ Sphinx of Lost Truths – can throw just about any of that stuff into the ‘yard & then I can just get it back w/ Sun Titan. Another blink target.
○ Venser – can blink almost everything to good effect (Wall, Oracle, Sphinx); resets Beleren and Magnet too.
○ Elspeth T. & JTMS – to assist & be alternate win conditions (considering how many cards I’m drawing, I’ll see them fairly often, but don’t need them to win)
○ BSA – because the only relevant ability she lacks is vigilance, and with Venser in play, she has it 🙂 Another win condition.

The interesting thing is I built the deck around Venser, but he’s not the win condition, so the deck is inherently strong against Memoricide (a lot of diversity).

There are a whopping 14 win conditions!:
Titan x2
Sphinx x2
Venser x3
Elspeth x1
BSA x1
Colonnade x4

Tumble Magnet + Walls and Oracles force over-extension into DoJ or Elspeth’s ultimate. I can DoJ on turn 4, then on 5 do any number of things: SoLT, BSA, Elspeth; with a Condemn in hand, I can play Venser, blink-untap a land, and if a haste creature tries to attack the unprotected Venser, I have mana up for Condemn. Turn 6 a Sun Titan starts bringing back whatever creatures of mine that I may have wrathed away on turn 4.

Venser can also move the Journey to more relevant creatures if I want, and can blink himself to dodge Elspeth’s ultimate. Tirel also destroys Journey and Magnet, but Titan brings them both back. With a Venser in play, on turn 6 I can play Titan, get back a Wall or an oracle, blink the Titan, get back another Wall or Oracle. Plenty of protection for Venser and meanwhile filling my hand with spells for if/when I can use his ultimate. Tectonic Edge w/ Sun Titan & Venser is just sickening. Kill 2 nonbasics a turn. Then start exiling lands with Venser’s ultimate.

I’ve got a confession to make: I have yet to actually try this list, although I still feel it may have potential (I think it’s at least worth trying). Side note: If anyone actually does give this a try, I’d really love to hear your feedback.

So, that was 3 weeks ago, and since then I’ve come to the realization that Venser doesn’t actually need to be built around. Sure, you want to have targets for his blink ability, but the great thing about Venser is how well he already fits into the synergies of U/W Control! The most recent iterations of classic U/W are already playing cards that have a natural affinity for Venser’s blink ability: Wall of Omens; Sun Titan. Give your Baneslayer (or Wurmcoil Engine) faux-Vigilance, or save it from the Day of Judgment you’re about to cast. Move your Journey to Nowhere onto a more relevant target. Untap a land to keep counter-magic or removal mana open.

It only takes three activations to put him on his ultimate. Forget about the minus ability (although it’s there if you can capitalize on it). If you can protect Venser for just three of your opponent’s turns—not such a tall order if you consider the type of cards you’re likely already playing—you’ll be exiling permanents every time you cast a spell (whether that spell resolves or not).

Here’s a rough list, which I’ll be testing a bit this weekend:

2 Condemn
4 Preordain

3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Wall of Omens

1 Negate
4 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
1 Stoic Rebuttal
2 Journey to Nowhere

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Day of Judgment
2 Venser, the Sojourner

2 Sun Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Tectonic Edge
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Plains
8 Island

No sideboard as of yet, but I’d expect to play the usual suspects: some number of Flashfreeze and/or Celestial Purge, and possibly Oust (for Fauna Shaman and other problem creatures that don’t tend to attack and thus are not susceptible to Condemn).

Other cards to consider (main or side, probably main) are Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb. Into the Roil seems like it would be particularly strong in an unknown metagame as a nice catch-all. Ratchet Bomb is retrievable with Sun Titan and seems like just the type of card that you might want to reuse.

Whether you like Venser or not, Scars of Mirrodin has brought with it a TON of options, in addition to pushing some huge players out of the format (remember Bloodbraid Elf?). Now is a great time to not only look at the new cards but to also take a look back at the cards that might not have been as practical in a format like AlaraM10Zendikar Standard. There may be some hidden gems amongst the cards we all passed over while trying to fight against a turn-two Putrid Leech. I know a certain Dragonmaster who’s been eyeballing a modern-day Ophidian for its new-Standard potential…

A Look at Goblin Sligh in 2002.

Goblins! A Look at Goblin Sligh in Type II

This article was originally published on December 24, 2002 on the now-defunct MTGPlanet.com (conveniently archived by the Internet Wayback Machine).

First of all, for those of you who don’t know me (which would be pretty much everyone, as this is my first article on a MTG website), my name is Joe Pasco and I’ve been playing Magic on and off since Revised Edition. While I started off playing green, I was a red mage through-and-through by the autumn of 1997, when I built my first Sligh deck (I had never heard of “Sligh” then, I just called it a “Direct Damage” deck—but my friends who could rarely win against it called it “The God Deck”). I stopped playing for about 2 years after that, returning for Urza’s Destiny and Mercadian Masques, and after that I stopped playing MTG until the release of Judgment just a few months ago. With all the Wurms and Mongrels running around (or should I say “flying around”?), I was too distracted to even think about playing red (summer just brings out the green mage in me). I hadn’t played a Sligh deck since 1997 and honestly, I missed it.


Since I play mostly Type II, I decided that I’d try to build a viable T2 Sligh deck that could romp with the rest of the big decks out there right now, and hopefully smash some face a good percentage of the time, too. After browsing some forums and getting some ideas, I came up with a new T2 Sligh deck based around—what else?—Goblins! The release of Onslaught in early October brought us some premium goodies as far as Goblins go: Goblin Sledder, Goblin Taskmaster, Goblin Piledriver, and Goblin Sharpshooter. Brightstone Ritual, Skirk Prospector, and Goblin Pyromancer didn’t look too bad either. Of course, though not a goblin, I can’t forget about everyone’s favorite new reason to play red: Blistering Firecat.

Here’s what I came up with:

Creatures (25)
4 Raging Goblin
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Taskmaster
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Sparksmith
3 Goblin Sharpshooter
2 Blistering Firecat

Other Spells (15)
4 Reckless Charge
4 Shock
4 Lava Dart
3 Violent Eruption

Land (20)
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
11 Mountains
1 Goblin Burrows

4 Naturalize
3 Tranquility
4 Smother
2 Swamps
2 Forest

I decided against using Goblin Pyromancer, Brightstone Ritual, and Skirk Prospector. The Goblin Pyromancer is just too slow, and odds are that if you’ve got that many goblins on the table, you’re winning anyway. As for the Ritual and the Prospector, first of all, they work against each other. Sure, you could add Blaze to the deck, cast a Brightstone Ritual and then sac all your goblins to power up a huge burn spell, but that’s just too risky. Other than that, there just aren’t that may times when this deck needs extra mana; it’s a cheap, fast, aggressive deck, and while these cards could speed it up, it wouldn’t be until later in the game when it’s really not necessary. There are better, more aggressive cards to be played.

Some explanations:

Raging Goblin: Nearly always what you want to cast on turn one. Usually draws first blood. Also good on turn three if you’ve cast a turn two Goblin Piledriver.
Goblin Sledder: One of the best goblins ever. This guy totally messes with your opponent’s “combat math.” Also great when combined with Goblin Sharpshooter.
Goblin Taskmaster: Another one-drop goblin to boost your Goblin Piledriver, he can also Morph and can pump any goblin for 1R.
Goblin Piledriver: Your key goblin, this guy is capable of dealing massive amounts of damage unexpectedly during one turn. Combined with Reckless Charge and some other attacking goblins, he can be better than a Blistering Firecat.
Sparksmith is amazing. His key role is to clear the way for your Goblin Piledriver so that you can get in that maximum amount of damage.
Goblin Sharpshooter: Probably the most fun card to play in this deck, depending on the situation. Any creature on the table with a toughness of 1 can just start making funeral arrangements once the Sharpshooter is active. Never has your wrist gotten such a workout (well, maybe not never): “Shoot your Grim Lavamancer, untap, shoot your Voidmage Prodigy, untap, shoot your Basking Rootwalla, untap, shoot your Merfolk Looter, untap. What’s that? A Blistering Firecat? Shoot it with my Sharpshooter, untap.” Ridiculous.
Blistering Firecat: Do I really need to explain this guy? His only drawback is that in a deck meant to be as aggressive as this one, waiting until the 4th turn is sometimes too slow. Nevertheless, this guy is almost ALWAYS trouble.
Reckless Charge: A key card to the deck, this card allows you to attack on turn three with a Goblin Piledriver and up to 3 other goblins for up to 13 damage on one turn. Four copies is a must.
Shock: One mana for two damage to any target? And it’s an Instant? Why would you not have this in your red deck? (Considering it’s the closest thing Sligh’s got to a Lightning Bolt anymore, I would hope you’d run 4 copies)
Lava Dart: Protection against any 1-toughness creatures such as an opposing Blistering Firecat, the Dart can also be flashed back by sacrificing a mountain if you’re in a pinch. Believe it or not, this card has won me games more than I ever would have thought.
Violent Eruption: Four Instant-speed damage divided however you choose; with a Madness cost of 1RR, to boot. A great finisher or sometimes a board-clearer to make way for a Goblin Piledriver & friends.
Goblin Burrows: A tribal land that speeds up your deck even more by giving your goblins an extra +2/+0 boost. Not a great card to draw on your first turn, but nevertheless it can be very helpful in allowing you to win the game before your opponent can gain any sort of board control.
Fetchlands (Wooded Foothills, Bloodstained Mire): If you haven’t ehard how great these guys are, I advise you to check them out. They’re great for thinning your deck so that you draw your business spells instead of land. They also help stabilize your mana base and allow you to include cards like Naturalize, Tranquility, and Smother in the sideboard.

Naturalize, Tranquility: Enchantments and artifacts like Engineered Plague and Caltrops can shut down this deck—these two sideboard goodies are how you prevent that from happening. Seven cards to deal with enchantments/artifacts might seem excessive, but two of the most dominating decks are named after the enchantments that they’re based around: Mirari’s Wake and Astral Slide/Lightning Rift. Enchantments such as Oversold Cemetery aren’t all that great to be sitting across the table from either (especially when you’re using a Sparksmith to send creatures to the graveyard and your opponent just keeps pulling them back out).
Smother: There are just too many creatures running around in the metagame that are prime targets for this card. Against U/G Madness, you’ve got their Wild Mongrels and Wurm tokens taken care of; Psychatog is history; and face-downs like Grinning Demon and Exalted Angel will have to be hard-cast to get past this card.

This deck is meant to come out fast and hard; drop a goblin on turn one, another on turn
two (or maybe even two goblins on turn two, if they’re both one-drops—which is very possible with this deck, considering that there are 12 one-drop goblins), and then on turn three you explode with a Goblin Piledriver and a Reckless Charge on the Piledriver, attacking for up to 13 damage on turn three. This is the optimum situation of course, but it can happen (in fact, it’s much more likely than a lot of other Type II combos out there right now).

A very wise Sligh player once said, “if you’re blocking, you’re losing.” That’s definitely the case with this deck. The important thing is not to deal with your opponent’s threats, but to deal with your opponent’s answers to your threats. Cards like Engineered Plague, Caltrops, and Circle of Protection: Red are all defensive cards that are trouble for your deck, but if you’ve got ways to deal with them, it forces your opponent to find another way to deal with your threats. This is obviously where the sideboard comes in. Naturalize and Tranquility are fantastic ways to get rid of cards like E. Plague and Caltrops. Your opponent probably sideboarded those cards in on game two to deal with the massive amounts of goblins in your deck, so chances are they’re not running 4 of them. If you can get rid of what they’ve got, they’re left with little defense. This enchantment-hate is also vital considering the current metagame. If your opponent’s Wake deck can’t keep a Wake in play, or if you can keep Astral Slide and Lightning Rift off the table, Goblin Sligh will have no problem beating your opponent senseless while his life total drops from 20 to 0.

After some testing (vs MBC, UG Opposition, and another Sligh—I won about 50% vs MBC and UG Opposition, and about 85% vs Sligh), I found that this deck was a little too heavy on the goblins, and perhaps not heavy enough on the burn. I found that I wasn’t using the Goblin Taskmaster’s pump ability very often, and Goblin Burrows wasn’t helping as much as I would have liked either. Goblin Sharpshooter was only effective against deck with a lot of small creatures (elves, soldiers, rootwallas, squirrels, etc; against decks like these, the Sharpshooter was a bomb); therefore I decided to move it to the sideboard. Because of the deck’s dependency on not only creatures but on goblins specifically, I decided to make a few changes that would keep Engineered Plague and other tribal-hosers from being as effective. I also decided to add a little more burn to the deck; there were too many times when I was getting my opponent down to less than 4 life and then just waiting to draw some direct damage. Here are the changes to the maindeck:

-4 Goblin Taskmaster
-1 Lava Dart
-1 Sparksmith
-3 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Goblin Burrows

+4 Grim Lavamancer
+3 Firebolt
+2 Blistering Firecat
+1 Mountain

Grim Lavamancer is just too good to not include in this deck; previously being so focused on goblins caused me to overlook the quality of this guy. A Shock every turn? Fantastic. Grimmy also has great synergy with the fetchlands.

I was depating about how many Blistering Firecats to include in the original version of this deck. In the end, I found that 4 copies is definitely key to the deck. Opponents have to find a way to deal with him; he’s just too dangerous to ignore. At worst, those Engineered Plagues will be set first to “cats” instead of to “goblins.”

At first, I thought Firebolt might be too slow, considering that it can only be cast on your turn. However, there’s enough Instant-speed burn in the deck to protect you on your opponent’s turn; also, if the game ends up lasting longer than expected, Firebolt’s flashback ability can help you end the game where Shock was not able to.

As far as the sideboard goes, two of each basic land (2 Swamps, 2 Forests) was just unnecessary; one of each is plenty. Despite the enchantment-heavy metagame, 7 cards in the sideboard for a deck that is supposed to be aggressive is just too much. After having removed two of the basic lands from the sideboard, cutting 2 Tranquility now makes room for 4 Goblin Sharpshooters.

Here’s the final decklist:

Creatures (23)
4 Raging Goblin
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Goblin Piledriver
3 Smarksmith
4 Blistering Firecat

Other Spells (16)
4 Reckless Charge
4 Shock
3 Lava Dart
3 Violent Eruption
3 Firebolt

Land (21)
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
13 Mountains

4 Naturalize
1 Tranquility
4 Smother
1 Swamps
1 Forest
4 Goblin Sharpshooter

I’ve seen some other similar decks using cards such as Barbarian Ring and Volcanic Hammer in the maindeck, and Threaten in the sideboard. You can give those cards a try if you want. I don’t like Barbarian Ring because it relies on having threshold, and while you’re putting tons of cards in the graveyard, you’re also removing them with the Grim Lavamancers, so threshold is just not very likely. That in addition to the fact that you’re probably taking a reasonable amount of damage from the fetchlands and I say Barbarian Ring is just unnecessary. As for Volcanic Hammer, it’s just more burn; if you can find room, I say go for it. I just like Instants better than Sorceries (don’t we all?) so I’d rather play with Lava Dart and Shock, and use Firebolt as my only Sorcery-speed burn. Threaten, on the other hand, is definitely worth trying. I haven’t tested it yet as I can’t seem to find room for it, but with all of the wurms hitting tables, being able to steal one for a turn can probably win you the game. Too bad it’s not an Instant; it would be great to be able to steal an opposing 6/6 wurm to use as a blocker, perhaps getting rid of two creatures at once. Regardless, it’s worth a shot, especially if you’re used to seeing a lot of creatures on the other side of the board.

Thanks for reading my first MTG article. Any comments are welcome and very much appreciated. I’m always willing to hear someone else’s opinions, so feel free to send me some constructive criticism.