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.

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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
JTMS 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…

On Gideon Jura

For those of you that haven’t seen the latest planeswalker to be spoiled from Rise of the Eldrazi:

I’m more excited about Gideon than any other card from Rise that I’ve seen spoiled so far. On turn five, you can use him as removal to take out whatever creature your opponent just used to attack you. Or, using his first ability you can stall, and unless your opponent is able to do 8 damage in one swing (or swing + burn), he’s pretty safe (in that way, he reminds me quite a bit of good old Veteran Bodyguard). In a deck like UW control, which keeps the board relatively clear, you can +2 him even when your opponent has no creatures, just to boost his loyalty a bit so that you can use the 2nd ability more often, or to keep him further out of range of attacking creatures coming his way. With something like Wall of Denial, he basically ends up being the Icy+Assassin combo of old (I force your creature to attack, I block with Wall, neither die; next turn I use Gideon to destroy your tapped creature).

And here’s a cool rules interaction to exploit: If your opponent has an Eldrazi in play, you can +2 Gideon, and when the Eldrazi attacks, sacrifice Gideon to the Annihilator trigger. Since the attack was declared at Gideon, the Eldrazi will deal no damage to you on that attack, even though Gideon is gone. Not game-breaking by any means, but it does save you from that Eldrazi for a turn.

His last ability (his “ultimate”) is really exciting. Just like the manlands, he’s safe from Day of Judgment, but—unlike the manlands—costs 0 mana to activate, so you can still keep counter mana up. You can effectively Wrath your opponent’s side of the board and then swing in unimpeded.

The more I think about Gideon and consider the possibilities, the more I like him. He’s a noncreature win condition that can fit right into UW Control alongside Jace. He’s already pre-selling on eBay for $20+, and I fully expect his price to rise in the coming months.

Chapin’s List (UW Control)

Pro-Tour San Diego: Patrick Chapin and his Blue-White Control deck were featured in a video deck tech late on Friday evening. See below:

So, sideboard notwithstanding, I wasn’t far off. Looks like Chapin ditched the Calcite Snappers (regrettably, considering the moniker I used for the deck in my last post), but otherwise a very similar list to what I have above. I’m actually surprised how close I was to getting the same manabase—I’m only off by +1 Scalding Tarn. Chapin does indeed run 2 copies each of Mind Spring and Martial Coup, along with maindeck Flashfreeze and Celestial Purge.

Notice also the FOUR copies of Cancel in Chapin’s deck.

FOUR!

CANCEL!!

AT THE PRO-TOUR!!!

     

     

At first, this seems a bit odd. Before now, the problem with most of the playable counterspells (Flashfreeze, Negate, Essence Scatter) was that they were narrow, which often made it difficult to have the correct counterspell for the situation. Enter Worldwake: along come Jace, the Mind Sculptor AND Halimar Depths—both of which help to correct this problem. With these cards, it is much, much easier to have the right counter at the right time. Still, Chapin & co. chose to run 4 copies of Cancel. Why?

The “problem” with Cancel has always been blatantly obvious. Counterspell=good. Cancel=bad. The only difference between the cards is the extra 1 mana. It might not seem like much, but imagine if the price of a staple such as gasoline increased by 33% (oh, wait…it has). Sucks, right? But Worldwake has also gifted us with a means of making up that difference: the mother-lovin’, Everflowing Chalice. As Chapin explains in the video, Chalice may be the “best signet ever,” due to its versatility.

For the curious, here are the differences from my original list:

-3 Calcite Snapper
-2 Negate
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Scalding Tarn

+2 Cancel
+2 Flashfreeze
+2 Martial Coup
+2 Mind Spring
+1 Celestial Purge

Lastly, here’s Chapin’s maindeck (as he had it arranged in the deck tech):

Jace and friend

Photo by Alexander Shearer

[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Flashfreeze
[4] Cancel
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[2] Mind Spring
[2] Martial Coup
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Treasure Hunt
[3] Oblivion Ring
[1] Celestial Purge
[3] Day of Judgment
[1] Path to Exile
[2] Arid Mesa
[1] Negate
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[4] Plains
[1] Scalding Tarn
[3] Island
[4] Halimar Depths

EDIT: Added Chapin’s sideboard:

[3]  Baneslayer Angel
[1]  Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[1]  Essence Scatter
[2]  Flashfreeze
[3]  Kor Firewalker
[1]  Mind Control
[2]  Negate
[1]  Perimeter Captain
[1]  Plains

Snapper Control for Standard

Just as a quick aside, I thought I’d post the list I’ve been working on for post-Worldwake Standard.

CREATURES (4):
[3] Calcite Snapper
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria

COUNTERSPELLS (7):
[3] Negate
[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Cancel

REMOVAL (10):
[3] Oblivion Ring
[3] Path to Exile
[4] Day of Judgment

OTHER (12)
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Treasure Hunt

LANDS (27):
[4] Halimar Depths
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[3] Island
[4] Plains
[2] Scalding Tarn
[2] Arid Mesa

This list is inspired by a deck I watched Patrick Chapin play on the Magic Cruise last week. I didn’t get the list from him or anything, but I watched a couple of games and I liked what I saw.

UPDATE: Based on the coverage of PT San Diego, Chapin & crew (including Gabriel Nassif and possibly Mark Herberholz) may also be running maindeck Martial Coup and Mind Spring. I’ll update with the official list(s) sometime this weekend (as soon as I can get ’em)!

I don’t have an exact sideboard as of yet, but I’m thinking 4 Spreading Seas, 3-4 Flashfreeze, some amount of Celestial Purges, maybe a Luminarch Ascension or two. Into the Roil seems to be a great catch-all, especially for when a planeswalker slides past your Negates/Cancels; then again, a 4th copy of Oblivion Ring should do the trick (but I sure do love the cantrip option on Into the Roil). I need to test the maindeck some more to find the weak spots before I get a good idea of how the sideboard is going to end up.

     

So far, with no sideboard, I’ve been loving this deck. Originally I was thinking Esper was the way to go, but the Jace/Halimar Depths/Treasure Hunt engine makes Esper Charm a lot less necessary—and let’s not kid ourselves, Esper Charm is the best reason to play UWB. Cutting the black from the deck takes a lot of pressure off the manabase, freeing up space for Tectonic Edge. Having now actually played with Celestial Colonnade, it’s better than I expected. Vigilance on a manland in a control deck is just SO. GOOD.

     

To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about blue right now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good. Really good. I love it. But the problem is, so does everyone else. While that won’t stop me from playing the decks I want to play, it’s never as much fun to play a deck when everyone else is playing it, too. On the other hand, maybe I should look at this as an opportunity to focus my efforts on how to edge out the pseudo-mirror match; that’s a skill I’ve always avoided, simply because it was not as enjoyable to play against a deck similar to my own.

Nevertheless, I’m really excited to see what the pro players have been brewing up for Pro Tour San Diego this weekend. Keep up with the coverage over at the mothership!

Yo! MTG Taps! Exclusive Interview with Patrick Chapin, & More!

Yo! MTG Taps! MC2 Coverage Part 2 – Patrick Chapin, the Mind Sculptor is now available for download!


Check it out over on MTGCast!

The second installment of our coverage of the Magic Cruise: An EXCLUSIVE interview with the Innovator himself, Patrick Chapin!

Also includes bonus audio coverage of Patrick’s monologue from the Magic Cruise on the impact of Worldwake!

***EXTRA! EXTRA! DOUBLE-FEATURE FRIDAY!!***

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 11 – The REAL Episode 11 is also now available for download!

It’s been three weeks since our last “official” episode, and we’ve got a lot to talk about! A bit about the Magic Cruise, BigHeadJoe goes over GP Oakland, and we discuss a little Standard and Worldwake. Also, we have some listener emails and our first listener voicemails!

Be sure to check out the MC3, coming up in February 2011!

Contact info:
Email: yomtgtaps [at] gmail [dot] com
Voice Mail Line: 1-331-MTG-TAPS
Twitter: twitter.com/yomtgtaps
Joey Pasco’s Twitter: twitter.com/affinityforblue
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/yomtgtaps
Facebook: Become a fan of “Yo! MTG Taps!”
Bigheadjoe’s Blog: http://otherworldlyjourney.blogspot.com
Joey Pasco’s Blog: http://www.affinityforislands.com

Thanks for listening!