The Impact of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern

On the morning of February 12, 2018, I was wracked with anxiety and anticipation during my drive to work, as the announcement of the Banned and Restricted list update was near. I remember the week prior speculating with friends and co-workers about what could get unbanned, and what would receive a banning. Many had guessed that it was finally time to let Ponder or Preordain have their Modern day in the sun, retire a piece out of Death’s Shadow builds such as Street Wraith, or put an end to the gross enabler of busted starts that is Simian Spirit Guide. Several screenshots surfaced of the beta MTGO client released the week before that supposedly hinted at an unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf, which spread like wildfire on Reddit and fueled a lot of speculative talk about its unbanning. When I finally arrived and clocked in, I was shocked to find out the news.

My reaction to the above image was one of mixed emotions, with some excitement that blue midrange and control decks finally get much needed shot in the arm, but mostly of fear that Bloodbraid Elf was back. I could sense the devilish glee of Jund players around the world, eager to cascade Kolaghan’s Command off the top for the very first time since it had been banned along with Deathrite Shaman in 2014. Jund was the arguably the most dominant archetype and had some of the most disgusting early plays available in Modern, such as turn two Liliana of the Veil.

While it is now clear that the elf paid for the sins of Deathrite Shaman, it stands to reason that Bloodbraid Elf was one of the most powerful cards Jund decks had access to. Enter the modern of 2018 – BBE is every bit as powerful as it once was, contributing to a great resurgence in Jund popularity and success in the overall metagame, contending with current heavy hitters such as Hollow One, Humans, Affinity, and Tron. The same can’t be said for our old friend Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

The classic argument for both of these cards existing in the Modern landscape was that they both had to be legal, to provide some sense of checks and balances in the competitive environment. As many players who grinded games in the Alara Standard will tell you, the primary forces stifling Jace’s dominance around that time were Putrid Leech, Blightning, and Bloodbraid Elf. As soon as Alara block rotated, it was only a short time before Jace and his best friends Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawks carrying Swords were the team to beat. While this is just a short summary of the entire situation, I can say with confidence that Caw Blade variants were some of the most oppressive builds I can remember having faced down, and one of the most grindy mirror matches I’ve ever played. Just the mere mention of Jace in those days was enough to incite audible groans across the room at a Friday Night Magic. Today, Jace is back in arguably his most powerful form, yet it seems like very few people even gave the card a second thought past the initial unbanning.

In the short period of time between now and Jace’s unbanning, he has made very little impact in Modern. While he does occupy at least one slot in most Jeskai, UW, and Blue Moon decks, he is nowhere near what these decks needed to sustain themselves against the onslaught of linear strategies Modern features, and certainly is not the boogeyman he was in Standard. Most aggressive strategies in Modern simply do not care if he ever hits the table when they have a moderate to strong board presence, and combo decks are happy to see you tap out on turn 4 for a Brainstorm. As well, the four mana slots on the curve are a bit crowded with Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command in the mix.

With the release of Dominaria, UW control gets a brand new toy in Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Here we see a walker that is already starting to make waves in the Modern dailies on MTGO. While not quite as powerful as he seems to be in the current Standard, this Teferi is nothing to scoff at in the Modern landscape. The biggest benefit to him is that playing him using his best ability on the same turn doesn’t mean you’re tapped out. Being able to slam this on turn 5, draw a card, and hold up any variety of control spells like Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Logic Knot, Remand… You get my point. You also get cute little plays such as playing Celestial Colonnade tapped and having its mana, and more importantly, its activated ability, available at the end of turn. You can sometimes even get a second activation out of your flipped Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin! As well, his minus ability is going to deal with an opposing threat in a way that gives you much more time to find an answer and provides excellent flexibility in removing a variety of permanents, as opposed to Jace’s Unsummon that only deals with creatures.

While it is a bit too early to herald Teferi’s presence in Modern as the card that pushes control to the top of the metagame, it is exciting to see the archetype get a boost with this new tool, in line with Jace, Search for Azcanta, and Settle the Wreckage before it. There may even be space for both walkers in some lists, for an ultimate card advantage package, and I will definitely be trying to jam some games with them in the very near future.

I’ll leave you all with this awesome new decklist that recently 5-0’d an MTGO Competitive Modern League

Jeskai Control

By viktor_von_muerte

Modern

3 Wall of Omens

2 Vendilion Clique

4 Snapcaster Mage

2 Search for Azcanta

4 Path to Exile

1 Negate

2 Logic Knot

3 Lightning Helix

2 Lightning Bolt

1 Electrolyze

4 Cryptic Command

2 Supreme Verdict

4 Serum Visions

2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

2 Steam Vents

4 Scalding Tarn

1 Sacred Foundry

1 Plains

1 Mountain

3 Island

2 Hallowed Fountain

1 Glacial Fortress

4 Flooded Strand

2 Field of Ruin

3 Celestial Colonnade

Sideboard:

2 Damping Sphere

1 Engineered Explosives

1 Detention Sphere

1 Stony Silence

2 Runed Halo

1 Disdainful Stroke

2 Celestial Purge

1 Negate

1 Settle the Wreckage

2 Dispel

1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

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Christopher O’Berry is a 25-year-old Magic player in Boise, ID. He started playing at the release of Scars of Mirrodin in 2010. He enjoys Modern, Legacy, and draft formats the most, but really is just happy playing a Blue-Red deck of any sort. His career highlights include several undefeated finishes at FNM, and a Top 8 (of 9 in attendance) at the saddest TCG Player States event ever seen. He hopes to someday Day 2 a Grand Prix and brag about it to anyone who will listen.