I’ve got a confession to make. I’m worried. All I’d heard all week since the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor was how busted it is, and how it’s the best card in Modern. After playing about 40-50 matches of Modern, however, I haven’t had much success with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
In fact, I’ve been losing against basically every non-Jace deck with Jace. Is it me?
My goal this week was to see how good Jace, the Mind Sculptor was. I played with four different decks—anywhere between one and three Leagues each—and my results were, well, putrid.
I first started with the following Grixis Control list:
The Grixis deck had a few problems. First of all, it had the typical problems of a control deck in Modern. I was trying to cover too many bases with my answers, and when facing down a threat with the wrong answer I’d be unable to cast Jace in the face of it. Cards like Reality Smasher off of Cavern of Souls were huge issues. I simply didn’t have enough answers, and Reality Smasher lined up well against my busted planeswalker.
I’d often be behind, and be forced to cast Jace as a 4-mana Brainstorm that gained a few life, or cast it and bounce my opponent’s lone threat only to have it eaten by a haste creature such as Mantis Rider or Bloodbraid Elf. Some decks had both.
Dredge proved to be an issue as well. Dredge is able to put a bunch of different threats into play at the same time that are resilient to removal. This makes it hard to get Jace onto the battlefield in a favorable position. Not to mention, the fateseal mode on Jace, the Mind Sculptor is basically useless against Dredge because they don’t usually draw from their deck past the first turn or two.
Burn decks were often able to come out ahead and I’d actually be able to stabilize sometimes. Jace was reasonable at fatesealing away burn spells but they have such a high density of them, that it wasn’t always effective.
In this version of Grixis Control, I also didn’t play any delve threats and used Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Snapcaster Mages as my win conditions, with some Creeping Tar Pits sprinkled in. This made it hard to turn the corner on burn, and I had to fade a bunch of draw steps. I ended up splitting my four matches against Burn, but the matchup didn’t feel great when I didn’t draw Collective Brutality.
What I did have success against was other Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks. In fact, with all the Jace decks I played, I never lost to another Jace deck. Some were wacky U/G Ramp type decks, others were Blue Moon style decks, and others were straightforward control decks. I think there was a lot of play to these matchups, and having dead cards in any of them was a disaster. Decks like Through the Breach or Kiki-Deceiver required a two-card combo to kill when I was able to play 1-for-1, picking apart half of the combo and ignoring the other.
Lastly, and the most obvious problem I found with the deck, was that it was incredibly weak to Lingering Souls and Bloodbraid Elf. I played against two decks that featured both cards, and they were just too much for my deck trying to play a 1-for-1 game. Finding spots to play Jace was already tough against multiple flying tokens, and adding a haste creature on top of that made it impossible.
My final analysis for the Grixis Control deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor was that I think hand disruption is excellent with Jace but I’d look to explore a different angle. Maybe it’s possible that I want to build a U/B control deck with the full eight copies of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek alongside Fatal Push to keep the opponent’s draws awkward and undeveloped, leaving you more likely to play Jace onto an empty battlefield and untap with it while continuing to attack their resources and drawing more of your own.
After that, I went straight to some 5-0 Magic Online deck lists, and I found this one, played by EVANW.
EVANW, 5-0 on Magic Online
What really interested me about this deck was the inclusion of Disrupting Shoal. Modern is without Force of Will, and Disrupting Shoal is a much weaker version. Not only does it require you to have a blue card in hand, but you need the exact mana cost of the card you want to counter. This can make the card awkward in the face of hand disruption, or when your draw doesn’t line up well.
The idea behind Disrupting Shoal now is that not only do you want to protect yourself when your shields are down to cast Jace, but you’re also able to offset the card disadvantage.
I was actually impressed with Disrupting Shoal, but I’m not entirely sold just yet. The card was flat-out great against some of the linear decks like Burn and Bogles. Countering a turn-1 Goblin Guide or Slippery Bogle on the draw flipped games I could never win. Bogles has a low threat density, made up for by the fact that you can’t interact with their creatures. Countering their first threat can invalidate their whole strategy, and that’s how it played out.
Even against Tron, I was able to add a Tarmogoyf to the battlefield and counter a Sylvan Scrying, giving me plenty of time to close the game while the Tron deck struggled to assemble Tron.
The biggest problem with Disrupting Shoal was against the grindy Bloodbraid Elf Jund decks. Yes, again I struggled to compete with the Bloodbraid Elf decks. The games would start with an opponent’s discard spell, and if they followed that up with a Tarmogoyf I was in a lot of trouble. I’d have to play my own to block, and risk a Lightning Bolt or Kolaghan’s Command as the best-case scenario, and the worst case was that they’d have a removal spell for my Tarmogoyf while I was unable to deal with theirs. It’s possible that this deck wants to add Roast or Harvest Pyre for just that problem, but I don’t think it would solve much unfortunately.
Playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor into Bloodbraid Elf mana was still extremely challenging. You’re usually forced to fateseal immediately to protect it from a hit from Raging Ravine or Bloodbraid Elf, and the number of Dreadbores and Maelstrom Pulses has increased to the point that I’m still getting my Jace picked off a fair amount of the time if they haven’t already stripped it with a Thoughtseize or built an overwhelming lead with creatures.
In this deck’s attempt to be up-tempo, it ends up having a difficult time recovering when it falls behind, and when Bloodbraid Elf is seeing a ton of play, it’s easy to fall behind.
After trying this deck, I’d like to explore Disrupting Shoal more, but in a deck with a heavier commitment to blue. A deck like Taking Turns comes to mind as a potential home for the card. I’d also like to try a deck with fewer counterspells, but that also focuses on Tarmogoyf and Jace. A Sultai Midrange deck could have some potential.
After trying my own Grixis build, and the most interesting 5-0 Jace deck list I found, I decided to message an old friend of mine, Jonathan Rossum. If you don’t know Jon, he’s had a lot of success on the SCG circuit with Jeskai Control. This is the deck list he sent me, which is pretty stock but removes some of the clunkier cards for a few Jaces.
I was expecting to really like this deck, but I had the same old problem I had with other Jace decks. Bloodbraid Elf decks were everywhere, and they were tough to keep up with.
I was often off-balance, spending my early turns casting Serum Visions to find lands, or staring down a Tarmogoyf with a Path to Exile and being forced to the decision of whether to ramp my opponent into Bloodbraid Elf or not. I found myself losing long games to planeswalkers. I have a bunch of 1-for-1 answers, and a few ways to gain traction while the Jund decks just hammered away value with Kolagahn’s Command, Liliana of the Veil, Liliana, the Last Hope, and of course, Bloodbraid Elf.
I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you don’t cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor on 4 mana. You should instead wait until you can gain control and protect it.” The problem with this philosophy against a deck with heavy discard and Liliana of the Veil is that it rarely plays out that way. You’re so depleted on resources that it becomes difficult to set up a big Jace turn unless you’re able to keep the battlefield completely clear leading up to it. When that happens, Jace usually does run away with the game, though.
While I was never really a fan of Jeskai Control, I thought this deck would likely gain the most from Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Cheap removal backed up by counter magic and Snapcaster Mage is a good recipe for sticking a planeswalker and running away with the game. I was disappointed that while I think Jace is a good card in the deck, I don’t think it changes all that much. The deck still has problems when it can’t answer threats appropriately, and the deck still gets ground down by the value engines in the Bloodbraid Elf decks, at least in my limited experience with it.
After feeling unsatisfied with Jeskai, I wanted to give control one last chance, and the last deck I tried this week was U/W Control.
U/W Control was already one of the best decks in the format, and it played some pretty wonky cards. Cards like Dragonlord Ojutai and Jace, Architect of Thought have been seeing play, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor is just clearly better.
The only real change I made was to cut both Runed Halo and Gideon of the Trials in favor of Vendilion Clique and an Oust. Oust gave me a fifth 1-mana way to interact with a creature, and since there’s an uptick in Dark Confidants being played, I thought it would be better than Condemn.
Runed Halo got worse for a couple of reasons. For one, decks like Death’s Shadow are much less popular now and have been replaced by Jund, which have a larger spread of threats. Another issue is that Runed Halo can’t protect Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I left it in my sideboard for the rare Valakut deck or Bogles.
This felt the best of all the Jace decks. The mana was good and I was able to grind out the Jund decks in an unusual way—I could attack their mana base. With both Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin in high numbers I could attack the Jund deck’s lands, sweep the board with a Wrath of God, and then pick off the creatures that slipped through the cracks. This deck has much cleaner mana than any of the 3-color decks, and was much more resilient to Blood Moon, a card I lost to occasionally.
I thought the lack of Lightning Bolts would be bad for Jace mirrors, but I was still able to manage them nicely with Detention Sphere, Vendilion Clique, and counterspells. I left out Gideon of the Trials, but will likely include it in my next League with the deck. My initial logic was that I didn’t want to play a planeswalker that provided no value into an Abrupt Decay, but if the format is rife with other planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil, Gideon of the Trials lines up well. I’ll likely move a Vendilion Clique to the sideboard and cut the Oust or a Logic Knot from the deck to add 2 copies.
U/W was definitely the deck I felt had the most promise, but I still wasn’t super impressed by it. The deck is prone to clunky draws, and still can end up drawing the wrong cards in the wrong matchups like other control decks. I liked how it gave me angles of attack against almost every deck in the format—the deck has a great sideboard—and Jace, the Mind Sculptor feels at its best next to Path to Exile, a non-discriminatory 1-mana removal spell.
After playing a fair amount of Modern this week, I’m not too worried about Jace, the Mind Sculptor ruining the Modern format. The format is fast and adaptable, while Jace, the Mind Sculptor is facing cards and interactions it’s never had to in the past. I think Jace is still a good card, but I’ve been much more impressed by Bloodbraid Elf, and I haven’t even cast it yet. What do you guys think? Am I completely missing something?