Shortly after the culmination of GP Dallas-Fort Worth, a plethora of magic players expressed their concern about the perceived dominance of Jace decks in standard. For those of you who were not aware, the top 8 of this most recent GP boasted a top 8 which contained 32 copies of both Jace, the Mind Scluptor and Preordain.
The presence of 32 copies of a card in the same top 8 is something that happens very rarely. In fact, there have only been 2 large events where such a thing has happened before. The first was GP Kuala Lampur 2010, where the top 8 was comprised of 6 Jund decks, 1 Boros deck, and 1 Mono-Red deck, which eventually won. Each of these decks was packing a full set of Lightning Bolts, one of the most efficient removal spells ever printed. The second time was in a Magic Online Championbship Series tournament (which are in essence the most competitive tournaments on MODO) which had 32 copies of Bloodbraid Elf in the top 8, as Jund was almost certainly the best deck in Shards of Alara block constructed.
Let’s examine these two previous incidents. In the first instance, I don’t think anyone was ever calling for the banning of Lightning Bolt, and we certainly didn’t have #banbolt as a twitter hashtag like #banjace has become. In the case of 32 Bloodbraid elves, Alara block constructed wasn’t exactly a popular format, and as such didn’t get the attention that a large standard event would. While there were most certainly people calling for the banning of Bloodbraid Elf in standard, there was always at least one non-bloodbraid based deck in every top 8.
So what makes this instance of 32 Jaces different? Why has this one event created a huge cry for the banning of the blue planeswalker? We all know that Jace is extremely powerful, but all of a sudden people are saying that it should be banned in standard.
So let’s run through the case that the #banjace team has put forward.
1. Lack of viable competitive archetypes
The top 8 of Dallas contained an even split of RUG decks and UW Caw-BLade decks. Previous to this top 8, the best decks in the format were generally assumed to include those 2, in addition to Valakut and Boros. However, many people are now discounting non-jace based decks for competitive play, and might stop attending standard tournaments if they either don’t have Jaces. The pro-ban argument likens Jace’s dominance to Affinity back in the original Mirrodin Block, where affinity had a stranglehold on the standard environment.
It’s no secret that Jace is the most expensive card standard has seen in recent memory (I can’t speak for the early days of type 2, as I wasn’t there). He was initially sold at $25, and then worked his way up to the $90-$100 interval that he now rests at. Some blame this price on mythic rares, some blame it on a conspiracy by Star City Games, while others have their own theories. Regardless, many people believe that it’s not in the best interest of the game to have to pay $400 for a set of cards to be competitive, especially when they will rotates in the fall.
Taken together, these arguments form a syllogism with the following premises and conclusions.
1. Jace is prohibitively expensive.
2. Jace is necessary to win at competitive standard.
3. People who can’t afford Jace can’t win at competitive standard.
Finally, the supposed solution to this problem is to ban Jace from standard play.
The magic community is pretty firmly divided on this issue, and I’m going to outline my views on why Jace should not be banned. There are some problems with what the #banjace side is arguing and I’ll address their points one by one.
1. Jace is prohibitively expensive.
I agree. That’s right – as someone who owns 4 Jaces, I’m disappointed that a Jace costs $100. I acquired my jaces at varying price points: opening 1, buying one at $35, trading for one at $50 value, and buying one for $85 worth of store credit. Now I have $400 worth of Jaces, and I don’t think they should be worth that much. This is a problem, and I wholeheartedly agree that something needs to be done.
I propose a promotional reprint of Jace 2.0. Similar to the situation in legacy with Candelabra of Tawnos, there are many players who can’t afford to play the decks they want because they are priced out of them. While I have several hundred dollars worth of Jaces, I would be terrifically happy if they reprinted him and he tanked to $20-$30. Why? I’m a magic player at heart, and the more people that cna play magic and play the decks they want, the happier I am because it means the game will survive longer. I’ve seen new players leave my local game store because they hate getting beaten by a card they can’t afford. This game should be first and foremost about the players, and you have to cater to them. The problem with this is getting the right number of jaces out to the right people. We can’t do an FNM promo, because that only rewards players who have them already, and a judge foil is even more limited. I think something like a duel decks would be perfect, but produced in numbers to satisfy demand so that stores don’t artificially jack up the prices a la From the Vault.
The reason that the idea of a standard format is so good is that new players can break into competitive magic relatively easily, without having to put down a huge investment. Once a player is sufficiently immersed in the game, then they begin to invest in older formats like legacy once their tournament winnings keep them more or less self-sufficient. Thus, it’s in the best interest of the game to reprint Jace, and slightly upset a few players but make it possible for those who understandably don’t want to invest $400 in a set of cards which will rotate in October.
Some of you are probably saying, “But a mass reprint will make people who did pay the $400 angry!” While this can be true, I don’t think anyone who wants this game to grow can say that having to pay $400 for playset of Jaces is a good thing. If we consider the option of either reprinting or banning Jace based on price, we realize that we’re going to piss someone off. If you ban jace, not only has a great deal of value been lost, but now people can’t even play with the cards they worked hard to obtain. Rather, a reprint would allow more people to play with one of the most powerful cards in magic’s history.
In short, people need to be able to take a hit to the value of their collections for the game to grow. The same argument could be made about the reserve list, but that’s a topic for another day.
2. Jace is necessary to win at competitive standard
Yes, there were 32 Jaces in the GPDFW top 8. However, one event is a very small sample size and we cannot draw this conclusion from one top 8. Yes, Jace decks are dominant, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. Remember when Jund was super dominant? How did the magic community begin to beat it? We learned to attack the mana base, and I top 8ed provincials with a Gerry Thompson list that was designed to utterly destroy jund by exploiting that weakness.
Similarly, jace decks are weaker to creatures with haste and/or shroud, because they usually only pack a few board wipes and their creatures aren’t very beefy. A card like Vengevine does very well against Jace because he comes out of nowhere and is very resilient. With the prevalence of UW Cawblade in lieu of the UWb variant, creature based strategies are more powerful, because you blank your opponent’s Spell Pierces.
Recently, over twitter, director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe has been discussing with LSV and others about what would happen if a card like Lightning Greavesor Fires of Yavimaya were to be reprinted. Of course myself and certain others realized that reprinting Greaves would be very dangerous, as giving Titans haste and shroud is ridiculous – especially when you have Stoneforge Mystic in the format. Something like fires is more reasonable, because not only does it not work well in a Jace deck, it lets you push through for (hopefully) enough damage to kill Jace. Unfortunately, neither of those cards are legal in standard, but we do have an effective haste-granter who shines against jace decks.
That’s right, a turn 2 Renegade Doppelganger can be used not only with Vengevine, but a great deal of other creatures to put large amounts of pressure on the opponent. The synergy it has with Hero of Bladehold is phenomenal, and with a turn 1 Birds of Paradise, you can be attacking for 7 as early as turn 3. Even with just a Vengevine, having a Doppelganger is an aggressive play that can help pressure a caw-blade opening.
As well, Doppelganger invites Fauna Shama, giving you a tutor as soon as you drop Ms. Survival-on-a-stick, which helps mitigate the shaman’s vulnerability to removal.
I don’t take credit for this deck idea; rather, it was my good friend Attila who brewed up these synergies into a deck that has been performing very well against various cawblade variants. This deck is very fast while also being able to play a long game with lots of pressure.
Standard Bant Aggro by Attila Fur
While this deck is still undergoing development, it gives you an idea of how one can do well at a tournament when they build their deck with the cawblade matchup in mind.
Consider how many hours have been put into the development of Jace decks. A deck like caw blade has been played and developed so much that not only are most lists close to optimal, but the actual gameplay has been developed extensively. In addition to the sheer number of hours that have been put into developing Jace-based decks, these hours have come from the best of the best. Many pro players test Jace decks because they are both powerful and mesh well with their playstyle. This high-quality testing results in Jace decks that are extremely powerful when played by the best.
However, compare that amount and quality of testing with the amount of testing put into beating Jace decks. Because all of the pros have advocated using Jace (mostly by playing it themselves) many people are going to simply do that – play Jace. Hell, even I would play a Jace deck if I were going to a standard tournament. However, that’s chiefly because I am a control player, and I like that style of deck, which is where jace fits in perfectly. Were I an aggro player at heart, I might sleeve up something like the bant deck above, or maybe Boros, or even mono red. Because I have jaces, I haven’t spent a great deal of time trying to beat jace decks – I won’t sugar-coat it. However, if I didn’t have them, I’d be brewing and testing against jace decks a lot more than I test right now, simply because new decks have to prove themselves against the field, which at the moment contains several jace decks.
I think it’s very possible to have a favourable matchup against jace decks, but it means that players are going to have to accept that pros will not do their work for them and they will have to build their own decks and test them out. This is not a simple task, as many deck ideas flounder after their initial draft. However, tight play and a solid game plan against Jace can be enough to take it down. One thing I’ve been wanting to try is a red/green aggro deck with both Koth of the Hammer and Vengevine to ensure that you’re attacking for 4+ damage on turn 4. However, I haven’t started sketching out a list yet, but it’s ideas like this that that need to be thought of and collaborated upon by the magic community.
3. Jace needs to be banned
Banning a card is a very serious thing, and is not something that should be done lightly. Tom Lapille of Wizards R&D has said that they will not emergency ban Jace – something that has only been done once before, with the absurdly broken Memory Jar. Rather, any announcements will be made on June 20th as scheduled. Lapille has addressed many of the arguments for not banning Jace, such as the faith that people have when they buy modern boosters that they will be able to play what they open.
However, one thing that Lapille neglects to mention is that, as a company, WotC has an enormous stake in Jace. Let me elaborate. The planeswalkers are a new card type, and have been integral in the re-branding of magic over the past few years. Specifically, they have used Jace as the poster boy for magic. He was the subject of the first planeswalker novel, and is the first person anyone thinks of when they hear the word ‘planeswalker’. Because of this notoriety, banning a card with the word ‘Jace’ on it is much different than banning ‘Gideon’ or ‘Chandra’, because you’re banning the face of magic.
Banning cards sets a dangerous precedent, especially if Jace is simply one of the best cards in the format, and not the be-all end-all. Again, comparing Jace to the affinity menace from the original mirrodin block – our standard seems varied and diverse. Will every “best deck” have its linchpin card banned? I’m a member of the camp that thinks that valakut would dominate a jaceless standard, and that it would be even less fun than some people say current standard is. I for one enjoy the jace-mirror much more so than the valakut mirror. The reason being that Valakut is a deck which attempts to ignore whatever your opponent is oding in favour of just killing them. In, say, the caw-blade mirror, the matchup is very interactive and skill intensive, with players needing to evaluate threats and decide which answers they should use and when; when to tap out and when to leave mana up; when to play around certain spells and when to go for it. I find the matchup very enjoyable, but that’s just me.
After everything’s said and done, I agree that the current situation of standard is not ideal. However, I think there are numerous things that can be done to address this without resorting to banning Jace. On the part of wizards they can either reprint Jace in some form (but not in a regular expansion), or they can print more answers to planeswalkers that aren’t too narrow. Something like Oblivion Ring is an excellent example of a card that is well designed and can answer planeswalkers but can do so much more. While Hex Parasite from the New Phyrexia is promising, I hope to see some more answers as well. On the part of the players, new decks need to be built and tested, and players must not simply say: I don’t have jaces, I’m not going to bother testing. If you brew a deck and don’t test it and go into a tournament and get smashed, is it really the fault of jace? Or is it your fault for not testing against that deck, not sideboarding correctly, or not knowing what’s important in the matchup?
A lot of the players I see who get smashed by players with jaces are players who don’t practice outside of tournaments, and players who do said smashing are usually those who spend a great deal of time researching the meta and practicing outside of tournaments. I’ve seen players with Jaces lose games to worse decks because they aren’t as experienced with the card, the deck, or even the game in general. All in all, I don’t think we’ve reached the circumstances where a jace ban is warranted quite yet.
As always, feel free to post in the comments below, or message me on twitter (twitter.com/zturchan) or via email (zak-AT-power9pro.com).