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February 23, 2018

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The Unpopular Opinion – Jace, The Mind Sculptor

So, unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, you’ve probably heard about the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

It’s been a hot topic in the Magic community since the formal announcement. We all know why it was done: to sell packs of Masters 25 so that Jace would be the chase mythic for the set. We also know that it’s going to be insanely hard to get from these packs. Probably about as rare as, if not rarer than, getting a foil Island from an Unstable box. This stuff isn’t really that hard to figure out. It was a business decision made by Wizards in order to sell a set that would likely see mediocre sales otherwise.

What the universal opinion seems to be though, is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor‘s unbanning will break Modern to the point of leaving only two deck archetypes that win going forward. I beg to differ. I think that the unbanning of Jace just reveals a larger problem that people aren’t really focusing on.

First off, let’s actually talk about the unbanned cards themselves before we dig any deeper.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor has a powerful +2 that allows a player to filter through their opponent’s deck. This is an incredible advantage, and to get that reliably on turn two is pretty amazing. His other abilities are good, but they’re just not what you’re getting this version of Jace for. As for Bloodbraid Elf, you’re looking at a creature that has both Haste and Cascade, and which gives you an instant advantage since you’ll get two casts for the price of one. At four mana in a match of Modern, it could make or break the game.

One of the main reasons that people are talking way more about Jace is that his ability isn’t a gamble. It’s a certain thing, and Planeswalkers are just generally harder to get rid of than creatures.

I talked about this at length with my playgroup and the general opinion seems to be that this is, at the very least, going to force sideboards of answers to Jace and twist the meta of Modern almost everywhere just so Wizards can make a buck. While I agree that this changes things in a big way for the global meta of Modern, I don’t really agree that it’s detrimental to Magic as a whole.

I mean, that’s kind of hard to say – it is detrimental, by definition, but people should have come to expect it by now.

Let’s take a look at the big picture, here. We have had several Masters products in the last, say, year and a half, and each one included one incredibly easy to select and brand chase mythic. The last one, I believe, was Snapcaster Mage.

It was incredibly valuable in a foil when the set was first released, and the card was already a high value find. For the longest time people were talking about the absolute broken jank that was both Splinter Twin and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. They weren’t about to make something like Sol Ring legal in Modern to sell boxes of a Masters set so, in my mind, it had to be one of those two. I kind of saw a Jace unbanning coming.

But there’s something else we need to consider here: the “health of formats” comes and goes in waves. Somebody enters into a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour with some kind of janky combo, does well, and  a large number of players jump onto the bandwagon. It’s what happens almost every time a tournament is played in the global spotlight. People are angry in that people expected this, but not to be dictated by Wizards, and not for a reason that benefits no one but themselves.

The problem that I have is why does it happen at all? In a format that permits you to use something crazy, like fifteen years’ worth of cards, why don’t we embrace creativity, especially in a local or regional meta? Shouldn’t we be more upset that the meta is dictated by people with zero real competitive spirit and less creativity at times?

We can talk all we want about Jace breaking Modern, but does he really on his own?

The point that I’m making here is that we, as players, break the format on our own just fine.

To add to this, the fact that people don’t talk nearly as much about Bloodbraid Elf and what it can do for Jund and Gruul decks in Modern proves something to me. That this isn’t really about whether Modern is broken, or how hurt the health of the format gets. I mean, yes, sure, there are people genuinely concerned, and I am among them. However, I don’t think something is healthy if that health is getting poor quite regularly. If that were a person I would still consider them in need of treatment.

So, this begs the question, am I happy with a Jace unban?

I am, actually. I am personally just fine with the fact that this sticks a wrench in the works and forces people out of their comfortable little zones. I’m the kind of person that likes to see things shaken up. That’s why I’m loving Standard right now. It’s in such a state of flux that you can tell the players who are enjoying the game apart from the players who are too competitive to have any fun.

Okay, you want to play your Izzet deck. That’s cool. But do you really think you’ll get away with being the only guy with a two-of or three-of of Jace in a competitive top-tier tournament? Nope. You better be sideboarding in something like Lightning Bolt, Vraska’s Contempt, or similar spells in case someone decides to get theirs out too. And if it’s a Simic deck you’re against, you better think about mainboarding that Bolt. It forces that critical and creative thinking and I absolutely love that.

But what I am not okay with is saying that Jace is what made Modern unwell.

In my opinion, most formats aren’t doing that great right now, with exception to Limited, Draft, and Commander. It always follows this cycle of a new set coming out, a new PT/GP releasing the Top 8 decks, most decks in a local and larger meta become the same, then something gets banned or unbanned, things get shaken up, the meta goes into flux, and we start all over again when another new set comes out.

So what do you think? Do you think the health of most formats are fine and that Wizards just needs to reban Jace in order to patch things up? Or do you agree that something else needs to be done to change up the health of the game overall?