Magic Origins in Modern: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

With Magic Origins finally in our hands, and the results of two Standard SCG events in the books, weeks of predictions and conjecture concerning our new gifts can finally be put to the test. While no large, high-level Modern events will occur for a few weeks, we still have MTGO Daily results, SCG IQ’s, and our own individual testing to determine what, if any, changes Origins will have on Modern.

Jace Unbound resize

As I write this, I’m on a plane bound for Vancouver, where the world’s best (and then myself) will battle with Magic Origins in Standard and Draft. My testing complete, I’ve narrowed my options down to two decks, and my mind is left to contemplate two things; Modern with Magic Origins, and how to politely ask the middle-aged woman next to me to remove her head from my shoulder. Let’s go!

Through the Lens of Standard: Initial Impressions

Every set release, new card evaluations usually follow a predictable trend. As spoilers flow in, cards are initially evaluated purely on rate (“Hero of Bladehold does so much for four mana!”). Once the full spoiler is available, more restrained minds join in, analyzing new cards both on rate and context, to determine how they fit into the current environment. Evaluation based on pure theory is rarely accurate, however, as every three months Wizards tries its best to bring something new to the table, and most new cards are hard to judge without putting them through their paces in actual games of Magic. For those following Standard results and discussion, Hangarback Walker is a great recent example.

Hangarback WalkerInitially overlooked by most everyone in favor of splashy, powerful effects like Languish, Harbinger of the Tides and the flip-walkers, Hangarback is one Walker that flew in under the radar, only to make a powerful debut at SCG Chicago. A Chronomaton fused with a Doomed Traveler, Hangarback’s skill set fits well into the grindy, value-oriented midrange-fest that is current Standard. The ability to turn excess mana into tangible value, along with its usefulness at every stage of the game, Hangarback Walker’s bright future in Standard is relatively assured, as long as Delver of Secrets and Vapor Snag don’t make a comeback.

In Modern, however, Hangarback Walker is practically unplayable, as the conditions that guarantee its success in Standard are entirely absent. Cheap exile and bounce effects are everywhere, and most strategies are defined by the fundamental principle of ‘Mana as a Resource’. Sorry, Jeff Hoogland, I know you love your Modern U/W Control, but please leave Hangarback on the sidelines (or, you know, break it and prove me wrong). The fluctuating value of Hangarback Walker perfectly illustrates how important context matters as it pertains to card evaluations. Evaluating cards on rate first, and then on context makes things easier to understand (as rate is a measurable factor that we can use to compare new, unique cards to past versions) but with each passing set release, I’ve become more convinced that we should instead be evaluating cards on context first, as it seems to be most important (I’m looking directly at you, Agent of Erebos).

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Modern

Jace ProdigyInitially maligned by pretty much everyone as the worst flip-planeswalker of the cycle, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy has stepped up in a big way, shutting down those nay-saying Mage-Ring Bullys and igniting his spark to greatness. In Standard, a Merfolk Looter is exactly what the doctor ordered, and plentiful graveyard synergies and strategies of every flavor have seen Jace supplement existing decks like Jeskai Tokens and Sultai Control, while enabling new strategies like Five-Color Rally. Capable of flipping as early as the third turn with the help of fetchlands and Satyr Wayfinder, Jace provides a cheap way to ensure card quality in hand, and card advantage through his Snapcaster Mage ability.

Unlike Hangarback Walker, the possible transition from Standard to Modern is much kinder to Jace. A plethora of cheap one and two mana spells ensure early Jace flips, and the card advantage gained by his Snapcaster ability is much easier to leverage towards a win in Modern, where most exchanges are equal and less haymakers exist. Jace is happier alongside a full graveyard, which suggests (but does not require) him to associate with other cards that care about the graveyard, such as Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler. If only there were a Satyr Wayfinder type effect in Modern that could help enable Jace while smoothing draws and get the graveyard value train rolling….

Thought Scour

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Thought Scour has to be Jace’s best buddy, so much so that I suggest we question Jace’s Mad Scientist roots. Alongside a single fetchland activation, Thought Scour can immediately set up a Jace loot/flip as early as the third turn. Even without Thought Scour, a normal play sequence of turn 1 spell, turn 2 Jace, turn 3 double spell can achieve a flip with the help of a fetch. Add in free spells such as Gitaxian Probe, and we’re looking at a planeswalker that is incredibly easy to turn on, even more so than the universally popular Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Liliana, Heretical Healer. Personally, I always went for the quiet ones myself, which I guess explains my bro-love for Jace.

As we’ve talked about before, the most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating cards is context. We’ve established that Jace is powerful, and can be enabled without much difficulty, but does a deck exist that could use what he has to offer? And if not, does a new strategy that either employs or revolves around Jace bring something new to the table that is better than what currently exists in Modern? While it might take a few weeks to figure out the latter, today I’d like to start at level 1, finding a home for Jace among current decks. We’ll start with my personal favorite in Modern, Grixis Control.

Grixis Control with Jace

Grixis Prodigy, by Trevor Holmes

Creatures (11)
Snapcaster Mage
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Instants (27)
Lightning Bolt
Terminate
Thought Scour
Serum Visions
Cryptic Command
Kolaghan’s Command
Electrolyze
Mana Leak
Spell Snare
Deprive

Lands (22)
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Island
Creeping Tar Pit
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Sulfur Falls
Mountain
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Fulminator Mage
Dispel
Anger of the Gods
Damnation
Bitterblossom
Vandalblast
Duress
Izzet Staticaster
Deathmark
Engineered Explosives
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

If we’re looking for a strategy that wouldn’t mind a little extra power, Grixis Control is definitely where I would start. The opportunity cost of adding Jace is basically free, as Grixis already employs fetchlands, cheap spells, and a full playset of Thought Scour to support multiple graveyard synergies like Gurmag Angler, Snapcaster Mage, and Kolaghan’s Command. Grixis is definitely interested in both of Jace, Telepath Unbound’s abilities, as shrinking a Tarmogoyf to manageable levels lets us buy time to find Terminates, and Delver of Secrets becomes a pretty anemic clock once his Lava Spikes become Hornet Stings. More than any other deck in Modern, Grixis has access to some of the most powerful instants and sorceries in the format, as anyone who’s chained multiple Kolaghan’s Commands or Cryptic Commands can tell you.

Jace UnboundIn addition, Grixis is uniquely capable of utilizing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy as just a Merfolk Looter, if the situation demands it, through the use of our delve creatures. Some polarizing matchups like Amulet Bloom or Living End see us digging frantically for counterspells and cursing every Terminate that enters our hand. Jace can help us power through our deck, digging us to exactly what we need. Openers with double delve creatures are often awkward and unkeepable, but Jace can help us loot away unneeded Gurmag Anglers, or work towards casting the second one. A relatively low land count of 22 lands means we aren’t flooding often, but random draws off Thought Scour can often be disastrous, and the deck rarely wants to see more than five lands until the very late-game. Jace, like Merfolk Looter before him, allows us to pull back from bad draws while supplementing our normal draws by keeping the good spells coming, and untapping with him gives a feeling akin to untapping with Jeskai Ascendancy in Standard; we feel like we’re operating on a more powerful axis than our opponent. While the poor peasants are bound to their draw step, we get to power through our deck, finding exactly what we need.

A lover not a fighter, Jace is disadvantaged in Modern by his puny body and un-hasty nature. Look man, I call it like I see it; he’s weak, and weird, and can’t put up much of a fight. It’s no wonder he got bullied in school. Protecting Jace can often be a problem, as he attracts Lightning Bolts and Abrupt Decays like no other. I mean it, literally no other creature in our deck cares about either of those spells. One of the strengths of Grixis Control is its avoidance of creatures under 3 CMC, not counting Snapcaster Mage (as he replaces himself, and is the single strongest card in Modern so we’d be crazy not to play him). The size and cost of our delve creatures allow us to play them for one mana while dodging both Decay and Bolt (yeah, tell me how that’s fair), giving us virtual card advantage as our opponent is stuck with dead removal in hand Game 1. Adding Jace to our deck negates that advantage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as we are gaining something in return) but it is something to keep in mind as we think about deck construction and gameflow.

A final note on Jace in Grixis; you haven’t lived until you cast Jace on turn 2, untap, Thought Scour, flip, plus land a Tasigur, and say “Go” with Spell Snare protection.

Let that soak in.

U/R Delver with Jace

Prodigy Delver, by Trevor Holmes

Creatures (14)
Young Pyromancer
Snapcaster Mage
Delver of Secrets
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Vendilion Clique

Instants (19)
Lightning Bolt
Electrolyze
Remand
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
 Mana Leak
Vapor Snag
Dismember

Sorceries (9)
Serum Visions
Gitaxian Probe
Forked Bolt

Lands (18)
Island
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Smash to Smithereens
Blood Moon
Roast
Dispel
Vandalblast
Flashfreeze
Izzet Staticaster
Rending Volley
Dragon’s Claw
Grim Lavamancer
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

A solid tier 2 strategy, U/R Delver rose to prominence with the printing of Treasure Cruise, then experienced a sharp decline with its subsequent banning. Gitaxian ProbeU/R Delver is able to take advantage of smooth mana and a plethora of cheap tempo spells, but traditionally has trouble dealing with large creatures like Tarmogoyf and Gurmag Angler. Outside of Spell Snare, U/R has to rely on sub-par sideboard options like Roast if one of them lands, but it is able to take advantage of strong tempo plays like Vapor Snag and Remand to keep problematic creatures off the table. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy would be a helpful aid for U/R, letting it transition through the midgame and find specific answers/tempo spells to seal the game. U/R has no shortage of cheap creatures between Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, and sometimes Grim Lavamancer, so opposing removal will already be stretched thin. If U/R Delver desires an extra form of Snapcaster-like card advantage, they can definitely find it in Jace.

Splinter Twin with Jace

Prodigy Twin, by Trevor Holmes

Creatures (15)
Pestermite
Deceiver Exarch
Snapcaster Mage
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Grim Lavamancer

Instants (14)
Lightning Bolt
Remand
Cryptic Command
Dispel
Electrolyze
Spell Snare

Sorceries (5)
Serum Visions
Roast

Enchantments (4)
Splinter Twin

Lands (22)
Island
Scalding Tarn
Sulfur Falls
Steam Vents
Polluted Delta
Mountain
Breeding Pool
Desolate Lighthouse
Tectonic Edge
Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Ancient Grudge
Dispel
Relic of Progenitus
Spellskite
Izzet Staticaster
Combust
Chandra, Pyromaster
Roast
Dismember
Keranos, God of Storms
Counterflux
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Combo strategies like Splinter Twin, and to a lesser extent Scapeshift, are all about trying to stay alive while sculpting a powerful hand that accomplishes their objective. Splinter TwinMerfolk Looter could possibly be welcome in strategies like these, as it helps them find the missing pieces to their puzzle. In addition, Jace can act as a pseudo-fog against an opposing Tarmogoyf/Gurmag Angler by looting and flipping after blocks. It’s possible that these lists are too tight to fit Jace (especially Scapeshift, as they need to devote almost all slots to ramp, counterspells, and card draw) but I could definitely see Jace in some number in Twin strategies as an alternate angle of attack that works to progress their gameplan, discarding extra combo pieces for critical protection or interaction. I plan on building and testing both Twin and Delver with Jace, so expect a follow-up article soon with more insight into these archetypes! If you have experience with either, let me know in the comments.

Conclusion

We’ve barely dipped our toes into the water with Magic Origins, and while it may not contain many exciting, splashy Modern plants like other sets have, I’m excited to see what tools it has to offer for Modern. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy might end up being too slow and too weak to compete in a format defined by removal and resilient creatures, but I have a growing suspicion that Jace could grow up (get it!) to be a force to be reckoned with in the format.

If you have any ideas for how best to use Jace in Modern, let me know in the comments! If you want to see Jace in action, feel free to stop by my stream at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming. I return from the Pro Tour on Tuesday (hopefully victorious) and I look forward to breaking Modern with Jace! See you there!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

 

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

14 thoughts on “Magic Origins in Modern: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

  1. Just a tiny nitpick but you said that Jace was maligned as the worst flip-walker. While people certainly weren’t high on him including me to be honest, Chandra was clearly the worst of the cycle. She really IS horrible.

          1. Well Im certainly not such a big fan of Day’s Undoing like you seem to be so there is that 🙂

  2. I curious in the Grixis control. Should a person spend resources to keep the Jace alive? Lets say, bolting the 2/2 creature. Would you want to spend a dispel, or just let it die? Saying that the 2 mana and your second turn was 3 life (For example, the bolt has doesn’t have any other targets so, it goes to the face?)

    1. Which is why I’d much rather be running Young Pyromancer in the two drop spot.

      2 CMC and if left unchecked will run away with game.

      Jace gives a couple loothouse activations before a one off (effectively) sorcery speed flash back. At this point I’d much rather have the 2 drop that can win me the game.

    2. It’s hard to answer this, as it really just comes down to play style and other factors. I consider this the same issue as spending removal to protect delve creatures; sometimes it could be right, depending on if the delve guy is killing our opponent, other times we might be fine letting it die, as we can always draw into another one or a Kolaghan’s Command. I think it’s important to remember that we are always a control deck, the lategame should benefit us, and we don’t really NEED our creatures to survive, as we can just kill them with Creeping Tar Pit. Definitely an interesting question 🙂

  3. What do you think about Jace in UR Storm? Like with Splinter Twin, he helps sculpt the hand so that it’s perfect to go off, he’s very easy to flip, he can slow down the opponent so that you have more time before you have to go off, and he can even let you get an extra ritual or cantrip from your graveyard if you don’t have a Past in Flames. Just wondering. He may be to fragile, and he isn’t great when going off. But as a one of maybe?

    Also, really well written article! Thanks!

    —Jake

  4. Interesting article. I don’t necessarily agree with your take on Hangarback Walker – it has great synergy with Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer, especially when the Ravager gets targeted by removal and you have to put your Modular counters where they might do some good. I don’t think it’s more than a 2-of, but that’s still not bad.

    I actually think that the best home for Jace is Grixis Control, for the reasons you mentioned (even more value, very easy to flip, weak body is less relevant). Twin may or may not be able to wring some use out of him, but I know I’d rather play a Vendilion Clique in that deck.

    1. The modular synergies are fun and interesting! I don’t think I would ever want Hangarback in my opener, as it doesn’t play well with the rest of the deck and all of our 2+ spells win the game (Overseer, Plating, Ravager, Champion). It could be a sweet thing to bring in against removal heavy decks, but man is it bad against Path to Exile.

      1. That’s certainly true. Fortunately for it, Path is seeing as little play as it probably ever will right now (since Abzan, Abzan Company, and Jeskai Midrange/Control are all Tier 2 at the most), and you could just side it out against any deck playing white anyway.

  5. Jace barely need Thought Scour either. T1 – fetch + Cantrip (Probe/Serum), T2 – fetch + Jace, T3 – Cantrip + Loot = Flip. The ca through recycling cantrips is enough to slot him in imho. Then there’s e.g. Discard to consider. T1 IoK into Seize + recycled IoK T3 wrecks anyones plans. He seems to fit quite a few decks.

  6. Hey man, good article. I too believe Jace will make waves throughout Modern (though I’ve already been ridiculed for expresing that opinion by the oh so wonderful and open-minded players at my LGS). Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply