Sculpting Minds with Jace in Modern

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

On the days leading up to the banned and restricted announcement, I was fairly sure that Bloodbraid Elf would come off the banned list and nothing else would happen to Modern. To say I was wrong is an understatement, as Wizards injected the most powerful planeswalker of all time into the format alongside the seemingly innocent value elf. I’m not going to build a ton of Jace decks just yet, because I need to know the metagame in order to build good control decks. Instead I will share my thoughts about which cards and strategies whose value will be boosted.

Ramping Out Jace

Noble HierarchTalisman of Dominance

Accelerating out your four-mana planeswalker has been a winning strategy in Vintage, Legacy and Vintage Cube for a long time, and I believe the same will be true for Modern. I like the talismen, because it allows to keep up a defensive play, like Fatal Push or Dismember, the turn you play it. In the case of Noble Hierarch, I imagine various Bant builds with disruptive creatures and heavy hitters to close out the game. This deck will not be looking to control the game; rather, it will try and play cards with high individual power level and play them ahead of schedule thanks to the Hierarch and possibly Birds of Paradise. These mana creatures are rather bad top decks later on, but can then be used to block and protect Jace. Which leads me to…

Blocking Becomes Valuable

Lingering Souls Wall of Omens

Controlling Jace decks will look to find cheaper, defensive cards that protect Jace and are not embarrassing to play. Lingering Souls will double as a win condition in Esper builds while straight Blue/White can play Wall of Omens on turn two and protect Jace ahead of time. I don’t quite think that Squadron Hawk has what it takes in this era of Magic, but I’m sure it will be tried out. These decks will already run Snapcaster Mage for obvious reasons, but the 2/1 body attached is now more important than ever.

Burn Spells Get Better

Lightning BoltLightning Helix

Burn spells used to be pretty bad against blue Modern decks outside of their sometimes relevant ability to pressure the blue mage’s lifetotal. Their delve creatures or Tarmogoyf would be too big, and you needed to resolve two burn spells in order to kill one. That changes with Jace in the picture, because now your copies of Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt will actually be decent cards. If they get to “brainstorm” once, and you finish Jace off with a Lightning Bolt, you should be happy. Be aware that experienced players will use Jace’s +2 ability more frequent than you might expect.

Creature Lands Are Great

Treetop VillageRaging Ravine Stirring Wildwood Creeping Tar Pit

We should see more decks than usual pack a few creature lands to be better equipped to deal with Jace. I only listed the three-power ones, because I believe lands like Mutavault and Shambling Vent will prove lackluster thanks to their two power instead of three. Jace decks will be built to keep the battlefield as clean as possible, and the difference between two and three power on your creature land can be the difference between life and death against Jace.

Whaaat, Free Spells?

Slaughter Pact Disrupting Shoal

Whether you get to untap with Jace on the battlefield the turn after you cast him is critical. If you manage to “brainstorm” with him twice, you should be in good shape depending on how your deck is constructed, so that is your goal. I believe a card like Slaughter Pact will help you achieve this and should see play in the coming months. Having a Doom Blade the turn you cast Jace will be powerful, but also being able to Snapcaster Mage back the Pact later with only two mana up sounds delicious. I listed Disrupting Shoal because a friend of mine is certain it will become a mainstay way to protect your Jace, but I have my doubts. Very interesting nonetheless.

ETB Effects vs. Fatties

Eternal Witness Thalia's Lieutenant Bedlam Reveler Gurmag Angler Knight of the Reliquary Tarmogoyf

It is inevitable that the Jace player will need to “unsummon” your creatures from time to time, and having creatures with relevant “enters the battlefield” triggers on them will reduce the power of Jace. On the flipside, Jace loves to bounce big fatties with delve or green monsters with huge power.

Hopefully you got a tip or two that will lead you to even more productive thoughts about abusing or beating Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern. Let me know if you have some tricks up your sleeve that I need to know about for my next Modern tournament!

Follow Andreas on Twitter and as ecobaronen on MTGO.

Blue Bears in Modern

There’s no in between. You either love or hate Modern and all for the same reason. The format is beyond diverse and depending on taste players either enjoy it or despise it. It seems like every new set that comes out brings something for the Modern table, and I see new decks or new takes on old decks pop up all the time. You also see old fan favorites come and go as the metagame evolves, and it is truly fascinating to witness.

This time around I have been doing some research in the Modern landscape and came up with an interesting new take on an old archetype to share with you.

Prologue

The white-based shell of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter, Aether Vial, Flickerwisp and creatures with enter the battlefield effects is no stranger to Modern fans. We have seen a Mono White version with a painless manabase, we have seen the green splash for utility creatures like Qasali Pridemage and Voice of Resurgence, and we have seen the black version with Tidehollow Sculler and Wasteland Strangler. Enter the blue splash version!

ruckus-mh – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (30)
Eldrazi Displacer
Leonin Arbiter
Mausoleum Wanderer
Reflector Mage
Selfless Spirit
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thought-Knot Seer

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Adarkar Wastes
Eldrazi Temple
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Island
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Engineered Explosives
Grafdigger’s Cage
Kataki, War’s Wage
Mirran Crusader
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence

Because of Aether Vial and the fact that it is a two color deck without heavy mana commitments, the deck can still play Eldrazi Temple and Thought-Knot Seer to add a much needed disruptive beater that doesn’t get swept by cards like Anger of the Gods.

Ruckus-mh added a small spirit subtheme to the deck to get some mileage out of his one-drop of choice – Mausoleum Wanderer. Selfless Spirit will help out against sweepers, a natural predator of a deck like this, while Spell Queller is where things really get interesting. You will counter almost anything and get your evasive damage output going, but its’ ability to counter gamebreaking cards like Oblivion Stone, Scapeshift and Gifts Ungiven is the reason this card is amazing right now.

Reflector Mage will do a solid job in any creature matchup and truly shine against Death’s Shadows, Gurmag Anglers and Tarmogoyfs.

I feel like he is missing out on a lot upside in the sideboard, as he doesn’t take advantage of the blue splash except for the two Engineered Explosives. I would have loved to see a couple of Unified Will and some Ceremonious Rejection to help out against TitanShift, Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, Green Tron and Lantern which combined are a huge chunk of the metagame.

Leisester – 5-8th in Modern Challenge

W/U Hatebears

Creatures (28)
Eldrazi Displacer
Flickerwisp
Leonin Arbiter
Reflector Mage
Restoration Angel
Spell Queller
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Spells (8)
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Lands (24)
Adarkar Wastes
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Moorland Haunt
Mystic Gate
Plains
Seachrome Coast

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Kataki, War’s Wage
Kor Firewalker
Rest in Peace
Settle the Wreckage

I was blown away to see that two copies of a sub 1% deck made it into the top 8 of this huge weekly Magic Online event. Leisester went with Restoration Angel instead of Thought-Knot Seer in the four slot and decided that the one drops available were too weak and cut them completely. He went back to Flickerwisp to save his creatures from removal, exile your opponent’s land for a turn and its’ ability to remove a crucial blocker or attacker from the combat step.

His manabase looks like a mess with the full playset of Mystic Gate, but I like the singleton Moorland Haunt for grindy games. I also like Settle the Wreckage in his sideboard to blowout any opposing creature deck from Affinity, Merfolk, various Collected Company decks to the mirror match. Settle the Wreckage is definitely a card I would advise thinking about when your Hatebears opponent passes the turn with four mana up!

I like the first version better solely because Thought-Knot Seer on turn three is very powerful, so if you add Moorland Haunt to the manabase over Horizon Canopy, I’m suggesting the following sideboard:

Beats Affinity and helps vs. Tron and Lantern.

Helps against Affinity, all Tron variants and Lantern.

Great against big mana decks like TitanShift and for swapping when Path to Exile is bad.

Huge blowout potential in creature mirrors that could come down to racing.

Great against Storm, Dredge and Delirium Shadow variants and will help you with odd pairings like Living End and Goryo’s Vengeance. I would bring in a single copy against Lingering Souls decks like Abzan and Esper.

Depending on your metagame, these slots can be used to improve against Burn, Collected Company, Death’s Shadow variants or Control. I don’t mind adding a Grafdigger’s Cage to double as graveyard hate and Collected Company stopper, and Mirran Crusader seems fine to boost your Shadow matchup while also just being a solid beater if you have dead cards in your deck in a given matchup. Kor Firewalker is only for Burn, but in some metagames it is the right call. Burrenton Forge-Tender is a fine option, but I feel like Selfless Spirit will be enough sweeper protection in most cases.

I really like how this deck has evolved over the years from being just “a creature deck” to adding creatures with powerful and disruptive abilities and actually be competitive. I’m not 100% sure that this version is a strict upgrade to the White-Black Eldrazi Taxes versions, but I really enjoy the Quellers and sideboarded counterspells for interaction against an open field.

What’s your favorite version of Modern Death & Taxes?

GP Vegas Modern with Esper Shadow

Taking Esper Death’s Shadow to GP Vegas

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re going to talk about Modern, specifically the deck I’ll be bringing to Grand Prix Las Vegas this weekend – Esper Shadow. Even though you will be experiencing today’s content through the lens of a Shadow, I’m 100% positive that you will either learn something or maybe even help me out with some tricks in some of the matchups. Sound off in the comments!

Why play Death’s Shadow?

Esper Shadows crucial cardsEsper Shadows crucial cards

This bundle of black cards make up the core of the best shell in Modern. Ideally, you want to start every game with a discard spell to pick off your opponent’s most important card and gain some vital information, so you can plan out your turns correctly. Not until now that Gitaxian Probe is gone, people truly value the information alongside the disruption they get from Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. With the ability to shred your opponent’s hand, kill their creatures for one black mana, play undercosted fatties and have one mana Negate in Stubborn Denial at your disposal, we have ourselves a monster.

Why Esper?

Spirits. Shadows best friends

The answer is this little gem. When you have a shell as powerful as Black/Blue Death’s Shadow, I like to think about my bad matchups and try improving them. In this case, the bad matchups are what I call “shard decks” – three color either Midrange or Control decks. Examples of this could be Jund with Terminate, Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil or Jeskai Control with Path to Exile, Snapcaster Mage and Nahiri, the Harbinger. While you can still catch these decks off guard because your gameplan is so proactive and fast, I decided to focus on these matchups when chosing my splash color. Lingering Souls lets me beat opposing draws with a lot of spot removal while also providing value when milled with Thought Scour. White is also conveniently a great sideboard color which is just icing on the cake.

I guess this is where I have to admit that nostalgia also has a little to do with it. Back in 2015 when Twin dominated Modern, I helped develop an Esper tempo deck that yielded me great results both in paper and online. If only we had figured out to put Street Wraith and Death’s Shadow in this deck, I think world domination wouldn’t be too much to ask for. Check out this piece on me and the deck if you’re interested.
http://series.magiccardmarket.eu/2015/12/20/deck-feature-andreas-petersens-esper-delve/

This is my decklist for Grand Prix Las Vegas:
Esper Shadow Decklist on MTGO

I will now walk you through 10 of the most popular matchups in Modern. I don’t like putting percentages on any matchups, since so much can change between builds, players and sideboard cards, so you have to settle for general strategy tips.

Matchups

Grixis Shadow
This is a mirror match except you have Lingering Souls and Path to Exile vs. their Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan’s Command and Terminate. Remember you only have 2 Path to Exile (with 3 Snapcaster Mage) as removal for opposing delve creatures, so Thoughtseize‘ing them away can be a priority. Stranding a Lightning Bolt in your opponent’s hand can be key, as well as stabilizing the board – and later win with – flying spirits.

Affinity
In this matchup you need to either kill everything or be fast. Discard/kill their payoff cards and beat them down with a black fatty while keeping their Signal Pest, Vault Skirge and creature lands back with Lingering Souls is your main goal. After sideboard you get Stony Silence, Ceremonious Rejection and Flaying Tendrils to help you achieve victory.

Burn
Burn can be very tricky to play against. You will need to decide quickly whether you will fetch basics and preserve your life total or play into his strategy and win with a quick Shadow or two. On the flipside, your opponent might help your clock by pointing burn spells at you too early. This takes a lot of practice on both sides. Remember Searing Blaze can never kill a Death’s Shadow. Collective Brutality, Stubborn Denial and the basic Plains join the party in the place of Street Wraith post-sideboard.

Dredge
Winning the die roll is super important vs. Dredge, because snatching his Faithless Looting or Insolent Neonate can be the difference between life and death. Even though Stubborn Denial is at its best when you’re on the play, it can even counter Cathartic Reunion on the draw and swing the game in your favor. After sideboard, graveyard hate and Flaying Tendrils helps out.

Counters/Abzan Company
Your deck is well set up to never lose to their combo, but them going wide and activating Gavony Township is the real threat. Try your best to make sure to kill their mana creature early and never let Collected Company resolve while you keep attacking. Flaying Tendrils is great out of the sideboard because it keeps Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence from coming back and disables flexibility from Eternal Witness.

R/G Titan Shift
This a classic racing matchup where you have better tools than the opposition. Your life total doesn’t really matter until they resolve a Primeval Titan or Scapeshift anyway, so the plan is to kill them before this happens. With a good clock, Stubborn Denial, Thoughtseize and Snapcaster Mage for extra copies, we are in good shape. Because they will be looking to buy some time by blocking with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fatal Push is acceptable even after sideboard. They might also have Tireless Tracker as a target.

BG/x Midrange
Having talked a little about this matchup further up, it’s all about how to beat their large amount of removal. You can either try and pick their removal with discard spells and/or counter them with Stubborn Denial or try and grind them out with Lingering Souls and Snapcaster Mage. Both plans are doable, but it’s all about the context. With your diverse threats, you hope that your opponent draws Fatal Push when you have a Gurmag Angler and Liliana of the Veil when you have Lingering Souls.

Ad Nauseam
Similar to the Titan Shift matchup, Ad Nauseam will not be interacting with you a whole lot. Furthermore, they’re weak to a fast clock backed up by discard spells and cheap counter magic. They will try and buy time with Phyrexian Unlife, and sometimes you will find it hard to evaluate whether you should counter that or not. Waiting let’s them use Pact of Negation as backup to Ad Nauseam, but they could also easily use the enchantment as bait and have another white combo piece in their hand. Hopefully you know about their hand and can make the right decision. Stony Silence shuts off Pentad Prism and Lotus Bloom for games two and three.

Bant Eldrazi
You will not win a long game vs. Bant Eldrazi, so you want to be aggressive with your lifetotal and get down to business, as Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer will spell doom for you in the lategame. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push and Path to Exile away their threats while beating down.

UW/x Control
This version can either be the Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai version or the straight Blue/White with Supreme Verdict. These decks will need to draw at least one copy of Path to Exile to be able to kill a big Shadow or delve creature in the early turns, so take advantage of that if you can. Supreme Verdict can be a beating, but with Lingering Souls we can realistically rebuild after one. Playing vs. the combo is pretty frustrating because you need to have a few removal spells in your deck after sideboard, and they don’t really advance your own game plan unless you get him off guard trying to combo.

Thank you for stopping by this week. Wish me luck on my magical trip in the desert! In the meantime, tune in to my twitch channel and follow me on twitter. See you there 😉