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Vintage 101: Jace, Vintage Prodigy


Planeswalkers have changed the way people play Magic ever since they first entered the game with the release of Lorwyn. The "Lorwyn Five" of Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, Garruk Wildspeaker, Liliana Vess, and Ajani Goldmane were all flavorful, game-changing cards. Most saw some tournament play and were used in tier one Standard decks. However, eternal formats were slow to adopt planeswalkers to their list of staple cards.

The Legend of Tezzeret

Legacy and Vintage set a high bar for what is playable in their respective formats. A converted mana cost of five might be acceptable in Standard, but in Vintage or Legacy, more than three-mana cost is pushing it. The first Vintage-playable 'walker was Tezzeret the Seeker, and he was only playable by virtue of his infinite turn combo with Time Vault. Right before Tezzeret was released, Time Vault received errata that made it function the same as it does today, meaning that untapping it with Tezzeret starts a chain of extra turns. If not for the errata, Tezzeret would not have made the cut in Vintage. 

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Tezzeret quickly became the King of Vintage Planeswalkers. This reign lasted until his crown was usurped by the second incarnation of Jace, the formidable Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace gave rise to the "Caw Blade" deck that took over Standard, alienating many players who weren't on the deck. Casting Brainstorm every turn proved to be a little too good for Standard, and the four-mana planeswalker was eventually deemed too powerful for every format except Legacy and Vintage. The Mind Sculptor sets a high bar for planeswalkers in eternal formats, and indeed it was many years before a planeswalker could challenge Jace for the role of top 'walker in Vintage.

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The Greatest Thief in the Multiverse

When Dack Fayden was released in Conspiracy and Vintage Masters, he quickly began to catch on in Vintage. Dack's ability to steal his opponent's artifacts and artifact creatures made him well-positioned against a variety of decks. Mishra's Workshop decks in particular had a disdain for having their Lodestone Golem stolen by Dack, but the greatest thief in the multiverse was content stealing everything from a Blightsteel Colossus all the way down to a single Mox. 

The central focus of today's article is about a Blue planeswalker, but it isn't Tezzeret, Dack, or even Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The planeswalker I'm talking about has already made a splash in Standard, and he's been creeping into Vintage ...

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"Baby Jace," the flashy new Standard Mythic Rare is well-known to Standard and Modern players. He's the kind of  planeswalker that is deceptively powerful. Even I admit to underestimating him when I first saw the card. The price on Jace is extremely high for a Standard card. This surge is due in part to the fact that Jace has a multitude of uses. Vryn's Prodigy is played in top Standard and Modern decks, and he's seen play in Legacy and Vintage. The demand for Jace from non-rotating formats doesn't count as much as the demand from Standard players, but it sends a signal to savvy collectors that this Jace will hold more of its value after Magic Origins rotates out of Standard. 

Today we are going to look at some reasons why Jace is good in Vintage, and we'll also take a look at some decks that he's popped up in. 

Snappy Comebacks

When Magic Origins was spoiled, all of the new planeswalkers were heavily discussed for their Standard uses. Relating to Vintage, most of the conversation was about Magic Origins were cards similar to some well-known Vintage staples. Dark Petition and Day's Undoing were compared to Demonic Tutor and Timetwister respectively (they've both seen play in recent Vintage tournaments). 

Discussions on The Mana Drain (TMD) about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy were largely skeptical. The majority of people, including myself, compared Jace to this similar two-drop Blue creature:

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It's true Jace has the ability to cast spells from his owner's graveyard, and the converted mana cost of both cards is the same. Snapcaster Mage is certainly a great card, and he is playable in eternal formats. But there's a lot of positives Jace brings to a deck. 

At two-mana, the investment required to play a Baby Jace isn't very much. Losing Jace to a removal spell that costs one or two isn't what we want to happen, but it isn't the end of the world. If you untap with your two-mana creature you can start to use his "loot" ability. Dack Fayden has taught Vintage players how powerful card selection is in a format with so many broken cards. Looting away lands for more gas is always good, and looting helps fuel spells with delve and cards like Yawgmoth's Will or Goblin Welder

Depending on when you cast your Jace, you will likely get one or two activations of his loot ability before he transforms. Vintage is full of fetch lands and cantrips. Many times Jace can flip by turn two or three. Once he's flipped, you can immediately play a spell from your graveyard. This is the ability Jace shares with Snapcaster Mage. The only thing more powerful than casting a card from the Restricted List is casting a card from the Restricted List twice!

The issue with Snapcaster Mage is he adds two-mana to the cost of any replayed instant or sorcery, and the flashback cost is equal to the spell's converted mana cost. Casting a spell from the graveyard with Jace, Telepath Unbound is not flashback. Jace simply says you may cast that spell from your graveyard. That subtle difference means if you're casting a card like Gush, you can use the alternate casting cost of returning two Islands to your hand! This is a major selling point for Jace. Even with the restriction of Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, Gush decks are still very prevalent and powerful. Being able to replay Gush with Jace is amazing. It's something that Snapcaster Mage can't really do, unless you're willing to pay five-mana for your Divination effect. 

There are some points where Snapcaster Mage is better, like casting cards on your opponent's turn. Jace has the potential to replay multiple cards which is something a single Snapcaster can't do. All in all, I'd say Jace and Snapcaster are very good cards, and Jace has much more synergy with Gush decks, like Delver, Pyromancer, and Monastery Mentor builds. These decks generally try to use as small of a mana base as possible, so the mana-efficiency of Jace's "flashback" ability makes replaying spells much easier. 

What About the Other abilities?

The other two abilities are somewhat lackluster, which is probably why people dismissed Jace initially. Having played with the card for a while, I can say both abilities are better than I thought. The +1 ability is the weakest, but it can still dampen attacks from opposing creatures. It takes several activations of this ability to generate another flashback spell, but most of the time I don't +1 more than once.

A common line I take is to flip Jace and use the +1 ability immediately to go up to six loyalty counters. Then I play a spell from the graveyard once for the next two turns, often times playing another Jace from my hand, ready to transform and take the place of the outgoing Telepath Unbound. Other variations are to flip, "flashback," then go for another spell two turns later. Often times your opponent will be forced to kill the Jace after you've already looted and replayed a spell, so you're already up a card at that point. Playing with Jace and making such lines of play really opens your eyes to how strong the card really is. 

The Emblem

I have to admit I haven't achieved Jace's emblem much. Most of the time a planeswalker's final ability will not be reached, and Baby Jace is no different. I will tell you that the emblem is a real win condition, and I have indeed won a game with it. Most of the decks in Vintage that want Jace, Vryn's Prodigy are full of cheap spells that draw cards, meaning that you can wreck someone's library in short order. 

Now let's take a peek at a few decks that are packing Baby Jace:

 

This deck is likely familiar to Vintage players on Magic Online. Monastery Mentor builds with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy have become the second most popular deck on Magic Online. The reasons are myriad, but a few important points stick out in my mind. With Chalice of the Void restricted, less people are playing Mishra's Workshop decks which used to give the Mentor decks problems. Mentor builds have generally been put together in a similar fashion to Delver decks, but the increased mana requirements caused the deck to have a greedier mana base, which was hurt more by Workshop's mana taxing cards. When you're facing a field of Workshop decks, it's easier to get to one- or two-mana for Delver or Young Pyromancer than it is to get to three-mana to cast Monastery Mentor. Mentor decks are also heavy on cantrips, which aren't castable with Chalice set to one. 

Monastery Mentor has always been a borderline broken card. In a vacuum it is better than Young Pyromancer because he creates a quicker clock. Monk tokens with prowess are a nightmare to deal with. It is not unheard of for a single Monk token to go the distance. The environment has become less hostile to these decks, and their numbers have increased. 

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is amazing in Mentor decks. Replaying a spell creates a creature at the same time. Spend any amount of time playing with Jace in a Gush-based list and you'll quickly notice how he takes over a game. Losing a few copies of Dig Through Time doesn't even matter when you've got a deck with three or four copies of Jace because you'll most likely play Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time or Ancestral Recall twice in any given game.

Time Walk is also one of the most powerful cards in decks like Jeskai Mentor. Time Walk is normally a huge tempo swing, but when it causes triggers that put tokens into play it becomes ridiculous. It goes without saying flashing back a Time Walk is devastating. You have a horde of marauding Monk tokens with prowess

The most common argument that I've heard against Jace is that he "dies to removal". Unlike other planeswalkers, Jace can easily die before you get one activation of his creature form. That situation is not as problematic as people seem to think. Vintage decks have a finite amount of removal. If they blow their removal on Jace, that's one less spell to take out the four Monastery Mentors in this deck. Mentor and his tokens demand an answer and Jace does as well. Our opponent's countermeasures are stretched thin. 

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This Mentor deck list was played by Matthew Murray, the most vocal proponent of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy I am aware of. If anyone ever needed proof of the efficacy of the new planeswalker, Matthew's deck won a tournament with over 100 players. There were several other decks like this one in the tournament (Eternal Extravaganza 3), and decks similar to Matthew's list have become the second most played deck on Magic Online. It is my firm opinion that this deck is the "deck to beat." Anyone heading to a Vintage event should be playing a deck like this one or be well-prepared to beat it. 

 

People have been trying out Baby Jace in other decks as well. Here's a Grixis Thieves list that has a few copies:

Here we see Jace, Vryn's Prodigy being used in the same spot Snapcaster Mage once filled in Grixis lists. The idea here is the same. Jace functions as a Blue two-drop value machine. The looting ability has synergy with Yawgmoth's Will, and it allows certain cards to be replayed. Yawgmoth's Will is important to a Grixis deck's strategy and having a way to replay one if it gets countered or discarded is a tremendous boon. 

It is worth noting that one of the unfortunate things about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is illustrated in this deck list. The fact that Jace shares his planeswalker subtype with Jace, the Mind Sculptor sometimes creates conflict. This deck has reasons to want both Jaces in the deck, but sadly you can't have Jace, Telepath Unbound and Jace, The Mind Sculptor on the battlefield at the same time. The transformation ability on Vryn's Prodigy isn't optional. This disharmony is reason enough to include Snapcaster Mage instead of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in a Grixis Thieves list, but the deck posted above did win a Daily Event with Jace in the list. 

Here we have a BUG Fish deck. This list appears to be a copy of the deck that won the Magic Online Power Nine Challenge. BUG Fish is a deck that I predicted would do well in the current metagame. The deck seems to be performing fairly well, but not overly dominant. BUG Fish did manage to win the biggest Magic Online Vintage tournament in recent history and that speaks to the deck being well-positioned at the moment.

In the first weeks following the unrestriction of Thirst for Knowledge and the restriction of Chalice of the Void, many people jumped aboard the hype train and began to play Time Vault decks fueled by Thirst for Knowledge. It just so happens a deck like BUG Fish that plays Abrupt Decay and Null Rod is pretty good against a deck built around comboing off with cheap artifacts. The Tezzcast deck was popular for a time as well, and that list runs even more artifacts as well as four copies of Seat of the Synod. Without an immediate answer to Null Rod, Tezzcast screeches to a halt. 

In this build of BUG Fish, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy acts as extra copies of Snapcaster Mage. This deck needs to be disruptive and grind out value at the same time, and having a combination of Snapcasters and Jaces gives the deck the ability to replay cards on both players' turns. Sometimes replaying a Mental Misstep with Snapcaster Mage comes in handy, and it's nice to have a mix of both cards. 

This list is one that I've been working on and testing whenever I have the time. It's based on a deck Steve Menendian played at this year's Vintage Championships. The major difference is that I replaced Dack Fayden with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. For anyone unfamiliar with what they're looking at, this is essentially a Storm deck that wins with Tendrils of Agony or beats down with Elemental tokens created by Young Pyromancer. It's also very possible to win with a combination of creature beats and a "mini-Tendrils." 

The Storm count is made lethal by combining Gush and Fastbond with cards like Regrowth and Yawgmoth's Will. Gush plus Fastbond acts much like a Dark Ritual, as you are simply "floating mana" between casting and replaying Gush, Regrowth, or searching for Gush with Merchant Scroll / Demonic Tutor.

In my testing I found Jace to be great in this list. The looting effect with Jace doesn't go as deep as Dack's does, but once he flips he adds much more to your strategy of ending the game with a lethal Tendrils of Agony. I will start to draw cards on a turn where I have Fastbond out, waiting to choose a card to replay with Jace until I'm sure of what I need to cast again. Often times it is Gush because I need more cards, extra mana, and a higher Storm count. Gush does all of those things for this deck, and it's so good I've chosen to replay it instead of Ancestral Recall before. 

I'm not sure if this list is a tier one choice in this metagame or not, but it is very strong and fun to play. It's also a great home for Jace. The list I've included is the current list I have been running, but it is not yet completely optimal. It's entirely possible adding one Dack Fayden in the place of one Jace is a good idea, but the relative lack of Workshop decks that I've run into have made me want to stick with Jace thus far. 

All About That Jace

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is undoubtedly powerful in Vintage. As time goes on I predict we'll see more decks that use the Blue "flip walker." Truth be told, there are other decks in Vintage that use Vryn's Prodigy, but article space is limited. There was a really interesting Worldgorger Dragon combo deck that used Jace as a support card. You can read all about that deck here

Whether you play Standard, Modern, Legacy, or Vintage, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a card to watch out for. If you haven't picked up any copies yet, the window of opportunity for getting a cheap play set has closed. If you are into non-rotating formats, picking up Jace isn't a bad idea. He is the real deal, and he will continue to see play in those formats. He isn't likely to be reprinted anytime soon.

Do you have any sweet brews with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy? Tell me about it in the comment section. 

See you all next week. Until then, keep racing for that Jace Emblem! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO.


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