Monday, 2 November 2015
Card Spotlight: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
It is no secret that new Jace is mentally good, in a wide variety of formats too. I rated him very highly in my preliminary reviews. It was a powerful set and Jace sat atop the pile. That said, I still significantly underrated him. After playing with new Jace literally once I proclaimed it was the best of all the Jace's and sill I think I was underrating it at that time. I had it in the same ballpark as Snapcaster and Deathrite Shaman however I thought that Jace was weaker than those cards. Now I am moving towards preferring Jace to Snapcaster and finding it pretty much on par with Deathrite. That means new Jace is not just atop the MtG Origins cards but atop all of the creatures in the game!
The flipping planeswalkers are almost entirely new card types and it feels harsh to other creatures putting them in the same group as the flip walkers offer so much more. They are certainly more creatures than they are planeswalkers. Basically, in the case of Jace, I don't think it matters whether you rank him with planeswalkers or creatures, he is the big name in both groups.
In my initial reviews I looked at Jace as a looter, then as a planeswalker and finally as a Snapcaster Mage. On each account I found Jace to be weaker than alternatives. Most of the time in cube and magic in general you want direct cards that do the thing you want them to do as well as they can do it. Because Looter il-Kor, Snapcaster and other Jace's all look more direct and effective I was losing track of the fact that Vryn's prodigy acts like all three of these great things. It is almost like saying Crypic Command is bad because Counterspell and Boomerang are more direct cards.
So Jace does three good things, two very well and although other planeswalker Jace's get more done it is hard to call Telepath Unbound worse given that he costs two mana. This makes Jace a cheap and powerful utility card. There are two more specific reasons I prefer Jace to Snapcaster. Firstly, Jace may only be sorcery speed but the two mana you pay is almost never on the same turn that you use the -3. This means it is a lot quicker and punchier than Snapcaster in what it will recast for you. The second reason is simply that Snapcaster is only ever a two for one itself. Jace can quite comfortably recast two spells and remain in play doing more work than a mere 2/1.
Another way to appreciate the value of Jace is looking at the worst case scenarios. If you don't flip him you have baited a removal spell with a two drop. This is no bad thing, there is a high chance you gained a tempo lead as a result while also making the path safer for your pricier threats. Jace is sufficiently powerful that you will almost always kill it on sight if you can and this ability to force plays with a card that costs two mana is brutal. A lot of two drops lose value significantly as the game goes on but Jace sits in the Snapcaster camp of getting better late game while also sitting in the Dark Confidant camp of being game winning if unanswered when cast on turn two.
If you flip Jace only to have him die right away in planeswalker form you have still done massive work. Worst case scenario is you get 6 life and 1 loot effect for your two mana. Likely this will be more like 9+ life or 2+ life and a bonus card. That is the worst case scenario which all seems rather tasty. Best case, you win the game. Simple.
That is the final aspect of Jace which secures it a place as one of the all time great magic cards, he is a game winning threat on top of all that value and utility. It is not just the subtle contributions from looting, manipulating combat, forcing removal use or getting a cheap two for one that can lead to a win that I am talking about either. I somewhat disregarded Jace as a game ending threat in my initial review. The ultimate seemed overly hard to get to and not that easy to win with. I was imagining best case scenarios being a few loots, a few flashbacks and some damage mitigation into the mix. Great stuff but not always enough to take down all cube games.
What I have found on a number of occasions is that the momentum from the Jace just gets so out of hand that you can basically attribute the entire win to the Jace. Sometimes he just threatens so many things while simultaneously controlling the board that he gets to 9 loyalty directly when you have a hand full of gas still. With 40 card decks Jace's ultimate will end the game with 3-5 casts which is a walk in the park if you have managed to get the Jace to 9 or more.
It comes as no surprise to me that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is now the most valuable normal rariry card you can pull out of a normal in print booster ever. Lots of clauses in that sentence to get round Tarmogoyf in MM, expedition lands and stuff that has inflated hugely since the set in question has gone out of print. Despite these exceptions it is still a mighty feat. Sadly I fear he may get banned in some or all formats but until then he will be heavily shaping the magic meta for a long while yet.
As an aside note Jace is so extreme he seems to be doing some odd things to the magic economy. He represents so much value in one card that he is single handedly killing the price of a lot of the other cards in the set. Origins was high quality yet the non Jace cards are relatively cheap for what they are and the play they are seeing, especially for a base set. There are good playable Mythics at $2 in Origins! While it may boost sales of product having a mythic rare most decks want four copies of it is not great for the game going forward. Not only does it represent a huge barrier to entry for new players but it puts a lot of existing players in an uncomfortable position. Do you shell out a total fortune on four cards that could just get banned and kill your investment? In the way in which Wizards made the restricted list to ensure the value of high cost cards to collectors and such I feel there should be some effort made to protect the value of Jace so as to not deter players making that investment. I suspect doing that would further increase the price of Jace but that is not as much of a problem with an in print set and should help boost sales in a more helpful way to everyone. It is not really practicable to promise not to ban a card which is the issue here rather than reprints. Going back to just common, uncommon and rare would help even the price distribution on cards but I cannot see Wizards going for that and it wouldn't solve the specific Jace problem, just future ones.