It’s not often that Modern feels like a new Standard format, where it’s an arms race to solve for the best deck in the format. When Wizards of the Coast unbanned two immensely powerful cards in Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf, that’s exactly the situation we were in. After some discussion with my friends that may have gotten a little heated I was firmly in the Jace, the Mind Sculptor camp and set out to Brainstorm and fate seal my way to the best deck in Modern. My first instinct was to take what I believed to be the best blue deck in Modern pre-unbanning, Blue Moon, and shoehorn some Jaces in there and see where the dust settled. After playing 15 or so matches with the deck I was unimpressed. Blood Moon turned off your fetches, so it was hard to maximize Brainstorms with Jace, and while Unsummoning is nice when you’ve limited your opponent to one spell per turn, I was losing a few too many games after resolving a Blood Moon and Jace for my liking.
By then we had a few sets of data from the Magic Online leagues, so I tried to figure out which deck would be the best at maximizing Jace.
1) It had to have plenty of shuffle effects to maximize Brainstorm when trying to pull ahead.
2) I wanted to be somehow taking advantage of putting cards on top of my library.
3) I didn’t want Jace to by my main win condition.
4) If possible, I’d like to play Jace ahead of schedule.
Miracles was an option, and it had a great showing in the Team Modern Super League as well. It plays plenty of fetches, putting miracle cards on top is gas, and Entreat the Angels and Celestial Colonnade are potent threats. It seemed good on paper, but runs the risk of getting miracles stuck in your hand early, and a turn 5 Terminus off of a Jace that may or may not have died against an aggressive deck was unexciting.
And then I saw RUG Scapeshift. Between 10 ramp spells, 4 fetches there’s plenty of shuffling to go around as well as the possibility of turn 3 Jace, brainstorming away Mountains seems like a narrow interaction, but comes up every game you play Jace, and why waste your time rolling up a Jace to ultimate when you can just cast a Scapeshift. I played a whole heck of a lot of R/G Titanshift over the past year, so getting to run back my favourite 1-card combo was also quite enticing. I started off with a list that Scapeshift enthusiast Rodrigo Togores 5-0’d a Modern League with, played some games, made some changes, played some games, made some more changes and ended up with close to the exact 75 he ran through that league.
Rather than go through every card in the list, here are some comments on a few cards I chose exclude and include that may be a little bit more contentious. The first card I was excited to play in this deck was Search for Azcanta. It seemingly does it all in this shell. It filters your draws in your combo/control deck, when it transforms it both helps you dig towards your Scapeshift, and puts a land into play acting effectively as a ramp spell. Sign me up! In practice it took a very long time to transform, especially because when you saw a Mountain on top of your deck with the trigger, you have to be very careful about putting it into your graveyard. With only 11 Mountains in the deck it’s possible to run out and be unable to win the game with Scapeshift, and while that doesn’t happen very often during normal gameplay, especially with Jace to brainstorm them back on top, if you need to fetch up one or two mountains to cast your spells early, draw a couple more at various points in the game, or mill them with your Azcanta, then you could quickly be risking running out.Izzet Charm was a card I was really unexcited about, but after playing with it I’m very happy having 2 copies in the maindeck. It has great flexibility that makes Snapcaster even more potent. When it’s laying around in your graveyard it allows Snapcaster to counter a spell, kill a small creature, or loot away some bad ones and dig towards a Scapeshift when you’re desperate. Any of those 3 modes may be relevant the first time, but it giving that flexibility later is what seals the deal for me. Spell Pierce, Careful Study and Shock are all cards I’d be far from interested in typically, but all 3 wrapped up in a tight package clears the bar.
Finally, Huntmaster of the Fells replaced an Obstinate Baloth in the sideboard. Certainly gaining only 2 life immediately compared to 4 against Burn is worse overall, but Huntmaster has been fantastic at shoring up the matchup against creature heavy aggressive decks. Providing 2 bodies against a deck hoping to go wide like Zoo or 5c Humans is really the difference maker, matchups where Baloth is underwhelming anyway. The Humans deck between Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage can pretty effectively lock out your removal, but unless they can actually name it all, their lock can fall like dominoes if you can work your way down the chain of Freebooters and Meddling Mages, so one extra way to remove a creature via Huntmaster of the Fells transforming can facilitate that. Both Baloth and Huntmaster will come in against decks like Jund, and while Baloth is stronger there, that matchup is traditionally favoured for you anyway so the slight downgrade isn’t too damaging.
This is the deck I played in the Face to Face Games Open+ 5K this past weekend to a 6-2 finish, good enough to squeak into the top 16 for a nice cash, and while I won’t do a full tournament report, I will get into some of the highlights. First off, here were my matchups:
Rd 1: Win 2-0 vs. Mardu Pyromancer
Rd 2: Win 2-1 vs. Bant Eldrazi
Rd 3: Win 2-0 vs. Jund
Rd 4: Lose 1-2 vs. Eldrazi Tron
Rd 5: Win 2-0 vs. Jeskai Control
Rd 6: Win 2-1 vs. All In Red
Rd 7: Lose 0-2 vs. Merfolk
Rd 8: Win 2-1 vs. Tron
Game 3 versus Bant Eldrazi my opponent on the play cast a turn 3 Reality Smasher through a Cavern of Souls, followed up by a turn 4 Reality Smasher through a Cavern. I won that game at 9 life by chaining together Cryptic Commands and Snapcasters as Fogs. Game 2 versus Jeskai Control my hand was at one point 4 Scapeshifts, a land, a Remand and a Farseek. Three turns later I had Brainstormed away all my bad cards, won an 8 spell counter war to bounce a Runed Halo naming Valakut, and defeated my opponent with a Scapeshift. Thanks Jace.
Game 1 versus All In Red I slid down the rabbit hole of thinking I could beat my opponent’s turn 2 Blood Moon with a Cryptic, to thinking I could technically beat my opponent’s second Blood Moon with 2 Cryptics, to thinking I was doomed for all of eternity when they cast a third Blood Moon. But then I top decked Jace and never looked back, wasn’t even close. Game 3 of the same match my opponent had a turn 0 Gemstone Cavern followed up by an Exodia-esque turn 1 Koth of the Hammer. Lucky for me they only ever drew one Mountain so couldn’t ever profitably make an emblem and a single Cryptic Command turned that game 180 degrees real quick.
If you’re looking for the best Jace deck in Modern then I believe RUG Scapeshift may be the deck for you. It can grind people out in the late game between Snapcaster, Cryptic and Jace, as well as has the potential to win on turn 4 via 3 ramp spells and a Scapeshift. A great late game and a turn 4 kill potential? I believe that’s what we call having it all, and boy does it feel good.