Yesterday, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf became Modern-legal in paper. Say what you will about whether Modern needed a shakeup, it got one and that’s the world we live in now. We’ll see how the return of the Cascade elf and the introduction of the most powerful planeswalker affect the format (and we’ll have ample opportunity to do so, seeing as how many Modern Grand Prixs and SCG Opens there are).

Today, I’d like to talk about something a bit more personal than my usual focus on game design and Limited. In addition to the paper unbannings, yesterday was also the first time in (almost exactly) two years that I played Modern. These two are not unrelated.

The One, The Only

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is one of the most exciting and emblematic cards in contemporary Magic. For many people, Jace is the Black Lotus of the modern card frame, a statement I do not make lightly. He’s an expensive card with a rich history that only the rarefied few got to play with in Legacy, Vintage, Commander, or Cube. He hearkens back to a simpler time in Planeswalker design, when WotC didn’t realize just how bonkers he’d be (and when there were barely a dozen planeswalkers in total). He was the justified victim of the last round of Standard bannings, back when Standard bannings were rare occurrences that served to correct grossly and unintentionally overpowered cards, rather than accidental synergies or answerable threats that simply had no answers printed.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a symbolically important card to me. I returned to Magic in 2010, back when Jace was a $100 card and right before Caw Blade exploded onto the scene. I started taking Limited seriously, but the collector in me wanted to own a Jace. I didn’t have any use for him other than in casual Constructed, but he was the first and last card I needed to own for no purpose other than the sheer joy of ownership. I traded in a unfathomable large portion of my collection at a massive prerelease and got him. He got banned and I didn’t care. He sat in an EDH deck I quickly gave up on for years and I didn’t care: I ownedJace, the Mind Sculptor. At some point I traded for another and got a From the Vault: 20 for a third. I told myself I could put him in a Legacy deck, but I never did. Jace is the only card I’ve collected as an adult just for fun.

Now, that’s no longer true. Now I can play with Jace in a format I’ve long liked and missed.

An End to the End

I stopped playing Modern because of Eldrazi. The deck dominated Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, was essentially impossible to combat, and was the final nail in the coffin for the Modern Pro Tour (which was the Pro Tour I wanted to quality for). It resembled my last favorite deck, Tron (which wrecked Jeskai and Grixis when I played them), a deck which is impossible to interact with unless you’re playing land destruction (which is among the more miserable, net-negative fun mechanics in Magic).

In the past two years and in the wake of Eye of Ugin and Gitaxian Probe‘s banning, Modern has grown dramatically. We’ve seen a slew of new cards change the format, be they giving new tools to existing strong decks (like Kolaghan`s Command and Search for Azcanta), drastically improving previously niche decks (like Whir of Invention and Collected Company), or enabling entirely new archetypes (like Hollow One and Unclaimed Territory). Modern is a diverse, healthy format where dozens of decks are viable, but has a more crowded top tier than ever before.

None of this was sufficient to bring me back to Modern. I was busy with grad school; I was busy holding down several jobs afterward; and I didn’t have the local play opportunities I wanted. Ixalan had burnt me out on Magic in general; I had ample excuses not to come back. Modern was in great shape, but I only cared to follow it, not play. Turns out, legalizing Jace had me back slinging Celestial Colonnades in zero days. Jace was the kick in the pants I needed to come back, and I bet it got a lot of other folks excited for the format, too.

Overpowered or Just Right?

Time will tell if Jace and/or Bloodbraid Elf are good fits for Modern. Having sat down and played a bit with Jace, he does everything Modern blue decks have long needed (except wreck Tron): he wins on a stalled board, he provides card advantage, he’s removal, and he does all of that in one card. Normally, you needed to mix situational cards like Sphinx’s Revelation and Secure the Wastes and hope to find the rights at the right time. Now, you can just play Jace and he’ll Brainstorm away the situational cards you don’t need at the moment.

I am overjoyed at all the possibilities. Will he last? No clue. If he gets banned, well, I’ve been sitting on these Jaces anyway and I’ve already had other decks be banned (Jeskai Ascendacy with Treasure Cruise was one of the most fun, and disgustingly overpowered decks I’ve had the joy of playing). For now, we live in a Jace world. Hopefully, it’s a healthy one where blue decks are good and viable without being overpowered or lacking predators. We’ve no choice to either enjoy it or stop playing, and for now, I am excited to play.

As always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Impale. It’s solid, it’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s kind of perfect for Limited.

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