This is part four of an article series analyzing the character of Jace Beleren. Be sure to read the first three parts as well.

It’s been a long road for Jace Beleren, and we find ourselves back where we started. After challenging a superior mind mage to a battle of wits, Jace’s mind is utterly shattered. He reflexively planeswalks to an unfamiliar location. Jace wakes up alone, with no money, allies, or memories: a blank slate. This must have happened to Jace a dozen times before, but this time will not be like the others.

Green believes that each person is born with all the attributes that will define it. That its strengths, weaknesses, everything that will shape who and what the person is comes from within, from its genetic make-up, from its physiology, from its biology.

Blue believes that each creature is born a blank slate that has the potential to become anything. With the proper education, experiences, and tools, each person has the ability to choose their own defining traits, to become the thing that they decide to be.

At its core, this conflict is about identity and how we see ourselves.

—Mark Rosewater, Pie Fights

Welcome to Ixalan, the site of the greatest and most impressive character arc the Magic Story has ever seen! Over the course of this storyline, Jace will go through a literal voyage of discovery and rebuild himself from nothing, finally integrating his many lives into a complete whole. He will banish his demons and choose to become the man he wants to be, with some unlikely help along the way. The strength of the writing speaks for itself and requires no defense, so instead, I will point out parallels and dramatic irony that stem from Jace’s past. I want to look under the surface and show how much of Ixalan’s greatness is founded on what came before it. Hopefully by the end, you will see Ixalan as the natural culmination of Jace’s story, rather than an emergency re-tool to salvage an insufferable character.

Let’s begin.

“The man opened his eyes.”

—the first line of Jace, Alone

Jace, Alone is one of the best short stories Magic has ever written. It is mandatory reading if you have even a passing interest in Jace Beleren, being the second-most important story for his development. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to the most important story a little later on.) It took me multiple attempts to write this analysis because I kept finding myself quoting the entire story. Rather than taking it line by line, I will group quotations together according to theme to better portray Jace’s time on Useless Island. They will be presented out of order, but know that all of them are interwoven episodically within the story itself.

Becoming Yourself

Jace awakens on a lush tropical island covered in bruises, absolutely exhausted, and with a killer headache. This is Jace reduced to his most basic ingredients. By evaluating his actions here, we can sort out the image Jace projects from who he truly is.

After standing up and limping to the beach, Jace tries to make sense of his situation. He calls out twice, but no one responds: he’s alone.

As logical explanations were methodically checked off his mental list, the man drew closer and closer to a state of panic.

Well, it seems Jace’s blueness was genuine. Within the first minute of his time on Ixalan, he is searching for logical explanations and methodically running through a mental checklist. Jace lays out his clothes on the sand and tries to imagine what sort of man would wear them:

Whoever this person was came from somewhere much colder, that was certain. The materials were heavy, built for rain (he remembered rain!) and brisk chill. The cloak was a bit much—it was not a gaudy thing, per se, but its pattern belied any semblance of subtlety. The undershirt was stained with sweat, so he must have been walking through the heat for some time. Most curious of all were the boots. A few grains of sand were trapped inside against the sole, but the type of sand from his shoes had a different grit than that of the beach around him. This evidence was courser, rougher, a rich golden yellow compared to the soft white beneath him.

Jace instinctively seeks out knowledge, and catalogues every detail he can down to the coarseness of a grain of sand. An impressive display, but there isn’t enough evidence to draw firm conclusions. He has no idea how he came to be here. There are other pieces of evidence, however, that he knows are important, even if the exact meaning escapes him. A persistent theme of Jace’s time on the island is seeing scars from old traumas without the ability to recall them. Quite literally, in this case:

He looked down at his belongings, then paused as he looked at his ungloved right hand for the first time.

A scar ran in a perfect line down his right forearm. It was straight as a surgeon’s cut; someone had intentionally done this.

The man assessed himself for further clues. He was bruised from recent battle, but he could feel several more of the deep, stick-straight scars running along his back. Were these as old as the scar on his arm? Who had done this to him?

These scars were intended as reminders of Tezzeret’s displeasure, but they can’t remind him anymore. The same is true of his personal crest:

The symbol on the cloak caught his attention.

It was . . . familiar.

Why was it familiar?

This story reminds us just how much of his past Jace carries with him, and what is left when you strip it away. Jace looks at these mementos of agony; he feels not afraid or helpless, but confused. For the first time, they have lost their power over him, leaving Jace free to indulge his natural inclinations.

Jace’s actions evince pure rationality and thought, unhindered by a desire to prove himself or to uphold great responsibilities. He crafts and uses tools, educates himself, stockpiles information. He learns and grows in both strength and understanding. Jace, the mono-blue blank slate, is optimizing himself. He uses pure logic; not coldly, like black, or as a means to an end, like white, but for its own sake: the satisfaction of discovery and efficient process.

Trading Trauma for Joy

Jace’s intellect is indivisible from him and will reappear under any circumstances. Over the course of his time on the island, his other intrinsic qualities will make themselves known, under far happier circumstances than they did originally. At the end of the first day, we get our first hint of Jace’s magic:

The man drifted to sleep with a tingle on the back of his neck and tucked his legs close. He tossed and turned on the sand of the beach, completely asleep—and unbeknownst to him, utterly invisible.

The next day, Jace is desperate to light a fire. He works at it for hours and hours with no luck, but his focus is so singular his subconscious makes an illusion of fire. Jace is elated at first, but when he sees that it does not truly burn, he immediately comes to the conclusion he is insane. With no context to assist him, Jace mistakes his magic for madness. Strangely, he find this quite freeing, and continues about his business.

It is only on reflection later that the idea of him being a mage occurs to him:

The thought felt . . . correct. “I can wield magic” was a thought that came to the man as simply and truly as “I am a man” or “I dislike crocodiles.”

He closed his eyes and willed himself to find that thing, that chill at the back of his neck and that ripple of power within. He searched inside his mind and willed himself to create.

The man opened his eyes, and saw a vision of himself standing on top of the water in front of him.

Let’s think back to the original moment when Jace discovered his powers, when he was only thirteen years old. He had been subconsciously stealing other people’s thoughts for some time, which led the other kids to brand him a freak and his school to suspect him of cheating. This put stress on his relationship with his parents, further isolating him. His powers actively manifest in a moment of extreme stress, when he is about to fall to his death. He blows out the mind of another kid in order to climb back up, and leaves the boy in a coma. He is so ashamed and horrified, he is determined to run away from home and never use his powers again.

What is his reaction this time?

His grin erupted into a cry of joy.

The man ran to shore, kicking up sand as he went.

“I’ve been manifesting fragments of memory! I’m not hallucinating—I’ve been creating illusions! I am a mage!”

We see him work through the scope of his magic:

The man dispelled the horse and created an elephant, dispelled the elephant and created a sea monster, dispelled the sea monster and turned the day into night, filling the beach with an endless array of delicate stars.

He laughed until he cried.

Pure joy. Uninhibited wonder and delight, as wild and free as a flowing stream. There is no comparison to that first moment; in losing his memories, Jace has traded shame for amazement and fear for celebration. Before, Jace never truly felt comfortable with his telepathy. Though he cultivated an image of being an ingenious mind-mage, I suspect if he had been given the opportunity, he would have given it up entirely. This is a much more positive experience, one that will teach him to love his powers and love himself for having them.

But indispensable as they are, Jace’s magic and intellect are not the things that define him. The reason we know his name at all is because of the spark within him, which gives him an even more extraordinary gift.

An image of an unfamiliar place flashed through the man’s mind—color and light and the idea of away. The man felt a tingle run down the back of his neck—and in a refreshingly cool rush of energy, he felt his entire body attempt to break apart from itself, particles flickering and vanishing, his physical form wavering between one place and another. It was pleasant, familiar . . . comforting. He had done this before. His body was dissolving and breaking apart—it should have felt terrible, but instead it felt like him.

Jace was born to planeswalk. Even though he does not have the words for it, he recognizes it as his nucleus, the deepest and truest part of who he is. Again, think of the contrast: sparks are only triggered by extreme stress—so intense that for most people, even death is not sufficient to activate their sparks. Psychological trauma comes standard-issue to every planeswalker, but even by that incredible standard, Jace’s sparking is something else.

Jace does not remember the first time he planeswalked, or the fourth, or the fifth. The sphinx Alhammarret, his old master, forced him to practice his illusions until he lost control of them and sparked. Then, he would pull Jace back, wipe his mind, and force him to do it again. We have no idea how many times this happened. The first time Jace planeswalked outside this cycle was when he killed his master, flaying his own mind in the process.

There is none of that pain here: only a sense of correctness. For the first time we see Jace express his feelings about being a planeswalker. Absent those anguished memories, he seems to love it.

But those memories will start to assert themselves. Come back tomorrow to see how.

David Walley is only a recent fan of Magic: The Gathering, but a lifelong spectator to stories. After discovering the Magic Story earlier this year, he was greatly impressed by both its strength and subtlety. In his articles, he endeavors to expand the Vorthos community by showcasing the story’s excellence to the average Magic fan.

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