Jace Beleren.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the Memory Adept, the Architect of Thought. Jace, the Unraveler of Secrets, the Living Guildpact, the Telepath Unbound.

Jace, the man who wishes he was anyone else.

Jace has become both the face of the game and one of it’s most hated characters. He has a reputation for being a boring, one-dimensional hero, spouting one-liners and effortlessly overwhelming his enemies with his brilliant mind. You’ll hear him spoken of as the ultimate wish-fulfillment character, the clever genius that every Magic player wishes they could be. The Ixalan story has changed that, to an extent; but even then, people often say that Ixalan “finally fixed Jace.”

I loved his Ixalan arc as well, but only because it flowed so well from what had already been established. Jace has always been a complex, compelling character; the dislike of him is a meme based on nonsense and decades-old flavor text. This series of articles seeks to explain who Jace really is in the story, and why he is a character worth caring about. I am going to recap his background and then pluck little moments from the online stories—small interactions and telling lines of dialogue that weave together into a complete portrait.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the story quotes from Jace’s Origin: Absent Minds.

Jace Beleren was born on Vryn, a planet split in half by a perpetual civil war. Like Kaladesh, magical engineering is the center of life on Vryn, with mathematicians and wizards working hand in hand. His telepathy manifested young; it ostracized him from his family and peers. He grew up believing he was a freak, a failure, and a disappointment.

After getting in trouble at school one day, he runs from his house to be alone, and escape the sound of other people talking in his head. Some kids from school corner him there, and almost push him off the side of the tower to his death. While hanging off the edge, he actively uses his powers for the first time and breaks into the mind of one of the children, Caden. Jace compels the child to help him up, and sees himself through Caden’s eyes:

How small he looked, hanging desperately above the crackling stream of mana. How vulnerable he looked. He hated it.

Jace has Caden pull him up, and then runs for home. As he pulls himself out of Caden’s mind, he hears Caden’s body hit the ground: Jace burned his mind out, unintentionally and irreversibly.

He’s packing his things and preparing to run away when his mother knocks on the door:

She was close, close enough that he could read her if he wanted. He didn’t. He didn’t want to see inside anyone’s mind ever again. He didn’t want to unearth their darkest secrets, didn’t want to control them or manipulate them, and above all didn’t want to see himself through their eyes—small, awkward, vulnerable.

Young Jace hates himself, and the discovery of his powers has not helped any; it has simply given him another part of himself to detest. People think of Jace as smug, reveling in the power he holds over others; but from the very beginning that was never the case. Jace thinks he has only the power to violate other people and leave them crippled or comatose. He does not view his telepathy as a superpower, but a curse added to someone who was already cursed enough.

That may sound depressing, but don’t worry, it gets worse.

The sphinx Alhammarret hears about what Jace did, and comes to take him away as his apprentice. Alhammarret is a powerful mind-mage who has been trying for decades to make peace between the warring factions of Vryn. Jace is a prodigy, and advances in leaps and bounds. Soon, Alhammarret begins to send him on fact-finding missions, acquiring intel that can be used to broker a ceasefire. Jace finds meaning in this work, which gives us our first clue to his true desires:

Finally, with Alhammarret’s guidance, Jace was using his abilities to help people.

After two years, Jace is sent to mind-wipe a warlord who is preparing an attack. He breaks into the target’s head and sees that the man has been buying military secrets from himself. The sphinx has been lying to him: he’s not trying to bring the war to an end, he’s ensuring it will continue. Alhammarret has been playing both sides, sending Jace to one camp, then mind-wiping him and sending him to the other, over and over again.

Wounded and furious, Jace returns to his master and challenges him to a mind duel on the spot. A reckless and foolish thing to do, but he has one advantage over his mentor: he doesn’t care about self-preservation.

Jace struck first.

The sphinx was more powerful. But here, in Jace’s head, he was also vulnerable, provided Jace was willing to damage his own mind in the process. And Alhammarret was too arrogant and too cowardly to consider that possibility.

Jace felt himself falling backward, upward, outward. He could not remember his home, his mother’s face, or the sound of his own name. But the sphinx had it worse.

Alhammarret had forgotten how to breathe.

The damage done to Jace’s mind is extreme, and he planeswalks to Ravnica.

In a single, terrible day, Jace realizes he has been betrayed by his trusted mentor and has directly caused hundreds of deaths. He confronts his mentor, lobotomizes him to death, then finds himself alone on an alien world with no food, money, or memories. All at the age of fifteen. I wonder how many of us could recover from a day like that. Jace never did.

And if you thought that was bad, it gets even worse!

My knowledge of what comes next is fuzzy because this portion of Jace’s life is covered in the ancient MTG novels. But from what I’ve gathered, Jace gets involved with Tezzeret’s criminal consortium. He does many abhorrent things under Tezzeret’s orders, and is tortured and mind-wiped for failures. His body is covered in razor-thin, excruciating scars, where Tezzeret would carve him up with a special manablade. Jace eventually fell in with Liliana, escaped Tezzeret, and became embroiled in the Ravnica succession crisis.

The point of his backstory is that Jace is a deeply traumatized individual, in every way. Everyone he has ever loved has either hurt and betrayed him or been hurt and betrayed by him. His powers have brought him nothing but grief and tragedy. His brain has been positively mutilated dozens of times, to the point where it’s a miracle he still wakes up every morning. He has spent his entire life as a tool for others, and does not believe he has any value as a person. Jace Beleren is damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

Yet despite all of the horrors he endured, Jace will eventually go on to become the Living Guildpact and a founding member of the Gatewatch. In doing so, he will find something like a family for the first time in years. Among his companions, however, are two people who will bring out Jace’s worst insecurities: one to embody them, and one to prey upon them.

I think the best insight into Jace’s character is found in his interactions with the mono-white Gideon Jura and the mono-black Liliana Vess. The next two articles in this series will explore the massive influence each character weilds over Jace.


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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