“I cost four mana, double blue and there are 32 of me!” – Jace Winklevoss, The Social Network
My Saturday morning started with @Frelance asking me the following question:
What’s the line on # Stoneforge Mystic in the #gpdfw t8? 20 like @scgopen, or even higher?
I set the initial line at 20 and let people bounce it around on Twitter for a bit, giving their opinions. Looking back, the right line was probably 20.5, but that would have generated a LOT of over action from some very sharp people. The final number ended up being 16. While this was going on, I casually mentioned how expecting five out of every eight decks in a Top 8 was a pretty clear sign of a warped/broken format. Then there was this tweet (still on Saturday before the GP had even started):
Which I RT’d with the added comment, “The elephant is still in the room.”
Then I started writing.
This article has been in my head for a while, but I’ve grown cautious in my old age, and I wanted to give the clever kids more time to think up answers. Maybe a really big tournament with all the pros playing would counteract the format warp we’d been seeing in recent weeks via the SCG Open series?
Or not. 32 Jaces in the GP Dallas Top 8.
Here we go…
There are no good answers. There are only good Jace decks.
77%! That’s insane. In Standard, those numbers have only ever been rivalled by Skullclamp. For those of you wondering, a healthy format will usually feature no more than say 40% of the same archetype in the Top 8. Once you get past 50% on a regular basis, alarm bells start ringing.
At 75% the sound you hear is most certainly a death knell. (Current Director of Magic Aaron Forsythe talked about this type of thing extensively back when they had to ban Skullclamp.)
Here, let me make it even more obvious for you via Chapin’s stat work he did at the Grand Prix.
Jace the Mind Sculptor needs to be banned.
“But Jace isn’t the problem, it’s really…”
You’re wrong. Seriously. I don’t care what cards you are making your argument about, those cards win alongside Jace. They do it with his help. In this environment, they do not do it without Jace.
The Caw-Blade engine itself (comprised of Stoneforge Mystics, Squadron Hawks, and Swords) is not inherently broken, it is synergistic. By itself, it is merely very good. Boros has been running that package the entire time, and you don’t see it dominating Top 8s. Why? ‘Cuz it’s the wrong color.
Your border ain’t blue? Then you gotta go sit at the back at the bus sos all them Jayce folk can sit up front.
At this point, people defending Jace are either the abusers or the victims of abuse who have slowly been acquiring Stockholm Syndrome and are forced to apologize for fear of the repercussions.
“Well, Jace isn’t so bad if you stay away from him when he’s been drinking.”
“I mean, Jace is really an okay guy as long as he’s around other people.”
“Jace is actually a great guy most of the time, and if I didn’t say this I would gradually go insane because of the impact it would have on how I am forced to view the world just to prevent myself from completely cracking up!”
“But Jace only has six months left in Standard!”
Great, then we can all just stop playing Magic for six months until the rotation occurs and then come back, right? Except people don’t come back when they do that. Not for years, if ever. Obviously running an additional supported constructed format at FNMs would lessen the impact of design/development mistakes on Standard, but it doesn’t solve the issue. There’s a lot of money in entry fees for those six months that might just disappear if Jace stays around. That is certainly what happened when Wizards failed to ban Affinity.
“Card X in New Phyrexia kills Jace!”
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. The problem here is two-fold. First of all, we have an environment where R&D failed to print Planeswalker answers in either Scars of Mirrodin or Mirrodin Beseiged, exacerbating any brokenness that might exist. Having no natural hate for the most powerful cards in the format will bring any mistakes to the fore and was probably a significant oversight in the development of this format.
Second of all, Jace is the brokenest of them all. His mere presence in the environment twists every single other deck into running hate for him – probably maindeck – just to have a chance. That is deeply unhealthy. I think the format would actually be pretty interesting without Jace looming over it. Additionally, the splash damage from making a card that answers Jace effectively is tremendous because unless it has some crazily specific tailoring, it hits all Planeswalkers, thus neutering the entirety of that cool and flashy category of card. (Which becomes more awkward if new Planeswalkers are the main emphasis of this summer’s M12 set.)
So in designing answers you either a) make ones that are not terribly effective or b) make effective ones that end up smooshing all the other planeswalkers for the next 18 months.
Choose your damnation.
A Look at Jace From A Design Perspective
When in the history of Magic has “Brainstorm-on-a-Stick” ever been a good idea? The answer is “never.” If you are feeling particularly petulant it might even be “never ever.” This is especially true if you make it have 0 activation cost and attach it to a particularly difficult to remove permanent. To give a past example, doing this with Isochron Scepter cost two cards (the Scepter and the Brainstorm), plus two mana a turn, plus it had to be attached to an easily removable artifact to make it work. Jace has all this in just one ability that costs nothing once he resolves, he replaces himself, and he’s a bitch to remove.
As you all know, Jace also has reusable Unsummon, opponent draw filtering, and is capable of actually winning the game (via his Ultimate) in addition to virtually winning the game (Brainstorm). I saw the Turian interview where he basically said, “We wanted to make JTMS really cool and powerful.”They restricted Brainstorm in Vintage! He knows this! K$*%*#&AFD! Congratulations, the card is stupidly good and versatile. You have succeeded in making Jace totally awesome AND completely breaking Standard.
Letting JTMS come out of development in its current state seems calamitous, though to be fair this is the first really egregious error since 2004. That’s a solid track record, but it does fuck all to fix the here and now.
What Happens Next?
The Magic team is in a tough spot. In fact, Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe probably woke up this morning feeling like Jace was standing over him, slapping him with his great blue dong like some poor girl in a Rocco Siffredi movie. Judging by the tenor of some of his tweets from a few weeks ago, he saw the warning signs then, but obviously there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
The current Standard format is undeniably broken – 77% of the decks to make Top 8 in the last two months, spread across seven major tourneys and two continents proves this. JTMS likely outnumbering basic lands in Day 2 of Dallas proves this. Know the format is hopelessly broken, the DCI (which is just another acronym for Wizards of the Coast really, but always seems to come up when bannings are discussed) can either:
a) Lie low until New Phyrexia rotates in, assess how well their hosers are keeping Jace in check, and if it’s not all rainbows and teddy bears, they can ban Jace.
b) Ban Jace now, fixing current Standard, and know that new Standard will be an interesting, open environment without the spectre of Jace potentially ruining everything.
They are going to take a public relations hit either way. After the results from this weekend, I guarantee Chapin, GerryT and any number of other smart, popular writers are going to explain how stupid Jace is (again) and how he deserves to be banned. If Wizards choose to take option A, they have to weather this entire cycle and then deal with everyone looking at the new hosers and post-NPH format under a microscope. If the hosers aren’t good enough, the furore will be very loud and quite scathing. If the hosers are good enough, the noise will eventually go away, but there will still be lingering Jace bitterness until he rotates out of the format in the fall.
If Wizards choose option B as their plan of attack, the first thing you will hear is wailing and gnashing of teeth from everyone who currently owns a playset of Jace the Mind Sculptors. According to Jon Becker’s back of the envelope scratchings, there were $30,000 worth of Jaces just in Day 2 of Dallas. That is a lot of Benjamins going up in smoke. Jace will probably halve in value overnight, and WotC will have to deal with the fallout from that first and foremost. They will also get to absorb the reputation hit and general suckitude that comes from having to ban another card in Standard.
On the other hand, history tells us that by not banning Affinity correctly the first time, they cost themselves tens of thousands of regular players who simply walked away from Magic because they hated losing to the deck. Magic is on a huge high right now – what happens next will go a long way toward determining if that incredible growth continues or if this is the start of a new downward cycle.
Me? I think either decision sucks, but I also think the correct path is clear. When you have a Standard format that is two-thirds mature and is horribly broken, action needs to be taken to cut out the cancer. This is likely true even if the hosers you are about to introduce work. I don’t think Wizards R&D can take a chance of this situation turning into Affinity 2.0 and causing a mass exodus of players from the game.
Image credit to Harry Ryttenberg. @mrfridays on Twitter
–Card Game Out
@mixedknuts on Twitter
Note : If you quote from this, please also include a link. No one makes any money from this blog, but I do appreciate extra traffic and hits. Huge thanks to Harry for the Jace image.
In case you are wondering, I’m not one of those chicken littles who cries for every powerful card ever to get banned. It takes a lot of data for me to make a case for banning a card, and this is doubly true for Standard. I publically nailed Skullclamp before it got the +b and I did the same thing (to a great deal of criticism) with regard to Affinity. I also made money from wagering Survival of the Fittest would get banned in Legacy before GerryT or Chapin ever said anything. I actually care about whether I am right or wrong, and wrote this piece in the face of overwhelming evidence.