Duel Decks- Jace vs Chandra: Jace’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
Having written up reviews for both the Jace and Chandra decks prior to our first playtest, I have to confess I was slightly in favour of Chandra’s offering. It just seemed faster (of course) and a bit more consistent than Jace’s, with a much more reasonable mana curve. But to find out whether or not my suspicions were borne out, I sleeved up the deck and went head-to-head with Sam, who piloted the Chandra deck. Here are the notes and results of the game.
Although I have reservations about a 2-land opener in a slow-build deck, I keep the starting draw here in the hopes that what protection it does afford me (a Daze and a Wall of Deceit) will provide the stall I need to start locking down the board. Besides, the Ancestral Vision will give me a much-needed shot in the arm on turn 4. After Sam plays her opening Mountain and passes, I drop the Vision onto the table and pass back.
Sam again lays a Mountain and passes. I drop a second Island and put down an un-Morhped Wall of Deceit. To my understanding, back when damage was on the stack these walls had a little more trickery to them (block with the 2/2 Morph, then respond to the damage by un-Morphing into the 0/5 wall while still dealing the damage- voila!), but for my purposes now a wall’s a wall.
Sam’s still in draw-go mode for turn 3, but concerningly I haven’t drawn into any more land and miss my third drop, playing a Martyr of Frost. Sam’s patience pays off when she unveils a fourth-turn Furnace Whelp. I consider Dazing it, but pass- I’ll need every land drop I can, and figure I’ll have an answer before long. But when Sam passes to me and I draw, still no third Island.
I hardcast the Daze on turn 5 to deny Sam the services of Chandra Nalaar, and she comes in for 2 damage with the Whelp. As my turn begins, the Visions comes out of Suspend and at last I draw a third land! I drop it, and play another Suspend card- this one a Riftwing Cloudskate.
Still hampered by resources, I am powerless to prevent Sam swinging in hard the next turn with a pumped up Whelp for 5, then bringing out a Soulbright Flamekin. Down to 13, I cast a Man-o’-War to bounce the damnable Whelp back to hand and hold the Flamekin at bay. Next turn, Sam recasts it, and adds a Seal of Fire for good measure. Passing to me, I push my Man-o’-War into the red zone for 2, dropping a land down and passing. By now I’ve managed to get up to five land, and Sam’s taking no chances with a counter, engaging the Seal to snipe my Martyr of Frost. She dumps six mana into the Flamekin, which refunds her eight, and pumps the Whelp up as she swings in with it, saving just enough mana to drop a second Whelp. I tap two and show Counterspell.
Down to 6 life and flailing about, my Cloudskate emerges from Suspend on turn 8, and again the Whelp is bounced to Sam’s hand. I summon a Mulldrifter after attacking for four. Sam’s down to 14.
Turn 9 finally breaks my back. Sam turns land sideways and lays down the Furnace Whelp, a Flamewave Invoker, and then Firebolts the Cloudskate for good measure. Desperate, I set out a Morphed Willbender, then Sam kills it and the Man-o’-War with a Cone of Flame, pinging me for 1 for good measure. In desperation I Evoke a Mulldrifter, and when I draw into an Island and a Mind Stone, I can only concede.
Now on the play, I get off to another slow start characteristic of the deck, laying a land and passing for my first two turns. Sam threatens early with a Flamekin Brawler followed by a Pyre Charger, but she’s stymied on turn three when I bounce the Charger back to hand with a Man-o’-War. Passing to Sam, she plays an Oxidda Golem and swings in with it. I find the trade acceptable and swap it for my Man-o’-War.
Turn 4 arrives, and I’m able to deploy my Fledgling Mawcor, which should keep her Charger safely in hand. Sam responds by playing an Inner-Flame Acolyte and swinging in with it for an early 4. My Mawcor goes into the red zone on turn 5, then I summon a Mulldrifter who tops my hand up. But the momentum swings right back the other way when Sam snipes my Mulldrifter with a Flametongue Kavu.
By turn 6 I still haven’t missed a land drop, and take advantage of my good fortune by playing a Spire Golem for three, then deploying a Morphed Fathom Seer. Passing to Sam, she goes aggressive- resummoning the Pyre Charger then swinging in with everything except the poor Brawler. The board clears out as her Charger is killed by the Spire Golem while the Mulldrifter and the Kavu trade. I un-Morph the Seer and use it to block the Acolyte- neither dies.
Things quiet down over turns 7-8 as we both drop some land and refill our hands, the Spire Golem going about its merry way whittling down Sam’s life total. We’re even at 16 on turn 7, and Sam slips behind the next turn. Having had enough of the Golem, Sam chains together a Seal of Fire and Magma Jet to take it out. The damage comes to an end.
I Gush on the end of turn 9 to fish for options, and come up with another Spire Golem and an Ancestral Vision. Sam comes in at last with the Flamekin Brawler and I accept the trade for the Golem. The board is nice and clear and the game’s going long, which I know should play right into the strengths of Jace’s deck. A couple more turns pass before there’s any activity other than drawing and playing land.
On turn 13, Sam emerges from her cocoon and plays out a Soulbright Flamekin and an Ingot Chewer. But I’ve drawn into Guile with some countermagic and plenty of land to support him, and he comes out the next turn. Sam goes for broke and Demonfires Guile, but a Condescend thwarts her ambition. She tries again the next turn (after Guile pays her back for 6, taking her to 8), starting with a Fireblast. Again, though, I’m ready with the Condescend, and I blast her with 4 to the face (courtesy of Guile’s ability). She had an Incinerate ready as a follow-up, but with the Fireblast squandered and at 4 life, she scoops.
The tiebreaker game, Sam opens with a Keldon Megalith, and I with an Island. She similarly has no turn 2 play aside from land, and I drop a Wall of Deceit. Sam’s ready the next turn, though, as a Flamewave Invoker hits the table, while my response is to play a Morphed Willbender, but the poor fella takes a Firebolt next turn. Avenging my fallen comrade, I trot out the reliable Man-o’-War and bounce her Invoker.
Turn 5, and Sam recasts the Invoker. Her loss of momentum, though, is telling- my play is an Air Elemental. I had the chance to cast a Waterspout Djinn on turn 4, but thought I’d wait and get out the more expensive one first so that the Djinn’s drawback wouldn’t prevent me from getting both in the air. I needn’t have worried overmuch, Sam starts turn 6 off with Chandra Nalaar, and she burns down the Elemental.
Undaunted, I deploy both the Djinn and a Spire Golem- with five Islands in play the 2/4 Flying Golem is a steal at one mana. Sam responds with a Chartooth Cougar, and pings me for 1 to build up Chandra. It’s the first point of damage the game has seen so far.
She passes turn, and I make an absolutely abysmal misplay. So dreadful, in fact, that the full wretchedness of it would only occur to me later (typing up this article). Short version is this: I needlessly sacrifice my Djinn. For those who may wish to engage in a little Schadenfreude, here’s the longer version:
Sam had some nasties on the board and her Planeswalker in play. I went to untap, and my eyes settled on the Djinn for a moment. I haven’t seen the card since Visions a long time ago, and I never cared for it then, but had not noticed in casting it that the Island I needed to return to my hand every turn had to be untapped- I’ve been much more accustomed to the Living Tsunami variant. I cursed myself for a fool in not leaving one open, instead ‘getting greedy’ and playign the Spire Golem with that last land instead. I was furious with myself for making such an obvious mistake, put the Djinn in the dustbin and continued on with the game.
Only now as I write this, though, did the full stupidity of my play reveal itself. Since the Untap phase comes before Upkeep, I could easily have satisfied the demands of the card, pulled an Island back to my hand and kept the Djinn in play. So in mistakenly thinking I’d made a stupid mistake, I committed an even stupider one. Goes to show that no matter how experienced the player, the brain indeed sometimes shuts off.
So with the Djinn gone, I’d put myself in dire straits indeed. I send in the Golem for 2 on Chandra, taking her down to 1 Loyalty, then play a Mulldrifter. Sam dispatches the Mulldrifter the next turn with a Seal of Fire, then swings large. I chump the Cougar with my Wall of Deceit, electing to take 2 from the Invoker. Chandra pings me for another, and I’m at 16 life. Sam passes turn.
Taking advantage of her aggression, I swing in on Chandra with both the Golem and the Man-o’-War. The Golem eats a Flameblast and dies, but the jellyfish gets there and Chandra’s gone. I then play another Wall of Deceit (un-Morphed) and a Morphed Voidmage Apprentice, then pass back to Sam.
Turn 9, and Sam firmly has the momentum. The Cougar is the main threat, as she swings in again with it and the Invoker. My second Wall goes the way of the first, and I take another 2 from the Invoker. Clearly, I need and answer, and soon. With 4 power before Firebreathing, it only needs to get in twice to kill me.
I have a Repulse in hand, and a secret counterspell in the form of the Morphed Voidmage Apprentice, but if I want to try and bounce the Cougar back to her hand and then counter it coming in, I need one more Island (I only have six in play). Feeling hopeful, I tap three and Repulse the cat back to her hand. Repulse cantrips, but no luck, so I must resort to Plan B. I cast Gush, returning two Islands back to my hand and drawing two cards (one of them being an Island, of course). Having not played a land this turn, I drop one down. Ta-daa, four Islands untapped.
As expected, Sam tries recasting the cat on turn 10, and the Apprentice un-Morphs and takes it out. Mission accomplished, I begin to feel like I can relax again. Sam sends in the Invoker anyway, and I gladly trade it for the Man-o’-War. On my turn, I peck her for 1 with the now-revealed Apprentice, and play a Brine Elemental. I don’t have enough mana to play him Morphed and reveal him in the same turn (sorely tempting as she’s tapped herself out), and I decide having a big body is the more useful play here. Sam renders the matter academic on turn 11 with a Demonfire.
A Fact or Fiction at the end of her turn on turn 12 nets me a Jace Beleren, who comes down immediately once her turn is done. Having survived the rush, the game should be mine to win now, and when I cast a Quicksilver Dragon the next turn with counter support, the end appears inevitable. Sam’s final act is one of pure spite: killing Jace with an Incinerate, a fitting conclusion to our spirited contest.
As illustrated above, there’s a strong correlation when playing Jace between length of game and outcome. In the first game, Sam put some pressure on early and never relented, and even once my mana situation corrected itself I was already behind in the stalling tactics. In the last two, I was able to get the stall out early, and by midgame her momentum was generally fading while Jace started putting the squeeze on her. This played out exactly as expected.
What was not as expected, though, was Jace’s mana situation. The large spike at the tail-end of the mana curve was greatly worrying, but in actual practice it seemed to be somewhat mitigated by the evening-out effect of extra card draw. Be it through the Mulldrifters, Gush, a Fathom Seer or Jace himself, I was often able to keep my land drops consistent much later than I’d normally expect. In games 2 and 3, I in fact missed only a handful, and this made all the difference (even taking into consideration playing ‘returned’ land from Gush’s alternate casting cost or the Seer’s un-Morphing).
Although there are enough expensive cards lurking throughout the deck that the occasional dreadful draw is going to occur, the extra card drawing should give you some confidence in shipping the opener back for a mulligan- chances are, you’ll be making up that lost card (and more) as the game progresses.
In flavour the deck strikes a balance between control and beats. I had recourse to countermagic about half the time- just frequently enough to blunt some of the more dangerous plays Sam made, but not enough to actually lock her down or even make her gun-shy for casting. Still, the object of Jace’s deck is less in taking control of the board, and more in just slowing things down, keeping your opponent’s tempo and pace at a minimum through a few counters and bounces, before really establishing dominance through a large beater.
I actually didn’t think I’d have as much fun as I did playing Jace’s deck. It’s plain that a lot of thought went into crafting this one, and as a “control” deck even aggro players can enjoy it’s well worth tracking down.
Pros: Intricate design that supports its strategy well; two copies of the original Counterspell let you remember what the ‘good old days’ of Blue control were like; very well matched against the Chandra deck; lots of moving parts keep you from falling into “draw-go” monotony; very fun to play
Cons: High spike in the mana curve at the 5+ CMC level can make for some unwieldly opening hands; very vulnerable in the early game (this, however, is likely by design)
FINAL GRADE: 4.6/5.0
I would like to ask the question- Do you think these decks are balanced? What changes would you make to them, specifically, to increase the power level of the weaker of the two, as opposed to weakening the stronger? I think chaandra’s is a bit better, but its just initial thought. I got these recently in the manga art, but have not tested them yet. I am eager to play with the red one, since it plays similar to the first deck I ever owned in magic, it even had Fireball and Firebolts. I would probably add a Blazing salvo to Chaandra’s, since its my favorite red card and brings back memories, and that is my main thing going for chaandra’s deck. I think jace might need a few more walls or counterspells.
Looking back, I mentioned at the time that they seemed relatively well-balanced even with the other PW decks we had available to use (Garruk vs Liliana). Chandra definitely has the early advantage, but she also has a tendency to fizzle. It’s in many ways the matchup you expect- for Chandra, a race against time… for Jace, a race against Chandra. : D
If there’s one recommendation I might make to balance them out, it’s to add another copy of each planeswalker to it. They are the decks’ ultimate swing cards, and can be very hard to deal with once down. Games sometimes come down to “who drew their bomb first,” which is a state I generally dislike.
If you were to try and up Jace a little bit, some extra countermagic could help, but then so could some Unsummons (Whiplash Trap) or defensive-minded creatures. Jace is often exposed early on until he lands some creatures which can block, like the Wall of Deceit.
If on the other hand you wanted to up Chandra, a little more X-spell inclusion couldn’t hurt, which will help her having to overcome chaining two smaller burn spells together to kill a larger threat.
Overall, we left them as-is, but if you wanted to just even them out a touch a second copy of each PW is a good place to begin.