I have to admit before writing these reviews, when I’d played the Jace/Chandra decks (usually against other Planeswalker-based Duel Decks) I’d tended to favour Chandra’s construction. Although in my heart I’m a Blue mage, it took deconstructing Jace’s composition to really get a sense of appreciation for its intricacy. Indeed, I suspect I began to second-guess Chandra’s, and so it was with a keen enthusiasm that I threw down the gauntlet to Sam, and squared off to see if a Red blitz could power through her early stalling. Here’s how it unfolded:
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
As previously covered, Jace’s deck in the Duel Decks package was subtle and complicated, well-befitting the character Wizards has created in the Planeswalker. Not surprising, then, to find that the deck of his foil, Chandra, is is many ways quite the opposite. Although it is something of a cliche to say that burn decks are simpleton affairs, it certainly cannot stack up to the mono-Blue deck in terms of complexity and options. To some it may be refreshingly straightforward that Chandra’s deck is designed mainly to smash face with beaters and clear a path with burn. In many ways, what you see is what you get with the fiery, impulsive Chandra.
A Burning Ring of Fire
Let’s start with the array of creatures. A look at the curve graph shows a much more balanced spread than was present in the Jace deck, and with good reason- Red never wants a game to go long.
It’s telling that the greatest threat density is found in the 2-drop slot, and even the earliest creatures never quite lose their punch. Most everything Chandra brings to the table has the ability to go large in some way as the mid-game stage is entered.
Take, for instance, the two one-drops (Flamekin Brawler). A 0/2 with Firebreathing, while there’s some congestion with having one out early (do you attack for 2 or play something else on your second turn, since they don’t do any damage without assistance), at no point in the game will they be unwelcome. They might well go down easy with only 2 toughness, but with enough open mana they’ll almost certainly be taking something down with them.
The same goes for the Pyre Charger, one of the deck’s very solid 2-drops, and indeed this slot is loaded with goodies. A pair of Soulbright Flamekin pull double-duty, granting Trample and even acting as a mana accelerant. The lone Fireslinger is a useful pinger despite the drawback, and the last two cards are my personal favourite: the Slith Firewalker. Faced with the prospect of growing out of control, they’re often an early must-answer card in the deck. If nothing else, they are certainly magnets for the Blue mage’s bounce spells.
The 3- and 4-drop spots are a bit narrow, as the deck has given you plenty to do early that will need the extra mana for pumping. Still, there are some useful cards here: a Flamewave Invoker provides a solid dose of uncounterable damage. The Flametongue Kavu begs to be a 2-for-1, and a smattering of Dragons (two Furnace Whelps and a Rakdos Pit Dragon) give you some presence in the air. The Hellbent mechanic on the Pit Dragon is an especially nice touch considering how easy it can be for a Red mage to run out of cards in hand.
Chandra’s deck, however, is lighter on the big finishers than Jace’s. The pair of Oxidda Golems– having Affinity for Mountains- can’t really be considered as 6-drops in fairness, though they are quite inferior to their Jace counterparts as they’re not as robust on the back end and lack evasion. The Ingot Chewer isn’t much of a finisher, but it’s price point reflects its utility as an artifact killer. That leaves the paltry Chartooth Cougar, and the heavyweight Hostility.
Don’t confuse this lack of closers for weakness. Jace’s deck leans on them heavilty to close the gap and get there. Chandra, however, has brought threats at all stages of the curve. For her, the closers are just another set of tools to stitch things up, and you’ll be in little peril if you fail to draw any of them.
Complementing this, of course, is a very robust burn suite- every single noncreature spell (outside of Chandra Nalaar herself, of course) is burn and more burn, and the array of mana costs should easily ensure that you have the flexibility needed to cast them. Here’s the deck’s overall curve to illustrate:
Only have a smidgen of Red mana left over in a turn? A brace of Firebolts and Seals of Fire have you covered. Got a little more to spend? Howabout a pair of Incinerates, a Magma Jet and a Flame Javelin.
Got a bunch, or just want to finish off your opponent? Twin Fireballs, a Cone of Flame, a Demonfire, perhaps followed up by one of Red’s all-time closers- Fireblast– should get you there. Oh, and don’t forget those Firebolts have Flashback and can make a return appearance.
In both Duel Decks, the singleton copy of the relevant Planeswalker ensures that it’s a chance draw that’s a boost when you luck into it, but by no means central to the deck’s win conditions.
It should by now be clear that the deck is a racer, especially against it’s nemesis in Jace. While the mono-Blue offering wants to clog up the middle, stall and delay until its beaters come online, Chandra’s deck has to power through this. As always, you’ll want to save the burn either for creatures in your way, or to finish off a gravely wounded opponent. But there’s more than enough available, even considering attrition from countermagic.
On paper, I actually favour Chandra’s deck slightly, but it will be interesting to see when we put them head-to-head and see how they perform!
In 2007, Wizards released what was to be the start of an innovative and highly collectible series of preconstructed decks that featured not one, but two decks designed to be played in opposition. This inaugural deck lifted a page out of lore and pitted the haughty Elves against the reckless Goblins (though their colours are aligned, the tribes need not be). This was enough of a success to prompt a Duel Decks release the following year.
For this one, Wizards tapped into their new and exciting permanent type (as well as intellectual property)- the Planeswalkers- and paired off the power of Red burn versus Blue control. Thus, Jace vs Chandra was born, and it seemed a winning formula, repeated the next year for Garruk vs Liliana, and again later this year with Elspeth vs Tezzeret. (The level of success- and the value of the decks- has been better covered by those with a financial angle on the game, such as here.)
Although the decks themselves are rather scarce (expect to pay about $80 new), are they worth the pickup? It’s hard to argue in favour of that high a pricetag for a pair of preconstructed decks (as you’re well on your way to buying a booster box at that point), but for the collector who enjoys the preconstructeds, is there actual play value here? Let’s find out.
A Little Help From My Friends
The first things you notice about Jace’s half of the package are quite surprising- Jace’s deck is constructed like on a mono-Green model! Not only are over 66% of the nonland cards creatures, but take a gander at this intimidating mana curve:
Green decks can afford to be fat in the back-end because they have ramping options to make the costs more afforable. Blue, alas, has no such luxury.
Furthermore, much like a Green deck, the sparse supply of noncreature spells offers a token support of the deck itself- there’s nothing here that’s gamechanging in and of itself. There’s a smattering of countermagic (two Condescends, two Counterspells, and a Daze); some card draw (Fact or Fiction, Gush, Ancestral Vision); a jot of bounce (two Repulses); and a singleton Mind Stone for the faintest whiff of mana acceleration.
So is this the penultimate incarnation of Big Blue Beatdown? Not quite. Befitting Jace Beleren himself, there’s a great deal more going on here than it might seem on the surface to the casual observer. Indeed, the deck is far more subtle and clever than these initial observations would indicate.
On Second Thought
Of the 23 creatures in the deck, there are but two of them that might be considered ‘vanilla:’ a 4/4 flying Air Elemental, and a Waterspout Djinn (same as the Elemental, but cheaper with a slight drawback). Every other creature brings a little something extra to the table, often emulating the very Sorceries or Instants that inhabit Blue’s segment of the colour pie.
Counters: Both the Voidmage Apprentice and the Martyr of Frost act as additional counterspells. For additional trickery, the Apprentice does so when coming out of Morph (an ability which finds plenty of use throughout the deck). The Willbender has a suprise coming out of Morph as well- acting as a Deflection.
Card Advantage: The Weatherlight-era Ophidian is probably the clunkiest option here, as it must swing and connect to net you a card (in addition to forfeiting damage). The other options are a bit more elegant: two Fathom Seers net you extra cards when un-Morphing, while the Mulldrifter fuses a Bear with Divination giving you utility through flexibility with Evoke.
Bombs: In addition to the aforementioned Elemental and Djinn, there’s still another variant of the classic 4/4 flyer in the Errant Ephemeron, whose hardcast cost is seldom the way to go (taking advantage of Suspend is far cheaper, though requires some patience). Guile and the Quicksilver Dragon are also more than capable game-enders on their own.
The rest of the creatures defy such classifications, and range from the useful (the pair of Spire Golems are superb, and truthfully shouldn’t be scored too strongly against the deck’s mana curve) to the frankly underwhelming (a Bottle Gnomes and two Walls of Deceit).
So how does the Jace deck integrate? The suite of delaying tactics (countermagic, bounce) combined with the very heavy back-end of the mana curve all but demand that this deck go into the late-game to win. A quick victory here will almost certainly be a consequence of a dreadful draw or mana screw/flood on the part of your opponent, because the tools really aren’t here for an urgent and sustained early aggro strategy.
Instead, the Jace player will want to contain, contain, contain, leaning on the back of the defensive-minded bodies in the deck to clog up the red zone. The extra card draw will then help dig for one of the deck’s aerial closers.
Try and save some counters if you can to protect your closer. Although the top-tier ones (namely Guile and the Quicksilver Dragon) have their own built-in defense machanisms to thwart their demise, many of the other 4-toughness flyers will be vulnerable. They need not be kept alive long- Chandra’s deck is light in the air and has little but burn for defense.
We’ll soon have the chance to see how the deck plays out, but first we’ll be doing something a little different. Typically we’ve kept the deck analysis post and the playtest post back to back, but this time we’ll be taking a slight detour. Before sleeving up Jace for the field of battle, we’ll be popping over to Chandra’s side of things and seeing how it looks. Join us then!