Zendikar Rising Spotlight: Jace, Mirror Mage in Legacy
- Andreas Reling
The Legacy format was shaken by cheap planeswalker cards in 2019, with a bunch of story-relevant characters pushed onto overpowered cards. Jace has long been deprived of the throne. The new three-mana version from Zendikar Rising may not change that, but the card is definitely worth a look.
Planeswalker Design Mistakes
The last year of set releases was a wild ride for Legacy as a format and many blame the current aggressively costed design of planeswalkers. For example, the card Wrenn and Six warped the complete metagame around itself and annihilated complete archetypes through its sole existence. Turns out a planeswalker that essentially forbids casting toughness 1 creatures and punishes greedy mana bases through recurring Wastelands doesn't make for fun gameplay and shrinks the pool of playable cards. It has been banned quickly, but Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler are two more examples of cheap planeswalkers that punish certain strategies tremendously.
People often complain that Legacy has always been about Brainstorm and Force of Will and that because of their dominance nonblue strategies can't thrive, which, in the end, makes the format less diverse and fun. The design of Narset and Teferi tries to tackle this problem, but since both are blue and not symmetrical — they only punish the opponent for having Ponder, Brainstorm, and Force of Will in their deck — they ended up adding to the problem rather than offering a solution. They simply make the games where they're involved less fun and frustrating for one side of the table.
It's not so much that these two harm the metagame balance or anything. It's just no fun to play against permanents that come down early and shut down complete parts of one's deck. Wizards of the Coast stopped printing so-called "hosers" like Blood Moon, which were at least useless against plenty of strategies while very strong against others, as they figured out that they create miserable gameplay experience. But when they designed Teferi and Narset, they made them fine cards against any deck with the potential to wreck some. Both of them can replace themselves and their floors — being Divination and Repulse make them cards you can include in any blue main deck with the upside of running away with a game there and then.
The worst mistake of them all is probably Oko, Thief of Crowns. It's by far the most played planeswalker in Legacy right now and one of the most cast spells in general. Many decks simply squeeze some Okos into their main or sideboard and it's getting to a point where I ask myself for how long the card will remain legal in any format.
Enter Jace, Mirror Mage
The first card previewed from Zendikar Rising is an interesting new planeswalker card … And again, it comes at the cheap cost of just three mana.
We hadn't had a planeswalker featuring kicker before and that makes Jace, Mirror Mage especially hard to rate. Having the option to cast him early in the game as a single planeswalker that can fix your draws and set up awesome shenanigans with cards like Terminus and Entreat the Angels, or even Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf, makes this a very potent card on the first look. It's also a way to win the game through card advantage on its own.
When you're able to pay the kicker cost, you receive two planeswalkers for five mana and they work so well together! One can scry to make sure the second one draws a land or a cheap spell that doesn't kill him and that sort of card advantage is very hard to deal with. Even if one of the Jaces gets removed you still keep the second one who can then switch between scrying and drawing to get you ahead on options and raw cards very fast.
I was very excited when a RUG Cascade list posted a 5-0 record on Magic Online earlier this year, and I tried to improve it with Jace and Oko. This is my first brew, and I think it looks very fun and has potential:
|RUG Cascade featuring Jace|
Jace can help with his scrying ability to make Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf hit Ancestral Vision or Crashing Footfalls, and if you don't have access to cascade, he can scry them away so you don't have to draw them when bad. Also, if Jace draws blind, he won't lose any loyalty to the zero-mana spells with suspend. In fact, 26 cards in this line-up don't remove any counters from Jace and another eleven remove just one.
Sylvan Library is another very strong card in the Legacy pool that has great synergy with Jace. Playing Library on the second turn is already scary for most decks that try to grind you out. If you follow it up with a turn three Jace, you can use the enchantment's trigger in a way to ensure Jace starts drawing cards safely right away.
While the strategy of this deck isn't proven by many results, it incorporates as well plenty of the format's powerful threats in Oko, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and Dreadhorde Arcanist, and makes good use of them when the cascade tricks don't work. The fact that Arcanist can cast the suspend spells from the graveyard is especially backbreaking when the synergy is pulled off with Faithless Looting or later in the game.
Many Possibilities … Also Doubts
Of course, one could also put Jace in a traditional Miracles shell with Portent and Terminus like we did before Arcum's Astrolabe and Oko changed the archetype forever. I simply fear that Oko might just be the better thing to do with our resources. Planeswalkers such as Jace, Mirror Mage may be very good at creating card advantage, but Legacy isn't like it was years ago. Simply slamming an Oko and starting to put pressure on the opponent with Elks is so much better than sitting around and drawing cards. I believe that Oko will be played more and more in Legacy until there is no choice left but to ban him there as well.
Until then, one has to have very good reason to run another planeswalker for three mana, and I'm afraid Jace might lose out in this comparison. Narset and Teferi render complete strategies useless on their own and therefore see play alongside or even instead of Oko. But Jace, Mirror Mage looks like just another durdling planeswalker that creates card advantage if left unchecked and there are plenty of those around. I might be completely wrong about this, as getting a second walker for the cheap kicker cost of two generic mana could turn out to be completely broken. But for as long as Oko remains legal, I fear he will continue to steal all crowns of all other planeswalkers.
In any case, it is nice to see a card like Jace that has potential in Legacy without potential to warp the whole format and to require a ban. And in other environments where the competition isn't as fierce — because Oko is banned and cards generally aren't as strong as in Legacy — I think Jace, Mirror Mage will be brutal! I definitely see him making big waves in both Standard and Pioneer; Modern maybe not so much.
What are your thoughts on Jace, Mirror Mage in Legacy? Do you think he will pass the Oko test or is he just a planeswalker for other formats?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.