What I’m about to discuss with you, Planeswalkers, might be considered esoteric.
You see, I’ve brought you a deck designed for a tiny, fleeting heartbeat of a format which only exists due to a bizarre timing issue in Magic Online’s update schedule; a window for play so tiny that one practically needs a TARDIS to slip through it and shuffle up.
Wonder what the hell I’m talking about? Read on, you curious cats.
Magic Online is a funny old beast. It’s intended to simulate true MTG gameplay, but occasionally its limitations are revealed and strange situations occur.
There was a famous incident, during Innistrad Standard, wherein the card Pillar of Flame was bugged and refused to exile creatures as they died. For whatever reason, Wizards couldn’t fix the problem in good time and some major tournaments went ahead – tournaments which were dominated by the Zombies deck, recycling undead beasties with total impunity since one of the format’s primary safety valves was busted.
Things don’t have to be bugged to get weird, though. Let’s consider the strange state of online Standard Rotation.
Yup, you read it right. For two days, Standard is stuck in a temporal anomaly, neither one thing or the other.
If you’re a competitive player on the grind, this probably means two days out of the Standard loop. The format isn’t right, it’ll be gone shortly, so you might as well hit the Modern queues or similar.
If you’re an inveterate brewer, of course, things are different. For just 48hrs, a strange micro-climate will exist in the game – one which might just allow a strange and wonderful creation to burn briefly and brightly while it holds.
The seeds of an idea
I don’t get to play a lot these days. When I have a spare day and a friend asks me round to jam some cards, you can bet your life I’ll be there – even if I don’t have a deck of any kind handy.
This was how I ended up sitting in my mate Stuart’s spare room, the week before the Khans of Tarkir prerelease, shuffling up a proto-standard deck which I had hastily built from his collection of Theros block and M15 cards… alongside a playset of Jace, the Living Guildpact which had arrived from Manaleak.com at my house the selfsame morning.
I had ordered them a few days earlier, convinced that this new Jace would have legs in light of the returning Delve mechanic. When I realised, leaving the house, that they might be the only Standard-legal cards that I owned, I decided to take them along to my day of gaming… but what does one build to support Jace with such a limited cardpool?
Trust in the folder
I flipped through the pages of Stuart’s collection, musing over my options.
In order to get the best out of Jace, I would need to set up my deck to support his ultimate ability. Unlike many planeswalker cards, The Living Guildpact’s largest effect isn’t just a rarely-used line of psuedo-flavour-text; it’s an absurdly powerful fusion of Timetwister and Mind Twist and, as such, it deserves our attention.
The first cards I pulled from the folder were a set of Pharika’s Chosen. They wouldn’t pass muster in ‘real’ constructed, but they were cheap and would deter my opponents from attacking; this in turn would buy me time to ultimate Jace.
Next, I stumbled across Sigiled Starfish. Hey, this fish was good in the draft format, I mused. Maybe it’ll help me blunt aggression and fix my draws today.
Then, I flipped the page and…there it was.
As I read the rules text of this previously unplayable rare, something in the complex-web-of-ropes-and-pulleys that is my subconscious broke free and began to spin dangerously out of control.
Snatching at the plastic pocket, I found there were two copies of the card present. Not ideal, but better than I had hoped for… was there anything else I could do to make my dream more realistic?
Another flip delivered the answer.
The rest of my afternoon passed in a blur. I lost one game to a very large Mistcutter Hydra; the rest of the time was spent in a process of joyous discovery.
Did you know that:
- Jace is both a powerful card-drawing engine AND an Elixir-effect in one? Once you get on the Jace-ultimate train, it’s quite difficult to be derailed.
- Jace’s +1 ability works very well with a policy of aggressive scrying? It’s possible to sift a large number of unhelpful cards out of the way simply by pushing cards to the bottom, then dropping the weakest of your top two into the ‘yard.
- Wheming Wave is very lopsided if your own creatures cost little mana? Casting a Wave at 7 mana, then immediately replaying your one and two drop is quite satisfying.
- Whelming Wave doesn’t bounce Scourge of Fleets? He’s a Leviathan, by George!
I hadn’t consciously processed any of this – but by 5pm, it was laser-etched onto the surface of my brain.
Cranking up the Wave machine
Who remembers wave machines? I have many a fond recollection of visiting ‘cutting edge’ leisure centres in the 1980s, shrieking with excitement as klaxons sounded and undulations began to manifest on the surface of the kids’ pool. Those were some times.
At any rate, by the time I got home I was ready to build a wave machine of my own.
I had two things in mind:
- I wanted to play up the mass bounce interactions, by maxing-out on Whelming Wave and looking for other cards which synergised with that plan.
- I wanted to keep it a Theros Block & M15 brew… because I was going to play it in the time warp.
I’ve had great fun in that brief period of flux during previous online rotations, piloting an Izzet Tempo deck in an Innistrad Block & Core Set format – so whenever a large rotation looms on the horizon, I pay close attention. My gut told me this was a deck idea that might find a home in the lull.
What’s good for the deck?
In my casual iteration, I noticed a big disparity between the way in which I recovered from Whelming Waves and the way my opponents did so. Because my creatures were 1 and 2 CMC, I was frequently able to Wave and replay some number of them in the same turn, while the other side of the table took a while to fill back up with Caryatids, Coursers and eventually, huge green animals. Keeping a low curve on my bounce-able creatures would be key.
I also wanted to see as many cards as possible in the course of a game. Mass bounce was conditionally great for me, but one of the big conditions was that being able to repeat the effect over a series of turns was exponentially more potent; card drawing and filtering effects would be a crucial cog in my wave machine.
These two goals synergised neatly, since I could help fulfil both by putting this pair on my teamsheet:
I was interested in another line of defense for my Jaces: counterspells. Not only would they give me some play against Hero’s Downfall, a card my cheap blockers would be powerless to stop, but they would help me to stop certain powerful creature threats from reappearing once I had bounced them.
Scourge of Fleets had proved a very effective finisher for me, when combined with a high density of other bounce effects, so I decided to retain it. To maximise the power of the Scourge, I wanted to play as many Islands as I could… perhaps the deck could be mono-blue?
As a counterpoint to this, I could see a need to mop up the odd creature which I couldn’t keep off the table. Doing so as a mono-blue seemed challenging – until I hit upon an idea.
The major issue with this card was its glacial speed, but in context that wasn’t hugely important. My deck was already playing for the very long game, and I wanted a card which played nicely with bounce – something which couldn’t be said for other options like Encrust.
Without further ado, this is the eyebrow-raising list I brewed up:
It’s fair to say this deck was met with some scepticism when I first shared it:
A thing of surprising beauty
In the run up to the ‘time bubble’, I messed around with the deck on MTGO. These other folks will have Ravnica Block cards, I thought to myself, but that’s fine. I just want to see if the idea has any legs.
It turns out that bouncing everything, forever, is a lot better than people give it credit for.
Devotion is a mechanic which has proved powerful throughout its lifetime in Standard – and it relies on board presence for its ‘oomph’. Each time I ran up against a player sporting Green or Black-based midrange decks, I found it tremendously rewarding to watch them build up a threatening mass of creatures only to send them straight back to hand with a towering wall of seawater.
What truly warmed my griefer’s heart was the tendency of those players to meet my strategy with disbelief, before frustration and eventually pure rage took hold.
Aggressive decks are a lot more difficult to handle in this manner, granted – Goblin Rabblemaster isn’t overly troubled by our Starfishes or Whelming Waves – but one can’t win them all. I was, on the whole, pleasantly surprised.
The cool stuff
This deck has a number of fun, unusual elements which I’d like to share with you.
1. Card advantage, turned on its head
When we play with the Living Guildpact, the rules are different. No longer do we care about maintaining card parity, or gaining a card here and there; instead, all we care about is keeping our opponent stuck in low gears, struggling to get going, long enough to fire off his ultimate ability.
If we can get him in play and protect him, the latest iteration of Jace is an uncounterable hybrid of Mind Twist and Timetwister with Suspend 4. It doesn’t matter if I have only a single card in hand by the time I place his -8 ability on the stack, so long as I have restricted my opponent’s board presence to a sufficient degree. Playing a Whelming Wave or a Scourge of Fleets before stone-aging the opponent is a truly magnificent feeling.
2. Dakra Mystic is a very flexible weapon
The plan of the deck relies on a concentration of mass-bounce effects. Dakra Mystic helps us to see a lot of cards, enhancing the likelihood that we will achieve that concentration.
It also allows us to do sweet little things like activate for a draw in our opponent’s end step, forcing them to discard to hand size; or send uncomfortable problems from the top of their deck to their graveyard (sometimes in concert with Aetherspouts); or even just get in for a couple of points of damage early, so that our eventual Scourge of Fleets can win in three swings rather than four.
3. Jace’s bounce mode is truly excellent
Planeswalkers don’t get washed away by our mass-bounce cards – but Jace can put them back in a zone where they are vulnerable to our Dissolves. He can also hold off big monsters in a pinch, or even bounce our own Scourge of Fleets so we can sweep away opposing armies all over again.
Inside (and outside) the bubble
Needless to say, I played this deck for as many hours as I could muster while the rotation-lag was in effect. It was lots of fun, both because it won a lot against the expanse of Courser/Caryatid decks which were present and because no-one else was doing it, which ticks all my brewer’s boxes.
I began to wonder whether it might have legs in true Standard – and what updates might be appropriate?
The most obvious change is to exchange my copies of Jace’s Ingenuity for Dig through Times. It should not be hugely difficult to fuel delving with the current configuration, and I’m not averse to paying retail cost for the spell late on, when I need to keep important spells in my graveyard to be Timetwister-ed back by Jace.
My next move might be to add a splash colour. I currently play four temples for pure scrying-value, but with some additional dual lands it would be easy to include a couple of spells which shored up difficult matchups. I remain open to suggestions on what those might be.
If durdly green strategies are the king of the hill, I’d be tempted to make this deck my weapon of choice for a while. Were nothing else to go my way, I’d at least be able to create repetitive strain injuries for my opponents… pick the creatures up, put them down, pick up again, put down again, up…
OK, time to get out of my paddling pool and back to the rest of my life. As ever, I will be delighted to see any fun screenshots you are able to generate with this deck or your own versions of it, either in the comments thread or in a random, hysterical message of triumph via social media.
Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet…