Opinion: The Real Reason Jace, the Mind Sculptor Was Unbanned

Author Thumbnail BY Brian McCormick - February 12, 2018

This morning, Wizards of the Coast officially announced the unbanning of the boogeyman, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In a matter of minutes from the announcement, the SCG website crashed, and TCGplayer.com prices soared from $70 to triple digits for a single copy. But, why did the most fearsome Planeswalker card of all time get unbanned? Here is the reasoning from WOTC:

Over time, competitive Modern has evolved to be a format of fast, proactive threats. The bar for tapping four lands during one's main phase to cast a single spell is quite high, often restricted to cards that threaten to win the game immediately. For example, if you look at the Top 8 from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, cards that cost four mana that aren't instants are far and few between. In watching the format evolve, we've observed that decks seeking to control the game have struggled against the speed and variety of threats present in the format. Often these decks have been forced to adopt an explosive win condition of their own. Out hope is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor will provide yet another option in an already diverse format, giving controlling decks an alternative way to close out prolonged games.

According to WOTC, the unbanning is to encourage non-instant cards in control decks that have "struggled... [in the] format". A lot of players this morning began speculating that there was a different reason that JTMS was unbanned. That reason? To sell booster packs for Masters 25. Masters 25 is currently scheduled to be released March 16 (almost a month away). And what card is going to be the chase rare of the set? None other than Jace, The Mind Sculptor himself. In fact, he is prominently featured on the product packaging.


In addition, in the unbanning announcement, WOTC specifically talked about the reprint,

  • - The data we gathered both from the Pro Tour itself and from the several weeks of Magic Onlineplay as pro players tested for the event have helped us cross-check our decisions against what's doing well in the real world.
     
  • - Compared to other B&R windows, this one has the maximum amount of time before another Modern Pro Tour. This will allow the format to breathe and evolve without immediately undergoing the pressures of the world's top competition.
     
  • - The reprint of Jace in Masters 25 will provide greater availability for our player base.

Without a doubt, the unbanning will result in huge sales for Masters 25, as JTMS will be the most expensive non-foil card in the Modern format. Ok, so it is understandable why players would think that the unbanning is for financial reasons. But maybe it was unbanned to improve the format?

Well... according to Modern players, this is the healthiest Modern format there has ever been! We saw 15 different decks in the Top 8 between Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and last weekend's GP. The only deck to make it to both Top 8s was Traverse Shadow, and it won neither tournament. In-fact, booth commentators at the GP marveled at how diverse and well-balanced Modern was. No deck was too dominant!

Which begs the question, why did WOTC mention the Pro Tour and GP as data points for unbanning JTMS? These tournaments showed that Modern is in a great place right now. Why would you risk unbanning one of the most powerful and feared cards of all time?

Last year, TheMagicManSam made an excellent youtube video on the potential unbanning of JTMS. Here are some of his observations:

In Feb 2017, Aaron Forsythe announced he will bring up the idea of unbanning JTMS in a staff meeting. This idea was quickly condemned by pro players, such as Reid Duke.

Screenshot via TheMagicManSam

What happened from Aaron's meeting? Well in the October 2017 B&R updated, they mentioned a discussion of an unbanning in Modern. But nothing happened.


So they said they decided to wait for the results of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to evaluate the format before unbanning anything.

Another player noted back in Feb that they couldn't unban Jace, because of low supply. They would need to reprint it.

Screenshot via TheMagicManSam

What does that mean? WOTC said that they were waiting for data from the Pro Tour to decide whether to unban Jace... But WOTC would also need to reprint Jace to unban him.

But there is one little weird coincidence... JTMS was unveiled as a rare for M25 before the Pro Tour data was even available. They didn't know anything about how healthy or unhealthy the Pro Tour would be. Jace was already in the set. The decision to reprint Jace had to have been made months ago to make it to the printers and on product packaging.

Could WOTC print JTMS as a mythic for Masters 25 without unbanning him? Sure, he is still worth $70. But without an unbanning from Modern, that would have tanked his prices and subsequently decreased the value of Masters 25 by quite a bit. The only logical conclusion is that the potential unbanning of JTMS and the Masters 25 reprint was planned in tandem.

They likely said, "hey, we think we will unban Jace, but we need more data. Let's print it in M25, and if the data doesn't look really bad, then we will unban." Hasbro was probably thinking at this point, wow, if we unban JTMS, we have a lot of potential sales on our hands! This supplemental set will sell like crazy!

So what happens at the Pro Tour and GP? Modern turns out to be the healthiest format of all time. In fact, we saw 15 different decks between both Top 8s. We even saw a Blue/Red control deck in R/U Pyromancer Top 8. 
 
Now what? Hasbro was getting excited about the potential to sell a crazy amount of JTMS in M25. In fact, they might have estimated sales based on a JTMS unban. But now, the tournament results are in, and it is not looking good for a JTMS unban. The format is super healthy, players are happy about the format, and the format is slowly evolving with new tech. We saw renowned pro player and streamer, Gabriel Nassif pilot a U/W control to 8-1 at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan on day one. He ended up finishing in 18th place. How did he do it? By using the new tech of Field of Ruin to attrition opponent's lands. And again, a R/U Pyromancer control deck ended up in the Top 8. Everything was able to compete, including control.

Was JTMS unbanned to help control? That reasoning seems super weak, given that R/U Pyromancer placed in the Top 8, and the number of players that are competitively playing control decks in Modern. Celestial Colonnade is even at $50 because of how much Jeskai, U/W Control, and similar decks are seeing play.

Let's look at WOTC second reason for unbanning JTMS.The fact that there aren't many non-instants cards at 4 CMC in control decks that see play, because they might lose by tapping out. Well yes, that is true, a control deck might lose by tapping out to play JTMS, rather than keeping up Cryptic Command or counterplay mana. But that argument doesn't make much sense. JTMS is weak because you have to tap out, so let's unban it? This argument assumes that JTMS is not that powerful right now and that he will be played exclusively in Control (according to WOTC logic).

Ok, for starters, WOTC is unbanning Jace in the whole format, not just in control decks. In Legacy, Jace sees play in a variety of decks, not just your typical control setup. In-fact, Jace often sees play in builds that run Goyf. The effect that Jace has on both control and non-control decks may unbalance the format, which is perfectly balanced as is.

But don't worry, WOTC has one ace up their sleeve. They can ban JTMS in a future announcement if things get out of hand. Which just happens to be after they sellout all of their Masters 25 inventory. So unbanning Jace is a win-win for Hasbro. Even if a perfectly balanced format gets warped, they get massive product sales, at worst followed by a "mea culpa" ban update. But will it wreck Modern diversity? Will all the players who can play diverse decks today compete in a JTMS environment, and will that effect attendance? And if JTMS gets banned again, will players be left with a card they bought for Modern that will tank in value? I guess only time will tell.

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Brian McCormick is a Fantasy and Science Fiction enthusiast & Co Founder of Epicstream.com