While everyone else was distracted by low-performing Battle for Zendikar singles, one Magic Origins staple rocketed from its release price of $15 to a September high of $50, and then again to an early October spike of $85+.
The man, the legend, and the biggest breakout in recent Magic finance history: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.
Jace has seen widespread Standard play since mid-September, including as a playset in the hot new Jeskai Black deck. Clay Spicklemire secured 6th at the October 3rd SCG Open in Indianapolis. Jeskai Black was also the most-played Day 2 deck at last weekend's Open in Atlanta. We're also seeing Jace in Bring to Light control, aggressive Jeskai strategies, and pretty much everywhere in Standard that can splash for the walker (minus those holdout Esper Control players, but that's just a matter of time).
Anyone who pays attention to Magic markets has caught onto his rising price. Some have tried to explain his ascent while others just observed it as a historic financial moment. Some have gone so far as to suggest Jace might need a Standard banning if prices aren't tamed. I'll let you separate the critical analysis from the obvious alarmism, but it's hard to ignore how much buzz Jace has generated throughout the Magic world.
Many financial commentators have pointed to Jace's multi-format relevance as an important factor in his rise. As Modern players, we must ask how our format is driving his price, and what his long-term prospects are in Magic's second-biggest Constructed scene. More specifically, I'm looking for metagame indicators that Jace is either a good or a bad investment target in Modern. What's his ceiling? What metagame context will affect his stock? You don't want to make rash financial decisions about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and today we'll see how Modern is going to affect his prospects.
Jace in Modern History
Every time I read an article on Origins Jace, I hear about him being a Modern all-star. Although there is some truth to this classification, I suspect many of these authors can't actually point to specific Jace finishes in Modern. That's not necessarily because they are ignorant of Modern and its tournaments, but rather because there really aren't that many Jace finishes in the format.
At least, not yet.
Generally speaking, Jace has seen two homes in Modern since his July debut. He's seen the most success in Grixis Control/Midrange strategies, notably in Michael Majors' 5th place list at SCG Charlotte and in two separate builds at the SCG Oklahoma City Top 32.
I'm not entirely comfortable calling some of theses lists, including Majors', "Grixis Control". Many of them lack Cryptic Commands and/or includes cards like both Inquisition of Kozilek and Liliana of the Veil. Even so, they are still Grixis representatives, existing in the lineage of the delve/Kolaghan's Command decks that have characterized Modern since June.
It's currently unclear how much we can extrapolate from Jace's appearance in these decks.
On the one hand, Grixis decks struggled mightily in September. As I talked about in my Modern Nexus metagame breakdowns, Grixis saw a stunning metagame decline from about 6.2% in August to roughly 2.6% in September. It's hard to call cards like Jace a "multi-format all-star" when they are showing up in decks with huge metagame share drops. As many players have learned, Kolaghan's Command is no longer the format-defining bomb we thought it was back in June.
On the other hand, Grixis didn't fall out of the charts because it was bad. Rather, it fell due to Modern's hyper-preparedness for the matchup.
Many decks at the SCG Opens, GP Oklahoma City, and Worlds 2015 signaled a format that was over-prepared to handle Grixis. As an example, September also saw RG Tron and Abzan rise back into the format's top tier, an anti-Grixis reaction that also allowed Infect to creep back up. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy might give Grixis decks the tools they need to return to the spotlight. There's certainly enough precedent from the last few months to suggest it, including finishes like Majors' and those at GP Oklahoma City.
Where else does Jace show up in Modern? Naturally, in the format's best and longest-running blue deck: URx Twin.
Like the different Grixis variants, URx Twin has seen more than a few players try to incorporate Jace. Also like those Grixis decks, the URx Twin strategy has suffered a format-wide dropoff starting in August and extending into September.
Thinking broadly about Modern, we shouldn't be worried about this metagame dip in the long-run: Twin is an enduring format pillar and it's only a matter of time until one deck is back on top. Moreover, even though no single deck has enough representation to be Tier 1 on its own (4% for Grixis, between 2%-3% for UR Twin), the URx Twin strategy as a whole is still well-represented at 8%+. Don't leave those Rending Volleys at home!
This metagame context has big implications for Jace's outlook in Twin. For one, declining metagame shares suggest Twin needs some innovation to get back into the action. Jace could be the man to provide that edge. Both Joshua Satterfield and Elliot Mork brought Grixis Jace Twin lists to top finishes at SCG Indianapolis on October 4th. I could see this heralding a new Twin approach in a metagame where Twin needs help.
Another reason to be optimistic about the Jace/Twin pairing is Abzan's gradual climb back into Tier 1. Many BGx players are returning to a fairer version of their staple deck, one relying on Lingering Souls to trump one-for-one removal and Path to Exile to remove delve fatties at virtual parity (more parity than Bolt, at least). Origins Jace joins Jund's Dark Confidant and Burn's Eidolon of the Great Revel as two-drop staples you really don't want to Path.
We're seeing a metagame with more Paths and more grindy matchups. Jace is well-positioned to fill those gaps.
Perhaps more importantly, Jace already has a successful track record in both Grixis and Twin decks, so it's not just baseless speculation to think we'll see more of the planeswalker as these lists continue to evolve in this new metagame.
Jace's High Ceiling
Now that we have some idea of where Jace has been in Modern, we can now talk about where the Origins posterchild is going. At least for Modern, the answer is probably "nowhere but up".
Realistically speaking, Jace isn't the second coming of Stoneforge Mystic, Tarmogoyf, or the other iconic Modern two-drops that define both this format and Legacy. Lightning Bolt alone is always going to make turn two Jace feel a bit risky, and, unlike Dark Confidant, you don't get value out of the flipwalker unless you untap with him and have a full graveyard. This inherent weakness puts a cap on Jace's long-term Modern profile.
The Bolt- and Decay-proof delve creatures are probably the best attackers outside of Tarmogoyf, and they fit alongside the powerful Grixis shell. Even in a U/R shell, you're still playing Jace with the powerful Thought Scour and Serum Visions cantrips, not to mention Bolt and Snapcaster Mage.
That's clearly a strong theoretical basis for Jace's prospects. What about a metagame one? As I mentioned earlier, there are enough metagame changes to suggest Jace is just getting started in Modern, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't see more play in the format.
There are two reasons we should expect Jace to see more Modern play, both of which will justify a high price-tag.
The first is based on Twin's recent shortcomings and a tendency in Modern for good decks to rise back up after lulls. We've seen this phenomenon with every longstanding Tier 1 deck in Modern. Both Jund and Abzan have alternated as Tier 1 players following temporary absences. Affinity is now back on top after months of lingering around 6%. The same is true of Burn, which has shifted from a middling 6%-7% to commanding 10%+ shares.
It seems like Twin is up next, where at least the U/R or Grixis builds are likely to come back on top with a little bit of metagame help and some new innovation. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is the innovation Twin is looking for. It gives Twin some legs in the grindy midrange and control contests, but still lets you play the Twin package, which itself is strong against the linear decks. You're also slotting Jace into the Grixis Twin shell, which has the better midrange Plan B than other Twin options.
I expect to see a lot of Jace and Tasigur as players keep trying out Grixis Twin incarnations to get ready for the big Modern events in November.
The second reason to expect Jace's rise is, perhaps surprisingly, his Standard relevance. Whenever a card does well in Standard, people tend to experiment with it in Modern. Cards like Den Protector and Dragonlord Silumgar obviously don't make the Modern cut, but we've seen other staples such as Hangarback Walker and Dragonlord Ojutai make the transition.
The more people play Jace in Standard, the more likely we are to see him thrown around in Modern lists. I doubt we'll see too much experimentation in this respect: Modern players are notoriously averse to brewing, often preferring to lean on format mainstays instead of innovating something new. This further suggests we'll see Jace show up in Grixis and Twin decks, the two strategies where Jace already has an obvious home.
That said, we'll still see Jace in a variety of other lists, including perhaps Scapeshift, UWR Midrange and Control, Sultai lists, etc.
All of this is to reinforce Jace's status as a Modern all-star, even if he hasn't quite come into the spotlight just yet.
Is Jace really a $75 or even $100 card? My suspicion is no, at least in the short-term. In the long-run, however, Jace's dual Standard and Modern demand are easily enough to keep him above $75, and all it will take is a solid finish (probably in Grixis Twin) for the planeswalker to blow up even more than he already has.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy: The Real Deal
Modern off-seasons tend to see stagnant metagames. Of course, they also see a degree of innovation by players looking to capitalize on lower-stakes events to prepare for bigger tournaments.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy fits nicely into this picture, and I'll be shocked to not see him make more waves as part of URx Twin lists or Grixis lists, particularly as we get into the major events in November and December.
If you have Jace in your trade binder, hold on to him for now because he's probably going to go up from here. If you want to get Jace, I'd consider waiting for the first sight of a price drop before jumping in: these drops won't last once Jace starts making a bigger Modern impact.
Where else do you see Jace impacting Modern? Do you think he has what it takes or will he bust out like his Origins sister, the much-hyped Liliana, Heretical Healer? Let me know in the comments and I look forward to seeing more Jace's as Modern figures out how best to adopt Magic's hottest new star.