Out of all the Magic 2015 spoilers, I’ve heard more people talking about how bad the new Jace, the Living Guildpact is than any other card.
Everyone is very quick to compare him to other forms of Jace, whether it be the Mindscupltor or the more recent Architect. Obviously that happens to every card in Magic the gathering, especially Planeswalkers, but one has to keep power-creep in mind when trying to figure out why a card is designed a certain way. No Jace will ever be as good as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Period. Wizard’s R&D does not want another card to be that powerful, so each Jace is destined to be worse, but that doesn’t mean that every new Jace is destined to be bad. Part of Magic design is working within limited design space and continually being able to produce something that is both new and interesting, while also referring back to older concepts. Jace has always been about doing what blue does best; he gives card advantage, gives hand fixing, gives board control and a strong win condition once the game has gone long enough for the blue mage to take control.
A few things must first be said about this new Jace, namely that he does not draw cards with either of his first abilities. His -8 ultimate does draw cards, but instead of giving any meaningful card advantage, The Living Guildpact’s ultimate is a win condition. If you don’t win after making your opponent mulligan to zero and making yourself draw 7 cards, then no amount of additional card advantage will help you.
That being said, is card draw essential to what makes Jace Jace? Maybe… but take a gander at The Living Guildpact’s +1 ability. First of all, as I mentioned in my Magic 2015 Informal Review video, his +1 ability is better than Scry 1, as it allows you to look at the top two cards of your library, but it isn’t necessarily as good as Scry 2, because it makes you discard one of those cards that you reveal.
Although it may not feel exactly like Jace, putting cards in your graveyard can be seen as a form of card advantage, as it allows you access to those cards with the aid of cards like Disentomb, or Dread Return. Although I’m sure there are better cards out there to put cards in your graveyard, especially if you’re stretching back far enough to use a card Hermit Druid, I could see The Living Guildpact fulfilling that role nicely, while also allowing you to Scry 2.
Another point that someone brought up with me was that Jace’s second ability, while being pretty steep at -3 loyalty, allows for him to bounce any nonland permanent. The Mind Sculptor, in all his holiness, can only bounce creatures, while the Architect can only distract his opponent’s attacking creatures by giving them -1/-0. Bouncing anything for -3 is a really sexy ability, which I feel makes up for the lack of card draw from his first ability overall. It even thematically fits in, as the Living Guildpact controls what the guilds can and can’t do (as far as I understand, which is very little).
While a planeswalker’s first two (or three in the Mind Sculptor’s case) are the first two things that players look at when analyzing a new walker, their converted mana cost and starting loyalty really define their usefulness. Like Goldilocks, Two colorless and two blue is just right for a planeswalker of Jace’s standing, while 5 starting loyalty is beyond awesome, putting him at 6 loyalty on turn four, which is only 3 turns away from letting loose his ultimate. That’s pretty sweet.
Put simply, I think Jace is very playable, especially if he is in a deck that takes advantage of putting cards in one’s graveyard, despite his lack of card drawing. He will probably be much worse than the Architect against aggro match ups, simply due to his spot removal ability being -3 and only targeting one permanent, but against any other type of deck I think he could be useful.
In reality, I care much more about what this Jace means in regards to Wizard R&D’s development process than how powerful the card is itself. Jace has been notoriously hard to balance, as blue’s identifying features tend to be some of the most powerful abilities in the game (i.e. card advantage, spot removal, etc). To look at The Living Guildpact and compare him to other Jace’s is to completely ignore the dangers of power-creep in game design and to misunderstand Wizard’s design process. If every Jace had to be better than previous iterations, Magic would be an unplayable mess. No one wants that. The real argument about Jace, the Living Guildpact should be about whether drawing cards is essential to Jace’s design and whether or not forgoing that mechanic for the sake of balance is worth the hit to a card’s continuity, not about how he stands up to his previous iterations.