Howdy folks! This claims a bit of new ground for me. I’m not actually here to talk about Legacy, or even constructed formats at all. I am here to talk about the Magic Storyline, and especially the ongoing story for Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan. Most importantly, I’ll share my hot takes on the story and how they are treating everyone’s favorite (or not so favorite) mind mage, Jace Beleren. I am actually very much a raging Vorthos (a nomenclature given to people who enjoy the Magic Storyline and analyzing it) as I greatly enjoy discussing the ongoings of the Magic story.
The History of Jace
Let’s flashback to 2008. Hot on the heels of Lorwyn in 2007 where the new Planeswalkers were introduced, not many people really knew a whole lot about them. They weren’t actually part of the Lorwyn storyline. Shards of Alara in 2008 would be the first storyline that would include Planeswalkers as part of its central focus. This meant that for many people their first actual introduction to Jace Beleren was through the card “Counterspell” from the Jace vs Chandra Duel Deck.
Oh man. Look at that flavor text. Jace is a kind of an a-hole here right? Right. See, before Jace Beleren started appearing in the actual story, the creative writing team at Wizards didn’t really know much about what to do with Jace’s character. He wouldn’t actually appear in the storyline until Zendikar in 2009. Because of this, Wizards opted to shove Jace’s image and flavor text to be in line with the typical “blue” mage; superiority complex with no interest in common mages. It made him appear to be a bit of… well, a jerk. He could counter all your stuff and was basically unbeatable. That made Jace not only uninteresting, but also actively hated by many people. How could anyone actually relate to a character who was perceived as a Mary Sue* and incredibly perfect in every way? Some fans developed a webcomic where Jace battles Chandra to take back the Dragon Scroll that leads her to Zendikar in the first place, and Jace’s character is very much the same as it was in the flavor texts.
*(Editor’s note: A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.)
Jace finally did appear in the official storyline, chasing after Chandra to Zendikar as she made her way to the Eye of Ugin. We actually found out that the Jace in the stories was nothing like the Jace of the flavor text. This Jace, while still presenting an air of superiority, was actually no more superior than anyone else. In fact… he was physically inferior and his mind appeared to be cracked in many ways. But we still didn’t have a firm grasp on his character.
That is, until Agents of Artifice.
The novel Agents of Artifice was the first real look we had at the character of Jace Beleren. While living in Ravnica, Jace used his mental talents for blackmail purposes, allowing himself to live an easy life. Until, that is, he was conscripted into serving the Infinite Consortium under the planeswalker Tezzeret. It’s during this novel that we find out that Jace is capable of extreme memory magic, wiping his own memories and replacing them with his friend Kallist’s to throw off the Consortium’s trail.
It’s also during this book that we see how Jace and Liliana Vess’ rocky relationship begins, a relationship classified by many as actually abusive on Liliana’s part.
Flash forward to Zendikar, where Jace ended up serving as one of the three planeswalkers required to unlock the Eldrazi’s prison in the Eye of Ugin. Then jump to Ravnica, and the Implicit Maze left behind by Azor. During this time Jace’s character drew much criticism, partly due to the poor writing of the Dragon’s Maze books and partly due to how Jace overcame each obstacle. Nevertheless, he eventually became the Living Guildpact.
Jace as the Guildpact was another major dent in his character, as people saw the telepath again as a Mary Sue who could do no wrong.
It wasn’t until we got to Magic Origins that we found out exactly why Jace is this way. During this set we learned that Jace was taught by a sphinx named Alhammeret. Alhammeret used Jace as a double agent on both sides of the warring factions of his home plane Vryn. However, Alhammeret also became aware of Jace’s planeswalker spark. In order to keep Jace under his control, Alhammeret used his mind magic to repeatedly mind wipe Jace. After Jace found out about this, a telepathic duel between himself and Alhammeret resulted in the destruction of not only the sphinx’s mind, but Jace’s mind as well. His planeswalker spark ignited, landing Jace on Ravnica. The only clear remembrance of Alhammeret was the symbol of the sphinx’s collar, now revealed to be the facial tattoos that Jace bears.
After Origins, the storyline shifted to Jace assisting Gideon amidst the Battle for Zendikar set, but not before Jace met the planeswalker Vraska, a gorgon who was part of the Golgari.
During Battle for Zendikar, Jace’s character became slightly more pronounced in regards to his physical weaknesses. It was during this time that he grew slightly, thanks to both the presence of Gideon as well as becoming part of the Gatewatch. However, he was still a little stubborn. He opted to ignore the advice of Ugin and come up with a plan to kill the Eldrazi. During this time, unbeknownst to us, Ugin implanted a mental trigger into Jace’s mind.
After the formation of the Gatewatch, Jace went to Innistrad to decipher what had been happening on the plane. During this time, Jace actually went somewhat insane, driven mad by the energy being funneled across the plane. It was during this block that Jace was reunited with Liliana, and briefly visited a mind prison created by the Eldrazi Titan Emrakul.
Flash forward again to Amonkhet, and the Gatewatch’s fateful encounter with the dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas. During this battle, Jace’s mind is crushed. He planeswalks away on instinct, landing on the plane of Ixalan.
The Here and Now
So now we arrive in present day, and how the storyline is actively treating Jace on Ixalan. As a hotly contested character, many people either really like Jace or actively hate him. Often times however, the hate is derived either from the initial way Jace was presented (all the way back to that printing of Counterspell) or how his character was presented in badly written stories (Dragon’s Maze).
Regardless of this, the Jace we know now is actually a lot different and a lot more likable with the Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan storyline. Losing his memories, Jace is forced to sustain himself. He eventually ends up in the company of Vraska, the gorgon planeswalker he once met on Ravnica. During this time, the two begin to form a relationship based on respect and trust. Jace is accepting and broken, willing to put his faith in Vraska.
I definitely recommend to anyone who may be on the fence about this character to maybe take some time and sit down and read through the Ixalan storyline and through the first part of the Rivals of Ixalan storyline. I know I personally was getting sorely tired of Jace as a character through Battle for Zendikar and up to Amonkhet, but the current storyline has done quite a bit to really develop Jace as a character worth having around.
That’s all the time we have for this week folks. I might do more of these in the future, especially if people really enjoy this. If I do, what characters do you want to hear about? What storylines do you want to discuss?
– Joseph Dyer
Joseph is an avid player of eternal Magic formats, including Vintage and Legacy. As a Nic Fit player who will tell anyone who will listen about his deck, Joe spends his time analyzing and playing on Magic Online and various online platforms, while prepping for competitive events. To follow more from Joe, check out his Twitter!