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Feature: Upheaval, the Draft Sculptor

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It seems like every player at the Players Championship has a different take on what the best archetypes are in the Cube being played here this week. Reid Duke loves blue control decks, Alexander Hayne prefers a strong combo deck, Samuele Estratti rates counterspells really high, and Luis-Scott Vargas has a very public love-affair with mono-red decks.

But there's one two things they can all agree on: Upheaval and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are the two best cards in the Cube, in some order.

Let's tackle Upheaval first.

Upheaval's idea of a fun party is inviting all of its friends to its house, then telling everyone they have to leave. Well, except for Psychatog.

Duke said Upheaval was simply at the forefront of a class of cards powerful enough to take you in a direction you might not otherwise go, alongside cards like Living Death, Opposition and Skullclamp.

But plenty of cards in the cube have been banned in a number of formats, including Jace, the Mind Sculptor. So why is Upheaval at the top of the list?

"There's no other card that does what it does," Hayne said.

There are a ton of symmetrical effects in the Cube that wipe out some class or even multiple classes of permanents: Wrath of God, Balance, Cataclysm, Wildfire, and Armageddon, plus Nevinyrral's Disk and Powder Keg.

But all of those cards have something in common: they don't get everything.

This speaks to the nature of the Cube. There are so many cards with so many different options for what to play that it's tough to plan for everything. You might have Wrath of God when a Skullclamp is plaguing you, Armageddon when you're behind on the board, Counterspell against Figure of Destiny, or, heaven forbid, Wildfire against a Sword of Fire and Ice.

But Upheaval answers EVERYTHING. If it's in play, it's answered. If it's in hand, suddenly there's no mana to cast it. What's worse (for your opponent) is that it sets you up to float some mana and cast a threat, suddenly and sometimes irreversibly throwing the game in your favor. If you're fortunate enough to have artifact mana, forget about it. The game is over.

"Upheaval will destroy a game," Pro Tour Philadelphia champion Samuele Estratti said.

And while I'd like to tell you some sweet Upheaval stories from the Players Championship, there simply aren't any. No one was fortunate enough to open the six mana sorcery. So it goes.

What two players were fortunate enough to open, in their first pack, nonetheless, was fellow blue offender, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, a card that's nearly impossible to beat if not dealt with almost immediately.

Just ask Jon Finkel, who, as anyone who was watching round 1 can attest, was positively trounced by Shouta Yasooka's copy of the planeswalker. And don't get us started on how filthy Jace plus Forbid was.

Good Game.

And why not? It's the only planeswalker to impact literally every Constructed format ever, from Vintage to being banned in Modern to positively dominating Standard before also being banned there, and it's in what most players consider the best color in the Cube.

In fact, ask Estratti what the best card in the Cube is, and he'll give the nod to Jace over Upheaval, mostly accounting for the card advantage Jace is capable of producing over a longer game. It might not have the immediate impact, but it will have a more prolonged one.

So why are we spending any amount of words telling you, "Jace, the Mind Sculptor is very good" when chances are you have personally played with or have been stomped by the card unless you started playing in the last year or so?

Because, more than anything, Jace is flexible. Whereas other marquee cards like Recurring Nightmare and Armageddon need a bit of work to fit into a deck, Jace just needs Islands. Flexibility in early Cube draft picks opens up all kinds of doors.

For example, Shuuhei Nakamura's Jace deck today is something of a midrange Bant deck with a lot in common with the old Momentary Blink decks, including Mystic Snake, Mulldrifter and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.

On the other hand, Shouta Yasooka is playing a nearly creatureless Blue-Red control deck with Bonfire of the Damned and Forbid to pair with Jace. Neither player was hamstrung by anything but Jace's blue-ness, and the result was two very different decks.

And therein lies the great Cube question: power, or flexibility? With Jace, the Mind Sculptor, though, you get both.

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