Once in awhile you stumble over a card you have not seen in play anywhere and which seems quite good. You test it out and it is most likely not good enough – after all there is probably a reason why you have not seen it anywhere. Sometimes though, it suprises you and you test it further: You think it is „playable“ or at least could be „playable“. It could make your deck as one of the last 5 cards. Maybe it becomes a pet card (after all you kind of discovered it) and you subonsciously rate it a little stronger than it really is. Either way your deck does not become particularly stronger (or weaker) with the card, it is a GOOD card but many Magic the Gathering cards are GOOD.
What happened in November to me and my Partner in Crime Gruuhlheart is a different story – one I did not feel comfortable telling until now, until this day exactly.
6th of November 2016: The One Autumn Qualifier was just won by RDW and I looked through the decklists. Nothing super suprising, but the Mardu Superfriends deck by Philip R. reminded me that the next time I am building Mardu, Queen Marchesa goes in for sure. Monarchy seemed like an inherently broken mechanic to me in 1vs1 – I mean you get a personal unremovable Howling Mine and if your deck is the one dealing damage with creatures more reliably/quickly/evasively then this is a draw engine that will win you the game in the long run. And Queen Marchesa was the best Monarchy card after all!
Wait! Was it?
I had a memory blasting in my mind, there was another Monarchy card I saw as a one of in Legacy Death and Taxes. I glimpsed over it, a few days ago. I did not think much of it. It had weaker stats. What was it? I went to the Gatherer, WOTC Card Search, and typed in „Monarch“ – 13 hits. And then I saw it, it seemed super good all of the sudden and it became better in my head every second. I, for the first time, REALLY read the card. I searched twitter for the card name, maybe some clues there. I ran into a tweet by Randy Buehler, which said that it was seen at the Legacy Championships at the top tables. Why have I not seen this card in Highlander? It is Legacy playable and actually good there? I hit up Gruulheart and in some kind of weird coincidence he looked at this card at this very moment. We were flipping out, why were we looking at that card at the same time?? We both agreed we need to test it in the next of our Sunday Night Sessions, this card seemed brokenly good and much better than Marchesa and was only in one color. It’s Name: Palace Jailer.
What happened since then is hard to describe and hard to wrap your head around. And hard to put into words. I’ll try.
The first Session only I had it in my deck. I remember that Gruulheart resolved a Siege Rhino on an empty Board and I removed it with Jailer. This is where I looked at his Face – he looked at his Hand in Disbelief. And he said something along the lines of „I think you just won the game“. Turns out there were 2 Removal spells, 1 Counterspell and 1 Planeswalker in his hand. Removal does not do anything vs Jailer (this is the part that I read wrong the first time), he only gets the Rhino back when he deals me combat damage, he gets the Rhino back when he becomes the Monarch. How does he become the Monarch with Ajani Vengeant, Mana Leak, Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Helix in his hand? This normally great hand does not do anything vs. the personal and indestructible Howling Mine I just played. And, this is the important part, since he is at least a few turns away from deploying a creature, let alone attack with it – Monarchy is out of reach for him. Why? Cause I have drawn so many extra cards by then that it will be easy for me to prevent him from becoming the monarch. It is like with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. How many times have you killed Jace after it activated 3 times? Not many I assume. It becomes harder every turn. And you know what, its soooo much harder to become the Monarch then to kill Jace. While Vindicate, Council’s Judgement etc., Burn and Bounce are great vs. Jace they do nothing vs an Opponent who is currently burying you in card advantage with Monarchy. Palace Jailer is a 3 for 1 when it comes into play: You get a body, you remove their best guy and you draw EOT. And then it continues to provide advantage since Monarchy is gained. So why is this card so much better than Marchesa?? It should be obvious to you now. There are infinite boards where Marchesa does not do what you want her to do and what Jailer does easily. Opponent has one flyer for example or like I just said a Rhino. Or simple: Opponent has 1 more Creature than you. When Jailer removes a flyer or Rhino as their only creature they are in a terrible spot. When the opponent has 1 more Creature than you and you play Jailer, you suddenly have 1 more than him! How is he gonna get Monarchy when you have 1 more creature? Sure he might be able remove one, but both? It is not impossible, he could have a hasty flyer like Falkenrath Aristocrat or Mantis Rider or Lightning Angel! True but thats almost it, those give him Monarchy back this exact turn. That is 3 cards in the whole format (+ the big dragons you see less often) and even then you drew an extra card and you only need a removal spell to put him in the same terrible spot. So unlike Marchesa Jailer creates a board that is favorable for you – Jailer almost always creates a Board where it is easy to defend Monarchy. And this is when the opponent is slightly ahead! When the board is even or youre ahead Jailer puts the nail in the coffin very quick. He changes everything about a game of Magic. Everything except Monarchy becomes a non-issue. Almost nothing in Magic is as strong as a personal Howling Mine.
It is hard to grasp this card until you played with it. I played Demonic Tutor for this card 5 out of 6 times that night and won every single game where I played it. It seemed broken. It seemed better than Jace (since it needs no set up, Jace often, especially now, needs a specific set up to stay alive). To be completely honest: It seemed like the best card in the deck. I know how crazy that sounds considering nobody plays it and I still havent seen any German HL or Canadian HL lists with it. It wins games by itsself on the spot. A week later I found myself in a spot where I had Mantis Rider, Lightning Bolt, Spell Snare, Mana Drain and Chandra, Torch of Defiance in hand and by that time, we were both so traumatized from those Jailer Games that my only thought was..I could drop Mantis Rider and be in a great spot normally but if he has Jailer I just lose. I risked it, played Mantis Rider, he had Jailer and I conceded 2 turns later (I didnt draw a creature and he by then drew 3 extra cards). Since then, in those 2 months, we had more games won by Jailer than by any other card in the deck. We even put Recruiter of the Guard in all the white Decks, since he gets Jailer and Jailer…wins the game. We basically play Jailer decks at this point.
So why wait until now to play it in a tournament surrounding (I have not played Jailer at FNMs, which was torture)? The Reason should be obvious. We planned to go to the Highlander Cup and we early on realized this card is so strong that we, at all costs, wanted to prevent that we play vs Palace Jailer every round of the Highlander Grand Prix. When you know your opponent could have it, it makes T3, T4 decisions a nightmare. Really.
So how good is this card? I think this card is by far the best 4drop in the Format (I know that sounds crazy, I know, I know). I think its an instant staple in all white creature decks. I have not tested it in control decks, it certainly seems weaker there but could still be very good.
Let’s go further – Do I think this Card is bannable? Yes, I do. This card is stupid. It really is. It totally invalidates tapping out even on empty boards. It shapes games in a way that I have not seen. It creates a subgame (Monarchy) that needs to be played, where the Jailer Player has a 90% Advantage from the get-go. You can’t touch the Monarchy status if your hand has no creatures in it – if you have one single creatue, if you tap out for it, you very likely immediately lose the game. Imagine that! Is that fair, or balanced or in any shape or form reasonable? No it is not. This is the difference between Jailer and Marchesa. Marchesa is a fair creature, Jailer is not. Marchesa LOOKED better at first glance because it is 3/3 and has haste and deathtouch. That sounds so much better right? The Trap here is that these stats are irrelevant, if you become the Monarch a subgame opens and that game is ONLY about being and staying the monarch. Cause that subgame will win you the game. Jailer does this Job much much better.
So how do you beat Jailer? This is a tough Question to answer. At best: Don’t let it resolve. Or create a board with two flyers, so you get back Monarchy right away. This is very tough in this time, when cards are so efficient and efficiently answered. You must be real ahead to not care about Jailer. What else is good? Haste flyers, at best with vigilance so Jailer cant attack right back and take Monarchy again: Lightning Angel and Mantis Rider can combat Jailer well. Also: Leovold, Emissary of Trest. He denies the card draw of Monarchy. Gruulheart has tutored Leovold with Green Sun’s Zenith plenty of times when I had Jailer, it is a good answer.
So in Summary: Palace Jailer is a busted card that will have a huge impact on this format. We have played with it for 2 months almost every week and I am positive. I do not guess or believe, I know it will have an warping impact. I also wouldnt be surprised if it will be on the ban watchlist later this year. Until then, enjoy Jailering your opponent and bathe in the helplessness in your opponent’s eyes.