Magic is a game with a lot of complex rules. A game with so many pieces and interactions needs a set of rules to keep individual pieces in check. While there is a pretty extensive comprehensive rules document that exists for Magic, what I'm going to talk about today are rules that aren't written, but rather guidelines that are used to keep the game of Magic from breaking.

One example of this is the unwritten rule of fast mana. There isn't a rule in place that says that fast mana in Magic shouldn't exist, but we all know that it makes the game a little more broken and sometimes even unfun. That's why cards like Sol Ring and the five Moxes are restricted in Vintage. We learned during Eldrazi Winter that fast mana can lead to some degenerate decks. The Modern format already had some pretty strong fast mana in the form of Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple, but there weren't very many cards that supported them. It wasn't until Oath of the Gatewatch came around that those cards got used to their fullest potential.

Another unwritten rule that gets broken every now and then is timing of sorceries. Most sorceries in Magic are sorceries (as opposed to instants) for a reason. They weren't meant to be cast during the opponent's turn. However, sometimes cards get created that break this rule, and it can lead to dominant strategies. The best example that exists right now is Miracles in Legacy. Miracles plays cards like Terminus and Entreat the Angels at not only instant speed, but also for much less mana than their normal mana cost. Wrath of God-effects are generally never printed at instant, unless they have some sort of rider attached, like Rout. Terminus is often a one-mana instant, and in a format like Legacy with the countless options for library manipulation, it's really easy to set up. The existence of this deck definitely warps Legacy; there are much less creature decks in Legacy now that Miracles is a thing.

The reason why I'm talking about this today is because there's a card in Shadows over Innistrad that breaks both of these rules. This card allows you to both cheat on mana and play sorceries as instants.

When Brain in a Jar was previewed, many players compared it to AEther Vial. They weren't wrong, but the power level of Brain in a Jar is not even close Aether Vial's. The biggest difference between the two is that with Brain in a Jar, you are limited to what spells you can play. When you activate Brain in a Jar, you must place a counter on it, which means you can't chain the same spell together turn after turn. This restriction really limits what kind of deck you can play with Brain in a Jar.

Despite a much lower power level than other cards printed before it, Brain in a Jar is a card that's begging to be built around. Today we're going to build a Brain in a Jar deck that makes the best use of what this card is good at: Cheating on mana and breaking timing restrictions of Magic.

Step 1: Play lots of instants, sorceries, and ways to find them.

Our deck is already going to have four Brain in a Jar so we don't have very many slots for things like creatures. Since we need win conditions and we can't really play creatures, we're going to need to play instants and sorceries that can win games, like burn spells and spells that create creature tokens. Already, red seems required for this deck.

We're going to need some card draw, specifically card draw that can get us a lot of instants and sorceries. The best option for us here is Pieces of the Puzzle. Looks like our deck is going to be blue/red.

Step 2: Play cards of many different converted mana costs.

Brain in a Jar scales with converted mana cost: the more you activate it, the more expensive spells you can play. The worst part about Brain in a Jar is that you are required to add a counter, so you can't play a Pieces of the Puzzle with it and then another — you have to play a four-drop or nothing on the next turn. We don't want to lose value on our Brain in a Jar by not having the right spells, so we're going to want to play a variety of converted mana costs in our deck.

Step 3: Have a big payoff.

Our plan with Brain in a Jar is to do something broken. We want to cast the best sorcery we can during our opponent's end step. After a quick search on Gatherer, I narrowed my list down to a few cards. I considered Devils' Playground, Volcanic Vision, and even Seasons Past, but the biggest payoff card in Standard right now is Rise from the Tides.

Rise from the Tides is an exciting card, but I think the reason why it doesn't see much play is twofold. First, it's really hard to build a deck around Rise from the Tides. You have to play a deck with mostly instants and sorceries and this card is a real challenge to build around. The second reason is the existence of Declaration in Stone. Declaration in Stone is played in pretty much every white deck and is devastating against an army of tokens.

However, if you are casting Rise from the Tides on your opponent's end step, you don't have to worry about Declaration in Stone.


The plan is simple: resolve a Brain in a Jar as early as you can and activate it every turn. By doing this, you are able to play free spells every turn like Tormenting Voice, Pieces of the Puzzle, and Brutal Expulsion while working up to a large Rise from the Tides.

We're also playing a madness theme with outlets like Lightning Axe, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Tormenting Voice. Fiery Temper and Nagging Thoughts are our payoff cards with madness, but Drownyard Temple is great to discard too. Nagging Thoughts is sweet in this deck and I'm surprised that decks that use madness don't play it over Anticipate. Nagging Thoughts is not only card selection, but it also fills up your graveyard with fuel for Rise from the Tides or spells to flashback with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Plus, it feels pretty good to mill a Drownyard Temple with Nagging Thoughts.

One inclusion in this deck that sees zero play in Standard is Brutal Expulsion. There has been many variants on this card printed over the years, including Jilt and Turn//Burn and they have all been awesome, so I found it strange that Brutal Expulsion wasn't seeing the same amount of play that these cards did in their respective Standard formats. I think it comes down to the insignificance of two damage. You are rarely going to kill a Planeswalker with Brutal Expulsion, and the creatures this hits don't make this spell worth four mana. However, in some matchups the tempo gained off of this spell is huge. In this deck in particular, casting Brutal Expulsion for free off of Brain in a Jar is devastating, especially when you've played another spell that turn for additional tempo.

One interesting inclusion here is Fall of the Titans. It's an X spell and can't be cast off of Brain in a Jar, but casting it with surge is very easy in this deck, especially during a turn where you also activate Brain in a Jar. For example on turn seven if you activate a Brain for six and cast a Rise from the Tides, you'll have enough mana left over to surge a large Fall of the Titans. Casting twelve to fifteen mana worth of spells for half the cost is how you win games of Magic.

A Note on Jace

I get lots of feedback from readers asking me to stop building decks with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy because he is unaffordable for many Standard players. I totally understand. Not every player can afford Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, let alone four copies. In this deck, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is good, but he isn't necessary. He is great as a madness outlet, but this deck functions fine without him. If you can't afford Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, replace them with a Nagging Thoughts, a Brutal Expulsion, and two Epiphany at the Drownyard. Adding these cards makes your Pieces of the Puzzle stronger and also gives you more fuel for Rise from the Tides. The best part is that not playing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy completely shuts down your opponent's removal spells.

Other Options

Thing in the Ice is great for this deck as well, but you can't play both this and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. You need to keep your instant and sorcery count as high as possible, and diluting your deck with creatures will only make the deck worse. It's one or the other for this deck, and both cards are great. I prefer Jace, Vryn's Prodogy because I love its madness synergy and the option of flashing back spells, but both options are reasonable.

You may be curious as to why Pyromancer's Goggles isn't in the list. I've tried out Pyromancer's Goggles in this deck and found it to be clunky. It's really hard to cast Pyromancer's Goggles while you are also trying to cast spells and activate Brain in a Jar. You also have to choose whether to cast spells via Pyromancer's Goggles or Brain in a Jar — you can't do both. I also found that playing both Pyroamcner's Goggles and Brain in a Jar in the same deck dilutes it of instants and sorceries. It's pretty much one or the other here, and playing Pyromancer's Goggles over Brain in a Jar makes Rise from the Tides much worse.

Wrap Up

While writing this article, I also found other decks built around Brain in a Jar. I'm glad that players realize the potential of this card. It can be fun to play cards that break Magic fundamentals and I'm looking forward to seeing what else players will do with it.

Next week: More Standard brews!

Thanks for reading!

Melissa DeTora
@MelissaDeTora on Facebook