It’s Time To Admit Jeskai Control Isn’t Very Good

If you like mixing your counterspells and burn spells together in Modern, you may want to turn away. Ross Merriam explains why it’s time to put down Jeskai Control before heading to SCG Indianapolis!

Last week I wrote about the strange trend of Tron being underrepresented in
Team Constructed Opens based on the day 2 metagame breakdowns of these
tournaments in 2018. The dearth of Tron has consequently allowed various
control decks to flourish in these events, with Jeskai and U/W variants
often among the most played archetypes among the Modern pilots of the day 2

Since I posited that the lack of Tron was due to a strong aversion to the
deck present among the community that has only grown to herculean
proportions this year and not from any strategic considerations, it seemed
to me like last weekend’s Team Constructed Open in Philadelphia was a great
time to bring Tron in the Modern seat.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but there were three Tron decks in the
day 2 metagame of the event, among 27 teams, and the two Mono-Green
variants faced off in the finals, largely on the backs of Jeskai Control,
U/W Control, and Mardu Pyromancer, three very good matchups, showing up as
three of the four most popular decks in the field.

Okay, I lied before. Toot toot, nerds.

Fellow Team BCW member Tannon Grace has fielded many questions over his
recent conversion to Tron in Modern, and immediately responds to each one
with “I like winning.” Tron is powerful, proactive, and consistent, which
is everything I want out of a deck. The only reason it hasn’t shown up more
is because of this hive mind smear campaign against it, and that artificial
suppression has allowed its natural prey to overstay their welcome at the
top of the Modern hierarchy.

No deck has benefited more from this phenomenon than the topic of today’s
article: Jeskai Control. For a long time, control decks struggled in Modern
because they didn’t have answers that were flexible enough to handle the
large variety of threats present in the format. It was impossible to come
well-prepared for Affinity, Tron, Jund, Burn, and Storm all at the same
time because they require such different answers. Shaheen Soorani has shed
a river of tears and wiped out entire forests of trees writing about this
fundamental issue for control decks in Modern. How quickly we forget the
lessons learned through his years of sacrificed entry fees.

In addition, the speed of the format is such that control decks rarely, if
ever, had a turn to take off to cast a spell for some card advantage, so to
not fall irreversibly far behind they were often left to rely on things
like Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command that could offer a small amount of
card advantage but paired with disruption.

Two recent printings, Search for Azcanta and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria,
looked to mitigate these issues. Both are powerful card advantage engines
that have the ability to be cast without falling further behind. Search for
Azcanta is cheap enough that you can cast it on turn two and catch up with
cheap removal or double spell with it and an interactive card later on.
Teferi allows you to gain an immediate card and untap two lands to then
interact with the opponent, hopefully protecting it for the one turn needed
before you untap with control of the battlefield.

The raw card advantage these two provide, especially with Teferi untapping
Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in the late game, is sometimes enough to overcome
individually powerful threats from the opponent, but Teferi can also use
its -3 ability or ultimate to answer any problematic permanent, giving the
deck a much needed boost of versatility.

Despite these additions and its performance over the last several months, I
still contend that Jeskai Control is the single most overrated deck in
Modern right now. Jeskai arose at a time when Humans was dominating the
field, and with its large suite of removal, Jeskai enjoys a sizable edge in
that matchup, though certainly not insurmountable, as evidenced by Sam
Cocchiarella’s victory over Jonathan Rosum at SCG Minneapolis earlier this

At the time, linear aggro decks like Affinity, Elves, and Counters Company
were a common choice to combat Humans, which has very little interaction
for opposing creatures but plenty for spells, and these matchups are also
positive for the removal heavy control deck. Jeskai emerged in a metagame
that was extremely favorable for it. Now decks cycling in and out of the
metagame is a common occurrence in Modern, with only a select few top decks
remaining consistent players.

For a while, Humans remained resilient, but it has since dropped off, as
have the other linear aggro decks. What remains isn’t pretty for Jeskai
players. Just take a look at the day 2 metagame breakdown from
Philadelphia. I count three significantly positive matchups for Jeskai: the
singleton Humans, Burn, and Affinity decks. You don’t need to be a number
scientist to figure out that 3/27 is not a good ratio.

There are matchups like Storm, Grixis Death’s Shadow, and Mardu Pyromancer
that are close and more than winnable, especially for a skilled pilot, but
when I’m playing a removal-heavy control deck, I don’t want to play against
Thoughtseize and Lingering Souls or Stubborn Denial and Gurmag Angler or a
deck that can kill you without casting a creature but still forces you to
hold up a removal spell on most turns.

That’s my fundamental issue with Jeskai Control. The idea of a control deck
is to be able to adapt to what your opponent is doing and shut it down, but
Jeskai is really only good at shutting down creatures. The stock lists have
fourteen maindeck slots dedicated to removal!

When you commit that hard to one line, you’re forced to keep removal-heavy
hands in game one. Hands that don’t have a prayer of beating Tron or
Ironworks and are behind against opposing control decks because that’s what
your deck does. Sure, you get to sideboard out some of that removal for
more appropriate answers like Ceremonious Rejection, Negate, or Vendilion
Clique, but it takes a lot to climb out of the game one hole.

If you’re consistently losing game one in a matchup, you need to be winning
a huge number of the sideboard games to be a favorite overall, and as much
as matchup numbers like 70-30 or 80-20 are thrown around by the hive mind,
the reality is most matchups stay between 40-60 and 60-40. And when you’re
starting from the 40 side of things, getting to the 60 is that much harder.

Despite being a control deck, Jeskai is almost linear in its approach. It
focuses heavily on creatures at the expense of other angles of attack, and
that leaves the deck structurally vulnerable to a large portion of the

The typical response to this kind of structural deficiency is to get
aggressive. If you’re not going to have an answer to their threats then you
lose the inevitability that control decks trade on so you have to switch
roles and skip straight to the deading them stage of the game. But Jeskai
is ill-equipped to do this since it must rely entirely on burn spells and
Snapcaster Mage. The actual Burn deck struggles to add to twenty against
Modern decks, and this plan is like Burn operating on one quarter

At least U/W Control has some varying flavors of Gideon that can be
deployed aggressively or perhaps Entreat the Angels in the Miracles
variants that can end a game on the spot if you fall behind. That’s
something. Jeskai Control sometimes has a singleton Secure the Wastes
filling a similar role, but that card isn’t very effective when deployed
early. Three 1/1s isn’t killing anyone.

Maybe Celestial Colonnade can do the job? There’s a lot more answers to it
these days in Fatal Push and Field of Ruin which has led to Jeskai lists
trimming on the former staple. And even if left unanswered, attacking for
four damage on turn six isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. We’re
talking about the “turn three Karn or kill you” format here.

A typical shift towards Tron once Jeskai emerged should’ve relegated this
pile of mediocrity back to tier two status, but the community-wide disdain
for Tron, along with a couple top players unwisely championing the deck has
kept it around longer than it had any right to stay. But I have some news
for all you Jeskai fans: the clock is striking midnight and the Fairy
Karnfather has arrived to turn your gleaming chariot back into the pumpkin
it has been the entire time.

It turns out he and the Fairy Godmother had a bitter divorce so where the
Fairy Godmother is the physical embodiment of hope, the Fairy Karnfather
embodies the harsh, soul-crushing truth of reality. For some reason Disney
left him out of their version of Cinderella.

See, you’ve been living in fantasy land where nothing changes and you get
to play 38 removal spells and kill everything in sight. But your Path to
Exiles and Lightning Helixes don’t look so impressive in a universe where
1+1+1=7. Or where Matt Nass gets to leverage a rule no one really
understands to draw his entire deck and rebuy his entire graveyard. The
dream is over and it’s time to wake up and face the truth: your Prince
Charming isn’t coming and he probably had that glass slipper melted down
and turned into a mirror so he can look at himself all day long.

You see, reactive decks in Modern will always be at the mercy of the
metagame because no matter how powerful the card advantage engine, you
still only get 60 cards to play with and you need the right ones early in
every matchup. The only way to win consistently with a single deck and over
a long time of period in Modern is to play a proactively. Killing your
opponent is the universal answer to any threat. It’s the hammer that always
has a nail.

The time for Jeskai will come around again. The anti-control decks tend to
be vulnerable to fast combo decks, which is what Humans can prey on, and
the cycle continues. But if you’re interested in winning right now, I
suggest putting this one down. If for whatever reason you’re locked into
Jeskai Control for the foreseeable future, then at least do these two
things for me:

1) Don’t put Think Twice in your deck. This is Modern, not Time Spiral
Block Constructed. I know they both have a lot of Tarmogoyfs, but that’s
about where the similarities end. It’s 2018 and you can do better.
Personally, I prefer Opt so you can play Snapcaster Mage proactively
without tapping out, but if you want to go with Serum Visions the
difference is small. Do what makes you happy.

2) For the love of all that is good in this world, Bolt the Bird.