Izzet Control, Jeskai Control, And Beyond

The Innovator thinks he’ll play Izzet or Jeskai at the Pro Tour, but of course he’s looking beyond them! What bold brews await?

I’m probably playing Izzet or Jeskai at the Pro Tour.

A lot can happen in two weeks, but generally, I’ve been liking where the base-Izzet decks are at in the metagame, and I think there’s room for improvement. I’m not sure if I’m just predisposed to prefer the Jeskai decks over the direction the Izzet decks have gone (away from Niv-Mizzet, Parun and more towards Arclight Phoenix), but I’m generally really leaning that way.

Decks like Eduardo Sajgalik’s and Arne Huschenbeth’s sixth-place lists from their respective GPs this weekend, look like totally reasonable decks, no question. I’m just not feeling it as a macro strategy, the way I’m into Expansion // Explosion.

With so many cantrips, this list looks pretty consistent. Then, rather than trying to control the game, it seeks to either race with fliers or set up an almost combo-kill dimension.

It’s not unreasonable for either Drake to get up large enough for two hits to kill, and Maximize Velocity is great for setting up both halves of a two-punch combo (whether turn after turn, or all in the same turn).

Huschenbeth actually goes a step further, packing Goblin Electromancer on top of the three fliers, enabling him to play Radical Idea, Chart a Course, and Tormenting Voice.

While I do like Arclight Phoenix with Radical Idea, I’m not sold on us getting enough to be worth the decrease in total sorcery/instant count, and a non-flier at that. When you’re cutting Crash Through and Warlord’s Fury, it’s not like you’re actually upping the cantrip count or anything.

Is this what has become of Niv-Mizzet? A sideboard option for spots where you’re not going to be priced into rolling the dice on playing him into an empty battlefield, praying for no planeswalker?

Ral, Izzet Viceroy keeps getting me to try building control decks like I want to be playing, but I keep coming back to Teferi. Between Ral and Niv-Mizzet, it seems like you should be able to “not splash white,” and so I try things like:

But at the end of the day, I really do miss Deafening Clarion.

The rest of the white cards I could take or leave, but Deafening Clarion is just so what we need to survive really low-to-the-ground aggression. That it even lets the Drakes live, while also potentially giving you a massive life swing, is just such a fantastic added dimension.

For instance, Jeskai put up many great finishes this weekend, and Lirek Kulik’s Top 8 deck is a great example of a list that is relatively Izzet in spirit, primarily just splashing white for Teferi and Clarion.

While Jeskai mana is pretty generous, the requirements for Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet are pretty intense, making white doable, but not free. Beyond the two headliners, he’s got just two copies of Terminate Justice Strike and a single Cleansing Nova.

With just twelve white sources, it’s not like Cleansing Nova is a reliable Turn 5 play anyway. Even just Deafening Clarion is only 81% to be online Turn 3 (on the play) with this manabase. It’s also tricky, because while selection like Opt would potentially increase this frequency, Opt gets a bit dicier when you’re playing more tapped lands.

I find the Ionize versus Sinister Sabotage question to be a deceptively brilliant move on Wizards of the Coast’s part to keep the tension in what all you can or should play. It’s subtle, but the fact that both of these are good, and Sinister Sabotage is just the right amount better to be worth the extra blue, adds meaning to every decision you make regarding splashing colors, playing awesome colorless lands like Field of Ruin, or optimizing for coming out smooth in the early turns.

Kulik’s full use of Ionize is a concession to his manabase, letting him get away with just sixteen blue sources (whereas I would generally want at least eighteen, if I were wanting to play Sinister Sabotage on Turn 3).

What I don’t buy is the use of three Mountains. I mean, I get it, Niv-Mizzet is into some freaky stuff. It would be kind of surprising to me for it really to be right to play nineteen red sources in this deck. I guess it’s hard to play Plains when you’re playing Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet, and it’s hard to play Island when you’re playing Justice Strike. And all that is sort of speaking to my point about the decisions on how greedy to be, where to use your “points” having meaning.

I kind of love Lyra Dawnbringer in the sideboard of decks like this. It hits from such a different angle from Crackling Drake, Teferi, Niv-Mizzet, or Expansion // Explosion. Having only twelve white sources is kind of tough, since you really want to be able to cast her on time, but I’m generally a fan. That said, there are so many other good options, I also think there are plenty of metagames where you may choose other options for transforming into a more proactive strategy (however, I would certainly play at least some number of proactive transformational cards).

Settle the Wreckage is an excellent card that has dropped a lot in value, contextually. Red decks have access to stuff like Experimental Frenzy and Banefire, which really punish Settle; and the various green-based aggro decks often run so many cantrip threats, I would be wary of an over-reliance on the card.

While Cleansing Nova and Settle the Wreckage are better “cards,” it’s not like there are no options for people not wanting to mess around with double white cards.

Star of Extinction is mostly a seven-mana Cleansing Nova, but instead of the option to hit enchantments, it must hit planeswalkers (plus a land, which can obviously matter but isn’t that important at the moment). This planeswalker-sweeping ability is a double-edged sword, however, as only some of our opponents will have planeswalkers, whereas we definitely do.

There really isn’t a lot of sacrificing land at instant speed at the moment, but if it ever comes to that, remember that you can Star of Extinction your own land if you just absolutely need the twenty damage to resolve. The last thing you want to do is have your sweeper fizzle because of someone sacrificing their land as a cost as a countermeasure.

Florian Trotte put Star of Extinction to work in GP Lille, making his twelve white sources a little less ambitious. What’s more, with six Islands and no Mountains, he’s able to play Opt and Sinister Sabotage. He just has to give up Justice Strike.

I know that playing three Teferi and one Ral is all the rage these days, but I just haven’t been feeling it the same way. I could see doing it, but I sure am more inclined to play four Teferi and one Ral, and if I really only want four, you gotta show me that Ral #1 is better than Teferi #4. It easily could be, but that’s not my first inclination.

See, now that’s just awesome.

Playing one each of a bunch of different types of devastating finishers is my bread and butter, but I also respect the folks that want to sideboard a lower-to-the-ground plan, like Carlos Moral:

Who says you need to go over the top, rather than ducking under?

Legion Warboss is a pretty intensely anti-mirror card, really punishing opponents for taking out their “bad” cards. Shalai, on the other hand, kind of sticks it to people sideboarding in discard.

I really do appreciate the mana efficiency of Revitalize, though I do wonder if eleven sources are really enough. It just seems so rough to get stuck with it in hand for any number of turns.

While I love Seal Away right now, there’s one thing I really don’t like about Seal Away in the sideboard…

That it’s in the sideboard.

Seventeen blue isn’t exactly the safest for packing a playset of Sinister Sabotages, but at least Opt is reliable here and definitely helps. As for Seal Away, it’s just such good instant-speed interaction, particularly at dealing with Arclight Phoenix. Besides, when you’re playing Teferi, you want to have a lot of awesome instant-speed stuff to do for two mana. The question is, however, is eleven or twelve white really enough?

You know, if you mostly pass on Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, you get access to Plains, which kind of opens up a whole new world of manabases.

Grand Prix champion Eli Kassis made room for a healthy fifteen white sources, making his white spells way more reliable. The cost? Not only did he have to give up Crackling Drake and maindeck Niv-Mizzet, he’s also making the Ionize over Sinister Sabotage concession and actually relies on a couple of really clever draw-smoothing cards for the early turns.

Azor’s Gateway as an engine is kind of sweet. The smoothing is relatively efficient. It’s a great way to make up for how many high-ceiling/low-floor cards we’re playing. Then, when we flip it, we’ve got both Expansion // Explosion and Banefire for ways to leverage the absurd amounts of mana into a game-winning play.

Any amount of Divination over Chemister’s Insight is actually a really interesting question. This isn’t the most devastating time to tap out on Turn 3, and often we can get glutted Turn 4 if we’re not careful. Jump-start cards generally have diminishing returns anyway. I think this is a really interesting approach and will be experimenting with it myself.

For instance, when I’m building Grixis, I’m always long on fours, on account of Vraska’s Contempt. Using Divination in some amount might be a way to distribute costs a little better. We can also use some amount of Notion Rain, but I don’t hate the idea of a mix, as I want to be careful about too many cards needing us to pay life.

That said, if somehow we were able to resist the allure of Expansion // Explosion, the combination of Notion Rain and Revitalize is kind of sweet.

What I haven’t figured out how to build yet is a Grixis deck with a manabase I believe in. The biggest draw to black, to me anyway, is Vraska’s Contempt. Beyond that, there’s Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and The Eldest Reborn, and how we support double black in a Grixis manabase is a great question.

Nicol Bolas looks sweet with Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Sarkhan, Fireblood, but there’s just no way we’re playing Swamps in such a deck, and without them, there’s just no way we’re supporting Vraska’s Contempt with just twelve black sources.

Besides, Sarkhan needs so much red mana, I’m just not sure how you pull the whole thing together. At a certain point, you gotta start to wonder, just how greedy could we possibly be?

Okay, now you’re scaring me.