Jeskai Something

Having spent all of Sunday at #SCGCHI trying to battle back from the rear of the pack, GerryT shares his insights on Jeskai in the format and the builds he finds most interesting moving forward from here.

Despite other people urging me not to, I stuck to my guns and played Jeskai at the Open Series in Chicago. Characters like Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson, and Ross Merriam were all on G/R Devotion, but I played that deck at the Season Two Invitational and was kind of off it.

Jeskai was solid and I definitely had a lot of fun playing the deck, so I have no regrets. I started a little rocky with a first round loss, but played up to 6-1-1. Unfortunately, I lost the last round of the day, leaving me at 6-2-1 and unsure if I would be invited back to play the second day. I ended up squeaking in there, but strongly considered dropping and playing Legacy instead. At the insistence of my friends, I eventually chose to stay in and I’m happy I did.

Day Two went well, with me losing to a cool R/U Burn deck splashing Treasure Cruise. Abbott of Keral Keep made a major impression on me in that match. Other than that one, I didn’t lose to anyone else in Day Two. However, I did concede to Chris Andersen in the penultimate round because he was live for Top Eight while I was not, but I was more than happy to help out a friend.

This was my battling device:

I made some small changes from my article last week, but nothing too major. G/R Devotion was out in full force, so I wanted to have a good plan against it. The second End Hostilities seemed like a great idea to me, but I never actually played a match against the deck. However, Adam Varner (who finished a spot ahead of me with a similar deck) said he was 5-0 against G/R Devotion on the weekend. Perhaps Jeskai doesn’t need much help in that department.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy Was Amazing

I don’t think I ever lost a game where Jace stayed in play for more than three turns unless I was horrifically mana screwed. Any time that I was playing a fair game with my opponent, Jace would dominate. Jeskai is a deck with situational answers, so having a looter is incredibly helpful. Once your hand is stocked up, you get a planeswalker that can start flashing back stuff, plus you have a full graveyard for Dig Through Time. I can’t say enough good things about Jace.

Between my deck, Matthew Tickal’s Rally the Ancestors deck, and Kevin McLeskey’s Jeskai Tokens deck, Jace had a pretty damn good weekend. I tried to tell you!

Soulfire Grand Master Was Great, Also Terrible

For nearly the entire first day, I rarely activated Soulfire Grand Master. As the tournament went on, I had more and more positive experiences with Soulfire Grand Master in long games. Ojutai’s Command functioning as more copies of Soulfire Grand Master certainly helped with that. Without Ojutai’s Command, you wouldn’t be able to guarantee having access to Soulfire Grand Master in the late game, but the two of them together create a nice little package.

Grinding out Abzan Control is a difficult affair, but sometimes Soulfire Grand Master makes it possible. However, there was some awkwardness to that plan. Having access to a looter effect like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy means that you will rarely be flooded. While certainly a positive aspect of the card, it does mean that there are rarely times when you have enough mana to do all the things you want to be doing with Soulfire Grand Master. Between the two, there’s a lot of anti-synergy.

All in all, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In theory, both cards give you things to do with your excess mana, which is pretty impressive for a pair of two-drops. No other two-drop in the format really gets to claim that, and Jeskai gets to play both! While having both at the same time might result in some awkwardness, most of that was mitigated by the fact that if I had one or the either, I was often in great shape. Going forward I would probably only play three copies.

Clash of Wills Is Unplayable

Between the ten enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy pitching excess lands, my Clash of Wills was often a dead card in hand. My Abzan Control opponents would continually make their land drops thanks to Courser of Kruphix, so each turn my Clash of Wills would just get worse and worse.

The card is certainly not unplayable, as any blue control deck would love to have it, but I don’t want it anywhere near my Jeskai deck. Over 90% of the cards I want to counter can be hit with Disdainful Stroke anyway, so why even bother?

Goblin Rabblemaster Was Meh

I added the last Goblin Rabblemaster on the assumption that it would put in some serious work. That was true, but only some of the time. However, I rarely felt like Goblin Rabblemaster was clogging my hand. There were times when it just sat there on a stable board, but then there were games where it just ran over my opponents as it was the fastest clock my deck could produce.

Perhaps my opinion of Goblin Rabblemaster was colored by the fact that I would often sideboard into a bigger control deck. My Goblin Rabblemasters would come out because my opponent would load up on removal in order to not get run over, and then my big trumps would ignore their Drown in Sorrows and the like. Playing Goblin Rabblemaster is a necessity if you want to trick your opponents into making those sorts of sideboarding errors, but I was definitely not maximizing its potential.

Harbinger of the Tides Is Great

Over the course of the tournament, I had several Harbinger of the Tides blowouts. I ended up shaving a copy before the tournament because I didn’t expect many Stormbreath Dragons, and I only played against a single opponent with Stormbreath Dragon so my expectations were on-target. This is a card to keep your eye on going forward because in the right metagame it will be amazing. Harbinger of Tides is not just for Devotion decks.

Ojutai’s Command Is Gas

This was the most fun part of the deck. If they were able to sniff out Ojutai’s Command, it wasn’t like playing around a Dissolve. I could still cast it at the end of their turn for value or flash in something like a Harbinger of the Tides. Meanwhile, they weren’t doing much of anything with their turn. There was no good way around it.

A Disdainful Stroke was generally all I needed to beat Abzan Control. They are threat-light and Disdainful Stroke represents a huge tempo swing. When I was getting Thoughtseized, they often had to strip a threat from my hand, leaving the threat of Disdainful Stroke always looming.

Except for when they cast Den Protector. As it turned out, that happened a lot. Thankfully, Ojutai’s Command doesn’t care what the converted mana cost of your creature is! Without Ojutai’s Command in my deck, I would have gotten pummeled by Abzan Control.

Of course, Ojutai’s Command could have been even better…

The Card I Wish I Had

At this point, I own a bunch of Standard cards, so rather than look through Gatherer for every single Jeskai card to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I simply looked through my collection. Thanks to Cedric Phillips borrowing them and never returning them, I didn’t think of this gem:

That’s alright Cedric, I didn’t need to win the tournament anyway! [CEDitor’s Note: I apologize for nothing…]

I lost to Abzan Control twice, and although I beat it a few times as well, Hushwing Gryff would have made my life much easier. Additionally, since I was deliberately trying to hate on G/R Devotion, Hushwing Gryff would have been the perfect card there as well. Remember what I was saying in the Ojutai’s Command section? Well, Hushwing Gryffs play into that quite well, just like Harbinger of the Tides.

My Manabase Is Not Perfect

There’s a lot of tension in a deck trying to play Wild Slash, Soulfire Grand Master, and Harbinger of the Tides. I thought I could use all U/R duals and be fine, but there were multiple turns where I needed to cast multiple white spells in order to get ahead but couldn’t. Temple of Triumph into Harbinger of the Tides was also cringeworthy, but there was nothing else I could really do.

Either trim down on the mana requirements or figure out how to make the mana better.

I Need A Real Sideboard

Despite my sideboard containing a slew of powerful cards, my sideboard was probably the weakest part of my deck. I didn’t feel like I needed Mastery of the Unseen or anything like that, but I’m really not sure what I’d want instead.

My bigger control plan worked well in quite a few matchups, but it was lackluster more often than not. Part of it was because I didn’t know exactly how my opponents would sideboard either. Glare of Heresy was supposed to kill Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Siege Rhino, but Disdainful Stroke meant that I had a bunch of redundant answers to the same cards. When it came down to Courser of Kruphix and Den Protector, I didn’t have many good answers.

The counterspells didn’t interact with my Elspeths either. I was basically never in a spot where I could safely slam one, so they ended up getting looted away. I cannot stress how valuable having a bunch of flash threats was. A cheap threat usually substituted just fine, as I’d typically be able to leave open counterspell mana.

People usually expected my sweepers, so they did not perform very well. There are some matchups like Atarka Red and G/R Devotion where you might need them in order to beat their nut draws, but I could see playing without them entirely.

I strongly encourage you to experiment with the sideboard to find a configuration you like. Mine is passable, but you can do better.

If I Got To Do It Again

I would probably try something like this:

In short:

  • Dragonlord Ojutai might be good. I’m skeptical, but it’s definitely possible.
  • It might be worth playing zero copies of Goblin Rabblemaster and simply sticking to the flash theme. Without it, Stoke the Flames becomes much less attractive, although Stoke was always good for me in Chicago even after sideboarding out the Rabblemasters.
  • I could totally see a world in which we have four Ojutai’s Commands.
  • The manabase was not perfect and could use further tuning.
  • I’m still looking for a better sideboard, but this is closer to where I want to be. The Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities were the last cards I added to the sideboard, but only because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more. If you really want to hammer Abzan Control and G/R Devotion, a fourth Valorous Stance (or Roast) couldn’t hurt.

The Other Option

I tend to do a lot of brewing on planes, and my ride to Chicago did not disappoint. I came very close to registering this:

(At least, that’s what the decklist would have looked like had I remembered that Hushwing Gryff was a card.)

Instead of being a tempo-based burn deck, this version of Jeskai is mostly about jamming hard hitting threats like Archangel of Tithes. I was specifically interested in the Archangel of Tithes because of how devastating it is against Atarka Red, but the red decks I played against were definitely not Atarka Red.

Knight of the White Orchid is most appealing. When you’re looting away excess lands, your opponent will almost always surpass you in mana development, so having a body that also gives you a land is exactly what you want.

Some might say that the manabase isn’t doable, but that’s simply not true. With 23 lands that produce white mana, you actually have more white sources than last year’s Nightveil Specter decks had blue or black sources! That’s not even counting the fact that Knight of the White Orchid is pretty good at getting you additional white mana.

I’m not sure what the metagame would have to be in order to warrant playing a skies-based Jeskai deck, but I’m willing to try Archangel of Tithes regardless, even if it means the manabase gets even worse.

The Open Series returns to Richmond this weekend, and while I won’t be in attendance, I’m eagerly await seeing if Jeskai will put up good results. Mostly thanks to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, the archetype is still rock solid.