Optimizing And Opposing Jeskai Saheeli

Some of the field at SCG Columbus will be all about going infinite with Saheeli Rai! Others are going to be focused on dodging the bullet all tournament long! Shaun McLaren has some great advice for players on both sides of the Cat Beast battle!

Standard is about to get Saheeli.

Really Saheeli.

Saheeli Rai got tired of waiting for someone to put her in a deck. Then she gave up and got a crazy amount of Cats. Now the Cat Lady has never looked better.

I’ve already accidentally called it a Yak, a Goat, a Llama, a Gnu, and a Platypus… but Felidar Guardian is actually just a Cat Beast, and a Beast of a Cat.

You can try to ignore it, you can try to deny it, but the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo is coming, and it’s going to have a massive impact on Standard.

As a Jeskai Mage and occasional Splinter Twinner, I’m not unhappy. Jeskai is back on top!

Looking at the health of the format, I’m concerned.

Today, though, we’re just going to focus on the potential of Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian and what decks and cards have a shot at taking it down.

Okay, now imagine this scenario:

Turn 3: On the play, you cast Saheeli Rai and use her +1 ability.

Opponent’s turn 3: They tap out for almost anything. Let’s say Tireless Tracker, which is usually a great card.

Turn 4: You cast Felidar Guardian and target Saheeli Rai with the enters-the-battlefield ability. Saheeli blinks and then uses its -2 ability to copy the Guardian. The new Guardian blinks out Saheeli Rai again to repeat the process and summon a new Cat Beast each time. Finally, you toss an arbitrarily large amount of artifact creature Felidar Guardian tokens that have haste at your opponent to win the game.

Remember, this was turn 4. In Standard.

“Remember me?”

What about this one:

Opponent’s Turn 5: Your opponent taps out for a Ishkanah, Grafwidow and spawns her Spider babies while still at a pristine twenty life. You have nothing on the battlefield. Spider Momma resolves and your opponent confidently passes the turn.

Turn 6: You play a sixth land and cast Felidar Guardian for four mana. You blink a land to untap it. You tap your remaining three mana for Saheeli Rai and litter the battlefield with kittens!

Felidar Guardian blinks its target immediately, can blink any other permanent you control, and, most lethally, can blink other versions of itself.

The Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo is going to warp Standard. Plays, cards, and even decks that were previously reasonable will likely no longer be viable at all.

You can just win on turn 4 by curving into a three- and four-drop. You can also win with no nonland permanents on the battlefield with just two cards and six mana. Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian forces decks to either play with the combo, have very specific and dedicated answers to it in their deck, or both.

The existence of the combo forces your opponent to constantly live in fear of just losing on the spot.

My suspicion is that Wizards of the Coast wasn’t aware of this particular combo during their testing. I would think that having a combo like this in Standard would be avoided. I thought Wizards policy on this type of combo was clear. Splinter Twin is banned in Modern, for crying out loud.

“I didn’t do anything wrong.”

I think it’s also much scarier if they intentionally let this combo into Standard instead of just making a mistake in noticing it. Keep in mind that missing a combination of cards is much easier than it seems. Once you are aware of something, it seems completely obvious, but often the difficulty is ever having something enter your awareness in the first place.

If my suspicions are correct on the power of the combo, it also makes the recent bans that much more confusing. Why ban the peashooters right before you’re releasing an atomic bomb?

At least that’s my opinion. It is still “Week 0” of Standard. #SCGCOL will certainly give us a much more accurate picture of the format, and I certainly recommend you head to #SCGCOL ready to conquer some Cats.

One of the biggest strengths of the deck is that Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian are far from being embarrassing cards on their own.

Both can easily be played without the other for a card worth of value by blinking or copying something as simple as Prophetic Prism; afterward, they are still sitting on the battlefield, threatening to win the game on the spot unless dealt with.

The comparison to Splinter Twin is interesting because Splinter Twin would often get two-for-one’d when you tried to combo off on Deceiver Exarch. One removal spell would destroy both cards at once, whereas with Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian, you’ll often net a card or two worth of value before you even initiate the process, and then after a disruption spell, you’re probably still left with one half of the combo on the battlefield to threaten another attempt later on. This is powerful, almost frighteningly so. Deceiver Exarch of course had flash, which plays very well in a combo deck, and the Splinter Twin combo only required Izzet colors, but other than that, Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian seems to be superior.

This is a basic list that just runs a bunch of good Jeskai cards that play well with the combo.

One of the interesting things about Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian is that Jeskai already has access to plenty of the cards you want to be playing in the deck already.

For example, Anticipate fits in the deck very well. It increases your chances of comboing off in the early-game and gives you something to do on your opponent’s end step.

One of the most important things in this format will be doing things at instant speed. Any sorcery, planeswalker, or large creature is going to lose a lot of value, since you risk tapping out and losing. Not unplayable, but certainly risky once you start costing three, four, or more mana.

Oath of Jace is great with Felidar Guardian and one of the best blink targets if you’re looking for value, but otherwise it’s not especially impressive, since it costs three mana at sorcery speed.

Torrential Gearhulk is also a great backup game plan itself and also an excellent blink target for Felidar Guardian.

Negate, and powerful two-drops in general, go up in value, since you want to be curving out into your combo whenever possible on turns 3 and 4. Negate is especially nice at protecting your combo in the late-game or snagging an opposing Saheeli Rai on turn 2 if your opponent is on the play.

Here’s a good start if you’re looking to update Aetherworks Marvel.

Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian are already natural fits in the deck, since blinking (or copying and sacrificing) a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot or Rogue Refiner seems like a decent way to fuel an Aetherworks Marvel.

Both Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian can effectively reset Aetherworks Marvel as well, and if you have enough energy, you can keep chaining them until you can combo off.

Oath of Nissa is an excellent fit with Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, since it finds both halves of the combo and is a great blink target, but Oath of Jace works much better to get rid of extra Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungers. All the Oaths deserve a second look when Felidar Guardian is involved.


Let’s take a look at everything that we can do to prevent the combo to see what sorts of cards exist to fight back against the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo.


Whenever anyone tries to combo with Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian, they will have a Saheeli Rai that will drop down to one loyalty. This is your chance. If you can do one damage to your opponent and redirect that damage to Saheeli, you’ll disrupt the combo.

Shock is heralded as one of the best answers to combo, and it is when your opponent is trying to combo, but it doesn’t even deal with either half of the combo on its own!

Another issue with having answers to the combo is that you’re still on the backfoot, being reactive and hoping your opponent messes up. They are in the driver’s seat.

Sure, you might be able to keep up Shock for the entirety of a game, but a savvy opponent might not even go for the combo if they suspect you have Shock. They can freely play out their Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardians and not even have to combo off!

Saheeli Rai isn’t exactly an all-star, but she will win the game if left unchecked.


Not all removal will do the trick. You’re probably going to need it to be instant-speed and it has to kill a 1/4 or a planeswalker. This narrows your options.

Hero’s Downfall, for example, would be excellent, but Ruinous Path suffers a little because they can combo on six mana in one fell swoop.

Unlicensed Disintegration and To the Slaughter capable of hitting both halves of the combo at once and are a little more appealing because of it.

Fatal Push with Revolt enabled and Harnessed Lighting with an extra energy also kill Felidar Guardian. Interestingly enough, Grasp of Darkness is probably going to stay the best removal in black, because Fatal Push is a little unreliable here.


Holding up a counterspell to stop the combo can work, but giving them time to set up without pressuring their life total can lead to a situation where they can play around you. That means you’ll have to make better use of your opponent’s end step if you plan on winning with a wall of counters.

Be aware of situational counters that can only stop one half of the combo. Ideally you’ll want ones that can counter both halves.


Taking a proactive approach allows you to strip combo pieces from their hand and inform you if it’s safe to tap out. Just beware of them topdecking the missing piece.


Ideally you’ll want both an instant-speed answer and a permanent answer that is sitting on the battlefield, disrupting the combo passively. This setup up of having two different answers makes it difficult for the opponent to ever be able to play around you.

All of the cards above have potential to see more play now than they did before, solely because they interact well against Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian.

Beware relying too much on creatures, though. You may find that your Thalia, Heretic Cathar or Walking Ballista simply dies to Shock and your opponent combos off anyway. This makes creatures risky and somewhat weak, but still potentially an essential part of a balanced breakfast.

Next, let’s take a look at some cards that have seen play but can’t stop the combo, and cards that might get pushed out of the format for being too slow.

Artifact removal:A smart opponent will never target a copied artifact Felidar Guardian and would target the original instead).

Eldrazi Displacer: Blinking Felicar Guardian just allows for the combo to continue.

Ishkanah, Grafwidow: Too slow for the format now. Maybe just a sideboard card against aggro.

Drowner of Hope: Tapping doesn’t disrupt anything.

Collective Brutality: Can only force the discard of instants and sorceries.

Deadlock Trap: No window to interrupt the combo, and if they have the Saheeli out already and you Trap it during their upkeep, they can just cast Guardian to blink it and go off.

Reflector Mage: Not good against a deck that can win instantly and will want blink effects anyway… hmm, banned to shreds, you say?

Emrakul, the Promised End: A little slow and Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian don’t do a great job at disrupting themselves during your Mindslaver turn… What’s that? Emrakul’s banned too? Never mind.

The way I see it, there are two main strategies that have a good chance at crushing Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo decks: Hard Aggro and Hard Control.

The best way to beat Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian might just be to provide enough pressure to kill Saheeli Rai immediately and then also have answers to the combo on turn 6 as well.

Heart of Kiran is great at pressuring an early Saheeli Rai. Even though you’ll need answers to the combo specifically, you’ll also need to put on effective pressure.

This is essentially Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian without the combo and with more ways to disrupt the combo and draw cards.

Torrential Gearhulk is fairly slow and not technically an answer to the combo by itself, but it might just secretly be the best way to disrupt it in the late-game. Cast Torrential Gearhulk, kill Felidar Guardian with a free spell, attack Saheeli Rai, and you have a 5/6.

Control also gets some of the best cards from Aether Revolt, was helped a great deal by the bans, and might just easily be the dominant archetype if Standard if it can beat up Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian.

U/B Control got a bunch of new tools as well in Fatal Push, Disallow, Yahenni’s Expertise, and more. You also could play Grixis to take advantage of Shock.

What do you think will happen at #SCGCOL? Which version of Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo is best? How many copies of Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo will Top 8? Will Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian fail to live up to the hype as another deck takes the metagame by storm?