Playing Legacy In Standard

Mark Nestico is a big fan of playing decks that are just on another level when presented with the opportunity, and today he explores his top choice for the Season Three Invitational as the basic strengths of the U/R Sphinx’s Tutelage deck expands wonderfully into an aggro Jeskai shell.

Last week you read about Hangarback Walker, and this week you are unrepentantly sick of hearing about Abzan Aggro. Shoot – I don’t blame you! I even wrote about it, so it’s not your fault that you’re tired of reading about the best creature in Standard. When something gets shoved down your throat enough times, eventually you’re going to hate the way it tastes.

And then I saw this:

Gerard Fabiano was getting ghetto stomped on the Magic stream by Wrapter and a delightful Jeskai deck that seemed to be a freight train. Once it got rolling, it was savage and unforgiving. It attacked from multiple aggressive angles, but also a pseudo-combo way as well. It played a bevy of spells that generated rapid Treasure Cruises, tons of tokens from Monastery Mentor, and answers to Hangarback in the form of Jeskai Charm… which is coincidentally great against other aggressive decks.

Okay… so we have a winner!

Monastery Mentor is a card that has always been poised for some kind of breakout performance in Standard. It felt like it was just a matter of time before this powerful role-player became a centerpiece. All that was required was some talented deckbuilding and the proper storm of a metagame that would allow it to shine.

With Abzan Aggro and G/W Megamorph at the forefront, Hero’s Downfall and Abzan Charm not being immediate four-ofs and other decks failing to pack a bevy of removal, Mentor in a deck filled with one-mana spells is allowed to go off and close out games at alarming speeds.

This past Friday, Gerard mentioned it a bit during his article outlining the Sultai Control deck he battled with during the Standard Super League – the one where he was defeated by Josh Utter-Leyton wielding Jeskai – and how he thought it’s a strong deck. Having watched the match and how well it played out, I was inclined to agree and I set out to build it.

Initial games with it at certain points, and this will probably sound like hyperbole, felt like battling with a Legacy deck. I made some modifications to better fit the decks I expected to play against: more Hangarback Walkers with a splattering of control decks, but mostly aggro and midrange.

This is what I came up with:

When I say this deck hums, I mean it sings like Mariah Carey hitting those sweet G-notes.

Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to try the Gods Willing Gerard had mentioned because it seems very natural in this deck due to both Prowess and need to protect your Mentors. That meant cutting the single Dig Through Time mostly because of how quickly this deck fills the graveyard and allocates that resource to casting Treasure Cruise for massive turns. Cutting a Wild Slash might seem counter-intuitive to wanting homerun turns that are created by casting multiple one-mana spells per turn, but the deck needs a little more removal against things like opposing Mantis Riders or Deathmist Raptor.

In the sideboard I opted to cut the Sphinx’s Tutelage because I wanted a little more diversity for control matches. The extra Disdainful Stroke and Elspeths add an extra dimension in multiple matchups as opposed to just say Esper Dragons or U/B Control. Hallowed Moonlight was because I fully expected a small resurgence of Abzan Rally, and judging by the results of the Standard Premier IQ in Charlotte I was correct.

Narset, Enlightened Master might be ridiculous, but for some reason I really like this card’s position right now. In a deck with an insane amount of card draw and powerful spells, an attacking Narset could gain you massive advantages in the form of removal and refueling. Her first strike and hexproof alongside spells like Valorous Stance and Jesaki Charm should be enough to keep her safe. I haven’t got a chance to attack with her yet, but I’m going to test her out more this week on behalf of some friends attending the Season Three Invitational this weekend.

Let’s examine the moving pieces of this deck:

With a multitude of green decks running around, Mantis Rider is in a very good spot right now. It’s probably the only card that doesn’t have a direct synergy with the deck, but it is so powerful that not playing it in this phase of the metagame hardly seems right.

Abbot of Keral Keep is gratuitously strong as a turn two play or as a turn ten play. Early in the game, it makes for a fantastic attacker… and later on, if it doesn’t flip a land it will almost always be a spell you can cast to gain even more value. A common mistake players make is not utilizing it at the proper phases of the game. If you willfully keep a two-lander, however, it’s probably wiser to play him on three to help ensure you hit your land drops. Seeker of the Way is another threat that benefits from all of the spells you can cast at once, although after playing the deck quite a bit it was the card I was impressed with the least.

In terms of creatures, the alpha and the omega is going to be Monastery Mentor.

On turn four, I cast it with Gods Willing backup. The attempted removal spell was countered by Gods Willing. I untapped, cast Insight into Insight into Treasure Cruise, delving away my graveyard. At that point I had a full grip, a ton of power on the table, and winning was elementary. It was no-nonsense, brutal, and efficient. All of this was possible because of the inherent synergies the deck has with Mentor.

As was made evident by Michael Majors victory at Grand Prix San Diego two weeks ago, the combination of Magmatic Insight and Treasure Cruise is absolutely incredible. Providing two fresh cards for the cost of a superfluous land and one red mana while filling your graveyard is like peanut butter and chocolate. They complement each other by giving you a massive amount of consistency, redundancy, and fuel. The only games I lost with this deck was where I flooded out, but it was almost never because I didn’t draw plenty of cards along the way.

These cards should be used in conjunction with your other enablers, as you’ll want to extract more from them than simply sculpting your hand. I typically would wait until I could have a blockbuster turn with Monastery Mentor to unload, and with all the mana efficiency these two cards present, going off and creating a gigantic and imposing board is easy once you get the hang of it.

The rest of your spells are fairly self-explanatory. Wild Slash is efficient removal and is in the flow portion of its existence rather than the ebb, where it’s very solid against a large portion of the format. Valorous Stance kills Siege Rhino and Dragonlord Atarka, but also importantly saves your creatures from removal.

Jeskai Charm has multiple purposes and is another piece to why this deck is in a great spot right now. The pump mode is a great finisher when you have a lot of tokens on the battlefield or if you’re in a pickle and need life quickly. If your start is aggressive enough, that four damage can close out games rather efficiently. Lastly, the Memory Lapse mode is fantastic against the heavy influx of Hangarback Walkers in the format along with those still clinging to Ensoul Artifact.

There is still a lot of innovation to be had with this deck, so it’s possible that this incarnation is only the start of a yet-to-be-explored archetype. I know that I’ll be working on it extensively this week.

With the unstable and unpredictable nature of Standard at the moment, I like decks like this that can handle most of what the format is capable of throwing at it. It’s powerful, proactive, and consistent. That’s where I want to be when dealing with such a volatile state of affairs.

My belief going forward until Battle for Zendikar is your most prolific concern should be finding a deck that does powerful things consistently but one that isn’t on an abundance of radars – like G/R Devotion for instance. Having a surprise factor and also being proactive will be a key to success.

Good luck to everyone playing this weekend at the Season Three Invitational. I’ll be keeping close tabs watching the coverage at home, and I hope to see some Jeskai Mentor at the top tables.