Jeskai Black is a state of mind.
Jeskai Black is synergy.
Jeskai Black is excellence.
Jeskai Black is love.
Jeskai Black is life.
Jeskai Black is the twinkle in the eye of the child cracking a booster pack for the first time.
Jeskai Black is a collection of buzzwords. Buzz-words. We are playing Mantis Rider after all.
Jeskai Black is a good deck in Standard.
Isn’t it great when a deck you enjoy playing is well-positioned? When the part of my brain that says “Play the best deck!” and the part that says “Just
play Jeskai Black!” are in alignment, magical things happen.
Officially I play to win, and will pick up the deck I feel will help me do that. Unofficially I just pick up a Jeskai Black deck and hope it’s good.
Is Jeskai Black the best deck in Standard right now? Probably not. If there is a dominant deck, it’s Abzan Aggro, which has been a huge chunk of the
metagame and closing out tournaments. But the most played deck isn’t always the best deck. Jeskai Black has certainly been on the short list of decks to
beat at the top of the metagame.
Today I’ll share everything I know about the deck as it exists in Standard, which will hopefully give you everything you need to know to become a Jeskai
Black Master. To float like a Mantis and sting like a 3/3. To channel the will of the warrior.
So what makes Jeskai Black tick?
Jeskai Black’s Strengths
. Jeskai Black can play many roles, it can play as an aggro deck or full on control. The cards give you many options. The many different
modes on Kolaghan’s Command and Ojutai’s Command and the fact that many of your cards are instants will lead you to making many decisions in a game.
Decisions are good in the hands of a skilled player.
It Can Be Proactive
. You can curve out into Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; Mantis Rider; and even Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It’s rare you get the “Oops, I win” curve
with Jeskai Black, but it certainly does have the potential since it plays some of the most efficient and powerful creatures. Casting a bunch of Mantis
Riders in a row will end games.
Although Jeskai Black will usually not close games out in the early turns, you can put your opponent on the backfoot, which makes it easier to gain value
in the midgame.
. Many of the cards have two-for-one baked right into them. There is plenty of disruption backed up with card draw, which is ideal in a
long drawn battle of attrition. Jeskai Black can knock out opponents’ important resources while at the same time refilling its own hand and rebuying useful
spells and creatures.
. Jeskai Black almost reminds me of Jund decks in its playstyle and customizable parts. Jeskai Black has access to cards
good against opposite ends of the metagame, like Duress and Fiery Impulse, which means you can mold your deck to be good based on what you expect the
metagame to look like.
It is also very resilient in a shifting landscape and able to adapt better than other decks since it has access to so many cards. The absolute best
metagame choice might vary from week to week, but Jeskai Black is always going to be a good option if it’s built correctly.
- 1 Dragonmaster Outcast
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 2 Soulfire Grand Master
- 3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
The Pantheon’s list that put Owen Turtenwald and Jon Finkel in the Top 8 of #PTBFZ was the start of Jeskai Black’s rise to the top. Their list was very
solid, and as such, most current decks are based on it and not much has dramatically changed.
Todd Anderson has moved away from running Mantis Rider at all, which makes a decent amount of sense because Mantis Rider doesn’t actually fit that well
with the controlling theme of most of the deck. It’s just a powerful card.
Deploying an early Mantis Rider is rarely a game ender and often only a nuisance to the opponent. But it is still a card that must be answered, and is
rarely answered as easily as it is to just cast it. It’s a very low opportunity cost to play with such a powerful card when you’re running the mana to
Mantis Rider pressures life totals and planeswalkers while making your opponent invest mana into dealing with it. Incidental damage from opponents’
fetchlands, Crackling Doom, and Mantis Rider hits add up, and it is a nice option to rebuy with Kolaghan’s Command in the lategame.
If you’re cutting that part of the creature package, why not go one step further down the control path and play Esper Control? Esper Control does seem
well-positioned at the moment.
Josh Utter-Leyton’s Super League Championship list also eschews Mantis Rider, instead abusing Monastery Mentor the full amount with Magmatic Insight and
delve spells that can potentially cost one mana. Monastery Mentor is ridiculously powerful, and the deck is capable of drawing a ton of cards.
Here is my current list that I’m running in the Super League Championship Playoffs. It was built to be better against control decks, Rally the Ancestors
decks, and Eldrazi Ramp decks, and is less dedicated to beating Abzan Aggro and Atarka Red.
Soulfire Grand Master is a card I’m pretty lukewarm about right now. It’s reasonable but lacks a punch.
You have mana sinks in the form of Tasigur, the Golden Fang for the lategame, and the 2/2 body is just very underwhelming. It’s a nice target for the
Commands, but you already have good targets. Dragonmaster Outcast is going to do nothing or win you the game outright, so it’s nice to have at least one to
find and rebuy, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is useful at every stage of the game. Soulfire Grand Master seems fairly poor against the combo, ramp, and control
decks, which makes me more inclined to bench it in the current metagame.
How you order your lands in the earlygame and which lands you search for with fetchlands is very important for the deck to function. I’ll go over some
common starts based on which land you want to fetch for or play in the early turns.
This is a very common and powerful start since all your fetchlands find Sunken Hollow. It allows you to cast Mantis Rider or Crackling Doom on turn 3 as
well as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Fiery Impulse on turn 2.
Think through your turns and what you are likely playing the next turns. Use fetchlands wisely. For example, if you want to search up Sunken Hollow turn 1
and can do so by playing either Flooded Strand or Polluted Delta, consider what other colors of mana you’ll need the following turns. Flooded Strand can
search for a Plains, but Polluted Delta can find any color you might need thanks to Prairie Stream and Smoldering Marsh, but entering the battlefield
tapped is a steep price to pay in the earlygame.
Once you have four lands, you should be able to cast all your spells and then it becomes a matter of worrying about casting multiple spells in a turn. Make
sure you have enough lands to fetch for in the lategame, it’s often right to discard fetchlands over basic lands to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the lategame
when you don’t need them to help fill up your graveyard that extra amount.
Jeskai Black is the deck that makes the best use of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Standard.
A Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy on three loyalty can -3 on Kolaghan’s Command or Ojutai’s Command, go to the graveyard, and then be returned to the battlefield or
your hand, ready to start looting and rebuying spells the next turn. In the Magic business, we call that value.
Think before you loot. What do you want to discard? What do you want to draw? Is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy going to flip? Do you want Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to
flip or is he more useful looting next turn? (This applies usually when you have lots of lands in hand.) Can you delve beforehand to make him not flip? Can
you play spells beforehand to make him flip? Are you plussing or minusing him once he flips? Should you be blocking and then flipping him mid combat when
your opponent attacks? Are you delving after he flips? Can your opponent put more cards in your graveyard in response to your loot and make you
Tasigur, the Golden Fang is nice because it affects the board immediately, is a win condition, scales in the lategame, and offers the chance to gain lots
of card advantage. Dig Through Time is still Dig Through Time. Five seems to be the generally accepted number of delve spells for Jeskai Black to run.
Sideboarding and Matchups
There are a lot of different directions you can take during sideboarding. Decks are fluid in this format and there are often plenty of surprises your
opponents will throw at you. My latest sideboard has fourteen different cards in it so there can be a lot of variation. I’ll just provide a rough sketch
for you to work off of. You need to adapt based on what cards you see and what your opponent is doing. I’ll use my most recent list for a guide, but don’t
be afraid to swap cards as you see fit and experiment.
VS Abzan Aggro
Dealing with high cost threats and planeswalkers is key. It’s a difficult balancing act to try and get value while not being crushed by efficient beaters.
It also seems reasonable to just side out Mantis Rider entirely on the draw and become a full on control deck.
VS Jeskai Black
It’s hard to get punished for just jamming your creatures in the earlygame. Value is the name of the game, so just try and play out all your cards as
efficiently as possible and get one of your creatures to stick while dealing with theirs.
VS Atarka Red
VS Eldrazi Ramp
It’s difficult to present a fast enough clock to race their big rampy fellows, but it’s also not that unrealistic to actually deal with their all the
threats they draw.
Infinite Obliteration would be nice here, but Cranial Extraction effects have always underperformed for me, unless they’re specifically there to be cast
and immediately win the game. What other cards or decks do you want this against? Rally the Ancestors? Deathmist Raptor? The mirror? Double black is also a
minor issue, but recasting Infinite Obliteration with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy would be nice.
Hallowed Moonlight is a little bit overkill unless you know you’re going to face a bunch of Rally the Ancestors decks. Jeskai Black is naturally decent
here since you have good pressure and ways to counter their namesake card.
VS Esper Control
This is your nightmare matchup since they are able to beat you in the card advantage game while neutralizing your threats. The best way to sneak through
wins is pressure them fast and early and make them have the right answers. After sideboard, you can actually compete in the long game by aggressively
countering and discarding their planeswalkers and card draw.
VS Esper Dragons
Crackling Doom does a lot of work here, but Esper Dragons can still pull ahead in the lategame if you can’t stick a threat. Make sure to not give them
infinite time to chain Dig Through Time by dropping a steady stream of threats. Just make sure you have an answer for their Dragons if you’re going to tap
Fade to Black
There you have it. Jeskai Black is a deck full of excitement, color, and even fireworks despite its dark name and nature. Hopefully I’ve provided some
insights for those interested in taking it for a spin and crushing their next Standard tournament. It’s a difficult deck to master so remember to get
plenty of practice in and maintain focus while you play.
Mantis riders know their mounts owe them no allegiance. Even a mantis ridden for years would consume a rider who loses focus for only a moment.