Why Jeskai Is A Bad Modern Deck

Sorry, Rosum and friends. Gerry is telling it like it is and he’s not sparing feelings in tearing down this overrated archetype! Sure, it’s fun to play, but the tournament trophy doesn’t care and neither does GerryT!

Jonathan Rosum would have you believe Jeskai Control is among the top decks
in Modern. He’s also demonstrably false.

Before we get started, there are two very important points y’all need to be
aware of.

1. I only care about The Truth.

That means I’m constantly searching for what’s important and what matters,
and that’s relevant to the metagame, deck matchups, and the format in
general. Those models are constantly being updated as decks become refined
and new information comes to light.

For the most part, I don’t care about tournament results. I care about
finding out what the true matchups are like. If both players are skilled
with their decks, understand the matchup, and have the tools they need, who
is favored and why? Any given tournament match won’t necessarily reflect

None of this is personal.

2. Modern is a wide open format with 20-60 viable decks,
depending on what you define as “viable.”

For me, viable means “Is this deck capable of winning the tournament?” In
that criteria, Jeskai Control counts as viable. It’s a good deck in a sea
of other good decks, and it’s absolutely capable of winning a tournament.

That said, if you’re looking for the absolute best chance of winning the
tournament, Jeskai isn’t what you should register.

Especially in a format like Modern, where people tend to own only one deck
and try to master it, people can get attached to their decks. Their decks
are more like children or pets than tools of 75 cards, and no one wants to
hear that their darling they’ve invested hundreds of hours into isn’t good

If you’re Jonathan Rosum, you might be happy with the attention you receive
as “The Jeskai Guy” and continually make the easy choice of registering the
deck people expect you to. People will make any excuse to justify their
decisions. You know how many times I’ve heard, “I think it’s good,” even
though you can tell they don’t mean it. They’ll claim they “don’t have the
cards” when they know they could just ask a friend. They’ll blame their
losses on luck to justify playing the same pet deck again and not feel bad
about it.

Try to be objective here and look at the facts.

Why Control Is Flawed In Modern

In theory, I’m willing to play whatever deck gives me the best chance to
win, but I probably have a reputation for being biased against control, at
least in Modern. The reason for that is because pure control isn’t viable
in Modern, and Jeskai Control is a prime example of that.

For control to exist, it needs to be good at stopping what its opponents
are doing, and in Modern’s case, it needs to be able to win the game
quickly. The control tools in Modern are lacking. There’s good spot
removal, but removal is at least semi-dead in 40% of your matchups. That
leads to Jeskai playing burn spells like Lightning Bolt and Lightning
Helix, which can be used to close out games.

Think about that. Your end game is so bad that your best plan is suddenly
get aggressive and deal twenty points of damage. If that’s your best plan,
it should be a huge red flag!

Burning them out is a plan, but it’s not a good one. Traditionally, control
decks win by burying their opponents in card advantage or by sticking a
threat that’s difficult to interact with. While Jeskai Control has access
to planeswalkers like Jace and Teferi, they aren’t unkillable. If you’re
behind, they’ll fall easily (and then so will you). Search for Azcanta is a
powerful option, but one that’s mana intensive.

These options don’t provide anything unique and only win games when other
cards would as well. If you’re stable enough to continually use Azcanta, is
that a game a planeswalker wouldn’t have won? Or a Baneslayer Angel? Or
Torrential Gearhulk? We already know how medium those cards are in Modern,
so why do we believe that Teferi or Search for Azcanta are suddenly that
much better?

Cards like Cryptic Command, Jace, and Teferi are powerful cards, but
there’s a high barrier to entry for a four-mana card in Modern. There’s a
reason Jace and Bloodbraid Elf aren’t dominating the format — For four
mana, it better win you the game, and while both may inevitably do that,
you don’t necessarily get enough time.

Additionally, these blue control cards don’t work particularly well with
the burn plan, except for Snapcaster Mage clearly being the bridge between
the two. You don’t have enough countermagic or answers to deal with your
opponent’s threats (unless all they have are creatures), so the lategame
cards tend to be poor in general. You end up on the burn plan a significant
amount of the time, but Jeskai isn’t even built to maximize that.

Further problems exist also, such as there being a lack of options for
velocity. Some of the Jeskai decks out there are starting to play Think
Twice to fill that gap, something that Rosum outright refuses to do because
of how bad the card is compared to the rest of Modern. Even he has limits.

Playing multiple cantrips isn’t something Jeskai can really afford to do.
Between the necessity for shocklands, Celestial Colonnade, and Field of
Ruin, plus the fact that you need to spend your mana in the early turns
removing threats, you don’t have the luxury to sit around and cast Opts and
Serum Visions all day.

Not having velocity means you’re removing a certain amount of consistency
from your deck. It also means there will be several turns in the early game
where you’re doing nothing with your mana. Control needs to be sculpting
its hand and furthering its gameplan in those windows that it gets, not
holding onto a fistful of Lightning Bolts, hoping their opponent either
cooperates by playing things that will die to it or hoping they will
eventually have enough burn to kill their opponents.

But, Gerry, aren’t midrange decks like Mardu Pyromancer also flawed in
the same way?”

As resident Mardu Guy, I should probably address that question. I’m fully
aware that “Thoughtseize into threat” isn’t a great plan, but it’s better
than being a hard control deck. “Counter or kill all of your threats and
win eventually” isn’t a good plan because of how difficult it is to
actually accomplish when the Modern metagame is going to come at you from
so many different angles. Midrange has a reasonable clock, so you can win
the game before your opponent puts their plan into motion. Discard is more
proactive than countermagic, so if you’re winning the game in a reasonable
time frame, the downside of being a poor topdeck is mitigated.

If you want to beat up on creature decks (and some combo decks), Mardu is a
great choice. Your manabase is relatively painless, your mana curve is low,
your Humans matchup is phenomenal (whereas Jeskai’s is merely positive),
and you have a clear, concise end game.

Jeskai, as a control deck, has issues. There are several cards that don’t
line up well against the format. It’s lacking in power level, so you won’t
get any free wins. Your end game plan is flimsy at best.

It’s a flawed archetype.

The Ham Sandwich Theory

Jonathan Rosum is currently third on the SCG Tour leaderboard, is a scant
19 years old, and has a bright future ahead of him in whatever he chooses
to do.

He could register for a tournament with a ham sandwich and do pretty well.
Jeskai Control isn’t quite a ham sandwich, but it’s close.

If you’re one of the best players in a tournament, you will get extra
equity over the course of the day from your opponents making mistakes,
whether they be from deckbuilding, mulliganning, sideboarding, or in game
play. There’s a lot of rope out there for people to hang themselves with.

Sometimes people are masters with their favorite archetypes, or in Rosum’s
case, masters in general. He and Ben Nikolich (who is second on the
leaderboard) perform so much better with Jeskai than anyone else, similarly
to Caleb Scherer and Paul Muller on Storm. Yet, no one is trying to claim
that Storm is the best deck, just that Caleb and Paul are very good at
playing Storm.

For some reason, Rosum and Nikolich perform well with Jeskai and people
want to emulate that. Some may even have success.

None of that changes that Jeskai is a bad deck.

The Truth

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about what this is actually
about — The Truth.

Again — I don’t care about tournament results. I care about finding out
what the true matchups are like. If both players are skilled with their
decks, understand the matchup, and have the tools they need, who is favored
and why?

If The Truth had Jeskai Control sitting around a 45% win rate, you probably
wouldn’t register that for a tournament based on those numbers. However, if
you’re Rosum, your win percentage playing Jeskai against a random person
probably jumps 10-15%. At that point, Jeskai starts looking like a
reasonable choice, but it’s a trap. You can find a better deck.

The information that I don’t care about is who won a match between Jeskai
and a random deck, when Rosum would win both sides of the matchup. In
tournaments, that’s happened many times over the course of the last year,
and while people would use that an argument to prop up Jeskai, ultimately
it means nothing.

Your win rates in tournaments don’t tell the whole story, which is why I
try to find The Truth.

So, what is The Truth?

Out of the most popular decks in Modern, I would say that Jeskai has
approximately seven good matchups:

Some of these, like Jund with Bloodbraid Elf and Humans with Militia
Bugler, are closer than I’d like. Spirits has more play to it than Humans,
which means you get more of a chance to outplay your Jeskai opponent.
Affinity and Burn can both get under you, especially consider the arms race
Jeskai entered into with the other control or midrange decks in the format
by adding slow cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to their decklists.

Let’s look at the bad matchups:

Some of these matchups, like Mardu Pyromancer, are close, but I’d still
label them as unfavorable. Other decks, like Storm, Ironworks, Scapeshift,
Mono-Green Tron, and the graveyard decks, are matchups where Jeskai simply
does not have the tools to compete. Lightning Helix is an embarrassing card
against many of the decks in Modern.

If you wanted the same skew of good and bad matchups, or even have better
matchups, you could play Mardu Pyromancer. Jeskai, as a deck, might not be
strictly worse than Mardu, but its matchups across the board are just much
worse. You should never play a bad version of something else.

There are some people who might look at that list of bad matchups and take
it as a challenge. “If I do well, think about how smart I’ll look.” I’ve
known many people over the years, including myself and Cedric Phillips, who
would subconsciously use that as an excuse to justify countless poor
decisions. Use all the excuses you want, but you don’t get extra match
points for starting with a handicap. Not only are you handicapping
yourself, but you’re also being delusional if you think playing Jeskai
gives you the best shot at winning a tournament. You may like the deck and
you may enjoy playing it, but you’re lying to yourself if you think it’s
the best deck in Modern.

Yes, with Jeskai Control, you have a chance against every deck in the
format, but then again, so would any other deck you choose to register. By
virtue of having answers and the Jeskai pilots being those who are
particularly skilled in the archetype, you often see Jeskai overperform on
the SCG Tour.

What people actually want is the feeling they have while playing Jeskai;
they have answers for everything, their destiny is in their own hands, and
they’re the ones in control.

It’s a powerful feeling and one that can potentially be intoxicating. You
remember those 30-minute games where you couldn’t lose, but quickly forget
the games and matches where you drew all expensive cards and get run over
or couldn’t find your fourth land in time. The human brain is a tricky
thing, so you must set aside your feelings and emotions and look at The

Most tournaments have top-heavy payouts. Jeskai is a deck you can navigate
to a Top 8 finish with a 12-3 regularity on the SCG Tour, but after doing
all that work, do you really want to have a poor shot of winning the
tournament? The players in the Top 8 have demonstrated at least some
understanding of Modern and their choice of deck. Inevitably, you’ll be
paired against someone who knows how to exploit your weaknesses.

Jeskai is among the easiest decks in Modern to dismantle. I distinctly
remember watching a game where Jonathan Rosum, playing Humans, absolutely
dismantled a Jeskai Control player on camera, which is a good example of
what I’m talking about.

  • Does Jeskai win matches? Yes.
  • Does Jeskai often win tournaments, despite being a consistent
    performer? No.
  • Does Jeskai have a bunch of nearly unwinnable matchups? Yes.
  • Is Jeskai strategically flawed? Yes.

Jeskai’s matchup spread isn’t particularly impressive, the deck itself has
notable flaws, and control isn’t an optimal strategy in Modern. You could
register Jeskai Control in your next Modern tournament, but in terms of
giving yourself the highest equity, you’d be making a mistake.

If you have another reason to register Jeskai, that’s fine with me, but
please don’t lie to me. Most importantly, don’t lie to yourself.