As promised, today we’re going to talk about Jeskai Control in Modern. This
is the deck that I’ve almost exclusively played in 2018, and to some pretty
decent results if I say so myself. In total I’ve went 37-15 with it over
the course of five individual events which totals a 71% win percentage.
That’s amazing when you consider this to be the format I struggle the most
with. Oddly enough though there’s a large group out there that thinks this
deck isn’t up to snuff, and I’m not really sure why. Today we’re going to
try to get to the bottom of this, as well as go over the sideboard plans I
used this past weekend at the StarCityGames Invitational!
I started playing Jeskai Control after Dominaria came out. I had a
MOCS playoff coming up, and I was rigorously testing in preparation for the
event. I decided to give control a shot after I saw an interesting UW
Control deck playing one copy of the mighty Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
alongside three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In my first match I
found myself in a “mirror match” against Jeskai Control. I strategically
positioned myself to resolve Jace, and felt pretty good about it. Then my
opponent played Teferi, and -3’d on my Jace. I snap conceded the match and
started exploring Jeskai Control.
I didn’t even need to finish the first match in my first league. I knew
right then and right there that Jeskai Control was where it was at. Teferi
was going to change the game, and I wanted to be apart of it. Now I wasn’t
big on control before this so I had to do some research. I started looking
up decklists from Magic Online and discovered this one.
The deck looked great, but I wasn’t even close to knowing what to actually
do with it. I researched SCG Tour results and noticed that Benjamin
Nikolich seemed to do very well with the strategy so I reached out to see
if I could get some help with the strategy. Lo and behold he was ValueCity!
He was also kind enough to help me out with a list and sideboard guide. I
used it to go 6-2 in the MOCS playoff, and I quickly learned that Ben knew
what he was talking about. From then on I’ve worked closely with him and
his Lotus Box teammate Jonathan Rosum. In fact, the two of them helped
Corey Baumeister and I this past weekend in Modern, and we helped them in
Standard. A match made in heaven!
Just like I said in last week’s
“What We’d Play,”
I’m under the impression that people dislike Jeskai Control due to not
having access to their own Benjamin Nikolich or Jonathan Rosum. That’s the
only thing that makes sense to me anyway. I have a direct line to both of
them which means I’ll always have a great list of Jeskai Control and the
sideboard notes to go with them. Seriously, their advice has turned me from
someone who was lost in Modern into a
Put a $550.00 price tag on me, because I’m now chock full of Modern value!
Luckily for you though, these two Lotus Box teammates have given me
permission to bestow their wisdom onto you. That’s right: I get to give
away the precious sideboard guide that I used to not only top 8 #SCGBALT
but also finish the Modern portion of the Invitational with a 6-2 record!
You might think this hyping up of these two Jeskai masters is a little
ridiculous, but I’m being 100% genuine here. At this point I’m a Magic
old-timer so seeing the next generation come into their own has been a very
enjoyable experience for me. These two carry themselves very well for how
young they are, and I anticipate both of them to have long and healthy
Magic careers. I’ve enjoyed working with them immensely, and look forward
to continuing to do so into 2019.
As for the hyping up of Jeskai Control, I don’t really understand what all
the fuss is about. People keep saying Jeskai Control is a bad deck, but I
keep playing against Humans, Bant Spirits, Ironworks, Hardened Scales, and
other good matchups. Rarely do I play against an actively bad matchup like
Dredge, Tron, or Amulet Titan. Everything else is fairly close. For the
most part I play two great matchups to every bad matchup. Seems like a
decent mixture to me.
Now I won’t argue that Jeskai Control is a better choice than decks like
Dredge, Bant Spirits, or Ironworks, but I will stake my reputation on the
deck being a better choice than most of the other decks in the format. In
fact, I’m very happy to play this deck, and have felt very good about the
decision every time I’ve played the deck. Even Seth Manfield played the
deck per my suggestion when we took second place in a Team Constructed
Grand Prix last May. Jeskai Control has been very good for me, and at this
point consider the hate to be white noise. Haters gonna hate.
Anyway, let’s talk about the matchups!
This matchup is close. It could possibly be a slightly unfavorable matchup,
but some targeted changes to the deck could swing that. For now though I
believe it to be close enough to consider it an even matchup. Path to Exile
is the best card against them, but Search for Azcanta is the true mvp. Once
this enchantment transforms it becomes very difficult for Izzet Phoenix to
overcome the card disadvantage.
The easiest ways to lose this matchup is to early Thing in the Ices or
running out of things to do. That’s why we don’t cut Electrolyze. It might
not be the best card in the matchup, but it at least deals with early
Arclight Phoenixs without losing card stock. The issue with the matchup is
they will always consistently do good things, but we will not as we can’t
manipulate our deck as well as they can. If this matchup becomes very
popular there’s a good chance adding a third Search for Azcanta to the
This matchup has become very easy as Humans no longer plays great sideboard
cards for this matchup. The issue is that it seems like everyone’s caught
on to the deck not being that good anymore. I can’t speak to exactly why
that’s the case, but I don’t fault people for having that opinion as I’ve
found this matchup to be very, very easy. Especially since they no longer
have as many Sin Collectors or Dire Fleet Daredevils as they used to.
There’s really not much more to say about this matchup. You just want to
contain them, but it’s really easy to do so. Especially after sideboard
when you no longer have stupid counterspells. Nice Cavern of Souls! I
played this matchup three times in Baltimore a couple weeks ago, and with
each turn their situation just got worse and worse. I played against Chris
Pakula in one of the early rounds, and he was fortunate to see my hand four
out of five turns in game 2. Sadly for him though, he realized his chances
of winning were continuously going down with each peek at my grip.
This matchup feels scary every time I play it-ghost jokes–but in reality
I’m 5-1 against it. Sequencing is challenging as there’s combinations of
spells they could theoretically have that destroy you, but most of the time
they have bad cards like Path to Exile and Reflector Mage that defuse the
situation. I’m just always scared that they will assemble two Drogskol
Captains, but it’s never happened to me yet.
It’s important to make sure you interact with them early though. Most of
the time the first flurry of spells will end in their favor, but the longer
you wait for that to happen the more damage they will inflict on their
“victory” turn. Your goal is to run them out of interactive spells and then
pick apart their meager board after that.
Game 1 is difficult when you draw too many removal spells but easy when you
have the right side of the deck. Search for Azcanta is the most important
card in the matchup, and I’ll often mulligan weak hands that don’t have it,
but keep weak hands that do. It’s vital to keep in mind that Cryptic
Command can bounce your Snapcaster Mages so you have a higher density of
counterspells available. I actually almost always do this even if I have
one or two counters already in hand as you never know when you’ll dig into
more of them.
The games are much easier after sideboard, but you have to respect Sai,
Master Thopterist. I don’t sideboard out any copies of Supreme Verdict or
Path to Exile due to this fact. You have so many counterspells that
interact with the combo side of their deck but not too many that counter an
early Sai. Don’t lose to this obvious sideboard plan!
Just scoop game 1, and save yourself the time. Seriously this matchup is
horrific game 1. Maybe there’s a way to win it, but you aren’t going to
find it here!
It doesn’t really get much better after sideboard, but at least we have
Angels and interaction. There’s different builds of Jeskai Control that
have a better chance of winning, but the cards needed for that just aren’t
that good right now. If you really want to beat this matchup, you’ll need a
build that has Rest in Peace and Anger of the Gods. This is the version of
the deck I played at Grand Prix Atlanta awhile back which did have access
to those cards.
Obviously Benjamin Nikolich gave it to me!
This matchup isn’t great, but it’s much better than it’s been in the past.
I actually beat it the last two times I played it! Obviously Field of Ruins
is important, but the strategy you want to execute resembles that of a
counter-burn strategy. Try to burn them out and find ways to deal damage.
You need to get them dead before they take complete control over of the
game. That’s the trick, even though it doesn’t always work, but you have to
do what you have to do!
I was skeptical of this sideboard plan at first, but it works better than
any other plan. Just counter things to slow them down and find your holes
for damage. The burn spells really do help the clock, and it’s not like
you’re going to beat all those cast triggers in the lategame anyway. Just
get that damage in!
I’ve been told that Azorius Control has a close matchup against Jeskai
Control, but in all my experience that’s just not the case. Jeskai Control
always wins no matter what side of the table I’m on. The burn spells help
dictate the tempo and alongside Snapcaster Mage, put the Azorius Control
player into very difficult spots where they need to counter the
“unimportant” spells. Electrolyze is wonderful in the matchup, and don’t be
afraid to spend your turn 5’s flashing it back with a Snapcaster Mage. They
can’t really counter these as they’ll leave themselves wide open for a
Planeswalker to resolve.
Games will get closer after sideboard as they will be able to get rid of
all their useless cards, but again, Electrolyze is just great. It’s also a
time where both Jeskai and Azorius can’t dedicate too many cards for the
control mirrors so I’d expect them to have their Angels in after sideboard.
Luckily they aren’t that difficult to deal with.
I like this matchup a lot, and it seems like people like playing this deck.
I beat it three times in Baltimore and another two times at the
Invitational. They have some difficult cards to deal with, but at the same
time, we’re equipped to kill creatures. In fact, we can kill a lot
of creatures. All of them! This matchup is great, but it’s only good if you
sequence well. It’s difficult to always see all the possibilities they have
on their side of the battlefield so make sure you’ve thought through all
your lines before executing.
Burn is an interesting matchup. In the early game your job is to make sure
their creatures deal as little damage as they can, but then later in the
game your counterspells are gold as you may be dead to the top card of
their deck. There’s really not much strategy involved in this matchup
though, as their draw dictates the speed of the game, and they’ll put you
in “have it or die” situations constantly.
Golgari and Jund
These matchups tend to be good, but their best draws can be difficult to
beat. The only piece of advice I can give you is to lower your mulligan
rate in this matchup. That means if you hand is semi-keepable, keep it.
Mulliganing is bad against hand disruption decks, and no matter what,
you’ll need to rely on the top of your deck at some point to win. Good
thing we’re the one who has Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic Command, and Teferi to
There’s four cards currently being sided out only because I’m unsure which
three actually should be taken out. It makes some sense to have all three
Logic Knots on the play, but taking one out for another removal spell on
the draw as you want more answers for Dark Confidant. That makes sense to
me, at least?
Another great matchup, but keep in mind they can win the game very quickly.
Just like in the Spirits matchup, you want to interact with them early so
you don’t face lethal on the first turn you decide to do something. A
general trick in the matchup is to take small amounts of damage and then
try to kill their creatures when they pass their turn. Personally, I like
this strategy, but don’t rely on it. Sometimes it’s best to kill things on
your turn when you know you’ll win the exchange, and it will leave them
without a threat.
As for the rest of this sideboard guide, I don’t really have enough
experience in these matchups. I could have omitted them from the article as
I don’t have anything relevant to say about them, but that doesn’t seem
fair to you. Instead I’m just going to riffle through some matchups without
written strategy attached to them. After all, Benjamin and Jonathan worked
really hard on this guide, and the last thing I’d want is for their hard
work to go unused, especially when they gave me permission to write about
their wonderful build of Jeskai Control.
I’ll meet back up with ya at the bottom!
Grixis Death’s Shadow
Well that’s all I’ve got. Jeskai Control has done me well, and I expect it
to continue to be a great choice for anyone willing to work hard on
learning how to play it. Sure there’s still going to be haters, but it
seems like someone’s got a problem with every deck out there. Personally
I’ve found this deck to be the most enjoyable to play, and I’ve had good
results with it. I don’t see myself changing off the deck anytime soon, and
I feel good about that.
Before I wrap up, I want to take the time to thank Benjamin Nikolich, and
Jonathan Rosum once again. They not only have helped me do well in so many
Modern events, but also allowed me to bring that knowledge to you. Without
their help this article wouldn’t be possible. At the very least, it
wouldn’t be nearly as informative. I’ve become huge fans of theirs and
encourage you to do the same next year as both of them work hard to qualify
for the fourth StarCityGames Players’ Championship!