Can Anything Stop Jeskai Control In This Weekend’s Historic Arena Open?

What’s the Historic deck to beat after the release of Jumpstart: Historic Horizons? MTG World Champion PVDDR and four more say what they’d play.

Torrential Gearhulk, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the arrival of Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, many are unsure what they’d play in this weekend’s Historic Arena Open or Historic SCG Tour Online events. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for this weekend’s events!

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa — Jeskai Control

The Brainstorm ban was supposed to keep blue decks in check in Historic, but some new additions from Jumpstart: Historic Horizons have made sure that these decks remained at the top of the format. Right now, there are two decks that are simply a bit better than the rest of the competition — Jeskai Control and Jeskai Indomitable Creativity.  Other decks are obviously playable, but it’s my belief that if you’re not playing one of those two, you’re handicapping yourself a little bit.

Jeskai Indomitable Creativity is perhaps the more powerful of the two decks. The ability to get Serra’s Emissary onto the battlefield very early in the game can be checkmate against a lot of the decks in the format that have simply no way to deal with the card. If you pair that with the ability to play a control game and win the long game as well, it makes this deck a force to be reckoned with.

Still, my choice today is Jeskai Control, not Jeskai Indomitable Creativity. This is because I think Jeskai Control is better in blue mirrors and I expect blue decks to be very popular. Archmage’s Charm in particular is an incredibly strong card that this deck has access to that the Indomitable Creativity version doesn’t, and this deck does a better job of playing at instant speed. 

Overall, however, I think you can’t go wrong with either of the two Jeskai decks — it’s basically dealer’s choice. I think the Creativity version is better versus most aggro decks in the field, so I would probably choose that if I were playing in Best-of-One, where I’d expect more aggro, and then go back to Jeskai Control in Best-of-Three where I’d expect more blue decks.

Todd Anderson — Izzet Phoenix

Historic has become a fair format. Thanks to the inclusion of Memory Lapse and Inquisition of Kozilek, we have the tools to systematically dismantle the slower combo decks that ravaged the format. These days, interaction is the name of the game and there’s one deck that has always thrived in the face of one-for-one interaction: Izzet Phoenix.

From my time playing Izzet Phoenix in Modern and even when playing it in Standard, the one thing that always rang true was that traditional spot removal, discard, and other normal interaction didn’t do much. You had huge bursts of cards, a high amount of redundancy through cantrip effects, and creatures that laughed in the face of spot removal. If everyone is playing Lightning Helix and Memory Lapse, chances are you should be “caw caw caw”ing your opponents.

With that said, the control decks are relatively prepared to interact on a deeper level. Most incorporate Anger of the Gods as one of their sweepers, and others play Relic of Progenitus to make sure the opposing creatures stay dead. With Mono-Black Aggro and other resilient creatures on the rise, you can expect an increase in effects that exile rather than simply destroy. It’s the wax and wane of a good, interactive format. But why Izzet Phoenix specifically?

Faithless Looting

Well, I have an old mantra: play the cards you can that are banned in other formats. Faithless Looting is outrageous. It is the reason to play Arclight Phoenix. Izzet Phoenix is the deck to play because it’s consistent, interactive, and in turn hard to profitably interact with. If I were ever given the chance to play a Faithless Looting deck or “other” deck in the dark, I would simply always choose Faithless Looting and be thusly rewarded.

In some formats, decks like Izzet Phoenix aren’t playable because they don’t offer you the right type of interaction to beat combo decks. Counterspells like Memory Lapse or even Spell Pierce are weird and bad when you need to proactively cast three spells to return Arclight Phoenix to the battlefield. Reactive elements are contradictory to our gameplan. Because of that, our interaction is generally creature-based, leaning on burn spells to kill your opponent’s stuff while you can easily return your flyers to the battlefield. Right now, there are a ton of creatures, which means loading up on burn is good, which makes Izzet Phoenix thrive.

Pick Izzet Phoenix. You might lose to some weird combo deck, but you’ll absolutely batter the creature-based decks that are overrunning the format.

Shaheen Soorani — Jeskai Control (Kaheera)

I have shifted between Historic decks quite a few times; unfortunately, each one is a variation of Jeskai Control.  There is simply no reason any self-respecting control mage should shy away from this level of power, especially when the Historic crowd chants for a ban after an image of Memory Lapse scrolls across the screen.  I have not reinvented the wheel by any means, but merely adapted the many winning lists I have seen stomping opponents on MTG Arena.  With a few new additions from Jumpstart:  Historic Horizons, like Archmage’s Charm, the gap between this deck and its competition continues to increase.

Memory Lapse is arguably the best card at our control’ fingertips but is not the most fun of the bunch.  The true pleasure comes from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, a planeswalker I cannot get enough of.  To add to the gargantuan power level of this deck, multiple removal staples from Modern have arrived to torment each opponent.  A deck with two-mana countermagic that hits any target, Lightning Helix, Unholy Heat, Archmage’s Charm, and a pile of other spells used in control decks from older formats demands respect.  The Historic metagame has many powerful decks, enhanced by Jumpstart:  Historic Horizons, but none can effectively tango with Jeskai Control.

Dom Harvey — Dimir Pact

It turns out Dimir Pact was hurt less by the Brainstorm ban than any other blue deck — you only had to replace one copy anyway! Less flippantly, I think this revival of the deck that terrorized Historic just a few months ago remains highly underexplored and occupies an interesting position in the format.

Jeskai Indomitable Creativity is back on top with Serra’s Emissary as an all-purpose Creativity hit that gets even better when you can double up on them — the Tainted Pact + Jace, Wielder of Mysteries combo shrugs that off and you have more than enough disruption to stop it from happening in the first place. Jeskai Control is a more solid deck with the addition of Archmage’s Charm, but the combination of discard, counters, and cheap threats backing up an inevitable combo lets Dimir Pact put up a good fight there. The biggest wildcard in the format is the Throes of Chaos + Tibalt’s Trickery deck, which this mixture of disruption is also great against.

The other big winners from Jumpstart: Historic Horizons are the Dragon’s Rage Channeler decks and various themed aggro decks. The former are more powerful in general now and Unholy Heat specifically makes Jace, Wielder of Mysteries much less reliable, hence the greater focus on graveyard hate. Fast aggro is difficult but there are enough unique sweepers and cheap removal in Historic that you can load up on those to make the sideboard games passable.

Corey Baumeister — Rakdos Arcanist (Lurrus)

When it comes to preparing for this week’s Arena Open, it really all boils down to the deadly combination of red, white, and blue. Jeskai Control and Jeskai Indomitable Creativity have solidified themselves as the best decks in Historic, and thanks to powerhouses like Expressive Iteration, Memory Lapse, and Mizzix’s Mastery, it isn’t particularly close. 

So, when it comes to suggesting something that’s not one of those two decks, you must have a good plan to deal with them, and I think I do! Rakdos Arcanist has always been able to completely dismantle control decks with the overpowered combination of Thoughtseize into Dreadhorde Arcanist followed up by the inevitability of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. That combination will just outvalue Jeskai Control 90% of the time with a somewhat decent draw. The new addition of Unholy Heat allows us to skip out on playing cards like Fatal Push, Spark Harvest, and Kolaghan’s Command, which are good cards in specific matchups but can be dead in others. Unholy Heat kills Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Torrential Gearhulk; Llanowar Elves; and an 0/3 Crab token in response to an Indomitable Creativity. That’s a lot of things! 

Now for the bad news. If people want to beat Rakdos Arcanist, they can. Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, and Soul-Guide Lantern are all big problems for the deck and in high numbers will be a huge problem. Luckily for us, I’m only seeing two copies of Rest in Peace in most Jeskai lists and almost no Leylines amongst the popular decks.

So go out and slam some Thoughtseizes and pray that the hate cards are in their hands instead of the top of the deck!