Yesterday, we all saw the Tainted Pact decks exit the premises with the latest Banned and Restricted announcement. The Magic world had their predictions on what piece would go. I, once again, used my obscure and barely useful superpowers to mark Thassa’s Oracle for death. In the most recent edition of Historic What We’d Play, I called for the head of the combo win condition, as it has been a nuisance since the day it entered competitive play. Its impact has been significant in Historic, Pioneer, and Modern as the most mana-efficient way to win the game when the library is empty.
In Historic, Thassa’s Oracle has been especially destructive. The format does not have the tools to deal with consistent, quick combo decks that pack their own disruption. The same countermagic and hand disruption used to stop Grixis Tainted Pact saw use by the aggressor, stomping out opposing decks’ few answers to the combo.
These Tainted Pact decks were not impossible to beat. They were, however, on a different plane of power level from the rest of the competition. Control decks had the best success against them, so their strength against my favorite decks was never a concern. I have always been a staunch defender of format health, often coming to the defense of aggro decks when they’re incapable of effectively competing. For control to be viable, or the format to be healthy, all the major archetypes must exist in some capacity. Tainted Pact decks squeezed aggro and midrange while having a decent game against control, forcing management’s hand in its removal.
There was a possibility that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) wouldn’t see it my way and ban a piece of the combo deck instead of the win condition at the end. The argument was that folks could play Jace, Wielder of Mysteries instead and my response was to go for it! A four-mana alternative costing triple blue won’t cut it in these combo builds for a host of reasons. The biggest flaw is the difficulty in defending Jace on the stack or double-spelling when ready to combo off. Tainted Pact combo may not be dead with this alternative floating around; however, it will be a shell of itself in terms of Historic power level.
With the oppressive combo deck neutered and the format’s health on the mend, players will get back to testing the new Historic cards that came from Strixhaven. With all those new cards in the mix, and Historic Anthology 5 on the way, Historic’s prognosis is unclear. The format may require additional bannings due to the older cards being infused directly into a limited-pool format. That was always the risk of Historic and part of the allure as well. Getting Brainstorm and Memory Lapse was enough to get me excited about playing the format, with Pact of Negation and Gideon of the Trials sparking that intrigue months before. These additions keep us all on our toes and for now, control is back to having an edge.
Control’s edge does not come directly from the banning, but from the boost aggro and midrange decks gained from it. Control struggled against many of these decks in the past, until the arrival of Lightning Helix saved the day. Lightning Helix replaced the sorcery-speed, mediocre removal that white-based control decks used to stave off death on Turn 2. It was an embarrassing placeholder, often exiling a creature after it did damage or being just plain dead. Few cards outside of Path to Exile or Sword to Plowshares could have had Lightning Helix’s impact on the archetype. I’m more pumped about Brainstorm and Memory Lapse because of my blue bias; however, I know which card had the biggest impact on the tide changing.
After checking out the results of the May Strixhaven League Weekend, I made some adjustments to my Jeskai Control build. With the banning of Thassa’s Oracle, a few additional modifications were necessary to prepare for the new, creature-heavy Historic format. This new wave of battlefield saturation will embolden control users, making Jeskai Control a deck to beat. This version of Jeskai Control is well-suited to handle the metagame I expect, with minor changes that will yield big dividends.
I was never big on Mizzix’s Mastery as the substitute effect for Snapcaster Mage. It had a similar feel but lacks in accessibility when it’s most needed. Snapcaster Mage and Torrential Gearhulk enter the battlefield at instant speed and do their thing. There are some circumstances when a main-phase spell is needed; however, the limitation of Mizzix’s Mastery made it largely ineffective in multiple scenarios I have been in. It’s still a fun card that can give you a big payoff in the late-game, so I’ve kept it as a one-of. As the format becomes more defined with the recent departure of Thassa’s Oracle, it’s likely that I swap that card out with something more consistent so as to address a Jeskai Control weakness that arises.
Jeskai Control has been my go-to deck in Historic since I saw big shots using it on Arena. I was stuck in my ways with Azorius Control when the Lightning Helix solution was right in front of me. Since my conversion, I have made a few discoveries that have since become mainstream.
The Jeskai Control lists did not run Brainstorm and were jam-packed with disruption. Fabled Passage was the only shuffle effect and the masses had collectively decided that Brainstorm was no good without a way to ditch the top cards of the library. I knew that stance on one of the best blue spells ever printed would crumble shortly after and I’m glad to see four Brainstorm in blue decks across the format, regardless of the library manipulation they have access to. Previously I mentioned the desperate state of card draw in control forced us into the arms of Opt for years. If we continue to suffer in Modern with Opt, we will gladly Brainstorm without the ability to shuffle away riffraff.
The disruption I use in this version of Jeskai Control does not differ much from the mainstream versions. We all agree that Memory Lapse is the best counterspell we have access to in Historic. Four of those join a single Dovin’s Veto in most builds, wrapping up their maindeck blue disruption package. I have felt the need to up the counterspell number, adding two copies of Absorb into the mix. I made this change just after the banning announcement, anticipating the mirror while having a strong spell against red-based aggro.
Even at three mana, Absorb can carry water against creatures and planeswalkers alike, adding lifegain outlets to Jeskai Control. The powerful interaction between Torrential Gearhulk and counterspells is irrefutable, especially when it answers the opposing spell permanently. Memory Lapse is great, but sometimes spells must stay dead and that’s exactly what Absorb brings to the deck.
The last addition to the maindeck was Elspeth Conquers Death, an enchantment I cannot get enough of. I raved about this card the moment it hit the shelves because of its unique disruption and card advantage. It provides an exile effect Jeskai Control lacks and answers the toughest permanents of the mid- and late-game.
Most players overlook it for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but I unfortunately cannot run five copies of it. Elspeth Conquers Death provides that additional answer-all, but permanently, and revives strong win conditions. Bringing back a fallen Torrential Gearhulk; Narset, Parter of Veils; or Teferi can slam the door shut on an opponent’s chance to win. Historic did not have many targets for it while Tainted Pact was running the streets, but you can bet on more expensive permanents hitting the battlefield effective immediately.
To get these new cards in, more than just the Mizzix’s Mastery had to go. I’m losing favor with Prismari Command, another Strixhaven addition that gets a bit more love than I think it deserves. An on-color, instant-speed Command with four modes would normally get the green light in all my applicable control decks, but this one misses the mark.
It’s good enough to earn a spot in the deck and sideboard, since it’s relevant against problematic artifacts. When there isn’t an artifact to take out, the stars must align for the effect to be worth the slot. There were more circumstances where Electrolyze would have been better, that being the case more without Tainted Pact decks being around. I don’t think either is particularly powerful in Historic, unless multiple one-toughness creatures pop out, or artifacts start replicating, to force us to play one or the other.
The sideboard has changed the most, adapting to the metagame I believe is on the way. Shark Typhoon is a must-play, especially with the increase in control decks that’s on the way. Counterspells are strong in Historic and Shark Typhoon effectively gets around disruption. When the Shark token exceeds three toughness, it becomes much more difficult to interact with in the mirror. I added three copies to the sideboard and bring them in often.
Shark Typhoon is least effective against fast aggro decks. Even there, it can trade off in combat while drawing a card. If I find room in the maindeck, I’ll likely move a copy there, freeing up a sideboard slot and not harming any matchup.
I added a second Elspeth Conquers Death as I mentioned earlier, but also increased the numbers of the matchup-specific cards, including ones I cut from the maindeck. Scorching Dragonfire is a required, supplemental spell to Lightning Helix and overperforms against aggro in Historic. We leave Baffling End behind in favor of these red spells that have a similar effect at instant speed. The number of Mystical Disputes increased to three, while capping off the Dovin’s Veto to four total. This counterspell package keeps us competitive against the control mirror, which will be in full force in the new format.
The changes made will help the consistency of Jeskai Control in a more-fair Historic format. There will always be broken elements there, but that does not mean combo will reign supreme. If aggro, midrange, and control decks are all clashing against each other with the powerful spells of old, so be it. That’s an exciting format that has something to offer fans of each archetype, a Historic that I want to be an active participant in.
With this banning and more card injections to come, control has its work cut out for it, even with Brainstorm in our corner.