I finally took the plunge and bought into the Jeskai deck on MTGO. I was waiting to build more decks until after the October banlist announcement to avoid spending time and money learning decks that I thought had a significant chance to get banned, but with the coast clear for the next month I decided to get my Jeskai on.
Well… I was supposed to have a guaranteed month, but according to the latest update the next banning has been bumped up a month from November 21 to October 19th. Whatever happens, at least I’ll get to say that I was able to go deep into Jeskai and I’m glad for that because it is truly a sweet Pauper deck.
Since building the deck last week I’ve been jamming leagues like a madman and working diligently to fine-tune my 75. Today, I’ll be sharing the list I’ve arrived at and also some of the lessons I’ve learned about playing it along the way.
I have stronger feelings about how the banlist was handled than I do the cards themselves. For starters, with or without bans, I was excited to move on and focus on gameplay rather than argue about what the format should look like.
While I think these discussions serve a purpose and are a useful way to think about how metagames and formats work and what we hope to get out of them, I also think they tend to be a hot-button issue that generates a lot of negativity and hard feelings that boils down to:
“You shouldn’t be allowed to play your deck anymore because it’s too good.”
“I should be allowed to play my deck.”
There is no winning here because no matter the outcome, somebody will be upset. It’s part of tournament Magic to talk and think about how we feel about the health and gameplay of our favorite formats when banlist announcements roll around, but it is absolutely ridiculous to have a announcement, ban nothing, and then schedule another one for two weeks later.
It keeps negative narratives at the forefront and makes people feel unsafe to invest time, energy, and money into playing the game. I cashed in a bunch of MTGO tickets to buy Jeskai because the DCI had assured me I’d have over a month to use it and the next day they bumped the next announcement.
I refuse to acknowledge the bans again until the DCI makes a real decision. It’s one thing to evaluate a format every few months, coinciding with a new release, but on a monthly or bi-weekly schedule is absurd. Ban something, or don’t, just be decisive and let us play the game.
Rant over, let’s get onto the fun stuff:
Yeskai to Jeskai
After about 50 matches with Jeskai Snow, I’ve been nothing but impressed with the deck. It’s an old-school attrition deck that reminds me of playing blue before cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor existed.
Once I got a chance to go deep on Jeskai, I found it was actually better than I thought it was. It has a lot of strengths, but also some weaknesses.
The biggest downside is that it is difficult to play against the clock on MTGO. It’s extremely click-intensive and tends to win with slow, modest beats, which makes the clock as formidable an adversary as the opponent. Specifically, there tends to be a lot of draw-go in the control mirrors, and click-intensive Ephemerate loop endgames, which means a lot of matches come down to who manages the clock best. I’m primarily a paper player, and so Jeskai has pushed me to work on my MTGO skills, but the clock has accounted for at least half of my total losses with the deck.
Here’s the list I’ve arrived at:
Jeskai Snow Control
4 Ash Barrens 1 Evolving Wilds 2 Izzet Boilerworks 9 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Mountain 1 Snow-Covered Plains 1 Spellstutter Sprite 4 Kor Skyfisher 4 Mulldrifter 2 Archaeomancer 4 Preordain 3 Skred 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Dispel 2 Ephemerate 2 Witching Well 2 Brainstorm 4 Counterspell 2 Incinerate 4 Arcum's Astrolabe Sideboard 4 Blue Elemental Blast 4 Red Elemental Blast 2 Standard Bearer 2 Leave No Trace 2 Electrickery 1 Circle of Protection: Green
The most interesting card choice I’ve ended up on:
I have not seen Incinerate in Jeskai lists, but it’s a piece of technology that serves a specific function: taking out River Boa.
I tried and didn’t like Journey to Nowhere. Sorcery speed is for suckers in a format full of Ephemerates, Spellstutter Sprites, and Ninjas. Secondly, the number one way I lose games with Jeskai is to awkward mana when I don’t draw Astrolabe. When you have Astrolabe, the world is your oyster, but when you don’t there are many games where you need to decide whether you’d like to play white or red spells this game.
I want to default to red so that I don’t end up fetching for a color and then draw interaction of the opposite color. You’ll notice my only white cards are Kor Skyfisher (which I wouldn’t even want to play early without an Astrolabe) and Ephemerate, which isn’t getting cast before turn 4 at the earliest and realistically is much better when held until the later stages of the game when it can actually take over.
It’s also worth noting that I don’t want to expose my only answers to River Boa to Gleeful Sabotages or Return to Natures, which is another reason I don’t like Journey as much as Incinerate. Four Incinerates and Four Lightning Bolts is also a reasonable way to race or end games against decks that have a ton of removal (Mono-Black for instance). Remember, the clock is always a factor.
I’m sure I’ll catch a little bit of flack for my 3x Skred, 4x Bolt, 2x Incinerate split, but here’s the rationale: Bolt is often much better than Skred in the early game, and especially on the draw, since Skred can’t answer three-toughness two-drops on the draw without an Astrolabe.
Everything is great when you have an Astrolabe–it’s basically like playing on easy mode, and a big portion of my focus has been to have a deck that doesn’t fall apart and get behind when I’m not #blessed to have Astro in my opener. Incinerate also accomplishes the same role on the draw to keep the board clear.
The value of Bolt improves in concert with Incinerate. The value of Bolt also increases alongside bounce lands, specifically on the draw, because it is a card you can (and want) to play that will help you avoid discarding to hand size.
Jeskai is at its most vulnerable in the early turns before it starts churning cards. And while Jeskai is the most popular singular deck, aggro decks make up a majority of the metagame and all of them are trying to go underneath our defenses before we get set up. I put a ton of emphasis on smooth, fluid draws that interact early and often. Jeskai’s late game is outrageously potent, which means that if they can’t get you on the ropes early and put you away quickly, the game will typically be an easy Jeskai victory.
I play two bounce lands because outside of Arcum’s Astrolabe they are the best possible cards to draw in your opening hand in a control mirror. Since Jeskai is the most popular deck, it makes sense to play some cards that are good in the mirror, but my inclusion of 4 Bolt (over the fourth Skred) takes into consideration that Boilerworks can be clunky (especially on the draw).
Witching Well is another way to get a card out of hand to avoid discarding to a bounceland on the draw, but it’s also straight amazing in the control mirrors.
It deploys to the board which helps you not discard to hand size and it has scry, which ensures you hit land drops or find the right kind of action, and it can be cashed in on opponent’s EOT for raw cards.
It’s not that I don’t think Pulse is great, it is. However, as you might be able to tell by my tedious explanation of card choices and mana consistency and efficiency, I’m not a big fan of playing a basic Forest. It certainly provides another level of insulation for the Ephemerate loop, but I haven’t felt it was a necessary include against the two matchups where I would want it most: Burn and the Mirror, both of which I think are strong matchups for my build.
Pulse is also vulnerable to the graveyard hate people tend to overload on against Jeskai. Look at my list, I have exactly two cards that interact with the graveyard in my entire 75.
I see a disproportionate amount of graveyard hate compared to how good it is against my deck and I kind of dig that dynamic. I do not need to loop to beat aggro decks. In general, I don’t think Ephemerate is specifically good against aggro decks and I board it out or down to one copy against fast beatdown like Stompy or Burn. The package is specifically in the deck because it is necessary to lock out other Jeskai decks and Tron.
It took a lot of tuning to make my sideboard look like I put absolutely zero thought into it. I’ve played with so many different iterations and cards and it turns out that Blue and Red Elemental Blast are better than everything.
I think Blue Elemental Blast is the single best sideboard card against red decks, Burn or Goblins. Lone Missionary and Circle of Protection: Red sound sweet in theory, until your bounce land gets Molten Rained, your Astrolabe Smashed to Smithereens, or your Skyfisher Searing Blazed. It kills things that slip through (including Curse of the Pierced Heart) and counters burn spells. It’s the best possible way to fight their two-drops on the draw and Archaeomancer buys it back.
I think Red Elemental Blast is the single best sideboard card against blue decks. I have two maindeck Dispels, which means that I’m extremely well set-up to win counter wars. I also bring in 2 Blue Blasts against Jeskai to combat removal and opposing REBs.
Electrickery is specifically for Elves, but it also comes in against Bogles, Infect and against Stompy. Leave no Trace is for Bogles, but also comes in against Pestilence decks, and it’s by far the most inflexible sideboard card but critically important for defeating Hexproof Auras. Standard Bearer is for Bogles, but also comes in against Stompy, White Heroic, and Infect.
One of the cool things about the Jeskai deck is that while it is the most popular deck and probably the overall most powerful and consistent strategy in Pauper that it doesn’t inherently beat everything.
Since the deck is so popular, the metagame tends to be quite hostile towards it. Fortunately for fans of the red, white, and mostly blue, the tools exist to give you a boost where needed. You can’t cover all your bases all the time, but you can certainly cover a lot of the bases a lot of the time.
I certainly don’t think there is only one way to build the deck within the metagame, but this is the direction I’ve chosen to go with it. It’s a tough deck to play (especially against the clock) but how you play it often has a lot to do with which cards you choose to include or omit.