This past weekend was the Pro Tour and while normally I’d cover that, my editor assures me that we’ll have plenty of coverage of the Eldrazi deck and hot takes on what should happen to Eye of Ugin. Maybe there will even be some sweet videos to settle Twin vs. Eldrazi in a gameplay setting instead of the classic “Would the ‘95 Bulls beat the ‘15 Warriors” sports talk. For us plebs, Standard PPTQ season is in full swing and Regional PTQs are fast approaching. So let’s talk about Jeskai in Standard.
First, before I begin, let’s stipulate that 4c Rally is the best deck in the format. After that, Bant Company is effectively Rally for people who don’t want to learn Rally (or don’t want to play a soul-sucking mirror match that almost always goes to time unless both players know exactly what’s going on), and BR Dragons and Mardu Green are the best also-rans I’ve seen since then. Sorry Abzan Blue fans, from what I’ve seen, you’re either playing Bant Company with the best card in the deck swapped for Siege Rhino, or a Mardu deck that forgot to add Crackling Doom and Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Let’s not even talk about control decks that aren’t Dark Jeskai.
So here is the logic that led me to getting back on the Jeskai bandwagon. First, the revelation that the first step to “making America great again is playing with Mantis Rider” was revealed these past two weekends. The second step was reading Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors, and noticing that both of them were countered by Dispel, which is by far the cheapest mana swing in the format. Finally, it turned out that the grindiest decks in the format were all soft to Disdainful Stroke and Valorous Stance.
Time to break out the Mantis Riders, countermagic, and cheap red and white removal yet again! You can even try Reflector Mage as a bonus threat that provides a huge tempo boost—playing Mage to clear the way for Seeker of the Way or bouncing a 4-drop sounds great! And they printed a real creatureland in Wandering Fumarole in our color combo as well? Done! This is what I threw together.
With that, I made a deck and jammed a few Leagues before taking a normal Jeskai deck with no condiments into a 72-player PPTQ this past weekend. I went 5-1-1 and ended up losing in the semis to Mardu Green. Here’s a quick recap of my matches and general thoughts on some aspects of the Jeskai deck.
Drew vs. Rally
Beat: Mardu, BW Auras, Dark Jeskai, Abzan Blue, Esper, and Rally in the quarterfinals (my opponent got a D/DL game loss)
Lost to GR Ramp in Swiss and Mardu Green in semis.
Matchup-wise, I feel you have clear angles of attack against every top deck in the format. The only match where I felt I was an absolute dog unless I curved out was GR Eldrazi Ramp. You can’t clock them fast enough, World Breaker shuts off your fliers, and you can’t burn them out like the old builds. Rally on the draw game 1 also felt pretty bad because the removal package I brought to the table didn’t line up well. It can be difficult to recoup tempo in this matchup since you lack as many spells to trigger prowess on Seeker of the Way as older builds. If you aren’t prepared to side into a control deck for the post-board games on the draw, then you’re behind to a good Rally draw. Thankfully, you have enough relevant countermagic and removal that you can successfully play a long game against them post-board.
BR Dragons and Mardu are all about getting in damage early before their removal suites come online. Don’t be afraid to take a bunch of early damage from Thunderbreak Regent if you need to Reflector Mage it or cast a pair of burn spells on it. This is one of the strongest cards against you if you don’t run multiple Valorous Stance and, if possible, should be dealt with before anything else. Most of the cards in Dragons you care about are either expensive or low-impact. Against Mardu, you only hate when they chain Dark-Dwellers together.
Much like Bant Company, you can sneak a lot of damage in here or there with your early drops and then transition to a different phase of the game. Where a deck like Mardu or Company wants to establish board control and run you over, this Jeskai build prefers playing just enough board control to establish a planeswalker or jam a Wingmate Roc to try and close out the game. You also have times where you just focus entirely on getting the opponent within Jeskai Charm range since Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are so good at refilling the gas tank. This hybrid nature of the deck is what makes it so enjoyable to play and gives you outs to situations that seem ludicrous for any other deck.
Mantis Rider is as strong as it ever was in the past—people are very soft to fliers at the moment and all the removal that commonly interacts with them starts at 3 mana unless it’s a Murderous Cut or midgame Fiery Impulse. If you play them back-to-back on turns 3 and 4, I can’t see what matchup you aren’t favored in—god forbid you have a Dispel to back it up. Even ignoring the best starts, the number of times where Mantis Rider remains a valid threat in the late game is pretty surprising.
Moving onto the late-game-only flying threat, Wingmate Roc remains a powerful threat despite the onslaught of Reflector Mages. Against decks like Mardu Green and any sort of Abzan, Wingmate Roc is one of the best cards you can play and helps negate opposing Rocs as well. It also gives you an additional source of life gain, which can be critical when you need to buy time for a Treasure Cruise or Jeskai Charm to close out the game. Even against a Reflector Mage deck, most people don’t hold the Mage until that late in the game (or typically even expect Wingmate out of you). Decks like Rally can’t deal with Wingmate once it hits, so unless they outright kill you the turn you slam it, you’ll probably be taking that game down.
Chandra, Flamecaller was ridiculous in my early testing with the deck and my MVP at the PPTQ. By the end of the tournament, I was never sorry that I played 2 of her in the deck. In my newest build, I’ve maindecked both of them, as she may be the best way to close out a game or seal it up when you have a slight edge. All of her abilities are amazing in this deck and pumping her to 5 immediately is huge when so many common threats hit for 4. Her 0 ability is also amazing here as a result, since it gives you a way to cash in 2-3 cards for a new set and still leaves her on the field for the opponent to deal with. Of course, if you can just plus her again after you’ve untapped, Jeskai Charm or a Gideon emblem in play can make for some really awkward blocks for the opponent.
Roast was medium and there were multiple times where I wished I had Valorous Stance instead. The major upside about Roast that it isn’t dead against Bant Company or Rally, and the bonus is how much life you gain when you have Soulfire Grand Master out. It won me a game against Dark Jeskai when I don’t think any other card would have done it. It also helps out against the occasional Atarka Red or prowess deck that comes along. Right now, I’m running a split with another Stance in the board, but I could see it going either way.
I’m still undecided on the Impulse/Slash split since you do want to be able to go to the dome or take out a larger planeswalker with a Mantis Rider or Impulse attack plus Slash. On the flip side, 3 toughness is the new norm for small creature decks and not being able to kill a Sylvan Advocate because you only have one spell in the graveyard is a real downer. For now, I’m jamming 3/1 split in favor or Impulse, but that could easily change.
Here was the Jeskai deck I am playing moving forward.
As always, the biggest draw toward the black splash is getting to run Crackling Doom, though Duress/Transgress are both becoming attractive options to help hedge against Rally and other Company decks. Crackling Doom also makes Goblin Dark-Dwellers far more likely to make a major impact compared to this build, even with the full playset of Jeskai Charm. What you gain by sticking with the tricolor route is more consistent 2-into-3-drop curve-outs, better use of double-color costs, and less awkward hands involving Wandering Fumarole.
Speaking of Wandering Fumarole, my initial builds started with a playset and I worked my way down from there. You’re never activating Fumarole unless you’re in a position to close out the game or need to make some bold calls on defense. 4 copies puts pressure on you to play less than the full playset of Mystic Monastery and generally cascades through the mana base from there. If you want to run a 26th land, go for it. If you want to keep to 25, I wouldn’t recommend more than 2.
I haven’t come to grips with a full sideboard plan against Rally and Mardu or I’d list one. My recommendations as far as sideboarding goes is that being on the play and draw is vastly different—more so than any other deck in the format. You also have to come to grips with how you want to play, because I see way too many people gleefully shoving in Radiant Flames to combo with their Seeker of the Way without realizing how often you want to cast it for 3 now.
Other options include going heavier on flying by packing Thunderbreak Regent instead of Gideon. In fact, Jeskai Dragons may be a viable route if you don’t care about the heavier red costs. Sneak in an Ojutai or two and you can actually run Draconic Roar, which is certainly the best burn spell if you run Seeker of the Way and is pretty good with Soulfire Grand Master as well.
Considering that I’m willing to up the curve so heavily now because of Wingmate Roc and Chandra, Flamecaller, I don’t hate this sort of option compared to the older Jeskai decks. Lacking any secondary burn spell like Stoke the Flames makes a huge difference in being able to close out games by going small early and getting the opponent down in the 4 life range. Going for a long game and then slamming with huge fliers and haste damage may be the best way to go.
I’ve got one more PPTQ to play before I’m locked out for a month or so with tournaments to run, so I’ll likely be running Jeskai back. Whether or not the list will include Crackling Doom is still up in the air, but as long as it’s got Jace, Chandra, and Mantis Rider, I’m feeling good about it.