Tomorrow, or a few days ago from your perspective, I am playing Jeskai Aggro in the Pro Tour. “Why?” you ask? Well I’m glad you did! It’s because of one card: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It’s my bold prediction that this is a Pro Tour that will be defined by Jace. That’s not to say every deck will be playing Jace, or even that the winning deck necessarily will, but of all the cards in Magic Origins, I believe it’s the one that will have the biggest impact.
Jace upgrades Jeskai more than any other deck. First of all, Jeskai has a lot of useful cheap spells. This both makes it easier to flip Jace after killing their first few creatures, as well as having reliable useful fodder to flashback after he’s flipped. There is little better than Time Ebbing their creature on consecutive turns with Jeskai Charm. The deck is also best suited to dealing with opposing Jaces between Wild Slash and Lightning Strike. Having four 1-mana solutions and four 2-mana solutions makes it very likely your opponent will not gain Jace superiority. Historically, the other big weakness of Jeskai was at the 2-drop spot, so Jace fills the biggest hole in your curve. If we’re right about Jace, Jeskai is currently the best positioned deck for the metagame (though I’ll admit Jace plus Thoughtseize isn’t half bad).
I arrived in Vancouver six days ago, just after midnight on Saturday morning. As usual I hadn’t played any Standard since the last Pro Tour, but I was lucky enough to be playing with the Pantheon, perhaps the best collection of Magic talent in history. So I felt pretty good about things. I spent the first day getting my feet wet with the various decks in the format and thought there were some interesting candidates. Two-time defending World Champion and pre-2000 pop culture aficionado Shahar Shenhar had whipped up a stock Jeskai deck and I definitely thought we had something promising. I’d been very interested in Jeskai a year ago in Hawaii before eventually getting off of it, and it seemed like the deck was substantially improved by the addition of Jace.
Quick sidebar: In one of our drafts Shahar was playing Cuneo and dropped a second-turn Topan Freeblade. Reading Cuneo for a Celestial Flare, he refused to attack into an empty board until a Meteorite got dropped on the Freeblade’s unrenowned head. Andrew then proceeded to torment Shahar with the constant gift of Meteorites. Since I was rooming with Shahar, I decided to get in one the fun. It was great watching him find Meteorites in his shoes, glasses case, pillow, wallet, pants pockets, and a couple still unknown locations and proceed to blame Cuneo. He’s only going to find out the truth when he reads this article.
Back to Jeskai. The deck was good, but it was clear that it could be improved. It was having a bit of trouble with decks that gummed up the ground, and it was clear that Rabblemaster wasn’t the card it once was. Also, with Languishes everywhere and more spot removal for Jace, it was a downright unexciting third-turn play. To keep the creature count high, we played two Ashcloud Phoenixes instead, which both provided flying pressure and were problematic for control decks, and Abzan decks without Abzan Charm. We also added two Valorous Stances for the versatility of killing Siege Rhinos and protecting our creatures.
Next, we went up to 25 lands from 24. One of the big issues with Jeskai is drawing the right mana on the right turns to make the right plays and not fall behind. The deck does not play well from behind, and Jaces make flooding less of a problem than it was before. Without the Rabblemasters, the Stokes gave way to two Exquisite Firecraft. Not only is it 1 mana cheaper, but you always have spell mastery to make it uncounterable against control decks.
Lastly we put an Ojutai’s Command in the final slot. It’s the sort of versatile card that’s a perfect singleton. All four modes are situationally useful, but it’s expensive and somewhat clunky so you don’t want to draw multiples or draw it at the wrong time.
This was the final list I played. I believe Shahar and Kai played the same, while Ben Rubin may have modified it with a little extra spice:
When it comes to matchups, Jeskai doesn’t have any matchups that are auto-win or auto-lose, rather there is a lot of play to everything. Well, everything, that is, except brews. Jeskai hammers untuned decks or decks that try to get a little too tricky. Fast aggressive flyers and lots of burn make short work of decks that try to do powerful things a little too slowly. After beating our Rally the Ancestors deck eight straight games in convincing fashion, Cueneo wisely gave up. If forced to give an answer, I’d say the all-in red decks represent the matchup I’d least like to face. You’re forced into the role of the control deck and you aren’t set up well for that, especially game 1.
Some builds of control are problematic but others felt much easier. Prognostic Sphinx and Monastary Siege aren’t good cards for you. The deck shines brightest against midrange decks that you can fly over and burn out. After you’ve learned when to burn their creatures and when to burn their face, you can usually finish them off a turn or two before they do enough powerful things to lock down the game.
I expect Jeskai to be a popular deck for at least the foreseeable future. As I said, it’s the best deck to both abuse Jace and kill your opponent’s Jace, and I think that’s going to be very important in Standard in the coming weeks.