Jeskai decks have fallen out of favor over the past year or two in Legacy. With the printings of Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, green has become the color du jour for fair blue decks in Legacy. However, the Jeskai wedge has a long pedigree in Legacy and still holds a lot of power in a deck built properly. With a win in a recent Legacy Challenge, mw_94gA brought a well-tuned and relatively novel (might I say simply awesome) Jeskai Arcanist deck to the forefront of player’s minds.
I’ve been enamored with this deck as of late so today I want to break the deck down and take a look at what makes this deck work in the texture of modern day Legacy.
Legacy Jeskai Arcanist by mw_94gA
In many ways, this is a traditional blue midrange deck. It bears similarities to both the Delver decks of the present and the Miracles decks of yore (is it any surprise that I love this deck?). The primary goal is to use cheap removal and free countermagic to back up powerful, game changing permanents. Dreadhorde Arcanist and Monastery Mentor are extremely effective creatures at any stage of the game and Counterbalance adds an extra dimension of disruption that gives this deck a potent engine. Sticking to the Jeskai colors give it a stable mana base while also providing a diverse range of tools for addressing a variety of problems that might arise.
Let’s take a look at some of the individual card choices that make the deck function.
It didn’t take long for Dreadhorde Arcanist to become the best two drop in Legacy, so it’s no surprise to see it here. If it isn’t killed on sight, it generates an insurmountable advantage very quickly. With 10 cantrips and six removal spells, it’s perfectly suited for this deck. Like I alluded to in my Brainstorm heuristics article, most decks in Legacy have transitioned to having powerful, proactive starts and Arcanist is one of the key reasons for that.
Monastery Mentor, on the other hand, has not been a mainstay in Legacy since the Sensei’s Divining Top era. A lot of that has to do with the raw power that Oko provides which has made it far more common to include green in these decks rather than play white for Mentor. However, Mentor is an extremely powerful card that has the ability to dominate a game if left unchecked. It pairs perfectly with Arcanist and represents the ability to kill any opponent that isn’t prepared to deal with it. Back in the days of Miracles dominance, Mentor was one of the major reasons that deck reached the levels it did because now the deck could play like a faux-combo deck and kill any deck it couldn’t interact with. It functions much in the same way here and it’s nice to see a solid home for the card once again.
Speaking of powerful white cards that don’t see a lot of play, Sevinne’s Reclamation is an awesome inclusion here. The key game plan of this deck relies on sticking a permanent with converted mana cost three or less, and Sevinne’s Reclamation can not only buy back any of those, but it’s presence in the graveyard makes it really difficult for opponents to successfully stop you from resolving one. I’ve been really impressed with this card and I think the single copy goes a long way in this deck.
One of the major reasons to play Jeskai is that the colors provide access to the two most efficient removal spells in the format. In a format that’s dominated by early, game ending creatures, having access to more removal is always going to be a good thing. Swords to Plowshares interacts more favorably against Uro (and this deck doesn’t care too much about opponent’s life totals) so it gets the nod. Lightning Bolt does pair really well with both Arcanist and Mentor though and can really present a fast clock out of nowhere.
This suite of Force effects is run-of-the-mill for Legacy, but the inclusion of Daze might look a bit out of place. This calls back to my article on Daze, in which I discuss a very similar approach that the old Mentor Miracles deck would take. One of the core philosophies of this deck is that successfully sticking one of it’s key permanents is going to provide you with a substantial advantage. Arcanist, Mentor and Counterbalance all have the ability to dominate a game and being able to defend them at no additional mana cost can be game changing.
It’s really important to note that this deck isn’t looking to play Daze as soon as possible. Hearkening back to the concept of the critical turn, it can be really costly to Daze at the wrong time. While defending your two drop might be correct in certain circumstances, if your hand is full of three drops, you might end up setting yourself back too far. However, Daze is a complex card and sometimes you might need to do it before you’re ready. Be mindful about the timing of the card and if you’re Dazing something before you’re ready to develop, make sure it’s something that needs to be stopped.
While Counterbalance did see a brief resurgence post-Top ban, it’s really fallen out of favor over the past year or two. Overall, mana costs in Legacy have become more diversified and it can be difficult to consistently counter relevant spells. However, it’s an effective card against Dreadhorde Arcanist and simply resolving it can wildly change how your opponent has to play. It’s particularly effective in conjunction with must-kill creatures, like Arcanist and Mentor, as most of the best removal spells tend to cost one mana. While it might be underwhelming against some decks, it can be a game plan by itself against others so Counterbalance certainly earns its spot here.
Teferi is an annoying card to play against in Legacy and it’s effective against a lot of common strategies. Neutering Dreadhorde Arcanist and turning off all disruption can really put the kibosh on what your opponent is doing. There’s a lot of safety in the knowing that your disruption will successfully stop your opponent, and that’s arguably more important in Legacy than in any other format. In addition, it works really well with your own Arcum’s Astrolabes and the ability to bounce most permanents can help you work your way out of many tricky situations.
This is a pretty normal cantrip suite. Playing Astrolabe cuts into the Preordains a bit (which is why you don’t see four Preordains here) but the benefit of having an untouchable mana base is generally worth it.
The most narrow card in the deck, Pithing Needle might look a bit out of place. It works well in this deck in a number of ways, though. There are a lot of decks with cards that can be difficult to interact with, Oko being the primary offender. Being able to stop Oko (as well as cards like Sneak Attack or Thespian’s Stage) is not only very meaningful, but this deck has a lot of different uses for the card in general. If the card named needs to be reset, Teferi can bounce it to give you another shot. If it dies, Sevinne’s Reclamation can bring it back and continue to disrupt your opponent. Even in the worst case scenario, in which your opponent has no meaningful cards to name with it, it still triggers Monastery Mentor.
It might be better in some cases to replace this with a less narrow card (such as an extra Daze or Lightning Bolt), but I think it has enough uses that it’s inclusion makes sense.
This is a relatively normal snow mana base, but I want to draw attention to the fact that this deck only plays 16 lands. This might seem low but this deck doesn’t have a ton of uses for excess mana. It’s pretty important to hit your first three land drops, but playing 14 cantrips makes that relatively easy. Once you start drawing land four and beyond, it can be really easy for this deck to flood out. That’s weird to say about a deck with so few lands but it’s definitely true. In other decks, cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Uro provide uses for excess lands in the mid-to-late game. Even in a deck like Delver, they have Wastelands to convert their lands into spells across the length of a game. Jeskai Arcanist doesn’t have access to any of that so mitigating flood is a really important aspect of the deck.
I wouldn’t necessarily fault anyone for adding in an extra land to this deck, but it’s a lot less necessary than it might look on paper.
Wear // Tear is one of the better Disenchant effects in the format but there aren’t a ton of decks that can support the mana cost at the moment. With the uptick in Sylvan Libraries and Carpet of Flowers going around (and the ability to incidentally pick off Arcum’s Astrolabe), Wear // Tear is looking exceptionally good right now.
This is a relatively narrow Doomsday hate card, but an effective one for sure. It does have some overlap with Death and Taxes but for the most part it’s somewhat one-dimensional. If you want something a bit less narrow, Meddling Mage can be an incredibly impactful card against Doomsday while also having a substantial influence against most other combo decks.
While Surgical might not be the most devastating graveyard hate spell, it works extremely well in this deck. Pairing with both Arcanist and Mentor is a lot of upside, and playing three of them will make it really difficult for decks like Reanimator to win quickly against you.
Playing a large number of small creatures is an effective strategy in Legacy at the moment. Both Elves and Death and Taxes have seen a substantial resurgence over the past few months and having a card like Pyroclasm goes a long way.
This deck is a bit light on answers to Oko, so loading up on Pyroblasts will go a long way. Beyond that, Pyroblast is still one of the best reasons to play red in Legacy and having access to four copies makes it much more likely that you can interact with your opponents in a meaningful way.
White-based midrange/control decks in Legacy have a lot of options when it comes to haymakers to bring in against slower decks. Court of Grace is likely the best among them, as bringing the monarch into a relatively stable board can be a soul-crushing experience. Even if they’re able to take it back, Court conveniently gives you a steady stream of tokens to reclaim it with.
Against many decks in Legacy, Blood Moon can be a plan by itself. It’s a bit higher impact than Back to Basics on average but both have their pros and cons. On the whole, Blood Moon tends to win more games when it resolves than Back to Basics and isn’t exposed to a Pyroblast. A lot of the big mana decks can be troublesome for this deck (especially since it doesn’t play Wasteland) so having a haymaker for those matchups is generally a good idea.
- If Counterbalance is in play, fetch lands provide a lot of extra scry value.
- Monastery Mentor has an incredible ability to end the game out of nowhere. Dazing your own spells can be more effective than ever with a Mentor around, so be sure to keep an eye out for those situations.
- If you’re concerned with an opponent’s Oko taking your Mentor, leave open some mana when you cast it. Oko’s -5 ability checks on resolution so if Mentor has more than three power, it won’t be stolen.
I could easily see a world where you want to take out all of the Forces and leave in the Pithing Needle (as well as bring in the second Blood Moon). However, I think having an answer to Klothys, God of Destiny is pretty important and it’s not like Force of Will has no value in the matchup. Further, I think having both Blood Moons might lead to an excess of three drops, which could be problematic.
It might be right to bring in a Wear // Tear if you’re concerned with Carpet of Flowers. Approaching this matchup is much like playing against Doomsday as Delver: don’t play too scared and make sure you can apply meaningful pressure before they can generate too much card advantage.
Even when I have minimal answers to Uro, I don’t generally like bringing in Surgical in the matchup. It might be fine, and if you really want to fit it in you could find the space, but I think it’s too low impact overall. Having Swords to Plowshares/Pyroblast will go a long way at managing Uro and I think that should be fine. Court of Grace can be risky but overall it shouldn’t be too hard to end up in a stable board state.
I’m not actually sure if Torpor Orb is worth it here, but it does shut down a fair amount of their creatures. Establishing a stable mana base is the most important task, so make sure you can cast your spells first and foremost. Counterbalance doesn’t really do much even if you stop an Aether Vial since they have a pretty diverse range of mana costs.
I don’t think Teferi is good enough in most cases against Hogaak. It can stop Hogaak for a turn, but Swords to Plowshares is much more effective there. If they aren’t playing blue, I’d leave it in because it does have some effect on the game but I don’t think it’s enough to warrant it’s spot.