Insider: Which Way Should We Go With Jeskai?

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With the first Pro Tour with Khans of Tarkir finally in the books, it's time to really start buckling down on Standard.

While I haven't enjoyed a Pro Tour invite for some time, I was off battling Standard at the Minnesota SCG State Championship. My deck choice, assuming card availability, was a no-brainer--I wanted to play some version of the Mantis Rider deck. I didn't like Jadine's list as Titan's Strength and God's Willing are both contingent on you having one of your 12 creatures in play, and I didn't like Kevin Jones' list because Steam Augury is not what I would consider a playable card.

In my early thoughts on what a Mantis Rider deck would look like, I never truly considered Seeker of the Way, but I tested it for a few matches prior to the event because it's what everybody else seemed to like. It was easily the worst card in the deck and I'm surprised that the non-token versions of Jeskai were still playing it at the Pro Tour. It just runs into Courser of Kruphix and dies to nearly everything.

I didn't want to just cut threats for spells, so I ended up sleeving up Stormbreath Dragon. It seemed like a solid follow up to Mantis Rider to me. This is the list that I ended up playing:

I ended up going 4-3 in the event, but liking a lot of elements about the deck. The two biggest weaknesses are that you can't realistically beat Ascendancy Combo in game one if they play Sylvan Caryatid on turn 2, and that 5+ toughness creatures are hard to handle.

I wouldn't adjust the maindeck in any way with regard to battling Ascendancy Combo. You just end up losing too much against other decks when you do something like maindecking an Erase or changing Disdainful Stroke into Negate, and I'd rather just dedicate 1-3 more sideboard slots to beating the Combo deck. You can race them or just kill any non-Caryatid creature to win game one, so I would keep all the dedicated combo hate on the side.

Disdainful Stroke and Fated Conflagration are both concessions to the fact that five toughness creatures are really strong against this deck. I had considered Suspension Field but psyched myself out on Reclamation Sage being more popular/relevant than it is. Conflagration hits Planeswalkers as well, which is a nice upgrade over Field, but it misses Arbor Colossus and you definitely pay for the utility.

Outside of those two weaknesses, I see this deck as very well-positioned, and I believe that one of these weaknesses can be addressed in the maindeck and the other can be fixed out of the sideboard. So let's talk about what worked and what didn't work.

Stormbreath Dragon hasn't stopped being an awesome card, and I saw a lot of people--myself included--die to it on Saturday. That said, it really doesn't fit in in this deck. Very often this deck is just trying to burn people, and five mana is a lot for four damage. Not to mention that it's much easier to interact with than the other spells in the deck despite protection from white. The major advantage that Dragon has over Sarkhan is that you can play Dragon on consecutive turns and attack for a lot, but that's just not something this deck is really trying to do. I boarded Dragon out in literally every match and I fully intend to cut it from the deck. It was replaced by the following card against everything but Combo:

Five toughness creatures are a problem. Luckily, most of them also have four power. Elspeth seems out of place in what often plays like a burn deck, but sometimes you have to aim a lot of burn spells at creatures, and if all you're drawing is more burn spells, it's tough to actually win games. Elspeth happens to be excellent at winning games. Going forward, I like moving the Elspeths to the maindeck and playing more of a control role. I don't know if the deck is supposed to play more than two, but in a 25 land deck, more than two seems tough to support.

Then some creatures have two toughness. Searing Blood won't be good in every matchup, but when it is good, it feels like you just casted Time Walk. Elspeth is arguably the bigger innovation in my list, but Searing Blood really solidifies your position against aggressive decks and the mirror featuring Seaker of the Way. I would like to maindeck four, but it's just a blank against the control lists, so I don't see that as a realistic option. Though playing Searing Blood has a bit of a cost itself.

The Mana

My manabase is a lot different from the typical Jeskai Wins deck. I have a lot more red sources to support Fated Conflagration and Searing Blood. This makes Flooded Strand unappealing in my list.

This also means my deck has more taplands. Honestly, though, scrylands make it feel like you start with more than seven cards in your opener, and not playing Seeker of the Way feels like an upgrade as well, so I stand by playing at least 10 if not the full twelve of those. With red being as important as it is, Temple of Enlightenment would be the scryland on the chopping block, and cutting one for a basic and another for a Flooded Strand seems reasonable. Not playing Flooded Strand does have its cost.

We actually have a bit of trouble casting this card. To the point where Jace's Ingenuity probably just plays better here. Seeing as this deck is often trying to cobble together burn spells, drawing the additional card instead of having the selection might actually be better, though it's hard for me to say at this point. Either way, with Stormbreath Dragon coming out of the deck I definitely want more card draw spells at the top of the curve, especially if I'm only going to play two Elspeth.

Going Forward

With all of these notes in mind, I intend to take this list to Game Day and hopefully something close to the SCG Open in two weeks in Minneapolis. I'm quite confident in this strategy and feel that this list can't be off by more than 4-5 cards, and at this point in time it's just a matter of figuring out how to manage the flex slots and which matchups to cater the maindeck to.

While I do believe this list is very strong, I feel like right now is about the worst possible time to be buying into the deck. It's probably true that the Temples will only continue to increase in price, so I hope you already have them. That said, Mantis Rider and Dig Through Time will assuredly go down over time. I just don't see $10 for a regular rare from Khans as being a sustainable price, and I also see Mantis Rider slowly depreciating as well.

That said, this deck is awesome and if you have access to it, then I recommend trying it out. I don't know if it's the best deck, but I'm reasonably confident that either it or Jeskai Ascendancy Combo is.

Thanks for reading.
-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

6 thoughts on “Insider: Which Way Should We Go With Jeskai?

  1. Interesting article. Based solely on watching the PT top 8 coverage and looking at it on paper, it seems like this strategy has an inherently hard time with Siege Rhino.dec. I like that you are trying to address that with Elspeth, Fated Conflagration, etc. as I think that deck will be a large staple of the metagame for the duration of the format.

    What are your thoughts on Ashcloud Phoenix and/or Hushwing Gryff (and eschewing Rabblemaster)?

    1. Cutting Rablemaster from this deck sounds a lot like cutting Pack Rat from Black Devotion. Yes, people will be ready for Rabblemaster. Still, he will win many games as a singular card. Gryf has minor hosing power on Abzan but the fact of the matter is that 4 mana 4/5a are still quite playable on their own. I’d also rather be able to go over the top than play a hoser that you need to draw before the Rhino comes down.

      Phoenix is a more interesting question. I don’t like the card personally. It trades with anything and is very slow even if it comes back. The morph isn’t always worth a card and flipping it up can be worse for you than your opponent. Strikes me as worse than a Planeswalker and is most certainly worse than Rabblemaster. Magic just isn’t about the slow grind anymore. I could be wrong about Phoenix, but I have yet to see it come close to running away with a game.

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