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Monday's article examined the recent resurgence of blue-based aggro-control brews in Modern. A number of these decks have put up strong finishes on Magic Online lately, despite the continued presence of better-known aggro-control decks like Jund Rock and Grixis Shadow. More exciting still, these decks appear to be breaking out in a format already polarized by blazing-fast aggro-combo decks, which historically peeve aggro-control strategies lacking sufficient reversibility. I think their presence speaks to Modern's current health (a notion reinforced by Wizards' "No Changes" banlist announcement from earlier this week)... and, just maybe, to the actual power of these decks!
We've already explored the new crop of Temur decks turning heads in Modern, so today's article focuses on Jeskai. We'll look over successful decklists for Jeskai Delver, Jeskai Spirits, and Jeskai Mentor.
Jeskai has a storied history in Modern, but today, that story revolves around Lightning Helix. Helix is the one spell every Jeskai deck in this article runs, and I think the main reason to be in the wedge right now. Modern has turned quite aggressive of late, boosting the visibility of such a racing ace. And Lightning Bolt's unending reign as the most-played card in the format tells us everything we need to know about reach's impossible flexibility—3 damage kills creatures, planeswalkers, and players alike!
Jeskai Delver, by MANDARK (5-0)
On Monday, we wrapped up the Temur article with a blurb on Temur Delver; this time around, Jeskai Delver takes the spotlight. Temur hasn't always had a viable midrange shell to fall back on, but Jeskai Delver's almost always been eclipsed by its more successful control cousins. Nonetheless, the deck has existed in some iteration since Modern's dawn, and apparently continues to hang around.
This deck's counterspell package is significantly lighter than Temur Delver's due to its red presence. With more burn spells, using permission to keep opponents from stabilizing the board becomes less of a priority. Jeskai pilots can instead allow opponents clean up the battlefield, resolving to put the game away with burn spells. Between the full set of Lightning Helix, the added couple Jeskai Charms, and the inclusion of Mantis Rider, MANDARK's build features plenty of ways to "go over" enemies looking to out-muscle them in the red zone.
Rider's proven its worth in the Humans deck, where it offers a dedicated creature deck functional reach; in doing so, the Monk fundamentally changes the way fair matchups are played. It stands to reason that Rider would perform similarly well in Jeskai Delver. Cheaper threats Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer, and even Snapcaster Mage all draw fire away from the game-ender, and a hasty 3/3 backed up by Remand or Spell Pierce poses a nightmare for decks hinging on clunky spells like Krark-Clan Ironworks or Gifts Ungiven.
Less proven is Jeskai Charm, the other three-drop in MANDARK's list. While Boros Charm routinely earns a spot among the wedge's most efficient threats, its big brother is far from a Modern staple; removal mode has stiff competition in Path to Exile, and reach mode of course disappoints at this price point next to Boros Charm. Jeskai Charm's most unique quality, then, is its third mode, which grants creatures +1/+1 and lifelink for a turn. Locking in a big life point swing can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing—against combat-centric decks like Hollow One, Arclight Red, and Humans, life points are a precious resource throughout the game. Having more than an opponent lets pilots make more committed attacks and seize the initiative in a damage race. Wielding those swings at instant speed—say, after blockers have been declared—can also walk opponents into a sticky situation.
That's the Spirit!
Jeskai Spirits, by CARB (5-0)
Ah, there's our Boros Charm—but wait, where's Lightning Bolt? And Path to Exile? Jeskai Spirits has little need for Modern's most infamous one-mana spells, instead dedicating those slots to the critical mass of on-tribe creatures needed to fully benefit from Drogskol Captain and Supreme Phantom.
Since UW and Bant Spirits are already contenders in Modern, we might be better served by ignoring the deck in the context of Jeskai goodstuff piles, and instead asking what red brings the Spirits archetype over green. Most explicitly, the answer is Eidolon of the Great Revel. A Spirit itself, Eidolon offers free wins against strategies traditional difficult for Spirits to race or adequately disrupt without sideboard cards, including Ironworks, Storm, and Infect. The velocity-focused aggro-combo decks currently dominating the format are also troubled by Eidolon, which attacks their engines, a practice David suggested this week was key to defeating them.
Beyond Eidolon, red also yields Lightning Helix. Helix is superb in any kind of racing scenario, be it against Arclight Phoenix, Prized Amalgam, or Champion of the Parish. The ability to hit creatures further improves most aggressive matchups. While Helix strikes me as the pivotal card in Jeskai Spirits, Boros Charm also plays a role as a way to defeat controlling opponents who succeed in stabilizing the battlefield. Its addition turns Helix into a reliable plan in these scenarios, letting Jeskai Spirits attack from more angles than its brethren. Out of the sideboard, Exquisite Firecraft grants extra points on this axis, especially against Cryptic Command decks.
Last but not least, red has the more subtle effect of cushioning Spirits from a destroyed Rattlechains. Popping the 2/1 on sight is a great way to stunt the deck's tempo by forcing Spirits to play at sorcery speed. With all that reach in the picture, though, Spirits has much more to do on an opponent's turn, Chains or no.
Call Me Coach
Jeskai Mentor, by SMALAND (5-0)
Taking a decidedly more reactive route than the above decks, Jeskai Mentor seeks to put rest to the persistent myth that Monastery Mentor is not a Modern-playable creature. The Legacy and Vintage powerhouse has indeed peeked through the format's veil multiple times, but has yet to helm a top-tier archetype. This deck is constructed much like a classical Jeskai Control deck, but favors Mentor over the traditional top-end haymakers and Celestial Colonnades that tend to round those out.
I imagine this switch gives Jeskai Mentor a larger advantage in the pseudo-mirror. UW Control can struggle against win-in-a-jar creatures like Goblin Rabblemaster, and Monastery Mentor acts as a supercharged version, capable of dumping a whole army onto the battlefield at instant speed.
There's no Jeskai Charm here, but Mentor does us one better with Deafening Clarion. Here's a card Jeskai Delver could never play due to its symmetrical nature. In a more creature-light Jeskai deck, though, Clarion makes a smoother fit. Its inclusion gives the deck a mainbaord damage-based sweeper with little downside, as Valakut decks have in Sweltering Suns. But the card still threatens to turn a damage race on its head, especially combined with a swarm of prowess-toting Monk tokens. I imagine it's not even that uncommon for Jeskai Mentor to cast enough spells that attacking tokens withstand the three damage and swing in anyway!
While we're talking about Mentor, I was intrigued by another deck featuring the 2/2:
UW Mentor, by FLAMEDRAGONS2 (7th, Modern Challenge #11604271)
Okay, it's not Jeskai. But UW Mentor still gets a mention in this article. Just as its Jeskai sister mostly mimics the construction of a Jeskai Control deck, UW Mentor is built like a UW Control deck—down to the copies of Terminus, despite being named for a creature. This build takes Mentor a step further with a full set of Mishra's Bauble, which triggers the Monk practically free of charge. UW likes to play on the opponent's turn anyway, so getting the draw a turn delayed can't hurt that often. I'm also a big fan of the Peek in this list: firing it off in the mid- to late-game lets players know if it's safe to unload a hand of spells and turn Mentor into a one-turn kill à la Infect.
Until Next Bolt
One thing Temur and Jeskai have in common? The color red. Reach is a critical component of all these blue decks, and something I'd wager allows for much flexibility when it comes to brewing. While the recent influx of innovative aggro-control decks is exciting for players like me, I'd caution others not to hold their breath if they expect Sultai or Bant decks to show up next. As always, though, may the Modern universe prove me wrong!