Jeskai Control in RNA Standard
- Rodrigo Martin
Christmas holidays are officially over and it’s time for a new year full of Standard. Since Ravnica Allegiance is just around the corner, Rone wants to take a look at what's coming for his current favorite archetype - Jeskai. Keep reading to learn his thoughts on the deck and his thoughts on what's to come.
Hello everyone and Happy New Year! I hope you were able to usher in the new year with joy and celebration. At Cardmarket Insight, we have lots of new topics to write about and, of course, we're looking forward to trying out the new set. From now onwards. I will be writing monthly, so you will read me a little less than usual. I'll, however, make sure the content is still high quality and is, above all, up-to-date.
Focusing on the subject on many Magic players' minds, Ravnica Allegiance is coming and during Christmas holidays, I was able to test one of the most powerful control decks in the last few Standard formats: Jeskai featuring Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This planeswalker is one of the best cards printed in 2018 and it has had a great impact on the format. Its usage has even spread to Modern and Legacy.
At first glance, many of us underestimate his +1 ability. We estimated the power of the drawn card well, as we've had that before, but the fact that you untap two lands at the end of the turn really puts this card over the top, allowing you to play Teferi and leave mana up to protect him.
So, we have a draw engine that also can get rid of annoying permanents and his ultimate wins you the game, all in one card. Within this article we will evaluate each card in Jeskai control, starting with what we had pre-rotation, then what we had from GRN, and finally what we're getting in RNA:
Blue and White Cards from The Past
After September rotation, the deck already had several cards to configure a control game plan, based on spot and mass removal, cantrips and counters. As for white cards, we had Seal Away, capable of exiling any creature at instant speed for only two mana, as long as it has neither vigilance nor hexproof.
Settle the Wreckage is particularly designed against problematic creatures like Carnage Tyrant or Arclight Phoenix although if we leave 4 mana untapped during the opponent's turn they will surely play around it. Finally, Cleansing Nova doesn't always fit into all lists but I personally like to play a copy since in addition to being a board sweeper, it also allows us to destroy enchantments and artifacts that we haven't been able to counter.
Regarding pre-existing blue spells, the Ixalan block offers Opt, a fairly strong one-mana cantrip that helps us find our key spells. Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin has lost some effectiveness but is still very powerful combined with Teferi's first ability once it has transformed into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.
In the counterspell section, the well-known Spell Pierce and Negate deal with noncreature spells and Syncopate serves as a catch-all "Mana Leak" that also exiles the spell. It's quite effective against the new Jump-Start mechanic and Undergrowth spells.
Guilds of Ravnica: Izzet + Boros Makes Jeskai
Right after rotation in September, Teferi lovers knew their boy would be format-defining, but it was not clear which color combination was best. Since the Azorius guild would not appear until early 2019, the Dominaria walker would have to ally with the other guilds.
Some Esper lists, using black for Ritual of Soot and Vraska's Contempt seemed like a solid option at the beginning of the format, but after a while, Jeskai became the path to follow. What makes it best: Well, it's made up of two guilds that we got in Guilds of Ravnica – Boros and Izzet. The spells in these guilds were also quite effective for the control strategy:
Justice Strike and Deafening Clarion are the main reason to include red in the deck. The Boros instant allows us to kill small and large creatures as long as their strength is equal to or greater than their toughness: Llanowar Elves, Jadelight Ranger, Doom Whisperer, and Lyra Dawnbringer, just to name a few. However, there are several creatures in the format that survive Justice Strike: Adanto Vanguard, Rekindling Phoenix, Arclight Phoenix and Wildgrowth Walker all survive Justice Strike, which is why we also have Seal Away.
Deafening Clarion is our three mana mass-removal spell, vital for destroying early threats from decks like Mono Red, Mono White Aggro, Selesnya Tokens, and B/G Midrange. The ability to give lifelink to your own creatures is also relevant, especially when we have a Crackling Drake or NIv-Mizzet Parun on the battlefield and we are low on life.
Finally, Legion Warboss is one of my favorite creatures for sideboard purposes, since it becomes a fast finisher in control matchups, protecting us from cards like Plaguecrafter and The Eldest Reborn thanks to the goblin tokens it generates.
Speaking of creatures, the spells from the Izzet guild provide the only two that the deck plays in the main board. Crackling Drake has had a massive impact on the format, being the cornerstone in archetypes like Izzet Drakes, Jeskai Control, and has even been played in Modern recently.
It is true that if we play it on turn 4, it often dies at the hands of the opponent's removal in the shape of Lava Coil but its cantrip effect means that we do not lose card advantage in the process. It is a great blocker in the early stage of the game and later it becomes a tremendous threat that can finish off games on one turn.
Moving onto Niv-MIzzet - it's one of the cards I like most about this strategy and is probably one of the most powerful cards in the current meta. He has won me so many games that were completely lost before playing him. If we manage to untap with him alive, the game is, a significant majority of the time, straight-up finished because of the amount of card advantage he generates.
In the screenshot below, you can see the end of a game against a Bant Nexus of Fate where the legendary dragon took of 1 Teferi, 1 Karn, and 1 Tezzeret, all thanks to his pinging ability. The number of cards you get to draw is so absurd that there is significant risk of decking yourself if you're not careful.
Obviously, we have to be very careful to avoid threats like Vraska's Contempt, Ravenous Chupacabra, The Eldest Reborn and Beacon Bolt. That's why we will always try to wait until our opponent has no resources or we play it with a counterspell in hand to protect it.
Last but not least, Expansion // Explosion is another multi-task card that can be used early in the game as cheap interaction depending on the situation and later, it draws so many cards to close the game.
Jeskai Control by Rodrigo Martin
|26Lands||12Other Permanents||22Instants and Sorceries|
|4Clifftop Retreat||3Crackling Drake||1Cleansing Nova|
|4Glacial Fortress||2Niv-Mizzet, Parun||4Deafening Clarion|
|6Island||3Teferi, Hero of Dominaria||3Chemister's Insight|
|4Sacred Foundry||3Seal Away||1Expansion // Explosion|
|4Steam Vents||1Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin||1Justice Strike|
|1Settle the Wreckage|
|1Cleansing Nova||2Invoke the Divine||2Ixalan's Binding|
|3Legion Warboss||2Lyra Dawnbringer||2Negate|
|1Niv-Mizzet, Parun||2Star of Extinction|
This is my current list, though there are tons of other valid Jeskai control lists. I have tried versions with Treasure Map, which helps us smooth our draws while accelerates our higher costs, but my playstyle doesn't gel well with it.
As for the sideboard, I really like Ixalan's Binding to shut down problematic permanents like rival planeswalkers, which are very difficult to deal with if we do not counter them early in the game.
This list doesn't have it, but I have tried a copy of Nezahal, Primal Tide for control mirrors as an alternative win condition. It guarantees its arrival on the battlefield and can protect itself from opposing removal, but is obviously less powerful than our Izzet overlord.
Ravnica Allegiance Spoilers – Hit or Miss?
Despite the good results that Jeskai Control has achieved in recent months, the new set will mean a change in the Standard metagame and, therefore, the deck will have to adapt to the upcoming threats of the Gruul, Rakdos, Simic and Orzhov guilds.
Fortunately, new reinforcements from the Azorius guild will come to our aid, although not all the cards that have appeared to date fit well in control. I'll try and guess which ones will serve Niv-Mizzet well and which ones will fall short of Teferi's expectations:
- Hallowed Fountain: Big Hit. The most important addition for the strategy is definitely Hallowed Fountain, which will make our mana base almost perfect, reducing the number of Sacred Foundry and Clifftop Retreat.
- Absorb: Hit. The reprint of this original counter from Invasion makes many blue mages happy, since it is especially good against aggressive decks with direct damage like Mono Red aggro. It is not only canceling one of their spells, but also effectively canceling a future Lightning Strike or Wizard's Lightning. However, it has a main competitor is Sinister Sabotage, the three mana counter-spell that all versions were running until now. Depending on the match, one will be better than another, so I think it is quite likely that we will have a 3-2 split based on the most played decks.
- Deputy of Detention: Miss. This card is a mix between Detention Sphere and Banisher Priest, as it exiles any nonland permanent and all others with the same name while it remains in play. The problem is that the format is so full of removal, so a 1/3 creature doesn't seem like the best idea to deal with other permanents. Nevertheless, it may have some applications in sideboards. That being said, I feel Ixalan's Binding is far superior to the deputy, whose main advantage is dealing with mass tokens from March of the Multitudes.
- Dovin, Grand Arbiter: Miss. The new iteration of the blue white planeswalker is somewhat disappointing, since its +1 ability is very focused on having creatures on the battlefield, something that Jeskai Control does not have until the mid-late game. It is true that it can generate 1/1 flying tokens with its -1 ability while gaining life, but honestly it seems that Wizards meant for this walker to create a wider more mid-rang-ey Azorius strategy with this walker.
- Quench: Hit. It is one of the spoiled cards from last week that best suits the control strategy. We do not have a Mana Leak reprint, but this is close. This counterspell allows us to deal early threats game, but I don't see a full playset as the way to go. One or two definitely seems like enough.
- Sphinx's Insight: Hit. Don't get me wrong, I don't think this card is better than Chemister's Insight and probably will not replace it, but the fact that you can get some extra life could be worth considering during the early weeks when the metagame starts very aggressive. I'll be adding 1 copy to try it out.
- Precognitive Perception: Hit. This is great instant that really does the new Azorius mechanic proud. Basically, a Jace's Ingenuity with an upside. If you cast it during your main phase, you get to scry 3 before drawing. I see this card alongside Niv Mizzet, dealing 4 damage while drawing all the cards. The main issue is that 5 CMC is pretty busy in Jeskai, with Teferi and Cleansing Nova both having an important role at that mana cost.
- Emergency Powers: Hit. I am quite unsure about this card; for starters it's very reminiscent of Nexus of Fate as a 7 mana instant with a huge effect. This time though, it's a symmetrical ability like Time Twister from Alpha.
The fact that you can play at the end of your opponent's turn and untap with a whole new hand before them sounds really appealing and even if you play during your turn, the Addendum might help to put Teferi into play on the spot. To sum up, this card is busted and might see play, but just as one-off to refill your hand in the late game.
Well, these are my thoughts on Jeskai and where it might be headed with Ravnica Allegiance. Until then, I really suggest you try the deck either online or IRL, since it is great fun to play with a lot of interesting choices during each game.
We still have a week or so until the full spoiler is revealed, so we can start brewing the new Teferi Control deck, whether it remains Jeskai or branches out elsewhere.
As usual, thank you so much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed the article. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.