Modern has a lot going on lately.
Not only have there been plenty of new cards entering the format over the last year, there's also been plenty of new decks.
As a result, pretty much every archetype has had to adjust slightly, if not majorly. The Modern metagame is like a herd of penguins, every deck is trying to stay relevant and winning by pushing other decks out of the way and themselves into the middle of the metagame.
Today I'll share my thoughts on a deck that will always be near and dear to my heart: Jeskai Control. I'll explain the theory behind Jeskai Control as a deck choice right now, as well as go over some of the newest tech and card choices for specific builds.
Let's start with something old and some Jeskai theory before we get to the somethings new, borrowed, and blue.
Occasionally I'll revisit the Jeskai Control deck that won me Pro Tour Born of the Gods four years ago. It's fun and provides the occasional nugget of wisdom comparing what once was to what is now.
The Modern metagame has vastly expanded while the diversity of threats and power level has increased as well. Back when I played Jeskai Control, it was a simpler time for Modern. Zoo was the most played deck even!
One thing that turns me off Jeskai Control right now compared to back then is that there are a large handful of bad matchups you can encounter that didn't exist before.
Dredge, for example. You didn't really have to deal with that as a Jeskai mage back in my day!
Being a reactive deck in a format like Modern can make you feel helpless against Lantern Control, or Dredge, or G/W Hexproof, which sucks. Ideally I prefer to play decks that have a decent chance to beat anything, and back then Jeskai fit the bill. Nowadays that's rare to find in Modern, just based on how deep and powerful the format is. That means that now it's more of a gamble that you're hoping to face your good matchups and avoid the bad ones.
You're almost always having to gamble a little more than you're comfortable with in Modern, be it that you're hoping to get the right matchups, that you have the right draws, or that your opponent doesn't have their nut draws. It's part of what makes Modern unique and either stressful or fun (depending on your outlook) and attachment to being in control of winning.
Still, even in a confusing and difficult to decipher Modern metagame, if you have your pulse on the metagame, you can predict, tune, and pilot a solid deck choice.
For example, say Modern was simplified to only three decks you could play: Five-Color Humans, U/R Gifts Storm, and Jeskai Control. You feel that Humans beats Storm, Storm beats Jeskai Control, and Jeskai Control beats Humans. You also feel that the rest of the metagame is underestimating Jeskai Control and overestimating Humans. That's your edge. You can assume more people will play Humans, fewer will play Storm, and you can play Jeskai Control to capitalize on that fact. Modern is kind of like this except instead of Rock Paper Scissors, there are dozens of different choices and understanding that wacky 4-D Chess matrix is the key to success.
On the plus side right now, a lot of the most popular decks in Modern are good matchups for Jeskai Control. Humans, in particular, is having a good showing lately and some of the annoying decks like Lantern Control are less prominent.
Jeskai has also picked up plenty of new tools as well. But enough reminiscing of the past, it's time to look to the future of Jeskai Control!
We'll start with the basic and probably most solid option in a Jeskai Control list and then get more exotic as we go.
I think Brandon Dollaway more or less nailed it in terms of a good solid Jeskai Control deck right now.
It's actually quite similar in form, function, appearance, and philosophy as my Pro Tour-winning deck considering it's been four years. The more things change the more they stay the same… or something.
Jeskai is still a control deck looking to survive and squeak out advantages anywhere you can find them against midrange and aggro and disrupting combo decks while burning them out.
The initial Jace, the Mind Sculptor hype has finally worn off for me. So where do I stand with regards to sculpting minds?
Well initially I was jamming 3-4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor in every blue control list I could; now I feel 1-2 is the appropriate starting point.
Search for Azcanta is actually a strong contributor to stifling Jace's dominance. It's not that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is bad in the format, it's just that Search for Azcanta is also great and has some unique advantages over Jace.
Notably, Search for Azcanta is cheaper, allowing you to deploy it proactively and then not have to worry about tapping four mana later on in the game. This can be particularly punishing against combo and Tron decks. Search is also often harder to kill and perfectly capable of drowning your opponent in card advantage should you be given the luxury of getting to the point where it transforms.
The first copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in your blue control decks does have a nice amount of value though. You aren't at risk of drawing too many copies and there are plenty of matchups and situations where casting it on turn 4 is an excellent play that will set the tone of the rest of the game in your favor.
The other card that makes a ton of sense right now, that I haven't been so crazy about before is Runed Halo.
Runed Halo does a lot against the decks that have been gaining in popularity lately:
- Having trouble with a big Slippery Bogle? Runed Halo.
- Opponent cast two Hollow Ones on turn 1? Runed Halo.
- Opponent bashing your face in with Gurmag Angler or Death's Shadow? That's a Runed Halo.
- Bloodghast being annoying? You better believe that's a Runed Halo.
Runed Halo used to be unexciting most of the time, but right now it's excellent in a lot of otherwise disastrous situations against a lot of decks. Lots of decks won't even have many reasonable ways to remove it, and it kind of acts as a mini Ixalan's Binding, sometimes even with more versatility since it can name Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as well.
I was shaving Lighting Bolts from Jeskai Control and adding Logic Knots before it was cool.
This deck is still quite similar to the styles above, just going a bit more top heavy for big effects.
Supreme Verdict is much better against certain creature decks where Lightning Bolt is mostly ineffective. In particular, Supreme Verdict is much better suited for killing Hollow One, Gurmag Angler, Slippery Bogle, Tarmogoyf, or Death's Shadow.
The downside being you need to actually make it to four mana, and without Lightning Bolt it's much harder to close out a game quickly against combo or Tron.
If you're looking for a way to close out games…
If you want to play Jeskai, but still fear being unable to interact with your opponent's game plan effectively, Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian are hedging against your bad matchups that you can't just win through pure card advantage, controlling the battlefield, and eventually burning their face. Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian do the job for you.
The biggest problem is you're putting Felidar Guardian in the deck, which doesn't exactly compliment your curve, which means you're having to shave some of your other fantastic four drops: Cryptic Command, Supreme Verdict, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
So what does the future hold for Modern and Jeskai?
One of the most blatant game changers from Dominaria for Modern has to be Damping Sphere.
Damping Sphere - 2
If a land is tapped for two or more mana, it produces C instead.
Each spell a player casts costs 1 more to cast for each spell that player has cast this turn.
It hoses Tron almost as effectively as Blood Moon, but for only two mana and it can be played in any Modern deck. That would be fine by itself, but it also hoses Storm decks! Damping Sphere is certain to shake things up in Modern more than a catfish in an aquarium full of cod.
Tron and Storm are both scary matchups for Jeskai Control, and Jeskai Control can happily play a couple copies of Damping Sphere in its sideboard.
Not only that, but a lot of the other decks that can use Damping Sphere are good matchups for Jeskai Control, so there's potential for Tron and Storm to be less played and easier to beat, and the good matchups for Jeskai, like Humans and Affinity, will hopefully be more frequent. That isn't guaranteed though however, since other decks may take better advantage of Damping Sphere. For example, Lantern Control, G/W Hexproof, and Dredge can all play Damping Sphere and have better matchups against Tron and Storm, and you don't want to see those as a Jeskai mage.
What does the future hold for Modern and Jeskai Control? I'm not sure, but I'm thinking it might be very good.