It is a glorious day to be a Jeskai mage because it's a glorious time to be playing Jeskai in Modern.
Jeskai is not only a solid deck choice right now, it's also one of the archetypes with the most different ways you can build it, which means it's more fun to tinker around with than your old Lego collection.
Today I'll be taking a look at the newest ways to build Jeskai decks, what cards are hot right now, and which versions I think are positioned to prosper.
Jeskai Control (With Tempo Elements)
I'd say this is a great baseline for what you can expect the "average" Jeskai deck to look like right now. It's also probably the most successful style of Jeskai at the moment, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best.
Jeskai Control with tempo elements is a great launching point; if you understand it, then you can start getting fancy if you feel like it.
Spell Queller is one of the key cards that encapsulates the strategy and it's in a good spot right now.
"It protec, it attac, it eat spell on the stac."
Spell Queller does a solid job disrupting and then pressuring an opponent. This is especially important against big mana decks like Tron and TitanShift where you'll usually need a quick way to push damage. A decent number of decks lack good ways to kill a Spell Queller, like U/R Gifts Storm, Tron, Humans, Dredge, and Living End. Being able to exile a spell on the stack, ignoring Cavern of Souls, is also a premium ability right now.
Two's great, but three's a crowd, which means the big question for me is about Geist of Saint Traft. To Geist or not to Geist? I've had an anti-Geist bias in the past, but Geist has been putting up solid results lately.
Geist of Saint Traft wins games you wouldn't otherwise win. The proactivity of just slamming it down Turn 3 and then protecting it and disrupting your opponent is sometimes required to win against combo decks. Against some decks it's amazing; against others, it's not necessary at all.
Sometimes you slam Geist of Saint Traft, occasionally not on Turn 3, and it leaves the door open for your opponent to kill you.
I'm still not sold on Geist, but that's just like, my opinion, man.
I would be playing a Jeskai deck without Geist, but Tempo Jeskai without an emphasis on Geist of Saint Traft is still very much an option.
Shaheen Soorani-Style Jeskai
Shaheen Soorani recently wrote about a list that is more my speed, opting to run Vendilion Clique in the Geist of Saint Traft slot. I think Clique plays much better with the Spell Queller plan, since you can leave your mana up and then decide which one is better to play on your opponent's turn.
I like both a lot. The general consensus tends to lean towards Serum Visions and I'd say that's what I've begun to lean towards as well. Serum Visions being better makes sense, since there's a lot of upside in most scenarios where you're casting it. It looks deeper into your deck. It essential gives you two free scrys if your top card is good and something you'd want to take with Opt anyway.
Serum Visions also works nicely with other copies of Serum Visions, since you can set up your deck with the scry from the first one and then draw into what you need with the second. Opt doesn't have as much synergy with other copies of itself and your card draw.
The upside of Opt is that it's faster at getting you what you want, when you want it.
Both are still great cards, and deciding on the right mix depends on your deck as well. The more valuable instant speed and not missing a beat is for you, with countermagic and flash creatures, the better Opt gets.
So what about non-Spell Queller versions that want to dodge all your opponent's maindeck removal and play the pure control game?
Jeskai "Pure" Control
100% pure, uncut Control Jeskai, with some of the latest tech courtesy of Logan Martin.
Two copies of Search for Azcanta seems like a really good number to me. You don't want to be drawing multiples, especially more than two, but you still have a decent chance to find one throughout the course of a game.
Settle the Wreckage is a bit of a surprising card to see at first, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. In a lot of cases it's the best of Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods. It's great against graveyard decks like Living End and Dredge, where you want to be able to exile their creatures.
Settle also offers excellent synergy and versatility with Snapcaster Mage, since having Settle the Wreckage means you're virtually untouchable through your opponent's combat step no matter what they toss at you, whether creature-lands, Vengevines, or Goblin Guides. You also probably don't need to worry too much about giving your opponent a bunch of basic lands, since you're already casting Path to Exile and most decks in Modern run a limited number of basics nowadays.
On the positive side, Torrential Gearhulk is great with Cryptic Command and Settle the Wreckage, and Search for Azcanta makes getting to six mana reasonable. You do get a 5/6 body, which is nice when you are fortunate enough to cast it.
On the negative side, you're running a six-drop in Modern, which is about as clunky as you'd expect a huge torrential creature made out of gears to be. This means you lose a lot of speed and versatility compared to Snapcaster Mage. Missing out on being able to Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, or Serum Visions with Snapcaster Mage on three mana is a major blow. Heck, Snapcaster Mage is sometimes an Ambush Viper as well! Also, Torrential Gearhulk doesn't even work with Secure the Wastes, Sphinx's Revelation, or Logic Knot!
Jeskai Combo has a storied history with Jeskai Saheeli and Jeskai Nahiri, but there's also a new contender in town now:
I think Patrick Tierney has a great concept for the deck. Simple, rustic, homemade, delicious. Makes me kind of go, "Hmm, that seems like it could work!"
I love the style of proactivity in the current metagame. Just looking at the Top 8 from Grand Prix Oklahoma City, I think you'd want access to Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn against every other deck there! Tron, TitanShift, Dredge, and Living End seem like good decks to be hurling fifteen damage worth of Annihilator 6 tentacles towards.
With the Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian combo, your day gets ruined by a Lightning Bolt or revolted Fatal Push. Similar concerns would surround Splinter Twin plus Deceiver Exarch. Even Nahiri, the Harbinger you get to see coming for a couple of turns.
Speaking of surprises, I bet not a lot of opponents saw Emrakul coming from what appeared to be a conventional Jeskai deck. You can even go one step further with some sneaky sideboarding by sideboarding out the combo against decks you don't need a fast clock against that you can exhaust in the late-game.
I'd expect this style of Jeskai to gain in popularity, but it's not all flowers, perfume, and free 15/15s.
The downside of the deck is that Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn are actual bricks until they're winning you the game together. All the other Jeskai combos have at least a little bit of utility within the individual combo pieces.
Speaking of which, I'd like to see Nahiri, the Harbinger somewhere in the deck. It allows you to toss redundant copies of Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and of course ultimates to search up Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. You do risk making your deck a little too top-heavy, but it would be hilarious if Jeskai Emrakul Combo decks went from having four Nahiris and one Emrakul to now playing one Nahiri and four Emrakuls.
Beyond that, I could see a copy of Search for Azcanta becoming a copy of Desolate Lighthouse. Search for Azcanta kind of dislikes Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, since it shuffles away your graveyard, while being able to discard excess copies of Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with Desolate Lighthouse is very nice.
Overall I like the idea of fitting the Through the Breach combo into Jeskai Control. It seems like a great win condition against the combo and ramp decks that otherwise give you fits. It's certainly going to be the version I'm testing in the near future.
There you have it: Jeskai in Modern! What is your preferred version? Is Jeskai still a good choice going forward in the current Modern metagame? I certainly think so, no matter which style you decide to pick up.