This is an exciting article to write because it marks the beginning of my weekly gig for your Friday viewing pleasure! Writing biweekly fits into my professional/personal life well, but there are some obvious downsides. Often, I would make updates to decklists, change my stance on the metagame, or have some very important general feedback after my article was published. I attempted to update my readers through social media, but that isn't the most effective way to reach the thousands of people that looked to me for some control advice. On top of that, two weeks later I would want to write about something much different than the previous topic. Writing weekly offers some fixes for these issues. I get to continue to analyze Standard, following up on a fresh take from the week before. Although the content is new, it feels much more fluid than my previous, spaced out work.
A few articles ago, I championed Esper Control in Guilds of Ravnica Standard, offering some vital updates in our What We'd Play article series and wrapped up the next week with some new terrors that control players don't want to tango with. Today, we're going to dive into some successful MTGO PTQ data, looking at a glorious Jeskai Control deck that I had the pleasure of piloting for the last few days.
It feels so good to be able to consistently cast my spells! I will admit that the spell quality does suffer when moving away from black-based control options. There aren't any replacements for Vraska's Contempt, and this pilot accepts their fate when a resolved planeswalker begins to wreak havoc. The only option, the bread and butter of the deck, is Expansion. I had my doubts with this card, but my teammate, Peter Ingram, was a true believer. Anything that resembles Sphinx's Revelation must merit some vetting, which I wasn't able to do until now.
Expansion is the reason to move into the Jeskai shard, giving you an absolute bomb in the control mirror as well as pushing past the disruption of the Golgari wave that has hit Standard. In Fact or Fiction earlier this week, I knew that Golgari had the tools to be a top contender of the format, though the list that won the PTQ needed a lot of work. It seems to have engulfed the Magic Online metagame now, joining the populated ranks of red at the top tables. I hear a great deal of clamoring from Golgari fans that they always defeat Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks which I find interesting, as I vanquish my Golgari foes most of the time. Unless the game has changed completely, my dominating planeswalker control deck can handle a bunch of mediocre but synergistic creatures. If their power play was Rally the Ancestors instead of Gruesome Menagerie, maybe I would be singing a different tune, but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria lines up just fine against the two-power army of the midrange king, so sleeve up with confidence.
Expansion is the key part of the Izzet split card that makes it a four-of in the deck. Having a way to use your excess copies in the early game makes it versatile enough to not stress when multiple copies are drawn. Removal is a typical copy target in Limited, but in Constructed it's a different story. Jeskai Control doesn't have any targets for the initial removal spell, so it's helpful against hand disruption, counterspells, and burn. Explosion has a hefty mana cost attached, but it does play out very similarly to Sphinx's Revelation. Instead of the traditional lifegain from one of my favorite spells of all time, it deals damage to any target. This can result in life gain after a threat is removed from dealing you damage. It isn't as good as outright gaining the life, and it costs one more than Sphinx's Revelation, but it's still reasonable enough in a format where aggro doesn't dominate. Without the powerful black removal spells, Jeskai Control must have a way to handle cheap threats while keeping their life total robust.
The real eyecatcher of the deck is Azor's Gateway. A Limited superstar, this two-mana artifact hasn't seen much Constructed play. Even with two-mana artifacts were hip, Treasure Map took the spotlight away from this looting option. But that was before, when we didn't want infinite mana to burn our opponents to death. I know the primary purpose of Azor's Gateway is to filter draws, but its transformed side, Sanctum of the Sun, makes the Explosion devastating. Even if your life total is dwindling, it still adds a ton of mana to make the X equal a very large number. I was a believer of this card combination when I first saw it on paper, and it didn't disappoint after playing with it.
Moment of Craving and Vraska's Contempt allow control players to get back in the game after an aggressive barrage by the enemy team, but this list doesn't employ similar cards. Instead of cleaning up each creature individually, Deafening Clarion handles the initial wave on its own. Three damage to all creatures is enough of an answer to Mono-Red Aggro and was enough to get me on board. It's the only tap-out card in the deck which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable due to sorceries being kind of my thing, but the rest of the deck plays the game at instant speed on the opponent's turn, breathing life into Settle the Wreckage as the premier battlefield sweeper. Outside of burning enemy creatures, or cleansing the battlefield all at once, Seal Away is the final removal spell that this pilot decided they needed. After jamming multiple matches, I'm in complete agreement. The removal is just enough to give you game against heavy creature decks game 1 and bring in additional Wrath of God effects as well as Lyra Dawnbringer.
Lyra Dawnbringer is still a ridiculously powerful control option in Standard. You typically don't want to include creatures in the maindeck of builds like this, but it may become a necessity if Mono-Red Aggro takes back the spotlight from Golgari. Lyra is a lights-out win condition that makes attacking impossible, as well as puts the game out of reach with a single attack. Red players typically need to bring in ugly removal spells just to have a prayer against the Angel from white-based control decks. This is even tough for midrange decks like Selesyna Tokens and Golgari Midrange because sideboarding out removal is a necessary evil against control opponents, but Lyra brings the maximum amount of punishment for doing so.
History of Benalia is another punishing card for opponents that get light with removal after game 1. I've never been a huge fan of this card when used in Azorius Control, but times have changed. Having a few 2/2s is just enough against the control mirror, as well as adding an additional avenue for victory outside of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria against unsuspecting midrange players. When you think of white-based control in Standard, both mythics come to mind. Paired up with Settle the Wreckage and Seal Away, this style of control has a real shot at taking on the metagame. Sadly, there's always a catch.
White-based control is the most predictable and easy to play around when Duress is legal. A Golgari opponent seeing your Settle the Wreckage, taking your Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and having a decent battlefield presence is a series that can make it tough to defeat. I've had the benefit of facing much slower Golgari decks with a much higher emphasis on the lategame, making it easier to defeat them. When Llanowar Elves starts to power out tougher creatures to deal with, I'll begin to sweat the Duress.
Even with Deafening Clarion, Mono-Red is tough. I have done fairly well against them, but the burn can pile up after the creatures are dealt with. Stealing games with Lyra Dawnbringer is always fun, but there are a few new cards that create some nasty headaches. Cards like Risk Factor and Experimental Frenzy make red a matchup I'd still like to avoid.
This version of Jeskai Control was a great primer and there are only a few changes that need to be made. The most glaring issues I've found with the deck is the sideboard. I can't fathom a reason to have Search for Azcanta not in the maindeck, as it's one of the most crucial pieces of current Azorius Control in Modern. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to Standard control spells if they're played in older formats, especially one that got better with the surveil and jump-start. Sinister Sabotage and Chemister's Insight make transforming the legendary enchantment that much easier! Having an additional land pop up in the midgame is also very powerful, and I can't get away from that feeling. Putting additional Azor's Gateways, unnecessary removal, or Chemister's Insight in the graveyard also feels great. I have moved both to the maindeck, dropping one Azor's Gateway and one Syncopate. Syncopate has been instrumental in stopping pesky spells from coming back, as well as counts as a one-mana spell for Azor's Gateway. Even though Azor's Gateway loots, I found that four copies were a bit too many.
The other sideboard card I wasn't stoked to see was Essence Scatter. I think Essence Scatter is a maindeck card, as it doesn't perform better than Disdainful Stroke in the sideboard games. Disdainful Stroke hits the midrange creatures as well as planeswalkers. With Essence Scatter, it doesn't have the same range and it isn't a card you will bring in against aggressive decks. I added one copy to the maindeck over a Deafening Clarion, which has been moved to the sideboard. With two Search for Azcanta, the looting form Azor's Gateway, and some Settle the Wreckage action to fall back on, having three copies has been enough.
The one Banefire has been hilariously great against the control mirror, so I left that one in. The deck has enough tools to deal with the mirror already, but I'm a sucker for a hate card like this one. Lucky for us, Expansion doesn't hit high converted mana cost cards or this wouldn't work out. The sideboard needed a few additional one-ofs to handle unique threats in Standard, so I made some necessary changes to address some of the weaknesses of the deck. You'll find the final version that I've been battling with below and so far, I'm very impressed. Esper Control is still pretty good, but the manabase has made me table it for now. There is no doubt in my mind that it'll be the best option with the additional dual lands, but let's give this red deck a chance to shine in the meantime!