The Season Two Invitational has come and gone and with it comes a month-long break and some time to prepare for next year. The first event of 2019 is the Team (Non-Unified) Modern Open, but I know that my sights are going to be on tuning the Standard deck I've been enjoying most: Jeskai Control!
Jeskai Control is the format's only top tier three-color deck, since it boasts a healthy combination of strong spells and reasonable mana when compared to the other decks in the format. Grixis Control sees some play but isn't the default three-color deck choice in the format, because, well, the white cards are just so good!
The two cards you see above are the biggest reasons to play Glacial Fortress, Sacred Foundry, and Clifftop Retreat alongside your Sulfur Falls and Steam Vents. Deafening Clarion gives Jeskai a great way to catch up in the early turns against the aggressive starts the other decks in the format have. Being able to clean up a couple Merfolk Branchwalkers or a few one-drops out of Boros Aggro gives the deck the ability to turn the corner with threats like Crackling Drake or take the pressure off to resolve a Chemister's Insight on turn 4.
Teferi is, well..Teferi.
The Hero of Dominaria lit the Magic world on fire in 2018 and made control mages everywhere happy that they didn't have to consider Dovin Baan for their Standard control decks. Teferi effectively costing three mana on a majority of the turns he's played makes him incredibly efficient at pulling you very far ahead very quickly in both cards and mana. If you're fortunate enough to untap with Teferi, it quickly becomes very difficult to lose.
Jeskai Control has a resoundingly solid toolbox of spells to utilize, given the size of the current Standard format as far as number of sets are concerned. Let's break down each group of cards that makes up the spells.
While more reactive than Izzet Drakes/Phoenix decks, Jeskai Control takes a page out of Izzet's creature base by usually employing some number of Niv-Mizzet, Paruns and Crackling Drakes to win the game. The biggest addition, as mentioned above, is Teferi, which, when played together, gives Jeskai the ability to play a more midrange style game when it's called for. A curve of Crackling Drake into Teferi into Niv-Mizzet can frequently be far too much to overcome for some of the other decks in the format. Lyra Dawnbringer serves as the spiritual successor to Baneslayer Angel as a control finisher and is frequently utilized out of the sideboard against decks that are ill-equipped to handle her.
This department is the one that arguably suffers the most from the smaller card pool the deck has access to at the moment, but the available tools are good enough and slot reasonably well into the deck's curve.
- Opt does a nice job of letting you play your lands tapped in the early game to avoid taking too much damage while you set up for a turn 3 Deafening Clarion.
- Chemister's Insight, the spiritual successor to Glimmer of Genius, is a solid recurrable draw spell that lets you cycle away dead spells or lands later in the game to help you churn even further through your deck.
- Divination sees occasional play as a one or two-of but has generally seen little play in more recent lists, as the card sits on the curve in the same spot as - you guessed it - Deafening Clarion.
Due to the deck's reliance on Deafening Clarion to clean up the battlefield as the game progresses to turn 4 and beyond, Jeskai Control doesn't overutilize the above removal spells to help it make its way to the midgame, but it does employ some mixture of single target removal to help deal with some of the bigger threats in the format.
- Lava Coil does a superb job of dealing with both Enigma Drake and Crackling Drake, as well as being one of the few clean answers the deck has to a Wildgrowth Walker that has grown out of Deafening Clarion range.
- Ixalan's Binding is one of the best answers to Niv-Mizzet, since it doesn't trigger Niv-Mizzet's draw ability and prevents further Niv-Mizzets from joining the fray on your opponent's side, leaving yours to quickly take over.
- Justice Strike does a really good Terminate impression against most of the creatures in the format. The card usually doesn't see play in huge numbers since enough creatures exist that have higher toughness than power, like Trostani Discordant, Shalai, Voice of Plenty, and Wildgrowth Walker.
- Shock's utility in Jeskai is slightly different than the Mono-Red Aggro decks, as it's usually being pointed at threats instead of your opponent's life total. On top of being able to take care of Llanowar Elves before they generate too much of a mana advantage, it helps cleans up Vivien Reids and Ral, Izzet Viceroys that will frequently enter the battlefield and use their minus ability to kill your creatures.
- Seal Away, while conditional, is a very clean answer to anything attacking you. It most notably serves as one of your only answers to Adanto Vanguard, a card that's very difficult to destroy.
- Expansion//Explosion could've been listed in the draw spell section, but I put it in this section since it's very good with your other removal spells late in the game. Being able to copy a Lava Coil to deal with two creatures on turn 4 is nice, and the card's power level scales greatly into the lategame, where you can fuel back up on cards while taking out one of your opponent's creatures. If the game goes even later than that, it can turn into an enormous Banefire-esque burn spell that you can send right at your opponent to finish them off.
The bread and butter of most control decks, the counter suite currently available in Standard has a lot to offer.
- Syncopate is the best counterspell for preventing your opponent from curving out on you. Being able to counter your opponent's turn 2 play (when you go first) allows you to go toe to toe with your opponent up the curve until you reach turn 5 and cast Teferi on a nearly empty battlefield. While at its worst on the draw and in longer, drawn out games like the mirror match, Syncopate gives the deck a flexible spell to help break up your opponent's curve starting on turn 2.
- Essence Scatter does a great job at answering most of the threats in Standard and usually allows you to trade up on mana in the process. Against Izzet Drakes, getting to counter an Enigma Drake or Crackling Drake lets you pull very far ahead on tempo. It also, like Syncopate, lets you keep Golgari Midrange from curving out with Merfolk Branchwalkers and Jadelight Rangers. This is significant, as the deck relies on those creatures to filter the top of their deck and help them hit their fifth and sixth land drops so they can start dropping giant hexproof Dinosaurs and Planeswalkers onto the battlefield. Essence Scatter is notably not great against some of the most potent threats in the format, like Niv-Mizzet and Carnage Tyrant, but it helps stop just about everything in between.
- Ionize competes with Sinister Sabotage for the three-drop counterspell of choice. One of Jeskai Control's biggest weaknesses is its manabase, and Ionize is easier to cast on turn 3 over Sinister Sabotage, with the additional upside of helping you chip in at your opponent's life total. This can be significant, as it can sometimes shave a turn off the clock for your Crackling Drake to cross the finish line later in the game.
- Sinister Sabotage's advantage over Ionize comes primarily from the surveil 1 stapled onto the card. Control players from the Return to Ravnica/Theros era fondly remember Dissolve as one of the better three mana counters to be printed in Standard, and Sinister Sabotage is arguably better than that, as it creates other micro-synergies like fueling Search for Azcanta flips faster.
- Negate helps fight a lot of Standard's lategame. Golgari Midrange leans on cards like The Eldest Reborn, Find//Finality, and Vivien Reid to generate card advantage in the lategame, and Negate answers those very cleanly. The mirror match has targets like Teferia and Search for Azcanta, and Izzet Drakes spends the early turns spinning its wheels by casting cantrips to hit their land drops and find their Dive Downs. By countering those spells, you can hinder Izzet Drakes' development and clear the way to resolve your own Niv-Mizzet before they do.
- Disdainful Stroke is usually relegated to the sideboard, but a copy in the maindeck or two will likely always find a target in this format. Even Boros Aggro plays cards that get snagged, like Venerated Loxodon and Conclave Tribunal.
The sweepers available in Standard for Jeskai to play are, like the removal spells, powerful but conditional. Each one does a great job at hitting threats and all come at different mana costs, so it usually comes down to metagame considerations for deciding which mixture you want to play in your maindeck and sideboard.
- Deafening Clarion, as I've mentioned before, is one of the biggest reasons to play Jeskai Control in Standard. Being cheap lets you catch up quickly against the aggressive decks in the format, and the lifelink mode sometimes lets you virtually end games with an enormous Crackling Drake.
- Cleansing Nova trades away the cheaper mana cost in exchange for being able to destroy everything without toughness mattering. Additionally, like Deafening Clarion, Cleansing Nova has a "hidden mode" that destroys all artifacts and enchantments on the battlefield, which can be useful against decks that heavily rely on white enchantments as their primary forms of removal, like Boros Aggro.
- Star of Extinction seeing play in the format is casually the biggest flavor win in Standard, since this large, hexproof monster is the biggest reason it sees play:
- Star is the ultimate sweeper in Standard. The Ixalan mythic quickly found a home in Standard due to its ability to deal with planeswalkers, Dinosaurs, and even utility lands!
- Settle the Wreckage has conceded slots in control decks to Deafening Clarion but still sees play in some numbers. The card has been in print for over a year now, and it's a card that loses a lot of power when opponents are actively playing around it. Sometimes, not having this sweeper in your deck at all can give you value as people will still play around it. This card is very strong against Boros Aggro, and, like Star of Extinction and Cleansing Nova, helps deal with Carnage Tyrant.
Since the beginning of the format, we've seen a variety of different builds of Jeskai Control have success. Eli Kassis won GP New Jersey with a version utilizing Azor's Gateway to cast enormous Expansion//Explosions for lethal damage. Adrian Sullivan won GP Milwaukee with a version utilizing Treasure Map to help power out faster Niv-Mizzets and protect them with Dive Down. The deck has 1-2 slots available for these flexible cards that help provide incremental advantage in the early game and tons of it in the lategame.
- Search for Azcanta is, to many, one of the best spells granted to control mages in the last year. The card offers card filtering to help hit your land drops and draw the spells you need early in the game and turns into an unbeatable card advantage engine if you survive the game long enough to transform it into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. While slow and not fantastic in multiples, the card is incredibly useful in Jeskai Control at all points in the game.
- Treasure Map provides advantage on a slightly different axis than Search for Azcanta. While the Treasure Map side also helps filter your draws, the Treasure Cove side provides flexibility in either raw cards or additional mana thanks to the Treasure tokens it creates once it transforms. The ability to ramp into high powered spells a turn or two ahead of schedule can help close the door on a game quickly against unprepared opponents.
- Azor's Gateway is another card selection engine that transforms into an enormous amount of mana. This card was more popular in the earliest builds of Jeskai Control in this Standard format, eventually giving way to Niv-Mizzet being the primary gameplan.
As you can see, there's a slew of options available when it comes to putting together a solid maindeck and sideboard. Moving forward, I think I'd like to test this list:
One of my biggest problems with this deck have stemmed from missing land drops, so I've opted to go with Sinister Sabotage over Ionize, as well as adding the 26th land. Most lists play 25 with Sabotage, but I wanted to add the extra Island to help with hitting double blue mana on turn 3. The sideboard Nexus of Fate is a solid addition for the mirror match and potentially Golgari as it attempts to win the game on an axis that your opponents will be not be expecting. Gerard Fabiano's list from the Invitational intrigues me as it attempts to go "all in" on the Nexus plan, but I find it hard right now to divorce myself from Niv-Mizzet, as well as make myself slightly softer in Niv-Mizzet mirrors due to how poorly the card lines up against it.
VS Golgari Midrange:
VS Jeskai Control
VS Boros Aggro
VS Izzet Drakes
Keep in mind that this deck can be built in a variety of different ways, and the search for the optimal build is still out there. As I mentioned, Gerard Fabiano's Jeskai Nexus version has piqued my interest the most, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to give it a spin to see how it plays. Find a spell suite that works best for your playstyle and for the ever evolving metagame, and let Teferi do the rest.