This standard format, I think since last year’s Magic 2015 core set, has been one of the wildest wests of standard I have ever played in. Keep in mind, I took a big break after Lorwyn, so I could have missed quite a few things. However, the plethora of decks that are viable to play in a competitive event is astonishing.
Now, I only caught the tail end of that whole Mono-Black Devotion/Sphinx’s Revelation era of standard, so I hadn’t been too exposed to what I have been told was that sickening meta, but from what I’ve read, it was a horrific time. Much like the days of old, where there were a couple of “best decks” and not much else to play competitively, if you weren’t casting Pack Rat or Sphinx’s Revelation, you were probably doing it wrong.
But our benevolent Hasbroverlords at Wizards of the Coast have done a fine job since Magic 2015 of doing one of two things: either making sure that the cards they print are not overly powerful for the range of cards they have given us to play with, or making sure that the number of powerful cards we are able to play with are such that they all do not fit into the same deck.
For a long while, if you’ve been following my articles, I’ve been a big proponent of playing what I believe is the best group of the most powerful cards in standard, Abzan Control. Just a bunch of stupid value cards that gained incremental advantage over the course of the game with some decent catchalls and oppressive creatures.
However, my true playstyle is a tempo-ish aggro-control deck. Decks like Splinter Twin in modern, U/G Madness in the old days of extended, the Angelfire decks of standard times of old. Initially when Khans of Tarkir was first released, I saw that a deck with the baby Lightning Angel on a bug, Mantis Rider, won the Star City Games standard open, and that immediately made my first deck after rotation Jeskai aggro. I did always feel like that deck was missing something though, and as I was just getting back into Magic, couldn’t figure it out, so I ended up just shoving Siege Rhinos down peoples’ throats (I was also a big fan of The Rock in the old days of extended as well, so value creatures backed with discard and removal is also something I’m familiar with).
The past few weeks however, I’ve been able to get my hands on a set of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and boy is this card busted. Not busted in the sense that you’re probably thinking. Busted more along the lines of [explitive] buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuusted.
You see, I’m really poor at evaluating cards when they’re spoiled. I think that everyone was able to agree that Nissa, Vastwood Seer was a very strong Magic card, and that’s correct. She’s a very good creature, and if you play her late, you can effectively draw two cards off of her on the turn that you play her, and you also get a planeswalker out of the deal, and not a shabby one at that.
The other planeswalkers were also valued highly (except for poor old Chandra, bless you child). I think that the planeswalker with the most contention was Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. When he was spoiled, I remember thinking to myself that decks other than delve-centric value or whip decks weren’t in the market for a non-attacking Merfolk Looter. Sure, he could Flashback a spell the turn he flips, but there are a LOT of conditions to get correct in order to flip him into a planeswalker.
Maybe it’s just that I’m a negative guy when it comes to looking at spoilers, but I saw Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy as just a turn 2 lightning rod. Your opponent would just kill it, and that’d be that. I also looked for him in Jeskai lists, because I really like Ojutai’s Command, but late game, do I really want to spend four mana to bring back this dude? I have to end step the Ojutai’s Command on my opponent’s turn, then untap with Jace, and hopefully by that time I have something of value to flashback. All of these scenarios didn’t appear to be too appealing to me.
Oh, how short-sited I had been! You see, when you are talking about adding a new card to a deck, you have to think about that card in context to the other 59-56 cards in the deck, not just one cute synergy with one other card or set of cards in the deck, and that had been just what I was doing.
After some testing for the Invitational and Open weekend coming at the end of August in New Jersey, my friend had decided that with Languish being a card, his G/R Dragons deck was not where he wanted to be, and we both came up with versions of Jeskai to test with. He gave me the base, and I helped him test it, and proposed a few changes.
Our starting point:
My friend liked this list a lot in testing, that’s how he came to the list. It seemed to have a decent matchup against most things, except for Abzan Control really, but that’s why sideboard exist, so we knew we could shore up the matchup there.
When he first sent me this list, I wasn’t a big fan of Jeskai in general. I had played it for a couple of weeks before Magic Origins came out, and I was unimpressed by the deck’s removal. Keep in mind, I was coming from the magical Abzan land of “Kill target creature,” being written on my cards, and going to “Kill target creatures IF condition,” or “Counter target spell in particular.” It seemed as if there was no margin for error when it came to Jeskai’s removal, your removal had to line up EXACTLY the correct way, and you had to play the exact correct one in order to stay in a game, whereas with Abzan Control, you have a bigger board presence to contain threats, and threats that get through, meh, it doesn’t matter because you can just kill almost anything with your spells.
Especially the week after the Pro Tour, where the new breed of mono-red deck was showcased, and spread like rampant flames through our local stores, cards like Valorous Stance and Disdainful Stroke and Roast felt like they weren’t pulling their weight. They beat the high end creatures, but were blank to almost all of the smaller creatures, either because of their speed, or lack of interaction with small dudes.
The first change my friend proposed was to swap out the maindeck Disdainful Strokes for Clash of Wills. I knew when this card was spoiled that it was what blue decks needed, because it has easier mana requirements than Silumgar’s Scorn, still hits earlier than Dissolve, and doesn’t require you to play with Dragons while still being somewhat relevant as the game goes late.
Another change I made after testing, was to cut Goblin Rabblemaster from the deck. He just doesn’t feel as powerful anymore with Wild Slash and now Fiery Impulse everywhere. He just felt too fragile, even in combat. If I am tapping out for a creature on turn three, it better do something quick. Mantis Rider is perfect in the three slot, because he not only attacks for 3 in the air, but the same turn he is able to block up. Goblin Rabblemaster just felt like he wasn’t pulling his weight.
Next on the chopping block for me was Dragonlord Ojutai. When I played with him in the deck before Magic Origins, I just could never attack with him, and I could never block with him. He was just such a mana sink on turn 5 to do anything with, and most of the time on turn 5 couldn’t block effectively, and after that, he can’t safely attack with the lack of counters in the deck. Again, not a card that was pulling his weight.
I ended up with a list like this:
I spent much of the week testing this online, and at my local store. The deck is BONKERS. I only dropped one GAME at my FNM, and it played truly as a tempo deck instead of either a midrange or an aggressive deck, and I felt like I had real control almost all of the time. I was really most impressed with Ojutai’s Command and Harbinger of the Tides. This was an interaction I had thought of, but initially, I was on the Ojutai’s Command bringing back Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy plan. Well, you don’t have to do this when a card like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy protects itself so well.
I really underestimated Jace by a ton. His plus is great, I was able to have board states where Siege Rhinos were being blocked by Mantis Riders at no loss so that I could bide time and sculpt my hand. I was even able to use Jace to flashback an Ojutai’s Command, draw a card, and get a Harbinger of the Tides back into play, and also bounce my opponent’s creature, then swing on the ground with my little idiots. He also allows for really big burn blowouts with all of the burn spells the deck plays.
At the end of the day, Magic Origins added a TON to this archetype, enough even I think to make it reach tier 1 status again. The only changes I would look to make might be to cut the Wild Slashes all together, as the red decks are moving more toward prowess creatures that can get past 2 toughness with relative ease. You could also fudge around a bit with the Clash of Wills and Valorous Stance numbers, even adding a Roast wouldn’t be too unreasonable.
With a bit more tuning, and fleshing out of a sideboard, I think that when my friend runs this deck at the Invitational in a couple of weeks, and I play it at the Open, our standard game will be on point. I know I’ll be looking to make a deep run so I can get qualified for next year’s invitational, while my friend will be looking to have his face on a token. I think that our changes to the deck are the correct way to go with this archetype, and hope that if you decide to sleeve this guy up for your Friday Night Magic event this week or even an IQ or PPTQ, you find it as impressive as we have.
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