For those that might not know, I won Grand Prix New Jersey this past weekend!

But before I get into the story of how that happened,  I’d like to give some shout outs to those who helped me get there.

Marc Calderaro needs a raise. Let me just say that I have no idea what he gets paid, if its low or high. He’s just an amazing person to be doing coverage. Always on, funny, and a pleasure to be around.

The judge staff did a great job in NJ, I won and drove three hours to get home and was still back by 10 p.m. on Sunday.

My teammates and sponsors at are some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Huge congratulations to Gabriel Nassif for finishing 2nd place in the GP overseas, Edgar Magalhaes for finishing 9th place with our identical 75 card lists and Pete Ingram for squeezing into 32nd place! I’m sure Shaheen Soorani would have placed had he been available to compete, but he had our backs in spirit. Morgan played great as well, but variance hits us all.

Alright onto the reason most of you are here. Here’s the deck list for starters:

First Place, Grand Prix New Jersey, Eli Kassis – Jeskai Control

The Numbers

I’m sure this is where most people are confused or want to pick the deck apart. The best cards in the deck wereDeafening Clarion, Explosion,Azor’s Gateway and Teferi — that’s where I wanted play-sets. Gateway, unlikeSearch for Azcanta is fine in multiples. TwoDivination and oneChemister’s Insight is something that I’m sure you’ll raise your eyebrows at. Obviously a control deck needs card advantage to do what it does best and Insight is a lot of mana for a card without the same utility as Glimmer of Genius. This isn’t a traditional control deck that tries to counter everything, we only play six counter spells. So, turn three is ideal for using Divination, then we rely on Clarion to catch us back up. You’re going to want to tap out a lot more than you’re used to if you’re a control player.

The maindeck Star of Extinction was a concession to the predicted metagame being heavy with Black/Green Midrange, but also in expectation of a large number of Carnage Tyrants. I really did not want to play threeSettle the Wreckage because although it’s sometime necessary, it comes with a real opportunity cost.Syncopate and Settle are an unfortunate pairing. I Kept them down to two copies of each to limit the way they interact and I banked on Gateway to be the ideal way to dispatch of whichever one I didn’t need. Cards with the converted mana costs of one and four were actually sparse in the deck, so drawing them with a Gateway was ideal sometimes. The maindeck Shock was to sometimes slow the pace of a turn-one Llanowar Elf, to finish off Vivien Reids after they come down and kill my Gateways and to serve as the fourth copy of a one CMC card for Gateway.

Let’s talk about Azor’s Gateway.

I was the only Jeskai player in the Top 8 playing it and I was playing four copies. Playing control in this standard meta can be a bit tricky, there are just so many ways decks can attack, with a variety of different problem permanents. It’s almost a guessing game figuring out what to anticipate. One of the many functions of Gateway was to ensure your dead cards could still be put to good use. Preventing flooding when you’re playing 27 lands is invaluable.

The best part about playing with Gateway was that it put my opponents on a quick clock. In the Top 4 of the GP I had attacked my opponents Vivien Reid with my Rekindling Phoenix sending it down to three loyalty. I only had three different CMC’s exiled under Gateway, but it was untapped. My opponent — not knowing what the four cards in my hand were — had to get rid of his source of card advantage in order to ensure I couldn’t just kill him with an Explosion on the next turn. He even had a Lyra Dawnbringer to protect Vivien and determined that to be the right line. Wouldn’t you know it, he was right. That was exactly my plan. Luckily, I still had another Gateway in hand and was able to cobble a better late gameplan to eventually win that game. The fact is, in a format where you can be attacked on so many axis’ the Gateway plus Explosion combo gives you a two-card combo that fights back against even the format’s most potent threats.

Day 1

My Day 1 experience was pretty smooth sailing.

  • I had my three bye’s and then played a mono-red opponent who stumbled a bit (2-0).
  • Then I got paired against Brad Nelson funny enough in Round 5, I found out later he had around 11 dead cards against me maindeck (2-0).
  • Round 6 I had a Blue/Red Drake opponent. I won game one because they don’t play counter-magic maindeck. He won game two because Niv-Mizzet is a a house. I then won game three because Gateway is just really good (2-1).
  • Round 7 I was up against Golgari Midrange, which is already a decent matchup. My opponent also got stuck on two lands game two and game one he drew a lot of Chupacabras (2-0).
  • Round 8 I faced a Blue/White Control player who got paired-up to me with a draw. Game one I resolved Gateway on turn two and that was that. Game two I eventually resolved Gateway and that was that again (2-0). It’s really that simple sometimes in the control mirrors.

An 8-0 start felt pretty great, but I had been here before and wasn’t ready to get my hopes up just yet.

Day 2

Day 2 I started off being with me getting paired against Esper Control.

  • Thanks to being on a sweet squad that contains Shaheen Soorani (Esper Aficionado). I was well prepared for the matchup. Gateway also brought this one home (2-0).
  • Round 10 and 11 I may be mixing up the order in which I played them, but it was Golgari and Boros Angels (semi-finalist). Golgari was defeated game one and two all thanks to the Explosion side of Expansion/Explosion (Sphinx’s Revelation was a dumb card). Boros Angels was defeated game one thanks to Clarion. They were victorious in the second game when I stumbled. In game three I drew multiple Clarions and it was a wrap (12-0).

Here’s where the wheels fell off a bit.

  • I lost Round 13 and Round 14 to two Pro Tour regulars, both in two games that were not very close. First was a Selesnya Midrange build that I later faced in the semifinals. The second was an Izzet Drake list with twoMaximize Velocity in the main. I would describe it as “their decks functioned and mine simply did not.” Gateway would have saved me immensely in these games, but was nowhere to be found until it was too late.
  • Luckily, I got my Round 15 win-and-in versus another Selesnya build. His was more card advantage and combo focused. Game one I won through Gateway and game two a pair of Rekindling Phoenix’s went the distance.

Top 8

Somehow my two losses in the Swiss were both my quarterfinals and semifinals opponents as well. My game one plan went as designed this time however. I drew my answers, my Gateway, my counter-magic and my lands. Knowing his deck, I had a turn where I could tap-out for Teferi, another turn where I could Explosion a Drake for four and know he had no answers. The Post-board games presented scary cards like Dive Down,Spell Pierce and Disdainful Stroke. However, he stumbled on threats early and I was able to stabilize. I flipped a Gateway extra quick with double counter backup post Explosion for lethal.


My second chance at defeating this cool Selenya Angels deck. Seeing his list, I knew his top-end included three Shalai, Voice of Plenty (very scary), three Lyra (not scary) and a few Viviens. He had a lot of creatures maindeck that died to Clarion however and that’s exactly how game one went. I actually kept a one-lander on the draw, but I had perfect information and a stellar grip for the early game. My hand included Shock, Syncopate, Gateway, Steam Vents, Clarion, Seal Away and Divination. With two draws in a deck with 27 lands, I presumed a 50% chance twice was good enough. If I could get to two mana the Gateway would bring me home. I discarded to hand size twice (lol), but still won that game! Game two I stumbled on mana and died very easily to Shalai and Carnage Tyrant. Game three I had a snap keeper and my opponent had a mulligan. My spells all lined up well and his threats did not present enough danger to formulate a strong enough plan. This one ended up being much more in my favor. (2-1)

The Finals

Finals time and the big end-boss Brad Nelson. However, after our Round 5 performance I was pretty confident and he was making no attempt to disguise how unfavoured he felt the matchup was. Sure enough Clarion did some work game one and Brad conceded very early in the game as his hand was not materializing. I can only assume he kept drawing dead cards after his initial keep. Game two I reduced his board to nothing, but I did not have a card advantage engine going. He drew a History of Benalia that probably dealt 18 points of damage and the lands in my hand were not prepared to do anything about it. Brad hilariously yelled to the spectators “We got one boys!”

Game three I had a solid start with a Gateway on two and Ionize on turns three and four. I landed a Teferi on turn five with a Seal Away backup. Turn six I used Explosion for four on Brad’s threat thanks to Teferi’s end-of-turn trick. My hand was chock-full of removal at this point, but I had no counter-magic. Even though Brad didn’t have a great follow up, the next turn he played The Immortal Sun, stopping my Teferi cold and creating a draw engine of his own. I leaned on Gateway for a couple turns to draw answers. Finally finding the Ixalan’s Binding I needed to take care of the Sun. Now that I had stabilized I needed a way to finish Brad off. I had used two Explosions already — I boarded one out. I boarded-out one Teferi, had previously exiled one to a Gateway, boarded out Banefire and my two Rekindling Phoenix’s had already been dispatched. To say the least — I was running low on win-conditions.

I thought about leaning on the Teferi emblem trick and recycling it over and over until Brad decked. Doing the math with cards left in the library, I determined that I might not be able to pull that off in time. Luckily I was pretty sure I had one Explosion left. Brad was too, but he had to keep me honest. With something like five cards left in the library I finally drew it and the handshaking commenced.

Going forward with Jeskai

Here’s what I would change:

Eli Kassis – Jeskai Control

I’m going to avoid going into too much detail beyond this because there is a Pro Tour around the corner that I would love to win as well. I’m sure most teams can figure out what I did right and wrong, but I’m still not going to do their homework for them. I’ll write a follow-up article next month for those interested and detail what changes I make from here until the Pro Tour.

So stay tuned right here at!