Why Jeskai?

This was the most frequent question I got this past weekend at the FaceToFaceGames.com Modern Open last Saturday. If any of you have met me, or follow my writing in any capacity or have even breathed in my general direction, you know I want to play Thoughtseize in Modern at all costs. So what has changed to make me abandon my Liliana of the Veils for Spell Quellers?

Midrange means you have to answer everything

I think this is what people are really thinking when they say, “you can’t Thoughtseize the top of their deck.” This was the draw for me to try Jeskai out. I felt like there were too many matchups in Modern where my “catch-all interaction” wasn’t exactly catching everything. Counterspells are obviously a way to seal away games that B/G decks don’t really have access to.

More specifically, Spell Queller is one of the most unique ways to seal a game ever printed, because it puts away a game in a proactive way. When the dust settles and you and your opponent are on low resources, Queller is such a powerful way to turn the corner.

Midrange decks’ greatest strength is having a little bit of game against everything, and I believe Jeskai does this better than all of the alternatives.

What you give away is efficiency. Your deck has to play a lot of three and four mana spells and that can be very frustrating in Modern. Ultimately, I think this factor might draw me back to B/G/x for Grand Prix Toronto, but not until I’m done exploring all the options red, white and blue have to offer.

Keith Capstick- Jeskai

This is the decklist I’ve arrived at since the open, I think it’s just proactive enough to give you game against everything, while still having a core control game plan. I believe the uptick in Logic Knots in recent iterations of Jeskai have done a lot for the archetype. Once you put Spell Queller in your deck, you’re not only looking for ways to protect it, but you’re also looking for cheaper spells to be able to empty your hand while turning the corner. It is certainly not infrequent that you counter their spell and then just start firing bolts at their face if you have a creature or two in play.

The biggest point of contention in these lists for me is Geist of Saint Traft. It’s the closest thing to split card: ‘win the game // no text,’ I have ever played in a deck. Geist is the truest of hedges, it’s great in your bad matchups and works okay with your temo game plan when you’re ahead. But lines up very poorly against popular cards such as: Liliana of the Veil and, well, 3/3s.

With that said here’s what a less tempo-focused iteration of Jeskai looks like:

Benjamin Nikolich, First Place StarCityGames Columbus- Jeskai Control

Ben and Kevin Jones faced off in a mirror-match with this deck in the Finals at SCG Columbus. This probably looks more familiar to you as it resembles traditional Jeskai Control. This deck forgoes Spell Queller and Geist for a smorgasbord of one-of win-conditions and some extra removal-effects.

I certainly think this is a strong deck, and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Ben Stark played something very similar this weekend at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. With that said, this is not what I want to be doing. If you think you have your metagame solved and this kind of deck lines up well, then by all means Sphinx’s Revelation them until you’re blue in the face. But, for me, you have to be proactive in Modern and this deck just isn’t that.

I will say though, Search for Azcanta is one of the most busted cards that has been printed in a long time. So, if you can find a way to maximize the impact Search has on games, by flipping it early or maybe using it as part of a combo, then this kind of deck might just be where you want to be.

My Comparison: Jeskai versus Black/Green

It’s shocking how similar these archetypes really are when you lay them down beside each other and forget the colour-pie. Both decks have very similar bad matchups in Tron, Scapeshift and Dredge, while both pray on creature decks and are relatively even in the mirror.

If you look at the Day 2 conversion rates above you’ll find that B/G decks and Jeskai decks were also similar in their performance at the Pro Tour.

So with all the information in front of me and a couple weeks of testing various Jeskai archetypes, it comes down to this question:

Do I want my deck to be lower-to-the-ground and put on a heavy clock with cards like Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze ? Or do I want my deck to have the ability to lock-away games with Cryptic command?

As I alluded to above, I am considering just playing my trusty old play-set of Thoughtseizes and abandoning my Jeskai project. But this question is an important one, and it teaches us a lot of lessons about how to play Modern. I’m just not sure I’m prepared play tapped-land and say, “go” on turn-one as much as this deck demands that of you. That’s just not how I want to play Modern.

This format is all about trade-offs:

Can I interact for one mana?
If not is my more expensive spell going to interact as well as put me ahead?
Does my deck have access to the powerful sideboarding colours?
If not can I kill my opponent fast enough for my sideboard to be designed in a linear way with a lot of bullet answers?

This was the line-of-thinking that led me to experiment with Jeskai in the first place. I figured if I gave away a little efficiency in my midrange decks, then maybe I’d be able to trade it for a little more game in my bad matchups. You can beat Tron with Cryptic Command, not so much with Inquisition of Kozilek.

If there’s one important take-away from this comparison it’s that in a format as diverse as Modern, it’s more important to have a macro game plan than a micro game plan. By this I mean, you want to know what you’re looking to do in a game of Modern, and not get married to the cards you want to play. If you’re looking to interact, you have to be willing to try every different way of doing so. And if you’re trying to win on turn-three, you’ve got to jam all those decks too. B/G and Jeskai do very similar things, and without the awareness of this, I would be pigeon-holed into running my Tarmogoyfs into walls all day. No matter what the best option truly is, it’s the willingness to pursue an exhaustive search to find it that will find you your Grand Prix Toronto winning deck list.

Here’s to dreaming.