Wisdom Fae Under The Bridge: Dark Jeskai Primer (Standard)
Two weekends ago Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar happened. The top 8 had 2 Dark Jeskai decks, 1 Jeskai deck, 2 Abzan Aggro deck, 1 Green White Megamorph deck, 1 Atarka Red Deck and 1 Jeskai Tokens deck.
In the UK over the last few weekends, I know that Matt Light and I both played Jeskai, Matt Losing to me in the quarters and me losing to Atarka Red the next round being the only losses each of us had in one event, then the following day I lost in the semi-finals again in an event where Nick Ball played jeskai to a win. Andrew Devine won in Manchester that day with Dark Jeskai, Usama Sajjad won with Dark Jeskai in York too, and I think one other was also won by the deck. The following weekend David Inglis made top 8 in Leeds but lost to Alex Roebuck in the mirror who then went on to win the event.
It’s probably safe to say that Jeskai is the deck to beat at the moment.
This article is going to be a primer about Jeskai in what I think are the 4 main match ups in the format – Atarka Red, GW Megamorph, Abzan and Dark Jeskai (mirror). It wouldn’t be unreasonable to add Jeskai Tokens to that list, especially for those playing near London (where the deck has been especially popularised and championed), but I haven’t seen a tonne of it around, and I haven’t tested against it enough to say anything that I am confident would be helpful, whereas I have played a lot of the other matches.
Jon Finkel’s Dark Jeskai – Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
1 Dragonmaster Outcast
3 Arashin Cleric
1 Felidar Cub
3 Disdainful Stroke
2 Exert Influence
2 Radiant Flames
The big difference between Jeskai now and before – other than the fact that it now splashes black – is that it’s far less ambiguous in nature. It’s a control deck now, while it used to be a tempo deck with controlling and aggressive elements (one of the hardest sorts of decks to play, to my mind). The lists before the PT (like the one I was playing) had Dragonlord Ojutai in them over the Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which was considerably worse – Ojutai is very powerful but with Crackling Doom all over the shop, it’s hard to justify playing a 5 mana sorcery speed threat. Tasigur will get doomed too, but you might be able to Kolaghan’s Command it back to recast the following turn, or Dispel to protect it or just activate it in response to recoup a card.
The deck used to struggle to planeswalkers a little before, which is likely why Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is making an appearance; it’s a planeswalker, which will cause headaches in the mirror, but it is also good at killing other people’s planeswalkers.
Initially I didn’t like the Dragonmaster Outcast but it’s actually a powerhouse – with both commands being able to bring it back, it is actually an excellent inevitable threat.
Mantis Rider are good at attacking planeswalkers, block vs mono red well, and occasionally just steal games a control deck would otherwise struggle to steal, especially when drawn in multiples.
The Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy likely speak for themselves to a great extent, but it is worth noting that this deck has commands to get them back in a similar way to the dragonmaster discussed above, but also has cheap removal to protect and enable jace to flip in the early game, which – conveniently – can be cheaply flashed back to protect it afterwards, along with another spell. A big part of why this deck is doing so well is that it is likely the best shell for the best card in the format.
Soulfire Grandmaster is a card I haven’t been especially keen on in the past, but in this deck it’s not unreasonable to expect to actually use it’s activated ability multiple times, and – again – there are several cards in the deck which can get this vulnerable threat back in the late game, after it has met its demise in the early game. The life link, and ability to attack planeswalkers, makes it a decent early game card vs both atarka red and the mirror, and being able to recast commands, digs etc is actually very good against green white in the games where you don’t get ran over early.
[Card]Crackling Doom[/card] is a fairly universal removal spell in a format largely defined by awkward two casting cost removal. Combined with the burn spells, Dark jeskai has a range of answers which can deal with virtually all combinations of threats. This card is the main reason the deck is splashing black – it allows a deck with burn as its removal to kill big threats without wraths.
I played Treasure Cruise Week one as I thought maybe the mana wasn’t good enough to support dig, and being sorcery speed was a serious hindrance in a deck full of reactive spells. Additionally, seeing seven cards, and taking the best two is really good in a deck that already has excellent card advantage like Jace, both commands and soulfire grandmaster.
The two Dispel looks a bit loose as this card is generally a sideboard card, but in this format it’s a bit different. Being able to counter a timely Dramoka’s Command, or a Become Immense, or a Dig Through Time or a (likely expensive) removal spell is excellent.
Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse are a concession to cards like Jace and decks like Atarka red – it’s often important to be able to cast either two spells in one turn, or just to kill a guy really early so you don’t get wiped out. I prefer Impulse because it kills more things, but I can see playing wild slash as it can finish of a planeswalker and it is better with soulfire grandmaster.
Both Commands I have talked about in context of the other cards, but it’s worth remarking how long some of the games in this format are. Even against a deck like Green White Megamorph, which you might expect to be relatively short, the games can go on for *ages* so the card advantage on these cards really is at a premium. Being able to counter cards like Wingmate Roc is very important as two 3 /4 fliers will put games away quickly, 4 toughness is relatively awkward to deal with, and being able to fly allows them to kill your planeswalkers. The black red command on the other hand really excels in the mirror, where it will allows you to kill their jace, and get back your own, or make them discard, or perhaps burn their jace, and bring back your mantis rider to finish the job. Over the course of a day, you will likely use all combinations of modes on both of these cards.
Utter End is a universal answer in a world of conditional answers. It will kill virtually any creature, kills planeswalkers for a single card, deals with weird enchantments and artifacts people play, removes cards from the game in a format where cards keep coming back from the graveyard… having access to a card like this in a deck with dig through time is actually pretty invaluable.
Kazuyuki Takimura’s Abzan – Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
1 Wingmate Roc
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Self-Inflicted Wound
3 Transgress the Mind
2 Ultimate Price
This is the deck that won the Pro Tour. This deck has some excellent threats on turn 3, 4 and 5 in Anafenza, Gideon and Wingmate Roc, and the fewer of these things they cast the better. On Curve, you only have one good way to kill Anafenza – which is crackling doom, and that’s also the best thing you can do against the Gideon they might cast that turn. The following turn, if they activate the Gideon and attack, you will either be taking 7 damage, or using another doom to kill the Gideon, in which case you’re taking 2, but they’re casting Wingmate Roc, and you’re probably massively behind.
That’s on the draw. On the play, you can doom the Anafenza, hopefully do something proactive in your turn, then they’re taking a risk casting a Gideon, as it might well just get killed by a cheap burn spell or a mantis rider. Then even if they have a roc, they might not have an attacker, and you might be able to counter it with Ojutai’s Command.
This is all assuming they have all three of these cards, and if they spend their turns doing things you can more easily deal with, it will likely go better for you. The earlier game is about Warden of the First Tree perhaps getting out of hand, and the late game is about Den Protector getting back Rocs and Gideons.
All in all, they have good cards, and have the potential to make meaningful plays throughout the game, but you have appropriate answers and a better late game. Often their best plays will be off limits to them because the impact of your reactionary play will be devastating, meaning even if they have a Siege Rhino on turn four, they can’t really just cast it and get it commanded. This is another reason why Gideon is such a problem card – there are few direct answers to it in the Jeskai main deck.
Green White Megamorph
Ricky Chin’s Green-White Megamorph – Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
2 Valorous Stance
1 Arashin Cleric
2 Whisperwood Elemental
2 Evolutionary Leap
1 Gideon’s Reproach
1 Mastery of the Unseen
1 Radiant Purge
3 Surge of Righteousness
2 Tragic Arrogance
This matchup is again largely about Gideon and roc. They have Deathmist Raptor instead of anafenza, which is worse in the early game but better in the late game. Other than that the decks are actually very similar. The late game double Den Protector recursion also bringing back endless raptors is a major problem, however. Before this point is important to get yourself a board presence established or they will just grind you down. It’s not unreasonable to expect to do this, though, as the deck has a number of threats which will excel in the late game, but it is important to bear this in mind when casting cards like Dig Through Time, as if you just keep getting more one for one removal, they will eventually draw two den protectors and some raptors.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s Atarka Red – Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
1 Lightning Berserker
2 Fiery Impulse
2 Hordeling Outburst
3 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
1 Boiling Earth
3 Rending Volley
This is one of the strangest red decks I’ve seen in that it’s actually a combo deck in many respects. It’s really fast, so you want early game cards like Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash to keep them off the board, but not too many as they aren’t great against their token generating threats. This deck is really preying on the inefficient nature of a lot of the removal in the format, which is sort of fine in that Dark Jeskai is one of the decks which actually has good early removal, but it is a four colour control deck which sometimes struggles to get its land into play untapped.
This deck can kill you on turn 3 sometimes, turn 4 a bit more often, and you basically need to watch out for it happening every turn from turn 5 onwards. It can do this through a combination of 1 creature + Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage. The Dispels are obviously good against this, as is a removal spell, but they’re also just a reasonable beatdown deck, which pumps out loads of creatures which your 1-1 removal isn’t great against.
Owen Turtenwald’s Dark Jeskai – Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar
1 Dragonmaster Outcast
3 Arashin Cleric
1 Felidar Cub
3 Disdainful Stroke
2 Exert Influence
2 Radiant Flames
This matchup is a control match up which revolves around Dragonmaster Outcast and Jace recursion, Mantis Riders pushing tempo, and late game Grandmasters and Tasigurs; there is quite a lot going on! It’s important to know what sort of stage in the game you’re in and shift gears accordingly. Try to hold onto your dig through times, and don’t waste Commands – they’ll be important in getting back relevant threats. If you’re winning, be mindful of over extending as many of the answers in the deck also contain a threat. It’s well worth testing this mirror, as it is far from random – the relative value of cards shifts all the time.
That’s it for this week. If you took part in Battle for Zendikar Game Day and are looking to try out a new deck, then why not give this a go and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,