Those who have followed my Modern content probably know that I have never been a fan of control decks in this format. Modern has so many different strategies that being proactive generally results in more match wins than trying to predict which reactive spells are going to be good for a given event. That being said, there is something that is a lot of fun about playing a deck that can interact with key cards your opponent is playing instead of just hoping to race whatever they are doing. Today I would like to give you a rundown of a modern deck I have been enjoying that does a good mix of being proactive and interactive - Jeskai Tempo:
Jeskai Tempo | Modern | Jeff Hoogland
- Creatures (14)
- 2 Grim Lavamancer
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 2 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Spell Queller
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Teferi, Time Raveler
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 Spreading Seas
- Lands (24)
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Plains
- 2 Island
- 1 Arid Mesa
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 1 Spirebluff Canal
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 2 Celestial Colonnade
- 2 Field of Ruin
- 2 Hallowed Fountain
- 2 Steam Vents
- 3 Scalding Tarn
- 4 Flooded Strand
For those not familiar, "Tempo" as it applies to Magic decks refers to an "Aggro - Control" or disruptive aggressive deck. In my opinion, this style of deck is one of the most fun to play in Magic. We generate some draws where we can just run people down, but we also have a variety of interactive elements to keep decks that are faster than us in check.
To start our breakdown we have what is arguably some of the best removal in Modern:
While Path to Exile gives our opponent a land, being able to exile almost any opposing threat is really powerful. This is especially true in a world full of Vengevines and Hogaaks. Lightning Bolt is a card that has always been great in Modern, but has arguably gotten even better since more planeswalkers became present in the format. Lightning Bolt is the life's blood of an archetype like this since it can be used to simply kill the opponent when they are not playing cards we want to remove.
Lightning Helix is a bit less mana efficient than our other two pieces of removal, but it also offers the upside of buffering our life total. Gaining three life can often be the difference between winning and losing a race in a lot of different situations.
The threat base is really what separates this Jeskai deck from the more controlling variations in the format. To start, we have a variety of disruptive, flashy, evasive threats:
Vendilion Clique can take key cards away from combo decks or cycle an otherwise dead spell out of our own hand when we are looking for a specific answer. Spell Queller has a lot that it can counter in a format as efficient as Modern and Restoration Angel can protect our other threats and get us additional uses of their enter play effects. Restoration Angel can also act as a pseudo removal spell in certain matchups by flashing in to block unsuspecting attackers.
Past our flying threats we have a pair of powerful wizards that provide additional interaction on top of being threats:
Grim Lavamancer is a main deck hedge against the variety of creature decks that tend to be popular in Modern. At worst it is a cheap threat that provides additional reach when we are racing. Snapcaster Mage is our swiss army knife, flashing back whatever spell we need at any given point to get ahead. Notably when we are trying to race a combo deck, Bolting them and then Snap Bolting them on three gives us a reasonable chance to win in most instances.
One of the cornerstones of this iteration of Jeskai though is this obnoxious planeswalker from War of the Spark:
Not only does Time Raveler generate tempo by sending our opponent's cards back to their hand, but the timing restriction his static ability creates is very powerful with Spell Queller. Because Time Raveler's ability doesn't allow our opponents to cast spells while there is something else on the stack, he denies the ability for them to recast the spell that was exiled by Spell Queller while the Queller leaves play trigger is on the stack. This also works well with Teferi's bounce effect because you can snag something with Spell Queller, then return the Queller to your hand without giving them their spell back. Time Raveler can also be used to reuse our other enter play creatures like Snapcaster Mage.
The last couple of spell slots are filler that add a bit of consistency to our game plan:
We play Opt as opposed to a sorcery speed cantrip like Serum Visions to allow us some flexibility to hold up extra mana on our opponent's turn. It also allows us to hold up something like Snap Bolt, but then simply Snap Opt instead if our opponent does not play out something worth Bolting. Spreading Seas provides a small amount of disruption against opposing creature lands and Tron, while also providing something we can bounce with Time Raveler for a bit of additional value.
Matchups and Playing the Deck
I'm hesitant to call this matchup good, because sometimes the Hogaak deck just runs you over, but we have a variety of good tools to be competitive in this matchup. Our exile removal is very powerful if we can keep Carrion Feeder off of the table. While the first Surgical Extraction often is not enough, the fact that we pair them with four copies of Snapcaster Mage means that our first Surgical is often doubled.
In addition to Ashiok, Dream Render clearing out their graveyard, the static text can often be relevant by shutting off their fetch lands as well.
So long as we mulligan in a smart manner this matchup tends to be good for us. In addition to cheap removal being key, hands where our lands do not deal a lot of damage to us are also important. Teferi, Time Raveler notably prevents Rift Bolt from being cast as well as making it so we can't be Skullcracked out of our life gain.
VS U/W Control:
Teferi, Time Raveler is easily our best card in this matchup because it locks them out of their counter spells. An end step Vendilion Clique to clear the way to resolve a Time Raveler is often game winning. An important interaction to note in this matchup is that Spell Queller can stop a Supreme Verdict or Dovin's Veto since it is not technically countering them. We also want to make sure to aggressively fetch shock lands in this matchup so we can have as many basics in our deck as possible for their Path to Exiles and Field of Ruin.
Ashiok, Dream Render might seem like a strange card to board in, but it does a lot of different little things we want here. The static text makes their fetches and Field of Ruins much worse. Exiling their graveyard makes their Snapcaster Mages worse. Finally milling them 20 cards can often be game winning in the slog that this matchup often ends up being.
This is your pretty typical last threat standing matchup on both sides. Keep the board clear and try to generate two-for-ones where you can. Keep in mind that your Detention Spheres will often die in this matchup, so be wary of putting anything under them that will generate value reentering play.
VS Urza Sword:
- 1 Abrade
- 2 Detention Sphere
- 1 Celestial Purge
- 2 Force of Negation
- 2 Stony Silence
- 2 Surgical Extraction
- 2 Ashiok, Dream Render
Keeping Thopter Foundry off the table is our number one priority in this matchup. This is because even when they are not comboing, a few 1/1s make it difficult to apply pressure to their health total.
VS Green Tron:
This matchup can be tough if we don't know what we are playing against Game 1 and keep a hand that does not interact with them very well or isn't aggressive. Keep in mind in the post board games that being able to attack them is just as important as disrupting them because of how good they are at finding more threats and Tron pieces in their Ancient Stirrings deck.
VS Izzet Phoenix:
This matchup tends to be good for us since their threat density is fairly low and we have lots of ways to exile their recursive threats. Aria of Flame should be on your radar of cards to play around since this card kills us fairly quickly if left unchecked. That being said, bouncing Flame with Teferi, Time Raveler can often buys us a lot of time since it gains us 10 life.
We have lots of ways to kill creatures, they have lots of creatures. So long as we can keep their threats that grow from getting out of Lightning Bolt range, we generally get ahead and stay ahead. Grim Lavamancer is easily one of our best cards in this matchup, but be wary of Reflector Mage tempoing it out.
If you are someone who enjoys interactive decks in Modern and are looking for something that isn't Jund to play, I would highly recommend giving this Jeskai Tempo list a try. Not only is it playing quality interaction, but the fact that it plays out at instant speed is also a delight!
Have a question about the archetype that I didn't cover above? Let me know in a comment below!