So I Qualified! Kind of...
Over the weekend I finished second in something called a WPN Preliminary.
Funny story, this.
I wanted to play in a PTQ in upper Manhattan. But I was having a bit of a looooong week. I had been in Kansas for four days, was feeling a little under the weather... And also didn't own a Standard deck.
Anyway, there was another such Qualifier (let's call it a PTQ) in upper Manhattan and I arranged to borrow a deck from my friend Ryan who would be attending.
Only I had been too tentative and they sold out! Or at least online registration didn't seem to be working.
One plan was to go anyway to see if they would do overflow sign ups on-site. Ryan suggested if I couldn't get there in time, I could hustle across town to play in the aforementioned WPN Preliminary.
I did some quick math. It's not like I had a > 50% likelihood of winning the PTQ (or at that point even getting in). If I didn't win, the plan was to Top 8 one of the Preliminaries anyway. So I just opted to skip the real let's-call-it-PTQ to run the let's-face-it-PPTQ; this had the advantage of being held in the same city at the same time as an essentially strictly superior tournament option.
Ultimately qualifying was just qualifying for essentially a PTQ next week; but on the other hand I didn't lose any games.
The Deck: Jeskai Fires
Ryan built several decks: Golgari Adventures, Cat Food, Simic Flash, and Jeskai. I'd have to fill in some overlap cards, but I could have whichever one he wasn't playing. He opted for Simic Flash (which was, probably not surprisingly, my first choice also). I went with Jeskai against my better judgment.
Jeskai is a good deck. I had very good experience with it on Saturday. But I had no experience with it and had heard from some absurd players that it was often a coin flip in the mirror.
But if I couldn't get Simic I didn't want either Overgrown Tomb deck. Adventures seemed weak against Fires to me (I hadn't appreciated the nuance of adding Rotting Regisaur, which beats up every Cavalier and lives through Deafening Clarion). I figured Jeskai would be the most popular deck; so I didn't want to run a strategy that was at a disadvantage.
A coin flip wasn't the most appealing option, either; but I figured I would just play Cat Food badly. That deck is all bookkeeping. Would I remember every Trail of Crumbs trigger? Say I had a Mayhem Devil in play and a bunch of Food but only one Cauldron Familiar... Would I realize I could assassinate a large threat by responding to the Cat with the Cat repeatedly?
So... Coin flip it would be.
Very Slightly Modified Jeskai Fires | Eldraine Standard | Michael Flores,
- Creatures (16)
- 2 Kenrith, the Returned King
- 3 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Cavalier of Gales
- 4 Cavalier of Flame
- 4 Sphinx of Foresight
- Planeswalkers (4)
- 4 Teferi, Time Raveler
- Instants (1)
- 1 Justice Strike
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Fires of Invention
- Lands (27)
- 1 Plains
- 2 Island
- 2 Mountain
- 2 Sacred Foundry
- 3 Castle Vantress
- 3 Fabled Passage
- 3 Temple of Epiphany
- 3 Temple of Triumph
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Steam Vents
I made some, again, very slight modifications to the version Ryan gave me.
I went with 27 lands, but added four copies of Shimmer of Possibility (Ryan had supplied a deck heavier on Lava Coil). I wanted to maximize the consistency of hitting Fires of Invention itself between the Maximum Number of Sphinxes and the Maximum Number of Shimmers (but no Drawn from Dreams).
In hindsight I'm not 100% sure that that was right. I forewent playing Shimmer of Possibility several times in the tournament in order to leave up Mystical Dispute. Unlike the original Impulse, this card really forces you to commit; and to commit in a spot where the opponent might be able to make a high leverage play.
Speaking of high leverage plays, I cut one Bonecrusher Giant to help make room for Shimmer; but added a solo Justice Strike to the main, and an additional one to the side. I had heard about Golgari with Rotting Regisaur. The big, dumb, Dinosaur ultimately can beat every creature in Jeskai Fires in a fight; and as impressive as the card Fires of Invention can be in terms of saving mana, this is ultimately just a deck that puts big guys out and attacks with them.
I correctly predicted that people would have Regisaurs; and though I didn't actually play against Golgari, one of my fellow qualifiers was playing the Rotting / Henge version. Justice Strike is a very decent solution to that card; and if I were to play Jeskai again, I'd play more Justice Strikes in the sideboard. Plus, I'll have extra room (more on that later).
The one mark I put on the deck was in the sideboard philosophy. I added 4 Aether Gust; and played for a heavy Aether Gust + Mystical Dispute plan in most of my matchups. Literally everyone but Azorius is some kind of Red or Green deck; and you can't do much better than Mystical Dispute if the opponent is Blue.
That said, playing a "counters" strategy sideboarded can be problematic. It's actually pretty counter to your core plan of getting Fires of Invention onto the battlefield and slamming guys. My theory was that I could manage time in the early turns against decks with more initiative than I had. Also I'm happy to Aether Gust Fires of Invention as many times as the opponent will let me.
One is the Loneliest Number
The best / worst card in the sideboard is definitely Legion Warboss.
It is good because most of my opponents either left in their main deck removal (e.g. Bonecrusher Giant) or actually maxed out on stuff like Flame Sweep in fear of Legion Warboss... So I got value by not actually siding it in.
I think if I played Jeskai again, I would play one Legion Warboss and make it the top card of my sideboard. Then I would flash it all the time while sideboarding but probably never side it in. Gawd. I hate open deck lists.
Play and Sideboarding Excerpts and Observations
OF COURSE my first round matchup was against another Jeskai Fires variant!
I actually felt like the mirror (or pseudo-mirror) has a lot more play than a coin flip. This is mostly because of how I sideboarded.
- -4 Deafening Clarion
- -3 Bonecrusher Giant
- -2 Shimmer of Possibility
- +4 Aether Gust
- +4 Mystical Dispute
Shimmer is kind of bad, especially if you're going second. If you tap out for it the opponent can land a Teferi, Time Raveler and that's probably lights out. As you might be able to extrapolate, I played super tentatively, just managing the opponent's mana and draw steps.
I played Izzet Flash in the second round. I felt like Izzet was a highly unfavorable matchup. They just have tempo; and more than enough permission to cover every play Jeskai can make in the middle to late turns. I got the first one in a very narrow race that involved both sides of Deafening Clarion, allowing me to gain nine life to race.
This is how I sided against Izzet:
I decided that there were not a lot of cards I wanted to Aether Gust, but would have played even more Mystical Dispute if I had been allowed. Ionize would have been a decent Aether Gust target, but unlike a Fires mirror, there weren't a lot of Red permanents to fight where I could really stretch out the flexibility of the card. That said, I had a key play in this matchup. I saw a second Fires of Invention early, so made the plan to jam Fires on turn four; then try again with Mystical Dispute backup on turn five.
But he ran out a Brineborn Cutthroat on turn two. I had skipped Shimmer on my second turn just in case of this play and immediately countered it with Mystical Dispute despite the fact that I would now not be able to follow through on my Fires-into-protected Fires plan. We talked it over later and decided that was right. That miniscule Merfolk would have cornered me before I ever had the option of fighting over the second Fires. Basically I will often Disupte anything. An Opt. Certainly a Growth Spiral.
Game went to regular hard cast Cavaliers action and lands-in-graveyard management.
Well after I was already locked I battled a Temur Reclamation deck; ostensibly for practice. He was going to the elimination tournament and people dance wit da girl what brung them. I thought initially that Temur Reclamation would be a nearly impossible matchup Game 1 but would improve substantially when I brought in nine - nine - sideboard cards.
It turned out Game 1 went fine. He had an outstanding opener that didn't actually give him Wilderness Reclamation before I had Teferi; so I was the one with the pace-setting permanents. Ho hum, utterly unexciting play from my side.
"I'm super over sideboarded for that matchup," he assured me. He would later show me that he sided in seven cards, including Nightpack Ambusher. Oddly, he sided out Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Niv was one of the cards I was utterly terrified of!
This is what I had done:
- -4 Deafening Clarion
- -3 Bonecrusher Giant
- -2 Shimmer of Possibility
- +4 Aether Gust
- +4 Mystical Dispute
- +1 Justice Strike
Unlike the Izzet Flash matchup, I didn't anticipate needing the life gain side of Deafening Clarion. Usually if Temur is going to get you, they get you by a million miles.
I found the sideboarded games (game, really) quite easy. I later told him that I thought brining in Ambushers was a mistake. They're too small to interact with any creatures in the Jeskai deck, and the notion of just resolving something when the opponent has Aether Gust is medium at best. He ended up having a lot of permission, too; but the ability to set the pace with Teferi - especially where an unmolested Teferi can disrupt Temur's core game plan of operating during its own end step - makes the Mystical Disputes on Jeskai's side just better than the Mystical Disputes on Temur's.
I think I would be happy to play the Temur matchup over and over; certainly less fingernail-tearing than the mirror or Izzet.
Finally there is the issue of Simic.
Simic is the g-d worst.
And by "worst" I mean the best. The problem is, everyone knows it.
Ryan and I met after both our tournaments were done and jammed the key matchups. Jeskai did fine against Golgari Adventures, even with Rotting Regisaur... It wasn't overwhelming, but it was still favorable for Jeskai.
Simic on the other hand?
I couldn't even finish the set.
I haven't felt that beat up in a matchup in years. Basically everything they do is fast and everything you do is slow. They can answer anything you do at a high level of mana efficiency, and if they draw any accelerator at all, you're going to be pinned under double-spell.
You have a lot of the more fundamentally powerful spells... But that doesn't matter because unless you land Teferi, they can always answer one of them and still have more coming.
If you think Simic is going to be the most popular deck (I think it likely will in my upcoming PTQ) I can't recommend Jeskai Fires. These tournaments are too small - maybe 5-6 rounds of predictable opponents - into elimination rounds where Simic is likely to rise.
Thanks for taking me this far, Jeskai! We're going to have to figure out who's up next.