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Jeskai at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

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Hello! My name is Zach Allen and this is my first article for Coolstuffinc.com, although you may already know me from my podcast Turn One Thoughtseize. I'm from Michigan and I play for RIW Hobbies and Games (they're both my pro team sponsor and local game store) and I just came in 13th place at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica! Now that we got the bio stuff out of the way, let's get to why you clicked on this link and dive into my standard decklist from the PT.

For a little context, I play almost exclusively control decks. Going into the PT, the most popular control deck in the format seemed to be Eli Kasis's Jeskai Gateway deck he won GP New Jersey with.


This was my starting point for a control list and I played a great many games with it. If you're looking to play control in Standard, I recommend just picking up any controlling deck that's had success and play games as a learning experience. Winning is not important at first; you want to learn the format and evaluate the tools you have access to, but you’re mostly trying to figure out the decks you're working against. So what did I decide I was looking to lock down? Short answer is mostly Golgari midrange, but Mono-Red had put up results in this format and aggressive Adanto Vanguard/History of Benalia based White decks were also winning events. The other two players in the metagame I focused on were Arclight Phoenix Izzet spell decks and Mono-Blue Curious Obsession agro/tempo decks.

After playing a bunch of games I identified the following threats as key hurdles for my deck to pass if I was going to register it at the PT:

Vivien Reid and Carnage Tyrant: Both of these cards are a nightmare for Jeskai. Vivien buries you by constantly presenting threats while also answering the threats you were bringing to the table and everything about the tyrant screams PROBLEM for Jeskai.

Experimental Frenzy and Banefire: Your basic strategy is to run opponents out of cards that matter, and Experimental Frenzy means the aggro decks will always find more with an understanding that a Banefire is looming to end the match.

Adanto Vanguard and History of Benalia: Vanguard is just a hard hitting threat that Jeskai almost can't answer, and the White decks use History's third chapter to end games quickly.

Arclight Phoenix and Dive Down: Both of these cards make your answers essentially useless.

Curious Obsession: Mono-Blue is simply not a good deck without this card, but when they have it, the rest of the deck is built in a fashion where games spiral out of control for you.

So these are what we were looking to beat, and a lot of them were giving the Jeskai Gateway decks problems. Additionally, I thought the deck itself had some fundamental issues. Two things stood out, first I did not think Azor's Gateway was a particularly strong card. Being a combo piece was nice, but requiring you to exile four nonland cards to flip was pretty bad, and not immediately winning once flipped when your life total was low was another issue. The Jeskai archetype really wants to use its life total as a resource and not having a way to gain life made that difficult in a combo deck that asked you to be at a high life total. This point lead to my second issue. Deafening Clarion was very clearly one of the best cards in the deck and being unable to use it's lifelink mode because you weren't playing creatures main deck was unacceptable to me. These issues, combined with my assessment of the perceived threats, is what lead to the list I played.


This list is sort of a Hybrid of Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Gateway, and it's based off a list First Strike Podcast Cohost Andy Peters first popularized. You'll notice I decided to feature the full four Crackling Drakes other high finishing Jeskai players chose to play fewer copies of. The basic idea with not playing threats in control decks is that your opponent's removal doesn't trade with your cards. Well, when Crackling Drake draws you a card upon entering the battlefield, that's pretty much already the case! Additionally, it's the perfect body sizing for this deck's needs. As an X/4 it can survive your own Clarions to gain lifelink and it actually blocks Adanto Vanguard profitably. Also, since it's power is variable you can grow it large enough to trade with Carnage Tyrant.

Secondly, I played three Niv-Mizzet, Parun. I strongly believe Niv-Mizzet is the best spell in Standard. Full stop. You can make arguments for other cards if you like, but nothing utterly shuts down other archetype's quite like this one. Please try playing against a Niv-Mizzet with a Mono-Blue, Izzet Phoenix, or a Turbo Fog deck if you don't believe me. It feels eerily similar to the effect The Scarab God had on games in the last format. You cast Niv-Mizzet, and if you untap with it you win the game. I'm sure people will argue Teferi is better, and don't get me wrong Teferi is a great card (one I've registered multiple copies of in Legacy even!), but I believe Niv is stronger in this format. The good news is you get to play both, and they play very nicely together! My list’s dream curve that won every single time I did it at the PT, was a turn five or 6 Teferi that could survive the turn, untap, play Niv-Mizzet, plus Teferi, draw a card and deal a damage to the opponent or one of their X-1 creatures, untap 2 lands and pass with a counterspell up to protect Niv. This deck is built to set that up and it's pretty easy to pull it off. A card other decks feature that this one doesn't is Revitalize. I think that card is too bad to register and doesn't meaningfully add to your win percentage, so I cut it for cards that did and have not missed it one bit. While I promise the rest of the card choices were carefully calculated, I think the shell has mostly proven itself, so let’s move on to matchups and how to approach them. A common theme with this deck is needing to realize if you're the control deck or the beatdown and which combo you're looking to execute. I promise it's not always as clear as the control moniker would lead you to believe!

Adanto Vanguard Decks

We are the control here. Game 1 you're looking to do whatever it takes not to lose to Vanguard, and execute the Crackling Drake + Deafening Clarion Combo. If this means losing a Teferi to tuck a Vanguard back in their deck, do it! A lot of the White decks play Heroic Reinforcements to rebuild post clarion. That’s why I say drake is important, getting it down ahead of the clarion makes the reinforcements a bit lacking. Post board in this matchup you need to focus on their enchantments and not let Experimental Frenzy beat you. Cleansing Nova does a lot of work here. Be sure to side those in.

Mono-Red

This matchup is much easier than the White decks and even more favored. Again we'll find ourselves in the control role. Do not let them cast frenzy at all costs! Go out of your way to prevent frenzy from resolving. This is another matchup where we're looking to combo Sir Crackles with the Clarion and we'll be victorious upon doing so. Post board, the game plan remains the same; cut your more expensive card advantage spells for your Ixalan's Binding and some angels and just be aware of Banefire.

Mono-Blue

I think this is the deck best matchup. Unlike the previous two though we're trying to assemble a different combo. Here we want to assemble the combo of Niv-Mizzet and six lands that produce uuurrr. That's it. No seriously, that's it. Cast Niv-Mizzet and watch in awe as your opponent can do absolutely nothing to beat it! Post board you need a few more ways to protect Niv but this matchup is as lopsided as they come in Standard.

Izzet Phoenix

This is the first confusing matchup we come to. While it seems like we're the control deck here, we are not. You need to play this one aggressively. At the PT I played against multiple Phoenix pilots who I believe misevaluated their role and lost because of it. As the game goes longer, their Drakes get much bigger than yours and they find more phoenixes and cheap tricks you have trouble beating. Basically, they become more likely to win the more of their deck they churn through, so don't be scared to counter early Chart a Courses and Discoveries. You also need to answer their drakes then land your own threat and get connecting. This matchup would actually be pretty bad for us if we didn't have Niv-Mizzet, but luckily for us, we do. Assemble the Teferi/Niv-Mizzet combo as quickly as possible and you will win. With three copies of Niv-Mizzet in your main deck the matchup is favored. Postboard they bring in enchantment based answers to Niv, like Firemind's Research and In Bolas's Clutches, as well as their own Niv-Mizzets. Just be prepared for these changes with your Ixalan's Bindings and you should be pretty set up to win!

Golgari

This is the decks worst matchup in my opinion, and a very skill testing one to boot. You start the game as the control deck and would in fact like to always be the control deck, except the threat of Carnage Tyrant forces you out of that plan. Your deck is not particularly well set up to beat planeswalkers Game 1 so you need to get your drakes on board to attack the Viviens and Vraskas. Unfortunately, all their planeswalkers also answer the flying creatures you want to play, which means ideally you need to get two threats in play before a they resolve a big planeswalker (Teferi counts as threat for these purposes). The way to win Game 1 is to deploy threats while the Golgari player is wasting time with explore creatures that don't really matter. This is another matchup where the combo of drake and clarion go a long way. It cleans up all the expendable explore creatures lying around while allowing you to race Carnage Tyrant. Post board we need to become the control deck now that we have tools to answer their tyrants. Bring in your Star of Extinctions and Cleansing Novas and get Niv out of your deck! We want to win with card advantage post board. Just get ahead of them with Search for Azcanta, Chemister's Insight, Teferi, and Expansion // Explosion and eventually you should grind them out! Definitely be aware of Midnight Reaper and Golgari Findbroker, though. I typically cut all my spot removal except Lava Coil in this matchup, and try to save my Lava Coils for those two cards specifically.

G/W Tokens and Boros Angel bonus coverage!

gw happens to be pretty soft to both your combos, Crackling Drake plus Clarion and Niv-Mizzet with a Teferi plus to hold up a counterspell. When playing it you should definitely feel favored. You don't want to let the game go on forever, but take your time and get Niv down in a spot where he'll survive and you should find it pretty easy to win. Post board you need to be very scared of Ixalan's Binding and what it will mean when it locks down your permanents. This is something you can avoid, you just need to think through the ramifications of getting things bound. When playing against binding decks like this one, I tried to diversify my threats. It's part of the reason my sideboard is built with a lot of one-of threats.

Boros Angels is a very good matchup with one exception. You almost cannot answer Aurelia outside of countering the card! The angel's stats are perfectly designed to be a nightmare for you to remove. Just keep that in mind while playing to avoid letting that card resolve, if possible.

Well, that's what I have for you! I'll close out with the list I'll be playing next weekend at GP Milwaukee! If you're interested in more about the deck or just want to see pictures of my decklists I can be found on Twitter @A22en. Thanks for reading!