Jeskai Control

April 20, 2018

Jeskai Control is an umbrella term for Blue-White-Red decks that feature Snapcaster Mage, Celestial Colonnade, counterspells like Logic Knot and Cryptic Command, and burn spells like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix. The category of “Jeskai Control” can be broken down into 2 main subcategories: aggressively slanted builds that usually feature cards like Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Queller, and more controlling, long-game builds that feature cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Sphinx’s Revelation, Search for Azcanta, and Supreme Verdict.


https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/992695#paper

https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/994400#paper


The main strength of the Jeskai Control deck across all of its iterations has been how effective Snapcaster Mage is in conjunction with Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile when it comes to combating early-game pressure from creature strategies. Cryptic Command is another flexible mid-game play that can establish an advantage or help buy time to catch up when behind, and also pairs well with Snapcaster Mage. Celestial Colonnade rounds out the core of the deck, being a decent mana-fixer as well as a threat that can end the game very quickly. Cards that have also come to be commonly included in almost all builds are Lightning Helix as an offensive/defensive card, Electrolyze as a way to pull ahead against small creatures, Logic Knot as a strong catch-all, Spell Snare as an early-game tempo swing, and Serum Visions to smooth out draws to help ensure you draw the right mix of interaction for the matchup.


Different Builds Explained:

Jeskai decks generally aim to use efficient interaction in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage to halt opponents’ plans in the early game, then either stabilize and generate insurmountable card advantage, or turn the corner and kill quickly with burn spells, Celestial Colonnade, and other creatures. Many of the deck’s core cards are good on both offense and defense which makes it so you can be flexible and sculpt a plan as a game progresses, but most Jeskai decks are slanted towards taking advantage of either the offensive or defensive aspects of the deck’s core.


The more aggressive builds aim to disrupt opponents’ game plans and end the game somewhat quickly before they can fully recover, with the hard to remove Geist of Saint Traft, or the disruptive but fragile Spell Queller alongside Celestial Colonnade, Snapcaster Mage, and burn spells. This build takes full advantage of the fact that your burn spells, which are primarily included as creature removal, can also go to your opponent’s face, and it’s usually the case that you get enough chip damage in as a game progresses for a couple burn spells to be enough to finish a game. The advantage of this approach is that opponents with a game plan that is difficult for the Jeskai core to interact with (like Green Tron, for example) can be occasionally beaten by simply attacking them to death. The disadvantage is that you will more often run out of steam against opponents who are ready to deal with your creatures, and will have a harder time establishing a real foothold in very long games where resources are being traded back and forth.


Late-game oriented builds of Jeskai aim to disrupt opponents in the same way in the early turns, except instead of focusing on establishing a way to persistently threaten opponents’ life totals, the focus instead is on establishing and protecting a source of recurring card advantage, like Search for Azcanta or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. With this plan, the aim is to continually answer everything your opponent draws, until you can comfortably end the game with Celestial Colonnade, or have built up a critical mass of burn spells that is enough to end the game. The main advantage to this approach is that it has almost built-in inevitability, so opponents that don’t kill you quickly are going to have a hard time winning through all of your ways to generate resource advantages. The downside is that you may get matched up against decks that sidestep your primary interaction (Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt) and as a result are capable of killing you before you can attempt to establish a lead, whereas if you had creatures like Geist of Saint Traft you may at least stand a chance of racing their plan.


Manabase

Manabases in Jeskai are generally set up to be able to cast all of your cheap spells in the early turns, and give you easy access to triple-blue for Cryptic Command by turn 4. It is common for Jeskai manabases to include 7-9 fetch lands, 4-5 shock lands, 3-4 Celestial Colonnades, some mixture of 1-3 check/fast lands, 3 basic Islands, 1 basic Plains, and occasionally 1 basic Mountain. This general set up should give you access to all of your colors easily, as well as give you the ability to attempt to play around Blood Moon with easy access to a decent number of basic lands. There is no single agreed upon way to build a Jeskai mana base, but this outline should be close to what you are aiming for.


Sideboarding

The reactive nature of Jeskai Control means your sideboard is likely to contain specific interaction that is very powerful against certain strategies. Common sideboard cards are discussed below.


Wear // Tear - Good enough against the many artifact strategies in Modern, and decent for dealing with cards like Blood Moon as well as opposing Search for Azcanta or other random problematic enchantments you may encounter.

Dispel - Good against other control decks, certain combo decks (Ad Nauseum, Goryo’s Vengeance), and certain aggro decks (Burn, Infect).

Negate - Efficient catch-all, sometimes maindecked

Pyroclasm / Kozilek’s Return / Anger of the Gods - Efficient ways to catch-up against creature swarm strategies.

Izzet Staticaster - Repeatable removal for decks with lots of 1-toughness creatures.

Relic of Progenitus - Good against graveyard decks like Dredge or Hollow One, and good for managing graveyards against decks with Snapcaster Mage, Search for Azcanta, Tarmogoyf, Traverse the Ulvenwald etc.

Disdainful Stroke - Mostly included for ramp decks like Tron or Scapeshift, as stopping their big plays is usually life or death.

Vandalblast / Shatterstorm - For artifact-heavy strategies like Lantern or Affinity

Supreme Verdict - Effective against creature swarms, or against large creatures out of decks like Death’s Shadow or Jund. Sidesteps Stubborn Denial, which can be huge.

Runed Halo - Very effective against decks that have few cards that can actually threaten to kill you, like Scapeshift, Bogles, or Grishoalbrand. Can also be effective against Death’s Shadow, Codex Shredder out of Lantern decks, etc.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion - Powerful late-game card that allows you to go over the top of other control or midrange decks.

Settle the Wreckage - Somewhat effective card for creature swarms. Decent against Affinity, as it deals with man-lands when most sweepers don’t, and is very good against Dredge as exiling their recurring threats is very powerful.

Stony Silence - Effective for shutting down Affinity or Lantern.

Rest in Peace - Powerful graveyard hate that shuts some decks down completely. Not an ideal card to have in play as Jeskai uses Snapcaster Mage to its advantage, but powerful enough to warrant consideration if your metagame has lots of graveyard decks.

Celestial Purge - Efficient removal for threats like Liliana (of the Veil or Last Hope) and Blood Moon, secondarily good against anything with lots of black or red permanents that are worth spending 2 mana to remove.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor - Not every Jeskai deck will maindeck this powerful planeswalker, but he is worth considering for the sideboard of more aggressive builds to transition into a long-game focused plan when necessary.

Vendilion Clique - Disruptive attacker, good against combo and control decks

Engineered Explosives - Catch-all for problematic permanents, good for killing multiple cheap creatures.

Ceremonious Rejection - Efficient counterspell against Tron, Eldrazi, Lantern, or Affinity, which all have lots of problematic cards that Ceremonious Rejection answers cleanly.


This may seem like a lot of options (it doesn’t even cover everything necessarily) but if you know your metagame well, you can narrow down which cards you should be including pretty easily. In general when sideboarding, the most difficult decisions are going to be when to take out late-game cards for additional early-game interaction, because late-game payoffs don’t do you any good in your hand if you are dead on board. Balancing these elements depending on the matchup is a key element to focus on when piloting Jeskai decks.


Tips:

It’s very important for you to assess very early on whether you are playing a game where your life total will matter. This will change how you fetch, what you remove and when, how aggressively to use cards like Lightning Helix, etc. Most Jeskai decks have a range of color requirements and missing a beat (not being able to cast a spell because of conservative fetching, etc) is often game-losing with this deck.


Identifying when it is time to start firing up Colonnades and attacking is key to playing any build of Jeskai. There are going to be times when you may have a counterspell for your opponent’s next top deck, but it’s still correct to tap yourself low to start attacking with Colonnade so they have the least amount of time possible to draw a removal spell or mount the ability to race you. If you are comfortably sitting with several answers in hand, a source of card advantage on board, and your opponent is top-decking, there is no need to take any risks, but sometimes you will be basically out of steam with no reasonable path to victory except Colonnade beats, and learning to see when this is happening will increase your win % with Jeskai significantly.


Just because your opponent gives you a target for one of your spells doesn’t mean you need to cast it right away. In the early game it’s almost always correct to use as much of your mana to remove threats as possible, but as games progress you can slow down and wait for more information before deciding what to use your answers on.


When is Jeskai good?

Jeskai is usually at its best when the format is leaning towards decks that play lots of smaller creatures as a part of their main game plan. Excellent matchups include Collected Company decks and Zoo-style decks. Jeskai also has reasonable matchups against midrange-y fair decks, like Jund or Death’s Shadow decks, as it usually has the ability to go toe-to-toe with them in grindy games.


When is Jeskai bad?

Jeskai is generally not great against big mana strategies. Specifically, Green Tron is probably the nightmare matchup for Jeskai, but Eldrazi decks and Scapeshift can be hard to beat as well. Jeskai is usually built in such a way that linear spell-based combo decks like Storm or Ad Nauseam are generally bad matchups, although these matchups can be somewhat shored up after sideboarding. Blood Moon-based strategies can be difficult to contend with as well, as you don’t always have the luxury of fetching basic lands, and Blood Moon turning off Celestial Colonnade or Azcanta is a big deal.