In Barcelona, Team France became the first nation to win a second title in the (hopefully not) last World Magic Cup. I feel fortunate to have been part of this amazing experience, as winning the whole tournament still feels incredible to me.
While the tournament featured Team Sealed, I will focus today on Standard, and on what was the breakout deck of the tournament: French Jeskai. Here is the list we ran at the WMC:
The best feature is that we don’t need a specific win condition like Niv-Mizzet or Crackling Drake, which match up poorly against all the otherwise dead removal, and more importantly Vivien Reid, an already great threat against Jeskai.
Sure, Niv-Mizzet is a great card, but only in combination with Dive Down and Treasure Map, which is a totally different deck (a more combo-ish one), and I do not believe a 6-mana creature that requires support belongs in a control deck. Instead, we only play removal and ways to generate card advantage, trying to survive as long as possible, in the style of a traditional control deck. Hitting all your land drops is crucial, as you need a lot of mana every turn to keep your development going. That all of your cards serve the same purpose is more convenient, because you will get much less awkward draws, and then every resource will be helpful at each stage of the game—a better team effort.
The original inclusion of this combo kill comes from Thierry Ramboa: once you reach 11 mana, you simply kick Fight with Fire and copy it with Expansion to deal 20 damage straight to the face (a kicked spell keeps the same converted mana cost on the stack). And those Fight with Fires are already perfectly fine removal to play, as they help us deal with Niv-Mizzet, Parun and big Wildgrowth Walkers.
This allows you to close the game in a snap of your fingers, even when facing an otherwise unbeatable board. I won several games facing down Carnage Tyrants protected by a Vivien Reid emblem by burning my opponent’s face before they had a chance to deal the last points of damage.
I noticed that many midrange opponents carefully plan their sequencing and play around specific cards like counterspells or sweepers if possible, because that’s usually the way to go against control decks if you can stay at parity in the midgame. But this fiery combo easily punishes opponents that play too cautiously, making their game plan harder to develop properly. The threat of the combo also prevents opponents from tapping out when you reach the 11-mana territory. Being able to end the game from nowhere is a unique, but very useful, feature.
Some fellow Frenchmen and I already played the deck at Grand Prix Lille earlier in October, and although I posted a 30th place finish, it was not highlighted at all. And while we were disappointed by our overall performance, it allowed the deck to stay under the radar, as many other different Jeskai builds were flourishing right and left—some had a few Drakes, some with Niv-Mizzets, some with Azor’s Gateway—nobody seemed to agree on a definitive best version.
For the World Magic Cup, the deck still felt strong, especially considering the expected 33% of Golgari Midrange, as a huge majority of the teams would have one player running the deck. We were first worried about the Izzet and white matchup, but after updating the list, we felt good in those matchups as well. We coupled it with Golgari (obviously) and Selesnya, which was the best non-Boros white deck. More importantly, we chose to place it in the middle seat, as we expected many team captains here, and we felt they would be more inclined to play Golgari.
It worked out even better than we hoped, as I faced eight of them in ten rounds (the two exceptions being Shahar Shenhar on Izzet Drakes).
A great early-game play that helps you hit your land drops and not fall behind too quickly. Because you play so many instants, the opponent will have a hard time figuring out their combat steps, as making suboptimal attacks in order to protect their board from Settle the Wreckage will easily be punished by instant-speed removal, or a couple life points to stem the bleeding.
Four Deafening Clarion
The most important sweeper in the deck, as it curves nicely before Chemister’s Insight and your top curve. It’s crucial against aggressive decks with many 1-drops, and you sometimes copy it with Expansion to deal with Carnage Tyrant.
Two Settle the Wreckage
The other main-deck sweeper has to deal with more problematic creatures, like Carnage Tyrant before Golgari sideboards in Duresses, Midnight Reaper, Adanto Vanguard, and Flamewake Phoenix. Most of the time, your opponents won’t have the luxury of playing around it and will send their entire team into the red zone.
One Lava Coil, Two Seal Away, One Ixalan’s Binding
These spells are also chosen for their ability to deal with the same creatures, each having its strengths—Seal Away is crucial at protecting your Teferis, Ixalan’s Binding deals nicely with Vivien Reid and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and Lava Coil has more synergy with Expansion and Mirari Conjecture, hence the mix.
Two Fight with Fire
Does not deal with the aforementioned creatures, but helps against big Wildgrowth Walkers and Niv-Mizzet. The kicked part can serve as a pseudo-wrath by itself, and hit planeswalkers if needed.
One Blink of an Eye
This one is more a catch-all answer for an opposing Conclave Tribunal/Ixalan’s Binding, The Immortal Sun, and Vivien Reid threatening to ultimate—any permanent you were not able to counter earlier. As an instant “removal” spell, it plays nicely with Settle the Wreckage and Teferi, and you will often use it to rebuy your enchantments or to protect one of your planeswalkers. If needed in the very late game, you also have a loop over three turns with The Mirari Conjecture and any sorcery (generally Fight with Fire).
Three Ionize, One Syncopate, One Negate
The color requirement is the only reason we play Ionize over Sinister Sabotage, which can not fit into a deck with Settle the Wreckage but without Hallowed Fountain, which isn’t available yet. The two other counterspells are, again, a way to be more versatile as each one has different applications. We felt that counterspells were not that great at the moment in Standard, as we would rather fight with answers that do not require you to hold up mana. Most decks played either many cheap creatures or big uncounterable threats like main-deck Carnage Tyrant or Niv-Mizzet. That is why we play so few of them, but that could easily change in the near future.
Four Chemister’s Insight
Insight is the core of the deck, and one of the main reasons Golgari is a great matchup for this deck. It prevents your opponent from fighting over card advantage, even with timely Duresses. With something like Glimmer of Genius as the main card-draw engine, they would be able to discard it and leave you with a couple of specific answers and no way to make sure you’ll hit the next land drops. But this is not an option with Chemister’s Insight—this decks draws a lot of extra cards, and they are forced to fight over card quality instead of quantity. You just need to make sure that you play enough of each relevant card and will eventually draw a replacement one.
Three Expansion // Explosion
Explosion is the Sphinx’s Revelation of the deck, but this is a more versatile card. Between your own removal spells, Revitalizes or Insights, and opposing spells, you will mostly use the Expansion part of it.
A common play for Golgari players is to protect their planeswalkers by Duressing first, and sometimes you can build your own Duress and thus deal with their threat before they have a chance to play it. Also note that it serves as another counterspell in counter battles.
Three Teferi, One Ral, Izzet Viceroy
Teferi is the best planeswalker for the deck as it boosts your mana every turn it stays in play, but Ral is the cleanest answer to Niv-Mizzet, and we wanted to improve those matchups as much as we could.
One Mirari Conjecture
Pierre Dagen finally added this sweet enchantment to the main deck, which was the final touch that brought all the pieces together. It allows you to spend your removal early in the game without being worried about missing win conditions in the late game, as you eventually draw into it and bring back your combo. It’s also quite threatening by itself with the third chapter.
Finally, here is a sideboard guide for those who want a starting point, but please bear in mind that these are only general guidelines, and remember to always adapt based on you see in your opponent’s deck games 2 and 3.
For instance, against Japan in the quarterfinals, we kept more Ionizes and removed Ral, Izzet Viceroy because they had only three Duress and a very punishing answer for our planeswalkers in the form of three Eldest Reborn.
Likewise, I sideboarded differently the two times I faced Israel, given the different knowledge I had of the opposing deck list.
This is how I planned to sideboard against the archetypes we expected to face :
Golgari Midrange (Very Favorable)
Even after board, Settle the Wreckage is important to properly deal with Carnage Tyrant and Midnight Reaper, as they can buy them back with Find or Memorial to Folly. They have many incentives to play their Duress early in the game, so avoid a spot where you would lose your Settle to a topdecked discard and die on the next attack. A couple of counterspells are still useful against planeswalkers, and protect your own planeswalkers from The Eldest Reborn.
Selesnya Tokens (Favorable)
Do not be afraid to run your Teferis early as their only removal will be Conclave Tribunal, which allows you to bring it back later for less (Ixalan’s Binding, Invoke the Divine). They can board in noncreature threats like Vivien Reid or The Immortal Sun, or replace the tokens part of their deck with Nullhide Ferox, so make sure to reconsider your plan for game 3. Either way, outside of Shalai, which prevents Settle the Wreckage, they are almost defenseless against all of your sweepers, so make sure to survive long enough to overpower them.
Izzet Phoenix (Depends on the Deck List)
This matchup changes a lot depending on how many Niv-Mizzet/Dive Down they run. The key is to fight on mana because your spells are way more expensive than theirs, so try to make them spend their mana during their turn, which gives you more room to respond during your turn if needed. Otherwise you will fall behind on board very quickly and will have a hard time recovering. If they run Ral instead of Phoenixes (Izzet Drakes Control), Settle and Lyra become worse and you need more counterspells instead.
Jeskai Control with Creatures (Even)
Making all your land drops is crucial here, because as soon as you threaten your combo they won’t be able to tap down during their turn when defending their Teferi or Niv-Mizzet. Be wary of Syncopate exiling your Chemister’s Insight. Don’t run them too early if you don’t need to.
Weenie White/Boros (Slightly Favorable)
Venerated Loxodon is key because it creates boards that are resilient to Deafening Clarion, especially when convoked by a Benalish Marshal. Keep in mind that you can copy Deafening Clarion with an Expansion, notably in response to Dauntless Bodyguard’s activated ability, which will elegantly deal with the protected creature and both parts of Hunted Witness.
Keep the board as clear as possible. You can use Clarion as soon as they represent more than 3 points of attackers. Revitalize is great at fighting their burn spells, and between Runaway Steam-Kin and Ghitu Lavarunner, they will be encouraged to play them very early in the game, so Expansion can easily copy them to become an additional removal spell. Always keep an answer for Treasure Map or Experimental Frenzy, because it’s their only way to fight a long game.
We just look for any way to reach the late stages of the game, so cheap interaction is premium in this matchup. Expansion will often copy one of their counterspells to protect one of your removal spells, or copy said removal in response to a Dive Down. Be wary of Siren Stormtamer’s ability to counter basically anything, even Settle the Wreckage, Explosion, or Seal Away’s triggered ability.
Well, that’s about it. If I were to play the deck again, I would consider adding a Citywide Bust to the sideboard as a great answer to Carnage Tyrant and various Drakes, and a couple of Treasure Maps, which could help boost your mana in control mirrors. Search for Azcanta could fit in as well, especially if control becomes more popular in the near future.
I hope you enjoy playing the deck as much as I did!
Even though I was running the deck during the World Cup, the build is a result of the collaboration of our test group, so I would like to thank again everyone who helped us along the way. More people will know the French version now and will be better prepared to face it, but I believe this deck will still be a solid contender in future tournaments. Until then, may the fire be with you!