This Jeskai deck is built on some hot takes:
- Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt are overrated.
- Hieroglyphic Illumination is way better than Opt.
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is better than Jace.
Despite my noted love of stirring up trouble, I say these things because the testing Ben Stark and I did led us to these conclusions (well, the testing Ben did and I verified, more accurately).
I needed a deck for Grand Prix Detroit, and because my two teammates, Pat Cox and Gaby Spartz, were beyond locked on Humans and Tron respectively, I had my pick of the litter. The only things that were off-limits were Aether Vial/Noble Hierarch decks or Ancient Stirrings decks, which gave me plenty of room to play with.
To be clear, I didn’t have to make any concessions to this being Team Unified, so this list is what I’d recommend for any Modern tournament. BenS couldn’t play Bolt, so our lists diverged on that point.
Hot Take Jeskai
There are some somewhat controversial things going on here, so let’s dive in:
2 Lightning Bolt/3 Snapcaster Mage
These are all grouped together, as the numbers here impact each other. The main difference between this Jeskai list and the stock versions is that you aren’t a Bolt-Snap-Bolt deck, so it’s not mandatory to play four Bolt and four Snapcaster. In fact, the fewer of each of these cards you run, the less appealing the other becomes.
What changed? Why is this deck no longer a Bolt ’em out deck? The biggest change is that Teferi is legal, and I’ll be waxing poetic as to how good he is in just a second. Once your game plan becomes “play and protect Teferi”, it’s not necessary to try and win the game with random Bolts, and that changes a lot about the deck. You want to focus on staying alive, and Lightning Helix is better than Bolt for that, especially if you consider your land sequencing—fetching out a red on turn 1 makes you pay 2 life, so Bolt doesn’t even save you life.
As such, I liked the split of two Bolt and three Snapcaster, with three Helix as additional removal (alongside the four Paths).
4 Hieroglyphic Illumination
Don’t sleep on this one. Illumination is consistently great, and I’d much rather slam Illumination over Opt. This is another reason why Snapcaster wasn’t an auto 4-of, since you can’t flashback the 1-mana side of this.
Losing out on scry 1 is more than made up for by having the 4 mana mode, as there aren’t that many outlets for actual card advantage in Modern. It’s so great when you leave up Cryptic and your opponent plays around it, only to have you cast this instead. Likewise, getting to play a bunch of 1 and 2 mana removal spells is propped up by this giving you more gas later. Illumination is really good technology, and more decks should be using it.
3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria (and 0 Jace)
Teferi is a huge upgrade to Jace. He effectively costs 3 mana, as this deck is all instants, and comes in with higher loyalty than Jace to boot. Drawing a card and Brainstorming are close enough that I’ll take the lower mana cost and higher loyalty, as Teferi plus a removal spell is so much more likely to survive than Jace. Teferi’s -3 also hits a wider range of cards, and in Modern, that’s a sizable bonus. Ben cut the Jaces and never looked back, and I agree with his assessment.
0 Celestial Colonnade
Given the preponderance of Field of Ruin, and the general disinterest of this deck to win via damage, cutting Colonnade for Glacial Fortress and Sulfur Falls has worked out very nicely. Having all untapped lands is awesome, and it helps a lot when casting 5-drops and multiple spells per turn.
The rest of the deck is a mix of cantrips (four Serum Visions, which is enough more powerful than Opt to be worth it) and interaction. Having seven hard counters in Cryptics and Logic Knots is essential in many matchups, and all of the creature removal helps protect Teferi. High-impact 1-ofs like Timely Reinforcements, Supreme Verdict, and Settle the Wreckage make the deck hard to play against, and get around Meddling Mage nicely.
This is the matchup you dream about, as Jeskai is a substantial favorite against Humans. You just need cards to swap in for Logic Knots, and Kozilek’s Return offers an instant-speed sweeper, which is critical against Aether Vial. There are games where their creatures grow too big for Return, but most of the time it will do good work. Purge isn’t the best, but it does kill Mantis Rider and Kitesail Freebooter.
Paths are better than Helices, as they take out Wurmcoil and World Breaker, and you really aren’t going to Bolt the opponent to death anyways. You can take out another two Bolts for Wear // Tears, but I haven’t found those to do a ton.
Tron is a tough matchup, and game 1 is almost unwinnable. It really hinges on you landing Crumble to Dust and sticking Teferi, but you’re overall behind in the matchup.
Snapcaster is slow and you want to be a Rest in Peace deck post-board, so those go (along with Knots). On the play, you can keep another Mage in over the Wear // Tear, since you have a little more breathing room.
This matchup is very die-roll dependent (even more than most in Modern), and H1 is a little ahead. If you land Rest in Peace and draw a Path or two, you usually win, but they have a lot of auto-win draws, plus the ability to grind you out in non-RIP games.
U/W or the Mirror
If they have Search for Azcanta, Crucible of Worlds, and Detention Sphere, adding Wear // Tear is good as well. Otherwise, you’re just cutting removal for more counterspells, and trying to win the fight over planeswalkers.
Hieroglyphic Illumination over Opt is an edge in this matchup, though you still have so many of the same cards that it ends up being pretty close. You also do have burn spells to interact with planeswalkers, whereas all of their removal are blank exile effects like Path and Terminus.
This is a pretty good matchup, as you have a ton of relevant interaction and a lot of good reset buttons. I didn’t end up liking Kozilek’s Return here because they often have huge creatures, so I’d rather lean on the cheaper burn spells and exile effects. Rest in Peace mitigates how good Ravager and Hangarback are, so it’s worth bringing in, even if your Snapcasters get worse (and it’s why you cut one of the Snappys as well).
Spirits is one of the tougher creature decks, as they have a lot of flash and hexproof nonsense to put up with. That said, Bolt, Helix, and Path are still good, and as long as you can prevent a Rattlechains blowout or double Drogskol Captain, you’re in decent shape. The one Supreme Verdict is a killer, and you will often win if you draw it.
Burn is one of your better matchups, as you’re flush with Lightning Helices, Bolts, Snapcasters, and even a Timely Reinforcements. Once you board in additional counters, it gets even better, and trimming the expensive cards is all you’re looking to do. Depending on how many creatures the opponent is running, you want anywhere from 0 to 2 Kozilek’s Return.
Rest in Peace shines here, though most opponents will have four Empty the Warrens and three to four Pieces of the Puzzle post-board. You keep the burn spells to take down Baral and Electromancer, and try to eventually stick a Teferi. The opponent won’t usually go off quickly, so fighting against their card advantage tends to be the best plan.
I was pleasantly surprised when playing this Jeskai deck—bucking conventional wisdom can often pay off, and this deck feels very well constructed. Good luck, and may you always get to hard cast your Illuminations!