To the surprise of no one, I sleeved up Teferi for Pro Tour Dominaria. I think my deck choice turned out to be reasonable, but it was risky, given the fact that I hadn’t played a ton with it and it was still possible that I’d just had a good run in my playtesting.
Overall, I wasn’t pleased with my testing. I think I played a grand total of zero games with black-green, red-black, or black-white combined. You can’t expect to extensively test every major archetype and you need to rely on your teammates to some extent, but I still should have played some games with these decks, at least against blue control decks to see what the matchup is like from the other side. It’s not the first time this has happened to me, but hopefully it will be the last. Owen suggested a simple rule to avoid this: Try a different deck every day. Simple enough.
I decided to skip the team GP and met up with the rest of the Pantheon at Huey, Brock, and Owen’s house the Monday before the PT. When I got there, it didn’t seem like people really knew what they wanted to play besides maybe Logan and Jelger, who seemed set on black-green. That quickly changed as Kai felt confident that a red-black build with Bomat Courier and not too many removal spells was the way to go. One of the good things about Kai’s German side is that he doesn’t get emotionally attached to decks and you can trust his judgment, so when he said that he felt like the deck had no bad matchups, most of the team was on board.
Ben Rubin, Josh Cho, and Gerry Thompson had been working on various Jeskai Control builds and after getting repeatedly thrashed by Red-Black with Blue-White Control, I decided to give it a shot. I won something like eight out of my nine first League matches, and played a set against Logan playing Red-Black that went reasonably well. The matchup felt much better with Jeskai than it did with straight Blue-White.
I started tuning the deck and the sideboard but knew it was probably going to be a gamble, as the deck was quite poor against other control decks. I played a set against Cuneo and his Blue-Black deck, and the matchup was pretty much hopeless. I didn’t think Blue-White would be quite as bad for Jeskai and it was a gamble I was willing to take, as I didn’t think control would be super popular. It ended up being about 20% of the field, which isn’t great for Jeskai, but it wasn’t a huge percentage either and only about a third of these decks had access to black mana.
Wizards made a small change this time around, making us submit our deck lists a day earlier, and here is what I ended up registering on Wednesday night:
So why did I think this deck was better than Blue-White, Blue-Black, or even Esper?
The main and pretty much only reason is because I think red has the best removal spells right now. Magma Spray takes care of Scrapheap Scrounger for good. Abrade gets rid of most creatures as well as Lifecrafter’s Bestiary after sideboard (which usually beats Blue-Black single-handedly) and potentially something like Sorcerous Spyglass. Harnessed Lightning is just solid overall, and Sweltering Suns, while somewhat clunky, is going to act as a cheaper Wrath of God most of the time. The other nice thing about the red removal spells is that you don’t have to always wait until their creature is tapped or their Vehicle crewed to kill it.
I decided to give myself an out against control and played one Nezahal main deck over a second Gearhulk. I wasn’t even sure that it would actually make a difference, but the one time I did draw it in testing against a control deck, it won the game.
I used to be really low on Nezahal and I’m not exactly sure what changed with Dominaria but I kept losing to the card, and kept winning with it when I started adding it to my various control deck’s sideboards.
The Pro Tour
We all drove to Richmond on Thursday and it was really nice not to have to worry about our Standard deck lists.
Going into the PT, I felt confident about Limited. Not as confident as for some of the previous formats, but way more confident than I was with Rivals of Ixalan. That being said, we weren’t able to establish a definite pick order and I think part of the reason why is because we felt that white and black were weaker than the three other colors. All colors being equal, it’s fairly obvious that Blessed Light is a better card than Fiery Intervention, but how much you need to adjust if you think red is better than white is tricky.
The first Draft went smoothly. I first picked Josu Vess into Yavimaya Sapherd and Mammoth Spider out of two fairly unexciting packs, but I was perfectly fine with that as I think black-green is probably the second best archetype after blue-red. I had an interesting choice in the fourth pack between Fungal Infection and Grand Warlord Radha, and decided to go with the legend. I picked up a few black cards, as well as a late Hallar, and I was hoping that the second pack wouldn’t be more back and forth between G/B and R/G. I had the choice between Baloth Gorger and Hallar in my second pack, and decided to pick the Gorger as it would go into my deck regardless, and I thought there was a good chance I would table Hallar anyways. Josu Vess is a very good card but it didn’t feel like black was open in pack 1, and I was leaning toward red until Corey Baumeister passed me a Phyrexian Scriptures pack 2 pick 2 (the Hallar did table though).
Here is what I ended up going 2-1 with:
— gabriel nassif (@gabnassif) June 1, 2018
I lost round 1 to Corey, who had a good blue-red deck, but I think I misplayed game 3 when I decided to slow play Scriptures instead of just playing it on turn 5 when we both only had one creature out, a kicked Stronghold Confessor on my side and a Rampaging Cyclops on his. I went with Llanowar Elves + Dark Bargain instead and got out tempo’ed by a turn-5 kicked Skizzik into a turn-6 Arcane Flight + Shivan Fire + Wizard’s Retort, dying without being able to even cast the Saga.
Standard started off well. I beat Sebastian Pozzo playing Red-Black after he flooded out in game 3, and Jack Kiefer and his Mono-Black deck in the feature match in round 5. I then lost to Black-Green in back-to-back rounds. While I’m not sure that I could have done much the first time around, I kept three very questionable hands in round seven and ended up getting punished (funnily, I think I won with the worst of the three).
I got paired against LSV and his Blue-Green Scrap Trawler deck in the last round of the day and despite the unfortunate leak, I actually didn’t know what he was playing before the match. I ended up winning a close one as a turn-2 Baral carried me to victory in the last game of the day.
I wasn’t super happy with my play but I was at least a bit more confident in my Standard deck and felt like I could maybe go on a Day 2 run if I brushed things up.
I was at the same pod as Jelger and Logan, a.k.a. Jaberwocki, two of my Pantheon teammates, on Day 2. The Draft went well, and I was disappointed not to win my pod.
Ended up going 2-1 with a very good UR deck (you're welcome Tim). Played 10 mountains 6 islands + Sulfur Falls, should have maybe been 11/5 pic.twitter.com/FTIT6Ih9Tv
— gabriel nassif (@gabnassif) June 2, 2018
The three of us almost got the maximum amount of points possible as Jelger 3-0’d, but Logan’s Draft went poorly and he couldn’t do better than 1-2. Logan actually got pretty screwed as he ended up in Blue-White behind Jelger, who was also Blue-White. It’s especially unlucky, as Logan knew Jelger hated white and even said he would first pick Shivan Fire over Lyra Dawnbringer at the PT. He didn’t say anything about not first picking Teferi, though.
Back to Standard, and given my round 1 loss and my poor tiebreakers, I knew I would probably need to go 4-1 or better for a good finish.
I played against three Red-Black decks and a Black-Green deck in the first four rounds, losing to one of the R/B decks before getting paired against Finkel in the last round, who was also on Red-Black. That didn’t go well for me as I got punished for the first time in the tournament for having Nezahal over Gearhulk in game 1, and bricked a couple of Azcanta activations in game 2.
I ended up with a disappointing 82nd place finish and while I think I could have potentially won three out of the six matches I lost, I decided not to beat myself up over it. The Pantheon did great overall—Owen added another PT Top 8 to his resume, Reid went on an absurd run and won his last eleven rounds in a row to end up 12-4, and Brock qualified for another Pro Tour with his 37th place finish.
Jeskai Going Forward
My flight was out of Washington on Monday so I drove back with Huey and Owen on Sunday. The first thing I did when we got back to their place was to make a few changes to my deck and get in a queue.
Here is what I’m currently running, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily better than my PT list:
I was really impressed with Search and decided to add a third one. I’m also experimenting with the mana base, trying to have my lands enter the battlefield untapped as often as possible. I even added a 28th land, which you can potentially cut if you’re on the draw in games 2 or 3.
While Teferi is sometimes enough to deal with a resolved Hazoret, I felt that I could use extra answers to the God, so I decided to add a few white cards to the main. I got rid of the main-deck Nezahal, relying on my sideboard plan to beat other control decks.
I also got rid of Sweltering Suns for now, as playing at sorcery speed with this deck is a big liability. That could easily be a mistake.
Jace, Cunning Castaway has been good to me the few times I’ve played with it (I used to play it in Esper God-Pharaoh’s Gift’s sideboard) but it still needs some testing.
Ben Rubin liked Fiery Cannonade, so I’m giving it a shot.
I’m not entirely sure that I should cut Commit, but I’m trying to make my deck a bit cheaper. Spyglass is an option, depending on how many planeswalkers they have, and you can consider cutting a land on the draw in most matchups.
General Game Play Advice
One of a control deck’s most important resources is its life total, and this is especially true for this one. Given that you have few sweepers, you’ll want to prioritize your board position even if that means letting yourself fall really low. Keep in mind the big picture, as most aggro decks have very little reach once you’ve stabilized.
At the PT, I think I could have won game 1 against Jon if I had been a bit more patient. I was facing down a Bomat Courier and a Chainwhirler, and I was holding a couple of Disallows, as well as Sweltering Suns. I decided to tap out on my third turn to get rid of the two creatures and hoped for the best, and got punished by a Hazoret. What I should have probably done is either take another 12 damage until I could Suns + Disallow on the same turn or I should have said “go” and hoped that Jon jammed his threats into my counterspells, giving me the option to tap out with less risk.
Make sure that you play the right land every turn. It’s not always the case, but the Jeskai mana base isn’t great and the way you sequence your lands might be the most important decision you make all game.
When in doubt, play Search for Azcanta on turn 2. You need a particular hand to justify not playing Search on turn 2, especially as you can usually get rid of a turn 2/3 resolved threat with your removal and you’ll want mana up to counter cards like Hazoret, Rekindling Phoenix or Verdurous Gearhulk later in the game.
I’ll play a bit more with Jeskai before getting back into Modern, as I’ll be battling in Barcelona at the end of the month and will probably play Modern for my team in the next Pro Tour as well.
I know this isn’t the most complete guide ever, so make sure you leave any questions you have in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!