In a field flush with turn-3 kills from infectious Elves...
And shadows of death...
Aggressive assaults from forest Giants, other ineffable creatures...
And the powerful Liliana of the Veil...
—it can be hard to muster up a reasonable defense in Modern.
But fear not the dangers of the Modern format, fellow mages! I have come to tell you that it is possible to defend yourself. I am living proof, having clawed my way to the Top 4 of Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth, fending off the threats presented to me, and defeating my opponents with some land turned flying Elementals:
Alex Mitas, 4th place at Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth
But Alex, is it really possible to play a deck like this in Modern? You have Sphinx's Revelation in your deck for crying out loud!
Yes, mysterious person who asks me questions, I believe it is.
Modern is in a unique position where late-game powerhouses like Tron and hard-to-interact with combo decks like Ad Nauseum have severely dropped in popularity due to the rise of fast linear aggro decks such as Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo. This leaves an opening for a control deck tuned to beat those linear strategies.
People play 4 Become Immense in their Infect decks or multiple copies of Tasigur, the Golden Fang in their Grixis decks. To that extent, it should be easy to understand why a deck full of cheap removal, cantrips, and 8 fetch lands would want to play some delve spells. In this deck, Logic Knot is very nearly Counterspell, and much better with Path to Exile than the more ubiquitous Mana Leak.
Path to Exile is the best removal spell by a lot since it kills anything and exiles. The land your opponent gets can be relevant, but isn’t usually when you take into account that most decks in Modern don’t play expensive spells or mana sinks.
Lightning Bolt, while efficient, is ineffective against a lot of problematic threats, and the ability to deal damage to your opponent isn’t very relevant in a deck that plans on winning around turn 12 or so. I even played 1 Lightning Helix over the 3rd Lightning Bolt because of how relevant life gain is in a deck like this. Also, because of the existence of Snapcaster Mage, drawing 1 Lightning Helix against Burn can be the difference between winning and losing.
I wish I could have played more copies of Electrolyze, because it is an excellent card—a card that can either be removal against creatures or cycle for a card against noncreature decks is a great tool. But 3 mana is a lot, and there is only so much room in the deck for 3-mana cards.
Cryptic Command is at its worst against other blue decks where it can be difficult to win permission battles with a 4-mana counterspell. In the current format, matches like these are few and far between. Cryptic Command is everything a control deck wants: a counterspell that provides card advantage, a way to remove problematic permanents from the board, and a way to buy time against creature decks. I could not advocate playing less than 4.
The format is so fast that I’m afraid I won’t have time to cast Think Twice, let alone Sphinx's Revelation. The format might seem fast, but I assure you, killing all of your opponent's threats will bring things to a halt quickly. Once you’ve done that, you need to be able to pull ahead. These are two of the most powerful draw spells legal in Modern, and the deck cannot function without them.
I had 3 Snapcaster Mages in the deck long before I had Torrential Gearhulk. Snapcaster Mage, while undeniably powerful, often costs a lot of mana, and can be bad if you draw too many too early. Add to that the tension between the delve on Logic Knot and the flashback on Think Twice, and it’s easy to see why fewer than 4 Snapcaster Mage is ideal.
The Torrential Gearhulk is in the deck primarily as a win condition that plays along with the instant speed nature of the deck. It’s important to have a card like this against combo decks, or decks like Valakut. It is also just a powerful card that kill your opponent quickly if needed.
The 1 Ajani Vengeant is mostly just a fancy Lightning Helix, but can also be used to win the game. This is especially important against decks with an abundance of removal, where the risk of running out of threats to finish the game is a real one.
Changes, and a Note on Dredge
Going forward, I like the list, and would only recommend changes if there were specific matchups I wanted to improve. For instance, if I wanted to be better against Tron and Lantern Control, I might replace a Timely Reinforcements and an Izzet Staticaster with 2 copies of Stony Silence.
One thing that’s important to note about this deck the way it is constructed, is that the Dredge matchup is a nightmare. It is the eight ball, the end of the game, kryptonite. The matchup is so bad that I wasn’t even winning very much when I was sideboarding 4 Rest in Peace. If you really wanted to be able to beat Dredge, I believe you would have to alter the mana base of the deck, replace Supreme Verdict with Anger of the Gods, and add several copies of Surgical Extraction to the sideboard.
That being said, I don’t think its worth weakening the deck by that much to fix a single matchup. I think Dredge is more popular on Magic Online than in real life, and according to MTGGoldfish.com, Dredge is only clocking in around 8% of the online metagame. Besides Dredge, I think all of the top-tier Modern decks (along with many of the lower tier decks) are positive matchups for Jeskai. For these reasons, I decided to give up on trying to beat Dredge. You can’t beat everything.
Wow Alex, you’re such a genius.
Thanks, mystery person!
I’m only kidding, I’m just going to sleeve up Skred Red.
For those of you who do decide to give the deck a try, check back later this week for a detailed sideboard guide!