Dark Jeskai

By THESUMMERS1, 5-­0 in an MTGO League

My Pick of the Week is Jeskai Black—but a totally new and innovative version.

It saddens me to see a departure from Mantis Rider, as I always felt it was one of the best cards in Standard—comparable to even Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Siege Rhino. But, the reality of Standard is that Mantis Rider is only truly great when people aren’t prepared for it, and this is probably the most hostile environment you could create for the card.

Soulfire Grand Master as a 4­-of might look surprising, but I like it. At Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar I played 2 copies of this card, and for almost the entirety of my time spent playtesting the deck I had 3 while we often debated whether that number should be 4. At the final hour we cut it down to 2, believing our Atarka Red to be so favorable that we needed the percentage points elsewhere, and I think that was a reasonable decision, but what we didn’t fully appreciate at that time was how important it is against Abzan.

On its own, a 2/2 is dwarfed by the creatures in the Abzan deck and it doesn’t help you in any meaningful way until you pair it with the other cards in the matchup you want to draw. It’s the perfect card at supplementing a normal hand in a close game, a random attack here and there, a couple points of life from Crackling Doom and Fiery Impulse, and lastly the late-game power of locking people out of the game with buyback all combine to make it an excellent card. We underestimated how much Abzan would be played at that tournament, but at this stage in the format you can have a pretty concrete read on what people will play, and if you expect Abzan I would say 4 Soulfire Grand Master maindeck is absolutely the way to go.

Every article I write, I talk about how Painful Truths is totally awesome. I see 3 maindeck here, and I am pleased. Moving on.

I wouldn’t have come to Monastery Mentor’s inclusion quickly myself—and for no good reason. There was a ton of hype about this card when it was printed, and then it disappeared. I can’t explain why it wasn’t played—it reminds me of Outpost Siege. We saw that played as a 4­-of maindeck that defined Boros mirrors for an entire Standard season and yet it’s still legal and nobody touches it. I suspect Mentor is a better card than Mantis Rider right now because it dodges Abzan Charm and can generate a profit in the face of one removal spell. Even more noteworthy is that when I played 4 Mantis Rider and 3 Tasigur, many of my opponents would have Surge of Righteousness in their deck after sideboard. When your creature suite is all Soulfire Grand Masters and Monastery Mentors, you completely sidestep this issue.

1 Duress and 1 Dispel looks totally random and nonsensical. I prefer to play with Negate in the main deck because of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I’ve also found that when Ojutai’s Command was at its peak, people were going to extremes to play expensive noncreature threats to dodge it. You would see creatures at the beginning of the curve to get their beatdown on, and noncreature cards at the top of the curve to add staying power and dodge Ojutai’s Command—how else could you explain pairing Snappling Gnarlid with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar?

I can appreciate wanting to pair Duress with Monestary Mentor because that’s a clever turn-4 play, but with all the card draw in this deck and propensity to play long grindy games, it’s simply too bad to put such a horrific late game topdeck in your deck. Also, Rally the Ancestors and Ugin are the best ways to beat Jeskai Black, so why build your deck in a way where you need to get lucky to win against that? When you draw a substantial portion of your deck and you have access to even a couple counterspells, you can just play differently and stall until you assemple the combo of Negate + Ojutai’s Command, ensuring that no problem cards resolve for the opponent. And by the way, it’s totally sick to snag a Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst with your anti-­Ugin measure.

I have a strong feeling that Dig Through Time is just a much better card than Treasure Cruise in this strategy. I’ve heard many people claim that Treasure Cruise is amazing because it dodges Dispel, but I’ve never found that to be relevant. I’ve seen enough games where the Jeskai Black deck floods out to lose, and I’ve resolved countless Dig Through Times where I see five lands and two spells, and I’m relieved to have had a say in the matter. I heard many other testing teams say they arrived at Cruise over Dig in Jeskai quickly, which undeniably would have cost the deck some games in testing. With a skewed perception of the deck’s power, these teams then didn’t consider Jeskai a viable option. Combine that with overlooking Kolaghan’s Command, and you can see how even small card choices make a huge difference.