Jeskai Elder is an interesting new card. It’s not going to fit into every deck, but I expect that it can play an important role in semi-aggressive, graveyard-reliant decks.
Let’s break it down.
The Value of Looting
A “looter” is what we call any creature that draws and discards cards. The name stems from Merfolk Looter and Looter il-Kor, which have seen play in the past especially alongside Basking Rootwalla, Roar of the Wurm, Unburial Rites, Dread Return, and other cards. With cards like these, discarding actually turns into an upside, and then the looting effect becomes very powerful.
Here is a quick list of reasonable cards for the new Standard that would work well with a looter:
Keep in mind that Khans of Tarkir may add some sweet cards, too. We’ve already seen the return of the delve mechanic in Necropolis Fiend, and there may be similar cards around the corner.
Even for decks that only have minor graveyard dependencies, the card selection offered by looters is always useful. It allows you to get out of a mana screw, dig deeper in your deck for specific cards, or cash in excess lands in the late game. Some examples to illustrate:
- Masami Kaneko won GP Florence 2007 with a U/G Aggro deck featuring Looter il-Kor as an aggressive creature that could grow Tarmogoyf.
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and David Ochoa made Top 8 at Grand Prix Orlando 2012 with a U/W Delver deck featuring Merfolk Looter as a value creature that could turn on Runechanter’s Pike.
- Brad Nelson made it to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012 with a Mono-Blue Grand Architect deck featuring Merfolk Looter as a blue creature that could dig for key cards like Wurmcoil Engine.
The lesson? Never underestimate a two-mana looter.
In Standard, Jeskai Elder is going to offer a unique effect because its closest competitors (Research Assistant and Rummaging Goblin) are completely over-costed. Moreover, Jeskai Elder is not the worst attacker.
The Value of Prowess
Prowess is similar to heroic, but different. Compared to heroic, the main downside is that you only get a +1/+1 boost for a turn, not a +1/+1 counter. But there are also upsides: you are not limited to spells that merely target your own creatures, and any single spell can pump multiple prowess creatures.
The main thing is that prowess works well with noncreature spells like Thoughtseize, Lightning Strike, Banishing Light, Hero’s Downfall, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. This enables richer deck building options than with heroic creatures. Card draw spells work well with prowess, too. I would have loved to combine Jeskai Elder with Preordain or Brainstorm, but in Standard we unfortunately have to make do with Dragon Mantle, Stratus Walk, Sign in Blood, and Divination. Stratus Walk is actually kind of sweet on Jeskai Elder.
The other good news is that prowess is triggered by bestow. Following up a turn-two Jeskai Elder with a turn-three Mogis’s Warhound results in a decently-sized creature that can bash through Courser of Kruphix. Add Herald of Torment, and you have assembled a formidable evasive threat. And remember: every time it connects, you get to loot and improve your hand, fueling the flow of non-creature spells.
Another nice aspect of prowess is the bluffing value. Suppose you are on the play and have played a turn-two Jeskai Elder. Your opponent, in the meantime, has had a powerful start with Elvish Mystic on turn one and Sylvan Caryatid plus Elvish Mystic on turn two. You then attack with your 1/2 into his 0/3. What is your opponent supposed to do here? If he blocks, then you might have two instant-speed removal spells for both of his Elvish Mystics, triggering prowess twice, and taking down the Sylvan Caryatid for free. But he doesn’t block, then you get a free hit. It’s a tough call.
To showcase the potential of Jeskai Elder, I have two post-rotation Standard brews for you!
Brew #1: A Sultai graveyard deck
In this deck, Jeskai Elder is a creature that can fill up the graveyard for cards like Nighthowler, Nemesis of Mortals, and Necropolis Fiend. Moreover, Jeskai Elder allows you to discard Abhorrent Overlord or Hornet Queen so you can reanimate it with Endless Obedience or Whip of Erebos. The deck may be trying to do too many things at once, but there is plenty of potential.
Two quick notes regarding deck construction: First, there are 17 spells in the deck that can trigger prowess, including the bestow creatures. This is low, but still acceptable. Second, I selected 22 lands to arrive at a good mix between tapped lands, pain lands, and basic lands, while providing 15 green sources, 16 black sources, and 13 blue sources. Mana bases are becoming kind of a puzzle with Khans of Tarkir in the mix.
Brew #2: An Izzet graveyard deck
This deck is a little more aggressive than the first. There is a graveyard theme with Spellheart Chimera and Soul of Shandalar, but Jeskai Elder is mainly here to carry Mogis’s Warhound, to be pumped by the instant-speed burn spells, and to draw you into more burn spells. In that sense, its role is similar to Young Pyromancer: a two-drop that pressures the opponent’s life total while providing small bits of value.
A quick note: the deck contains 21 ways to trigger prowess (which is an excellent number) and the mana base contains 14 blue sources and 17 red sources (which is fine).
The above two decks are just an illustration based on the known card pool so far. There surely remain plenty of sweet Khans of Tarkir cards to be spoiled, and I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for more graveyard-dependent cards and cheap instants!