Once Battle for Zendikar was fully spoiled, we on Team Pantheon started to play a few games here and there, but as usual we were lazy and waited for the first weekend of tournament results to look at new decks. The surprise was Brian DeMars combo’ing people with Temur Battle Rage. Cuneo had tried a few Call of the Full Moons in his version, but Battle Rage was really something. Suddenly you could very easily lose after tapping out on turn 4 or 5 for a mass removal spell. Monastery Swiftspear, Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage cost a total of 4 mana and equal 18 damage. Even just Swiftspear, Titan’s Strength ,and Battle Rage deal a whopping 12, usually good enough to finish someone off. There’s also various other hasty creatures in the red deck that can replace Swiftspear, so the combo isn’t all that difficult to assemble and it changes how you configure control decks quite a lot.
The next puzzle to solve was the big change in Standard’s mana. Goodbye scrylands, hello fetchable battlelands. At this point I will have to restrain myself from writing a page-long essay on how fetchlands are a terrible mechanic, but I’ll cut myself short: I want to play Magic and not constantly shuffle and cut my opponent’s deck. Every player having 12 fetchlands in their deck is bad. I get that reprinting them was needed for Modern, but why there had to be fetchable duals is confusing to me.
Their impact is enormous. The drawback, having to control two basic lands to make them come into play untapped, is relatively small as you are playing all these fetchlands that can grab basic lands on turn 1 and 2. Let’s look at a mana base that Kent Ketter played a few weeks ago at an SCG Open:
1 of each Plains, Swamp, Island, Mountain, Forest
1 of each BFZ battleland (only allied colors are printed thus far)
3 of each fetchland
→ 25 total lands
Then he finished the deck with Mantis Rider, Siege Rhino, Bring to Light, and some other goodies. While I don’t think this is what you want to be doing as turn-3 Mantis Rider into turn-4 Siege Rhino is difficult to pull off, it shows just how powerful these lands are.
If you are playing two allied colors, you can play five of each basic land, three or four battlelands and 10-12 fetchlands and ALL of your fetchlands will get your color’s dual land on turn 3 untapped. Playing 4-casting-cost cards in two different allied colors that each require three different mana symbols, for example RRR1 and BBB1, is very doable. The above mana base has 20 sources for each color if you are playing 24 lands.
This only works for allied colors though. A cross-color deck like black/green still has good mana, as for example Bloodstained Mire can fetch both Swamp and Cinder Glade, but it’s not nearly as good. Now the question is: What do you do with such a powerful mana base? The power level of BFZ in general is quite low compared to the previous sets that are still in Standard. Woodland Wanderer is nice but not quite a Siege Rhino. We tried a few different versions of Abzan, splashing Crackling Doom or Bring to Light, but there are two pillars of the format:
- The red deck killing you turn 4-5 even through good blockers
- Your opponent casting Jace on turn 2
While you can play stuff like Ultimate Price and Silkwrap in Abzan, it just didn’t feel good enough against these decks. Now everyone loves drawing cards and planeswalkers that draw cards flash back card drawing spells. That meant we naturally looked at decks to play Jace in. The Jeskai deck that Finkel, Shahar, Rubin, and myself played at the last Pro Tour–not very successfully–fits both requirements. You have access to red for early removal to deal with both aggressive decks and opposing Jaces, while you can play Jace and Dig Through Time yourself.
Playing only three colors with the new mana base doesn’t make any sense though. Let’s say you are playing something along these lines:
You have to play the Smoldering Marsh so your Polluted Delta can grab a red source. This is a solid mana base for a Jeskai deck, but you already have nine black sources. 14 if you add a single Sunken Hollow. So playing three colors doesn’t make much sense in this new world.
We looked at splashing green instead of black. Dromoka’s Command and Den Protector are good cards, but at the end of the day, black just offers more. The main selling points are Crackling Doom, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Duress.
The creatures are pretty straightforward:
Nothing ground-breaking here, the deck plays out more as a control deck and isn’t nearly as aggressive as our version for the last Pro Tour. Mantis Riders are still way too powerful to pass up on, Tasigur is great with this number of fetchlands, Jace, and cheap burn spells.
The first real question is how many cheap removal spells you want and which ones. Wild Slash can be aimed at your opponent’s face and deal with a Jace that flipped and foolishly flashed a spell back instead of increasing its loyalty, but Fiery Impulse’s spell mastery is pretty easy to activate, and dealing 3 damage can be a big deal, especially against Mantis Riders.
We decided to go with 5 total, and a 3 Wild Slash /2 Fiery Impulse split. Crackling Doom is a great card all around, so there’s no reason to play fewer than 4. Sadly that means there’s not much room for Jeskai Charm. I was a big fan of that card in the old Jeskai deck, but with Mantis Rider and Crackling Doom you can’t justify many more 3-mana spells. We ended up running 1 copy as it’s still great to flash back with Jace. Also, as everyone is playing tons of fetchlands, putting a creature on top of someone’s library is quite often just a permanent removal spell, which is helpful against Deathmist Raptor.
I mentioned earlier that this is a more controlling deck. Usually these decks are based around either planeswalkers or card draw. We don’t have much of either. But with access to four colors, we can run both Ojutai’s and Kolaghan’s Command. These are very powerful with Jace and Grand Master but that’s also where the Dragonmaster Outcast comes in. We expect quite a few mirror matches and these games are a true resource grind. Killing an opposing Jace with a Kolaghan’s Command while returning yours is very, very powerful. And once you reach six lands in play, you have 6 Commands plus Jace activations to keep returning your Dragonmaster Outcast. Killing that little guy is not as easy as it might look.
At some point we considered cutting the Dig Through Times for Treasure Cruises as we think there will be a fair number of Dispels, but against decks with access to that card the 6 Commands are so good and give them great targets anyway, so we just went with the more powerful card in the end, and for that same reason we are running Dispels. Dig Through Time, Become Immense, Commands, Valorous Stance, Abzan Charm, Ultimate Price—every one of the top tier decks in the current Standard runs great targets. Even the black/green sacrifice-combo deck has 4 copies of Collected Company, which are arguably the deck’s best cards.
That left us with the following list:
Duress is for mirror matches and other controlling decks. Felidar Cub is aimed at the green/white deck, which we expect to have both Silkwraps and Evolutionary Leap after sideboard. The kitty over Erase is close, but with 6 Commands able to recur the creature, it is the better choice. Exert Influence, Treasure Cruise, another Dragonmaster Outcast, and Dispel also come in against anyone that wants to play a slow and grindy game. Arashin Cleric and Radiant Flames improve the matchup against red, although we are reasonably happy with that with our main deck already.
Our metagame prediction is that Jeskai Black and green/white will be the two most played decks with Atarka/Become Immense red in a distant 3rd place. There are a lot of other decent decks as you can just scramble the most powerful cards from four colors together and run with that. You can’t really go wrong there. But those 3 should be the front-runners. All those decks are good and none have a really big weakness against one of the others. The green/white deck really needs to pack Silkwraps to combat Jace, Mantis Rider, and similar utility creatures, but I assume that there will be plenty of those played at the Pro Tour.
Against both red and green/white you are the control deck and want to grind them out of resources. The megamorphs are annoying, but between the Commands, Jace, and Dig Through Time we are happy enough with the matchup. Red is about trading resources until your more powerful cards take over. I don’t think the red decks will feature much burn, probably just 4-6 cheap removal spells and maybe 2 copies of Exquisite Firecraft, but getting burned out doesn’t look like a big threat in this tournament. Instead you need to be ready with spot removal to prevent them from killing you with their combo, but Crackling Doom, Jeskai Charm, and Dispel are all excellent at that. Returning Grand Masters with the Commands is also great, and after sideboard they also return Arashin Clerics.
Most of our team is going to play this list, but the mana is still somewhat shaky as casting Jace and Crackling Doom isn’t always easy. But it’s good enough and the payoff means that the deck has a very high power level. After some pretty disappointing performances lately it’s hopefully time for a good finish again. The deck is certainly capable of that.