Last weekend, at GP Quebec City, 8 of my 13 opponents were playing Jeskai. This weekend, anyone who wants to do well in a Standard tournament should be prepared to face Jeskai—specifically Dark Jeskai—in at least half of their matches. And I expect this trend to become even more extreme as the format matures.
I’m not exactly saying that Dark Jeskai will make up half of the Standard field. However, the deeper you get into the winner’s bracket of a tournament, the more likely it is that you will have to face Jeskai. In Quebec City, 4 of the players in the Top 8 were playing Jeskai, and in every match where it was present, Jeskai won. Yes, in the Top 8 of the last GP, Jeskai only lost to itself.
Dark Jeskai is Caw-Blade. It’s Faeries, Delver, Jund—it’s the deck that’s going to dominate Battle for Zendikar Standard. Realistically, the gap in power level between Dark Jeskai and the second-best deck is not as large as it was for Faeries or Caw-Blade. However, I feel that the comparison will prove to be reasonably accurate. Dark Jeskai is consistent and powerful, it’s difficult to play against, it has no weaknesses, it plays with most of the format’s best cards, and every one of its matchups gets better after sideboarding. It will be abnormally popular among strong players, and those players will win an abnormally large amount.
To make a long story short, Dark Jeskai is this weekend’s deck to beat.
Dan Lanthier – GP Quebec City 1st Place
From a deckbuilding perspective, Dark Jeskai is incredibly hard to attack. For the most part, it plays like a midrange/controlling value deck, flush with 2-for-1s like Ojutai’s Command and Kolaghan’s Command. However, there’s also the ever-present threat of a quick Mantis Rider draw. It’s a challenge to build your deck in such a way as to be able to hang with Dark Jeskai in the late game and yet not be vulnerable to their fast draws.
Moreover, the deck has answers to everything, and is particularly adept at slaughtering opposing creatures. Enchantments and planeswalkers are a decent way to attack it, but with Utter End becoming popular and Felidar Cub in the sideboard, it’s hard to catch a Jeskai opponent unprepared.
Cheap tricks are unlikely to work. If you want to beat Dark Jeskai, you’re going to have to choose a high-power strategy and beat them in a fair fight.
What to Do
- Kill all of their creatures on sight. An unanswered Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy will kill you. An unanswered Mantis Rider will kill you. An unanswered Tasigur, the Golden Fang will kill you. An unanswered Dragonmaster Outcast might not be a big deal right away, but come turn 6, it will most definitely kill you. Be prepared with a healthy removal suite, and choose your removal spells carefully to answer Dark Jeskai’s threats.
- Do something powerful. Dark Jeskai is the best deck out there at grinding 2-for-1 advantages. Don’t try to beat them at their own game, try to do something that goes way over the top! Some examples include: Jeskai Ascendancy, Wingmate Roc, Dragonlord Atarka, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
- Good deck choices: Eldrazi Green, Mage-Ring Esper, Bant Tokens, Jeskai Ascendancy.
What Not to Do
- Don’t play clunky, expensive cards unless they’re going to win the game for you. This means avoiding expensive answers and marginal value cards. Every time you’re forced to use Planar Outburst as a 1-for-1 against Dark Jeskai, you’ll fall further and further behind. The problem gets even worse after sideboard when they have their Disdainful Strokes. Examples of cards to avoid: Planar Outburst, Ob Nixilis, Reignited, Secure the Wastes, Dragonlord Ojutai.
- Don’t let the game drag on. Once you’re ahead, you need to either kill them or utterly bury them. Dark Jeskai topdecks remarkably well, and sometimes it only takes one resolved Dig Through Time or Command to undo everything you’ve worked for. Even worse, if you let them linger for too long, they might just burn you out! You’ll need to be utterly ruthless if you want to beat Dark Jeskai, and not give them any more breathing room than you need to.
- Don’t play a midrange value deck that’s simply doing a worse job than Dark Jeskai. Before you pick your deck for your next tournament, ask yourself honestly, “what is my deck doing better than Dark Jeskai?” If you can’t come up with a convincing answer, then you should probably reconsider.
I’ve tried my best not to sugarcoat it—Dark Jeskai is a menace in Standard. That said, the sky isn’t falling either. There are some decks, like the ones I mentioned, that can still give Dark Jeskai a run for its money. However, there’s no mistaking the fact that it has clearly emerged as the format’s best deck.
Expect to face Dark Jeskai at your next Standard tournament. Practice against it beforehand. Show up with a game plan, and ideally one that attacks from a different angle. It’s not unbeatable, but you’ll most definitely have to come prepared.