After today, The Deck to Beat will be taking a two-week hiatus while I focus on preparing for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. This week’s goal is to round out a preliminary gauntlet for the new Standard format. For reference, here are the three other decks I’ve featured:
Today, I’ve decided to take on Jeskai Dragons, not because I believe that this exact configuration of cards will be terribly popular, but because it does a perfect job filling the holes that the other three decks have left open. In particular, Jeskai Dragons features the remaining two most important Standard cards which the previous decks were not built around.
The first card is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Jace actually was included in my build of Esper Dragons, but I believe the card to be so important that every gauntlet should have a deck specifically built around Jace, where he is integral to the game plan. Jeskai Dragons is a perfect example, with Ojutai’s Command to combo with Jace, along with plenty of powerful instants and sorceries to help him transform and provide fuel for flashbacks. In particular, burn spells and Jace go hand in hand.
The fact that I believe Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to be such a staple of new Standard leads directly to today’s other format-defining card: Draconic Roar. Jace is going to be ubiquitous, and Draconic Roar is really the only card that can answer him at a profit. In the past, Draconic Roar was “Lightning Strike with upside” against creature decks, but largely a dead card against blue control decks. Now, it’s going to be excellent against everyone! It’s absolutely worth building your deck around.
Jeskai Dragons is a deck that’s capable of taking on multiple roles, and switching gears quickly in the middle of the game. As such, it’s a tough nut to crack. Play too much removal and defense, and you’ll be ground out by Dig Through Times. Play too little and you’ll be wiped out by Mantis Riders and Dragons. So, what should you do?
What to Do
- Have cheap removal. In particular, make sure that you can kill both Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Mantis Rider on sight. Jeskai wants to stick an early creature, and then sit back on tempo spells while the creature provides them some kind of irreversible advantage, either in terms of life total or cards. If you kill their early creatures, at least you’ve stopped their easiest route to victory. There aren’t many spells that can kill both Jace and Mantis Rider. Some include: Draconic Roar, Rending Volley (both found in today’s deck list), Fiery Impulse, Reave Soul, Complete Disregard, Silkwrap, and Stasis Snare.
- Apply pressure. You want a healthy number of creatures and planeswalkers, and you want them to hit hard. Jeskai’s most feared enemy (and basically everybody else’s too) is Siege Rhino. Jeskai can also have a bit of a tough time answering planeswalkers, and they often have to sink burn spells into the job. Something like a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can be one aspect of a well-rounded game plan.
- Play Duress. If Jeskai has a weakness, it’s that it lacks redundancy. Its cards are a mix of threats, removal, permission, and card advantage and the balance it strikes is fairly delicate. Sometimes, a card like Duress or Transgress the Mind can punch a hole in their game plan and guide you to victory.
What Not to Do
- Don’t be reckless with your life total. Sometimes Jeskai can do a nice impression of a control deck, but don’t let that fool you! Two hits from a Mantis Rider and a couple fetchlands and you’re at risk of dying to a flurry of burn spells at the drop of a dime. Mana bases in new Standard are going to be fairly painful, life gain is going to be hard to come by, and Jeskai deals a lot of incidental damage (see Draconic Roar). Do what you have to in order to stay alive.
- Don’t oversideboard. A problem I’ve always had against Jeskai is that I never really know what their configuration will look like after sideboarding. Will they be transforming into a more controlling deck? How much burn will they leave in? Will they still be trying to kill me with creatures? If you maintain a balanced deck with a healthy number of threats and answers, you won’t lose this guessing game.
- Don’t be slow and clunky. Jeskai is a tempo deck, and they do have answers to almost everything. If you’re consistently spending more mana on your cards than the Jeskai player is to trade with them, you’re going to wind up losing. For this reason, I prefer cheap spot removal to expensive board sweepers like Crux of Fate. Similarly, I like my threats to be efficient, punishing, and low-to-the-ground.
It’s hard to know what will and won’t work against Jeskai until you’ve actually tested the matchup. They can burn you out, but the cards that beat Atarka Red are not the cards that beat Jeskai. They can bury you in the late game with Dig Through Time, but the cards that beat UB Control are also not the cards that beat Jeskai. You’ll have to strike a careful balance.
It’s perfectly possible that traditional Jeskai will be more popular than Jeskai Dragons. However, I recommend having both a “Jace deck” and a “Draconic Roar deck” in your testing gauntlet, and Jeskai Dragons is a way to kill two birds with one stone.
With that, I hope I’ve given you a solid starting point for your adventures in new Standard. Things will change rapidly, but if you have a solid gam eplan against the four decks I’ve covered, then you’ll be as well prepared as anyone. Good luck!