May 15, 2015

Seeking the Way

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It's time to take a tour of the Mystic Monastery. It's a hard location to get to, and more people seem to prefer visiting the Sandsteppe Citadel these days, but there are great rewards contained within. Let's see what it offers us.

Mystic Monastery | Art by Florian de Gesincourt

At the base level, what Mystic Monastery does is tap for blue, red, or white mana. That's abundantly clear, but the implications of that are the interesting part. It enables a variety of decks, decks that definitely have their place in Standard. I've played those decks a lot, and it may be time for them to be awesome again. Standard has been great this year, with a ton of ebb and flow, and figuring out when decks like the different Jeskai decks are well-positioned is a big part of being successful. Getting a jump on the format is one way to get a big edge, and knowing about decks that have faded in popularity is a way to be ready when the format shifts enough for them to be good again.


Jeskai Tokens

The most popular Jeskai deck these days is Jeskai Tokens, which I even played at the last Pro Tour. My result wasn't spectacular, but Eric Froehlich lost his last two rounds playing for Top 8 with it.

I've make some changes post-Pro Tour, and this is what I'd play in Tokens right now:

LSV's Jeskai Tokens

I no longer like Goblin Rabblemaster as the amount of removal being played right now is too high, and I (unsurprisingly) did want to add the fifth delve card, Dig Through Time.


What This Deck Does:

The main game plan here is pretty simple. It revolves around casting Jeskai Ascendancy, and using that to fuel delve spells, which incidentally also kills the opponent by making even one token-making card lethal. Anticipate helps find Ascendancy, and the high number of cheap spells make it possible to cast Treasure Cruise or Dig even without the help of Ascendancy.

The backup plan of casting Seeker of the Way into Hordeling Outburst and attacking a bunch is viable too, as the deck can easily deal 4–8 damage via burn, but Jeskai Ascendancy is really what makes the deck tick.


What This Deck is Great Against:

Jeskai Ascendancy is very good against one-for-one removal spells, essentially shrugging them off completely (especially now that there are no Rabblemasters in the deck). It's also powerful enough to go over the top against just about everything if Ascendancy lives. It may be the most powerful deck in Standard when it is doing its thing, though Devotion decks do come close. Still, casting free Stokes, one-mana Treasure Cruises, drawing 20 cards, and then attacking for 100 is a pretty impressive turn. And this deck can do that.

This deck is also very good against Mono-Red Aggro and other token-based aggressive strategies. Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst are very hard for a deck with Firedrinker Satyr and Lightning Berserker to beat, and having Wild Slash, Seeker of the Way, and Lightning Strike certainly doesn't hurt.


What This Deck is Bad Against:

Dromoka's Command is the most annoying card to play against, because it's the most main-deckable card that kills Jeskai Ascendancy. Part of the reason that Tokens has faded in popularity is that Abzan Aggro with Dromoka's Command is a larger part of the metagame than it was at the Pro Tour. Bile Blight is another card that is effective against this deck, though it really just trades for one card in the end. Tokens would certainly rather not play against Bile Blight, but unless it's Blight + pressure, Treasure Cruise will ultimately win.

Similarly, Thoughtseize can disrupt this deck more than other decks, because this is a synergy-based deck, and those fare more poorly when their engine pieces are taken. Once again, given enough time, this deck can shrug off Thoughtseize, but some Thoughtseize decks tend to attack.

Creatures that don't die to Stoke can also be problematic, so Siege Rhino; Polukranos; and Silumgar, the Drifting Death are all cards this deck doesn't want to see. Valorous Stance can only go so far, even if you can add more after sideboard.


You Should Play This Deck If:

Abzan Aggro goes down in popularity. Abzan Aggro has the right combination of pressure plus good answers to give this deck problems, and can even play Bile Blight if it really wants to. If I knew Abzan Aggro was going to be a small part of the metagame, I'd recommend Tokens, especially if Mono-Red or decks like Bant are a big part.


Jeskai Midrange

Jeskai Midrange was one of the best decks when this format first started, back when Khans of Tarkir was released. It put up great Pro Tour results, and did well for a while afterwards. It too has been less popular lately, though that's not for lack of power.

menp777 just finished second in the Standard Magic Online Championship qualifier last Saturday with a very interesting Jeskai build.

menp777's Jeskai Midrange


What This Deck Does:

Pressure the opponent with hard-hitting threats, all of which cost 2–4 mana, then back them up with: removal, burn spells, and Dig Through Time. It's similar to Jeskai Tokens in the delve/burn aspect, but the threats are way faster and do more by themselves. It doesn't play Ascendancy, instead opting for more individually powerful cards.

The way this deck wants games to go is for it to stick even one threat, and deal 10–12 damage with creatures, after which it can usually Dig into the requisite number of burn spells (with Mantis Rider often counting as a burn spell). It also does a good job playing the attrition game, especially this build and its choices of Soulfire Grand Master, Stratus Dancer, Ashcloud Phoenix, and Ojutai's Command.


What This Deck is Great Against:

This particular build is very strong against control, with Stratus Dancer and Phoenix providing some very good threats, and Ojutai's Command giving the deck a powerful instant to cast on the opponent's turn. Mantis Rider is also generally good against removal decks, as it often gets a hit in before dying, which is sometimes all you really need.

Midrange decks often have trouble with flying pressure backed up by good removal spells and a robust card advantage engine, and this deck checks all those boxes. Soulfire Grand Master also makes racing difficult, as Soulfire into Stoke the Flames is a big swing.


What This Deck is Bad Against:

Whip of Erebos decks were also very hard for Jeskai to beat, but those too have been left on the sidelines recently. The massive life gain is hard for a deck that can't deal much more than 20 per game, and Jeskai isn't fast enough to beat Whip before it plays its eponymous card.

Likewise, White-Green Devotion decks that have good flying defense can get their engine going before Jeskai can seal the deal. The life gain from Mastery is a big problem, and once manifests start turning face up, the game is usually over.

The power level of this deck is a notch lower than many decks in the format, which isn't a very specific weakness, but is a real one. To play a lower-powered deck, you want to be sure it's well-positioned, as you are giving up ridiculous cards like Siege Rhino or engines like Jeskai Ascendancy in order to do so.


You Should Play This Deck If:

Esper Control decks are still heavily played. Dancer into Phoenix is a great way to pressure these decks, and the sideboard counterspells make things even better.

People are spending too much time getting cute with Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector. Just kill them with Mantis Riders and Ashcloud Phoenix.

The more "standard" list of Jeskai Midrange is a little different.

Beria's Jeskai Midrange

I prefer the Stratus Dancer/Ashcloud Phoenix approach, but I just wanted to point out that the original take on the deck is still a viable one.


Jeskai Control

The last deck is one that Paul Cheon played in Week Three of the Standard Super League. He tried to harness the power of Silumgar's Scorn plus Dragonlord Ojutai, but instead of pairing them with black removal, going with red instead.

Paul Cheon's Jeskai Dragons


What This Deck Does:

Stop the opponent from doing anything relevant with counterspells, removal, and sweepers, before finishing the game with Elspeth or Ojutai.

Lightning Strike and Anger give the deck much more game against fast green decks, and Deathmist Raptor in particular. Additionally, getting to play Mystic Monastery means that going solid three colors is now possible. This deck gets the best of white, blue, and red…unlike Esper Dragons, which essentially just plays blue and black.


What This Deck is Good Against:

Green decks that are soft to Anger/Elspeth are much easier to beat with Jeskai than with Esper.

Aggressive red decks also get easier, now that the deck has access to Arashin Cleric, Soulfire Grand Master, and better mana.


You Should Play This Deck If:

You only want to play one round of the Standard Super League.


Hopefully you found this article enlightening, and may you choose the deck that fits you best.

LSV



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