One of the premier archetypes in Magic’s history is combo-control. Decks like Splinter Twin dominated Modern and Four-Color Saheeli-Cat Combo left a lasting impression on Standard with how powerful they were. These decks pair removal and late game value generating Planeswalkers to slow the game down until they can present an ‘Oops, I win’ combo. While Jeskai Creativity doesn’t quite have the instant win button of a Splinter Twin combo deck, getting two to three Agent of Treachery into play and stealing your opponent’s lands, Planeswalkers, or problematic permanents will almost always end the game.
Zan Syed has been playing this updated version of Jeskai Creativity on the Mythic Ladder, reaching as high as #57 based on his stream and twitter. Along with this decklist, he also put out a video and sideboard guide found here. We’ll be going over some more in-depth sideboarding as well in this article, but I wanted to give appropriate credit where it is due for this powerful Explorer archetype that burst onto the scene this week!
Now, Agent of Treachery has a history of doing powerful things, especially when cheated into play through Transmogrify, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, or Indomitable Creativity. With the banning of Winota, Joiner of Forces in Explorer, the format has slowed down a step and that enables decks like Jeskai Agent to quickly go over the top of opposing midrange and control decks, beating them on turn four or five.
How does the deck do that? Well, let’s break that down now!
Agent of Treachery
Normally I would split out creatures, but this deck only runs one! Agent of Treachery has long terrorized players who want to play a slower game and resolve large permanents as haymakers. Being able to steal any permanent, including lands, can instantly warp the game. Getting one to two Agents out on turn four or five can effectively end the game and that’s before you can copy the Agents or get more out triggering the draw-three each end-step.
We’ve seen the power of Agent of Treachery before leading to it’s banning in Standard. While this seven-drop isn’t particularly offensive on its own, when you get one or two copies ahead of curve, it can leave you with six to seven lands to your opponent’s two or three. Something that the rest of the deck leverages to bury the opponent before they can recover.
Backup plans are needed in decks like this that can virtually win the game on turn 4, but if your opponent holds up interaction or removal, it can force you to take the game a little slower. There are few Planeswalkers that can pressure your opponent quite like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This is the best control card for your backup plan as it gets you card advantage, gives you an answer to problematic permanents like Weathered Runestone, and can threaten to ultimate if your opponent can’t attack it down.
As opposed to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which facilitates your backup plan, The Wandering Emperor helps you mitigate opposing offense and can make tokens for you to Indomitable Creativity into Agent of Treachery with. A common play pattern with this deck is end-stepping The Wandering Emperor, making a token, untapping, making a token, and then casting Creativity with X equals two for a pair of Agents from seemingly nowhere. Against control decks, The Wandering Emperor also gives you pressure, forcing your opponent to tap low, enabling you to sneak through an Agent of Treachery or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to close out the game.
Your enchantments serve to give you incremental advantage, but more importantly, they give you tokens to target with Indomitable Creativity. Wedding Announcement has found a home in various token decks since its printing, giving you the flexibility of making tokens, drawing cards, and then providing an anthem for whatever creatures you have left over. In this deck specifically, the tokens give you good fodder for your combo, the card draw can help you find your combo, and once you have your anthem, it can help you apply pressure without using Creativity, forcing the opponent to answer the board you got for nearly free.
What would a blue control deck be without Shark Typhoon? In this deck, you can use it as a redraw that also gives you a token for you combo and in matchups that go late, including the mirror, it is incredibly powerful as an enchantment that can generate a wide board quickly. While you must be careful about playing Shark Typhoon as a six-drop versus opposing Agent of Treachery, it can beat control decks by itself or pressure opposing Planeswalkers all while facilitating your main game plan.
The most impactful enchantment printed recently, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is a triple-threat in terms of its place in this deck. It creates a token for your main plan, helps you filter your draws to dig for Indomitable Creativity, and once it flips into Reflections of Kiki-Jiki, you can use it to copy Agent of Treachery to steal permanents each turn. This is just another threat that opponents need to answer all while respecting the potential of multiple Agents entering the battlefield and ending the game. There are very few cards in Explorer or Pioneer that have impressed as much as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and it is at its best in this deck.
The primary spell in the deck is Indomitable Creativity. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but what you’re aiming to do is to target somewhere between one and four tokens or artifacts – usually treasures, to turn into Agent of Treachery, stealing your opponent’s lands or best permanents and leveraging that advantage to close out the game. Whether you are drawing extra cards from the Agent’s ability, ramping yourself while stone-raining your opponent, or removing their best threat, you should be able to leverage that advantage and close out the game. Often, you will need to use the first Creativity to get an advantage and the second one will end the game, so don’t be afraid to fire off Creativities early. However, you want to try and use X equals at least two when possible, so removal doesn’t turn off Creativity.
The rest of the spells are all controlling elements meant to slow down opposing decks and give you an opportunity to find your key cards. Strangle, Anger of the Gods, and March of Otherworldly Light all act in service of your backup plan and can slow down decks like Greasefang, Mono Red, and other aggressive decks that could otherwise put your life total under pressure before you can establish control of the game. While these cards aren’t particularly strong into control game one, you leverage having a heavily slanted anti-control sideboard to balance out being better against aggro game one. Granted, most control decks have trouble having their Planeswalkers or lands stolen early, so you aren’t overly weak even to control game one, depending on your draw.
While there aren’t a lot of unique lands worth discussing, Dwarven Mine is the exception. A classic addition to any Transmogrify style deck, Dwarven Mine gives you a creature you can turn into your large threat for free. In older formats, you can leverage the Mountain typing to fetch Dwarven Mine, but for Pioneer and Explorer, you need to maximize your mountain count so that when you draw a Dwarven Mine, it is always online.
There are plenty of hands where you keep three mountains and a Dwarven Mine with the intention of playing Indomitable Creativity on turn four to make your Dwarf into an Agent of Treachery, surprising your opponent tempo-wise.
In best of one, Jeskai Agent has a large advantage against aggressive decks, as you can gum up the board and remove creatures all while setting up to steal their heavy hitters or lands to keep them from finding a strong footing.
Your midrange and control matchups are generally dependent on your draws, since the Planeswalkers and combo aspect of your deck line up well, but if you draw too many anti-aggro spells without Fable of the Mirror-Breaker to filter out those draws, you can find yourself in trouble. Especially against Fatal Push decks, you need to consider when to go for Indomitable Creativity and especially trying to get X to equal at least three, in case of double removal spells.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
You are already strong into Midrange decks as you can kill their creatures, grind them out with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and your Agents easily go over the top of their strategy. This is a matchup where you want to leverage Prismari Command‘s ability to make a token that Rakdos can’t easily interact with, ensuring you get to fire off Indomitable Creativity successfully.
|+2 Prismari Command||-2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|+4 Rest in Peace||-2 Agent of Treachery|
|-2 Shark Typhoon|
The power of Rakdos Sacrifice is partially its ability to recursively grind out control and midrange decks along with the synergy all their cards have together. One of the places where Agent of Treachery suffers is when the best cards to steal only work in the opponent’s deck. In this matchup, you want to limit their ability to use Cat/Oven, use Prismari Command to destroy Oni-Cult Anvil, and try to win a fair game through token generation and removal of key creatures like Mayhem Devil.
Izzet Phoenix’s ability to recur Arclight Phoenix puts it into a similar category as Rakdos Sacrifice. You need to turn off their threats through Rest in Peace and your over the top cards don’t line up against their synergy-based threats. Here, you need to control the board through your removal and grind them out via tokens and going wide. If they can’t leverage their graveyard, their threats are much easier to answer or steal.
In this matchup, you get the benefit of having four cards that can cleanly answer the main game plan of Mardu Greasefang. You can trim down on some of your more costly options as you don’t ever want to be tapping out against Greasefang, Okiba Boss and The Wandering Emperor doesn’t work to stop Parhelion II, which is the main thing you’re worried about. If they have to play the midrange fair plan, you easily go over the top of them like against Rakdos Midrange.
Mono Blue Spirits
|+2 Prismari Command||-2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|+2 Abrade||-2 Agent of Treachery|
|+2 Doomskar||-2 Wedding Announcement|
In this matchup, your ability to clog up the ground is rendered useless as all their creatures fly. Given how cheap their threats are, you need to trim down on expensive threats that have little chance of resolving and are bad to draw and instead you overload on removal and wraths out of the sideboard.
|+3 Dovin's Veto||-2 Anger of the Gods|
|+2 Mystical Dispute||-4 Strangle|
|+2 Prismari Command||-1 March of Otherworldly Light|
Mirrors are hard to give too much help in, but the keys for sideboarding is to make sure you have interaction for their key turns and hold up interaction for their big spells as best you can. Sorcery speed removal is basically useless in the mirror, so we cut as much of it as possible. Try to find windows to sneak in Indomitable Creativity, but otherwise, you are playing a control mirror where the first person to run out of interaction for big spells loses.
Tips and Tricks
- Remember that Indomitable Creativity targets each thing you’re trying to sacrifice, so if X equals three and your opponent removes two of your targets, you will still get one Agent of Treachery.
- You can Indomitable Creativity your opponent’s creatures or artifacts. Against decks that don’t play many creatures or play cards like Portable Hole, you can often transform a dangerous threat into something small.
- You can Teferi, Hero of Dominaria minus 3 targeting your own Agent of Treachery to set up additional steals from opponents, helping to get to the three stolen permanents ability on Agent or to ensure your Creativity has targets left in deck.
- The draw on Agent isn’t optional; be careful not to deck if you’ve had multiple Agent’s drawing extra cards for any number of turns.
- Always prioritize having three Mountains in play before fetching other lands if you can help it so Dwarven Mine is active at any point after drawing it.
- Note that Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t stop Indomitable Creativity as it exiles the card from your library and then it is put onto the battlefield from exile.
- While you are a combo deck, you don’t have to aggressively mulligan for the combo, you can play a more measured game, especially with Planeswalkers and removal. Especially post-board, you have access to even more controlling tools to elongate the game and eventually find your Indomitable Creativity.
After the Winota, Joiner of Forces ban, we have seen a slower more midrange format from Explorer. Jeskai Agent gives you a path to going over the top of those Midrange decks while potentially winning the game on turn four or five. There is still plenty of room to explore with this archetype, such as moving towards a Yorion, Sky Nomad shell or adding in more Transmogrify effects paired with more defensive options like the Jeskai Fires decks of old. But this is a good place to start for this archetype moving forward.
This is a style of deck that has the flexibility to get you well into the Mythic Ranks. Zan has gotten as high as #57 with the deck on his stream and we’ve seen the power of these style of decks before – so certainly don’t sleep on this new take on an old archetype.
Thanks for reading and be sure to stay safe out there!