Jeskai Keruga Fires Deck Guide – Ikoria Lair of Behemoths Standard
At this point, who can honestly say they didn’t see Fires of Invention adapting and remaining great for yet another Standard meta coming? The combination of powerful control tools and cheating on mana to have the best midgame turns in the format, with pressure that can adapt to any board state, is still good? Say it ain’t so! Jeskai Fires looks well-set to remain a top dog, since it gained far more than many of the other old decks with the advent of Ikoria, somehow an even more powerful Standard set than Throne of Eldraine. That’s chiefly because it has an almost entirely free Companion, but it also greatly appreciates the better fixing options and is vaguely interested in some of the new cards.
In this article, I’ll try to include advice intended for both best-of-one and best-of-three, and provide separate builds for each.
Why you should play Keruga Fires
Companions are sometimes undersold as just being an eighth card in your opener, but they’re a lot more than that. If you build your deck with tons of cards that are great to flicker and then you have Yorion available every game, then on average he’s going to be worth far more than a random card; this is alongside the advantages of always having that drop on your curve taken care of. Similarly in Fires, you can plan for and build your deck around best exploiting Keruga’s ability, and she has a lot of advantages over Companionless decks as a result. Getting to abuse Adventures means you really don’t lose anything by not incorporating cheap cards in your deck (Fires has long moved away from Fae of Wishes builds anyway); you’ll still be able to Petty Theft and Stomp their stuff to your heart’s content! In return, you get some of the best flood protection in the game for a deck that often suffered with that. Keruga will often represent several cards, cycles your spare copies of Fires of Invention, means you need run less awkward and clunky 5 drops (sadly I suspect Cavalier of Gales is not going to see play in this archetype again), can afford to play more lands, and in general you struggle far less with decks that would normally be able to outgrind you.
I have seen some Yorion builds floating around too, but I don’t like them as much because Fires is your best card in many matchups. While Yorion makes your Fires of Inventions better when you have them, allowing you to cast four spells, the cost of drawing Fires less by running an 80-card deck is too steep; having access to Shimmer of Possibility and such doesn’t do enough to make up for that. If you’re playing a Yorion build, it may well be that you want to run Idyllic Tutor or Fae of Wishes to tutor it, but those are really costly and awkward things to build your deck around. I see Yorion as the more good-stuffy less focused approach to Fires deckbuilding, which isn’t a bad thing but it’s very different from regular Fires.
There are tons of Fires builds floating around right now, but I’m going to recommend MPL pro Ondrej Strasky’s build for best-of-three. Strasky is now providing content for our site; check out his first article here which talks about Fires briefly among other decks, and which I had the privilege of editing! I’ll try not to repeat anything here which he already covers.
Jeskai Fires by Ondrej Strasky – April 2020 Season
As you can see, we’re leaning hard on the extra lands here, running a full 30 including 7 triomes. This is mainly because of Keruga being such great flood protection, but Triomes cycle for basically free when you have Fires of Invention, you can ditch spare lands to Cavalier of Flame, and Kenrith wants you to have loads of lands in play anyway to maximise his uses. Because you’re playing so many expensive cards, having extra lands in the games where Fires doesn’t stick is critical too; playing a 4 and a 3 on 7 when your opponent is still running out smaller drops has the same effect as Fires would. Strasky includes a couple of Mystical Disputes main to tackle the bad Reclamation matchup and fight the various Ramp strategies.
BO1 Jeskai Fires by Drifter – April 2020 Season
I have a slightly lower land count because Bo1 has hand smoothing (check out my colleague Red5ive’s article on that here!), which significantly increases your likelihood of having 3 or 4 lands in your opening hand at 28, and it also tends to have a lot more aggro (including Lurrus), and being too flooded tends to be more punishing against those. Emperor Kitty will absolutely eat your face if you draw too many lands, and your Hippo friend won’t always do enough to stop him..
I borrowed some aspects of the Strasky build, and have supplemented that with my own testing to bring you this list. The main differences are in the new cards I’m running:
- I’ve been really happy with Shark Typhoon, since it goes over the top of Control and midrange, and enables some especially devastating midgame turns with Fires since you can cycle alongside your two spell limit. It’s reasonable to play Elspeth Conquers Death over one Typhoon; I’m not sure which I prefer yet, but I knew I wanted 3 Kenrith in best-of-one.
- Additionally, I’ve been trying one Narset of the Ancient Way and been pretty happy with it – it’s often awkward for this deck to remove x/4s and x/5s without it, it helps ramp you to Typhoon and gains you some much needed life, preys on other planeswalkers, and I just wanted an additional 4 to ensure my Fires turns were great. I doubt you want more than 1-2, that being said, since this list plays far fewer high converted mana cost cards than say Corey Baumeister’s 4C Fires.
I’m not going to pretend that this is necessarily the optimal best-of-one list; it bears further testing and it’s possible I’m including so many new cards due to recency bias, but I am currently 11-1 with this version (and more games at a very high winrate with similar ones), so we’ll see if the streak continues! Bear in mind this is a minuscule sample size and your results may vary etc.
You don’t need Mystical Disputes as much, since heavy counterspell decks tend to get crushed by the aggro in best-of-one, so they’re underplayed. Dispute is also good in the mirror, but so is Shark Typhoon I’ve found.
Again, the meta is still heavily in flux, so this list won’t be comprehensive. Feel free to ask in the comments if you’d like me to provide insight on any other matchups!
- The amount of pressure Fires can put on really is enough to outrace any aggro deck. I’ve been playing plenty of Bo1 and keep running into Mono Red and absolutely stomping it even on the draw because it turns out an army of huge creatures is pretty tough for them to deal with. I have so far not lost to Mono Red with this build; I did like once or twice with previous builds but they usually needed the nuts like good curve into Anaxcleave versus an interaction-light draw on your part (and sometimes Kenrith will swoop in to steal the game even if you have a slow draw). Other aggro decks like Mono White Devotion are just a joke; they can’t even pressure you well and Teferi tends to be much better against those. Every aggro matchup is an absolute cakewalk, except for those with the dreaded Emperor Kitty himself.
- Lurrus of the Dream Den sacrifice decks (check out my guide on Rakdos Kitty here) can be almost as terrifying as they are irritating, but Fires has a good matchup against most of them if you mulligan well. You get a lot of information in just seeing Emperor Kitty; you now know not to keep those all 4 and 5-drop/bounce hands. You really need to keep Priest of the Forgotten Gods off the board so if you see Lurrus and don’t have a plan for Priest, consider taking a mulligan, since Priest removing all your creatures and getting them a huge mana advantage is a really good way to lose instantly. Bounce is pretty bad in this matchup; Teferi and Brazen Borrower both kind of suck here, especially Teferi on the draw. Your number one objective in these matchups is to set up Fires into Kenrith while you have more than one creature in play; they generally lose if they’re not playing Heartless Act and this happens, and just gaining 5-10 life is great for you, whatever else happens.
If they’re playing Rakdos, remember to play around Kroxa – sometimes you’ll want to hold a noncreature to discard if you’re low on life, or a land to protect your noncreatures. At turn 6 if they have a stocked graveyard, remember that they can even double discard you…
All in all, this is a matchup that improves a lot post-board, with Kunoros and Flame Sweep both being great swap-ins, but Narset and the 4th maindeck Clarion help in my best-of-one list too. Board out all your bounce stuff and Mystical Disputes.
- The mirror is the most common slower deck you’re going to face. Against that, you want to ensure you don’t give up too much board presence at any point; chip damage can easily lead to haste kills later. Don’t overextend into Deafening Clarion game 1, but also don’t be afraid to use it for lifegain yourself; your life total being higher will allow you to play more aggressively and go for OTKs more, and the card tends to otherwise be pretty crap in this matchup anyway. Brazen Borrower is fantastic both for pressuring and buying time here, and Teferi to keep their Fires off the board will buy you insane tempo. Watch out for Elspeth Conquers Death in this matchup; you really want to bait them to use it early and not on your Kenriths/Fires/Typhoons, another spot in which Teferi shines. Being on the play is an obvious and massive advantage here; if you’re on the draw then you need to play in a much more controlling way and often leave back blockers.
I think you are naturally favoured against Yorion Fires in being the better deck for drawing Fires of Invention, but you can certainly get steamrolled if they happen to Yorion + Fires nut draw you. Pressure them and their planeswalkers as much as you can in their setup turns, since they’re far slower than you are.
- Aim to slay the Ramp decks early; they’re decent matchups so long as they don’t have some really absurd Gyruda Chains before you can tear them apart with Cavalier of Flames. This is where OTKs and chip damage are especially important; run out your Bonecrusher over your Teferi on turn 3, or kill their mana dorks if you can. If you’re playing best-of-three, postboard going up to four Mystical Dispute to ensure you snag Gyruda/Thassa will help a lot. In best-of-one, these decks tend to be rarer since they’re bad against aggro, so I haven’t prepared as much for them, but it’s very reasonable to either outgrind them with Shark Typhoon or OTK them outright.
- Counterspell-heavy decks like Reclamation and Flash are rough matchups as usual, especially on the draw, but just try to run out a steady stream of creatures. Those matchups aren’t really about resolving Fires so much as jamming threats until a couple stick; luckily your deck is full of them. That being said, wait till turn 6 for Teferi if you can and use your other cards to bait, since Teferi is devastating for them if he ever resolves and turn 6 plays around Mystical Dispute. Play around Voracious Greatshark against Flash if you can; don’t play creatures when they’re very obviously representing 5 mana.
I haven’t really teched for these matchups in best-of-one, as they tend to be much rarer. If the meta swings in that direction, consider putting the Mystical Disputes back in and trimming Kenrith/Typhoons for Elspeth Conquers Death. Make those swaps post-board in best-of-three, but really you’ll be relying more on stuff like Legion Warboss there, which tends to be devastating in these matchups.
Tips and Tricks
Some of these veteran Fires players will already be familiar with!
- Keruga allows you to mull more aggressively; having such a great catch-up mechanism later on easily recoups the card disadvantage. If a hand’s on the awkward or slow side, certainly ship it. You’re priced into keeping some awkward Fires hands, since Keruga won’t allow you to run cards like Shimmer of Possibility to dig for it, but I still wouldn’t keep first play Fires on the draw without Sphinx to dig for 2s and 3s, especially in best-of-one which is still aggro-heavy. Don’t mulligan to oblivion either though; it is very important you reach 5 lands and each mulligan will make you less likely to do so. You should be unafraid to mull mediocre 7s, but keep a broad range of 6s.
- The combination of Keruga and all the cycling lands means you never really run out of cards. You don’t need to get too greedy with her, since in many matchups you want to draw Kenrith early and decks will often punish you for waiting by removing/wrathing away your other stuff, and giving you less cards as a result. Especially against Control, just collect your two when you can.
- Remember that end of turn Typhoon untap Cavalier or Kenrith can lead to some really silly kills out of nowhere, if you haven’t already gotten your fill of those with regular Fires decks. It’s very easy to play 3 creatures on turn 5, and most decks won’t be able to keep up. Typhoon also gives you a neat way to ambush Teferi and other planeswalkers – his static does nothing to prevent cycling end of turn.
- If a card is bad in a matchup, remember that you can hold it to discard to Cavalier of Flame. Deafening Clarion often gets pitched in the bad matchups for it, but it will often be better just to use it to kill one creature if you can. Don’t hold too many lands for Cavalier though; you really want a ton of mana in this deck, to make your Kenriths better and because you can often just cycle lands away.
- The Teferi trick to get extra spell casts still comes up. If you really want to put a lot of stuff on board quickly, play two spells then bounce your Fires with Teferi and play two more!
- If you can afford to wait till turn 6 with Kenrith i.e. your life total isn’t really low at the time, gaining 10 instead of 5 should lock up any game against aggro. It’s often not necessary since aggro decks have such a rough time killing him anyway, but better safe than sorry against Heartless Act decks.
- You can often afford to keep a second Fires of Invention with Sphinx of Foresight in the matchups where you’re fearing removal or discard for it: you can discard it to Cavalier of Flames, it cantrips with Keruga, and it’s just your best card. In postboard games, I am pretty excited to have a second Fires just in general in many matchups; they’re so likely to bring in something for it.
- Remember that if you have good mana already or Fires coming up and it’s likely to be undisrupted, it’s a good idea to fetch Swamp with Fabled Passage to make sure you can use Kenrith’s fantastic reanimation ability. Sometimes you’ll even want two Black sources in play, a Swamp alongside a Triome in the really grindy matchups.
- Fires is better now against discard than it has ever been because discard is a joke against Companions, but also you have even more creatures to fight against Duress and such… people really shouldn’t be boarding in discard against you.
Thanks for reading!
As always, you can find all my articles, the whole shebang from Limited Set Reviews to Ikoria Draft Tier List to Strategy Articles to Deck Guides, at mtgazone.com/drifter. If you don’t see anything specific then I’d recommend Hypergeometric Calculator in Magic, my strategy article which teaches you how to tap into an invaluable resource pros already use to assist in your deckbuilding and mulliganning decisions!
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