Jeskai Lukka: Learning the Second Best Standard Deck of All Time
Hello! This is Oliver Tiu writing my first article for MTG Arena Zone. Over the past few weeks, I have won a MagicFest Online event and qualified for the Mythic Invitational with the help of what I have been calling the second best standard deck of all time, Jeskai Lukka. I figured it would be helpful to offer my thoughts on the deck to both those who wish to play the deck and those that want to beat the deck. In this article, I will go over specific card choices, a general idea of how to mulligan with the deck, and I will include a detailed sideboard/matchup guide.
This past weekend, I qualified for the Mythic Invitational with the following list:
Some of these card choices are pretty obvious, since they’re omnipresent throughout every Jeskai Lukka list. However, I will explain some of the less orthodox choices and why I believe that they are worthy of a slot in the deck.
A vast majority of Jeskai Lukka decklists only include 3 Agents, but I have always chosen to play 4. I believe that having access to 4 is extremely important against Bant and the mirror, which are currently the two best decks in my opinion. Games in these matchups can go very long, since it is fairly trivial for both decks to overcome an agent or two with their own agents, and Teferi bouncing the stolen target. Therefore, you want to have access to four, almost ensuring that your Lukkas will have a target for his -2 ability, even very late in the game. Most lists play three in order to decrease the odds of drawing it but, against Bant and Jeskai, hard casting agent is a legitimate strategy that can swing the late game in your favor. If Bant and Jeskai somehow become less popular, then I can see going down to three agents, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
In the current metagame, Solar Blaze is almost more reminiscent of a Plague Wind than a Wrath of God. Against the two most popular aggressive decks, Obosh and Cycling, Solar Blaze kills basically all of your opponent’s creatures while not killing your own The Birth of Meletis tokens, Yorion, or Archon of Sun’s Grace post sideboard. In addition, it doesn’t let your opponent draw a card like Shatter the Sky does. Although it is worse against the mirror and Bant than Shatter the Sky, wrath effects in general are not very effective in these matchups. As a result, I firmly advocate for playing at least three Solar Blaze as a concession to the various aggressive decks in the format.
I actually think that the one Shatter is the least important card in the deck, and I can easily see cutting it for a cheap interaction spell such as Aether Gust or an Omen of the Forge. I included it in case I played against an aggressive deck where Solar Blaze is not that effective, such as Priest of Forgotten Gods sacrifice decks, but those decks have been fairly pushed out of the metagame.
Many lists that I have seen only include three, sometimes even two, Castle Ardenvale. However, I staunchly believe that four is necessary. The card simply has too much synergy with the deck at such a low opportunity cost. Between the Triome and the Shocklands, the Castle will come into play untapped the vast majority of the time, and it provides an endless stream of tokens to fuel Lukka. In addition, the Castle provides a lot of value in drawn out games against the mirror, Bant, and Temur Reclamation, allowing you to put on pressure against these decks while playing a makeshift flash game. The tokens also do a great job of pressuring problematic Planeswalkers.
This sideboard card is fairly narrow, not in terms of which matchups it comes in against, but in its specific application in these matchups. It is basically another copy of Shark Typhoon, but is much worse against Teferi and Narset. Now, that does not sound like an appealing card, so why am I playing it? Basically against decks with counterspells such as Bant, the mirror, and Temur Reclamation, Shark Typhoon is your best card thanks to its unique ability to pressure your opponent at instant speed while being immune to counters. Therefore, another copy of this type of effect is very useful in these specific matchups, despite its weakness to Teferi and Narset. It is a very high variance card, so don’t get discouraged if you end up getting wrecked by one of these Planeswalkers while Commence the Endgame is in your hand.
This is probably the biggest innovation in this current iteration of Jeskai Lukka. I previously played Dream Trawler in this slot, which has seemed to rapidly gain popularity recently. I believe that these kinds of Lifelink threats really help in aggressive matchups where a single Agent of Treachery may not be able to save you: from an onslaught of small creatures and burn spells. Additionally, Archon and Dream Trawler are fairly easy to hard cast against these decks, while Agent is quite difficult to pay seven mana for safely. The reason I prefer Archon over Dream Trawler currently is that Archon is far easier to cast, even though it is often slightly worse to Lukka into. Archon allows you to play a turn four Fires of Invention into Archon, which provides a huge tempo swing against aggressive decks where you can quickly obtain a favorable position on board. Most decks do not board in answers to Archon against Jeskai Lukka, so it is very likely to survive. Since Jeskai Lukka is already playing a ton of enchantments, Archon seemed like a natural inclusion. It also has great synergy with Yorion, since blinking all of your enchantments results in a whole horde of lifelink Pegasi ready to overwhelm your aggro opponents. Although using Lukka to find a four drop off of his -2 may seem a bit underwhelming, it is often good enough since Archon is just that effective against the popular aggressive decks.
Having access to a two mana interactive spell against aggressive decks is vital in order to survive the early game against these decks. The three options I see for this slot are Glass Casket, Fire Prophecy, and Omen of the Forge. I don’t like Glass Casket much despite being able to kill larger creatures, since it is sorcery speed. If you’re on the play, you are not able to kill a two drop on curve with a sorcery, which can mess up your whole curve. In addition, some red aggro decks sideboard in artifact destruction in order to kill walls, so Glass Casket provides additional targets for these fairly narrow sideboard cards. Fire Prophecy vs Omen of the Forge is something I thought about for a while prior to the qualifier, but I decided that the upsides of Omen outweigh those of Fire Prophecy. Omen has great synergy with Yorion and Archon, providing a lot of free value. Fire Prophecy deals an additional damage and allows you to loot away excess lands or unnecessary Agents in hand; however, its biggest appeal its ability to kill a 3/3 Flourishing Fox on the draw. So, if Cycling significantly rises in popularity, I can see swapping out the Omens of the Forge for Fire Prophecy.
As you will see later, the deck is designed in such a way where the number of cards that get sideboarded out against the popular decks cleanly get replaced by an equal number of effective sideboard cards. The way the numbers broke down, there needs to be a card that can come in against the slower decks like Bant and the mirror that also can be brought in against Cycling. Fry fills this role perfectly, since it is able to kill Cycling’s best threats (Fox, Lurrus, and Valiant Rescuers), while also killing various Planeswalkers and shark tokens against the mirror and Bant. In addition, you can use it to kill a human token in response to a Lukka -2 to deny them an Agent. While Fry is not exceptionally good in any specific matchup, it is a crucial roleplayer against many popular decks. I can see going up to two Fries if you can make space for it, since it is so versatile in the current metagame.
Thanks to the London Mulligan and companions providing a free extra card, I highly recommend mulliganing very aggressively in the current standard format. Cards like Yorion, Narset, and Lukka let you easily recoup the card disadvantage from mulliganing, so it is far more important to have smooth mana and a good curve than having an extra card or two. Many MTG players are naturally adverse to mulliganing to five, but in 2020, mulliganing to five is no big deal at all. I have won countless games on mulligans to five with this deck, and rarely regret my decision to do so. Now, I’ll go over some tough opening hands and explain why I would mulligan them or not.
Starting Hand #1
On the draw and your opponent revealed that they’re playing a Yorion deck.
This hand is obviously awkward since it has all tap lands, which has a fairly high chance of messing up your intended curve. However, the hand has a fairly optimal number of lands with all of the necessary colors (double blue, double white, and double red). In addition, Narset is a great card against Yorion decks since she rarely gets pressured and makes cards like Teferi and Uro a lot weaker. Therefore, I would choose to keep this hand on both the play and the draw, hoping to find an untapped land sometime before turn three between draw steps and the scry from the temple. With this hand, I would choose to play a Triome turn one, since the temple will be more effective the following turn when you know for sure whether you still need an untapped land or not.
Starting Hand #2
This was taken during the finals of the Redbull Untapped event. On the draw against UW Yorion deck.
I would choose to mulligan this hand, despite it being a good hand if you draw a blue source in the first three draws. First off, the hand needs double blue to let you have a powerful set of plays on turn four (Teferi and Dispute), which is pretty unlikely. In addition, you ideally would want to have an untapped blue source by turn two, so you could hold up dispute for their three mana Planeswalkers. If you fail to draw one by turn two, you can easily either be out-valued by Narset or risk having Teferi come down and shut down your Disputes. For these reasons, I think this hand is too risky to keep since the deck mulligans very well. Even if your draws work out, the hand isn’t that exceptional. I would rather go down to six and hope for a more stable draw.
Starting Hand #3
On the play against an Obosh deck.
Once again, I think this hand is too risky to keep. Fires and Solar Blaze is the best turn four play you can possibly have against an aggressive deck, but the hand is too land light to ensure that. If there was a blue source here, you could spend your second turn cycling Typhoon for zero and have a better shot of finding the necessary number of lands. Hence, I would keep it if the Plains was a blue source instead, but would not keep this particular hand since you can’t afford to stumble against aggro. I would rather be down a card but have a smoother draw against the Obosh decks.
Sideboard and Matchup Guide
Vs Jeskai Lukka
Game one is pretty luck based; whoever is able to stick a Lukka into Agent first tends to win since there is not much disruption in the pre-sideboard games. Post-board it gets interesting, since the games often play out in a sort of Flash way, where both players are scared to tap out during their own turn since they can get their play countered and give their opponent an opening to stick their own threat. Therefore, cards that let you deploy a threat at instant speed, like Shark Typhoon and Commence the Endgame, tend to be very important post-board. Fires is a risky card, since your opponent can steal it and take advantage of it, but it can still be very effective on the play since you will get a full turn to take advantage of it before your opponent can steal it on their turn five.
The game plan here is pretty simple: just answer their creatures then use Archon to gain enough life to survive a Zenith Flare. You often want to Narset and not use her ability if she’s under any kind of pressure. Keeping her passive ability around is generally far more important than acquiring more value with her -2.
Vs Temur Reclamation
I am honestly pretty confused about why this deck continues to be popular. In my opinion, the Lukka matchup is pretty even, but Temur Rec is quite weak to aggro and Bant Ramp. Therefore, out of the most popular decks, it has one even matchup and two fairly bad ones. In addition, the deck isn’t nearly powerful enough to justify playing a deck that lacks a Companion. My biggest tip for this matchup from the Jeskai side is to just play your threats into their counters. You can get punished, but playing a draw go game against them is exactly the kind of game they want to be playing. By jamming your cards, you force them to have enough counters for all your threats, while not giving them the time to develop their sharks or instant speed card draw.
Vs Bant Yorion
I’m actually surprised that this deck has been declining in popularity, since I think PV’s latest list that features Nightpack Ambusher in the sideboard is actually quite good against Lukka. They can play a very effective Flash game while also being able to play potent sorcery speed threats like Elspeth Conquers Death and Teferi. My tip for playing this matchup is also just to play your threats into their counters more often than not. Their deck isn’t that threat-dense, so it is unlikely that they can punish you too much for tapping out during your own turn. Additionally, they tend to have seemingly infinite counters post-board, so it is very unlikely that you can simply wait and hope for them to put their shields down. Instead, I prefer to trade threats into their counters until they either run out of them or I can set up a turn where I can play a threat and use a Dispute or Veto to counter their counter.
Vs Obosh Decks
Just survive their early onslaught, then stabilize and close the game out with Archon of Sun’s Grace. This is a very straightforward matchup.
Vs Temur Clover
Dovin’s Veto is good on the play because you can counter a turn two Lucky Clover. I don’t actually think that this matchup is that bad, but the card Brazen Borrower is quite effective against this deck. It’s important to actually put pressure on them, since they’re one of the few decks in standard that can actually go over the top of Lukka if the game goes super late, so I would suggest trying to steal their larger creatures with Agent, and then apply pressure with their own creatures.
Vs Temur Elementals
This matchup is bad on paper, but the fact is that their deck is very clunky and inconsistent, so you can easily take advantage of these weaknesses. Just get rid of their power cards like Risen Reef and Omnath, then steal their sizable threats like Omnath and Cavalier of Thorns. If you can keep them off of their engine cards, it’s pretty easy to overcome their support cards. Fires of Invention lets you set up huge swing turns, that can easily overcome their extra value, through the mana advantage that Fires provides.