Standard Jeskai Control Deck Guide: Let’s Pass the Turn Together
Table of Contents
The current Standard environment is super interactive. Most decks have 4-8 copies of interaction whether it’s Lay Down Arms, Ossification, Cut Down, Abrade, or Play with Fire. With that in mind, one could take advantage of it by playing a deck that does not really play creatures itself, rendering all those spells useless. Enter – Jeskai Control.
Deckbuilding-wise, the main goal here is to blank opposing removal. We’re gaining virtual card advantage from the get-go, as the opponent’s spells are nigh-unusable. On top of that, we can dictate which direction the game is going to go in, thanks to playing removal, countermagic, and operating at instant speed. We will rarely have our shields down. It’s a perfect deck for draw-go mages who like answering every single thing that’s thrown at them.
If you want to see the deck in practice, check out my latest video on YouTube! There are even more Standard videos there, so make sure to visit the channel.
Threats and Card Draw
Let’s start off with the best win condition for a control deck right now. The Wandering Emperor provides everything you need in a deck that wants to pass the turn ad nauseam. It itself has flash so it goes along with all the other spells with the deck. Additionally, it’s a removal spell on a stick. The opponent will have to think thrice before they go into the red zone. If they attack with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, do they really want to get it exiled just like that? However, if it’s a smaller threat, you can always -1 to get a Samurai token and still come out clean.
The removal effect is specifically exile, not destroy. It can come up against threats that do interact with the graveyard like Voidwing Hybrid, Squee, Dubious Monarch, or Phoenix Chick. If that wasn’t enough, you gain 2 life on top of that, which is excellent when you want to stabilise your life total.
Furthermore, Emperor shines when the opponent does not have anything threatening, as you can simply start to turn the corner. Creating Samurais every (other) turn and buffing them with counters will close the game pretty fast. At this point, the opponent is the one who needs to react to you, not vice versa.
A sleeper card in my opinion. With so much early removal in the deck, it’s trivially easy to play Jace either on an empty board, or against a single creature. You plus Jace on that single threat and now there is no pressure put on you and you’ve got the planeswalker going. The usual play pattern with Jace is plussing as long as you need to and -2 when Jace and your life total are safe to draw a card.
In the later stages of the game, you will start counting the exact number of cards in graveyard to try to hit that magical number of twenty so that you turn Reach Through Mists into Ancestral Recall. From my experience, when you draw three for the first time, you’re pretty likely to win. It’s tough to keep up with it. If you’ve played Jace for the full retail price, you can -2 twice in a row and still keep it alive!
If the came has already lasted double-digit number of turns, you can start looking at the last ability. The ultimate strength of this walker is that it protects itself, provides cards, but is also a win condition. With full four copies of Jace in the deck, you can spew one or two copies purely for mill to end up winning the game this way. Be careful when you start milling though. In the format there are graveyard-centric interactions and you don’t want to enable them if you can help it. Turn the mill mode on only if you have a firm grasp on what’s going on in the game.
Jace, the Perfected Mind does a lot for the deck and it’s a great addition from Phyrexia: All Will Be One
One of the most popular cards in interactive decks. It has a similar role to what it normally does – a steady way to draw cards. As you’re going to be holding up mana a lot in this deck, you’re always holding up Bankbuster activation as well. If the opponent does not play into your counterspell or removal, you can take your time and draw a card on the end step. The play style that Bankbuster necessitates fits the overall deck’s approach perfectly.
Fact or Fiction (Glimmer of Genius?) of this Standard format. There have been a ton of four-mana draw spells in blue over the years and Memory Deluge seems to genuinely be at the top of the ranking. Normally, you wanted to select a piece of interaction and another draw spell so that you can chain them, but with Deluge, you don’t have to. You can easily take double interaction, as Deluge is going to wait for you in the graveyard for an opportune moment later. Once you flash it back, you get Dig Through Time which is an unbelievable strong effect. Supposing you cast it no sooner than turn 7, your library will probably be around 40 cards then. That Deluge will look at 15%-20% of your library. If you think of it like that, you will realise how absurd this card selection effect is.
With 3 in the deck, they all combined would have allowed you to look through half of you entire library. The later in the game you are, the biggest proportion of the deck relatively you will look at.
It also creates a warping dynamic with The Wandering Emperoras the opponent knows that them attacking might mean getting Emperored but if they don’t, the control player will just cast Deluge and further sculpt their hand.
As with any control deck, basically a third of the deck is interaction. While most of these effects are relatively simple, let’s look at them anyways.
Here I go again with my Spell Pierce propaganda. While historically soft counters have not been played in control, I think we’re in different times. First, games do not go infinitely long where Spell Pierce would lose its value. Second, it does not matter if it stops being useful on turn 10 if you don’t survive until turn 10. Spell Pierce is there to provide mana efficient answers in the early game and once you’re in the mid-late territory, you’re good anyways, as the game will progress however, you want it to. You can Spell Pierce Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, The Wandering Emperor Liliana of the Veil, and, most importantly, Invoke Despair. Countering Despair with Pierce is the best feeling in the world whilst making your opponent lose all the willingness to continue.
While you could achieve what I’ve said with a different counter as well, it’s all about being able to multi-spell. Thanks to Pierce’s low cost, you can counter Fable and kill a creature on the same turn. You can also play Memory Deluge and Pierce their Invoke Despair on turn five, etc. It’s all about efficiency.
Another piece of countermagic. Dissipate, crucially, is unconditional. If you hold it up, you know that whatever is coming, won’t resolve. This feeling of security is important, as you can map out the rest of the turn with high confidence.
The exile clause is not irrelevant either. It comes up against cards that I’ve mentioned in the Emperor’s section but there are even more like opposing Memory Deluge or Cityscape Leveler. It’s good to have a bit of exile, especially against Flashback and Unearth, which are normally solid against control.
A Play with Fire variant. We don’t go face, so the actual Play with Fire is out and we don’t have artifacts lying around to make Voltage Surge good. Flame-Blessed Bolt is the best alternative for us, as the exile clause comes in handy – as I’ve mentioned a few times already in this piece. It’s an efficient piece of removal for the very early stages of the game. It tags threats like Bloodthirsty Adversary, Phoenix Chick, Bloodtithe Harvester, Delver of Secrets, or Spirited Companion. The range of 1- and 2- drops that it kills is very wide.
While I could see this deck being Izzet (and I’d sadly say goodbye to Emperor), March is another reason to stay white. The fact that you don’t have to worry at all about Skrelv's Hive or Wedding Announcement, since you can just exile it on the end step is huge. March’s presence restricts the number of miscellaneous permanents that lose you the game if they slip under countermagic. It can also exile tokens with x=0 which is useful.
Its flexibility is unmatched. A very strong piece of both early and late game removal.
This one is a classic. Abrade is played in almost every red interactive deck and it’s no different here. I could see splitting it with some other piece of removal like Fateful Absence, but I’ve liked Abrade so far. It gets rid of Reckoner Bankbuster, random prototype creatures, and just cleanly kills most 1-, 2-, 3- drops in the format. Most importantly, it tags Corpse Appraiser and Graveyard Trespasser, but it also kills Dennick, Pious Apprentice, Bladecoil Serpent, Furnace Punisher, or Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor.
Overall, there are numerous creatures that are played past turn two that fold to Abrade.
These four slots are dedicated to Anger of the Gods and Wrath of God effects. The exact number will depend on the metagame and the decks you want to aim for. In metas full of red aggro, I’d play four Brotherhood's End, but in slower decks with Invoke Despair, probably I’d tick up the number of Farewell to 2 or maybe 3. There is also Depopulate that I don’t play in the main deck.
All in all, I think you want 3-5 mass removal effects in the deck. Fortunately, you can pick and choose which ones will serve you best.
Best of One
The version of Best of One has a full playset of Brotherhood's End due to the prevalence of aggressive decks.
The fact that Planeswalkers are mythics and card draw is rare already puts the perspective of a budget deck at a disadvantage. On top of that, the whole mana base is super rare-dense and without a proper land base the deck just won’t function.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
|+3 Wandering Mind||-3 Flame-Blessed Bolt|
|+2 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker||-2 Abrade|
I trim a bit of interaction for more grind. The games will go long, so I want to make sure I’ve got a steady flow of cards. This matchup will be all about proper threat assessment. You need to be aware of what you need to kill, counter, and what to let stay alive. However, this list has so much card advantage that if you trade 1-for-1, you will come out on top in the end.
Mono White Midrange
|+1 Farewell||-3 Flame-Blessed Bolt|
|+3 Negate||-4 Abrade|
|+2 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker|
Monowhite has early game that we don’t really care about, but a surprisingly powerful late game. We don’t want to allow any Planeswalkers to slip through the cracks. Serra Paragon is also a must-answer threat. Farewell is a knock-out punch that resets the game and renders top-decked Serra Paragons dead. I keep my mass removal in to make sure that I can still contain the pesky early pressure. A cheeky line is to play Brotherhood's End on turn four to sweep the board and entice them to play The Wandering Emperor for which you have Spell Pierce.
|+1 Farewell||-2 Spell Pierce|
|+2 Depopulate||-3 Dissipate|
|+2 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker||-1 Reckoner Bankbuster|
|+1 Obliterating Bolt|
Their creatures snowball out of control and we need to have ways to stop them. Post-board we have seven mass removal effects so I am not afraid of Wedding Announcement shenanigans. You should play to the board and keep your life total high. While the game will revolve around cards, they want to get you dead as soon as possible. When keeping your hand, make sure that you don’t just scoop to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Just lands and turn four Depopulate won’t cut it.
|+1 Farewell||-2 Spell Pierce|
|+2 Depopulate||-3 Dissipate|
|+1 Obliterating Bolt||-2 Reckoner Bankbuster|
|+3 Deadly Riposte|
Normally I wouldn’t side in an expensive mass removal like Farewell against an aggro deck but I want to make sure that I can get rid of any and all the Skrelv's Hive that might still be on the battlefield. Mass removal is particularly strong against Venerated Rotpriest as it does not give you any poison counters. If possible, keep March of Otherworldly Light in hand to deal with a potential Skrelv's Hive. The best outcome for them is if we waste a Wrath of God effect on tokens generated from a single Hive.
Jeskai Control Mirror
|+3 Wandering Mind||-3 Flame-Blessed Bolt|
|+2 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker||-4 Abrade|
|+3 Negate||-1 Brotherhood's End|
A classic draw-go control mirror match. Both players will try to find the best moment to deploy their threat. Some key interactions include:
- Flame-Blessed Bolt kills off The Wandering Emperorafter it’s made a token
- Dissipates exiles Memory Deluge so it cannot be flashed back
- Brotherhood's End also damages Planeswalkers
- March of Otherworldly Light and Abrade get rid of Reckoner Bankbuster
You could go by an old heuristic of ‘you don’t want to blink first’ but it’s way too general to be applicable in a real environment.
Tips and Tricks
- You can pump your creature with The Wandering Emperor on the field and then again with another copy flashed in during combat.
- Jace, the Perfected Mind does not care whose graveyard has twenty or more cards. If your graveyard is big, you will draw three off the -2.
- If there is only one creature on the field and its yours, Jace’s plus ability does *not* have to target it with its -3/-0 effect, as the ability says ‘up to one’.
- If need be, you can pitch multiple cards to March of Otherworldly Light, not just one.
- If you pay 5 mana for Memory Deluge because Thalia, Guardian of Thraben(or any tax effect) is on the field, you’d get to look at 5 cards, not 4. Deluge looks at the amount of mana actually paid.
- You can mill yourself with Jace in order to find Memory Deluge to then flash it back.
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