Sometimes, everything just goes your way. My friends and I spent the week between the Pro Tour and Grand Prix Pittsburgh testing this new Standard metagame almost every night. Most of us were dead-set on some kind of Ishkanah, Grafwidow variant, while I spent the week championing Mardu Vehicles, trying to find a way to beat BG consistently without Fumigate. I failed, so in my indecisiveness, I brought the cards to build my old stalwart, Jeskai Saheeli. I had shelved the deck after the results of the Pro Tour, since the deck simply didn’t have legs against Mardu in the slightest. I tried adding Shock back to the maindeck alongside Kozilek’s Return in the sideboard, but I struggled to find a balance between being able to handle aggressive starts, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
For posterity’s sake, here’s the Mardu Vehicles build I brought with me, designed for a metagame of mirrors and low-to-the-ground Winding Constrictor decks. As you might tell, it’s heavily based on Frank Karsten’s deck that Lucas Esper Berthoud took to a Pro Tour win, upsetting flavour judges across the globe.
Daniel Fournier – Mardu Vehicles
So yeah. I thought I had a great Mardu deck, but I was also deeply concerned that everybody at this tournament would be gunning for Mardu, and that no matter how many big scary planeswalkers I put in my sideboard, I’d be unable to beat running Ishkanah, Grafwidows. At this point in the week, I was really waffling on my deck choices, and was starting to feel like I should play one of the big BG Delirium decks that my friends were working on. However, we didn’t own a million copies of Grim Flayer, so my hopes were dashed.
Normally, Pittsburgh is a solid five hours from my home of Toronto, but the snowstorm that had just hit the north-east had made its way to Canada, and immediately destroyed our venerable transit system. How could they have known there was inclement weather coming and prepared appropriately? It was literally impossible to predict! As such, our five hour ride turned into an eight hour nightmare, which left me lots of time to waffle further on my deck choice.
At some point during this ride, Omar Beldon, who has literally only been wrong once, when he told me to play Decommission instead of Fragmentize, mentioned that Jeskai was a good call for the weekend, since Magic Online was infested with black-green variants. It doesn’t take much to convince me to play Torrential Gearhulk, so there I was, tuning a Jeskai deck in my head.
I’m going to take a moment here to address the elephant in the room. Why does Wizards insist on calling this deck Copycat? Magic has a storied history of garbage deck names (Nic Fit, anyone?), but we finally managed to move past that as Wizards replaced them all with boring names like Temur Delver and Jeskai Black. Why do we suddenly get to return to fancy deck names for something as terrible, cheesy, and kitschy as Copycat? Yeah, Saheeli Rai makes a copy. Yeah, Felidar Guardian is a cat. Who cares? Copycat sounds stupid. Stop it. Jeskai Saheeli. It sounds nice, and everyone knows what you’re talking about. A Jeskai Saheeli Rai deck. If I wasn’t familiar with the combo, I’d hear Copycat and think “what the hell is this idiot talking about?”. But I digress…
Regardless of the fact that this was a metagame choice to beat black-green, I knew I would have to hedge my bets a bit and build my deck in such a way that it could reasonably contest the Mardu matchup. Looking at Magic Online lists, it seemed that Shock was more reasonable than ever against black-green thanks to the prevalence of cards like Tireless Tracker and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which are must-kill cards for the control deck. I also figured it was a good time to jam Horribly Awry, and we’re off to the races!
Daniel Fournier – Jeskai Saheeli – GP Pittsburgh
Given that this was rather hastily put together, I’m extremely happy with the results of the tournament. Granted, I did play against BG variants 12 times, and against Mardu only twice, but I guess that’s just the gamble I was trying to make. The deck was built largely off of experience and theory rather than testing, which led me to have a bunch of sideboard cards that I didn’t really end up wanting in a lot of matchups.
For instance, I felt that Spell Queller was good against BG, because it helped overload their removal to force the combo, and was a hard counter against Walking Ballista, typically a problem. The reality was that the BG decks that people were playing were too aggressive to want many copies of Saheeli Rai in, while Nissa, Vital Force and Ob Nixilis, Reignited were popular sideboard cards. As such, I stopped bringing Spell Queller in for that matchup early on, relegating it to a mediocre role of “I guess this is better than Disallow against Mardu”. Of course, the card is much better against a wide open metagame with weird, diverse threats you need to answer…
What else sucked? Maindeck Negate was mediocre. It’s great against Mardu in theory due to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar being a problem, but we’re not set up maindeck to be able to mitigate their aggro plan while holding up the counterspell. In a metagame heavy on creature-laden BG decks, Negate loses a lot of its value. I also felt like I’d want another maindeck Fumigate, since it’s pretty much your best card against BG and is serviceable against Mardu.
With that in mind, here’s what I would play this weekend were I to play Jeskai Saheeli:
Daniel Fournier – Jeskai Saheeli – Post-GP Pittsburgh
I’ve received a lot of requests over this week for an updated decklist, but also for a sideboard guide alongside a guide for when to combo, and when to hold onto things, so I figure it’s worth spending a bit of time covering these two topics.
First off, I don’t really believe in sideboard guides. Especially when it comes to a Twin-like deck such as this one, part of the deck’s strength is the fluidity of its sideboard. Your opponent can never be too sure how much of the combo to expect, and so it’s important to constantly be reactive with how you sideboard your combo. It’s usually correct to trim at least 2 cards from it, sometimes up to 4, sometimes all of it! There’s no easy answer, but here are a few guidelines: If your opponent doesn’t apply sufficient pressure to kill a turn 3 Saheeli Rai with creatures, assuming you don’t have removal, then you probably want all four copies. If your opponent plays a bunch of a card like Lost Legacy or Authority of the Consuls, then you don’t want more than 2 copies of each piece, and can consider cutting them entirely. Conversely, if your opponent’s deck is extremely powerful against your control plan, consider leaving the full combo in and try to cheese them.
As for the actual cards in the sideboard, I’ll give you a list of the matchups they’re for, and let you decide when to bring them in.Fumigate: all BG variants, decks that lean heavily on Whirler Virtuoso to beat you, random creature decks Disallow: Verdurous Gearhulk decks, mirror, control matchups Kozilek’s Return: Mardu Vehicles Immolating Glare: Mardu Vehicles, all BG variants Dispel: mirror, any Glimmer of Genius deck Linvala, the Preserver: Mardu Vehicles, all BG variants Negate: Mardu Vehicles, BG Delirium and occasional other BG variants, depending on planeswalker threat density, mirror, etc. This card is much better post-board than pre-board in lots of matchups. Fragmentize: Mardu Vehicles, not Aethersphere Harvester BG Quarantine Field: Mardu Vehicles, all BG variants, any midrange deck with difficult-to-answer threats Aether Meltdown: any Scrapheap Scrounger deck, also serviceable against aggressive BG variants
Finding the cards to board out is a bit more challenging. Of course, Fumigate is bad against control, and Disallow is bad against Vehicles, but finding the last few slots is never easy. Here are a few tips: Don’t hesitate to board out a copy of Anticipate, but never trim on Glimmer of Genius if you intend on playing a control game. Always leave in some number of Harnessed Lightning against control decks, because they’ll usually have some kind of unbeatable creature like Tireless Tracker post-board.
It’s difficult, bordering on impossible, to write a guide for how and when to combo or use the combo pieces, but again, I’ll try to give some tips. Whether on the play or on the draw, if you’re able to clear the board to allow you to untap and jam a Saheeli Rai, you should do it. That is one of the most powerful starts this deck can have because of the pressure it applies on your opponent. However, pay attention to the things your opponent can do to take care of an on-board Saheeli Rai. For instance, if they have a Winding Constrictor, Rishkar, Peema Renegade threatens to take out the planeswalker, and therefore jamming her is not safe. If you’re able to stick her, however, your opponent is stuck in an awkward position where they probably have to hold up mana. You should use this point in the game to try and get as far ahead in terms of land drops and card advantage as possible. The real combo in this deck is Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk, after all.
If you’re in a situation where you have the combo and your opponent is representing, say Grasp of Darkness or Unlicensed Disintegration over several turns, you should only combo if it’s your last resort. If a deck is representing, say, Shock, I’d recommend calling that bluff. Shock is unpopular as of late in favour of Fatal Push, so if you don’t have some kind of powerful plan B like Glimmer of Genius, you’re probably going to get away with the win.
So there we have it. Play Jeskai Saheeli if you think you’re going to play against BG variants 12 times, remember that the real combo is Glimmer of Genius into your opponent’s open mana, and respect your opponent’s removal spells.
Follow me on Twitter at @tirentu, and let me know if you have any questions!
PS: I realize that most of you read this as a food blog rather than a strategy article. We had two real dinners in Pittsburgh. The first was at Primanti Bros, which was a reasonable, if overrated and poorly assembled, sandwich place. Cheap, but good rather than excellent. Sunday night we went to Mercato, a dope meatball place right by the venue, which was stellar. I had some kind of spicy pork meatballs on a bed of the most delicious, creamy mac ‘n cheese in history. I thought it would be an odd combination, but it was unreal. 10/10, highly recommend that place.