It's Jeskai Week and I've been excited to write this one up for a while now. The Jeskai colors are either my second or third favorite grouping of colors used for the clans on Tarkir. (Temur and Sultai are the others.)
Jeskai has easily been the most difficult clan to decipher, as far as strategy goes.
Abzan clogs up the ground, removes your creatures, and then makes big things to kill you with. Temur has sweet tempo plays to back up massive monsters. Sultai gets ahead by delving out big threats for cheap, and being tricky with card advantage and hand disruption. Mardu tries to rush you early with quick, cheap threats and then finishes off by going wide with tokens.
But what about Jeskai?
My first experience drafting Jeskai was precarious at best. I came away feeling like I learned a lot, but kind of didn't like the way things looked. I felt like there was too much pressure on the creatures to survive to make the strategy good enough. The games where I had a sweet creature with prowess attacking for multiple turns went great.
But the games where my opponent had a Debilitating Injury or an Arc Lightning felt unwinnable. I was confused, as it seemed like I was doing what Jeskai wanted me to do. Maybe the answer was a more middle-ground build, or some tokens or something? I wasn't sure at the time, but I've learned a lot since Week One of the format. Let's look at what makes this archetype tick.
Prowess is the main mechanic for the Jeskai, as you probably know. It's a deceptively powerful ability that quickly adds up extra damage. If you manage to play a noncreature spell every turn, your prowess creature effectively jumps way above its pay grade. If you play a noncreature spell most of the time, the prowess creatures still hold their own.
Since prowess is the main ability for the Jeskai, it stands to reason that your goal is to be assertive with your Jeskai deck. Aggressive, tempo-based beatdown decks are the way to go. There may be some room in these colors for a more controlling deck, but I haven't seen it yet.
What about when you don't get to trigger much prowess? How are the prowess creatures in that scenario?
Let's take a look at some of the key creatures with prowess to see how they hold up.
Of the non-rare prowess creatures, these two are the best. Jeskai Windscout specifically is the best common creature with prowess, and it will be the cornerstone for your Jeskai deck. Get as many of these as you can get your hands on. The damage piles on so quickly when you have a Windscout or two beating down. The turn you have two Windscouts and cast two noncreature spells is usually the turn you effectively lock up the victory.
Seeker of the Way is one of the premier two-drops in the set, because it's often a 3-power lifelink creature for two mana. A 3/3 with lifelink would probably cost around five mana in a normal setting.
Jeskai Elder almost makes it into that top tier and, with a couple of delve cards in your list, should be considered in that upper range. Jeskai Student fills the role of "reasonable two-drop" but ultimately isn't anything super exciting, even in a prowess-based deck.
Monastery Swiftspear is the weakest of this bunch, and while it's been doing some good work in Constructed Magic, it tends to underperform in Limited. Bloodfire Expert is fragile but packs a big punch and can be awkward for the opponent to play against even if he or she has a random 1/1 token on the battlefield. The Expert also pairs well with noncreature ferocious cards like Savage Punch because the prowess trigger will resolve first, leaving a nice 4-power creature ready to get the bonus from ferocious.
The No Thank You
Poor Whirlwind Adept. Like most bad current-day cards, it's far from unplayable. It's also far from being good, however. There are board states where this particular configuration of power, toughness, and special abilities would be good enough. But they don't come up often enough to make you want to play a card like this.
So what is the game plan for this archetype? How does it earn victories?
Tempo. Get ahead, stay ahead.
That's Plan A with Jeskai.
Thankfully, our friends in R&D at Wizards have furnished us with a reasonable array of tools for just this job.
Crippling Chill sums up the ethos of the entire deck quite nicely. Once you establish a board with a prowess creature or two, every Crippling Chill you play not only pumps up your team, but also keeps you drawing cards, which can further keep their threats out of the way, which in turn keeps you triggering prowess.
And triggering prowess is the name of the game.
All three of these spells are easy to cast, don't cost much mana, get creatures out of the way, and trigger prowess. Which means they are pretty dreamy for a deck like this.
This deck is far from bulletproof.
In fact, I think it's the most fragile strategy to draft in Khans of Tarkir. I recall a scenario I had in a recent draft. I was fully in Jeskai, looking to beat down early and often. I had a great start with a Jeskai Student into Jeskai Windscout and looked at my hand, which had three spells in it: Force Away, Force Away, Crippling Chill.
I felt like I couldn't lose. Then my opponent played a Monastery Flock followed by a Debilitating Injury on my Windscout. Hrm. My Student wasn't hitting for enough to justify firing off my Force Aways on the wall, and Crippling Chill only gets you so far. It was then that I realized the fragility of the deck.
The good news is that this archetype usually hits on a two-pronged approach to winning the game.
The first wave is made up of the good prowess creatures I mentioned above. (It's also made up of just good aggressive creatures in these colors)
You leverage your tempo plays and prowess creatures to get the life total good and low. Right when you run out of gas and your opponent turns the corner to start beating you down, you change gears. Now you look to your finishers.
This set has a lot of reach in it. No, not the kind of reach that lets you block flyers. I mean the slang Magic term for spells that finish the game without relying on creature combat. Usually, these are simply burn spells of varying color.
Arrow Storm is probably the cleanest version. It kills big creatures in the middle part of the game, and even kills opponents if their life totals are low enough. Master the Way is similar in that it can target players or creatures, and even replaces itself by letting you draw a card when you cast it.
And, of course, they all trigger prowess when you cast them.
Another weakness of the deck is that it doesn't play defense particularly well. It turns out that your Jeskai Windscouts aren't great blockers once you fall behind.
When you play against this type of deck, it's key to reverse engineer your opponent's strategy so you know how to defeat it. The two key takeaways are that you should kill most prowess creatures on sight, and that you should do whatever you can to stay out of Arrow Storm range.
I've had a better time drafting Jeskai of late, even if it remains not on my top archetypes list.
Until next week!