The Jeskai Four

Posted in Serious Fun on November 4, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

I was not a fan of Jeskai.

There, I said it. Blue, red, and white includes two of my least favorite colors for decks. I try to play fairly, always giving each color an equal share in the decks I currently have, but it never really works out that way. I gravitate toward white, black, and green pretty consistently. I'll run blue and red, but they tend to be paired with other colors I like and rarely with each other.

In spite of that, Jeskai does have something going for it: variety. Every Jeskai-colored commander does something very different from the others. This gives you the option to go in all sorts of directions when building. I thought we'd take a look at each commander and see what others see in terms of deck-building styles. Perhaps they can change my mind.

Numot, the Devastator

Numot decks need to ask themselves three questions.

The first question tends to be, "Do I have enough mana sources?" Bleu, blanc, et rouge are not exactly the colors you look to for mana fixing or mana ramp. When you are using a six-mana commander whose ability costs three mana, you are going to want more mana sources than you think. When Numot is destroyed the second time, you don't want to find yourself deciding that the deck is just going to have to do without Numot. Jeskai doesn't have near the mana fixing you can find in other colors (green), so you load up on artifact mana and other ways to use artifacts to find the mana you need.

The second question lies with Numot's ability. "Are you going to use it?" Some players simply won't use it ever. "Land" and "destruction" are dirty words in many playgroups when used together, and someone who is running around doing 6 damage and destroying two lands every turn can be hated. A lot of people running Numot are doing so just to get the color combination, since, for the longest time, Numot was your only option for Jeskai colors.

With the other options now available, I think you are crazy to run Numot and not use the ability. You might as well run a different commander, since a 6/6 flyer for six without any abilities, while fine in the deck, just doesn't do enough for me.

The third question then ends up being, "Which lands should I destroy?" I have always preferred to target nonbasic lands. I want the players in my games to have fun, so I'm not using Numot to lock a player out of a particular color, but I will use him to stop my opponents from getting special benefits. Seeing a Maze of Ith get destroyed or a Kessig Wolf Run end up in the graveyard seems all-good to me, and any player who doesn't control those lands is likely happy to see them go as well. When you realize that you don't have to target lands from the player who just lost 6 life, but instead can destroy the two nastiest lands on the table, Numot's ability becomes way more flexible.

Cassidy McAuliffe helped a player improve a Numot deck. He limited the amount of land destruction and took advantage of the cards in Jeskai colors to make a powerhouse:

Numot Test

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COMMANDER: Numot, the Devastator
Planeswalker (1)
1 Venser, the Sojourner
99 Cards

Ruhan of the Fomori

My regular readers will be surprised to read that I built a Ruhan deck and ran it several times. Those same readers will not be surprised to hear that I pulled it apart after a few games, as I just hated it. When I first saw Ruhan, I knew I wanted to build a deck with him, as he just completely clashes with my style of play. I want to carefully orchestrate games—deciding who the biggest threat to me winning the game is, then attempting to set up the game state in such a way as to eliminate them, leaving me in a much better position to win.

Ruhan wants nothing to do with that. Choose an opponent at random and attack. It doesn't matter if you need that player's help the most or not. It doesn't matter if your attack with help you in no way at all. Ruhan Smash! I like to play decks that clash with my preferred style, if for no reason than to throw my friends off a little. Being predictable is a terrible thing in your games, as it gives everyone an edge on you. Changing decks and styles of play leaves my opponents wondering what happens next.

I built a Voltron Ruhan[1] deck and started to play. I pushed the idea that my opponents shouldn't retaliate after they've been attacked by Ruhan, since the attack wasn't made in malice; it was just bad luck. I was like an earthquake—bad for you when it happens, but you aren't going to try to attack an earthquake into submission. My opponents didn't see it that way. I became an unpredictable factor in the games, and I was targeted by everyone right away. It turns out that getting randomly hit for more than 10 damage by a commander is not something anyone tolerates. Those games just weren't any fun, and the deck came apart soon after.

Bennie Smith built Ruhan with all of that in mind, adding cards to make Ruhan harder to stop, harder to kill, and more subjective with where he attacks. He also added defensive cards, making it far more difficult for opponents to attack him.

Ruhan Test

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COMMANDER: Ruhan of the Fomori

Another variable Bennie suggested was to have your opponents roll dice, with the player who had the highest roll being the one who would get attacked. This way, it seems less like you attacking them—they did it to themselves by getting the high roll. I can't say if that would work, but I suspect a solid plan of attack with Ruhan, along with plenty of ways to prepare for a possible attack on all sides, is far more important than some psychological games. Although if you aren't even trying the psychological games, I think you're missing out on part of the fun with Ruhan.

Zedruu the Greathearted

When you talk about variety, Zedruu certainly offers an interesting shift. When an entire deck exists to give opponents cards, you are getting something in Jeskai that isn't offered in the same way in any other colors. One option for Zedruu decks is by giving opponents nice benefits, attempting to discourage opponents from attacking them by reminding them that they will lose all their gifts if you are eliminated. This produces a deck that is looking for cards that opponents will want, but aren't going to hurt you if that opponent opts to take you out.

A second option involves gifts that aren't so nice. Celestial Dawn and Aggressive Mining seem like great cards in the right decks, but if they are suddenly added to your deck, it isn't nearly so nice. Jason E. Alt took a Zedruu deck he received and made it his own, adding cards that kept the fun yet continued to lay the beats.

Zedruu 75

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COMMANDER: Zedruu the Greathearted

The spirit of the deck inspired someone at MagicLampoon.com to come up with this delightful poem.

The Will of Zedruu

It is the will of Zedruu that you should have...this Howling Mine.
Take it.
I bequeath it to you.
While you possess it, it shall draw both of us extra cards.
I'm going to gain a life now.

It is the will of Zedruu that you should have...these Goblin Cadets.
May they serve you well. Although they flinch in battle, they occasionally reach through to an opponent.
I want you to have them.
I will be over here, drawing extra cards.

It is the will of Zedruu that you should have...the rest of this sandwich.
Do you not want the rest of this sandwich?
I haven't even eaten half of it.
It is good, it is an Asiago Turkey Club.
From Panera.
Right, the one near the college.

It is the will of Zedruu that you should take the sandwich, and finish most of it.
Take it. I insist.
I will be over here, gaining extra life.

It is the will of Zedruu that you should have...this parking ticket.
I obtained it downtown.
How was I to know that that was a one-hour parking zone?
It is ironic that I should get a parking ticket so near the courthouse.
You see, I will have to go back there to pay it.
Take it.
You should have the parking ticket. I insist.
I will just...there. I will just draw this extra card.

It is the will of Zedruu that you should have...this cold.
Yes. It is a doozy.
I missed a day of work because of it.
There you go. You'll start sneezing soon.
I will be over here, drawing extra cards.
I feel better already.

This is only the first half of the poem. It only gets more outrageous!

Narset, Enlightened Master

When I see Narset, I'm reminded of Zur the Enchanter. Zur is a smaller creature with the ability to find any card needed.[2] Zur has proven to be too powerful in most Commander games, since you can find anything you need. Zur comes out and simply runs over opponents without anyone having any real chance to stop him.

Narset comes with a built-in ability that makes her difficult to kill (hexproof). Narset only lets you cast cards that are in the top four of your library for free, much like Zur lets you cast cards for free from anywhere in your library. Both cards encourage a Voltron-style of play, packing your library with all sorts of goodies that you'll get to cast for free.

I don't think Narset, Enlightened Master will be as bad as Zur the Enchanter. Narset only looks at the top four cards of your library, not your entire library. The problem was that Zur was so bad, Narset doesn't need to be just as bad to be miserable in Commander games. I hold out hope that she proves to be a powerful, fun commander. But there is that little voice in the back of my mind, warning of trouble.

I have seen several decks that try to completely abuse Narset's ability by running a creature-less Commander deck, letting you cast all the spells you find every time Narset attacks. While I'm enamored by the idea of living and dying with just Narset, I prefer another list Heather Lafferty at GatheringMagic.com put together. Using her vast Twitter army, Heather (aka @revisedangel) asked for deck suggestions and wound up putting these 99 together.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

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COMMANDER: Narset, Enlightened Master
99 Cards

I love the idea of loading up with some larger-casting-cost cards. Why not get the big haymakers when Narset will let you play them for free? Powerful, expensive Planeswalkers can often produce creatures you need to protect yourself, while maximizing the effectiveness of Narset by being a noncreature card in the deck. And even the creatures that were chosen are all there to maximize the effectiveness of the rest of the spells in the deck. I'm looking forward to taking this deck out for a spin in the near future!

My thanks to Cassidy (@gdccommander), Bennie (@blairwitchgreen), Jason (@JasonEAlt), and Heather (@revisedangel) for putting together some interesting decks. Jeskai has a wide variety of options, with a little something for everyone's tastes. If you thought Jeskai wasn't really in your wheelhouse, think again. Jeskai can work for you!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

mtgseriousfun@gmail.com


[1]"Voltron" is a term used to describe a deck where the goal is to make one creature into a powerhouse. Usually, it involves a variety of Auras and Equipment, but it can also include other ways to make a creature difficult to stop, difficult to kill, and much larger.[Return]

[2]Technically that isn't true, but try searching for enchantments that cost three or less in Zur's colors and you'll see just how all-encompassing the options are.[Return]

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