April 21, 2016

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Going Rogue: Jeskai Fever

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.

Today we’re taking a break from the norm and diverting our attention to a sphere I rarely indulge in: Standard!

Now, those who know me know that I haven’t played a face-to-face game of Standard since I was jamming Ajani’s Pridemate, Underworld Coinsmith, and Return to the Ranks together. So why would I want to craft ideas around a Standard deck?

Because guess what: I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more card draw.

Are you kidding me?! Howling Mine and Black Vise is one of the best casual combos to ever grace the game, and now they printed both effects on the same card?! And you get to draw first?!?! You better believe there is a deck to be built around this!

Now, take everything I say in this article with a grain of salt, as my knowledge of the Standard metagame is extremely lacking. On the other hand, Magic is Magic, and the fact that I normally focus on Modern (a much tighter format) means I’m unlikely to let junk slip through unquestioned.

The Namesake

If we’re going to build around Fevered Visions, we need to acknowledge that it does two synergistic, but otherwise separate things.

  • It draws cards for both players. This point alone lets it favour the deck with higher impact cards. So although taking a turn off against an aggro deck to play it carries some risk (not advisable on curve), the card draw benefit is skewed in your direction. Conversely, there is a value downside to letting an opponent with higher average card value draw extra cards.
  • It deals damage to opponents who end the turn with four or more cards in hand. This is where it vindicates itself against top-heavy decks, as it provides a gradual but inevitable win condition if they can’t clear their hand. (Which, to no one’s surprise, is going to be a challenge that the rest of the deck will work to achieve.)

So let’s cut to the chase and call a spade a spade: We’re a bounce deck.

Normally, this would be an awful proposition. Bounce decks are usually terrible because bounce effects are typically only worth playing to delay your opponent’s game plan while you sneak in for lethal. The bounce spell itself, is card disadvantage. Which means when you cluster them together in a deck, what winds up happening is you dump your hand delaying your opponent’s early game, and then have nothing left to interact with as they flatten you slightly later than they otherwise would have.

Bounce Buddies

However, there is more than one way to bounce a Sylvan Advocate. We are in a unique position in Standard right now, with the best access to a suite of bouncing creatures that I think I’ve seen… ever?

Using a group of friends like those above lets us keep cards in our opponent’s hand while also developing a board presence of our own. This is a much more respectable starting point than Fevered Visions and a stack of Void Snares.

Mad Value, Bro!

We are also fortunate to have access to a fairly value-laden plan to support our bounce strategy, thanks to the reintroduction of the Madness mechanic. First of all, Nagging Thoughts is a wonderful card. It may just look like an expensive Sleight of Hand – especially in a deck with no Delirium synergies – but with discard outlets, we get to dig at instant speed, which is really great for a deck with combo-ish elements. We also get Just the Wind, which is certainly just a worse Unsummon, until you again consider the ways in which we can extract value from Madness.

The main way I want to do this is a bit questionable, daring, inventive, and perhaps even bizarre, but I want to use a card that I think has otherwise gone completely unused in Standard to date:

Okay, so good card is good, and my sense of humour is bad. Whatever. Everything about Jace is wonderful for this deck. He digs, he enables Madness, he helps against aggro, he helps provide card advantage, and in very long games he actually even has a built-in alternate win condition. How did we doubt this card on its release again?

With Jace and a few others, we are capable of assembling a great interaction suite.

Lightning Axe sticks out a bit like a sore thumb, as our game plan is to bounce things, not kill them, but as a limited quantity, it provides a cheap answer to something while enabling Madness.

Similarly, Avacyn’s Judgment might look out of place, but it’s actually a terrific addition to the deck due to its flexibility. Burning out some X/1’s like Reckless Bushwhacker can buy important time, even if at odds with the overall plan, but if you don’t need it for that, it can later become an instant-speed Fireball finisher.

Think it’s too cute to rely on a Madness-enabler for this? Think again. Our flagship inevitability engine in Fevered Visions is actually another Madness enabler in disguise, as drawing beyond seven cards is near-certain as the game wears on, and you can cast Avacyn’s Judgment to burn your opponent out for the win during your discard step. (Truthfully, I built this into the deck expecting it to be a one-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and then I won my second match in exactly this manner.)

Add a few more flexible bounce effects into the list and we have ourselves a deck. Let’s take a look:

Alex’s Jeskai Fever

Creatures: (18)
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Thing in the Ice
Harbinger of the Tides
Reflector Mage
Eldrazi Displacer

Enchantments: (4)
Fevered Visions

Spells: (15)
Lightning Axe
Avacyn’s Judgment
Nagging Thoughts
Disperse
Negate
Just the Wind
Engulf the Shore
Brutal Expulsion

Land: (23)
Wandering Fumarole
Needle Spires
Battlefield Forge
Shivan Reef
Prairie Stream
Island

Sideboard: (15)
Dispel
Disperse
Negate
Engulf the Shore
Harbinger of the Tides
Learn from the Past
Ojutai’s Command

Initial Findings

The first observation I made while trying to build this deck was simply “Wow, the Standard mana base is awful.” But actually having played with it a bit now, I’m impressed with how well this deck is able to effectively play four colours (counting the <> in the Displacer’s activation) without significant hiccups. Then again, it is a heavily Blue core, with Red and White being closer to a splash than another colour.

This is also important for one of the deck’s key spells: Engulf the Shore. This unlikely hero does fantastic work against creature decks, sending the whole board packing, keeping both players’ hands full, and “resetting” our bounce creatures in the process. It would be a four-of if we could fit more than eleven Islands into the list, but since it will seldom often “hit” for more than three or four, I think we can only justify playing two in the main. (Enemy-coloured duals would have really helped here.)

By the way, while we’re on the topic of reusing bounce creatures, I feel obligated to comment on the power of Reflector Mage with Eldrazi Displacer. It looked cute on paper, but I hadn’t anticipated this interaction being as back-breaking as it is. This is probably one of those things that Standard players know well and don’t need some jerk to write about, but my mind is just a little blown right now, so bear with me.

Anyways.

Matchups!

So I’ve gotten to do a fair bit of testing with this monster and have had a lot of success (not to mention a handful of opposing rage quits, which count as a double-win in my troll book.) Here’s the initial findings against broad archetypes:

  • Aggro decks can be a bit of a handful, but are helpless once we’ve stabilized. The fact that our own creatures are low on the curve and respectable in toughness helps slow them down significantly – the real issue is how much reach they have beyond the first wave, especially with regards to Exquisite Firecraft. While normally our extra draws outclass those in an aggro deck, giving them more burn is a losing proposition. If it’s a more burn-heavy match, consider siding out copies of Fevered Visions, and/or make use of Ojutai’s Command to regain some critical life. Matches seem overall slightly in our favour.
  • Midrange decks are a leisurely walk in the park. It’s so easy to set them behind their game plan and stick them with a glut of cards that they slowly die to. The best part is we can usually afford to take turn three off against these decks to stick an early Fevered Visions. These matches are heavily in our favour.
  • Control decks can be a challenge, depending on their make-up, and our road to victory is almost 100% reliant on Fevered Visions, as our creatures aren’t nearly fast nor resilient enough to present a realistic clock. Sticking a Visions through counters can be difficult before sideboards, and our mainboard is not well equipped to deal with Planeswalkers. Dispels and Negates are crucial out of the board, and some matchups will even justify bringing in a copy of Learn from the Past for hilarious but potentially necessary reasons. Less Walkers = better chances. Lots of Walkers = cross your fingers. The fact that Jace can’t replay counterspells on opposing turns is a big problem for us.

All in all, it’s difficult to say from my perspective, but this certainly has potential to emerge as a competitive contender in this Standard season.

So there you have it – your Standard Jeskai Fever. It is an absolute blast to play (from our side of the table, anyway), and from my meta-ignorant perspective, it actually seems to be fairly well positioned as long as Superfriends don’t dominate the land. It can also be a fairly budget-conscious deck, if you either already have the Jaces, or simply find a way to do without them – so there really aren’t many reasons to not give it a shot. (Unless you don’t like fun.)

That’s a wrap for this week. We’ll be back next week with more Modern fun. Until then, have fun, and may the force be with brew.