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January 24, 2017

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Opening Weekend with Jeskai Saheeli

Hello all, my name is Joel Repta. I am a weekend warrior based out of Guelph, Ontario trying to grind my way up the ranks and back onto the esteemed Magic PT. This past weekend I ventured down to the first SCG standard event of the new set Aether Revolt in Columbus, Ohio. It has to be one of, if not the best venues that I have been to in the USA. Good facility, it has a food court, good location, and right beside the North Market, where you can find purveyors of fine cuisine such as the savoury-sweet chicken & waffle. Victory never tasted so sweet.

The first weekend of a new set is always my favourite. This is especially true in limited where more experienced players have a greater edge in both building and playing decks as the pros have not yet put out their limited guides for the masses. Unfortunately I decided to spew value at 2am Friday morning and go to Columbus instead of a local PPTQ, rookie mistake. Luckily, the rule applies similarly in constructed. Skill can be leveraged more so than in post Pro Tour tournaments, as you are playing against un-tuned decks that won’t function optimally. As long as you show up with a powerful strategy, the first weekend of a new set is a great time to play tournaments. This set in particular has been hyped up quite a bit due to the artifact synergies, and more importantly the Saheeli-Cat combo.

Having decided to about as last minute as I could get, I was relying on Edgar Magalhaes to provide me a list and cards. I got suckered in by a Paradoxical Outcome deck playing a full set of Bone Saw and Cathar’s Shield, bought all the pieces and was ready to battle the weekend away with my combo deck. I was gold-fishing the deck all night, and really did not feel comfortable playing a deck that felt so inherently weak. I waited until arriving at the venue about 45 minutes before the tournament started to finally lock in Jeskai Saheeli, the talk of the town, as my weapon of choice. There has been a lot of talk about the two card combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian going into the weekend, and there have been a lot of shells presented. The list that made most sense to me was a controlling shell, as you can both stop your opponents from executing their game plan with removal and counterspells, as well as threaten to combo-kill your opponent as early as turn 4. The combo pieces don’t fit well in a more aggressive build, as neither applies pressure individually. As luck would have it, the deck was mostly built for me, barring a few last minute choices that I botched, but more on that later. Here is the list I played, for reference:

Jeskai Saheeli

Creatures: (7)
Felidar Guardian
Torrential Gearhulk

Planeswalkers: (4)
Saheeli Rai

Spells: (24)
Harnessed Lightning
Shock
Disallow
Negate
Immolating Glare
Oath of Chandra
Oath of Jace
Radiant Flames
Glimmer of Genius
Anticipate

Lands: (26)
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Port Town
Wandering Fumarole
Needle Spires
Aether Hub
Island
Plains

Sideboard: (15)
Dragonmaster Outcast
Radiant Flames
Dynavolt Tower
Fumigate
Negate
Dispel
Spell Queller
Decommission
Brutal Expulsion
Shock

I had not played a single game of the deck before this tournament. However the deck closely resembled control decks from the previous standard season that I had played and draws parallels to Splinter Twin decks of old. I was a Twin-guy in modern when it was legal. It was the deck that qualified me for the PT in the first place, and this felt no different. Call me crazy, but Twin mirrors were my absolute favourite matchup to play. You draw a lot of cards, gain small advantages here and there, and try to trick your opponent. After my first match of the day, a mirror match, it felt exactly like playing Twin Mirrors all over again.

Sometimes the way the deck plays out, your opponent gives you an opening for a quick combo and you win fast. The rest of the time you just play a controlling game and generate value until a point in the game where you are ahead on board. This usually happens with a Torrential Gearhulk as well as threatening the combo with counterspells to back it up. This deck served me well on Day 1, ending the day on a loss at 7-2 and very live for Top 8, which was shaping up to be about 12-3 given the size of the event. Unfortunately I was unable to convert, partially to do with the build of the deck, and a lot to do with sloppy plays. Along the way I saw the mirror five times, two GW tokens, singles of 4-Colour Saheeli, 4 Colour-Marvel, BW Humans, RW Humans, Esper Aggro, UR Amalgam, UR Fevered Visions, and one I can’t recall. Twice I managed to win on turn 5 of extra turns with exact lethal, once with the help of Saheeli’s ultimate into Torrential Gearhulk and Dynavolt Tower on turn 1 of turns, casting Glimmer of Genius off the Hulk, attacking and bolting my way to the finish line.

While I think this version of the deck is quite good, there are a few cards I would change moving forward to next weekend. The Oath of Chandra ending up being serviceable, but would have been a lot better as a sideboard card as the effect is quite narrow at a sorcery speed. It gives you a way to generate value off Felidar Guardian that may otherwise rot in your hand, but can be too restrictive. This was originally an Immolating Glare. It would have done for the deck something the Oath could not, take care of larger creatures such as Archangel Avacyn, or Heart of Kiran, both of which can be a pretty big problem for this deck.

The mana-base could use a tweak, and the sideboard was lack-luster. Outside of a single game where I had two Dragonmaster Outcast in play at the same time, this card did very little to accomplish my goals. I would shave one or cut them altogether. Spell Queller was excellent all day, allowing for a more pro-active game plan post-board, and it did not die as much because opponents boarded out a lot of their removal. Dynavolt Tower was an all-star for me as well. It is as great against aggro decks as a recurring Lightning Bolt effect that could clean up creatures, help kill larger ones in conjunction with Harnessed Lightning, and manage Planeswalkers. It can also generate a lot of value against other control decks, acting as a win condition and a way to break up the Saheeli – Cat combo. A neat trick is that you can also tutor up Tower with Saheeli’s -7 ability, along with a Torrential Gearhulk to immediately trigger the Tower. This becomes more relevant in sideboarded games, as your opponent will have more ways to interact with your combo, meaning that Saheeli will continue ticking up. The downside is while Scry 1 can accrue a lot of minor value over the course of the game, you still need a way to win. I haven’t yet figured out what to use but there should be a good artifact choice to tutor up with her ultimate. In all, here is what I would play next weekend:

Revised Jeskai Saheeli

Creatures: (7)
Felidar Guardian
Torrential Gearhulk

Planeswalkers: (4)
Saheeli Rai

Spells: (23)
Harnessed Lightning
Shock
Disallow
Negate
Immolating Glare
Flame Lash
Oath of Jace
Revolutionary Rebuff
Radiant Flames
Glimmer of Genius
Anticipate

Lands: (26)
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Port Town
Wandering Fumarole
Needle Spires
Aether Hub
Island
Plains

Sideboard: (15)
Radiant Flames
Dynavolt Tower
Fumigate
Negate
Dispel
Spell Queller
Fragmentize
Cloudblazer

I was very impressed by the 4-Colour Saheeli decks that I saw at the tournament doing well, as it gives you a more proactive game-plan, and fantastic value off of Cloudblazer. I also faced off against a 4-Colour Marvel version of the combo which was powerful and resilient, something I will be exploring in the weeks to come. Given the results of this past weekend, it is clear that this combo will be a force in Standard in the coming months, but will need to be tuned to beat the aggro decks such as Green-Black.