A Jeskai Standard PPTQ Report
By Alex Stratton
With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch only two short weeks ago, the new standard season is upon us. I started my journey through this standard much like I start every new Standard format, by talking to much better deck builders than myself. As I looked through my messenger friends to see who would be active at the late hours of the night I operate at, I stumbled upon both Noah Walker and Connor Bryant with green circles present next to their names. Both of these players have helped me greatly with acquiring lists in the past, and I had no doubt they would be able to put me on something strong for this PPTQ. Noah replied first and sent me a Jeskai Prowess deck featuring the new Oath of the Gatewatch powerhouse uncommon, Stormchaser Mage. Connor replied slightly later and mentioned he liked Rally, as well some sort of Jeskai list going into the new standard. I sent Connor over the list Noah had sent me, and with his seal of approval, and a few sideboard tweaks, we were ready for action! Off to AAA Games in Wilbraham, MA to Battle!
This is the 75 I sleeved up and battled with.
Round 1 – Bryan Partelo- G/W Scales.
This match-up always seemed good for the Jeskai decks of the past as Mantis Rider plus removal for their Avatar Of The Resolute usually ended the game. Game one started off exactly how it needed to for me as a turn 3 Mantis Rider, along with turn 4 removal spell for an Avatar, and turn five Wingmate Roc. This left Bryan practically dead to my board. He tried to stabilize with a Dromoka’s Command having the Roc fight a large Hangarback Walker, but a timing misplay on his part, and a Jeskai Charm put it away.
Game 2 Bryan did not make a play until turn three, but it was aNissa, Voice of Zendikar. I had the Negate to maintain tempo and started the Mantis Rider beats. Bryan followed with a Hangarback on one and shipped the turn to Immolating Glare the Mantis Rider. Luckily, I had another and was able to still connect for three and had the Roc waiting in the wings. Bryan had other plans though as he attacked his Hangarback into my Mantis Rider, and then followed with a Roc of his own. I untapped and went into the think tank, as this turn would most likely decide the outcome of the game. I attacked with Mantis Rider in an attempt to Raid the Wingmate, and hopefully bluff a pump spell. Bryan took the bait as he blocked with only the thopter. I played a Wingmate of my own and shipped the turn after placing my bird into play. Bryan was visibly frustrated at this point, and passed the turn with a grunt. I untapped, drew Jeskai Charm and decided to go for the blowout. I swung with the team, he blocked accordingly, and the Jeskai Charm proved to be too much.
Round 2 – Sam Delsignore- B/W Eldrazi
I could only imagine what kind of horrors lurked in Sam’s deck as he lead with multiple colorless producing lands. I started on the beat down with Mantis Rider until it was killed off by a Wasteland Strangler. I followed with a Mentor and Jace and shipped the turn with no spells in my hand. Sam untapped and decided to Silk-wrap the Jace and attack for three. Over the next few turns I drew a Wingmate Roc into a Treasure Cruise and was able to overwhelm Sam’s board presence and force him down to 7 life as he started turning the corner. With another newly found Jace and 6 mana, the Jeskai Charm in my hand would prove to be lethal.
Game two Started off much like game one. An early Mantis Rider ruled the skies until it was dealt with two turns later. Sam had a bit of a stronger follow-up this time with Thought-Knot Seer to strip my Negate so he could safely resolve Gideon and apply the beats. I cast Treasure Cruise in an attempt to find some answers, but nothing showed up. I packed it in.
Game three I was stuck on lands for three turns, but thought I would be fine as I held negate and a few removal spells. Reality Smasher ruined all of this though as it required multiple cards to deal with and made a safe passage for other Eldrazi to come through and finish me off. Despite my poor draws this game, Sam’s deck proved to be the real deal, and I am interested to see how similar Eldrazi brews perform going forward.
Round 3 – Nathan Skrocki- Abzan Aggro
Taking your first loss so early in a tournament is never fun, but Nathan seemed happy just to be playing, and his good energy was contagious as I smiled also as we shuffled up. Nathan and I both started out with tapped man lands on turn one, followed by two of the new 2-drop creatures from Oath of the Gatewatch. I deployed a Stormchaser Mage to swing for one, while he added a Sylvan Advocate to the board. I went into race mode with Stormchaser holding two Jeskai Charms in my hand. Nathan attacked back and passed the turn. I had to follow suit once again as I had nothing to add to the board. Nathan deployed a Siege Rhino on his fourth turn, and sent with the Advocate. I end step Jeskai Charm’ed him to enable the Roast and the Fiery Impulse to clear his board. The game went on like this for a while with him playing a threat and me answering it, but eventually with my lack of pressure, and stressed answers, Siege Rhino number three got it done.
Game two, I stumbled on lands early but had enough cheap interaction to bide me time until I hit my drops. A Mantis Rider got in for a few swings before perishing to a Murderous Cut. Through all of his fetch lands and the Rider attacks, Nathan was left at 8 life. End step Jeskai Charm, untap Goblin Dark-Dwellers and got there for exactly lethal.
Game three was arguably the best/closest game I played all day. Our hands lined up nearly perfectly with each other as by turn 8 we were each left with no cards in hand and at roughly 10 life. Advantage went to Nathan though as his Hissing Quagmire was something I did not have an answer for, and it could prove to be lethal. I untapped to find the nearly perfect card in my hand, Treasure Cruise. I picked up a man land, as well as two copies of Mantis Rider. I swung for 6 putting Nathan to 4, and shipped the turn. Nathan animated the Quagmire and attacked. I opted not to block, accepting I would be dead to a top deck Rhino. Nathan had a Murderous cut for a Rider, and shipped the turn. Once again I drew the perfect card for the situation, Stormchaser Mage. I slammed it onto the Battlefield and attacked. Nathan looked at his life pad, saw he was at 4, realized he had been outdrawn, and extended the hand.
Round 4 – Scott Bain- Mono Green Eldrazi Ramp
It was unfortunate to have to play against Scott this round, and not next round when we would presumably be able to draw into top 8. Scott is a fellow Albany Magic Grinder with multiple PPTQ wins, and some impressive Grand Prix finishes under his belt. We knew it would be better to play, as that way at least one of us would make top 8. Game 1 started with a mulligan to six for me, but into nearly the perfect hand. Double Mantis Rider, Jace, and 3 lands. I was able to curve out nearly perfectly despite the Titan’s Presence on my first Rider. My draw steps presented me with a land and a Gideon to continue applying pressure, and with not enough lands to deploy the Ulamog revealed earlier, Scott scooped it up in the face of a end step Jeskai Charm.
Once again I had an opener setting me up for a turn three Mantis Rider. Scott’s hand also appeared to be strong this time, as a turn two Mana Dork into turn three Explosive Vegetation prompted a Disdainful Stroke from my hand. My third turn created an interesting decision tree for me. I could either play mantis rider on curve, and attack for 3, or deploy a Stormchaser Mage, Slash the Dork, and attack for 2. I decided the second option appeared better and went with it. It proved to be the correct play for the situation as Scott let out a laugh and said go. From there it was pretty much locked up. Mantis Rider, Gideon, and another Stormchaser Mage joined the battlefield to apply an insurmountable amount of damage. Scott was able to find a Nissa’s Renewal to put himself 1 point out of range, but a fiery impulse on my own animated Gideon gave me the lethal prowess triggers on my Stormchaser Mages. Scott extended the hand.
Round 5 – Chris Taylor- Mardu Green
Ugh the pair down! As I sat down prepared to battle for my chance at top 8, Chris mentioned he was more interested in playing in the SCG IQ starting at 7:00, rather than hoping to make top 8 on breakers. I kindly asked for the concession, Chris Signed the slip 2-0 in my favor, and I was now in Top 8, and best of all, First Seed!
TOP 8 – First Seed (With the new modified Play/Draw Rule this meant I had the choice to play or draw throughout the entire Top 8)
Quarter Finals- Brian Greene- 4-Color Rally
I had watched Brian play his match last round, and knew very well he was on Rally. This match-up usually seemed good, but with the edition of Reflector Mage in the Rally deck, Mantis Rider beat down was not as potent. Game one started very slow for both of us as tapped lands and removal spells from me took down an early Nantuko Husk and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. I was eventually able to find a Gideon to start applying pressure, but Collected Company into a Rally the Ancestors proved to be too much. I picked up cards, shook my head, and went to my board.
Game two Started much better as two early Stormchaser Mages started reducing Brain’s life total. However despite my early start, this game lasted quite a while as Brain kept drawing creatures and copies of Collected Company for me to answer with Radiant Flames. I was able to draw into a Monastery Mentor to help me close out the game, and with such a large presence, Mentor prompted a game three.
Game three was going to be a tough one as I had to mulligan to six cards with Brian on the play. Luckily Brain had a slow start, while I once again had early Stormchaser Mage draw. This game did not go nearly as long as the Mage had a Mantis Rider friend to assist it in battle this time. Brian tried to accumulate a board presence, but Radiant Flames cleared it, and Hallowed Moonlight stopped the Rally. Brian smiled said “Had it all didn’t you?” and extended the hand. He was right, I did.
Semi-Finals – Danielle Taylor- Atarka Red
I started off this match with Danielle the same way I started the one with her husband earlier, by asking for the concession. Unfortunately for me, Danielle was not going to be defeated so easily. I believed my hand game one to be very good with multiple removal spells and a Mantis Rider. However Danielle had all of the answers. Hordeling Outburst taxed my removal, while a Fiery Impulse of her own took down the Rider. I came close to stabilizing with a pair of Stormchaser Mage, but double Atarka’s Command finished me off.
Danielle placed her face in her hands as she drew her hand for game 2. She called for the judge and asked if it was possible if she could sideboard again. The judge told her this is something that is not allowed unless we go to game three. With that she made the statement “well looks like I’ve got some cards in my deck I can’t cast.” That was when I figured out she had side boarded in the Self-Inflicted Wounds in the Atarka Red sideboard without also bringing in the 2 copies of Smoldering Marsh. I smiled as this is just the type of misstep I needed to be able to steal this game, and hopefully the match. Danielle ended up having to mulligan down to five cards and we started. The game was surprisingly close despite Danielle’s mulligan. She was not able to find an answer to a turn three Mantis Rider despite all of her token making effects. Radiant Flames put in overtime this game as I cleared the 7 creature board leaving my flying insect friend. She packed it in.
After carefully re-boarding, Danielle presented for Game 3. This game I began with a pair of Stormchaser Mages while Danielle did not do anything in the early turns. I was able to bring her life total low enough that despite my newly played Mantis Rider dying, I still had ample pressure in the sky. Danielle began to fight back with a Monastery Swiftspear and Become Immense, but my life total could take the hit as it was untouched minus a few fetch land activations. We spent a few turns attacking back and forth reducing each other to roughly 6 life. I cast a Radiant Flames to clear Danielle’s board, and attacked with the mages. The next attack would be lethal. Danielle pointed an Atarka’s Command at my face, flipped the top card of her library, and conceding looking down at the Wooded Foothills in front of her.
Finals – Jake Bartlett- 4-Color Rally
As I sat down to play against Jake, I noticed his RPTQ Top 16 playmat from the last one previously held where I was a judge. I asked how he ended up finishing, and he informed me he lost in top 8 to Amulet Bloom. I smiled as the person who had defeated him in that match was my friend and fellow Albany MTG grinder, Tim Muzio (Also my teammate for GP DC!). Jake was out for redemption against a mage of the Capital Region, and fighting for another chance to qualify for the PT.
Despite a mulligan to six game one, I felt very good about my hand. I had multiple Mantis Rider, and a Negate. Jake Started with Elvish Visionary of turn 2, while I played a Mantis Rider and Attacked. Jake untapped and cast a Reflector Mage which greatly delayed my tempo in the game. He added more creatures to the board while I tried to continue the Mantis Rider beats. Another Reflector Mage came down for Jake, and the pair of Mantis Riders in my hand were not going to be good enough. I tried to stop Jake from draining me out with a Zulaport Cutthroat by using Jeskai Charm to place it on top of his library, but this only delayed the inevitable.
Game two I once again had to mulligan to a strong six. Starting with a Stormchaser Mage with cheap interaction for the Jace, Jake tried to keep early on. Jake was playing a much more controlling game this time as he started firing off Collected Companies with Dispel back-up. The Stormchaser Mage was not applying enough pressure quickly enough to close it out, and the board was becoming to large to contain. I passed the turn dead on board hoping he would screw up, but he remembered all of his triggers, attacked correctly, and I extended the hand and wished him luck at the RPTQ.
Overall Record: 6-2 (This includes the scoop, so more accurately 5-2)
Losing in the finals of an event always feels bad, especially an event like a PPTQ where the only relevant prize is going to first place. I expected to be much more upset than I was after losing, but I was content as Jake had played well and my deck had performed up to par all day. Taking the Black out of Jeskai was a bold move for this event as it weakened us to potential Siege Rhinos and other large creatures such as Eldrazi we would play throughout the day. However, in turn the better mana and edge in the mirror/aggressive match-ups we received proved to be great. Going forward, like Jake, I believe Rally to be the best deck in the format. What they have gained in Reflector Mage and Ayli is too great to ignore as it fixed many of the weaknesses within the deck’s core. Out of my own deck, Stormchaser Mage was fantastic and I believe it is going to be a presence in standard for months to come, as well as make the leap into eternal formats. I have a few weeks of judging events coming up, but I look forward to picking up a deck and battling in another PPTQ soon.
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