Tech-Edge is a new player friendly column featuring iterative deck techs! Check back in two weeks to see your favorite article revisited and discussed after further experimentation during play testing.
Jeskai Control is an excellent choice for you if you’re looking to learn the fundamentals of control. Playing Jeskai Control means drawing cards, countering spells, and controlling the battlefield with removal. Every win with Jeskai Control is decisive; by the time you’ve killed the opponent, they will have no cards in hand and no cards in play. If you’re looking to win tournaments and aren’t afraid of long matches, then look no further than Jeskai Control.
Jeskai Control is all about managing resources and reactive play. The three main resources with which this deck is concerned are mana, spells, and life total. Skilled play with Jeskai Control is about knowing what to prioritize when facing different decks at varying stages of the game. Playing reactively means countering spells, destroying permanents, and looking only to win the game when the opponent has next to no possibility of making a comeback. If the opponent does not make a meaningful play, you can take advantage of this opening to spend your mana to cast a draw spell, further establishing your lead. Jeskai Control can take a lot of time and practice, and a new player should expect to lose more games than they win, but once you’ve gotten over the learning curve Jeskai Control is fun and powerful enough to keep you engaged through dozens of matches.
Almost all of the cards in Jeskai Control fall into two categories: card draw or interaction. Card draw comes in the form of instants such as Precognitive Perception, or repeating card draw such as Honden of Seeing Winds. On the other hand, interaction can be counter spells (like Absorb), single-target removal (like Banishing Light), or board wipes (like Shatter the Sky).
Planeswalkers are vital to the success of Jeskai Control, often acting as both removal and card draw. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is one of the best cards in the deck, as he provides card draw and additional mana with his +1 ability, removing any nonland permanent with his -3, and a conclusive finisher with his -8! Closely following Hero of Dominaria’s impressive power is Teferi, Time Raveler, the single strongest card in the Gladiator format when lined up against a control deck. Teferi, Time Raveler prevents the opponent from casting their spells at instant speed, invalidating their counter spells and forces them to make choices on their own turn, before seeing what you do. When facing other control decks Teferi, Time Raveler may single-handedly determine the outcome of the game. While these Teferi’s are the stars of the show, all the Planeswalkers in Jeskai Control are powerful in their own rights, and properly protecting them can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Try to only cast Planeswalkers when the opponent is unable to threaten them with creatures, and only when you can also leave mana up for a counter spell.
Aggro is the most difficult match-up for Jeskai Control. Aggro decks excel at quickly ending games by focusing all their resources towards killing the opponent, creating serious trouble for a deck like Jeskai Control that is built to thrive in the late game. Your life total is your most valuable resource, followed by mana. Take every available opportunity to protect your life total, even if it means throwing away cards to do so, such as by casting a removal spell on an attacking creature even though you intend to cast a Shatter the Sky on your next turn. Try to use all your available mana on every turn. When Aggro decks in Gladiator can kill you on turn five, you have a narrow time frame to cast as many spells as possible. Expensive cards that do not directly affect the board are significantly worse against Aggro than Control or Midrange. Counterspells are also much weaker against Aggro, as they usually cost more than the spell they are targeting, giving the opponent a mana advantage. A great hand against Aggro will contain three lands, early removal, some life gain, and a board wipe:
While Midrange decks have very powerful individual cards, they cannot compete with Control decks in the late game and are therefore forced to behave as slower Aggro decks, affording Jeskai Control an extremely favorable matchup. Counterspells are at their best here, as many Midrange threats cost four or more mana, giving you a mana advantage when you counter or remove them with a cheaper spell. You should try to leverage your board wipes as much as possible against Midrange by allowing the opponent to build up many creatures. Be careful, though: a skilled Midrange player will keep a few creatures in the hand for after the board wipe. Don’t let a Midrange player get too much damage on you while you wait for them to play a second or third creature; you need to keep a high enough life total to survive their follow-up. A great hand against Midrange will have three or four lands, at least one counterspell, a board wipe, and a source of card advantage.
The Control mirror match is long and grueling. Because Control decks run more removal than creatures, neither player will be able to put up any sort of pressure. Jeskai Control has access to some of the best Planeswalkers in Magic, giving you an edge against other Control decks. Like Teferi, Time Raveler, Chandra, Awakened Inferno is excellent against Control, as she cannot be countered and provides constant pressure with her +2 ability. Castle Ardenvale and Field of the Dead are two lands to keep in mind, as they can each produce enough tokens over time to exhaust the opponent’s removal. Save your own copy of Field of Ruin in case the opponent plays one of these lands. Board wipes and early removal are much weaker against creature-light Control decks, although it is worth saving a board wipe to deal with any Hexproof creatures that slip past your counterspells. A great hand against Control has four lands and some mix of card draw and counterspells.
Cards That Didn’t Make the Cut
Ominous Seas: Initially, I was very impressed by this card. It was often producing multiple 8/8 Krakens over the course of the game, and when I didn’t need it I could just cycle it away. I ended up cutting Ominous Seas because I realized it was a “win more” card. Ominous Seas is only good when you are drawing two or more cards each turn, and if the game has reached that point then you have already won. The Krakens were overkill and not worth the card slot.
Ugin, the Ineffable: In theory, Ugin appears to be a strong card. He provides chump blockers and card draw with his +1, and his -3 can remove just about any threat. Similar to Ominous Seas, however, I found that Ugin was only really good when I was winning anyways. Six mana is just too much for a Planeswalker that can be countered and needs to drop to one Loyalty to remove a permanent. I ended up replacing Ugin with Dream Eater, which can be cast on the opponent’s turn and does a much better job of controlling the board and pressuring opposing Planeswalkers while also providing card selection with its Surveil 4.
Kykar, Wind’s Fury: Kykar is a powerful card in the Jeskai colors, and seemed like a solid choice for a deck with as many noncreature spells as Jeskai Control. The problem with Kykar is that it does not live through board wipes. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer offers a similar effect, but remains on the battlefield even after a Shatter the Sky.
Solar Blaze: Board wipes are vital to the success of Jeskai Control, but they need to be reliable. Nothing feels worse than structuring your whole game plan around a Solar Blaze only to find that the opponent has played three creatures that have higher toughness than power.
Right now the Gladiator metagame is unpredictable. There is no telling what you might come across in pick-up games. That being said, Gruul Aggro, Bant Ramp, and White Weenie have been putting up dominant results in weekly tournaments, so be prepared to face creature-based decks. I built this version of Jeskai Control to be effective against a wide range of strategies, but if you plan on playing in tournaments you should make some adjustments to prepare for creature-based decks. Consider removing slower cards like Honden of Seeing Winds and Heliod’s Intervention in favor of early interaction such as Fiery Cannonade and Glass Casket. Should Control ever rise in popularity, then consider trimming early removal for late-game bombs like Nezahal, Primal Tide and Niv Mizzet, Parun. If you just plan on playing pickup games, however, then it is best to stick to a well-rounded decklist.
If there is any significant downside to Jeskai Control, it’s that the mana base is slow and inconsistent. In testing, I found that just about every game I lost could be traced back to an excess of lands that enter the battlefield tapped or simply missing a color. Luckily, as more lands get added to Arena, Jeskai Control will slowly become more and more consistent, and I expect it to become a top contender.
Accessibility for New Players
Unfortunately, Jeskai Control is not a deck that can be easily built by a player new to Arena. Of the 318 cards provided to new players, only 14 are included in Jeskai Control. While you could make some substitutions, Jeskai Control cannot function without Planeswalkers and Rare lands that are not provided for free. I would suggest starting with a single-color deck that is less reliant on powerful Rares and Mythic Rares. Jeskai Control isn’t going anywhere, so take some time to build up a collection and then come back.
Jeskai Control is both fun and powerful, allowing experienced players to use their skills to the fullest extent.. While the mana base proves troublesome, the cards that make up the core of Jeskai Control are exceptionally good, making it a deck with a huge amount of potential. I encourage you to experiment with a wide variety of cards as you play. One of the best parts of playing Jeskai Control is the wide range of viable cards, and you can make adjustments as you see fit. Be sure to check back in a few weeks for a follow-up on Blue-White Control as a possible alternative to Jeskai with a much easier manabase. For now, have fun countering your opponents’ spells, and try not to pity them too much. The “Concede” button is always just a few clicks away.
About the Author
I started playing Magic in 2010, and have been playing continuously ever since. While Commander is my favorite format, I have also been grinding on Arena since the Closed Beta. I have a strong preference towards graveyard and control decks, however in my time I have dabbled in all sorts of archetypes. When I’m not playing Magic I like to spend my time playing Minecraft, rock climbing, and repeatedly clicking “Random Card” on Scryfall.