We're almost at the end of the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths spoiler season as I write this, and what a time it has been. Wizards of the Coast have given us all sorts of creatures ranging from the usual Cats and Wizards, all the way to Beast-Elemental-Dinosaur-Cat-Nightmare hybrids. To top it off, all the players who used to jokingly name "Brushwagg" on their Cavern of Souls suddenly have a valid target— Almighty Brushwagg! It's safe to say that Ikoria has something for everyone.
Creatures aren't the only thing Ikoria is delivering. Earlier this week we saw Eerie Ultimatum spoiled by Nick Prince, as well as Ruinous Ultimatum and Emergent Ultimatum spoiled through various Wizards of the Coast sites.
To be blunt, they looked like incredibly expensive spells that would certainly find a home in Commander, but would struggle to see play in the more traditional competitive formats. If these spells resolve, they can make wonderful things happen, but the big "if" looms over each and every one of them.
Our current Standard format is in an... interesting place. Sure, there are more deck choices than usual, but for a while now we've been seeing multiple copies of Aether Gust and Mystical Dispute in non-control decks. Without going into the health of the format, it's pretty clear that casting seven-drop sorceries without a supporting cast is not a viable game plan in this economy.
Enter Inspired Ultimatum.
Inspired Ultimatum is the Jeskai...um, Raugrin Ultimatum.
It's a relatively straightforward card. For seven mana, the target player gains 5 life. Inspired Ultimatum deals 5 damage to any target. Draw 5 cards.
I have just one question.
Where's my 5/5?
It would be blasphemous to call this card Sphinx's Revelation, but aside from Ultimate Infestation that was the vibe I got from Inspired Ultimatum. A nice and angry Sphinx's Revelation.
I tend to have some bias toward Jeskai cards—after all, my name is built into the clan. Nevertheless, it would be hypocritical of me to say this card was any better or easier to cast than the other Ultimatums spoiled without a valid reason.
So what's the difference? Three words, 17 letters, and the most likely source of unnamed streamers' nightmares:
Teferi, Time Raveler.
War of the Spark introduced this pesky three-mana planeswalker with a static ability that has inspired hundreds of salty tweets. The ability reading "Each opponent can cast spells only any time they could cast a sorcery" disables any countermagic you've boarded in to fight against the white-blue control decks, and enables their spells to resolve without resistance.
Up until now, Standard Jeskai has typically existed in the form of a Fires of Invention deck, and while Teferi, Time Raveler has been an excellent card in there, Ikoria has given us the tools to finally bring Jeskai Control into Standard.
The initial conversation surrounding Narset of the Ancient Way was primarily to do with her playability. Narset of the Ancient Way is a four-mana planeswalker that enters with 4 loyalty.
Starting with the +1 ability, we are offered some life gain and noncreature mana fixing. At first glance, this ability makes Narset of the Ancient Way look underpowered. However, control decks rarely say no to incidental life gain—especially with Mono-Red being a pillar of the current Standard format, something which is unlikely to change with Ikoria's release.
The -2 ability allows us to draw a card, after which we may then choose to discard a card. If we choose to discard a nonland card this way, the planeswalker will deal damage equal to that card's converted mana cost to either a creature or planeswalker. If we don't have a target, or do not wish to target anything, we've simply drawn a card and do not need to discard. This effectively means that upon entering, Narset is immediately able to protect herself or allow us to generate some card advantage. And while four mana to kill a creature may not sound ideal, having the ability to target opposing planeswalkers is a definite upside. Unless dealt with, Narset of the Ancient Way can immediately use this ability twice.
Finally, we arrive at the ultimate. Coming in at 6 loyalty, we get an emblem that says whenever we cast a noncreature spell, the emblem will deal 2 damage to any target. This ability is not the reason we are playing Narset of the Ancient Way, but having the option to ultimate Narset while we generate life, mana, card advantage and accessible removable is the icing on the cake.
Narset of the Ancient Way isn't the exact planeswalker Jeskai Control would've asked for in this format, but it manages to tick a lot of boxes and definitely makes it into this type of deck.
It's hard to look at this card and not think of Hearthstone's Ultimate Infestation. If that's an indicator of anything, Inspired Ultimatum is going to make a splash in Standard's control decks.
Inspired Ultimatum is card draw, life gain and a removal spell all in one card. It gives us answers to the board, while threatening to be a win condition. The only downside is that it's an expensive sorcery, and tapping out is the one thing control decks can't afford to do. Teferi, Time Raveler removes one of these constraints, allowing us to cast Inspired Ultimatum at instant speed, and guaranteeing it resolves. The rest of the deck can be built with this spell in mind, allowing us to navigate the early game with countermagic and board wipes, until we take over the game with Inspired Ultimatum and Dream Trawler.
This enchantment initially threw me a little. I asked myself what control deck would want a six-mana enchantment that would require further mana investment before we saw any return. However, as with most cards, the power of Shark Typhoon doesn't come from the in-play value, but rather the flexibility the cycling mode offers. Instead of looking at this as a six-mana enchantment that we'll need to tap out for, consider it like a scalable instant that draws us a card and creates a flyer. A flying Shark no less.
There will be games where Shark Typhoon will simply be an enchantment in play. But there will be many more where cycling Shark Typhoon early on will give us a crucial blocker against aggressive decks, or an attacker we're able to create during our control opponent's end step. Sometimes it will just cycle if we're short on mana. But the flexibility in this card is where the power is drawn from.
Just like we've seen with Narset of the Ancient Way and Inspired Ultimatum, Shark Typhoon provides card advantage, potential removal and a win condition when needed. And these three cards gifted to us in Ikoria are exactly why Jeskai Control is going to be great in Ikoria Standard.
Adding a third color into the traditional white-blue control deck has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage seems to be the impact on the manabase.
Raugrin Triome is part of a tri-colored land cycle released in Ikoria. Unlike the tri-colored lands we've seen previously, this cycle has the land types corresponding to the colors they produce. In Raugrin Triome's instance, it is not just a nonbasic land, it's "Land - Island Mountain Plains." In other formats, this means that this land cycle can be searched for with traditional fetch lands like Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest, as well as ramp spells that search for specific land types.
In addition to its land types, Raugrin Triome enters the battlefield tapped (what's new) and can be cycled for three mana. We may not have fetch lands in Standard, but these lands will still be a mainstay in three-colored decks.
Thanks to the land cycle spoiled late in the preview season, adding a third color has never been easier. This would probably be my starting point for Jeskai in Ikoria:
2 Dream Trawler
3 Elspeth Conquers Death
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
3 Shark Typhoon
2 Inspired Ultimatum
3 Narset of the Ancient Way
2 Narset, Parter of Veils
2 Omen of the Sea
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Aether Gust
2 Dovin's Veto
2 Shatter the Sky
4 Raugrin Triome
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
1 Castle Vantress
1 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Temple of Epiphany
2 Fabled Passage
Aside from Narset of the Ancient Way and Inspired Ultimatum, there are other reasons to play red in Standard control, but the sideboard is where we'll see the greatest impact.
The first card we'll have access to is Deafening Clarion. This card allows us to clean up smaller creatures a turn earlier than Shatter the Sky, and doesn't result in our opponent drawing a card off of creatures like Bonecrusher Giant.
Likewise, having access to Scorching Dragonfire and Embereth Shieldbreaker for any aggressive or Cauldron Familiar Witch's Oven decks is very convenient.
In its current iteration, Azorius Control does not have access to a very impressive transformational sideboard beyond Archon of Sun's Grace. This is where the opportunity to include cards like Legion Warboss and Robber of the Rich comes in. There is also the possibility that transformational sideboards will be less relied upon now that Shark Typhoon has been printed.
Whirlwind of Thought may also have a place in this deck, but I think the ability to make that deduction is based on how the community shapes the format.
This spoiler season has blown me away with all the different creatures and spells we've seen. Ikoria has got me seriously excited for Standard, and I can't wait to take these new Jeskai cards for a spin.