Last week, we talked about Esper Control and its expected position in the Standard metagame. Sure enough, Esper seems to be taking the reins from Jeskai as the format's control deck of choice, powered up by cards such as Kaya's Wrath and Mortify.

Nonetheless, Jeskai Control is still a force to be reckoned with, even if it has been relegated to the backseat. The format hasn't shifted so wildly as to render Jeskai irrelevant, and there are plenty of good reasons to stick with red over black, even if the new Allegiance cards are currently basking in the warm glow of the spotlight.

The principle draw to Jeskai over Esper is its ability to close out games incredibly quickly after stabilizing. While Esper has to slog through endless turns to win with cards like Teferi, Karn or Chromium, once Jeskai turns the corner it's all over red rover thanks to Niv-Mizzet or Crackling Drake.

I sat down with Jeskai Control specialist Martin "Harry" Porter – a scourge of the MTGO Standard leagues - to investigate why Jeskai Control is still an excellent pick in today's Standard format.

Playing a Proactive Control Deck

Jeskai is a quiet underachiever against the Standard field at the moment due to the quality and efficiency of its answers, flexibility against a developing format and the raw power level of its individual cards. Describing Jeskai as "proactive" – not a label often applied to control strategies – is quite accurate here, as this build is able to play a classic control game for as long as it needs to before switching gears and closing out a game quickly.

Being proactive as a control deck is a good move in today's Standard. Hydroid Krasis is a real beating for control strategies, offering virtually uncounterable card advantage stapled to a respectable threat, and as a result taking over the lategame against many other Standard decks is not the foregone conclusion it once was for control. Jeskai goes a long way in solving those problems by being able to attack with a 10-power Drake once the coast is clear, or riding Niv-Mizzet to victory across two or three turns (rather than, for example, across 10).

Esper plays a much more reactive game and doesn't have the same capacity to switch gears. This allows midrange decks to contest a longer game more meaningfully, which is the opposite of what a control deck wants – there's no denying that the answers present in Esper Control are incredibly potent, but the flexibility and dynamism of Jeskai really gives it a leg up in this regard.

Additionally, the extra threat density of Jeskai positions it well against Esper, which is another real advantage that Jeskai offers – extra business cards in the starting 60 offers an almost pre-boarded feeling to the matchup, which is very welcome. Finally, just being able to end your matches in a timely fashion, rather than playing through a bunch of extra turns when an opponent doesn't concede, reduces mental fatigue and will offer greater staying power in large tournaments.

Ravnica Allegiance Additions

Absorb

By now, we're all well aware of just how good Absorb is in Standard, and luckily the excellent mana allows us to play it alongside other cards with heavy color requirements. Absorb allows you to focus a lot less on spot removal and more on sweepers and neuters many opposing aggressive starts. Mono-Red gets out of the gates very quickly, and Absorb is basically a two-for-one against it – it nullifies the next Lightning Strike or Skewer the Critics that was coming for you. Additionally, Absorb is also very useful against any aggressive draw out of a midrange deck, keeping your life total nice and high.

Quench

Choosing between Quench and Syncopate is a bit of a line ball, but ultimately Quench gets the nod right now, as it's slightly better against aggressive decks that can use cheap cards to play around a Syncopate for one. Ultimately, it's close and both cards are defensible, but if you're expecting to have to fight through a lot of cheap, aggressive threats, Quench makes that a little bit easier.

Mass Manipulation

A six-mana Mind Control doesn't initially seem like it's something this deck would be interesting, but there are plenty of positions in which it does some real work. With midrange lists tapping out for huge threats like Hydroid Krasis and Skarrgan Hellkite – and with planeswalkers being such an important part of many control decks – Mass Manipulation actually does some real work.

Specifically, Mass Manipulation shines against Sultai Midrange. Its applications are extremely powerful. For example, stealing a Vivien and using it to kill their Krasis (or, if you have eight mana, just stealing both!). Against these tap-out midrange decks, a scalable Mind Control can be huge – and you're not paying too much of a price by including it. Carnage Tyrant is on the downswing, and Sultai's demanding mana base means recursive options like Memorial to Folly are on the way out. Mass Manipulation is the perfect card to tussle with opposing midrange lists.

Hallowed Fountain

Come on.

Matchup Guide

Mono-Red

Mono-Red Aggro is really drawing in a crowd as it lights up the stage of this updated Standard format! Jeskai is generally in a good spot for this matchup, with tons of incidental lifegain as well as the best sweeper available, Deafening Clarion (don't forget to give your Drake lifelink and gain a bunch!). One of the biggest problems is the new card advantage engine, Light Up the Stage, which gives Mono-Red much more Staying Power than it would otherwise have.

Play around Light Up the Stage wherever possible, countering it aggressively or ensuring you don't needlessly enable Spectacle. For example, if you have a Shock and a red shockland in hand against their Ghitu Lavarunner, play the land untapped and Shock it rather than save two damage. Otherwise, they attack, turn on Spectacle, cast Light Up the Stage, and pull further ahead.

+1 Lyra Dawnbringer
+2 Rekindling Phoenix
+1 Negate
+1 Invoke the Divine
+1 Ixalan's Binding
+1 Cleansing Nova

-3 Chemister's Insight
-1 Settle the Wreckage
-1 Mass Manipulation
-2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

This sideboard plan gives up the raw card advantage of Chemister's Insight and Teferi to instead gain card advantage with extra sweepers and Phoenixes. There is enough incidental life gain in the main deck to see you through – just hamstring their attempts to pull ahead on cards with Light Up the Stage and/or Experimental Frenzy and you should be in a good spot. Remember - Absorb is basically a two-for-one, so play it early and often.

Sultai Midrange

For the most part, this matchup is straightforward. Sultai's early threats are easily dispatched with sweeper effects, and Jeskai's removal generally lines up well against their threats. However, the inclusion of Hydroid Krasis in what used to be Golgari Midrange is a real problem for control decks, as it involves the nightmarish prospect of uncounterable card advantage with its cast effect.

The solution? Mass Manipulation. This card shines against both the Krasis and Vivien Reid, and you can steal one or both depending upon the situation to swing the matchup back in your favour. These tap-out threats enable Mass Manipulation to do its best work – especially the aforementioned line stealing Vivien to kill a Krasis. A swing like this undoes all the card advantage they gained originally and puts you in a terrific position moving forward.

+2 Rekindling Phoenix
+1 Expansion // Explosion
+2 Disdainful Stroke
+1 Settle the Wreckage
+1 Mass Manipulation

-2 Quench
-2 Revitalize
-2 Lava Coil
-1 Search for Azcanta

When holding Mass Manipulation, priorities removing their early creatures – even if it means tapping out for a sweeper – to bait their Vivien Reid. They will assume they have a clear window to deploy their planeswalker while your counters are unavailable, allowing you to punish their level-one response to your "mistake" of tapping out.

Esper Control

Jeskai vs. Esper is a classic control mirror – most of the usual applicable paradigms are at play within it. Card advantage and threat density become increasingly important; early defenses and abundant interaction, less so. In game one, deploy threats like Crackling Drake sparingly to deny them extra value from a sweeper, and hope your draw-go game is better than theirs – ultimately, Niv-Mizzet a trump card that can and will carry the lategame for you.

Post-board, beef up your aggressive potential with Legion Warboss. This army-in-a-can card puts pressure on very early and will win a game swiftly if left unanswered. Even if they have removal for it, a lowly 1/1 can be very relevant, preventing a Teferi -3 and making The Eldest Reborn a lot less effective.

+2 Rekindling Phoenix
+2 Disdainful Stroke
+1 Negate
+1 Expansion // Explosion
+3 Legion Warboss

-2 Lava Coil
-1 Shock
-1 Mass Manipulation
-1 Settle the Wreckage
-4 Deafening Clarion

Ineffective creature interaction hits the bench in favor of extra threats and extra interaction. Mass Manipulation doesn't do as much work in this matchup as you might think, as the extra countermagic they bring in makes it easy for them to play around it. If you're at all familiar with how control mirrors work, this should be a script you recognize well enough.

Bant Nexus

Bant Nexus is a tough game one matchup, with quite a few of their cards being must-counter threats. Keeping Teferi and Wilderness Reclamation off the board can be difficult, but is the best way to victory alongside Niv-Mizzet. Seek to end the game as quickly as possible by pressuring them with Niv-Mizzet plus countermagic backup, but also recognize that this is a tough game one to win.

+2 Rekindling Phoenix
+2 Disdainful Stroke
+1 Invoke the Divine
+1 Expansion // Explosion
+3 Legion Warboss

-2 Shock
-2 Lava Coil
-1 Settle the Wreckage
-4 Deafening Clarion

Just as with Esper, Legion Warboss is a terrific turn-three play that will really turn the screws on this slow and clunky opponent, although know they will probably sideboard in Hydroid Krasis as an extra threat of their own. Bringing in Disdainful Stroke rather than Negate is since some lists play Expansion // Explosion – they can't use Expansion to counter your Stroke.

Moving Forward

As the format continues to develop, keep in mind some of the potential pivots you can make with this list should you still want to get it done with Jeskai, making use of a few more exciting Ravnica Allegiance cards.

Deputy of Detention

While running a relatively fragile 1/3 in a relatively creature-light deck might be something of a liability, the Deputy really overperforms in a lot of situations. With enchantment removal being at an all-time high thanks to Wilderness Reclamation, Experimental Frenzy, and the like, Deputy of Detention might oddly actually be a little more resilient.

Deputy of Detention is excellent against token strategies – particularly History of Benalia – as well as emerging decks such as Esper Midrange and White-Blue Aggro. While it might not be close to being a main deck option, it's well worth keeping in mind while reconfiguring the sideboard, and could be subbed in for Ixalan's Binding.

Mesmerizing Benthid

Token strategies aren't leading the Charge in Standard right now, but if that changes then this mighty Octopus starts to look like a pretty good option out of the sideboard. Another hexproof threat is always welcome and gumming up the board while also slowing down any incoming onslaught is pretty powerful, so be sure to keep an eye on go-wide decks and respond accordingly.

Warrant // Warden

Jeskai is a lot less interested in Warrant // Warden since it already has both excellent removal and a high threat density, but you simply can't ignore the impact this card is having in control decks right now. If you ever find yourself retooling this list, unable to fit in all the effects you want, Warrant // Warden offers excellent flexibility to round out a deck where you're looking to cover all bases.

Jeskai Control is still a strong contender in Standard, and currently has the advantage of not being the control deck du jour – when people tune their decks to beat control, they're thinking of Esper, not Jeskai. This, combined with Jeskai's ability to close out games quickly, answer most threats sent its way, and overall card quality, all combine to make Jeskai Control a rock-solid choice for the current Standard environment.

- Riley Knight