Mantis Rider is back!
For a while Jeskai decks opted not to play Mantis Rider, but the time has come for the three-mana creature to re-enter the format in a big way. There are a lot of decks in Standard that have trouble dealing with flying creatures, and this is the best cheap flyer Standard has to offer. While there are certainly plenty of options in terms of four and five color Mantis Rider strategies, I wanted to test out if going straight three colors is viable. To be honest fetching for lands with a Jeskai Black deck is a bit of a pain, and at the moment I'm not sure there are strong enough reasons to add the black cards. When I saw Marcio Carvalho (Kbol_ on Magic Online) made top eight with the deck in a Magic Online Championship event, I knew his list was worth testing out.
The first thing that happened when I saw the decklist was a flashback to last year when this deck was really popular. While the deck doesn't have a ton of new cards in it, there are some, but the core of the deck remains intact. Playing this archetype is a metagame call, as right now there are so many green midrange and ramp decks, which Mantis Rider preys on rather easily. After playing the matches I am actually more excited about playing this deck moving forward.
These were some fun matches for sure, and I was particularly impressed with the Abzan Eldrazi deck I played against in round three. There didn't seem to be too many holes in the deck, except that it can be vulnerable to specific removal spells. The games where the early threats died were much tougher. When Mantis Rider isn't providing a constant pressure you are forced to fight fair and trade resources back and forth. Bant Company seems like a favorable matchup, though mana screw definitely played a role in that match. Here it is super important to get a threat down early and back it up with timely removal or countermagic.
Initially, playing versus Atarka Red worried me. I will say that our opponent likely messed up along the way, as game one we seemed to be dead, and somehow found a way to crawl back in. This is a matchup where Jeskai Midrange is behind game one but favored after sideboarding, as Arashin Cleric and Radiant Flames are both excellent in the matchup. Against most aggressive decks we can transform into a more removal-based deck that only needs to draw one or two legitimate threats over the course of the game in order to win.
The match against the Abzan Eldrazi deck was a bit frustrating, but my hat goes off to that pilot. It seemed like with aggressive starts like Soulfire Grandmaster into Mantis Rider we would be able to take the match down, but timely spot removal made all the difference. Silkwrap and Wasteland Strangler were a nightmare as our primary threats died to both of those cards. Our opponent was able to strip apart our hand with Transgress the Mind and Thought-Knot Seer, and setting up Eldrazi Displacer plus blinking Siege Rhino turned out to be overkill.
Overall the deck feels very solid, and Mantis Rider played a key role in a lot of games. If I were going to run a Jeskai deck right now in a tournament it would most certainly contain Mantis Rider, as the deck is too good against ramp, Bant Company, and Four-Color Rally to not play it. The only match we lost was one that I wouldn't expect to play against very often.
Thanks for reading,