Since Adrian Sullivan's dramatic victory at Grand Prix Milwaukee with his innovative take on Jeskai Control, "Jeskai Treasure" has been the talk of the town. Rebuilding Jeskai control from more or less the ground up, this approach to the archetype is a pretty significant departure from the Teferi-based Jeskai decks we've seen in the past.
Jeskai Control put up good numbers in this weekend's Standard MOCS event, with eight pilots going X-2 or better. Half of these eight lists included Treasure Map, but only one of them leaned fully into the treasure-hunting pirate life, going so far as to play Sailor of Means! With Secrets of the Golden City and Karn, Scion of Urza also making into this list, it's clear that Jeskai Control is still offering enormous opportunity for innovation.
Happily, the pilot of this list and the architect of this innovation is none other than my good friend Martin "Harry" Porter, and I was fortunate enough to catch up with him after the event and get his thoughts on the archetype!
Unlike traditional Jeskai Control, Jeskai Treasure is looking to play a much more tap-out role (in game one, especially), and commit threats to the board more heavily and readily than its more interactive counterparts. We'll discuss the ways this is done with specific cards presently, but it's worth keeping in mind that you shouldn't be afraid to be a little more proactive with threats than you would ordinarily be while playing Jeskai Control.
The endgame of this deck is the most powerful thing you can reasonably be doing in the current Standard format, with the game-ending combo of Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Expansion // Explosion. This means that surviving the early game and bridging to the lategame is a priority – but instead of just deploying answer after answer after answer, this deck is also able to put on a fair bit of pressure itself with its planeswalker suite.
Finally, this version of Jeskai can ramp significantly faster than other more traditional controlling versions and even faster than other Jeskai Treasure decks thanks to Sailor of Means. Quite often, a turn-four Teferi or turn-five Niv-Mizzet will shift the course of the game heavily in your favor, and of course stockpiling extra mana is the best way to make the most of a card like Expansion // Explosion.
Overall, this deck plays a semi-traditional control game while being more proactive with its diverse threats that can often come down earlier than scheduled. It's an unorthodox but highly effective approach to a tried-and-true strategy. Let's talk about individual card choices!
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria hardly needs an introduction. One of the best planeswalkers ever printed, he has been a Standard endboss since he joined the format and isn't going anywhere fast. This list only plays three, however, playing the first Ral, Izzet Viceroy instead of the fourth Teferi. There are a few reasons for this, but the principle one is that diversifying your planeswalker threats means you'll be activating multiple planeswalkers in a turn more often. In other words, drawing Teferi plus Ral results in two active planeswalkers, whereas a second copy of Teferi will often be redundant.
Niv-Mizzet, Parun is a completely bonkers threat that will often win you the game if you untap with it. It dominates games effortlessly, spews value at every turn, is difficult to answer efficiently, and turns cards like Opt into Shock plus Divination. We're only playing three, however, as it is a six-drop after all and can lead to some very clunky opening hands when facing aggressive strategies.
Karn, Scion of Urza is a weird one, for sure. Karn has been quiet recently, but he plays an important role here as a next-level answer to The Eldest Reborn. The powerful black Saga is putting in work against the bigger decks of the format, whereas playing Karn and ticking down means The Eldest Reborn goes from insane to embarrassing. Construct Tokens are not only a great way to protect your planeswalkers from The Eldest Reborn, but also block nicely and can grow to enormous proportions thanks to Treasure tokens.
Karn plays into the more tap-out control style of this deck. A reduced countermagic suite means you're looking to contest the board more meaningfully, and Karn is perfect for this as either a value engine or a way to provide offensive or defensive pressure. Going upstairs with Karn often provides you with an extra land, which is perfect to bridge to the lategame. When playing against Karn in this situation, consider not giving the opponent land as it's a very easy trap.
Ral, Izzet Viceroy ties up a few loose ends as a one-of. While diversifying your threats, as discussed, it also makes opposing Sorcerous Spyglasses or Ixalan's Bindings much worse. Ral also answers opposing Niv-Mizzets very tidily, not triggering its ability and often surviving to tell the tale. Finally, Ral ultimates very quickly, which can help to close out games in a timely fashion.
Finally, Expansion // Explosion is one of the primary win conditions of this deck (in conjunction, of course, with Niv-Mizzet). It's not just that, however – fueled by Treasure Map, an early Explosion for three or four can be devastating, so don't be afraid to cast a value Explosion earlier on in the game. Expansion is also great in the mirror as an extra Counterspell and does work against Izzet Drakes – look to copy an early Discovery to find the answers you need.
Opt aids you in smoothing out draws, helping you to draw the appropriate half of your deck – a playset also means it's possible to shave the 26th land. Opt is ridiculous once your Niv-Mizzet is online, offering a ridiculously powerful effect for just one mana. Consider sandbagging Opts if you know you'll be able to untap with Niv-Mizzet.
Spell Pierce is a very effective and efficient piece of "removal" in many matchups, principally Golgari Midrange as well as opposing Jeskai decks. Most of the noncreature threats these decks play are mana-intensive, and answering them for one mana is usually insane. Additionally, and very importantly, not everyone plays around it – especially when you've only got Treasure tokens available. Take note of this and start playing around Spell Pierce when facing off against Jeskai.
Finally, Shock offers an improved early game against aggressive decks, obviously, but also has weird utility in the mirror. If they use a Teferi to tuck something away, Shock finishes Teferi off very effectively. It also punishes a Vivien downtick after they've blown up a Seal Away or Treasure Map. There's only a single copy thanks to Opt and Treasure Map helping to burn through the deck – singletons have higher value when your deck has a high velocity.
Seal Away is an important answer to key Standard threats – Adanto Vanguard, Arclight Phoenix, and Rekindling Phoenix - it also tidily answers Midnight Reaper. Outside of these creatures, however, it's just an excellent, efficient removal spell in general, and is rarely completely dead.
Treasure Map constitutes a key component to the deck, aiding you in digging to specific threats or answers as required. It offers the opportunity to land threats backed up by countermagic or other interaction.
Don't make the mistake of getting Tunnel Vision when it comes to the "full value" of Treasure Cove. It is totally fine and often better to cash in Treasure tokens for mana when needed – that way you get your value by making big plays earlier than usual. Don't treat Treasure Cove like a Library of Alexandria – be proactive!
Don't forget, either, that every extra Treasure gives Karn tokens +1/+1 – it's not difficult to start churning out 4/4s and 5/5s in the lategame thanks to all the Treasure lying around. Finally, when playing against Treasure Map, don't underestimate its importance. It seems like an unassuming card but is actually a very important engine in this deck.
Syncopate is ideally cast as a two-drop, although obviously offers terrific flexibility when it comes to fitting it into a curve. It works very well with Treasure tokens, scaling nicely as an answer, and the fact that it exiles is very relevant against both Arclight Phoenix in Izzet and Find // Finality in Golgari.
Sailor of Means – or "Sailor of Jet-Fuel-Can't-Melt-Steel-Beams," as Harry asked me to describe it – is an off-the-wall choice, for sure. Let's have a look at what this fellow can do, however! It ramps out turn-four Teferi, blocks almost everything in red and/or white aggro decks, and provides extra mana to get you to a critical double-spell turn (for example, threat plus interaction).
This card is surprisingly excellent in this archetype. Between its defensive capabilities as a 1/4 (completely embarrassing everything from Adanto Vanguard to Viashino Pyromancer) and its utility as a ramp spell, Sailor of Means is the real deal. Don't knock it until you've tried it!
Ionize is easier to cast than Sinister Sabotage, and the damage is usually more relevant than you'd expect thanks to Niv-Mizzet, Explosion and Construct beatdown. It's still a little clunky, however, so sticking to just two copies is for the best.
Secrets of the Golden City is another spicy number that usually draws three cards, thanks to Treasure tokens, Seal Away and the like. Its cost will often enable a double-spell in the mid-to-late game – this is not really a three-drop. While the industry-standard lists play Chemister's Insight, sources tell me that three is a larger number than two – and when you aren't scared to tap out it's well worth the tradeoff.
Deafening Clarion is an all-around great card that doesn't require a huge amount of explanation. It keeps you in the game against aggressive decks, and while it loses a certain amount of value without Crackling Drake, you can still give 4/4 Constructs lifelink and batter in to gain life. There are only three copies due to the general downward trend of aggro decks and the role Sailor of Means plays as a blocker to keep pressure down.
Settle the Wreckage remains one of the best answers to Golgari Midrange and Izzet Drakes' aggressive draws, but it's a mana-intensive play requiring double-white. Settle has lost value seeing as everyone plays around it these days, but you have to play one to keep 'em honest.
There are zero copies of Crackling Drake in the deck as it just doesn't do enough to warrant inclusion. It is invariably a lightning rod for removal and is generally a low-impact turn-four play – Karn does a better job of defending other planeswalkers or fighting sacrifice effects like The Eldest Reborn or Plaguecrafter. Additionally, Seal Away, Sailor of Means and Treasure Map all dilute the instant and sorcery package – and without Search for Azcanta and jump-start cards, Crackling Drake just isn't at its best here.
Dual Shot shines against all the mono-colored aggressive decks, all of which play an Abundance of x/1 creatures. It is particularly effective against Mono-Blue Tempo, where it kills more or less everything except Tempest Djinn and Merfolk Trickster. Dual Shot also helps to make Deafening Clarion more effective by killing Hunted Witness or Dauntless Bodyguard before the sweeper or cleaning up x/4s once it has result.
Ixalan's Binding is amazing in the mirror, shutting down huge opposing threats and rendering extra copies redundant. Exile effects are also critical against the phoenixes of the format (blue-red decks don't usually have an answer to a resolved enchantment), and against Mono-Red it's a very important (and again, usually permanent) answer to Experimental Frenzy.
Rekindling Phoenix comes in against Golgari, helping to add to your threat density and straining their limited copies of Vraska's Contempts. It also makes The Eldest Reborn a very embarrassing card indeed.
Star of Extinction is also another anti-Golgari card, answering Carnage Tyrant and any planeswalkers they may be playing. Be sure to hold back planeswalkers of your own if you're going to resolve this spell to make it as asymmetric as possible. Negate is principally for the mirror, upgrading dead removal spells and helping to fight on the stack rather than on the battlefield.
Lyra Dawnbringer is for aggressive matchups only – don't fall into the trap of bringing it in against other "bigger" decks. Your threat density is already high enough in the mirror, and Golgari has plenty of ways to profitably remove a Lyra (Chupacabra, Vivien).
Settle the Wreckage is yet another card to answer Carnage Tyrant out of Golgari but should also be brought in against mono-white aggro. Be careful when casting this card against mono-red decks, as it makes the Experimental Frenzy all the better. Invoke the Divine is an answer to Experimental Frenzy while also being useful in the mirror, where it can blow up opposing Ixalan's Bindings.
Spell Swindle is great against non-blue "go big" decks like Golgari Midrange, punishing big tap-out plays. Don't make the mistake of bringing this in in the mirror, where it is a clunky card that is truly terrible in any counter war.
Banefire is an uncounterable Explosion to finish things off in the mirror. It's not a particularly efficient answer to opposing creatures but can be used against creature decks as well in a pinch if you deem it necessary.
Izzet Drakes: this is a close matchup, with their dream start of an unanswered Goblin Electromancer being very difficult to properly contest. It will invariably lead to aggressive deployment of Arclight Phoenix – try to interact with their creatures (rather than non-creature plays) early, and remove Goblin Electromancer as quickly as possible.
Golgari Midrange: controlling the board is the name of the game here, with Midnight Reaper posing a significant threat to your long-term position in the game. Leverage sweepers and point removal judiciously, using your life total as a resource to ensure you don't allow them to gain value with the Reaper or planeswalkers.
Mono-Red: Preventing them from deploying Experimental Frenzy is the most important factor in this matchup. If your choice is a turn-three Clarion or holding up countermagic for Frenzy, again use your life total as a resource to accrue long-term advantage. If your life total is relatively stable around 8-10 then their creatures don't tend to be so scary.
Mono-White/Boros: without Experimental Frenzy to worry about in game one, just focus on keeping the board under control with removal and sweepers. Heroic Reinforcements becomes a lot less scary when you can copy it with Expansion, so keep that option in mind if the opportunity presents itself.
Jeskai: the mirror is all about Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Priorities ramp spells as much as possible - play Sailor of Means and Treasure Map to be the first to land your Niv-Mizzet. Being the first to land the dragon puts you in an extremely advantageous position.
We continue to see Standard shift and change every week, and Jeskai Treasure is now the latest iteration of an established archetype. If you're looking to change things up and be on the bleeding edge of Standard innovation, this deck is the deck for you - attacking on unexpected angles and having next-level answers to the format will put you in a great position to succeed in Standard!