Riley’s Modern Life: Smashing with Jeskai Tempo

Riley is back with his regularly scheduled Modern programming with his updated take on Jeskai Tempo!

I’ve been jamming with Jeskai recently. Like a wizened old archivist, I filtered through dusty rooms filled with ancient parchment and carefully-preserved rolls of vellum from thousands of years ago, seeking out a lost and forgotten treasure – my four copies of Lightning Bolt. I emerged, blinking into the sunlight with my arms full of red-based riches. Somewhere between the Bolts, Helices, and Electrolyzes, I was ready to get aggressive in Modern again.

The mighty Scot Wayne “Wayne-Dillion Clique” Dillon put me onto this deck, which has been rising through the ranks of a supremely diverse Modern format. Long have people mourned the fall of the once-mighty Lightning Bolt, which has been unseated by Fatal Push. This has had far-reaching implications as a whole— Abzan has superseded Jund, the massive beaters found in Eldrazi, in addition to Delve threats, are running roughshod over the format.

While Lightning Bolt might not be the removal spell of choice in today’s Modern, Fatal Push has proven to us that you can’t teach a new dog old tricks. Sure, Fatal Push destroys more than half the format’s creatures – but can you sling that bad boy upstairs and scone ’em for three? No, you cannot. There’s no better card than Lightning Bolt for when you want to burn your opponent out, and given that Death’s Shadow players are so determined to tear their own life total to shreds, (to shreds you say?) let’s help them out. The storied days of Bolt-Snap-Bolt may indeed be back!

The Deck

Jeskai Tempo

Lands (24)
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents

Creatures (11)
Snapcaster Mage
Geist of Saint Traft
Spell Queller

Instants (25)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Serum Visions
Lightning Helix
Logic Knot
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command

At this stage, the stock list is pretty well-established. This deck looks to hit hard and early, riding a Geist of Saint Traft and burn spells to victory while disrupting the opponent with countermagic and removal. The list is sleek and efficient, flush with three- and four-ofs, which speaks to a consistent and forthright game plan. The deck is full of excellent removal, potent threats, and goes longer than most aggressive decks thanks to Cryptic Command and Celestial Colonnade.

Geist of Saint Traft is an old friend of ours who used to hit ’em for six back in 2012’s Delver days, and he’s ready to swish around the willow once again. It’s incredible how many decks are cold to a turn-three Geist followed by disruption. Given the nature of Modern mana bases, it generally only takes three hits from the Geist to clean up the game, as they’ll often be on no more than 18 from the get-go.

Spell Queller is an absolute all-star. The role it plays in this list is emblematic of the deck’s strategy as a whole: disrupt opposing plays while concurrently clocking them. The best Spell Queller targets are obviously situational spells that can’t be recast for value once Queller departs. The hottest hits for Spell Queller are cards like Supreme Verdict and Abrupt Decay. Can’t be countered, sure – but they can still be exiled!

The ten burn spells are simply the best available at each respective cost. Lightning Helix is an important source of life gain, and your best main deck weapon in fighting decks like Burn. Look to flash it back with Snapcaster Mage above all else. Electrolyze not only contests Lingering Souls, opposing Snapcasters, and Affinity’s little dorks – it also is the best burn spell against slower decks, as it keeps the cards flowing, and is yet another extremely strong card to flash back with Snapcaster.

There aren’t too many variations to be made on the starting 60 – probably the only area for flexibility is at the two-mana counterspell slot. Logic Knot has overperformed, exceeding expectations from a conditional card like this. It’s possible to sub them out for cards like Mana Leak, Remand, and Negate— but generally speaking, Logic Knot does a good enough impression of Actual Literal Counterspell™ thanks to the fetchlands and cheap spells.

There’s a huge amount of consistency across main deck configuration when it comes to Jeskai Tempo. As discussed, this deck has a clear and consistent game plan. It’s not looking to twist and pivot to suit the situation, as other Celestial Colonnade decks might. Despite the fact that this list does have the legs to go long, typically we want to get in for some early damage, then finish things off with the time-honoured Bolt-Snap-Bolt. Easy game, easy life!

The Sideboard

When putting together the 15 cards that aim to see you through game two (and three, if you’re a scrub), things start to get a little less clear-cut. While the main deck is pretty inflexible, the sideboard has a lot of room to move.
Here is a list of cards that all warrant inclusion in the sideboard of Jeskai Tempo:

That’s 27 cards, all of which can make a case for a spot on the bench! Untangling this particular Gordian knot is going to need more than the swift stroke of a sword. A good place to begin is to look at a current list of the strongest decks in Modern, and seek out cards that perform strongly against multiple opposing archetypes. For example, Ceremonious Rejection shines against both Eldrazi and Affinity – that’s the sort of card we’ll be looking to populate our sideboard with.

Abzan

  • Celestial Purge, Dawn // Dusk, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Flashfreeze, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Izzet Staticaster, Keranos, God of Storms, Negate, Supreme Verdict, Vendilion Clique

Affinity

  • Anger of the Gods, Ceremonious Rejection, Engineered Explosives, Izzet Staticaster, Stony Silence, Supreme Verdict, Wear // Tear

Burn

  • Anger of the Gods, Celestial Purge, Condemn, Dispel, Flashfreeze, Kor Firewalker, Negate, Runed Halo, Timely Reinforcements, Vendilion Clique

Death’s Shadow

  • Celestial Purge, Condemn, Dawn // Dusk, Disdainful Stroke, Dispel, Negate, Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace, Supreme Verdict

Eldrazi

  • Ceremonious Rejection, Condemn, Crumble to Dust, Disdainful Stroke, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Supreme Verdict

Scapeshift

  • Crumble to Dust, Disdainful Stroke, Flashfreeze, Negate, Runed Halo, Shadow of Doubt, Vendilion Clique

Storm

  • Counterflux, Dispel, Engineered Explosives, Ethersworn Canonist, Flashfreeze, Izzet Staticaster, Negate, Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace, Runed Halo, Vendilion Clique

UW Control

  • Counterflux, Disdainful Stroke, Dispel, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Keranos, God of Storms, Negate, Relic of Progenitus, Vendilion Clique, Wear // Tear

Given that there are still innumerable decks you’ll come up against, this list could continue ad infinitum, but this gives us a good idea of what we’re going to have to slog through in the pointy end of a typical Modern tournament. So what does this data teach us?

First of all, the card I will absolutely slam into my sideboard above any and all others is Negate. This card comes in against almost the entire field – from Burn to UW Control – and for that reason I would never build a blue-based Modern sideboard without it. Post-board Negates tend to be excellent due to the nature of the cards opposing decks bring in, usually noncreature threats or instant-speed interaction. Negate tussles with everything from opposing counterspells to aggressive Blood Moons – don’t leave home without it.

While we’re talking about counterspells, Ceremonious Rejection is an important inclusion. Eldrazi Tron has got some press recently about being the best deck in Modern – certainly, it’s putting up the numbers – and a one-mana hard counter against both Eldrazi and Affinity is something I’m very interested in. Ceremonious Rejection is a welcome addition to our sideboard. If you’re skeptical, wait until you’ve sniped a turn three Karn for one mana.

Celestial Purge is another key piece of technology that hits effectively against some of the best decks in the format. It’s a clean solution to Death’s Shadow and its Delve partners, a Terminate against Burn, and critically, an answer to Liliana of the Veil. It’s not a particularly exciting or splashy card, but it has a particular set of skills that bolster our deck considerably.

Flashfreeze is a spicy one, but when you run the numbers you can see that it performs well against the field. Primeval Titan, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Past in Flames – cards of all shapes and sizes fold to Flashfreeze. It’s a bit of an experiment, and could easily be replaced by Disdainful Stroke or Dispel, but so far I’ve learned not to underestimate Flashfreeze.

Supreme Verdict is an excellent pressure valve against everything from Eldrazi to Abzan, and while it’s a little awkward to do so, it can even be flashed back with Snapcaster if you need to. Wear // Tear is a Shatter against Affinity, overperforms against silliness like Lantern Control, and helps to clean up against random post-board options such as Blood Moon. Similarly, Engineered Explosives is an important hedge against unknown decks – its utility against a deck you’re not sure how to go up against is huge, and there’s always the upside of cleaning up a board of tokens for two mana.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion helps us grind out a longer game, as she’s very difficult for decks like Abzan and Eldrazi to contend with. I could also see Keranos, God of Storms in this slot as he’s even harder to answer, but Elspeth has such an immediate board-stabilising effect that she gets the nod.

I don’t like playing Rest in Peace alongside Snapcaster Mage, so Relic of Progenitus is my graveyard hate of choice. Relic – especially in multiples – helps you manage your opponent’s graveyard while having more control over how you leverage your own. Besides, it cycles for two mana, which can help to squeeze you out of some tight spots.

The Final Configuration

Right now, our sideboard looks like this.

Jeskai Tempo Sideboard

(14)
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Celestial Purge
Flashfreeze
Supreme Verdict
Wear // Tear
Engineered Explosives
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Relic of Progenitus

This is, of course, only 14 cards. The fifteenth card is – of course – Vendilion Clique, but rather than have it round out the sideboard, I’m taking a different approach. In experimenting with this deck. I’ve found an interesting angle on it that has, so far, paid dividends despite the fact that 24 lands is the accepted standard. I’ve played around with moving the 24th land to the board so as to give the Clique – one of the most useful and versatile cards in Modern – a spot on the starting team. Put ’em in, Coach.

Jeskai Tempo

Lands (23)
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents

Creatures (12)
Snapcaster Mage
Geist of Saint Traft
Spell Queller
Vendilion Clique

Instants (25)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Serum Visions
Lightning Helix
Logic Knot
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command
Sideboard (15)
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Celestial Purge
Flashfreeze
Supreme Verdict
Wear // Tear
Engineered Explosives
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Relic of Progenitus
Desolate Lighthouse

Not only is Vendilion Clique a highly defensible main deck card – it offers unique hand disruption in UW, hitting hard as a three-power flier. Desolate Lighthouse is the perfect utility land to bring in for the longer, grindier post-board games. Moving lands between the main and the board isn’t something that is explored all that much in Magic, but here, I think giving yourself the option to play around with the numbers is extremely worthwhile. When you pivot to a slower deck with more reactive cards and finishers like Elspeth, it’s pretty big game to have a repeatable loot effect to help find the answers you need. It also fuels your Snapcasters and Logic Knots, don’t forget!

Bolt-Snap-Bolting for the Finish Line

The Modern format isn’t well positioned to tangle with turn-three Geists backed up with disruption, and these days people aren’t expecting to be burnt down from eight or nine by a blue deck. Lightning Bolt may not shine against the creatures of the format, but I tell you what, it does an absolute number on the faces of the format. They shock themselves down to 15, you smash in with a Geist, a Bolt, and a Helix for dessert, it’s all over. On top of that, grinding out a game with Snapcaster and Colonnade means you can play off the top of your deck very well indeed. This deck covers a lot of angles.

The hidden strength of this deck is that it’s not stone-cold dead to anything. Even the traditional weakness of Celestial Colonnade decks – big mana Tron decks – can still be dealt with by an aggressive start and a timely counterspell. Given that the sideboard can also be positioned to help this deck beat more or less anything, Jeskai Tempo is in a good spot to attack an open Modern format moving forward.

What are your thoughts? Does this deck have what it takes? Is there more flexibility in the main deck, or is something missing from the sideboard? Get at me on Twitter – @rileyquarytower – and make sure you get across to @mtgdotone and follow them as well!

Riley Knight

Riley Knight is a member of the Magic coverage team, and has covered top-level events around the world since 2014. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, his favourite formats are Modern and Cube. Riley enjoys playing most of his Magic during his opponent’s end step.

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