(Modern) Jeskai Gearhulk Control Primer

Hey there everyone! My name is Caden Kreppein, and I’ve been playing Magic for five years and Modern for about three and a half of them. I love Modern as a format for a plethora of reasons, but that’s not what I’ll be talking about today. I want to talk about a deck with a play style that has been considered unviable ever since Modern’s inception: Hardcore Jeskai Control.

View Caden’s decklist on StarCityGames.com

This decklist was the exact same 75 (minus 2 Dispel in the sideboard that they decided not to include for some reason) that netted me 17th place at this year’s SCG Open in Charlotte.

Before I break down the decklist and sideboard guide, I want to discuss things I would change based on my experiences since I registered the deck in June. First off, dump the 2 copies of Damping Matrix from the sideboard and replace them with Stony Silence. I added Damping Matrix just a few days before the event because it performed well in testing against the GW Counters Company deck. The logic was that the deck’s Affinity matchup is already so strong (and it is, with a bajillion spot removal spells and 2 sweepers maindeck) so the extra utility against the Company and Eldrazi decks (Walking Ballista, Endbringer) might be worthwhile. I only played the Company matchup once in the event and, in the only game I cast a Damping Matrix, it felt unnecessary.  In that case, the removal I already ran would have sufficed. The only other change I would make is swapping out the Spell Snares.  Spell Snare is terrible against Eldrazi Tron and Death’s Shadow, so use the two slots to add Mana Leaks, Remands, Logic Knots, or whatever you’d like to suit your meta.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the deck!


Removal

This deck boasts a hefty 14 removal spells mainboard with 3 more in the sideboard (4 if you count Staticaster). You need to be able to keep the pressure down while you slowly progress towards the late game and efficient removal is one of the best ways to this.

4 Path to Exile is practically a must in this deck. Being able to deal with a Death’s Shadow, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Thought-Knot Seer, or Primeval Titan for one mana is essential to this deck’s game plan.

4 Lightning Bolt does it all. Bolt removes small threats, pressures the opponent’s life total, and provides a very real danger to Death’s Shadow players who dare to bring their life total too low.

3 Lightning Helix similarly to Bolt, but can also provide life gain life when your opponent is trying to race.

1 Blessed Alliance is a little unorthodox but has a surprising amount of use against the format. It’s an all-star against Death’s Shadow (yes, it does say target player gains 4 life!) and has utility against the Eldrazi decks. The card can also single-handedly wins you matches against Burn.

2 Supreme Verdicts let you play catchup against the decks that like to go wide. It’s a clean answer to the Eldrazi decks, cripples Company, and the uncounterability is a HUGE boon when facing a Death’s Shadow player with 3 Stubborn Denial in hand.


Countermagic

4 Cryptic Command are the reason to play this deck. This card lets you two-for-one your opponent and start to grind card advantage. Whether countering/drawing, tapping/drawing, or countering/bouncing, the card provides a lot of utility and value.

2 Remand and 2 Mana Leak provide early permission so that you can live long enough to cast your more costly spells. Sometimes one is better than the other, so I prefer running a mix of them in an unknown meta. Remand is nice to keep tempo against things like Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang but feels bad against a low curve.  Mana Leak provides a hard counter in the early game but scales terribly in the late game. Use both whenever an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

2 Spell Snare rounds out the counter suite, but as discussed earlier, is not at its best right now. Replace at your discretion.


Threats

4 Snapcaster Mage is a mainstay for the archetype at this point. Snap functions as an Ambush Viper that lets you rebuy your valuable permission and removal spells. It can let you apply early pressure against combo decks when you plan to race.

2 Torrential Gearhulk have proven powerful in Standard Blue Control Decks but I implore you to try them in Modern Jeskai as well. I don’t believe they are good enough in a non-red control deck, but being able to flash back a Bolt or Helix and crunch in for 5 each turn establishes a very real clock.

1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is honestly a bit of a pet card but let me tell you, it just ends games once it resolves. Three chump blockers a turn is enough to stave off most offenses save for Reality Smasher, and the -3 is a nice pseudo-Verdict. I’ve never lost a game where the ultimate was used.


Land

The fetches/shocks/basics/manlands in the manabase are relatively stock, so I’ll just touch on the utility lands.

1 Desolate Lighthouse makes it hard for your opponent to keep up with your card quality in the late game. Cashing in lands for powerful spells lets you keep going when your opponents’ resources are spent.

1 Ghost Quarter lets you destroy opposing manlands, punish greedy manabases, or disrupt Tron strategies (I’m pretending like it matters). Solid card, but you don’t want to run too many colorless lands as the color requirements for this deck are quite demanding.


Sideboard Guide

Grixis Shadow
In: 2 Rest In Peace, 1 Supreme Verdict, 2 Dispel


Out: 2 Cryptic Command, 2 Spell Snare, 1 Serum Visions

This matchup is the one that I wanted to beat when I put together this list. A maindeck Blessed Alliance, two maindeck Supreme Verdict with another in the board, 4 Paths, and 7 Bolt effects make it hard for them to balance aggression and permission. Verdict is your best card here and you want as much early game interaction as possible to get there, hence boarding out 1 Cryptic. Unfortunately, Spell Snare is terrible here as it only hits Snapcaster Mage.


Eldrazi Tron
In: 2 Ceremonious Rejection, 1 Supreme Verdict, 2 Timely Reinforcements
  
Out: 2 Mana Leak, 2 Spell Snare, 1 Lightning Bolt
  
This is an abysmal matchup for the deck, unfortunately. Big mana and over-the-top threats give Eldrazi Tron the gas to outclass our answers and dominate the late game. You have to hope to steal wins with Ceremonious Rejection and Timely Reinforcements buying time for you to find Verdicts. Thought-Knot Seer makes this hard, but it is what it is.


Storm
In: 1 Negate, 2 Rest In Peace, 2 Dispel
  
Out: 2 Cryptic Command, 1 Blessed Alliance, 2 Remand
  
This is usually a pretty poor matchup on our end. They have turn three kills quite frequently and they usually have ways to blank our removal with Apostle’s Blessing, Dispel, or Negate. Rest In Peace is a beating however, so if you can get that to resolve you stand a good chance of winning. I don’t recommend boarding out any removal spells because keeping Barals and Electromancers off the board is the number one priority in the matchup.


Company Decks
In: 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Supreme Verdict, 2 Anger of the Gods, 2 Dispel
   
Out: 2 Mana Leak, 1 Blessed Alliance, 2 Remand, 1 Cryptic Command
   
Games against Company decks are usually pretty swingy but the sideboard plan is almost always the same. Bring in the sweepers to swing the game back in your favor, Staticaster because it kills somewhere around half of their creatures, and Dispel because countering a Company or Chord is THAT important.


Affinity
In: 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Supreme Verdict, 2 Stony Silence, 2 Anger of the Gods, 2 Ceremonious Rejection
  

 

Out: 1 Blessed Alliance, 2 Remand, 2 Mana Leak, 2 Cryptic Command, 1 Serum Visions
  

 
This matchup feels great! You have a million spot removal spells and a hundred sideboard cards for the matchup. Maindeck Verdicts let you deal with Etched Champion game 1 and it will be difficult for them to keep anything else on the board. After sideboarding you have three additional sweepers, Stony Silence, and Ceremonious Rejection which makes Affinity’s threats look laughably bad.


Burn
In: 2 Dispel, 1 Negate, 2 Timely Reinforcements
  
Out: 1 Supreme Verdict, 2 Cryptic Command, 2 Remand
  
Because we’re playing white, we have a better chance at surviving this matchup than Grixis. We also get to play Lightning Helix which is an advantage over playing straight UW control. Remand is bad against decks with a low curve, and we usually don’t need Verdicts as we’re killing creatures as fast as possible. The plan is to play around Skullcracks and keep our life total high enough until we can slam our finishers.

Caden Kreppein is a modern specialist and has been playing the format for roughly three and a half years. Highlights include a 17th place finish at SCG Modern Open in Charlotte with Jeskai Control. Caden has been a judge for almost 2 years now, and is currently pursuing L2 certification

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