(Modern) Jeskai Saheeli Primer

On January 18, 2016, many Modern players were hit with a shocking announcement: “Splinter Twin is banned”. Players who owned the deck, such as myself, became lost in a format they once knew like the back of their hand. Most of us shifted towards traditional blue-based control strategies, such as Jeskai or Grixis Control, while others stayed true to their blue/red core and played decks like Blue Moon, UR Kiki or Storm. Others abandoned blue-based decks entirely. Needless to say, there was no consensus on what to play after the ban.

This article will not cover whether or not the Splinter Twin ban was justified. In fact, the entire basis of this article exists only because Splinter Twin is not in the format. The deck I will go over today is Jeskai Saheeli, also known as Jeskai Copycat. If you’re looking for a deck that has tempo, control, and combo elements, all with the ability to win the game as early as turn 4, then this is the deck for you!

The Basics

The deck, at its core, attempts to support the two-card turn four combo: Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. This combo was a staple in Standard until Felidar Guardian was banned. Cards don’t need to get banned in Standard to make it to Modern, but we should look extra close at the ones that do as that is one of our first indications that a potentially powerful interaction is taking place. A format with an even wider card pool may be able to take advantage of it.

 

I played the deck to a 10-5 finish (39th place) at the Star City Games Baltimore Open this past weekend (December 1st, 2018), but before I talk about that event, let’s rewind about a year. On July 1st, 2017, I placed 25th place (11-4 record) at the Star City Games Open in Roanoke, Virginia with Jeskai Saheeli. This was the first major showing for the deck in the United States. While Modern has definitely changed since then, let’s take a look at the list to get an idea of what the deck is all about:

Link to decklist.

One of the first things to note here is that the deck shares a lot of the same cards as your typical Jeskai Control deck. The key plan here is to disrupt your opponent just enough to slip the combo in. You’re not here to grind your opponent into submission, but you are capable of playing the long game if necessary. This is where the Twin-style gameplay comes in and any past Twin players will be very familiar with it. Your combo pieces are sorcery speed, but a huge chunk of your deck plays at instant speed.

You get access to the cheapest, most efficient removal in the format in the form of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, which allows you to maximize your tempo game plan. If the removal you are casting costs less than the threat you are answering, you have the opportunity to gain a tempo advantage.  Similarly, if your opponent is tapping out for a spell, cards like Remand allow you to keep the board clear while maximizing card velocity. Remand fits perfectly here as you are trying to delay the game just long enough to find your combo and win, unlike a traditional Jeskai deck that plays counterspells such as Mana Leak, Negate, or Logic Knot.

The most interesting aspect of the deck is that each of the combo pieces individually has a role when the other combo piece isn’t present. For example, Felidar Guardian can target Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, or Wall of Omens to net some extra value. Similarly, Saheeli Rai’s -2 can do the same. This is important to consider because you want your cards to be playable when you’re not comboing off.

  

In order to maximize the fair capabilities of the combo pieces, the deck also plays a playset of Spreading Seas. This is a card that fluctuates in effectiveness in the meta, but it plays so nicely with Felidar Guardian that it’s almost always an auto 4-of inclusion in this type of deck.

Why this over Resto-Kiki?

This is a very common question that I get from a lot of seasoned Jeskai players. On paper, Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker seem to be more powerful cards. In some respects, they are absolutely better individual cards. The biggest reason to play Jeskai Saheeli is that it is an entire turn faster. That may not seem like that much, but Modern is an incredibly fast format. You want to win as fast as possible while minimizing stumbles along the way. Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian cost a total of seven mana (six if you count Felidar Guardian’s ability to blink your land). Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker cost a total of nine mana, three of which have to be red! That is incredibly strenuous on the manabase.

 

As much as I love that value-packed angel, delaying your combo by a whole turn while having an inconsistent manabase seems like the worse end of the deal. While Restoration Angel is an individually more powerful card than Felidar Guardian in most respects, Modern is a format that favors efficiency.

What metagame does this deck thrive in?

Some decks are better in certain environments and worse in others. The concept of Jeskai Saheeli is adding a combo element to a tried and true control shell. There will be some match-ups where the ability to combo off is crucial, while there will be more interactive, less linear match-ups where the combo is a liability. Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of metagame you think you are expecting. Modern is at an all-time high of non-interactive decks at the top tables. This includes KCI, Tron, Storm, and Dredge, which are all traditionally poor match-ups for Jeskai.

The combo drastically increases your winrate against these types of decks, while maintaining or slightly decreasing your winrate against decks that Jeskai is traditionally good against. You’ll feel the biggest sting when you go up against opposing grindy decks, such as Green-Black Midrange-style strategies where the combo is a huge liability. The mirror matches also get a little more difficult. The combo is not free, but can shift some key match-ups depending on the metagame you expect.

Tips & Tricks

The general game plan of the deck is self-explanatory, but there are a few very common situations that arise that aren’t always intuitive. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re playing this deck:

  • You can combo off in a single turn as long as you have access to six mana. On your first main phase, you can cast Felidar Guardian, target one of your lands that can enter the battlefield untapped once it re-enters (for example, do not target Celestial Colonnade, but rather target Steam Vents, Sulfur Falls, Island, etc.). This essentially turns Felidar Guardian into a three-mana spell. Now you have three mana remaining, which you can use to cast Saheeli Rai and combo off.
  • Felidar Guardian can target other planeswalkers for extra value. You can use the abilities of Jace, Architect of Thought or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, then cast Felidar Guardian, blink the walker, then re-use its abilities.
  • Don’t be afraid to side out the combo. A combo that dies to Lightning Bolt can be inconsistent in some match-ups. If you expect an interactive meta, make sure to prepare a transformative sideboard for the match-ups where comboing is nearly impossible (Jeskai, Jund, Blue Moon).
  • Apply pressure in the face of disruption. Your opponent will not be able to answer everything. Fire up Colonnade, flash in Clique, or even Bolt-Snap-Bolt. Your opponent will be forced to spend their interaction to avoid dying to the tempo plan, which can make way for your combo. This can also work the other way around, where your opponent has burned their interaction on the combo and are open to the beatdown plan.
  • Tempo is more important than controlling everything your opponent does. If you have the option to cast a removal spell on a single creature with three or less power in play, or cast Saheeli Rai with the ability to combo on turn four, it is often correct to cast Saheeli Rai. Your opponent will be unlikely to clear her with an attack. Keep the board only as clear as you have to. Prioritize winning the game over being a control deck.
  • Spreading Seas targets when it is being cast on the stack, but if it is being blinked by Felidar Guardian, your opponent does not have the opportunity to respond to the moving of Spreading Seas once Felidar Guardian’s ability resolves. For example, if you have a Spreading Seas on your opponent’s Breeding Pool, you can play Felidar Guardian targeting Spreading Seas. Once your opponent has passed priority, Spreading Seas immediately exiles and re-enters. At this point, you may choose a new target land, but your opponent cannot respond. If you choose to put Spreading Seas onto their Inkmoth Nexus as it re-enters the battlefield, they do not have the opportunity to activate Inkmoth Nexus and give it hexproof. In other situations, you may want to re-attach Spreading Seas onto the same target as before. In this case, there is never a point where your opponent can tap that land for anything but blue mana. This is important to remember and may require judge calls during events as it is not an intuitive interaction for most players.

The above tips & tricks are some of the ones I wish I had been told when I first picked up the deck, but there are plenty of little interactions to learn along the way, so make sure to get your reps in!

Current Decklist

 XXX

Now, let’s come back to the SCG Baltimore Open tournament I mentioned earlier. I played the deck to an 8-1 record in Day 1. Unfortunately, Day 2 was a bit of a mess, as I finished the event with an overall record of 10-5. Still, this was enough for 39th place, which was a solid finish even in the face of some bad luck towards the end of Day 2. Since the event, I’ve slightly updated the list and I will refer to this list throughout the rest of the primer.


Oren’s Decklist [December 2018]

Creatures (11)
Felidar Guardian
Wall of Omens
Vendilion Clique
Snapcaster Mage
Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Planeswalkers (5)
Saheeli Rai
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Instants/Sorceries (18)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Lightning Helix
Remand
Serum Visions

Enchantments (4)
Spreading Seas
Lands (22)
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Steam Vents
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Island
Plains
Mountain
Glacial Fortress
Sulfur Falls

Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Rest in Peace
Surgical Extraction
Dispel
Stony Silence
Geist of Saint Traft
Celestial Purge
Vendilion Clique
Engineered Explosives


This is the same list I got 39th place with, except a Settle the Wreckage and Abrade in the sideboard were switched to two copies of Geist of Saint Traft. I will discuss these changes and more in the card choice descriptions below.

Card Choices: Mainboard

The Jeskai color combination has access to a lot of different tools and the ones I have chosen aren’t always the correct ones. I will break down my card choices, as well as other potential tools the deck has access to.

Lightning Bolt vs. Lightning Helix

Lightning Bolt is a no-brainer inclusion in all lists, but it is somewhat debated on whether the full four copies are useful or if a three-three split with Lightning Helix is more optimal. In my opinion, the full four copies allow you to be as mana efficient as possible. The early turns of the deck are incredibly important, because if even one threat is left unchecked, it can delay your combo turn by a turn or more. Using the cheapest, most efficient spells ensures that this happens as little as possible. I would classify Lightning Helix as a flex spot here. There will be metagames where extra removal is really useful, such as a metagame dominated by Humans. It also comes in handy vs. the plenty of other creature decks in the format, as well as Burn. I have played with 0 copies of Helix in the deck and felt perfectly fine, so it’s a matter of picking your battles.

Remand vs. Other Countermagic

There is a lot of heated debate regarding this card in Modern, but if there’s any shell for it, it’s here. Remand maximizes your ability to have your most powerful curve outs, which involves casting Remand into Saheeli Rai into Felidar Guardian. There will be some decks that simply cannot compete with this type of disruption. It is also an incredibly powerful card in the blue mirrors, as well as vs. big mana and combo. There’s something to be said about playing hard counters in a more aggressive metagame where Remand is poor, but in my mind, Remand is just too integral to the deck’s gameplan. Still, other counterspells I’ve tested to moderate success are: Spell Snare, Logic Knot, and Cryptic Command, but never as a full replacement for Remand.

Spreading Seas

Cantrips are essential in a combo deck, as they let you get closer to assembling your combo. Spreading Seas is a cantrip that plays triple duty by digging you closer to your combo, disrupting your opponent’s manabase, and can produce extra value in conjunction with a Felidar Guardian. Playing a Jeskai deck with a positive Tron match-up has never felt so good.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria vs. Other PWs

I used to dedicate this slot to Jace, Architect of Thought but Teferi is just the end-all-be-all when it comes to powerful planeswalkers in Modern. He’s got a powerful +1, nearly all-encompassing -3, and a game-ending ultimate. I’ve tested Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this slot and unfortunately he is a little too frail to survive. Brainstorming in a combo deck is one of the best feelings, but we want continuous value, which Jace often can’t do unless we’ve controlled the game very well. Nahiri, the Harbinger has also been something I tested. It has the ability to exile pesky enchantments like Hardened Scales, exile annoying creatures like Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Tarmogoyf, and other creatures that don’t die as easily to Lightning Bolt, and she also fetches up half of our combo with her ultimate. Her +2 is powerful in a combo deck as well and the high starting loyalty means your opponent needs to commit resources to taking her down. Ultimately, Teferi just does the job better, even though he costs one more mana.

Serum Visions vs. Opt

It might seem odd to not play an instant speed cantrip in a tempo deck, but because the deck runs so few lands, we often keep somewhat sketchy hands. This means a one-land hand with Serum Visions is far more keep-able than a one-land hand with Opt. We’re also a combo deck, so choosing the cantrip that digs as far as possible is key. A good chunk of games you’ll be playing at sorcery speed anyways, so while Opt has benefits in a few fringe situations, the digging power of Serum Visions is just so much better.

Wall of Omens

This is a card that, similar to Spreading Seas, fluctuates in its playability in regards to the metagame. When there are low-to-the-ground aggro decks, Wall of Omens comes in very handy in soaking up damage and protecting your planeswalkers. At its worst, Wall of Omens is a two-mana cantrip that can be targeted by Felidar Guardian for extra value. Not a bad rate.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

This is a favorite flex spot of mine. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a reasonable clock that also clogs up the ground against aggressive decks and is a headache for fair decks relying on spot removal. It does so much for four mana and has a natural synergy with your combo pieces. I always bring one in the 75, but not always in the maindeck depending on the metagame I expect. P&K shines far more in an aggro and midrange meta, but looks far less exciting against big mana and combo.

Vendilion Clique

A staple from the old Twin decks, Vendilion Clique allows you to disrupt your opponent’s hand to make way for whatever threat you’re trying to push out. It is a threat in and of itself and it can help you cycle bad cards away from your hand. I would always sleeve up 1 copy in the main and at least 2 copies in the 75.

Celestial Colonnade vs. other lands

Many people bring up the fact that Celestial Colonnade is a ‘tapland’ and can disrupt your ability to combo. This is true on occasion. In my experiences, Celestial Colonnade wins you far more games by being the late game beater you need it to be rather than the awkward turn four tapland. It’s a trade-off you have to make. The old Jeskai Splinter Twin decks used to play two to three Colonnades as well. There is an argument to be made if you are expecting an aggressive metagame where taplands are a liability. In these cases, I like playing Spirebluff Canal as it allows me to cast Serum Visions or Lightning Bolt on turn one without hurting my life total.

Sun Titan

For those unfamiliar, Sun Titan is an infinite combo with Saheeli Rai if you have access to two Saheeli Rai in your graveyard or one in your graveyard and one in play with at least two loyalty. In my experience, a 22-land deck cannot reasonably support a 6-drop, but there will definitely be occasions where this card absolutely destroys the fair match-ups or steals wins out of nowhere. I’m not a fan of it, as it tends to just rot in your hand, but it would be a crime to not mention it.

Card Choices: Sideboard

Graveyard Hate

The metagame has a TON of graveyard-based decks in the format, such as Dredge, KCI, Hollow One, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Storm, and the new Arclight Phoenix decks. It is important to diversify your hate package, as some of these decks have access to cards that destroy the traditional Rest in Peace plan, so playing cards like Surgical Extraction and Anger of the Gods means your opponent will have a harder time to disrupt your disruption. Settle the Wreckage and Relic of Progenitus are also honorable mentions, but they tend to be too low impact and easy to play around.

Stony Silence

This card is one of the best reasons to be playing white. Tron, KCI and Hardened Scales are putting up unprecedented numbers. Do not leave home without this card in your sideboard.

Countermagic

Dispel is the go-to counterspell to protect your combo or disrupt opposing combo and control decks. Dispel is also really important these days as it protects your Rest in Peace and Stony Silence from cards like Assassin’s Trophy and Nature’s Claim. Disdainful Stroke and Negate are also very reasonable if you expect a metagame full of combo and control.

Celestial Purge

This card isn’t always a necessity, but it can be very helpful to combat Blood Moon, Liliana of the Veil, Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler and many other problematic red or black permanents. I like having Purge in the board because the match-ups where Celestial Purge comes in tend to be our tougher ones.

Engineered Explosives vs. other sweepers

Engineered Explosives is a wonderful catch-all removal spell in a three-color deck. It’s a non-damage based sweeper that can also hit enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers. Oddly enough, you can even fetch it up with Saheeli Rai’s ultimate in order to destroy opposing zero-cmc permanents, such as tokens or Chalice of the Voids. Other options for this slot include Supreme Verdict, but Supreme Verdict’s uncounterability has not been particularly useful in the Modern meta for a while.

Geist of Saint Traft

Combo decks sometimes need a transformative sideboard plan. Geist of Saint Traft provides this option at a reasonable mana cost. Your opponents will bring in extra spot removal against you and Geist of Saint Traft absolutely does not care about that. This card will shine especially against blue-based control decks, such as UW Miracles, Jeskai Control, or Blue Moon. These all tend to be tough match-ups. Geist of Saint Traft is also a strong beater against big mana and combo decks and just gives you another axis of attack instead of hoping to curve perfectly into your combo and race your opponent’s linear gameplan.

Versatility

Cards like Abrade and Wear // Tear are very versatile sideboard cards. Most tournaments, you’ll find a match to bring them in. Abrade is really powerful at blowing up annoying artifacts like KCI and Oblivion Stone, while also being a respectable sideboard option for creature decks. Wear // Tear can be useful at blowing up both artifacts and enchantments, such as Cranial Plating, Hardened Scales, Detention Sphere, and more. It’s all a matter of what you expect to face.

Anti-Creature

Izzet Staticaster and Grim Lavamancer are my favorite anti-creature sideboard plan. If I expect a lot of Humans, Elves, Lingering Souls and more, these two cards pull a ton of weight. A turn one Grim Lavamancer can be so devastating against a tribal deck trying to build up their board. Izzet Staticaster can also devastate entire strategies. These are important considerations when designing your sideboard.

Runed Halo

This is not always a card I enjoy playing, but in particularly linear or creature-based metagames, Halo can protect you from a wide array of decks. While Storm and Ad Nauseam both have alternate win conditions and can fight through disruption, Runed Halo presents another hoop that they have to jump through to get the win, which could buy you just enough time to implement your combo. It’s also very powerful against decks that rely on few threats, such as Grixis Death’s Shadow. Oddly enough, it is not too bad against tribal decks like Humans, where it can often answer one-for-one a permanent on the board.

Baneslayer Angel and Lyra Dawnbringer

These two angels work overtime against less interactive creature-based decks, such as Dredge, Bridgevine, Spirits, and Humans, and they’re not bad against Burn. I would play Baneslayer before Lyra if you only want one copy in the sideboard, because copying Baneslayer with Saheeli’s -2 comes up more often than having Lyra in play alongside Geist of Saint Traft.

Sideboard Guide

UW/Bant Spirits

In:

  • +2 Anger of the Gods
  • +1 Engineered Explosives
  • +1 Vendilion Clique
  • +2 Dispel

Out:

  • -4 Remand
  • -2 Wall of Omens

Remand is pretty poor against both an aggressive deck and one that plays Aether Vial. Wall of Omens doesn’t do much blocking on the ground in this match-up, so it is an easy cut. Anger of the Gods has the potential to be a blow-out, but needs to be timed right as Spirits can buff their board in multiple different ways or protect it entirely with Selfless Spirit. Engineered Explosives is a little better because it does not rely on damage and Spirits has a lot of important creatures at two cmc. Dispel protects your combo from Path to Exile and also hits Collected Company, which makes it serviceable here. Your main game plan should still be to combo, but Spirits can have some blowout curves which means you have to be ready to disrupt them along the way. Vendilion Clique can disrupt your opponent or trade with a flying threat.

Humans

In:

  • +2 Anger of the Gods
  • +1 Engineered Explosives
  • +1 Vendilion Clique
  • +1 Celestial Purge

Out:

  • -4 Remand
  • -1 Spreading Seas

Remand is very poor against Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls. Spreading Seas can sometimes hurt their manabase, but most likely if you’re lucky you’ll be able to hit a Horizon Canopy. Anger of the Gods is very good here. Humans can also buff their board similar to Spirits, but they won’t have as many creatures above three toughness as Spirits does. EE is a very powerful sweeper vs. Humans because a lot of their threats tend to be at two cmc. Celestial Purge hits Mantis Rider, Kitesail Freebooter, and Tajic, Legion’s Edge. Vendilion Clique isn’t stellar here, but can sometimes produce a one-for-one trade with a bit of disruption.

Dredge

In:

  • +2 Anger of the Gods
  • +2 Rest in Peace
  • +2 Surgical Extraction
  • +2 Dispel
  • +1 Celestial Purge

Out:

  • -1 Vendilion Clique
  • -4 Spreading Seas
  • -4 Lightning Bolt

Anger of the Gods sweeps up their board while exiling their creatures so they don’t recur. Rest in Peace exiles their entire graveyard, while Surgical Extraction picks apart a single graveyard piece that they have. Dispel protects your Rest in Peace from Nature’s Claim or Assassin’s Trophy. Celestial Purge one-for-one exiles one of their recursive creatures, which can buy you a bit of time. Vendilion Clique plays horribly against a deck that doesn’t care too much about what is in their hand. They also have Narcomoeba as well, which blocks it. Spreading Seas can occasionally steal a game or two, but usually, it is far too slow and low impact to disrupt their manabase. Lightning Bolt does little to nothing in this match-up, while Lightning Helix at least gains some life.

Mono-G Tron

In:

  • +2 Stony Silence
  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft
  • +2 Dispel
  • +1 Vendilion Clique

Out:

  • -2 Lightning Helix
  • -1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
  • -1 Wall of Omens
  • -2 Lightning Bolt
  • -1 Path to Exile

Stony Silence is much better on the play than on the draw, but it can still punish one of their slow starts and also shuts off Oblivion Stone, one of their best ways to interact with our combo. Dispel protects Stony Silence from Nature’s Claim and also protects our combo from Dismember. Geist of Saint Traft allows us to pressure their life total and is very powerful when coupled with Spreading Seas or Remand. Vendilion Clique is both disruption and a clock, which is exactly what you need against a deck like Tron. Lightning Helix is just an expensive Lightning Bolt here, so I would cut it. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is pretty poor in this MU as Tron just doesn’t care about it. Wall of Omens isn’t going to be doing any blocking here, but can cantrip you into more meaningful cards. Trim two Lightning Bolt and one Path to Exile because you still want to see one, or maybe two of them, throughout a match, but you don’t want them rotting in multiples in your hand.

GBx (GB, Jund, Abzan)

In:

  • +1 Celestial Purge
  • +1 Vendilion Clique
  • +1 Engineered Explosives
  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft

Out:

  • -3 Saheeli Rai
  • -2 Remand

This is going to be one of your worst match-ups, but in general, the best way to approach it is to play like a control deck and outvalue your opponent. Celestial Purge is a clean answer to a lot of their troublesome permanents. Vendilion Clique is disruption and a clock, as sometimes you can race them. Engineered Explosives answers a huge chunk of their deck as they play a density of two-drops like Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Scavenging Ooze. Geist of Saint Traft is a hard-to-kill threat against any fair deck, although be aware that they play cards like Liliana of the Veil that very cleanly answer Geist of Saint Traft. In match-ups like this, you are very unlikely to combo, so cutting Saheeli Rai almost entirely is the best way to approach it. You still keep in one copy because an unchecked Saheeli Rai can both threaten a combo or produce value with her -2. Remand is pretty poor against a discard-based deck, but can sometimes help in the early turns as you slow down your opponent’s development, which gives you some more breathing room as the game progresses. Remand gets significantly worse on the draw, so consider cutting more copies if that is the case.

Grixis Death’s Shadow

In:

  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft
  • +2 Dispel
  • +1 Vendilion Clique
  • +1 Engineered Explosives
  • +1 Celestial Purge
  • +2 Rest in Peace

Out:

  • -4 Lightning Bolt
  • -2 Lightning Helix
  • -3 Saheeli Rai

Geist of Saint Traft is very hard to interact with out of Death’s Shadow and can be an alternate win condition that doesn’t get hit by Stubborn Denial or Dismember. Dispel helps you win the counter wars over your few pieces of removal. Vendilion Clique can clear your opponent’s hand of disruption or threats, depending on the contents of your hand. Engineered Explosives cleanly answers multiple Death’s Shadow. Celestial Purge answers just about every important threat from their deck such as Gurmag Angler, Death’s Shadow, and Liliana, the Last Hope to name a few.  Rest in Peace shuts off their grindy gameplan of Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command, as well as making it much harder to cast cards like Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are actively bad cards that you don’t want to see in this match-up. You are very unlikely to burn them out of the game post-board, as they will control their life total and have plenty of countermagic. You want your spells to be as interactive as possible with the threats your opponent is deploying. Saheeli Rai gets cut almost entirely because she doesn’t impact the board, gets hit by Stubborn Denial, and has an actively dangerous +1 ability against a deck that wants to decrease its life total. The combo itself is very weak to removal as well, which means you want your combo pieces to be the most value-oriented. In this case, Felidar Guardian simply produces more value on ETB and is harder to counter.

UW Control

In:

  • +2 Dispel
  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft
  • +1 Vendilion Clique

Out:

  • -2 Path to Exile
  • -1 Wall of Omens
  • -2 Lightning Helix

Dispel is critical at winning counterwars, while Geist of Saint Traft is an incredibly hard threat to answer outside of a mass sweeper. Flash threats tax your opponent’s ability to play counterspells, so Vendilion Clique plays a very important role here. Unlike traditional Jeskai, we have access to Spreading Seas, which means we don’t need as many Path to Exile post-board to kill Celestial Colonnade. Wall of Omens isn’t the best card, but can sometimes block the occasional Snapcaster Mage, so we keep one. Lightning Helix is just expensive Lightning Bolt in this match-up. Sometimes you will need burn to kill a planeswalker or pressure your opponent’s life total, but you don’t want to flood on this type of effect.

Hardened Scales Affinity

In:

  • +2 Anger of the Gods
  • +2 Rest in Peace
  • +2 Stony Silence
  • +1 Engineered Explosives

Out:

  • -4 Remand
  • -1 Snapcaster Mage
  • -1 Vendilion Clique
  • -1 Spreading Seas

Anger of the Gods works overtime in this match-up. If you can keep your opponent’s board clear of their bigger threats like Arcbound Ravager, an Anger of the Gods can clean up a board that goes wide while avoiding any graveyard-based triggers. Rest in Peace isn’t the most intuitive card to side in, but it plays really well with your damage-based removal and allows you to one-for-one your opponent without losing to their Modular triggers or Hangarback Walker. Stony Silence shuts off their ability to use artifact abilities, which is a huge portion of their deck. Engineered Explosives allows you to clean up multiple threats at a time, even ones that have already built up high toughness from +1/+1 counters. Remand is pretty poor against a deck that pays two or less mana for most of its threats, so it’s the easiest cut. Snapcaster Mage gets trimmed because we’re siding in two copies of Rest in Peace. Vendilion Clique gets cut entirely because our opponent’s deck can produce multiple 1/1 flyers that trade with it very easily. Spreading Seas is useful in shutting down their manlands, but this is not the ideal card you want to be casting in the early turns against an aggressive start.

Storm

In:

  • +2 Rest in Peace
  • +2 Surgical Extraction
  • +2 Dispel
  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft
  • +2 Anger of the Gods
  • +1 Engineered Explosives
  • +1 Vendilion Clique

Out:

  • -4 Path to Exile
  • -4 Spreading Seas
  • -2 Wall of Omens

Rest in Peace shuts off their ability to use flashback from Past in Flames. Surgical Extraction can pick apart one of their crucial combo pieces, such as Grapeshot, Past in Flames, or Empty the Warrens. Dispel hits their countermagic as well as Gifts Ungiven, although they tend to side most copies of Gifts Ungiven out. Geist of Saint Traft is a quick beater that is hard to interact with, especially if the opponent saw the combo game one and is prepared with Lightning Bolt. Anger of the Gods and Engineered Explosives both answers an Empty the Warrens, which is very important. Vendilion Clique is a flash threat, which means you don’t have to tap out for it and put your shields down against a potential combo. You already have six burn spells, so overloading on removal against their mana-producing creatures is not necessary. Path to Exile ramping your opponent can be devastating in the early game as well. Spreading Seas is basically useless in this match-up. Wall of Omens doesn’t do much blocking here, so you’d rather have more interactive spells instead.

Burn

In:

  • +2 Dispel
  • +2 Geist of Saint Traft
  • +1 Vendilion Clique
  • +1 Celestial Purge

Out:

  • -1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
  • -1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
  • -4 Remand

Dispel counters half of their deck at a very cheap cost. Geist of Saint Traft is a threat that is hard to kill, unlike our combo. Vendilion Clique is cheap disruption and is also a clock, which is really important in this match-up. If you give your opponent enough draw steps, they will draw enough burn spells to kill you. Celestial Purge is an extra piece of spot removal for their creatures. Teferi is far too slow for this match-up and so is Pia and Kiran Nalaar. You want to reduce your average converted mana cost in a match-up like this. Remand is very bad when your opponent’s spells are cheap and can also be cast at instant speed. You will often find yourself rotting with Remand in hand. There are some corner cases where your opponent is light on mana sources and Remand is time walk, but this is rather rare.

Wrap-Up

You are officially an expert on Jeskai Saheeli now! Well, no, not really. This deck will require some time and effort into learning the match-ups and play patterns. You don’t get as many free wins as Splinter Twin may have gotten in the past, but you can definitely cheese out a huge portion of the Modern metagame. Remember that this deck is a combo deck that can occasionally play a tempo or control game. You don’t have to answer everything your opponent does, just enough of the threats so that you don’t die. This is similar to Storm, where they will wait until the absolute last possible turn to combo off in order to maximize their odds of comboing off.

The information presented in this article is just the starting point. Very few players are working on this archetype, so nobody has all the answers. I encourage players who have a hunch on a better configuration to try it out and get a feel for it. Nothing will be perfect, but if you have a good read on the Modern metagame, you can set yourself up to be well rewarded with certain card choices.

I won’t stop playing this deck for quite a while. At the few large tournaments I’ve taken it to, I’ve Day 2’d both of them. A good friend of mine, Jan Huang, has absolutely crushed the MTGO Competitive Leagues with as many as 30 5-0s over the course of two seasons. He also made a deep run in GP Hong Kong with a 12-3 record earlier this year. This deck is absolutely underrepresented in Modern and I truly believe that it can be a top contender in the hands of a well-experienced pilot. Give it a spin, you might just fall in love with it!

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