One on One with Ben Nikolich (Modern Jeskai Control)

Last month, Benjamin Nikolich won the Star City Games Modern Open in Columbus with Jeskai Control.  In contrast to the Spell Queller and Geist of Saint Traft versions that were more popular at the time, Ben’s deck aimed for a longer game that leveraged card advatage produced by Search for Azcanta and Sphinx’s Revelation.  Francesco Neo Amati took a moment to ask Ben a few questions about his experience with this deck and where to go from here…


Ben Nikolich’s Jeskai Control (1/7/2018)

Creatures (4)
Torrential Gearhulk
Snapcaster Mage

Planeswalkers (1)
Nahiri, the Harbinger

Spells (29)
Cryptic Command
Electrolyze
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Logic Knot
Negate
Path to Exile
Secure the Wastes
Spell Snare
Sphinx’s Revelation
Serum Visions
Supreme Verdict

Enchantments (2)
Search for Azcanta
Lands (24)
Island
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls

Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Detention Sphere
Runed Halo
Celestial Purge
Dispel
Negate
Wear // Tear
Vendilion Clique
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Supreme Verdict


Francesco Neo Amati: First off, truly inspiring performance at the SCG Modern Open in Columbus. That showdown vs the mirror in the finals was some of the best piloting of Control that I’ve seen to date. Simply epic. How long have you been playing Jeskai Control? Why did you choose this version of Jeskai Control over other Jeskai, and Control, variants?

Ben Nikolich: Thank you! I have been playing this version of Jeskai Control for about 8 months but had been playing Jeskai Nahiri and Blue Moon for a while before that. I choose to play this version of the deck because I believe it just has great matchups throughout the field right now. Having access to tons of cheap interaction allows you to have game against most of the field.

FNA: What were some of the best performers throughout the tournament? Which cards underperformed?

BN: Search for Azcanta was absolutely amazing. It really gives a whole new dimension to the deck, where you never have to tap out on your own turn until you have buried the opponent in card advantage. I can honestly say there weren’t really any under-performers in the deck, each card felt like a role player in the deck.

FNA: In terms of design, Hunter Craite from my UWx community on Facebook asks: “How did you come to the Bolt/Helix split?” Is this flexible?

BN: I just wanted to have enough cheap removal to make sure I’m not getting run over by decks like Humans or Affinity. It is certainly flexible and could be changed up, but 3 Bolt 3 Helix is where I ended up.

FNA: Michael Striska asks: “Is it worth tuning the SB for Tron?” If so, what cards/strategy would you consider?

BN: Ceremonious Rejection and Disdainful Stroke would be the cards I would add if I wanted to shore up the Tron match up. My biggest tip for the match up is to not fight over them assembling Tron, but just try and counter all the threats they present.

FNA: Ali Aintrazi, and others have most commonly asked “Why Nahiri over Ajani?” What other Walkers would you consider, if any?

BN: Nahiri, the Harbinger just provides a very versatile ability and helps get rid of any dead cards. Ajani is good as well, but I found it would often die very easily. I have considered other cards like Jace, Architect of Thought or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. I think any of these options is very defensible, and they can all provide an overwhelming advantage if left unchecked.

FNA: What do you think of Mana Leak? Is it reasonable to play alongside Logic Knot?

BN: Mana Leak is good, but Logic Knot is Counterspell. If a deck can’t afford to have UU up on turn two or wants to play several colorless lands, Mana Leak is a fine alternative.

FNA: Many questioned the absence of graveyard disruption in your sideboard. What’s your reasoning here? If you were to play any, which would you choose and why?

BN: I played 3-4 graveyard hate cards for a long time but I found I was still losing to decks like Dredge anyway and I didn’t really want them in match-ups where the opponent incidentally used their graveyard. My solution was to completely cut those cards and give up the Dredge match-ups.

FNA: I loved reading your analysis of Runed Halo, which covered some of its other applications beyond the obvious, especially vs linear creature strategies like Grixis Death’s Shadow. I’ve been an advocate of this card for a while.

What further advice would you give after your testing and use of Runed Halo after writing your article?

BN: I certainly think Runed Halo is played in less decks than it should be, but not by much. While it is an extremely powerful sideboard card, not every deck can afford to leave the opponents creatures in play or can utilize the protection aspect of the card very well.

FNA: What are your thoughts about Search for Azcanta? Do you think it will continue to be an important contributor to Control’s success in Modern?

BN: I believe that Search for Azcanta will be a major role player in all formats for blue control decks, not just specifically Jeskai. I have seen it popping up more and more in other decks and even in Legacy. The card is undeniably very powerful and I think we will be seeing more of it soon.

FNA: Where does Jeskai Control go from here? Are you considering any other options or revisions?

BN: If the metagame doesn’t make a major shift, I think the current build is in great shape, and wouldn’t make any changes.

FNA: Do you have any advice or suggestions for players playing Jeskai Control?

BN: This type of Jeskai Control rewards practicing the deck and having an extensive knowledge of the format. If when you first pick up the deck you are losing a lot, don’t give up. While it can be hard to get a hang of the deck at first, it is extremely rewarding if you put in the time.

FNA: Do you have any favorite players?

BN: Two players who I am excited to see at any tournament are Kevin Jones and Jonathan Sukenik. Both bring an infectious energy with them all the time and are excellent players.

FNA: Alex Rubin asks: “Who is the Jeskai master?”

BN: Certainly not Alex Rubin.

FNA: Bonus question: UW and Jeskai are the most prevalent UWx archetypes in Modern right now but I think Esper has a few gems that are very well-positioned in my opinion, such as Esper Mentor and Esper Shadow. If you were to play Esper competitively, which variant would you consider playing and why? What do you think of my deck, Esper Transcendent?


Esper Transcendent (infamousvko 2/3/18)

Planeswalkers (7)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Gideon Jura
Gideon of the Trials
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Narset Transcendent
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Creatures (2)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (24)
Collective Brutality
Lingering Souls
Serum Visions
Supreme Verdict
Cryptic Command
Esper Charm
Fatal Push
Negate
Path to Exile

Enchantments (3)
Detention Sphere
Search for Azcanta
Lands (24)
Celestial Colonnade
Drowned Catacomb
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Plains
Polluted Delta
Shambling Vent
Swamp
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Celestial Purge
Engineered Explosives
Nihil Spellbomb
Runed Halo
Settle the Wreckage
Stony Silence
Vendilion Clique


Infamousvko’s update

My Version

BN: I don’t know exactly what build I would play, but I would really want to leverage the power of cards like Lingering Souls and Esper Charm. I believe these are the two biggest strengths of being Esper, as both are extremely powerful, and Esper Charm really hasn’t found a home in modern. The Esper Transcendent deck looks very cool but I think it might be overloaded with Planeswalkers.

FNA: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Many Jeskai Control players will appreciate your insight and perspectives.

Discussion