Fast, Consistent, and Lethal. This deck is awesome! A Land Say Go Original.
We are approaching the War of the Spark. A time when dozens of Planeswalkers will unite from disparate planes to attempt and thwart Nicol Bolas's plans to become a God. This new set promises excitement, new mechanics, and the possibility of a fundamental change to the game. Will we see uncommon Planeswalkers? Will we see transforming creatures to planeswalkers, or planeswalker to creature transformations with incredibly powerful creature versions of the multiverses most revered and iconic characters? Who knows...
I can tell you this. As we get this deep into an expansion I really start to brew. I will sit and review cards, and try and find ways to win with decks and combinations of cards that my opponents could not possibly be attuned to. I start building decks like this - like Jeskai Champion. I have extensively tested this list. It is explosive, dynamic, and resilient. It wins games. We are admittedly a little bit of a glass cannon, but we are packing a howitzer, and when we go off we can't really be stopped. I have tuned this to be well-rounded against the meta. Specifically, targeted removal gets shuts down, we welcome a creature match up, and board wipes after sideboarding are a non-issue. Once you figure out the line and style of this deck - Game Over.
The Champions Standard Needs
Here we go. There are four copies of each Champion of the Flame, Danitha Capashen, Paragon, and Valduk, Keeper of the Flame. All we need to win is to resolve one copy of any of them, protect them, make them hexproof, and hammer our opponents into submission. We play a very deliberate game here, there would never be a reason where we should need more than one creature in play if we are hitting our spells. Sometimes, we can play out more than one creature if we are ahead or need additional support. It seems counter-intuitive to the way the game is played, but we need additional copies of our cards in hand to bounce back when necessary. All three of the following creatures are each "Champions."
We don't ever play a card on turn one while piloting this list. When we are being aggressive (on game one) we play Champion on turn two. If the Champion is left unattended, we have the ability to begin our aggro plan on turn three. The Champion of the Flame gets a two power and toughness boost from each Aura attached to it. Our deck is loaded with 22 Auras. Each one selected from the Standard pool to protect, provide evasion to our damage, and further guarantee a destructive result for our attack steps. Champion of the Flame is a dynamite uncommon, and I have been looking for a way to capitalize on the great Aura cards we have available to us. Since the days of Sram, who we lost access to when Dominaria released, I have been hungry.
Waiting til turn three to kick off our plan is perfectly acceptable as well. In my experience with the 20 or so best-of-three matches I've played, Danitha Capashen is just as capable as the Champion, if not more so given her innate abilities of first strike, vigilance, and lifelink. Waiting until turn four, playing lands, and casting her with Dive Down support is simply marvelous. Even if you are taking damage, sometimes our turn 5 is completely destructive, often swinging in for 7 to 9 damage in the air, gaining us a bunch of life, staying untapped with vigilance, and daring our opponent to go to combat on their turn. By reducing the CMC of our Aura spells we provide ourselves with some ridiculous speed and power. Danitha is great, but only one of three threats.
We have included a full playset of Valduk, Keeper of the Flame. In an Aura deck we can't really ask for a better creature. Sure, he's fragile, dies to shock, but we don't just run our creatures out into removal. Be strategic; as you will clearly see in the remainder of the deck tech, we have more than enough ways to ensure that Valduk gets to "do his thing." Once we have the necessary protections in play, our abundance of Auras are generating obscene amounts of trampling hasty 3/1 red elementals - a veritable army an opponent is seldom able to deal with. Awkwardly, we don't find ourselves swinging in with Valduk until the time and opportunity is right. We want to be able to keep him alive. Remember, we are a glass cannon packing howitzer shells. Strategy.
Making the Most of What We Have
Dive Down has been dominating Standard for months and months; ever since green lost Blossoming Defense and blue took over as the tempo deck to beat outside of energy. We include Dive Down because our glass cannon needs to be protected. Three may not be enough, but through testing I have validated that three copies feels correct and our sideboard allows us to go even deeper in ensuring we are swinging with our stacked creature every turn. We have to have spells like Dive Down at least until we are able to stick a Curator's Ward. Dive Down competitively represents a one blue mana counterspell that keeps our engine going.
Lock & Load
I think we might be able to lump Curious Obsession in among the best Auras ever printed. It is the linchpin for the current Mythic Championship I winning deck, it creates a draw trigger when the enchanted creature deals combat damage to a player and buffs power and toughness. The only drawback then is that we have to sacrifice Curious Obsession in the event we don't attack. It's evasion during combat that matters most; the goal of our deck is to stack abilities on a single creature in the form of various Auras to sink damage during combat. Curious Obsession is not necessarily a linchpin, per say, in Jeskai Champion. Rather, it is way for us to keep our hand full of possibilities, and options for bouncing back. Never play more than a single copy of Curious Obsession on a single creature. The extra point of damage simply isn't worth not having the ability to bounce back from an opponent who has figured out a way to remove our Champion from the battlefield. Glass Cannons can shatter, and we need to be able to piece it back together. Danitha reduces our Aura costs by one colorless mana, we can make for outstanding and explosive turns with an active Danitha on the battlefield, and she is an ideal target.
Aether Tunnel is hilarious, it makes a creature unblock-able and buffs power. In the case of Champion of the Flame, bigger more lethal, Dantiha gets sinks lifelink damage, and Valduk can swing without reprisal. Frenzied Rage gives us more damage, and another evasive mechanic for our "Champion" through Menace. To be clear, I feel like what follows is the best Auras in Jeskai.
One With the Wind buffs power and toughness and gives our Champions flying; solid payoff for this Aura. Tilonalli's Crown is superb, adds additional guarantees in sinking damage through trample and none of our creatures, including Champion of the Flame dies to the point of damage it deals upon enchanting. A Champion of the Flame immediately becomes a 6/3 trampler with this Aura equipped. Slap the crown on Danitha and she becomes a 5/2 creature with first strike, lifelink, vigilance, and trample. Valduk becomes a 6/2 with a buddy each combat step.
Dive Down is specifically used to get us to the point where one of our Champions can be blessed with this Aura. Curator's Ward is exceptional in our deck; there is a cool tech here that ties into Danitha and Valduk being legendary creatures. We get to punish our opponent's for forcing us to sacrifice our Champion or dropping a board wipe, because targeted removal does not any longer work once we have stuck the Ward. We draw two cards, and have additional chances to bounce back. Remember, we are being very deliberate about our plays in this deck. We are building a glass cannon in the form of one (maybe two) big and capable creatures and crushing our opponent combat after combat. Hexproof; this is probably the most important Aura in our deck.
The top end of our Auras curve is filled by three copies of On Serra's Wings; this card turns both of our Red Champions into a creature resembling Danitha. Lifelink and vigilance may be critical to the success rate this deck has been putting up. Drawing into this Aura means that we can potentially get more aggressive with our combat plans. It might be better to try and roll out additional creatures against certain match ups. I would like you to navigate the playing of this deck in a logical and strategic manner. It is not forbidden to play out more than one of your Champions. By running multiple copies of Legendary creatures, you will often find you have backup copies in your hand by default. This card is outstanding, and should be used liberally.
The Lands Are Golden Here
I've spent a lot of time crafting the mana base to make sure we have access to blue, white, and red mana. We are extremely low to the ground with this deck, so we are only running 23 lands. Again, we never have a turn one play, and at the time of writing this I have been testing a variant of this deck with Siren Stormtamer in the mainboard. It's been less aggressive than the list I am presenting to you, but more effective in protecting ourselves and our Champions. I had debated bringing to you today, but decided against it on win percentage and my love for this list. I think you will find that keeping opening hands with two or three lands is perfectly acceptable, as long as you have access to a Champion, a couple of Auras, and optimally some hexproof options.
Sideboarding for Success
Some of our match ups will not have targeted removal as an option. Aggressive creature based strategies are not good against our deck. We can easily end up getting to a point where our Champion has flying, first strike, hexproof, trample, menace, unblockable, vigilance, is drawing us a card on damage, and lifelink (not to mention potentially pumping out stacks of haste laden elementals). Game two can be very different - you can expect your adversary to bring in enchantment destruction and any sacrifice triggers they can produce - board wipes and destruction spells. You have to know your individual meta, plan appropriately for the scenario, and win your next game. I'm going to walk you through my sideboard cards even though your final decisions may vary.
In any aggro matchup where your opponent is not presenting targeted removal, which is rarely the case, as aggro generally needs some type of interaction to clear the way for combat damage, I almost always board out the Dive Down's (all three copies) and board in Arcane Flight. We get off to the races faster with flying damage, and get a one for one swap in color and converted mana cost. I have been testing Depose // Deploy in place of Arcane Flight occasionally and I settled on additional Aura spell over instant speed tap-draw and tokens. The jury is still out. DBoe thinks I should be running Depose // Deploy. He may be right, but I'm stubborn dammit. I know how to play this deck, and if you take my suggestions you will be better than DBoe.
Sometimes we need to be more resilient, and have more ways to say "no." I like to slim out the Auras for answers in control heavy match ups - answers that give our Champion more livability and opportunity to dominate the field. Adamant Will is a two mana instant that gives our creature a buff to power and toughness, and indestructible. I have actually won games with this spell during game two's as my opponent thinks their destruction spell is good and the the extra two damage puts me over the top.
Negate is included specifically for Planeswalkers and Wilderness Reclamation. We want to be swinging at our opponent, not having to worry about killing a walker, and Wilderness Reclamation is a problem - we need to be getting back to our combat step as often as possible. Sheltering Light is more of the same with indestructibility cantrips. We can plow through combat and clear the way for future attacks, survive a Ritual of Soot or Cleansing Nova, even trample over several creatures at once.
The cards that punish us most are sacrifice effects, when we have to sacrifice away our Champion it feels bad and it takes all of our Auras with it. Golgari and Sultai have access to Plaguecrafter and The Eldest Reborn. I have included an out for this in Squire's Devotion, we get a token we can sacrifice away in the event we need to. Also, if you are in a match and facing down sacrifice effects, it is okay to pop a second creature onto the battlefield. Using an unbuffed Champion to accomplish the same goal is perfectly acceptable. Either way, we are wanting to preserve our Glass Cannon and make sure that there is as little as possible interfering with our plan. Squire's Devotion goes a step further providing our Champion a token to chump, sacrifice, or buff later.
I've also been testing Lightning Strike and Shock in the sideboard. Specifically for Thief of Sanity, Krasis, and Llanowar Elves. Sometimes there is no other way to assure that we are winning than to have access to burn. It doesn't hurt that burn also aids us in hitting our opponents life total, finishing off a creature or walker, and just plain feels good sitting in your hand. You test, let me know. I'm interested to hear your opinion.
Put a Bow On It
You may not see it now, but this deck is outstanding. It has an element of surprise, it is total jank, and it's fun. Before you go poo-poo'ing it, I would suggest you try it out and see. As always, Land Say Go is devoted to bringing you new and exciting ways to play in Standard. Decks like Jeskai Champion are perfect for shaking off the boredom, hitting a FNM event and winning some games. I hope you find this as fun as I do.
Until next time, play a Land and Say Go.