As many of you know I'm much more of a video guy than a written article guy. That being said, given that there are some events coming up (TCG States, Grand Prix Charlotte, SCG Dallas) I want to do my best to help all of you who are considering sleeving up my favorite deck in modern, Jeskai Geist.
I've been asked many times for something like this, and I'm glad to finally deliver. It has taken many hours to put together, and I'll do my best to keep it up to date. In the future check under the menu item Resorurces & How-Tos for a link to the latest guide.
Before we get to the guide, I want to talk about some recent inclusions, and exclusion of some cards.
Spell Snare - Exclusion: When this card is good, it's great. When it's bad, it's like you discarded a card as Spell Snare is just rotting in your hand doing nothing. For a control deck this is fine; they can afford to have more narrow reactive cards because they have more of them. They want the game to go long, and at some point, that Snare will trade with something, For us however, we cannot afford to have our interaction be so narrow. We have a limited number and we need them to work for us when we draw them. We're often trying to set things up so we can pivot our game plan into a proactive one where we can use our counters to disrupt our opponent while applying pressure. That doesn't work well if the interactive counter is Spell Snare.
Izzet Charm - Inclusion: There is a delicate balance between creature removal and counter spells. Generally you want more removal, but also need some number of counter spells for combo. Izzet Charm is not the most efficient in any of its modes, but the flexibility it provides is great as it has the potential to be exactly what you need at any given time. Against aggressive decks it's a removal spell, against combo decks it's a counter spell, and in games that have gone long, you can use the draw/discard mode to cycle away the two lands you've been bluffing for two fresh cards. I've used every mode, and I think it's a valuable one of.
Grim Lavamancer - Inclusion: I've often considered putting Grim in the deck but for one reason or another I've always cut him before I really had given him his testing due. On paper, he's exactly what the deck wants. He can clear the way for Geist. He can be combined with a Bolt to kill large creatures. When you're a facing an aggressive creature deck, he's a source of removal and card advantage. Against combo decks, he's a repeated source of damage that comes down early and allows you to pressure while holding up counters. I've finally started giving him legitimate testing time and so far, he's been all of the things I predicted he'd be. The rise of Abzan Coco as one of Moderns premiere tier one strategies is reason enough to consider Grim since the repeated removal he provides is exactly what you want in that matchup. In addition to Abzan Coco, there is Infect, Zoo, Goblins, and Affinity all in high numbers, which push Grims stock even higher. Grim is an excellent meta call on top of being very synergistic with our decks plan. One note, as he is a recent edition I am still figuring out if he is best as a one of, or two of. If one, I'd likely add the fourth Restoration Angel, or a Remand.
Cryptic Command - Exclusion: As a spell, I love Cryptic Command, and it's hard for me to exclude it from a list. While we're not a control deck, I've always been a fan of one Cryptic Command in Jeskai Geist. It's great in the late game; it can bounce a problematic permanent, tap opposing creatures, and allow us to win via tempo with Geist. That being said, outside of GBx matchups, I don't think there is too much room for Cryptic to shine in the current meta. It's quite clunky, and I've found myself boarding it out a lot when facing a fast strategy.
Logic Knot - Inclusion: This is here mainly to perform the duties of late game counter spell that isn't dead in the way Mana Leak can be. Another upside is that, in a meta game that is as aggressive as this one is, it likely to be live in the early game unlike Cryptic Command. One aspect I am still considering is the recent inclusion of Grim Lavamancer. With both Snap and Grim utilizing the graveyard, it is possible that there won't be enough resources to make Logic Knot the late game counter it has been. I'm not ready to cut it yet as it's been a powerful addition, but I'll be keeping my eye on this.
Mana Leak over Remand: Remand is best when countering sorcery speed spells that cost 3 or more, which is not what most of modern currently looks like right now. Additionally, a Geist deck is not optimally configured to take advantage of the tempo advantage Remand creates. I talk more about this here. For those reasons, I think Mana Leak is the better counter spell right now.
Three Restoration Angels: I have been running four in the list, but I've cut one to make room for a second copy of Grim Lavamancer. I think the second interactive one drop is likely better than the fourth four drop.
Three Serum Visions: Drawing too many Serum Visions often leaves you in spots where you cannot cast it because you're holding up counter magic or doing something productive. We also have a number of three and four drops that are likely take priority if they are in our hand. As a side note, you may see some lists that eschew running Serum Visions all together, unless you're playing a very controlling list, don't do it.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar: I am not yet ready to put the stamp of approval on this card, but I am testing it. It may be an acceptable replacement to Keranos , God of Storms and Elspeth, Sun's Champion that is easier to cast while having some of the same advantages and more synergy with our deck.
Sideboard notes: If you expect a lot of Burn and or Zoo, remove the Celestial Purge in favor of a second Timely Reinforcements, it's still good vs Lili and Jund. Supreme Verdict is better against Merfolk, and blue based Affinity decks, but otherwise you want Wrath of God.
Ok now to the part many of you are likely here for. The matchup and sideboarding guide. Here we go...
Abzan Company: This is an interesting matchup in that your main game plan (Geist) isn't very good against them, and their main game plan (combo) isn't very good against you. Their best card in the matchup is Collected Company followed by Chord of Calling, so bringing in some counters to handle those is completely reasonable. Otherwise the matchup is about trying to kill the relevant creatures, setting up a race with Clique/Angel when you can, and shooting their Gavony with Ghost Quater as soon as possible. Your best cards are Grim Lavamancer, Anger of the Gods, Snapcaster Mage and Path to Exile. Beware of Burrenton Forge-Tender.
- Out: 4 x Geist of Saint Traft, 3 x Mana Leak
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Engineered Explosives
Abzan Midrange: This is one of the most difficult midrange matchups, and they are solidly favored. They generally run eight to ten creatures that must be Path to Exile'd, are immune to bolt, or must be bolted twice. On top of that they run discard to strip our answers, and lingering souls which renders our one for one spot removal quite ineffective. Beware of Choke out of the sideboard.
- Out: 2 x Vendilion Clique, 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Izzet Charm, 2 x Lightning Helix
- In: 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Elspeth, Sun's Champion, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Celestial Purge, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux
- Optional: Wear//Tear (for Choke)
Ad Nauseam: A linear combo deck that effectively has 30 life after casting Phyrexian Unlife, not exactly a great matchup for us. The best strategy is to be as aggressive as possible and hope they don't have a turn 1 Lotus Bloom. Cast Bolt on 1, Snap on two, Geist or Clique on Three.
- Out: 4 x Path to Exile, 1 x Grim Lavamancer, 1 x Electrolyze
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Wear//Tear, 1 x Engineered Explosives (Lotus Bloom), 1 x Stony Silence
Affinity: Aside from perfect draws and awful draws, you're likely only losing this match to Etched Champion. I recently documented the results of over 200 matches on magic online, and of the 22 times or so I played against Affinity, six of the nine losses were due to an unanswered Etched Champion. It really is the defining card of the matchup. For this reason I'm a fan of keeping a Logic Knot in for games two and three because it's the only card with which you cannot deal. It's another reason I will always run a Wrath or Verdict in the sideboard.
- Out: 2 x Geist of Saint Traft, 2 x Restoration Angel, 3 x Mana Leak
- In: 2 x Stony Silence, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Wear Tear, 1 x Anger of the Gods
Blue Moon: This match up should play out like it does against many control decks. The plan is to use Burn to soften their life total, resolve a Geist of Saint Traft, and ride it to victory. Take care to keep hands that have ways to fetch for Islands and Plains. Beware of Spreading Seas on your basics.
- Out: 2 x Grim Lavamancer, 4 x Path to Exile, 1 x Izzet Charm, 2 x Helix
- In: 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Celestial Purge, 1 x Wear//Tear.
- Optional: 1 x Stony Silence (This is reasonable if you expect Batterskull and Vedalken Shackles), 1 x Engineered Explosives (Can destroy Spreading Seas, Thopter Tokens from Pia and Kiran, and Germ tokens from Batterskull)
Bogles: The worst matchup. It's likely 85/15 in their favor. If they attack with a Bogle that doesn't have First Strike, flash in Snapcaster Mage and block. You have a small chance to race them with Geist if their Bogle doesn't have Lifelink. You're allowed to consider signing the match slip, complimenting your opponent on their skill, and doing something better with your time.
- Out: 4 x Path to Exile, 1 x Grim Lavamancer
- In: 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Wear//Tear, 1 x Negate
Burn (Naya, RW): This is one of our best matchups. Mulligan to find a turn one removal spell for their Goblin Guide. Trade Mana Leaks with any spell as soon as you can (they go dead quickly). Deploy your lands in as pain free a way as possible. Don't fetch + shock unless it means you're taking less damage from your lands than what is attacking you.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 1 x Restoration Angel, 1 x Izzet Charm
- In: 1 x Timely Reinforcements, 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate
BW Tokens: This is another difficult midrange matchup. They have hand disruption, and all of our one for one removal is pretty bad. Your best best is to send burn to the face, and use Geist as a burn spell. Play at instant speed as much as you can tom make best use of your counters.
- Out: 4 x Path to Exile, 2 x Vendilion Clique
- In: 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Negate, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Wear//Tear
Dredgevine: This is a bad matchup. Your only real shot to win is with Rest in Peace, Anger of the Gods, and Burn to the face. If Rest in Peace in not in you're opening seven, unless you have a great hand, it's worth taking a mulligan to six just to try and find it.
- Out: 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logic Knot, 1 x Izzet Charm
- In: 1 x Rest in Peace, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Celestial Purge, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Timely Reinforcements
Eldrazi Death and Taxes: Like all Death and Taxes/Hatebear matchups, you need to play around Leonin Arbiter as best as you can. Fetch with it on the stack, fetch in response to an Aether Vial activation if it on two or three. If they have three lands in play and one is a fetch, fetch in response to their fetch to play around Aven Mindcensor. Flash in your Cliques in response to Aether Vial activation to snag a creature. Geist can be really good here as most of their creatures die to bolt. Don't forget, if they only have a Kitchen Finks in play and you don't have a path, bolt it after blocks to make sure Geist lives.
- Out: 2 x Geist of Saint Traft, 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logic Knot
- In: 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Timely Reinforcements
Elves: This can be a tough matchup because they go so wide, so quickly. Be smart about your removal, prioritize Elvish Archdruid, Heritage Druid, Nettle Seninel, and of course Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Anger of the Gods, is the best card. Engineered Explosives is only marginal as they often have creatures of many different CMC on board.
- Out: 2 x Geist of Saint Traft, 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logix Knot
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Supreme Verdict/Wrath of God, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Engineered Explosives
- Optional: Wear//Tear for Choke
Goblins: They go wide and they go fast. Save your counters for the Bushwhacker effects game one.
- Out: 2 x Geist of Saint Traft, 1 x Restoration Angel, 2 x Mana Leak
- In: 1 x Timely Reinforcements, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Izzet Staticaster
Grishoalbrand: If Griselbrand hits the battlefield, make sure to Path as soon as you can. Try not to let them gain life from doing damage with Griselbrand, it means they can draw more cards. If you can use burn to quickly get them to 14 life or lower, they can only activate Griselbrand once in response to your Path. If they activate before attacking, Path immediately. They wont see the first seven cards until the Path has resolved. In some cases, if they pay seven life to activate Griselbrand, you can Path, they will pay seven life to activate again, and you can double bolt them to dead. If they splice Through the Breach onto Nourishing Shoal, countering Nourishing Shoal will counter both effects, but Through the Breach will stay in their hand as it was only revealed becuase of splice, and never actually went on the stack. I actually end up boarding out a couple of Geist of Saint Traft because it can feel dangerous to tap out for one.
- Out: 2 x Geist of Saint Traft, 2 x Grim Lavamancer, 1 x Electrolyze
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Rest in Peace, 1 x Celestial Purge
Grixis Delver: You will have an advantage as you have Geist of Saint Traft. If you have a bunch of Removal Spells in hand, don't be afraid to wait until their upkeep to see if Delver flips. If he does, and you bolt and it's countered, he's spent mana on his turn. You're denying him the ability to do anything else with his turn, and you can likely untap, kill it and put more mana into play. Even better, you may be able to untap and play Geist. After boarding the matchup is not about counterspells, it is about removal.
- Out: 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logic Knot, 1 x Grim Lavamancer
- In: 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Celestial Purge, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Dispel, 1 x Supreme Verdict
Grixis Control: Another matchup that Geist shines in. If it's the Counter Spell version, play at their end step to clear the way for Geist.
- Out: 4 x Lightning Helix, 2 x Grim Lavamancer
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Elspeth, Sun's Champion, 1 x Celestial Purge
Infect: Kill everything, end the game as quickly as possible. If you have several removal spells, kill the turn one Noble Hirearch. It's good at helping them get in extra damage, and gives them more mana to cast protection spells. Use your removal at their end step unless they go all in. In game one If you're on the play, you can actually win games by going turn one bolt their first creature, turn two Mana Leak their second creature, turn three play Geist.
- Out: 1 x Geist of Saint Traft, 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logic Knot
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Wear//Tear, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Izzet Staticaster
Jeskai Contol: Geist is easily your best card. Like Grixis, play at their end step to clear a way for resolving Geist. Use your burn as the game goes on so that your creatures have less work to do. Keranos is usually a house in the matchup, but with Nahriri on the rise, he isn't the safe best he once was.
- Out: 3 x Path to Exile, 2-3 x Lightning Helix
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Elspeth, Sun's Champion, 1 x Celestial Purge (for Keranos and Nahiri) 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, (Don't bring in if they run Nahiri)
Jund: Much easier than Abzan Midrange. There are a couple of tricks against Lilli. You can discard Lightning Bolt to her +1, and at their end step, cast Snapcaster Mage, to flash it back, untap and attack her. Ideally you then play Geist and have him protected from a Lili sacrifice. If you're on the play and they play Goyf on two, you can flash in Snap and their end step, untap and drop Geist. This will protect Geist from a Lilli sacrifice, as they will be unable to kill Snapcaster and play Lilli on the same turn.
- Out: 2 x Lightning Helix, 1 x Electrolyze, 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Izzet Charm
- In: 1 x Supreme Verdict/Wrath of God, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Celestial Purge, 1 x Timely Reinforcements, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms, 1 x Elspeth, Sun's Champion, 1 x Counterflux
Kiki Chord: Their late game is much better than yours. Do your best to end the game as fast as possible. Use Mana Leak/Logic Knot for Chord of Calling where possible.
- Out: 3 x Mana Leak
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Izzet Staticaster
Lantern Control: Stony Silence is your best card. This is another case of, try to kill them as quickly as possible. Geist is great here.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 4 x Path to Exile, 1 x Izzet Charm
- In: 2 x Stony Silence, 1 x Wear/Tear, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Negate, 1 x Keranos, God of Storms
Living End: Not a great matchup for us. Do your best to establish a threat and counter the Living Ends. Rest in Peace is a knockout punch.
- Out: 1 x Izzet Charm, 1 x Electrolyze, 2 x Path to Exile
- In: 1 x Rest in Peace, 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux
Merfolk: Prioritize killing the lords. Flash in Clique in response to Vial triggers.
- Out: 3 x Mana Leak, 1 x Logic Knot, 1 x Geist of Saint Traft
- In: 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Izzet Staticaster, 1 x Anger of the gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict/Wrath of God, 1 x Wear/Tear
RG Eldrazi: Straightforward,try to kill them before they kill you. If you're lucky, you will end up with a Geist in play, and a Path + Snap in your hand. Don't try to kill everything, they have a better end game, you really need to try and race. Shoot the Eldrazi Temples with Ghost Quarter. Bolt to the face on turn one, Snapcaster Mage as an attacker on turn two.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 1 x Izzet Charm
- In: 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Dispel (for Kozilek's Return)
RG Tron: Straightforward,try to kill them before they kill you. Geist is your best card.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 1 x Izzet Charm, 1 x Grim Lavamancer
- In: 2 x Stony Silence, 1 x Negate
RG Valakut Ramp: Counter their ramp spells with Leaks as they aren't good vs Scapeshift. Kill them as quickly as you can.
- Out: 2 x Path to Exile, 1 x Electrolyze
- In: 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Wear//Tear (Prismatic Omen)
Scapeshift: Do you best to race them. Save your counters to fight over Scapeshift. If possible keep your life total above 18, it will buy you a turn to try and kill then with Geist + Burn.
- Out: 3 x Path to Exile
- In: 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux
Thopter Control: Treat it like a control deck, which it is. Resolve Geist and do your best to keep them off the combo.
- Out: 4 x Path to Exile, 3 x Lightning Helix
- In: 2 x Stony Silence, 1 x Dispel, 1 x Negate, 1 x Counterflux, 1 x Rest in Peace, 1 x Wear//Tear
Tooth and Nail/Primal Command (Green Ramp): Kill their mana dorks, blow up their enchanted lands, counter Garruk.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 1 x Path to Exile, 2 x Grim Lavamancer
- In: 1 x Negate, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Wear//Tear, 1 x Counterflux
Zoo: Kill their fuzzy little animals, win with Geist, Resto, or Clique.
- Out: 1 x Electrolyze, 1 x Izzet Charm, 1 x Mana Leak, 1 x Geist of Saint Traft
- In: 1 x Anger of the Gods, 1 x Supreme Verdict, 1 x Engineered Explosives, 1 x Timely Reinforcements