A few words on Stefan Schütz
(Twitter: @KingofTraitors | MTGO: MentalMisstep)
Stefan had his first contact with Magic: The Gathering at the age of nine, and he immediately fell in love with the game. It didn’t take him very long to find enjoyment in playing Legacy as well where he discovered various archetypes like Storm and Dredge which would accompany him for the first few years. Whilst he branched out to other formats on the competitive scene and found success like a GP Top 8, a PTQ win and others, he still tries to be on top of the Legacy metagame and also Storm strategies.
Since its recent upswing in popularity, Jeskai Breach has made a slight but noticeable impact on the Legacy metagame. People started playing more copies of Storm hate cards in their sideboards such as ([[Deafening Silence]]). In addition to the side effects from fair decks adapting to [[Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis]], [[Delver of Secrets]], and Control strategies, decks are also are using [[Leyline of the Void]] and other continuous graveyard-hate tools more frequently. At least on Magic Online, cards like [[Null Rod]] and [[Collector Ouphe]] seem to have doubled in numbers. Looking forward, I think Jeskai Breach has a lot of good matchups (predominantly fair blue), but also a fair share of tough ones where the [[Underworld Breach]] side still needs to learn to adapt and experiment with how or whether those matchups can be improved or solved. Because players will play more hate and decks that line up well versus Jeskai Breach, the combo side will also have to be able to react or find a way through all that but only future can tell us the specifics. The matchup against The EPIC Storm in particular is a very favorable one, arguably among the best ones for the deck as long as we are talking about Jeskai Breach stock lists that run up to five [[Silence]] effects in their 75 in combination with [[Force of Will]]. TES really has a hard time trying to combo off through all that.
[[Silence]] or [[Orim’s Chant]] are both definitely much better to have in hand as a safety measure from the Jeskai Breach side than just [[Force of Will]] — if I could choose, I would usually take the former. The main reason is because The EPIC Storm’s engines, especially [[Echo of Eons]], are at their floor performance in this matchup due to the all-in nature. Whereas [[Force of Will]] can often be played around or “combo’d” through via a few options like [[Veil of Summer]] or [[Defense Grid]], a [[Silence]] effect can still happen after a [[Veil of Summer]]. Since there is (usually) no combat step involved in this matchup, [[Silence]] often reads like a [[Time Stop]] in those scenarios. I do think that the combination of both [[Silence]] and [[Force of Will]], being able to kill early, is what makes the matchup so tough for TES. The free counter spell can save the Jeskai Breach player from spots where they would sometimes lose otherwise.
Jeskai Breach is definitely more afraid of getting its (so often) well-sculpted hand picked apart by discard spells. While a timely [[Veil of Summer]] to power through a [[Force of Will]] can sometimes seal the deal, usually there is a [[Silence]] that threatens to trade with a huge part of a TES player’s hand. It might even trade with all of their hand and it will definitely stop their progress. [[Veil of Summer]] specifically doesn’t stop Jeskai Breach from winning themselves because of cards like [[Thasa’s Oracle]]. Having effects like [[Duress]] can really help to get the [[Silence]] effects out of the [[Underworld Breach]] player’s hand and generally lines up better versus what the deck is doing in the way it can disrupt their own combo plan as well.
I’m less inclined to keep fast turn-two kills if I’m still on seven cards, especially if I’m on the draw. The reason for that is the likelihood of finding a [[Silence]] effect is usually worth mulliganing for it as it buys a ton of virtual and practical turns. While I would always keep a turn-two kill in the dark, I would at least consider mulliganing a little more versus TES and might even ship a hand that does nothing else other than exactly being able to end the game on the second turn.
Clearly, TES is the beat down in this matchup! TES needs to find its (often very small) window to go off while breach can play the control role pretty long because of the effectiveness of its disruption/permission spells here. Sometimes TES can try to stall for some time with cards like [[Tormod’s Crypt]], which can temporarily make Jeskai Breach unable to go for the win, but generally speaking, I would say the former is “on the beatdown”. My mulligans from the [[Underworld Breach]] side against TES are therefore, as already stated earlier, usually a little more aggressive towards a “controlling” hand instead of trying to win as fast as possible. I usually keep hands that are “mediocre” but include a [[Silence]] effect or a [[Force of Will]] and a cantrip if I know that I’m up against Storm strategies.
TES needs to pick its spots where a [[Silence]] is either unlikely or can’t be cast and will sometimes be “punished” by a counter spell such as [[Force of Will]]. In the end, I think trying to combo aggressively against Jeskai Breach when the shields are halfway down is a way to gain some percentage points in the matchup. I do believe that there could also be changes made to the sideboard or TES’s deck list that make the matchup a better like the addition of aforementioned [[Duress]] or [[Xantid Swarm]], but they obviously all come at a very relevant cost.
Breach is still pretty new and everyone’s sideboards are a little different. This means nobody really knows what the best way is or what even is correct. I usually take out cards that don’t help me cast cantrips or [[Silence]] such as a copy of [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]], the basic [[Mountain]], and combo-centric cards like [[Enlightened Tutor]]. There are also the very obvious unplayable cards like [[Seal of Removal]], [[Pact of Negation]], [[Defense Grid]], etc. Since the matchup is all about surviving as long as possible, you don’t really want or need these cards. Jeskai Breach usually brings additional [[Silence]] effects (sometimes [[Abeyance]]), additional counter spells like [[Spell Pierce]] or [[Force of Negation]], and if there is still space after that, some answers to [[Wishclaw Talisman]], [[Hope of Ghirapur]], [[Tormod’s Crypt]], or [[Xantid Swarm]]. An example, would be [[Wear / Tear]], but only if it doesn’t start being detrimental to consistency post-board.
One-shot stationary graveyard-hate effects like [[Tormod’s Crypt]] are usually good enough to buy a turn or two. This is because playing around it is usually extremely laborious or it requires Jeskai Breach to dispatch it with a removal spell before they go off. It doesn’t win the game or trade well though, since it still costs a card and plays more into the control plan of Jeskai Breach rather than proactive sideboard cards like [[Hope of Ghirapur]], which try to circumvent the power of the approximately 12 cantrip shell by not giving enough time to find disruption/permission spells.
I strongly believe that [[Surgical Extraction]] is often misused against [[Underworld Breach]]-based strategies from a variety of decks. Its application can be very narrow if you don’t have access to discard spells like [[Thoughtseize]], but it usually can have a slight impact by trying to bottleneck the Jeskai Breach player on cards in graveyard as their resource. Trying to disrupt their main combo with it can sometimes work, but in about 80 percent of the cases Jeskai Breach can play around it. For example, by sequencing [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] always before their [[Brain Freeze]] when they are escaping cards. This means you’d have to be content with a minor slow down instead of a direct combo nullification which is not what I would want from the TES side. If [[Surgical Extraction]] is paired with a discard effect it is usually much more impactful and devastating.
[[Xantid Swarm]] if it comes down on turn one as it basically either needs to be answered immediately via [[Force of Will]], a removal spell (which are rare) or it will start asking the question of “do you want to cast a [[Silence]]?” every time it attacks going forward. More often than not, the Jeskai Breach player will have to cast their [[Orim’s Chant]] effect in response to the trigger to not die that turn. [[Hope of Ghirapur]] would get second place since it is only of one time use, but has the unique effect of also either stopping the next combo turn of the opponent or casting cantrips to prevent them from finding another [[Silence]] or a [[Force of Will]]. [[Defense Grid]] is the most expensive one of the three options, and therefore makes it easier to answer often as TES will sometimes not be able to go for the win the same turn it is cast. Meanwhile the pair of creatures are more easily cast on the first turn and therefore don’t require [[Mox Opal]] to be active that early while also saving some mana. f TES can win the same turn, however, [[Defense Grid]] suddenly becomes the best one which makes it somewhat volatile as a card in that matchup. Notably, [[Xantid Swarm]] is also not an artifact so it doesn’t get hit by [[Seal of Cleansing]] or [[Wear / Tear]].
Yes and no, there is no easy answer to this.
It is clearly not a [[Dark Ritual]] based deck and the standard kill is often A [[Underworld Breach]] + B [[Brain Freeze]] or [[Grinding Station]] + C [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] or [[Lotus Petal]]. Jeskai Breach uses the storm mechanic in the form of [[Brain Freeze]] and more often than not it would seem like as an alternative win condition. It plays fairly similar to Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) in the fact that it either needs a critical mass of spells to fuel into a win or flashbacks/escapes those spells all with one card. You could definitely call it less “Stormy” than other Storm decks since the amount of interchangeable cards per piece is lower than in decks that play [[Dark Ritual]]. When you play ANT or TES (or even [[Doomsday]]), you could break down the “standard” lines into similar A+B+C examples. For example, [[Infernal Tutor]] + [[Dark Ritual]] + [[Cabal Ritual]] + [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] almost always ends in a [[Past in Flames]] kill in ANT as long as you can reach Threshold after the flashback and it is also deterministic.
The more “Storm” a deck is can basically only be defined by how many different cards in a deck the variables like “B“ can stand for at a given time and [[Underworld Breach]] + [[Brain Freeze]] + mana artifact is obviously much easier to understand than some of the ritual lines.
Playstyle-wise, however, the Jeskai Breach decks have a lot of non-deterministic lines as well. These lines can feel more “Stormy” and lead to victory. Notably, a more common non-deterministic line is being able to go off with only one [[Enlightened Tutor]] as your card in hand + X cards and a draw spell in graveyard by using the [[Enlightened Tutor]] twice with the [[Underworld Breach]] you find with it and getting [[Grinding Station]] or artifact mana afterwards. Some lists have a multitude of lines with [[Intuition]] and [[Sevinne’s Reclamation]]. Going for a non-deterministic [[Brain Freeze]] kill by starting your turn with casting cantrips and then ending it with a lot of mana artifacts and the namesake card is also something that happens in longer games every now and then. [[Force of Will]] is also a tool that is usually not played by “Storm” decks and is primarily seen in combo decks built around the card [[Show and Tell]]. The combo pieces always being castable and rarely being stuck in your hand is a non-zero similarity with Storm decks as opposed to being uncastable and just waiting for the combo turn. I would say it is something in between as ANT, TES, and Jeskai Breach all share a lot of intricacies.
I think the answer here is pretty simple and blunt: the more [[Duress]] and other discard spells a Storm deck plays, the better it will be against Jeskai Breach. The ability to pick their best card away or to remove [[Silence]] from the equation makes for easier games and also makes Storm’s graveyard hate cards better.
If TES would start to play [[Silence]] again, I believe it would have a huge impact on the matchup, but at a high cost (probably in the manabase and card slots). I don’t know if it would swing the matchup in TES’s favor, but likely not entirely, as TES still needs to use more resources to combo off. It would then be much easier to avoid the current horror scenario of getting [[Silence]]’d and then killed immediately after since TES would then have their own [[Orim’s Chant]]/[[Silence]] to force a stand-off or a trade, completely changing the dynamic.
Storm decks versus Jeskai Breach usually favors the [[Underworld Breach]] player. This means knowing when to go off is crucial, maximizing your odds of winning by basically finding the highest spike in the graph is the Storm side’s job. Missing out on it can shut the door for the next five turns due to the presence of [[Silence]]. Funnily enough, this is a mistake I believe many to make, but not one I actually am able to see. If you ask me for the most common mistake I usually witness, it is clearly over-sideboarding and trying to overly interact with Jeskai Breach. While bringing in some amount of graveyard hate or enchantment removal can be okay, bringing all of it will just further slow your Storm deck down and give Jeskai Breach more time to find it’s permission spells and to setup their own combo which makes playing around interaction easier for them. I would even say there is a [[Diminishing Returns]] (Editors note: not the card) point for the number of interaction spells you really want to draw versus Jeskai Breach. as a [[Silence]] can sometimes blank multiples at once. A timely [[Abrupt Decay]] or [[Surgical Extraction]], however, especially when paired with discard spells, can sometimes win the game against reckless combo attempts.
I would like to note that the current state of Legacy is heavily influenced by the presence of [[Veil of Summer]] even though it might be subtle. Jeskai Breach playing [[Silence]] is just an unconscious reaction to that, exploiting the fact that discard spells are not at their best anymore. This means that matchups can very well turn by 60 degrees in any decks favor if players would dare to play more hand disruption.
Shout-outs to Anuraag Das who has been extremely passionate with Jeskai Breach since the beginning. He also streams it quite frequently on Twitch.tv. You can follow me on twitter, here.
Huge thank you to Stefan Schütz for joining Through the Looking Glass and providing some outstanding responses on the Jeskai Breach Combo versus The EPIC Storm matchup.
Until next time, keep storming!