Amusingly, I almost wrote this article two months ago.
At the beginning of January, prior to Theros Beyond Death, Jeskai Fires was the only deck I could still win with. Everything else I tried just seemed to lose, while Jeskai managed to have a good enough matchup across the board that I eventually even decided to register it for the last Standard tournament of the format, the Arena Mythic Championship Qualifier. I posted a strong 8-2 record, good for a few mythic points, and started writing about the deck.
But I didn't see Fires of Invention having long-term success in Standard. The card is ostensibly powerful, but frequently clunky. The decks that play it tend to be miles ahead of opponents when ahead, and far behind their opponents otherwise. With new cards, new answers, and a whole host of enchantment hate that I expected to see play, it didn't feel like an article on Jeskai Fires was worth writing. Who wants to read about a deck that will soon be dead?
Yet, the fires never went out.
The deck has continued to put up results through all manner of opponents. It has an excellent matchup against aggressive decks, and tooling with the sideboard means it can even keep up with the slowest control decks, even if on paper it seems that they should mop the floor with Jeskai.
And somehow, despite all the other tools at our disposal, I keep finding myself coming back to Jeskai.
Grand Prix Detroit was cancelled while I was writing this article, but there is still plenty of play to Standard on Arena, including the next Arena MCQ this weekend. While I'm not certain if I'll be playing the deck this weekend, I'm not going to make the same mistake again and not put this article out there. Last time I was sure a new set would douse Fires of Invention's chances in Standard, and now I'm sure that it will remain a player for the next few months. It would take something truly punishing to the archetype to take the legs out from underneath it completely.
Here is Jeskai Fires as I have it currently:
This list is essentially the same as two weeks ago, with just a couple changes: I moved some Aether Gust to the maindeck.
This card is truly obscene at the moment, as pretty much every deck in the format plays either green or red in some amount. With the resurgence of Nissa, Who Shakes the World in the metagame, there aren't many other reasonable answers that Jeskai can play other than attacking her directly. Normally blue decks try to counter her with something like Dovin's Veto or Absorb, but Fires limits how effective countermagic can be. Aether Gust functioning as both Counterspell and Totally Lost means that even when Fires in play, you can still answer Nissa.
Further, the card puts in work in a number of specific situations that Jeskai Fires can find itself in. Aether Gust is:- An answer to Lovestruck Beast, to avoid being run over by Lucky Clover - A turn-two response to Wilderness Reclamation - A temporary reprieve from a large Hydroid Krasis, which can otherwise brick a Fires battlefield - A way to remove The Great Henge
If you've played on the Arena ladder lately, this might not even be too surprising of a change, as it seems other people have also caught on to the fact that Aether Gust is, for the moment, a maindeckable card. Honestly if the trend continues, there is going to be an opening for a deck that only plays white, black and blue cards to sneak its way into the metagame and punish opponents by making Gust a dead card.
One last quick tip on Aether Gust in general: Aether Gust a resolved Nissa, Who Shakes the World in their draw step. I don't see enough people make this play! Obviously this isn't possible with Fires of Invention on the battlefield, but it can still come up in Jeskai. Denying them access to a turn of increased mana is huge against Nissa decks. In many situations, it's close to a Time Walk.
While I didn't end up registering Jeskai Fires for the Mythic Point Challenge (I did a lot of winning with Bant in the two days leading up to the event, and then a misplay and some bad draws left me at 2-3 in the event), it's still at the top of my list going forward. Grand Prix Lyon featured a lot of aggressive decks and the return of Temur Reclamation, all of which are good matchups for the deck. Against the rest of the field, it has reasonable odds. Its worst matchup is Bant, but it's not so bad that Fires can't win a respectable amount of games there too.
Before I get into the sideboard guide, I have one last topic on Jeskai Fires I want to touch on: Sphinx of Foresight. When playing this deck, any time there's a Sphinx in hand, remember one thing:
Almost any hand is keepable with that card.
I have kept six lands and Sphinx of Foresight, because moving any lands to the bottom means that several draws will be live, which is typically enough, and the deck is so hungry to hit its lands that it's worth it. I've kept one land and Sphinx of Foresight, because I otherwise have all the tools I need to beat most any given opponent, and finding lands is all I need to do to win. The only time I mulligan a hand with Sphinx is when the hand needs to find multiple pieces to get there. If I have one land, no Fires and no powerful cards to win the game, the hand doesn't do anything even if I find two of the three.
With hands where you don't have to find multiple cards, stacking the deck with a Sphinx is quite powerful situationally. As an example, assuming you don't have to shuffle, putting Fires of Invention as the third card from the top against a deck likely to bring in discard works very well on the play. They are incentivized to hold the discard spell until turn three to try and snipe the enchantment on turn four, and thus will Duress / Drill Bit / Agonizing Remorse it the turn before it's even drawn.
Below is a list of each matchup, a summary of key points to keep in mind while playing, and, of course, the sideboard guide. While it's always worth noting that sideboards are dynamic and deviating from what's written is always an option, it's particularly true with Jeskai. Despite what you might believe, there are a lot of ways to sideboard with this deck, and there are no sacred cows… as the Azorius matchup will show you.
This matchup is among the chief reasons to play Jeskai Fires. Fundamentally Jeskai is a pile of removal spells and big dumb creatures held together by Fires of Invention and Deafening Clarion. Surviving the first few turns and not being in a position where Embercleave can deal 20 damage is the goal. Once some creatures are online, Deafening Clarion giving a Cavalier of Flame lifelink is typically sufficient to win the game if it wasn't wrapped up already. If the game goes long, Kenrith, the Returned King gains absurd amounts of life.
Teferi, Time Raveler is in a weird spot because it is awkward against their creatures, but it stops Embercleave, and the deck with Fires on the battlefield can't play Aether Gust during their attacks. I've stuck to sideboarding out two so that I don't flood on them, but it's possible the deck wants more in as well.
This matchup is mostly easy, but odd. The majority of what Rakdos is doing doesn't really matter in the long run, as getting drained for a few points of damage by a Cauldron Familiar isn't going to win them the game, especially because Jeskai Fires is good at gaining large amounts of life back if it ever needs to. A Cauldron Familiar can block Cavalier of Flames on its own, but Cavalier of Gales and Sphinx of Foresight ignore it, and Kenrith, the Returned King invalidates it entirely.
That said, they can still burn Jeskai out with Mayhem Devil if it's in play for multiple turns. Above all, the goal is to keep that card off the battlefield. Game one there's fewer ways to do that, but even just buying time with a Teferi, Time Raveler or Brazen Borrower is helpful. Deafening Clarion for just a Mayhem Devil is 100% acceptable.
Post-board they tend to have more three-drops, and Elspeth Conquers Death becomes reasonable against them as more answers to Midnight Reaper and Mayhem Devil, even if it rarely exiles things. Heliod's Interventions come in because they pull a weird double duty of removing Witch's Ovens and, in a pinch, gaining a large amount of life (though you'll know when that mode is the one you want).
Last note: be careful with Bonecrusher Giant and Brazen Borrower, especially game one. Claim the Firstborn only has six targets in the deck, so they often get stranded in their hand. If they're down to just a card or two, assume that any adventure creature you play will likely be fighting for them very shortly. It can be better to not play a Bonecrusher and only take 1 to 4 damage instead of 8.
This matchup is odd, and varies quite a bit based on which build they're on (and there are a few at the moment). All of them have one central principle though: don't let Nissa, Who Shakes the World stay in play. With it, their deck looks like it can't lose. Without it, things are quite a bit tougher for them.
Many builds have moved toward putting Mystical Dispute in the maindeck, which I don't quite get. Still, it's worth being careful with Sphinx of Foresight and Cavalier of Gales when you have the chance.
Teferi, Time Raveler is in a weird spot in this matchup in that they aren't particularly weak to it game one, and then become bad against it games two and three. They frequently bring in a lot of countermagic post-board, and suddenly it's worth playing the Teferi game, especially because they aren't all that good at holding up countermagic early with all the Temples they have to play.
But it can also be worth not playing that game. If they're prioritizing countermagic, then juking by removing Teferi completely for Robber of the Rich will let you pressure them and any non-Nissa planeswalkers (like Narset, Teferi and Tamiyo).
I never bring in Mystical Dispute. Early on Dispute might snag one thing, and late it's very dead because they have so much mana lying around.
The only way Temur Clover wins this matchup is with unchecked Clovers going off. This frequently means a Lucky Clover, Beanstalk Giant, Fae of Wishes curve, or one that involves playing Edgewall Innkeeper after Giant to chain adventure creatures. Short of that, their deck tends to have only a few cards because Edgewall Innkeeper should never draw more than one card, if that. Pressure them as quickly as possible so they can't set up an end game.
Post-board, the goal is basically the same, but it's possible to have answers to Escape to the Wilds, the only other card that can catch them up. In exchange, Jeskai gets to play Heliod's Intervention to beat resolved Clovers, and Dovin's Veto to stop them from resolving a Clover or any of the adventure halves of creatures.
Note that you have to actually cast mana for Heliod's Intervention with Fires of Invention in play, otherwise X=0. This is still worth it because multiple Lucky Clovers must go—otherwise they amass so many advantages that nobody can beat them.
Game one both decks have a fair amount of clunkiness, between Azorius not having great ways to remove a resolved Teferi, Time Raveler other than Elspeth Conquers Death (which is overtaxed in the matchup) and this Jeskai list playing literally two dead cards. Fires often eats countermagic, but using one of the six countermagic cards on a Fires of Invention means one fewer way to stop a Cavalier, Kenrith or Sphinx. It can go either way, but I think Azorius is a little favored game one.
Game two, things get weird quickly.
Robber of the Rich is commonplace now, but it leaves Azorius in a spot where their options are all awkward. Birth of Meletis is generally terrible, except that it makes an 0/4 that can stop Robber and protect Teferi, Time Raveler. Shatter the Sky is necessary, but also a very slow response to the cheaper creatures. Additionally, it basically always draws a card for Jeskai. Their countermagic is powerful against the top end of Jeskai, but they frequently have to fight over cards like Teferi. Essentially, they need their cards to line up in the right way for what Jeskai does. The first plan is the safe way to sideboard: take out bad cards, put in good cards, try to maneuver the game in a way to ensure that their cards don’t line up correctly.
The second plan is a bit more off the rails. Maybe it's the Selesnya in me, but when I see an opportunity to potentially hammer home an advantage quickly rather than slowly, I'm inclined to take it. Fires of Invention practically never resolves unless they have no countermagic somehow, or Jeskai has a Teferi in play. Even if Fires does deploy some cards, it can be a liability because Shatter the Sky can mop up the first round of creatures, and then one too many lands can mean Jeskai misses a turn of pressure and Azorius has time to lock Jeskai out. Meanwhile Fires of Invention does nothing, and additional copies rot in hand.
So one day I thought, “What if I cut Fires of Invention?”
The result was… really effective. Many times when Azorius thinks they're fighting a game of expensive creatures and Teferi, Time Raveler, the hands they keep are extremely weak to a curve as simple as Robber of the Rich into Bonecrusher Giant. They find themselves at 10 life on their fourth turn and are forced to pull the trigger on a Shatter the Sky to stay alive, only to walk headfirst into a Dovin's Veto or Mystical Dispute, or be in a similar position the next turn because of an end-of-turn Brazen Borrower pressuring them again. And unlike when Fires of Invention is in the deck, there essentially are no dead draws. Every card either affects the board or is countermagic.
I've won a lot with this plan. It's more effective on the play, but even on the draw the “no dead Fires draw” part still feels relevant as a way to capitalize on having one more card than the opponent.
This matchup is just all about Teferi, Time Raveler. With one in play, Wilderness Reclamation doesn't do anything. Thankfully, they also lack ways to pressure Teferi, and there aren't realistic maindeck ways to beat the card. They eventually have to spend large combinations of mana to beat Teferi, and then they die to everything else you're doing. They can certainly get off to quick starts that are difficult, but typically this has been my experience with the matchup.
This is how I would sideboard in the dark, but I think there's a lot of ways to approach it depending on what they do. The reason I choose Elspeth Conquers Death over Heliod's Intervention is to have an answer to Nightpack Ambusher if they have it, and also to remove Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath if it escapes.
This is my suggestion for a generally powerful deck that wins quickly and is effective for grinding the ladder. Although it might not seem like the sort of deck I specialize in, I have played this deck as much as any other in Standard the last few months. If you have any questions for me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter, and wish me luck in the MCQ this weekend!