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Against the Odds: Startling Jeskai


Hello everyone and welcome to episode thirty-four of Against the Odds. First off, thanks to all of you for voting in last week's Shadows over Innistrad Against the Odds poll. We had an incredibly close three-way race featuring Werewolves in Modern, Silverfur Partisan/Zada, Hedron Grinder, and Startled Awake. In the end it was Startled Awake on the top of the heap, winning by 3% with nearly 5,000 votes cast! This week our goal is to mill our opponents out with the Blue flip Mythic, 13 cards at a time. Don't worry, Silverfur Partisan and Werewolves will be back on this week's poll for another shot at glory, along with three new options!

We'll talk more about Startling Jeskai in a minute, but first a quick reminder. If you enjoy the Against the Odds series and the other video content here on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish Youtube Channel.

Against the Odds: Startling Jeskai Deck Tech

Against the Odds: Startling Jeskai Games

The Deck

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When I set about building a Startled Awake deck for Standard, I realized two things right away. First, while the idea of casting Startled Awake, getting it back as a creature, attacking and dealing combat damage, getting it back to our hand and casting it again seems fun, it just isn't practical. For one thing, this plan is super, super slow, most likely too slow to ever work. But more importantly, a lot of the best removal in Standard exiles (Declaration in Stone, for example), which means we can't really count on grinding out games with the creature half of Startled Awake. The second revelation is that there really aren't enough playable mill cards in Standard to build a Tome Scour/Glimpse the Unthinkable burn style mill deck where we just try to resolve enough mill spells to deck our opponent before our opponent kills us. Apart from Startled Awake, the second best mill spell is Talent of the Telepath, which only mills seven cards, and then we are looking at things like Vessel of Paramnesia and Manic Scribe, which are pretty awful. As a result, instead of building a deck that played a ton of different mill spells, we needed to build a deck that only played a small number of mill spells, but was able to cast these spells multiple times. 

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The way the math works out, we need to resolve four Startled Awakes to be able to win the game, although sometimes we can get away with three if the game goes long our and opponent draws a lot of cards. We obviously can't just play a "fair" game and hope that we eventually draw all four copies of Startled Awake. As such, we are playing a bunch of cards that allow us to cast a single copy of Startled Awake two, three, or even four times. 

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy lets us flash back a copy of Startled Awake, which is especially helpful when we know the plan of returning it in its creature form is unlikely to succeed. Narset Transcendent lets us rebound Startled Awake to cast it again our next turn for free. Finally, Geistblast is a removal spell that helps us stay alive long enough to find our other "combo" pieces, and then in the late game it becomes an uncounterable Fork effect that lets us exile it from our graveyard to copy our Startled Awake

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Talent of the Telepath and Vessel of Paramnesia are our backup mill cards, but unfortunately they are much weaker than Startled Awake. Talent of the Telepath is extremely high variance. When we hit two spells, its almost like a reverse Collected Company, but the matchups where this actually happens are few and far between, since many decks in our current Standard format are either overloaded on creatures (various Collected Company and Humans builds) or planeswalkers (Esper or Mardu Superfriends). That said, milling seven cards does cut the number of Startled Awakes we need to resolve from four to three. Vessel of Paramnesia, meanwhile, is pretty bad. Milling three cards for three mana is roughly the equivalent to a three mana burn spell that only deals one damage. It does let us draw a card, which makes it feel slightly less horrible. 

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As for the rest of the deck, it's pretty much all removal with a few counters thrown in for good measure, designed to keep us alive long enough to resolve our four copies of Startled Awake. As I mentioned before, there just aren't enough piece to build a turbo mill decks (disregarding Sphinx's Tutelage), so instead we go on the slow, steady, and resilient plan. While we won't win a lot of games quickly, ideally having a ton of removal means that we consistently live long enough to cast some Startled Awakes. 

The Matchups

Our decks biggest enemies are discard (especially Transgress the Mind since it exiles) and counterspells, which can be pretty devastating when our primary way to win the game is resolving expensive, do nothing sorceries. Aggressive decks can also be problematic, but having access to four Radiant Flames gives us at least some chance to keep up in matches. As for good matchups, slower midrange and control decks seem pretty solid, especially if they aren't overloaded on discard and counterspells. Our deck has a lot of inevitability, assuming we aren't under too much pressure. The challenge is stabilizing to the point where we can tap out (multiple times) for sorceries that don't impact the board. 

The Odds

Amazingly, Startling Jeskai crushed it. While we played a lot of slow, grindy, three game matchups, we ended up going 4-1 in matches (80%) and 8-5 in games (62%). That said, a lot of our games were extremely close, and the results easily could have been reversed. The good news is, apart from the first match against Mono-Green Ramp, I never really felt out of any of the matches. While Startling Jeskai might not blow opponents out of the water, it doesn't get blown out either, and with tight play (and a bit of luck), it's good enough to win a lot of games.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

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Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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