Getting Creative in Pioneer


So, this has been a pretty good weekend for me. I went 4-2 in limited and 7-3 in constructed at my first pro tour!

This article will be about my constructed deck, Jeskai Creativity. I have also written another article about this limited format and my thoughts about high-level draft in general - you can find that one here.

So. 7-3 at my first PT is no joke for a constructed record... especially given that my only three losses were my three consecutive win-and-ins, against a gauntlet of extremely strong and established players (Sam Pardee, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, and Simon Nielsen).

I'm very happy with my deck choice and my overall play, but of course there is always something to improve on. The deck itself was a very hard deck to pilot, as it is essentially a control shell, augmented with a better topend that benefits greatly from deeply understanding the flow of the game and how to position yourself within it.

You could even see this from the records of Sanctum teammates who registered Jeskai - the three who did the best (me, Talia, and Cain) were the ones with the most reps on the deck during testing, and the ones who did the worst were the ones who last-minute audibled onto it and didn't get enough reps in.

Speaking of Sanctum, the deck was very much a team effort; there's no way I could've done it alone. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and we really came together well and built something that I truly think was one of the best decks at the PT.

Part 1: Creative Brewing

As with all of my constructed articles, I want to start with a brief history of the deck in brewing. This one in particular was quite a neat story.

Control Shells

I mentioned earlier that Creativity is essentially a Jeskai Control shell with better topend. Well, a big reason for that was that, as a team, one of the first things that Sanctum was seriously working on was control shells to improve in UW Control.

This took place with mostly three different directions: Enigmatic, Jeskai, and Gearhulk.

Enigmatic Control

Enigmatic Control, by cftsoc

Enigmatic Control, by cftsoc

This shell was being spearheaded by cftsoc before we got basically any MKM spoilers. They were basically trying to combine two decks together: UW control and Enigmatic Incarnation, taking a minimal Enigmatic package and combining it with the strong control cards like Memory Deluge to hopefully get the best of both worlds and patch up the Rakmid matchup.

I honestly am not sure exactly why we moved off of this idea - I think it was roughly just that we couldn't figure out a way to improve it more and it seemed solid but nothing too special.

Gearhulk Control

Gearhulk Control, by Noor and Talia

Gearhulk Control, by Noor and Talia

One of the exciting new cards from MKM that we looked at first was

Intrude on the Mind. Specifically, it seemed like it could maybe be appealing as a big card draw spell that could be productively flashed back with
Torrential Gearhulk, unlike Memory Deluge, and that could help fuel
Dig Through Time.

Unfortunately, we very quickly came to the conclusion that the card was basically unplayable. Gearhulk felt good, but the Intrudes just gave away way too much agency to the opponent. So, interesting theory, but it did not end up panning out.

Jeskai Control

Jeskai Control, by Talia

Jeskai Control, by Talia

The big card everyone was excited for out of MKM for pioneer control was

No More Lies. And this is pretty understandable - Mana Leak has been historically a somewhat strong card in control decks, and control decks had already been playing Make Disappear, so this was an obvious upgrade to that.

But on Sanctum, we were much less excited for No More Lies than

Lightning Helix. Talia had even been thinking about Jeskai Control before we knew about Helix (for the purposes of Fable), and it was the perfect card to take the deck to the next level.

And in fact, in testing, we found that No More Lies actually disappointed quite a bit. It was an upgrade to Make Disappear, sure, but Make Disappear was already one of the worst cards in UW Control - so an upgrade was nice but not game-changing. It just ran into too many problems with being dead late in the game.

And in addition to that, one of the key things that Talia found in testing Jeskai was that the inclusion of Fable and Helix fundamentally changed how the deck worked such that it was both less interested in keeping strict parity and also less interested in playing at instant speed.

So, around two weeks before the PT, this is where we were at with control shells. I personally was ready to register Jeskai Control, and was semi-locked on it.

Transmog Leak

But then, another puzzle piece fell into our lap. In running Rakmid through a league, one of our team members, Matt, ran into Sky from Team CFB playing an interesting brew: Grixis Transmog.

a fortuitous occurrence

a fortuitous occurrence

The idea with this deck was to take the Rakmid shell of Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and Fable, and then add blue for

Cryptic Coat and play
Transmogrify to turn the 2/2s you get form Fables and Coats into
Atraxa, Grand Unifier

So, we took this shell and worked with it. Ultimately the main thing we added was Yorion - as flickering Coats and Fables was a very strong interaction - but we also tried several other directions including one with

Case of the Stashed Skeleton and
Beseech the Mirror

Yorion Grixis Transmog, by me

Yorion Grixis Transmog, by me

As we learned at the event, this wasn't the deck that CFB was registering, as it had several problems that CFB was never able to solve. And we also ran into similar issues in building out this deck - specifically that the Phoenix matchup was hard to fix, and that was somewhat of a dealbreaker as we (correctly) expected Phoenix to be the most popular deck.

Putting it Together

As we moved off of Grixis from its problems, Cain and Piper started to look into Jeskai as the other shell for it. I was initially skeptical, as I thought that Jeskai was a lot worse at leveraging Coat and Transmog in general as a strategy, but then they had the idea of switching to Creativity - and we immediately knew that we had something special.

an early Jeskai Creativity build, by Cain

an early Jeskai Creativity build, by Cain

The list honestly didn't change too much between our early iterations and the final result - most of the cards just slotted in perfectly. The most work to do in the end were optimizing the manabase and figuring out sideboarding and matchups.

So, that leads us to...

Part 2: Creative Matchups and Gameplay

In the following section, I'll talk about how Jeskai Creativity plays out against all of the decks in the format. I'll go a bit more in-depth than previous articles, as the deck is quite complex with play-patterns that change depending on the opponent quite a bit.

But if you want a quick and dirty sideboard guide, you can find that here.

the list again, for reference

the list again, for reference

Rakdos Midrange

In: 1 Shark Typhoon, 1 Farewell

Out: 2 No More Lies

Maybe: Some number of Lockdown instead of the Sharks

Rakdos Midrange is a great example of how the Jeskai Control shell - and Creativity in general - improves over UW Control as a deck. Fable is a very nice dimension to add to the deck, as it forces the opponent to still somewhat value removal, while also not trading down vs their removal.

In addition to that, the threat of Creativity can put decks like Rakmid in a bind - if they don't play scared of Creativity, they can fall behind really quickly to an early Atraxa; but if they play too scared then they aren't applying enough pressure to beat the control side of our deck.

Conventional wisdom is that the Thoughtsieze Bankbuster Fable deck is advantaged against control - but this is no longer true with Jeskai. I think this is actually quite a good matchup now, probably something like 55-60%, depending on their build.

Notably, this is one of the worst matchups for No More Lies - having any cards that can just be easily blanked is terrible in matchups with a lot of discard. Dovin's Veto is still very important, both for early Fables and Bankbusters and for protecting Atraxa.

And as a sidenote, the "maybe" section of the sideboard notes is to account for versions of Rakmid that are heavier on Inti and Copter - against those decks, Lockdown can be quite powerful. But against most other versions you don't want it.

Rakdos Vampires

I have very little experience with this matchup - only one real match, in which I drew pretty poorly. But I think it should basically work the same as Rakmid, just scarier. I have no idea who's favored, the games I played felt disadvantaged but also partially because I never drew Creativity, and I suspect the games where you draw Creativity are pretty good for you.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Raksac is the opposite of Rakdos Vampires - it's like Rakmid but less scary. You also get to bring in Lockdowns over Chained to the Rocks, and kind of demolish them. I imagine this is something like 65%.

Izzet Phoenix

In: 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Shark Typhoon, 1 Lithomantic Barrage, 1 Mystical Dispute

Out: 1 March of Otherworldly Light, 2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, 1 Farewell

The Phoenix matchup is another one where Creativity gains a lot compared to traditional control - specifically, Atraxa is a headache for Phoenix to deal with.

In general, Phoenix games will be about positioning yourself to be able to resolve and protect an Atraxa - Dovin's Veto is one of your most important resources here. You can slow them down by countering Cruises and Helixing threats, and will naturally slow them down through threat of Creativity. You can also tax their Lightning Axes with Yorion, so they have a harder time dealing with Atraxa.

In general, the matchup tends to be somewhat favored but very hard to pilot. I'd say another 55-60%, but if you don't know what you're doing it can easily feel like it's 40%.

UW Control

In: 1 Silence, 1 Shark Typhoon, 1 Lithomantic Barrage, 1 Mystical Dispute

Out: 2 Chained to the Rocks, 1 Supreme Verdict, 1 Farewell

Maybe: 1 Lightning Helix for 1 Summary Dismissal

This is another matchup that is definitely favorable but fairly hard to play. In essence, it is a control mirror - except that you get to ask all the questions and set the pace of play, which is a tremendous advantage.

As an example of why this matchup is so favorable: in my one match against UW at the PT, I at some point countered my opponent's Yorion with No More Lies, despite the fact that they had 3 mana up, because they just couldn't ever afford to tap out and let me Creativity.

Overall, I would say that this is somewhere in the 60-65% range depending on the opponent's deck, and hard to play but not as hard as the Phoenix matchup.

Lotus Field Combo

In: 2 Krenko's Buzzcrusher, 2 Rest in Peace, 1 Silence, 1 Shark Typhoon, 1 Summary Dismissal

Out: 2 Chained to the Rocks, 1 March of Otherworldly Light, 1 Farewell, 3 Atraxa, Grand Unifier

I like to joke that Lotus game 1 on the draw is our worst matchup, but Lotus game 2 on the play is our best matchup. This is of course hyperbole, but it has a grain of truth.

Game 1 our deck sadly is weak to Lotus in the same way UW control is - our clock, while faster, still isn't that fast, especially if we want to hold up interaction. And Lotus can power through interaction by using Strings on our lands.

Still, Fable and Prismari Command do help a lot in the matchup, and game 1 isn't unwinnable. And postboard, the matchup completely flips.

Where preboard, tapping out for Creativity didn't do quite enough to justify the risk, postboard you can just cut Lotus off of combo with effectively 6 copies of Buzzcrusher. Even better, four of those copies (the Creativities) can actually be 5 mana for two Buzzcrushers, which really sends them to the stone age.

Not to mention that you can get additional Buzzcrusher triggers through Yorion blinks and Reflection copying them. Generally the second Buzzcrusher trigger will be enough to close out the game, and the deck is just very consistent at making that happen.

I'm still honestly not sure where that puts the matchup overall though. I think it could be anywhere in the 40-60% range, which is admittedly a very large range. I just haven't had enough reps to say with much confidence.


In: 3 Temporary Lockdown, 1 Shark Typhoon, 1 Farewell

Out: 4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, 1 Atraxa

This is one of our actually most favorable matchups - probably 80% or more. Certainly less favored than UW control against Amalia, as we don't have maindeck access to Lockdown, but similar concepts still apply, and Creativity is much better at not dying to their anemic beatdown plan B.

Fables come out because we can't afford to tap out very much in this matchup - second Shark helps us keep mana open while still developing. You should mull somewhat aggressively for something to do early to stop their combo, and then just play very reactively - it's fairly hard for them to weave through your interaction effectively.

One thing of note: if they aren't playing the card Aetherflux Reservoir, you can actually use Creativity as a removal spell for Amalia that also shuffles away the card they put on top after comboing - I did this in one of my matchups against Amalia, killing their Amalia and making my own Atraxa. And in fact you can often just not care too much about them resolving their combo, as long as you have a way to deal with both the Amalia and the followup Reservoir or Return to the Ranks.

Most of the other matchups are fairly straightforward, and I don't want to repeat myself too much. So for those, just refer to the sideboard guide linked above.

One final note: you may note that

Ovika, Enigma Goliath isn't boarded in anywhere in those sideboard notes. That's because it's the bad sideboard card for good luck it's specifically a tool that you can use against extraction effects like
Unmoored Ego.

The reasons Ovika specifically was chosen for this were twofold. First of all, it's the most effective target we could find for the BTL/Niv matchup (which is where extraction effects are most common), as most other targets can be easily removed or even turned against us with Tibalt.

But more importantly, at some point when Abe was going to purchase Ovika at his LGS, he found it peeking out of a box of chaff, clearly a sign that we couldn't not play it. I even made an emote to celebrate our little bedsheet monster friend!




I'm very proud of where we ended up with Jeskai Creativity. I don't know if I would exactly say that we broke it, but I think we very successfully iterated on existing archetypes in a way that vastly improved them and played extremely well into the metagame, securing requalifications for three of us (me, Talia, and Cain), and almost putting me in top 8!

Future work could include testing the Rakdos Vampires matchup and figuring out if that's a problem (and if so how to solve it), as well as seeing if the aggro matchups could perhaps be strengthened a bit.

But that's all for someone else to do - I'm very happy to be done with Pioneer for now, and leaving it on a high note. I've been getting sick of Yorion decks, and am excited to brew Standard for Seattle.


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