Through the Spyglass: Jeskai Ensoul

23 May 2018, Wednesday

The first deck I ever played in Frontier was Blue-Red Ensoul. I fell in love with its explosive draws and potential for Turn 5 kills. After having played Bant God-Pharaoh’s Gift in the previous Frontier League, it was time to return to my roots.

The biggest problem with the old Blue-Red Ensoul list was that it was fairly inconsistent, and often did absolutely nothing if you didn’t draw any copies of its namesake card, Ensoul Artifact. This version of the deck tries to fix some of these issues by playing white, which gives us access to two of the best one-drops in the format in Thraben Inspector and Toolcraft Exemplar. These cards, in combination with the stronger tempo game that Reflector Mage and Spell Queller facilitate, allow the deck to function in a fair game of Magic that doesn’t involve an undercosted 5/5 beater.

However, because the mana is really bad if you want to play a large mass of red, white and blue cards, I decided to tick the Red elements of the deck down to a minimum, barely splashing it for three copies of Shrapnel Blast and four copies of Bomat Courier. I also splash Black for Scrapheap Scrounger off of four fetchlands, a Fetid Pools, and four copies of Spire of Industry. Without further ado, let’s get right into it:

Creatures (23)
Thraben Inspector
Spell Queller
Toolcraft Exemplar
Reflector Mage
Bomat Courier
Scrapheap Scrounger

Spells (15)
Smuggler’s Copter
Ensoul Artifact
Shrapnel Blast
Metallic Rebuke
Lands (22)
Fetid Pools
Prairie Stream
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Darksteel Citadel
Spire of Industry
Flooded Strand

Sideboard (15)
Sorcerous Spyglass
Tormod’s Crypt
Arashin Cleric
Seal Away
Settle the Wreckage
Authority of the Consuls
Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp
Spell Pierce

I think these four matchups quite clearly show where Blue-Red Ensoul’s strengths and weaknesses lie. The deck punishes stumbling opponents and clunky draws extremely hard; for instance, in both games against Abzan Aggro, my opponent stood no chance, and that Turn Four kill versus Green-Red Monsters was just brutal.

Ensoul stumbles, however, when your opponent is consistently able to answer your nut draws, which my game against Mardu Tokens quite clearly exhibited. In Game One, I had the choice between playing Ensoul Artifact on either Smuggler’s Copter or Darksteel Citadel. The problem is that if I enchant my Darksteel Citadel, my opponent will be able to simply chump it every turn, and if I Ensoul targeting Copter, like I did in the game, I get blown out extremely hard by a single removal spell. I think that Atarka Red is a fairly even matchup, and mostly comes down to who draws the best. The Game 2 in the match versus the Red deck was an incredible nail-biter, which is no surprise, as games versus Atarka are often extremely close and being on the play is extremely important; the difference between winning and losing is often just that single turn.

Now, let’s have a deeper look at that second game versus Atarka, starting with our opening hand:

Our opener consisted of three lands that covered all of our colours, a Bomat Courier, an Ensoul Artifact, a Metallic Rebuke and a Spell Pierce. This is a pretty good hand versus Atarka; Spell Pierce and Metallic Rebuke are both really good, and Atarka is often not able to cleanly remove a 5/5 Bomat Courier.

Our opponent leads on a Soul-Scar Mage, which makes our Bomat Courier look a lot less exciting. Nevertheless, we play our Bomat Courier on our first turn, having drawn Darksteel Citadel. He plays two more one-drops on his turn, and on our second turn we are faced with the first interesting decision of the game.

We can either Ensoul our Bomat Courier and swing for five damage, or we can Ensoul our Darksteel Citadel, and create an indestructible 5/5. I think that in the video, I explain quite well why targeting the Courier is correct here, but I’ll go over it once more. There are three reasons that this is correct: the first one is that with a Soul-Scar Mage on board, there is very little difference between a 5/5 that is indestructible and one that is not; even though he might be able to block the Bomat Courier and kill it in combination with a Lightning Strike, putting three -1/-1 counters on it will most of the time be enough to significantly reduce the impact of Ensoul Artifact. Secondly, this Bomat Courier will likely almost never get to attack through the horde of two-toughness creatures that he is playing, and thirdly, the five extra points of damage that playing Ensoul on the Courier enables are likely important.

Then on his third turn, he plays Smuggler’s Copter and hits me for six. I then play another Bomat Courier and hit him for another five damage, knocking his life total down to eight on my turn. I also quite importantly miss my Bomat Courier trigger here.

He plays Dragon Fodder, which I tag with my Spell Pierce, and he then hits me down to seven. I fetch, going down to six. I think that his attack here was quite conservative, leaving back one of his creatures to chump my 5/5, in order to play around Shrapnel Blast.

At this point I can take exactly one hit from Smuggler’s Copter.
I do have a Settle the Wreckage in my hand, but I don’t draw the second white mana source I would need to play it. I attack with my 5/5 Courier, which he chumps.

On his turn, he plays another Monastery Swiftspear and attempts to Wild Slash my Bomat Courier.

I have to counter that in order to not die here, and as a pleasant surprise, he decides to only attack with Smuggler’s Copter in order to play around Shrapnel Blast again. I understand it from his perspective, especially considering there will be three cards underneath my Bomat Courier, effectively giving me four chances to draw it. I also think he felt quite ahead here, with him threatening lethal with Smuggler’s Copter on his next turn, and with me having no fliers to block it, I can understand why he wanted to play it safe.

On my turn, I again fail to draw the second white source I need for Settle the Wreckage, so I attack with both the Courier and the Scrounger, which prompts two blocks from my opponent. In my second main phase I pop my Courier, finding a land, a Smuggler’s Copter and a Spell Queller. Here I have to make another tough decision between playing Smuggler’s Copter, offering a trade of Copters that leaves me dead if he has another Wild Slash, but preserves the Spell Queller that’s in my hand, or holding up Spell Queller to chump block his Copter, which plays around Wild Slash at the expense of my Queller.

The analysis I make in the video is faulty. I say that Spell Queller is better solely if the top card of my deck is either Shrapnel Blast or another Smuggler’s Copter. The logic behind this is that Spell Queller essentially guarantees that I draw one more card, but in that case, I have other outs to a Wild Slash aside from just Shrapnel Blast or Smuggler’s Copter. In fact, Smuggler’s Copter would still leave me dead to Wild Slash! The top card of my deck would have to be a creature that costs two or less mana, or Shrapnel Blast in order to play around Wild Slash, I didn’t calculate the actual figures, but I think that that is little over half of the deck. So, the decision then is not to play around Wild Slash at all, or to play around it in little over half the time.
Considering that I’m super far behind, I think that it is more than worth it to take the risk of playing Smuggler’s Copter.

He draws and plays Dragon Fodder and attacks with his Copter and his Soul-Scar Mage, I am forced to block the Copter, and I go down to 1. I loot away a land with Smuggler’s Copter.
On my turn, I swing with Bomat Courier, and he chumps it with a Goblin token once more.

Here, I think that chumping is no longer correct, as it only plays around Shrapnel Blast, and if he doesn’t chump he is almost guaranteed lethal, I would need to have two creatures to not die on the spot, and considering I didn’t play another creature after my Smuggler’s Copter the turn before, I think it would have been worth it for him to take a risk here in order to guarantee lethal damage.

On his turn, I get to Spell Queller his Hordeling Outburst, and he is left with no feasible attacks. I draw another Spell Queller on my turn, which was likely the best draw in my deck. I attack with Scrounger again, and now he decides to take the three damage, going down to 4. It was not correct to attack with my Spell Queller here, because if he doesn’t chump the Scrounger, I will be forced to play my other Spell Queller in combat, leaving me dead to a post-combat burn spell.

On his turn, I take a slight risk by countering his Smuggler’s Copter with Spell Queller to guarantee I have lethal next turn. This leaves me dead to exactly Wild Slash, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that he doesn’t have that in his hand at this point, considering he would’ve most likely played it earlier, or he had to topdeck it. He does not have the Wild Slash and my Spell Quellers swung for the win come the next turn.

I just wanted to look at this game closely for you guys because I think that there were a couple of interesting decisions to learn from.

I already shortly talked about the other matches I played, but let’s still cover them briefly:

The first match I played was against Mardu Tokens. This matchup is abysmal for me, I played this same opponent in the first round of the Frontier League, and I was able to win that match with a combination of sheer luck, and him playing a slightly worse version of the deck. This match however, was hopeless and he completely stomped me two games in a row.

Against Abzan Aggro, the tables were turned and there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this match. He drew a really slow hand in the first game, and I killed him before he was able to do much of anything, and even though the second game was a bit closer, I still completely destroyed him. Matchups like these are really good for this deck, as Spell Queller and Reflector Mage shine in these matchups. If you draw even remotely well, you should be able to win these kinds of games quite easily.

The games versus Red-Green Monsters were more or less the same, he had a really clunky hand Game 1, and I killed him on Turn 4. Game Two, I lost to a resolved Goblin Rabblemaster, which is a just a really quick clock when left unchecked. Considering this deck has very little interaction against resolved threats, Rabblemaster made quick work of my life total. Game 3, I was able to counter his Rabblemaster, and proceeded to make quick work of him after.

Our matchup versus Atarka Red is often really close to a pure 50/50. The player who draws better wins this matchup, and being on the play, as mentioned, is important. I played another match versus Atarka off-screen, and I lost after mulliganing to five cards in Game 1 and him drawing the absolute nuts in Game 3.

Overall, I’m very happy with the list I played and I’m very excited for the rest of the Frontier League. I feel like I finally have a really good deck, and I think that I already played the only really bad matchup in the field. I think that Ensoul is an excellent choice going into an unknown field; it has very little extremely bad matchups, and even against your bad matchups, you still always have at least chance at winning those games off of your nut draws. Join us next week as Somnus breaks down the current tier list of the Frontier format!

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