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PV’s Playhouse – Modern Ascendancy Matchups

Last week, I talked a little about the Ascendancy deck we played in the Modern portion of the World Championship. Today I’m going to talk a little more in depth about that deck, explain some of the card choices, and give you a sideboard guide.

Here’s the deck list again:

For those who don’t know, the “combo” involves playing a mana creature (either Fatestitcher untapping a land or an active Faerie Conclave) and a Jeskai Ascendancy. At this point, every spell you play untaps your mana creature and gives you a loot; since a lot of the spells in the deck cost one mana, they end up effectively costing zero. At some point, you’ll find a second Fatestitcher, which you will discard and unearth for free (since it untaps the land you used), and then every spell you play will net you a mana, up to a point where your creatures are big enough from Jeskai Ascendancy +1/+1 triggers that you can just attack for the win. Fatestitcher also happens to tap things in addition to untapping them, so you can get rid of random blockers if you so desire.

This version is very control-focused and doesn’t run any of the green creatures that the original Jeskai Ascendancy versions ran. It’s clear that Fatestitcher is the best mana creature, since it has haste and can be looted away, but it’s possible to play other mana creatures—Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, Arbor Elf, Sylvan Caryatid—in addition to Fatestitcher. Yet we chose to play none of those. Why not?

There are certainly benefits to playing cards like Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, which enable possible turn-two kills if you’re very lucky. Sylvan Caryatid is a bit slower but more resistant to disruption, and it lets you kill turn three and four much more comfortably. Our deck can kill turn three, but realistically you’re looking at turn four, sometimes turn five and six.

In the end, the answer is that we didn’t think we actually needed the speed. Sure, you can kill on turns two and three, but do you really need to? The great majority of the time, you do not, because you have interaction. Turn two Sylvan Caryatid, turn three Ascendancy + win is great, but is it that much better than turn two Remand, turn three Ascendancy, turn four win? Not really. What we gave up in speed we gained in ways to interact with our opponent.

With 3 Bolts, 3 Paths, 4 Izzet Charms, and 3 Remands, you have more ways to deal with creatures than many UWR control decks. This means you can often play the control game up to a point where, eventually, you kill them with the combo. I believe this deck plays similarly to Splinter Twin, except it’s better since you have less bad cards and Jeskai Ascendancy is almost a one-card combo.

The removal package does more than just deal with problematic creatures—it ends up buying you enough time that you can circumvent things like Spell Pierce and Remand, or so that you can draw another Ascendancy after the first one got discarded or hit by Abrupt Decay, so indirectly it helps deal with their disruption as well.

The split on Path/Bolt might be wrong, but it’s hard to say as both have upsides and downsides. Bolt doesn’t hurt you and can actually go to the face to finish them off, whereas Path will deal with creatures such as Deceiver Exarch, Linvala, Anafenza, Tarmogoyf, and Spellskite. Giving people a land is bad a lot of the time, especially in post-board games against Delver where they constrain you on mana, but I think the ability to kill the x/4 hosers is worth it.

The Remand/Izzet Charm split might also seem weird, since Remand is usually a better card, but letting you discard Fatestitcher (and Iona/Rites post-sb) and killing Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer ends up making Izzet Charm the better card here. Those two spells are the reason you can compete with decks that theoretically have a faster kill than you, such as Pyromancer Ascension and stuff like Splinter Twin.

BGx

BGx decks (Jund, Junk, Pod) are usually good matchups even if they have Abrupt Decay to deal with Ascendancy, because they have no pressure and you are almost immune to Liliana, which is normally one of their best cards against combo. In those matchups, if you have no information about their hand (i.e. no Gitaxian Probe), I’ll usually just play Ascendancy as soon as I can, because I don’t want to expose it to topdecked discard. I’ll also often just main-phase a Fatestitcher for four mana, which stops an attacker and makes it awkward for them to leave BG up for Decay, since you can always tap a land on your own draw phase.

If you know that they have Decay, then it’s possible to sculpt a scenario in which you just go off in response to it. For that, you need Fatestitcher and instants. Make sure to reanimate Fatestitcher first (or they can just respond to that), and then lead with whatever sorcery you can—once you start going off, you won’t be able to cast more sorceries until you’re done. It is not trivial to kill them this way, since you can’t get more Fatestitchers mid-combo, but if you have some mana left (enough to cast Dig, usually), then it’s very doable. You can also just find another Stitcher and another Ascendancy and combo off next turn.

If you have no idea as to the contents of their hand and want to go off, you can reanimate first (to play around Decay) or play Ascendancy first (to play around removal). My recommendation is to unearth first, because, if they do have removal, you keep Ascendancy in play, so it’s a better outcome for you. If you go for Ascendancy into unearth and they Decay that, you end up with no Ascendancy and no Fatestitcher.

After sideboard those matches get worse for you, as they bring in all sorts of hate (more discard, Cranial effects, graveyard hate and so on), but it’s still quite winnable because, again, they have little pressure. The Gifts package really shines here, since it gives you a way to win that circumvents discard and enchantment removal—even if they Thoughtseize away your whole hand, you can just draw Gifts and randomly win next turn. Gifts is also helpful as simply a way to combat discard by getting two card draw spells or a Fatestitcher.

(For those who don’t know it, the “Gifts Package” is Gifts Ungiven + Unburial Rites + a big guy. You cast Gifts and select only Iona and Unburial Rites, and they have to send them both to the graveyard).

This is how I’d board vs. BGx (though keep in mind that this is a general sideboard guide; it’s possible that they are playing a slower version, in which case I’d want Remand, for example. If they are more aggro, I might want Bolts, and so on).

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Versus Pod, it’s a little different, since they actually have a number of cards that are potentially annoying (Spellskite, Linvala). They’re still super soft to Gifts, though this time you look for Elesh Norn.

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Some people like bringing in Wear // Tear to deal with Pod and Spellskite, but I think it’s too reactive and you don’t need it.

Delver

Delver is your hardest matchup, which is the main reason I don’t think this deck is broken or anything. I believe you’re a favorite game 1, since they have little disruption and most of it can be worked around, but they should be favored games 2 and 3 and the matchup overall should be unfavorable. Given that Delver is both very good and very popular, that’s not a fantastic place to be, but I think your other matchups make up for this.

Game one, just try to resolve Ascendancy and win from there. If you have to, you can just play it on t3 and hope it works, but most of the time you can deal with their threats and sculpt the game to a point where you can simply pay for Spell Pierce, then they don’t have a lot of ways to stop you. Against Delver, you don’t need to go “infinite” or anything—they usually take so much damage between fetches, duals, and Probes that a couple spells is enough to finish them off, and I’ve won games by simply attacking with Conclave and Bolting them twice. It’s also relevant that you can grow Fatestitcher out of Bolt range by simply playing two spells, though be wary of Vapor Snag.

After board, they get hard counters and some enchantment removal, so things get much more complicated. Even though they run way fewer lands than you, they’re likely to have you beat on mana, since you play Path to Exile and they have Treasure Cruise, which is super annoying. In game 1, you can simply play around Spell Pierce, but in game two you have to engage in a counter war and then Spell Pierce becomes quite good.

I’m not sure what to do to solve this, since just having more Swan Songs is not exactly awesome when you’re trying to deal with Spell Pierce. Pact is far better against them, but far worse against other things, so perhaps mixing things up a little bit is good. Someone suggested Gigadrowse, which was a card I didn’t even remember was legal, and that could also be good. If you are not particularly worried about Burn, then you could simply not have Timely Reinforcements and play two more Pacts, or one and a Gigadrowse. In the tournament, I boarded:

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Remand doesn’t do much other than delaying Treasure Cruise because, again, they out-mana you. I also knew my opponents at Worlds had multiple Spell Snares, so it seemed better to just not have that or Deprive.

Scapeshift

Scapeshift is an easy matchup because you’re basically playing the same deck except your kill card costs 3 and theirs costs 7. There isn’t much to this matchup other than trying to resolve Ascendancy and not letting their Scapeshift kill you…

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Swan Song is much better than Pact here, since you can stop their combo and then kill on the next turn. Gifts is not fantastic, but it lets you find a Fatestitcher, some card drawing or three counterspells. There’s always a point where no one can tap out anymore, and then having something to do instant speed is pretty good. It’s possible that the third Gifts is better than the first Treasure Cruise (though realistically you’d rather have neither since your deck is a bit clunky at this point), but I like being able to include Cruise in a Gifts pile. If you don’t run Timelys, then you can take the Cruise out as well.

Twin

Twin is a harder matchup because they have some instant speed-ness to their combo, but in the end you’re still favored because you can kill them out of nowhere, whereas they need to untap with a guy in play for that to happen, which you should be able to stop between Charms, Remands, and Paths.

You do need to watch out for Spellskite, though, as it will redirect your Fatestitcher activations and stop you in your tracks; you need to either Path it or go off with Faerie Conclave. Gitaxian Probe is your best friend here, since it tells you when it’s safe to go off or even when it’s safe to pass the turn tapped out.

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If you know they don’t have Spellskites, then leave in some Izzet Charms for Wear // Tear. If they play multiples (or if you don’t know), then leave Wear // Tear in. Probe is even better post-board, since they have more counters that you have to watch for and play around.

Affinity

Affinity is basically a race, but you have some disruption in the form of removal and they have nothing. In exchange, you need to find a specific card to kill them, whereas they can kill you with any permutation of cards. If you can find a turn-three Ascendancy, you should be a favorite, but sometimes a turn-four Ascendancy (resulting in a turn five kill) is too slow.

I feel like the matchup post-board depends a lot on what they’re bringing. Wear // Tear is decent, but not great, and Elesh Norn is quite hard for them to beat, but Affinity usually runs graveyard removal, since it can’t play anything else. If they have Grafdigger’s Cage or the like, then the Gifts plan is not great (though you do have Wear // Tear for that). If you suspect they don’t overload on graveyard hate, then bring Gifts in. In the dark, I would bring it in on the play, and not on the draw, since it’s a little bit too slow.

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(On the draw, I’d do only -3 Remand, +3 Wear // Tear)

I think that covers most of the usual matchups you’re going to face in Modern, though if you have any questions feel free to ask. I don’t think this deck is broken, but I do think it’s very good and a real contender for best possible option you can have, so I’d recommend you at least try it out.

See you next week,

PV

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