Jeskai Ascendancy is Standard’s hot, new combo deck. Love it or hate it, you have to respect it. (You know which camp I fall into.)
I arrived in Honolulu a week early to test with team Face to Face Games. We started with the main deck Andrew Baeckstrom got 11th with at SCG Indianapolis.
Andrew Baeckstrom’s Ascendancy Combo
The general plan of the deck was very strong, capable of winning on turn three or four. Here’s how the deck works:
With Jeskai Ascendancy plus a mana creature or two, dig through the deck to find Retraction Helix plus either Dragon Mantle or a zero-mana artifact. With Retraction Helix and two creatures, bounce and replay Dragon Mantle to draw the deck. Or, with only one creature, bounce and replay an artifact to loot into Dragon Mantle and Twinflame. Use Twinflame to make another creature, then draw the deck with Dragon Mantle. After drawing the deck, make infinite mana by bouncing an artifact with two creatures in play. Next, play some Rattleclaw Mystics and Voyaging Satyrs, and Twinflame all of them to make hasty tokens. Bounce and replay an artifact to make the tokens large, and attack. Whew!
That’s a lot of pieces, so it was important to figure out the best way to assemble them. In our testing, Taigam’s Scheming was surprisingly impressive. It found whatever piece of the combo was missing, and powered up Dig Through Time. Speaking of Dig Through Time, it was immediately apparent the fourth copy deserved a place in the deck. Looking at seven cards for two mana is invaluable in just about any deck, let alone a combo deck. In fact, delving was so strong that we decided we could add a Treasure Cruise (and rename the deck Four-Color Delver).
While Kiora’s Follower theoretically combos with Retraction Helix and another creature to bounce two opposing permanents, this never actually came up. Additionally the Follower did not play well with Battlefield Forge or the other pain lands. For these reasons, we switched to Voyaging Satyr. Briber’s Purse proved a useful tool for buying time, and Astral Cornucopia never did anything, so we changed to two Purses. Although Retraction Helix was a key combo piece, once we started chaining draw spells, it was usually not difficult to find one, so we decided to go down to three.
The mana base needed the most work. Scry lands were particularly good since card selection was so important, so a couple more were warranted. Pain lands were a necessary evil. Losing life to cast spells is better than not casting spells, but in long games, losing 1-2 life per spell adds up. Blue was needed frequently, so blue pain lands were particularly painful. Therefore, we added a basic Island and more Temple of Epiphany.
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo (AKA Four-Color Delver)
It is very unusual for Rattleclaw Mystic or Voyaging Satyr to survive in this matchup. For this reason we decided to take them out, and rely exclusively on Sylvan Caryatid. However, this makes us slower, so Lightning Strike is important for removing opposing threats.
You might be wondering how we win with no creatures that can attack. Once we draw our deck, Bow of Nylea can recycle Swan Songs plus Twinflames to make infinite hasty Swan tokens, or Lightning Strikes to just do the opponent infinite damage. Bow is the best alternate win condition because Commune finds it, and repetitive life gain buys a lot of time.
In this matchup and many others, opponents board in disruption, so they have a slower clock. In a slower game, Divination is better than Taigam’s Scheming because it allows you to get ahead on cards, and continue to make land drops. Taigam’s Scheming is particularly good at fueling delve, but with more time, it is fine for the delve spells to cost more. It is common to switch Taigam’s Scheming for Divination in matchups where disruption is expected. Similarly, the second Purse is only necessary when a speedy victory is required.
Ascendancy is fantastic against any slow deck, so this matchup is excellent. Our clock is much faster, and they have little to no disruption. Reclamation Sage is not effective because it is common to go off the turn Ascendancy comes down. Swan Song comes in for Stain the Mind, but can also counter Thoughtseize or Doomwake Giant in a pinch. If your mind gets stained in game two, bring in more Swan Songs. Doomwake Giant and Polukranos make Rattleclaw Mystic the worst mana creature.
Another easy matchup. Although UB has disruption, we have inevitability through card draw and Swan Song. It is difficult for them to prevent spells slipping through the cracks against such an efficient one mana answer. However, Perilous Vault is something to watch out for.
In order for Junk to win, they need both disruption and a clock. A clock with no disruption is too slow, and only disruption allows us to pull ahead with card draw. When they have a good draw with both elements, the matchup is difficult. In any matchup with Bile Blight, you can change a Voyaging Satyr for a Kiora’s Follower. In this case, eleven mana creatures is still about the right number.
It is difficult to find enough time to search for combo pieces, so the fourth Retraction Helix comes in. Helix, Lightning Strike, and Arc Lightning are all important for removing Eidolon of the Great Revel. It is possible the third Lightning Strike should also come in, but you run the risk of diluting your deck to the point where it is difficult to combo off.
After a week of testing, most of Face to Face chose to play Abzan Aggro, while Alexander Hayne and I chose to play combo. On Day One I beat UB Control and GB Devotion, and lost to Jeskai Tempo, Abzan Midrange, and Mardu Midrange. Unfortunately, my draft went poorly, so I was out of contention. Hayne went 3-2 in Constructed on both days, so our win percentage was about fifty percent with the deck.
Ascendancy Combo is a metagame call. If you expect to play against slow decks like UB Control and Green Devotion, or if people stop adding the proper disruption to their sideboard, it could be a great choice. Currently, the metagame is not friendly enough for me want to play the deck at GP LA this weekend, but the deck is very fun, so I hope someone proves me wrong and crushes all the midrange fools!
Shout-outs to my teammates, and congratulations on the Top 8 Siggy! I can’t say I was surprised.
Thanks for reading,
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