There are few times in my life where I've actually broken a format. Pyromancer Ascension is, without any doubt, the most competitive Building on a Budget deck in years. It was the best deck in its format, and, at the time this was printed, the entire deck was easy to come by.
I had tried to make four-color variants of the deck be viable prior to Magic 2011, but the mana issues were usually too much of a hindrance.
I saw Call to Mind in the previews a few days before Magic 2011 was released. I immediately went to the drawing board and designed a deck. I posted this exact list on a forum within hours of seeing Call to Mind and Preordain.
There were a lot of naysayers when the column went live, but I silenced the critics quickly by finishing second at a 310-person standard Pro Tour Qualifier that very weekend with a list that was within four rare lands of the original.
Since then the deck has posted Top 8 finishes in Standard tournaments around the world. It was even the second most played archetype at Pro Tour–Amsterdam, an Extended Pro Tour.
This article originally ran on July 21, 2010.
The biggest improvement from the new core set is the introduction of Call to Mind. Previously, the deck splashed white and green for Naya Charm. Call to Mind allows us to only play two colors, as opposed to four. Call to Mind and Time Warp create an infinite loop with an active Pyromancer Ascension on the battlefield. You cast the Time Warp, take two extra turns, use your next turn to Call to Mind the Time Warp and Call to Mind back to your hand, use the next turn to Time Warp again ... you get the picture.
Call to Mind would have been enough to get me excited again about the archetype, but the new core set offers up a lot more than that. Preordain essentially lets us play eight copies of Ponder. Gone are the days when our combo decks would be plagued with inconsistency. Playing eight Ponder effects makes our combo deck into a well-oiled machine that can reliably execute its game-winning series of plays.
Another card that really pushes this over the top is Foresee. If you haven't had the opportunity to Foresee yet, then I highly recommend you devote your next first draft pick to this absurdly powerful spell. Scry 4 ensures that the two cards you draw will be precisely what you're looking for. The card advantage gained from drawing two cards helps the deck battle plays that used to cause a lot of problems, like Blightning.
Ponder is an absolute all-star. I've already written volumes on this card's application in decks that rely on specific cards or card combinations. We get to play with Magic 2010 until the fall and Ponder will certainly be a four-of until the rotation.
The new two-color version of the deck gets to play with more disruption than its four-color counterpart. I no longer need to devote slots to mana fixing like Harrow or Prophetic Prism. This gives me the opportunity to play with the new core set's least talked about, most thought about spell. Mana Leak is battle tested and player approved. Versatile two-mana counterspells have been gone for a long enough period of time that players seems to have forgotten how powerful they can be. Mana Leak protects our combo pieces and disrupts our opponent. In many match-ups, it can slow our opponent down enough to give us the time we need to combo. Drawing multiple Mana Leaks is especially devastating; you can pass the turn and threaten putting more counters on your Pyromancer Ascension.
I still had room for another suite of disruption, so I decided to play with a set of Spreading Seas. Jund has been a very poor match-up for me with the old version of Pyromancer Ascension. Blightning is a difficult card to deal with and Maelstrom Pulse is a main-deck answer to our game winning enchantment. Spreading Seas in combination with all our cantrips can be very deadly here. We have the ability to draw multiple copies of Spreading Seas in the same game because of cards like Ponder and Preordain. If you've ever played Jund against an opponent who drew more than one Spreading Seas, then you can probably understand why this is such a good inclusion.
I still want to play with Lightning Bolt. The power of an instant burn spell like this cannot be underestimated. Lightning Bolt also doubles as our win condition. Once we start taking infinite turns we can eventually engineer a turn where we can play enough Lightning Bolts to kill our opponent. It isn't even a lot of work. You get a second Ascension active, cast a Bolt, copy it twice, Call to Mind multiple Lightning Bolts or a single Lightning Bolt and other Call to Minds and then fire off a lethal dose of burn.
The sideboard is very important here. I chose to play with Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds because they let me splash Rest for the Weary out of my sideboard. Red has a very difficult time beating this spell even when it isn't copied. When you start casting two-mana "Gain 16"s it's probably about time for your opponent to pack it in.
The sideboard also plays Jace Beleren for control match-ups. Jace Beleren has become significantly easier to trade for since Jace, the Mind Sculptor was printed with Worldwake. Jace Beleren was already printed in Lorwyn and Magic 2010, so you may already have them. If you don't, you can acquire them from packs of Magic 2011.
The sideboard also plays with Earthquake, Magic 2011 has given us an extra Overrun effect and I suspect overrun themed green decks will gain a lot of power and popularity in the coming weeks. Earthquake gives you a very respectable board-sweep effect against these types of deck. It seems like Earthquake is better here than Pyroclasm because it can also kill their Garruk Wildspeaker. These types of decks cannot deal a lot of damage without their Overrun effects, so the damage we deal ourselves won't be too relevant.
I played some games with a friend to make sure the deck functioned properly.
I win the roll and keep Terramorphic Expanse, Mountain, Island, Spreading Seas, Ponder, Ponder, and Mana Leak. I play my Expanse and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Savage Lands and passes the turn back. I pop my Expanse on his end step and grab an Island. I draw a Time Warp, cast Spreading Seas on the Savage Lands, draw a Pyromancer Ascension, and pass the turn. My opponent uses his turn to play a Raging Ravine and passes the turn. I cast Ponder, see a Mountain, a Ponder, and another Spreading Seas. I put them back Spreading Seas on top, then Ponder, then Mountain. I draw the Spreading Seas, cast it on the Raging Ravine, draw the Ponder, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Swamp and passes the turn. I draw the Mountain, play it, cast Pyromancer Ascension, then I cast Ponder, putting a counter on the Ascension. I shuffle my library and draw another Island, then cast the second Ponder. I find a Call to Mind, put a second counter on the Ascension, and finally pass the turn. My opponent plays a Savage Lands off the top of his library and passes the turn.
I draw another Mana Leak, cast Time Warp, use the Pyromancer Ascension to copy it, and I start my next turn. I cast Call to Mind returning Ponder and Time Warp to my hand on the next turn. I cast the Ponder and copy it, I find another Time Warp and a Foresee. I cast Time Warp again the next turn and copy it. I do the same the next turn. I cast Foresee and copy it the next turn and I find a second Call to Mind. My friend sees that I can take infinite turns and he concedes.
Jund used to be a very difficult match-up. The match still isn't easy, especially if they're on the play, but things have certainly gotten a lot better. Spreading Seas helps us buy enough time to combo off without getting our Ascension hit by a Maelstrom Pulse. Mana Leak also helps protect our combo.
I lose the roll and keep Island, Island, Ponder, Preordain, Lightning Bolt, Pyromancer Ascension, Call to Mind. My opponent casts a Goblin Guide, attacks and gives me a Mountain, then passes the turn. I draw another Mountain, play it, cast Lightning Bolt on the Goblin Guide (otherwise I need to discard) and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Hellspark Elemental and attacks me down to 15. I draw another Preordain, cast Pyromancer Ascension, and pass the turn. My opponent uses Hellspark Elemental's unearth ability, plays a Teetering Peeks, and attacks for 5, I go to 10. I draw a Terrmorphic Expanse, cast Preordain, find a Bolt, cast another Preordain, put a counter on the Pyromancer Ascension, find a Time Warp, then pass the turn. My opponent casts a Ball Lightning and I use Lightning Bolt to get a second counter on my Pyromancer Ascension.
I draw a Foresee, cast Ponder, copy it, find a Mana Leak and a second Call to Mind, and pass the turn with Mana Leak mana open. My opponent casts Hell's Thunder and I use my Mana Leak. He passes the turn. I draw an Island, cast Time Warp, copy it, and take another turn. I use Call to Mind to return the Time Warp and Ponder back to my hand, I cast the Ponder, find a Lightning Bolt, Bolt my opponent for 6, and take another turn. I cast another Time Warp and copy it, I use Call to Mind to return Time Warp and Call to Mind back to my hand the next turn. My opponent concedes.
Red is surprisingly good for this deck. The first game can get very scary, but after sideboarding we have access to Rest for the Weary. Game 1 may be slightly in their favor, but games two and three are very easy for the Pyromancer Ascension deck.
I lose the roll again and keep Terramorphic Expanse, Island, Island, Foresee, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Bolt, Spreading Seas. My opponent plays a Raging Ravine and passes the turn. I draw a Mana Leak, play my Terramorphic Expanse, and pass the turn. My opponent plays an Arid Mesa, cracks it for a Plains, and casts Fauna Shaman. I crack my Expanse for a Mountain on his end step. I draw another Island, play one Island, cast Lightning Bolt on the Fauna Shaman, and pass the turn. My opponent plays another Arid Mesa, casts another Fauna Shaman, and passes the turn. I draw a second Spreading Seas, cast Lightning Bolt on the Fauna Shaman, cast Spreading Seas on the Raging Ravine, draw Time Warp, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Stirring Wildwood and passes the turn. I continue cutting off his green sources by casting another Spreading Seas. I draw Pyromancer Ascension. My opponent draws his card and passes the turn. I draw Ponder, cast Foresee, get a land and another Ponder, cast Ponder, find another Time Warp, and pass the turn. My opponent plays an Evolving Wilds and passes the turn. I draw an Island, play my land, cast Time Warp, play my land, and take another turn. I draw another Foresee, cast Pyromancer Ascension, cast Foresee, put a counter on the ascension, get a backup Ascension and another Time Warp, and pass the turn. My opponent leaves the Evolving Wilds uncracked and uses his turn to Oblivion Ring the Ascension.
I draw an Evolving Wilds of my own, cast another Pyromancer Ascension, cast a Time Warp, put a counter on the Pyromancer Ascension, and take another turn. I draw a Mana Leak, cast Ponder to put a second counter on the Ascension, shuffle my library, draw Call to Mind, cast Time Warp with a copy, and take an extra turn. I draw a Preordain, cast it with a copy, I find another Call to Mind and my opponent concedes to infinite turns again.
That went very well. I think this deck may have what it takes to be a contender in the new Standard. If you have any new ideas I would love to hear them in an email or on the forums.