Game, Narset, Match

Posted in From the Lab on November 3, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

Greetings, friends and comrades. It's Jeskai Week here on DailyMTG, and to prepare I've spent the last several days in a secluded mountaintop monastery learning from the monks of the Jeskai Way. Although where the monks meditated in search of enlightenment and understanding, I was more interested in new deck ideas. I returned from my journey just in time to pen this article, and not without a few decklists scribbled on scrolls in my pack.

Warden of the Eye | Art by Howard Lyon

D-D-Don't Stop the Beatdown

The Jeskai Way is easily the most Johnny-oriented of the five clans of Tarkir, and that's readily apparent with one look at the clan's Khan, Narset.

Narset, Enlightened Master can certainly provide some great value if you pack your deck with noncreature spells. She's also great for triggering prowess whenever you attack. However, that's not what drew me to the card. When my gears started turning, I was focused on two parts. First of all, you get to cast noncreature spells without paying any mana. That means you can cast spells that would normally cost a whole pile of mana for the low-low price of nothing. The second part that caught my eye was that you get to do this whenever Narset attacks. The word "whenever" is a combo player's dream, signifying that an effect can be repeated as long as you can keep meeting the trigger condition.

Combine those two aspects of Narset and a clear path is laid out before you. If a card like Relentless Assault is in the top four cards of your library, you can cast it for free. That untaps Narset, and you get an extra combat phase. Narset attacks again, and you exile the top four cards of your library again. As long as you keep hitting spells that give you extra combat phases, you can keep this going forever.

There's still one problem with this plan. Narset isn't particularly effective in combat. In fact, pretty much anything with 4 toughness will kill her. Fortunately, that's easily fixed. Put on an Aura like Steel of the Godhead or Aqueous Form to make her unblockable and you can go straight for your opponent's life total. Aqueous Form lets you scry 1 whenever you attack, essentially letting you look through five cards for an extra combat phase instead of four. Steel of the Godhead gives Narset 2 more power, meaning you only have to hit extra combat phases three times to win the game. It also grants lifelink, which can buy you some time to try again if you miss.

For taking extra combat phases, Relentless Assault is the classic solution. It's perfectly efficient at four mana, making it easier to cast a copy from your hand if you need to. Since there's only one creature you'll be attacking with, Seize the Day also gets the job done for four mana. It also tacks on a cheap flashback cost to let you recover if one of Narset's triggers doesn't hit anything. Just to add in some extra insurance, I've included two copies of Waves of Aggression as well.

Gamble makes it easy to grab a copy of Narset out of your deck, although it does come with a little risk. Fortunately, this deck doesn't have many cards it needs to have in hand. In fact, it's really just Narset and Aqueous Form. Everything else is cast right out of the deck. Brainstorm is also a great way to get the cards you need in hand. It can even put a Relentless Assault back on the top of your deck to make sure you hit it with Narset.

Mana Severance can be used to drastically increase your chances of hitting the spells you need with Narset. As soon as you cast it, the extra combat phase cards go from 1/6th of the deck to more than 1/4th of it. Finally, Coalition Relic allows you to cast Narset on turn four, no matter what colors of lands you have. That's pretty handy for a deck that has little in the way of defense.


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Around the time Khans of Tarkirwas released, I happened upon a little combo using Jeskai Ascendancy, Retraction Helix, and a free artifact. (I started out using Tormod's Crypt, but the card itself usually doesn't matter as long as it costs zero.) I decided to save it for Jeskai Week, since it uses the clan's signature enchantment. Unfortunately, a deck built around that combo did fairly well in a somewhat significant tournament recently, so it looks like the cat's out of the bag.

However, I couldn't just ignore the combo potential of Jeskai Ascendancy. Therefore, I decided to find a different way to take advantage of the enchantment. The key is casting a noncreature spell over and over again. Retraction Helix does this by returning something to your hand, but there are other ways to accomplish the feat. I briefly flirted with the idea of using a retrace card like Flame Jab, but keeping enough lands in hand to pay the retrace cost proved somewhat problematic. Rather than MacGyver an awkward solution, I decided to move on to something else.

Isochron Scepter was the next card that came to mind. Making a copy of a spell on the stack doesn't count as casting it, but Isochron Scepter makes a copy of a card in exile and then casts that copy. That means it will trigger Jeskai Ascendancy. Unfortunately, the Ascendancy only untaps creatures, so it won't allow you to reuse Isochron Scepter. Or will it?

If you cast Karn's Touch on the Scepter, it becomes a 2/2 creature, and therefore will be untapped by the enchantment. March of the Machines will work as well. Now you just need a spell to imprint that will produce the two mana necessary to pay the Scepter's cost. Fortunately, that part is easy. Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual will both do the job, and leave you with one extra mana each time.

So now you can trigger Jeskai Ascendancy as many times as you want. Sometimes that will be enough, and you can just attack with a 99/99 Isochron Scepter. However, I wanted another plan in case an arbitrarily large creature wouldn't get the job done. Since the combo already produces infinite red mana, a Fireball seemed like the perfect solution. Although there plenty of options available, the best one for a combo deck is usually Banefire. As long as you cast it for more than five, say...five million, it can't be countered and the damage can't be prevented. That makes it nearly impossible for your opponent to avoid taking lethal damage a few thousand times over. Since Jeskai Ascendancy will also allow you to dig through your deck as much as you want, you only have to play one copy of Banefire. You'll draw it eventually, no matter what.

It was only at this point that I remembered Elite Arcanist. As a creature version of Isochron Scepter, it skips the extra step of using Karn's Touch. Unfortunately it's also more vulnerable to removal, since it's already a creature during the turn you have to wait for summoning sickness to go away. In the end, I decided to use both cards, giving the deck some extra redundancy.

Since the combo requires three or four pieces depending on whether you're using Scepter or Arcanist, some tutors are definitely in order. Enlightened Tutor is the best option, since it can search for every part of the combo except the Rituals, which the deck plays eight copies of anyway. The other card I threw in was Wild Research. It can't search for Isochron Scepter or Elite Arcanist, but it can get anything else, including Enlightened Tutor. Although it comes with the risk of discarding a card at random, you can always activate the ability again if you discard something you need.

To protect your combo and your life, I've included a pair of counterspells. Remand is a classic tool of combo decks, stalling for time while giving you an extra card to help find your combo pieces. However, your opponent can immediately cast the spell again if he or she has enough mana, making Remand more suited for protecting your life total from large creatures than protecting your combo from cheap removal spells.

The other part of the job is taken care of by Dispel. It counters any instant for just one mana, making it incredibly useful for stopping any disruption your opponent casts while you're trying to make the combo go off. Although it only counters one card type, most of the spells that might kill Elite Arcanist, Isochron Scepter, or Jeskai Ascendancy are instants.

Rituals of Ascendancy

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Parting Ways

The Jeskai Way has some pretty great combo decks hiding in it, but my time among the martial monks is done for now. I've got to go my own way, exploring new ground and new deck ideas. I'll be back next week with more Johnny-tastic experiments, but until then, keep searching for inspiration and enlightenment. You might just find it. See ya!

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