Almost There: Esper Ascend

Posted in How to Build on February 16, 2018

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.

Ixalan Limited was originally very aggressive, until Rivals of Ixalan introduced a slower archetype that quickly became the favorite of many in our testing team: the Sailor of Means/Secrets of the Golden City deck. The synergy between the two cards goes far beyond simply being "two permanents for ascend"; the 1/4 body on Sailor of Means defends you early to give you time to draw cards, and then the Treasure allows you to cast multiple things after you've drawn three cards, which helps you not get out-tempo'd. At the same time, the fact that you have several draw-threes in your deck means you can afford to spend a card on a defensive option that might not be as powerful as what other decks are drawing in the late game. Normally, the deck is rounded out by more defensive creatures, removal spells, and some powerful creatures to finish the game.

Lovers of the archetype will be happy to know that, if they want, they can play a Sailor of Means/Secrets of the Golden City deck in Standard as well! Here's the Esper Ascend build with which FluffyD went 5-0 in a Standard League:

FluffyD's Esper Ascend

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This is a control deck that aims to acquire the city's blessing via the use of enchantment-based removal and cards that generate multiple permanents. The rewards for having the city's blessing aren't very big (one extra card on Secrets of the Golden City is the main one), so the key is making sure you aren't going very much out of your way to make it work—because if you are, it's probably not worth it. Luckily, Baffling End and Ixalan's Binding are very powerful removal spells on their own, and Regal Caracal and Legion's Landing can be good defensive cards in the right metagame, so this deck isn't sacrificing a whole lot to get the city's blessing.

Sailor of Means is the one card I thought would definitely not be worth it, but I was very positively surprised when I played the deck on Magic Online. Not only did the card help with ascend by adding two permanents, it was also a fine blocker versus all the aggressive decks, because 1/4 is the perfect body to stop threats from both mono-red and Mardu decks. The Treasure was excellent with Fatal Push, since it meant you could turn it on at any time, and it also helped accelerate into one of the deck's powerful five-drops, making the lack of four-drops less noticeable. A curve of turn two removal, turn three Sailor of Means, and turn four either Regal Caracal or The Scarab God was very good against red aggro, for example.

  • Fatal Push
  • Sailor of Means
  • Regal Caracal
  • The Scarab God

The deck's main problem, as it is right now, is the mana. Even if you count Field of Ruins as a tricolored land (which is definitely generous), we're looking at twelve black sources and twelve white sources, which is not nearly enough to cast cards like Golden Demise, Vraska's Contempt, Regal Caracal, and sideboard Settle the Wreckage. Treasures help, but even then, I think the deck cannot support double-costed cards in both auxiliary colors. Nor does it need to, really, since you already have Ixalan's Binding for the effect that Vraska's Contempt is providing you. Cutting Golden Demise is a bit annoying, since it's very powerful against the swarm decks, but I was simply unable to cast it most of the time early in the game, which negated its effectiveness. By cutting the double-black cards, we can add a couple more white sources, which should streamline the deck.

Another issue is the glaring omission of Treasure Map, a card that seems tailor-made for an ascend deck that already includes Treasures from other sources. On the front side, the card isn't as good as Azor's Gateway, but it provides three new permanents immediately upon flipping, and it can then turn extra Treasures from Sailor of Means into even more cards. Since we're adding some Maps, I want something powerful to do with this burst of mana we're getting. It's possible the best card for the job is just another The Scarab God, but for now I want to try one The Immortal Sun.

In the end, you should treat this deck as just another control deck, not necessarily as an ascend deck. As mentioned before, the rewards for ascending aren't really there right now, so it's just a good bonus; for this deck to be good, you have to be in a metagame where you actively want cards like Sailor of Means and Regal Caracal in your deck (i.e., a metagame full of aggressive decks with low-toughness creatures). If that is your metagame, then give this deck a try; if it's not, you should probably look elsewhere.

This is the list I'd play:

PV's Esper Ascend

Download Arena Decklist

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