A Nice Look at Ascendancy

Posted in Top Decks on December 5, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

We finally get to see what in the worlds is going on this week, as all the Standard and Modern decklists from the World Championship are out. Seeing what these 24 players chose to take into battle is very interesting, and there are definitely a few standouts in the lists. The Worlds metagame isn't that different from a normal metagame, now that there are 24 players invited instead of 16. Adding 50% more competitors makes the field that much harder to predict, and you can no longer rule out decks with quite as much confidence. As a result, these decks are pretty "real," which has not always been the case in small-attendance events. Among these decks, there were more decks based on ascending than I thought there'd be, with Ascensions and Ascendancies of both the Pyromancer and Jeskai variety making an appearance.

Jeskai Ascendancy | Art by Dan Scott

The Modern Jeskai Ascendancy list may be the best new deck to come out of this tournament. It was built by Josh Utter-Leyton and piloted by Josh, Tom Martell, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa:

Josh Utter-Leyton's Jeskai Ascendancy

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The combo in this deck is very simple:

Combining either Faerie Conclave or Fatestitcher plus Jeskai Ascendancy makes all your one-mana draw spells free by untapping these mana-producing creatures, and lets you start ripping through your deck because of the Jeskai Ascendancy draw triggers. Eventually, you find a Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time, which often finds a second Fatestitcher (and being able to discard Fatestitcher to Ascendancy so you can unearth it is a very big part of why this deck is good). Once you have two creatures out, most of your spells generate mana and cards, and eventually you attack your opponent to death with a very large Fatestitcher or Conclave. Any excess untap triggers let you tap your opponent's blockers with Fatestitcher, and Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile supplement this.

There are a few reasons that this deck is so good:

  1. Fatestitcher has haste when unearthed. This deck doesn't have to start the turn with it in play, or even in the graveyard, due to Jeskai Ascendancy letting you discard. That means that the opponent never knows if you are poised to go off, making him or her play more conservatively, which often loses to Remands and Dig Through Times.
  2. Because of Thought Scour, Lightning Bolt, Dig Through Time, and Izzet Charm, this deck has a plausible shot of going off through a removal spell. Depending on whether you are playing around Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, or Abrupt Decay, you can either unearth [autocard]Fatestitcher[.autocard] first or play Ascendancy first, and either way the instants in your deck will let you trigger Ascendancy a few times in response to removal. That will often find the pieces you need to go off again, or even grow Fatestitcher enough to survive Bolt.
  3. This deck interacts with the opponent, which gives it time to find the combo. Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Remand, and Izzet Charm all stop any deck that purports to be faster than this deck, all while not unduly slowing this deck down. Izzet Charm is especially key, as it provides a lot of disruption while also looking at multiple cards when you are just trying to race.
  4. I love the sideboard plan of Gifts Ungiven + Unburial Rites + Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite/Iona, Shield of Emeria. I may be a sucker for Gifts and Elesh Norn both, but being able to wildly swing matchups by attacking from a different angle is always something to look for, and this plan doesn't cost a ton of sideboard slots. This deck even has Izzet Charm and Ascendancy to discard with, letting it have a shot of comboing without Gifts (which I've done in testing).

Tom, Josh, and Paulo went 8–4 combined with this deck, which is an impressive feat at the World Championship. I played games against the deck prior to Worlds, and it soundly crushed my Pod deck, even when I had Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize at the ready. I've also been playing the deck online since Worlds, and it's pretty sweet, although if the Pyromancer Ascension deck that Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and William Jensen played gets more popular, that isn't great for Ascendancy. When two combo decks clash, speed is usually the most important quality, and the Ascension deck feels like it's a half-turn or turn faster than Ascendancy.

Owen Turtenwald's Pyromancer Ascension

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This is very similar to Storm decks of past that this team has enjoyed playing, but the updated list takes full advantage of Treasure Cruise's printing. No longer does the deck have to rely on Desperate Ravings to draw extra cards, and Cruise does a fantastic job of combining with the various red rituals and blue cantrips. It conflicts a little bit with Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames, but it doesn't seem like an actual issue from watching the games (and playing against it online).

How this deck wins is a little more convoluted, as it requires a mass of spells instead of a specific combination of two. It has two engines that generate mana in Goblin Electromancer and Pyromancer Ascension, and once it has one of those online, it can often string together enough rituals and cards like Manamorphose and Sleight of Hand to find Past in Flames or Treasure Cruise. At that point, it plays all the new spells it has access to, and casts a giant Grapeshot (or two medium Grapeshots).

The deck is very fast and resilient, and can even win without an Ascension or Goblin in play, if it has enough Pyretic Rituals and Desperate Rituals. It is also very consistent, thanks to a low land count and high cantrip count (it has more cards that draw cards than it has lands). It is much less disruptive than the Ascendancy deck, as none of its cards play defense at all in Game One, barring a defensive Grapeshot, and whether the extra turn of speed is worth having no way to stop the opponent is mostly a metagame call.

Moving from Modern to Standard, there is another Jeskai Ascendancy deck that caught my eye.

Yuuya Watanabe's Jeskai Tokens

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Sideboard (15)
2 Erase 2 Magma Spray 4 Disdainful Stroke 2 Glare of Heresy 1 Anger of the God 3 End of Hostilities 1 Elspeth Sun's Champion

(The fact that Yuuya also played four Treasure Cruises didn't hurt this deck's appeal, either.)

Jeskai Ascendancy is the engine in this deck as well, although it's less needed to win games than in pure combo decks. This deck is not that far off from a normal Jeskai Tempo deck, a deck Yuuya used to make Top 8 of the first Pro Tour this season. If you swap Mantis Rider for Jeskai Ascendancy, Dig Through Time for Treasure Cruise, Sarkhan for Chandra, and move numbers around to fit Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst, you are there. It still has the Goblin Rabblemasters, Seeker of the Ways, and burn spells, and still is looking to win games in much the same fashion.

The biggest difference between this deck and normal Jeskai is that it goes wide with its threats instead of having one big threat. Rabblemaster does both, so it stays, and Seeker is too efficient to cut, but tokens replace all the other threats the deck used to play. Because the deck has access to three different sources of tokens, all of a sudden Jeskai Ascendancy becomes a threatening card, and once that is the case, Treasure Cruise gets much better too. There are some sick combos in this deck, like casting Stoke the Flames pre-combat and untapping your whole team with Ascendancy, or using Ascendancy and Treasure Cruise to burn through your deck (after which you burn through your opponent).

This deck is much more resistant to spot removal than if it played cards like Mantis Rider or Hushwing Gryff, and in a world populated by Lightning Strikes, Hero's Downfalls, and Murderous Cuts, that's a big advantage. There are plenty of games where this deck never presents an individual target, instead winning solely off tokens + burn, which also puts the opponent in an awkward spot when it comes to Rabblemaster. Opponents will want to cut some amount of creature removal, but cut too much and they will lose to Rabblemaster by itself. I also like the combination of Rabblemaster + Chandra, which can remove a key blocker for a turn, even a large one like Siege Rhino that is resistant to burn spells.

Yuuya went 3–0–1 with the deck in the Standard portion, but has two very important matches left with it. If he goes 2–0, he will be the first person to be repeat champion in the new Worlds structure, which is especially impressive when you consider that there will only have been three such tournaments!

The last Ascendancy deck I want to take a look at is Lee Shi Tian's, which was the only pure combo deck present in Standard. He played this deck to a Pro Tour Top 8 in Hawaii as well, and it's not entirely surprising that he chose to run it back.

Lee Shi Tian's Jeskai Ascendancy

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This deck is looking to combine Jeskai Ascendancy with Sylvan Caryatid, and has a ton of ways to win once it does that. As before, all of its spells become one cheaper and trigger a draw + discard, which enables Dig Through Time and more card draw. Eventually, the deck either finds Retraction Helix + a zero-cost artifact or Twinflame, at which point it starts generating mana for every spell. Twinflame on Rattleclaw Mystic or Kiora's Follower finishes the job, as the Retraction Helix combo also gives the deck infinite Jeskai Ascendancy triggers, as the draw is optional.

The deck didn't perform as well for Lee Shi Tian as in the Pro Tour, but it was worth noting just because it shows the incredible range that Jeskai Ascendancy brings even to Standard. It continues to prove its worth across multiple formats, and even multiple archetypes, as you can see it show up in heavy combo and token beatdown both. Even in just a 24-person field, there were multiple kinds of Ascendancy decks, and it may have been the best Modern deck in the field (although the Ascension deck also looks quite good).

There were a lot more cool-looking decks from Worlds, but it's hard to beat Ascendancy when it comes to piquing my interest, so those decks will have to wait. In a few days we will see which Standard deck wins the Top 4, and until then we also get to watch the World Magic Cup, which will undoubtedly have its own set of interesting decks to parse.


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