THE ASCENT OF JESKAI ASCENDANCY—OR THE DESCENT?

Posted in GRAND PRIX MADRID 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 15, 2014

By Tobi Henke

I can still remember the first time I saw Jeskai Ascendancy. I can remember it like it was 66 days ago. Because it was 66 days ago when I got the card via email to write the official preview article. I knew that the card had potential, writing, "Isn't it, like, dangerous to combine such an untap effect with card selection?" But I didn't expect how dangerous the combination would be. I didn't expect a viable combo deck to show up in Standard and I certainly didn't expect to see the headline "Turn-Two Kill in Modern."

If you haven't seen the deck yet, here is one version—maybe this Grand Prix will bring about some new developments though:

Jeskai Ascendancy Combo

The idea of the deck is, you deploy some mana creature(s) and Jeskai Ascendancy; you then cast a bunch of cheap card-draw spells, each one at least replacing itself, and helped along by the draw/discard ability of Jeskai Ascendancy you basically never run out of cards to keep going; with Jeskai Ascendancy untapping your mana creature(s) you never run out of mana either. In the end, you either attack with your creature(s), now insanely big thanks to, again, Jeskai Ascendancy; or you cast Glittering Wish, grab Flesh and Blood from your sideboard, and use Blood to kill your opponent. Glittering Wish also plays a big role, of course, in ensuring you always find Jeskai Ascendancy in the first place, just as Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand help set up the big combo turn.

If you have just one mana creature and one Jeskai Ascendancy on the battlefield, however, you can't just spend one mana for your card-draw spell and get one mana in return through Jeskai Ascendancy's untap. If you did that, you'd never get anything done, certainly never cast Glittering Wish and Blood. The trick here are the spells which actually cost less than one mana: Gitaxian Probe and Manamorphose, but also Cerulean Wisps which yields two untaps with Ascendancy. Even more brilliant, Crimson Wisps allows you to add another mana creature midway through the combo, or to start the combo even when you began the turn without any creature on the battlefield.

There are a lot of parts here that we haven't even mentioned yet. Treasure Cruise provides resilience when facing lots of discard or creature/enchantment removal, while Glittering Wish adds an insane amount of versatility, allowing the deck to get around of otherwise deadly hate cards. But most importantly, the deck can be unbelievably fast, winning as early as the aforementioned turn two. Cast Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch on turn one; cast Jeskai Ascendancy on turn two, followed by Gitaxian Probe, and take it from there ...

So yes, the deck looks quite scary. But it still needs to prove itself in an actual big tournament—like this one. And while people have claimed months ago that this event would go down in history as "GP Jeskai Ascendancy," some players have voiced doubts.

"I think the deck is fairly overrated," said Pro Tour Theros finalist Pierre Dagen. "In reality, the format is all about Blue-Red Delver of Secrets, which is a bad matchup for Jeskai Ascendancy. It feels great if you win on turn two, of course, but I don't think that's going to happen very often." Former Pro Tour champion and resident expert Simon Görtzen, who had closely watched the development of Modern, considered the deck overhyped too. "The calls for a ban, at least, were definitely premature."

Going by such sentiments as well as yesterday's Grand Prix Trial winners, none of whom ran the deck, Jeskai Ascendancy may just turn out to be the biggest, most-hyped nonstory of the weekend.

Treasure Cruise, on the other hand ... We'll see ...

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