I met with Lee Shi Tian this morning for a quick catch-up. Lee is one of the Asia Pacific's best players, recently achieving Top 8 at the World Magic Cup in 2014. Lee has three Pro Tour Top 8s and four GP Top 8s, including a win in 2008.
Lee Shi Tian battling with Jeskai Ascendancy at Grand Prix Manila.
This morning, however, the usually happy Hong Kong resident didn't look that great.
"I didn't sleep very well last night," Lee confessed, "I kept waking up and coughing. When I returned from the World Magic Cup I had bad jet lag for a week, then I started getting sick. Now I've had a cough for two weeks."
"It's partly why I'm playing the same deck I played at Worlds. Although I have to really focus, I think this deck is easy for me to play, because I know on Turn 5 or 6 whether I'll win or not. Twenty minutes and it's over."
Lee grinned. "This deck suits my health right now."
"It's almost the same list I played at Worlds, though I'm playing Altar of the Brood instead of Nissa, Worldwaker. It makes it easier to combo-off, as I can generally combo off with Altar of the Brood if I have two mana available."
Lee noted that his build was different to the other Jeskai Ascendancy Combo decks that utilise the cards Commune With The Gods and Taigam's Scheming to fill the graveyard and fuel Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time.
"I tried the other build, but though you see five cards with Taigam's Scheming, you actually lose a card and try to come back with the Treasure Cruise. Instead, my build has a lot of one mana cantrips, so I can easily chain those to find the combo. The other build needs to find its pieces then combo off, so it can't combo off so easily. It's quite a different build; I think I prefer mine."
"I'm not expecting to beat every matchup, but I think the metagame has shifted to Whip of Erebos decks. Yesterday I saw a lot of Whip decks, I think those Whip decks are performing well. I understand the top three decks yesterday was B/G Constellation and two Abzan Whip Decks. They just outclass every single midrange deck. So I think my deck is positioned really well now. I keep facing green decks, Courser of Kruphix based decks. They tap out for a huge monster and I win."
"When they tap out it's easiest for me, because sometimes I need to chain off and I don't have room to keep mana up while looking for a combo piece. Sometimes my draws are blank and I have to discard the useless pieces. Because all my cards are cantrips, I have to think about whether I will play the land so i have something to discard to Jeskai Ascendancy."
"The trickiest part of the deck is sequencing. I need to think about whether I want to play a Scryland this turn or have something to discard. There are many minor things that add up; stacking scry correctly, floating mana the right mana, what to discard, and thinking about what I will draw into as well."
I asked how he thought the deck was performing.
"So far the deck is good. My matchups in this metagame are pretty good for me. The only match I lost yesterday was to UW Heroic, who beat me on Turn five both times.
"I've had some tricky situations. Once, I flipped all my artifacts to my graveyard, so I couldn't go infinite. But at the end I found a path to victory. I managed to get three Sylvan Caryatid in play with a Voyaging Satyr. That provided me enough mana to infinitely bounce a Jeskai Ascendancy to pump my Voyaging Satyr, the only creature I had left that could attack, for the win.
"One game I only had three lands in hand. I top decked Dig Through Time, used it to find a Jeskai Ascendancy and Dragon Mantle. I cast them both and drew into everything I needed. I don't think the other build can do that."
"I'm seeing a lot of Thoughtseize, but not Erase. My deck is worse against Erase than Thoughtseize. I can usually still combo off even though they Thoughtseize, but if I have to play around Erase it's much more difficult."
"Normally I win on Turn 4 or 5, but after sideboard it tends to be slower. I did manage some Turn 3 wins on the play yesterday. My opponent played an elf, a Sylvan Caryatid, then died."
I asked Lee what we was looking for to add to the deck from Fate Reforged.
"More cantrips!" Lee said, "Though Monastery Mentor could provide a new win condition, I just need more card draw; maybe the Jeskai Sage could be good."
With that the next round was called, our catch-up ended, and Lee headed to the Feature Match area once more.