I think I may have a problem…
The other day I was playing Pyromancer’s Ascension on Magic Online naturally winning almost all of my matches except for the ones where:
1) I mistakenly Call to Mind everything BUT my other Call to Mind. That happened once and will never happen again. I only had four minutes on my clock and he was making me play it out so gimme a break.
2) My opponent Blightnings me three times and then peels Bloodbraid into Pulse.
3) I change my list to reflect all these things that seem better but actually tear away the fundamentals of the deck that previously made it flow so smoothly.
Then I decided that the deck would be better with another one-drop cantrip specifically Brainstorm. Obviously any deck would be better with Brainstorm so just thinking that made me feel like an idiot. Still could the deck survive in Legacy? Did I care if it was good as long as I was doing nothing but drawing cards? Most likely not but I investigate anyway.
A while ago Josh Utter-Leyton noted that there is no deck in Legacy where drawing cards equals a victory. By that he means something like Psychatog or Illusions/Donate where if they are Fact or Fictioning or Accumulating some Knowledges then you are losing. It’s not entirely like they have inevitability but it’s close.
In the olden days you could sit there drawing cards killing their Wild Mongrels when necessary and eventually just coast to victory. Legacy doesn’t lend well to those strategies. Depending on what you’re playing against you have to draw into answers to Counterbalance Survival of the Fittest Emrakul Goblin Ringleader Tarmogoyf and so on. Creatures aren’t the only threats so now you need to work on some sort of combo kill that invalidates anything else your opponents are up to.
I tried a few combo/control hybrids in my preparation for Grand Prix: Columbus but none of them really panned out. Disruption is fairly common right now and most two-card combos fall apart when something as simple as a Krosan Grip is pointed toward you. There just wasn’t a good enough engine to get past all that.
However when your engine and combo all happen to be cantrips with an incredibly cheap enchantment at the center I thought it could be viable. I brewed a list on my own (after wracking my brain as to how I could kill them) before I ventured over to other sources such as DeckCheck or TheSource for help. Surprisingly no one wanted to play Ascension in Legacy or else I just suck at using the search function.
My kill was Manamorphose (a great card on its own with Ascension) plus two Regrowths a card many were surprised wasn’t banned in Legacy. It didn’t surprise me; Regrowth is only as good as the stuff you’re getting back but in my case it meant Ancestral Recalls.
You get an Ascension with two counters and then cast Manamorphose copying it. You have four mana and use that to Regrowth your Manamorphose copying it with Ascension Regrowthing a different copy of Regrowth.
At that point you will be able to draw your entire deck if necessary. If you were tapped out when you cast the first Manamorphose you just wait until you draw another Manamorphose gain two mana cast another Ascension and then start gaining mana from that point. Regrowthing Lightning Bolts will be the kill.
Accumulated Knowledge: Probably my best engine. Could probably run a million cantrips with Predict Fire/Ice Repeal or Cryptic Command but it’s been a while since I’ve cast AK so I decided to try this engine first.
Intuition: Useful for setting up AK finding Ascension or getting the remaining pieces of the combo if you had a Regrowth in hand. I would definitely play three and maybe four copies.
Force of Will: Necessary to keep the other combo decks in check and to stop Counterbalance from resolving game 1. Post board there should be specialized answers like Pyroblast (over Red Elemental Blast since you can target their lands to charge Ascension if they have nothing going on) Krosan Grip Submerge Firespout etc so that you can board them out against aggressive decks. There’s nothing really worth Forcing and you don’t want to remove any of your Blue cards.
Regrowth: Two to three copies is necessary. Overall a very useful card for getting back AKs in game 1 or Ascension once they’ve brought in a bunch of Krosan Grips and such.
Past that I had room for some utility. Fire/Ice for more removal (even though it barely kills anything in the format) would be alright but Repeal seemed like a fine catchall. I later thought of Cryptic Command and how I might need the Fog effect versus something like Goblins but decided to stick with Repeal.
I ended up with this list:
My combo matchup seemed sketchy and I figured that Cryptic Command might help with that but I stuck with Repeal regardless just to try it out. Without it Aether Vial and Goblin Lackey seemed very problematic. Pyroblast is alright against most combo decks while the Pierces and Dispels should help a lot.
I considered Sensei’s Divining Top in the maindeck and boarding in Counterbalance against combo and other Counterbalance decks but Top doesn’t seem like the right card for the deck. You already use your mana every turn (which is basically all you can ask for out of any deck you play) and it doesn’t charge Ascension like your other cantrips.
After realizing that I wasn’t very likely to go to Grand Prix: Gothenburg and would therefore be able to attend the StarCityGames.com Open in Minneapolis the weekend after Nationals I decided that I would work on Ascension and storm the Legacy portion of the tournament. Then reality set in and I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to test with anyone for the event.
I could probably build some versions on Magic Online but to the best of my knowledge Regrowth and Accumulated Knowledge aren’t legal yet so I’d have to play with Predict and something archaic like Call to Mind. In addition to all that I would be making Ascension known to the public rather than taking the tournament by surprise. See Cedric Phillips re: Aluren.
Once a month the Monster Den in Minneapolis hosts a “big” Legacy tournament with duals Force of Wills Tarmogoyfs etc as prizes and there just happened to be a tournament going on the week before Nationals. I typically don’t have much going on so I decided to play. I almost couldn’t get all the cards which usually isn’t a problem but at the last minute I got it all together minus a Tropical Island.
The second Tropical Island isn’t integral in any way so I didn’t mind going down to one. Sure it can get Wastelanded but there’s still Manamorphose to cast Regrowth. After looking at the list again I decided that with zero test games under my belt maybe it would be best to have a Grapeshot to act as training wheels. I could imagine scenarios where I had too few cards in my deck to loop the Manamorphose chain. This would also make it so it was impossible to mess up. Brain Freeze would be a little better since it pitches to Force but there are a few too many Emrakuls running around for my tastes.
I could cut down to 19 land but I also noticed that I wanted a third Volcanic Island to fight against Wastelands and because I had Pyroblasts in my sideboard. I wanted to ensure that I always had enough Red to cast two Pyroblasts in one turn if I needed or Pyroblast plus Ascension or Pyroblast plus Manamorphose.
I felt like the sideboard could be changed a bit. Dispel and Pierce might not be the best mix of anti control and combo hate. There wasn’t enough hate for Goblins. Maybe I could cut a Pyroblast etc. Lots of things generally run through my head pre-tournament but I just make a mental note of them and decide post-tournament.
That brought the list to this:
Round 1: GW Survival
My opponent typically plays the Thursday mini Legacy events and this was his first foray into the “Big Show.” I played a Volcanic Island and Pondered and he used his turn Wasting me. He then played a Noble Hierarch followed by Wild Mongrel with a couple Savannahs. I figured he was Vengevine Survival but his last three cards needed to be pretty good to put a clock on me AND disrupt me as my hand was pretty filthy.
I made a futile attempt to race with some Lightning Bolts and such but couldn’t quite pull it off.
He had Pridemage and Canonist in his hand thanks to Submerges and decided to play the Pridemage. I Bolted it activated Ascension and played a flurry of cantrips. In his one turn window he drew a second Wasteland destroying my only Red source while I sat with a hand of Bolts and Manamorphoses. I had another Force of Will to buy some time but no Red source was forthcoming.
The turn I “went off” I hastily pushed a Tropical Island to the bottom of my deck off a Preordain which would have turned on Manamorphose and easily won me the game. Instead I gave him a turn to draw Wasteland and he punished me for it.
Round 2: Goblins
My opponent never led with Aether Vial and the one time he had Lackey it was Bolted so he was never really able to explode on me.
In the third game he Therapied me for Intuition which I felt was pretty close to correct since it’s typically the AKs that they lose to not the Ascension itself. He friends chided him for it even moreso since I had an Ascension in my hand but I still stand behind his play. A couple turns later I drew Intuition and pulled too far ahead.
Round 3: Ian “The Warrior” Ellis GBW Rock
Ian’s deck was featured in one of Jared Sylva’s articles and he’s been working on it a long time so I knew basically what to expect. Game 1 I played a few cantrips and then Intuitioned for AKs. A bystander commented that Ian was playing against what looked like Legacy Pyromancer’s Ascension and I laughed at him. Ian was still confused as to what he was up against.
When I untapped and cast Ascension he high-fived me. I was able to combo out with ease after Forcing an Armageddon.
Second game I was on the receiving end of a Choke and couldn’t draw enough lands to Repeal it.
Third game he Thoughtseized me and I hid my Intuition but not my Ascension which he took. I didn’t mind since I was about to refuel but his Extirpate devastated me. For value he Wasted my Volcanic Island and Extirpated those too but I showed him the basic Mountain in my hand. Still I was basically resigned to losing at this point and even forgot to make a land drop one turn.
But I played on for the crowd. Ian didn’t have much going on either after using all his resources to tear apart the heart of my deck. When he finally found a Tarmogoyf I end of turn AKed for three and four untapped and played some cantrips. I used my singleton Lightning Bolt and Grapeshot to put him at five life and Submerged his Goyf with a Force of Will in my hand. I just needed to find one of my Regrowths.
Ian thought I had another Bolt and Thoughtseized me which I allowed bringing him down to three life. He played out a Confidant and a Goyf so I Krosan Gripped his Top and Submerged his Goyf again bringing him down to one life and giving me another possible win condition.
He attacked me down to ten and played the Goyf. I bricked on my turn and he windmill slammed a basic Swamp on the table.
He attacked me down to three.
I cast an Intuition leaving my deck with two Regrowths Preordain and a land. I was 75% to win and still had backdoor outs to kill him with Dark Confidant.
I flipped over the top card… and it was a Regrowth! His top card would have killed him anyway but whatever. Suck it Extirpate.
What year is it? Game 1 I played Ascension and Intuitioned up some AKs. End of my fourth turn he went for High Tide which I (probably incorrectly) decided to Force. He attempted another High Tide I AKed in response and in response he cast ANOTHER High Tide. This one resolved was followed by a Reset a few other spells and then a Cunning Wish for Brain Freeze.
After boarding this matchup seems a lot easier with my one mana counterspells. The second game was interesting. I stopped his attempts to go off and started my engine. Pyromancer Ascension was active and I started the combo. Whenever I drew another Manamorphose I would play another Ascension.
Finally with three active Ascensions and about ten cards in my deck he responded to a Manamorphose with a Brain Freeze for 30.
I was stunned for a bit. I had the Grapeshot in my hand but I was out of Red mana so I couldn’t let the Freeze resolve counter my own Manamorphose and Grapeshot him Regrowth it and Grapeshot him. I sat for a minute considered my options and actually thought I was dead for a moment.
I must have been thinking about Ascension and where it triggers and you put a copy on the stack and have to resolve that before you even put the other copy on the stack. Once I realized how storm worked it was easy for me to just Force all the copies with the help of my three Ascensions.
Only in Legacy.
The third game was anticlimactic. He was stalled on lands so I Pyroblasted his Brainstorm. Once I had enough to go off I Forced his attempts to go off in response kept careful track of how much damage a Brain Freeze would do and Grapeshot-killed him.
Round 5: Zoo
I lost a game in here due to pilot error but overall it was a very easy matchup.
I drew into the Top 8 and stopped to consider what was happening. I’ve basically only lost to my own mistakes. Granted no one really knows what’s going on or how to sideboard against me but that’s part of the deck’s appeal.
Top 8: Survival Madness
I kept his dudes at bay with Repeals and made sure not to get Vengevine ambushed. This matchup seemed incredibly easy and I couldn’t imagine it being much worse after I get Submerge and he gets semi-embarrassing stuff like Wheel of Sun and Moon.
Krosan Grip is something that I could have sided in but I had Repeals and Forces and wanted to keep my engine in check. Survival is an issue but Grip is slow and he’ll probably get a use or two out of it before I’m able to kill it. That coupled with the fact that I just skipped my turn didn’t seem like a good enough answer to it. I decided to focus on just killing him.
I figured that if I end up losing to those cards then it’s onto game 3 where I can change my sideboarding.
Sure enough Wheel of Sun and Moon comes down followed by Survival. I Repeal the Survival to buy some time and my opponent assuming that I had Echoing Truth as my bounce now decides to solidify his defenses with a second Wheel.
The game goes long and I tear through my deck but can only fine one more Repeal before his Survival takes over.
For the third game I make sure to bring in Grips. On turn 4 I kill his Survival and start to get my engine going but he has a second Survival. I Submerge his first wave of guys and go off and Submerge his second wave of guys ending up with about fifteen cards in my deck. The problem is I can’t find a second Regrowth.
I could cast another Manamorphose and try to get there but I decide to pass the turn with a Volcanic open. He Wastes it I float Red; he enters combat and plays some hasters through Survival before he declares attacks and I’m kold.
I messed that game up probably a million different ways.
It got me thinking though… is this deck actually for real? As if you guys probably didn’t think I was crazy already I’ve been thinking about Pyromancer’s Ascension for Pro Tour: Amsterdam (if I go which is becoming increasingly less likely with each day). I found a solid looking list that went 4-0 in an MTGO Daily Event played by Rex Liang Chen:
As for Nationals? Yeah guess what I’m playing…