Turn 2 kills?
That's not supposed to be legal in Modern.
True, but it's only a problem if it can't be stopped.
Can it be stopped?
One mana, draw three?
Two mana, draw the two best of your top seven?
It's the dawn of a new era in Modern.
The two blue delve power cards have a variety of homes in Modern, not the least of which is the breathtakingly fast new Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck that has taken the Modern format by storm, with many people wondering if there might be a ban on the horizon. The price of Jeskai Ascendancy, the card, has increased over 500%, and rumors have been circulating all over social media. Things finally hit a tipping point this weekend with Sam Pardee going 8-0, 16-0 in two Daily Events on MTGO, including eight turn 3 kills and even a couple of turn 2 kills.
Modern is supposed to be a four-turn format, and anything consistently ending the game by turn 3 is immediately on the watch list. Turn 2 kills and the bar starts getting pretty low for what it takes to ban a card. Jeskai Ascendancy has been legal just days, though, so perhaps people are overreacting. After all, people love the drama, the excitement of a new broken combo…
Let's take a look at the villain in question. This list is by no means final, but this is a great starting point, to get an idea of what we're talking about.
Turn 1: Birds of Paradise
Turn 2: Jeskai Ascendancy
Now, each Gitaxian Probe nets you a mana, while letting you draw two and discard one. The same is true for Cerulean Wisps and Manamorphose, and Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are free. Even Treasure Cruise becomes free in a short while.
While Sam Black's list uses Treasure Cruise, I'm not totally convinced it's better than Dig Through Time here. First of all, Dig Through Time is a much stronger Magic card. Drawing three cards at sorcery speed has costed 2UU and only been so-so. Looking at your top seven and keeping two was a sorcery at 2UUU and solid. If it were an instant, it would be playable at 4UU.
Dig Through Time's effect has a more powerful influence on the outcome of the game partly because once you are at that part of the game, selection often matters more than quality. The two you need are worth a lot more than a random three.
Combo decks, in particular, make great use of the selection from Dig. First of all, you don't always have Ascendancy. In fact, when you have Ascendancy, you're generally already winning. The only time this isn't really true is when your opponent is disrupting you in some way, and then Dig helps you find your answer to their disruption. This is especially true after sideboarding, where Dig Through Time multiplies the effectiveness of all of your sideboard cards. Modern is a format with a lot of really, really powerful hosers, so finding them quickly and reliably wins games.
While the combo makes it trivially easy to fill your graveyard, it's not like it's going to be tough without it. It only takes a couple of fetchlands and a few cantrips before you're there and ready to tutor up your Ascendancy and maybe something to jumpstart it or protect it.
The biggest thing Treasure Cruise has going for it is the ability to get all the way down to one mana. When you're going off, this is great, since it makes it totally free. However, Manamorphose, Gitaxian Probe, and Cerulean Wisps are already netting us mana, so maybe the double blue cost on Dig isn't that hard to come by.
One of the features of both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time is the ability to shrink opposing Tarmogoyfs. I know that sounds funny, but it really is relevant, as such a play will often buy you two extra turns to set up your combo. On a related note, I imagine Murderous Cut is going to start making a big dent on the format. A well-timed Cut could kill two creatures, if you can arrange a profitable fight against a Tarmogoyf.
Murderous Cut isn't just a potentially one-cost removal spell for B/G/x decks, it's also a reliable one. While most removal spells have a blind spot, Murderous Cut kills everything from Tarmogoyf to Deceiver Exarch, Dark Confidant to Blinkmoth Nexus. It does carry with it a little bit of a cost if you're using Dark Confidant, yourself, but that's not necessarily a deal-breaker. If it has a real weakness, it's just that you can't use it on the first two turns of the game, but it's more like a three-cost card that untaps two lands, so it's not like it's even a drawback.
The Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks have a lot of interesting options for cantrips beyond those listed above. For instance, Crimson Wisps is "free" with Ascendancy but has the added utility of being able to give a creature you draw haste, and a second mana creature means basically every spell in the deck nets mana.
Its real value, however, is with your green fetchlands and Dryad Arbor. Dryad Arbor doesn't give you the kind of colored mana you need, so it might not matter, but it does interact well with Manamorphose. It also makes a fine second creature for building up mana for Digs (which also might not matter).
One of the most important cantrips to consider with delve cards is Thought Scour. It's a cantrip dark ritual for your delve cards! Combine it with fetchlands and you can Dig Through Time on turn three effortlessly. There are even far more fetchlands than before, with every color combination getting love. This means we can build mana bases like:
Grixis, like all of the Alara shards, used to need off-color fetchlands if you wanted more than four. Not having two options for basics to get was such a strike against, most people just resorted to River of Tears, Sulfur Falls, Blackcleave Cliffs, and the like. Powering the delve cards is such a big draw and new fetchlands offer so much that an awful lot of manabases are going to go this route.
Snapcaster Mage is an interesting puzzle, now that Dig Through Time is in the format. The very cantrips, Lightning Bolts, Thoughtseizes, and so on that fuel early Digs are also perfect Snapcaster Mage targets. The tension comes from Dig removing your options for what to Snapcaster. Additionally, Dig Through Time costs eight to flashback, which is a nombo with Snapcaster. Still, some amount of Snapcaster Mage might still have a home, particularly since Dig Through Time gives us more incentive to play powerful one-ofs that can win games in the right spots.
While Polluted Delta and Bloodstained Mire make Grixis control look more appealing on the surface, and Dig Through Time gives you something legitimate to do better than Cruel Ultimatum; I am just not sold that we're really doing anything better than the combo decks. Of course, if we just stop trying to play control and do something proactive, maybe that doesn't have to be the case.
You know what works really well with all the cards that fuel our delve cards?
Its name should have tipped us off!
Young Pyromancer and Monastery Swiftspear are also both excellent complements to the Delver to let us put people on short clocks while we disrupt them with discard and permission. Monastery Swiftspear is a new addition, but it looks great. After all, we're very often going to be playing two or more spells a turn, making it a bigger Wild Nacatl, plus it has haste. Yeah, you're probably only dealing one on turn 1, but that's more than Nacatl was going to deal. If you rip the Swiftspear, however, you are often going to hit for four or more out of nowhere.
Here's a list:
I've opted to start with Treasure Cruise, both wanting to actually cost one and to just get raw quantity. After all, with how much library manipulation we have, we can get a lot of the search power just drawing cantrips. That said, Dig might just be so much stronger of a card that it's crazy to use Cruise instead.
I'm unsure of Terminate and could imagine Murderous Cut being better. Right now I'm just trying to maximize the Cruise, but I might be underestimating how easy it is to fill your graveyard repeatedly.
I don't think you're going to need much land in this deck at all, and I could see even seventeen as an option. If you went that route, you'd have to cut a non-blue land, however, as I think fifteen is the minimum you can get away with.
It's kind of goofy, but I kind of wonder if we might want to be even more all in, perhaps adding Manamorphose and Grapeshot. Seriously, it's not out of the question to just Grapeshot people for five as part of the beatdown! There's also nothing that says you have to choose between Cruise and Dig. You could use a mix, and you could use more than four. How much does it hurt you to draw two?
Of course, we haven't even gotten to what is perhaps the best home for Dig Through Time in Modern. I haven't seen many people talking about it, but Dig Through Time seems tailor-made for Splinter Twin. Look at my top seven cards and find two of my choice? Like, I dunno, Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch?
Dig Through Time pushes us to play more cantrips, but it also makes us want to find room for more niche cards. For instance, a single maindeck Blood Moon and suddenly we have a whole new line of attack against many opponents.
Regardless of where the best homes for Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time end up being in Modern, there is no question that the format has been turned on its head. As for Jeskai Ascendancy combo, obviously people are reacting a bit hastily. The deck is vulnerable to spot removal, discard, permission, and more. That said, it is so blisteringly fast, there is a good chance it may only have three to six months to shine.
If the deck ends up tier 1, even after people try to hate it out, I wouldn't be surprised to see it banned out in some way before the Modern Pro Tour. Remember, though, that is a BIG if. Most people don't have any idea what the combo is yet. There is zero reason to talk about bannings in the near future. Let's try to break this thing, and let's try to beat it.
All right, I gotta get back to testing. Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir is just days away, and this format isn't going to break itself...