It all started the week before last. While I was on stream someone asked me what deck I thought would do well at the Pro Tour. I had been helping BBD with his testing so I didn't want to talk about what I felt was the front runner based off that information, but I did have an inkling that I thought the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck had potential.
"If someone tweaked and worked on getting really good with the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck, I think it could definitely Top 8 this Pro Tour."
Fast forward to Grand Prix Orlando. Michael Majors proxied up the deck, started playing some games with it against BBD, and he was crushing him. Brian realized that the deck might be good so we started working on it. It turned out the deck was quite good. It was weak to straight up control decks, which we felt just weren't really going to show up, and to the hyper aggressive Mono-Red decks, another deck we felt wasn't going to be extremely popular.
I'm sure BBD is going to write all about his experience with the deck at the Pro Tour, but I also played it in Autumn States this weekend and I would like to go over some of my insights.
North Carolina States
For North Carolina States we headed down on Friday after work to crash at a friend's place. On the way down, we got listen to Pro Tour coverage and see all about the U/B Control deck that Cuneo designed for The Pantheon and about the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck that LSV and some others were on.
I tried to buy some Perilous Vaults the moment I saw that the U/B Control deck that Cuneo and company were playing, but since we were in The Middle of Nowhere, NC, I didn't have very good internet access on my phone so I ended up missing out. That wasn't the important part though. More importantly, I got to see about the other builds of the Jeskai Ascendancy deck.
The list that we were on didn't have Altar of the Brood and only had one of the zero-mana artifacts. We were primarily on the Twinflame + Dragon Mantle + Retraction Helix kill. We initially felt that Altar of the Brood was too much of a do-nothing, but if you have it in your deck, then you can combo off with a zero-mana artifact and just one card in your hand, which is pretty important. It was also just much cleaner than being all-in on Twinflame.
I still liked using Twinflame as an enabler and didn't really like having a full four of the zero-mana artifacts, but I'm sure if I would have had time to test with the version that LSV played I might have came around. Here's the list that I played:
I decided that I wanted to be a little bit of a hybrid between the two. I liked having access to Twinflame as a way to kill if we happen to Commune with the Gods over our Altar of the Brood, and it helps you get to a point where you go infinite a bit quicker. You can also just kill with Twinflame very quickly if the creature that you start your combo with can actually attack. It makes you vulnerable to removal, and that's why Sylvan Caryatid is the preferred creature to combo with, but if your opponents are tapped out, or if you have to just go for it, that is an option.
I really liked having the Altar of the Brood in the deck after playing through the bulk of the tournament with it. It gave me an easy way to kill my opponent, and there were even a few times where I was able to go off on turn 3 and kill them with it.
I felt like I only wanted ten mana accelerants and immediately regretted it. There were a handful of games where I just needed a mana accelerant and I could piece together a win.
The sideboard was pretty miserable, but I'm not really sure what direction you want to go with the sideboard since you can't really board out that many cards without just going full transformation. The Swan Songs are good to protect your combo pieces, and the rest was to help against the aggressive red decks and kill Eidolon of the Great Revel. We also wanted a few cards for the mirror if other people happened to catch onto the deck, so we went with two copies of Naturalize and an Erase.
I started out 3-0, beating a Temur deck and a couple Abzan Midrange decks. They just really didn't have many ways to interact with me, and even thought I had to fight through some Thoughtseizes and Utter Ends from the Abzan Midrange decks, I was able to piece together the combo and kill them.
I then faced off against two Esper Control decks in a row. I was able to piece together a win in one of the games against the first opponent, but going into game 3 we had less than five minutes remaining. We were both on a mulligan, and while I had the possibility of a quick combo, he had a lot of counterspells that delayed it and we ended up drawing. I probably should have conceded in the first game as I didn't really have anything going and no way to stop him from using the ultimate on his Jace, the Living Guildpact, but I felt like it was worth seeing at least how he planned on killing me, so once I saw an Elspeth, Sun's Champion I packed it in.
Against the next Esper Control opponent I made a terrible misplay. I had enough mana to cast Dig Through Time with delve and leave one mana open for a Swan Song on his end step, but when I cast the Dig Through Time I just used all my mana and delved one less card. I noticed what I did immediately and felt my face get extremely red, but I needed to focus and keep playing since he had no pressure on me. I already had a Sylvan Caryatid out and pieces to try and combo in my hand--I just needed a window of opportunity.
I got my window when he tapped out for a Liliana Vess. When I tried to go off I ran into an interaction that I hadn't ran into before and lost due to not knowing exactly how the copy effects work. Things like the +1/+1 from Jeskai Ascendancy and the +1/+0 from Dragon Mantle don't get copied when you use Twinflame to copy a creature, and that means that the ability granted from Retraction Helix isn't either. I was unaware of this since I never really studied about layers and things along that line and lost because of it. Granted, that interaction working was my only line of actually winning that game so I was just stone dead regardless, but finding out that when you copy something it copies the card as it was cast was something new that I now know, and I won't ever forget it.
The following round I got paired against an Abzan Midrange deck and just flooded and mulliganed into oblivion. He didn't really have much pressure, but I just kept drawing land after land before losing. In the final game of the match, I had all the combo pieces minus a Jeskai Ascendancy, and after casting two copies of Dig through Time and two copies of Taigam's Scheming, I still couldn't find one before I died.
My exodus from the event at 3-2-1 after starting out 3-0 had me a bit bummed out. I felt like our sideboard was pretty bad and was unhappy with a couple of the cards in the deck, but I wasn't really sure what I wanted to change. Dig Through Time was awesome, and I wanted more ways to facilitate delve, but Taigam's Scheming was just so bad.
Thankfully, I was able to see Lee Shi Tian's list from his Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Top 8 and get some ideas. I really liked Tormented Voice over Taigam's Scheming. It didn't allow us to look as deep into our deck, but I really liked that it drew cards immediately and still put more than one card into the graveyard to help fuel Dig Through Time.
I wasn't too impressed with the Nissa, Worldwaker in his list, but I did kind of like the creatures in the sideboard as a plan against the control decks.
We headed to Hopewell, Virginia early on Sunday morning. I had been trying to figure out the configuration that I wanted all night, and once we got there I sat down and looked over the deck. Here's the list I ended up with:
I felt like this build was a bit better and was looking forward to some awesome battles. Unfortunately, I was quickly dispatched and dropped at 0-2. I played against Abzan Midrange and G/R Monsters and lost while misplaying terribly and then just drawing very poorly.
There are a lot of choices when playing this deck that you won't really see the ramifications of until later. In one of the games, there was a point that I could have played an Astral Cornucopia for two and didn't so that I could have it as a zero mana spell if I drew a Jeskai Ascendancy. It ended up that I was two mana short of being able to chain another Dig Through Time to find the piece that I needed to win.
Sadly, I was pretty upset with myself and tired so I just dropped after going 0-2 rather than play out the rest of the tournament, so I'm not sure if this build is better than the previous one, or even the list that LSV played, which seems like it would have much more velocity.
It seemed that Abzan Midrange and Jeskai Aggro dominated the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, which could be good news for Jeskai Ascendancy combo. McLaren's build of Jeskai Aggro was much more hateful against the combo deck, but it seemed to be a little weaker against the Abzan Midrange decks. This combo deck is pretty good against the green decks (Devotion/Abzan), and seems like it would be pretty good against the non-McLaren builds of Jeskai Aggro, but we will just have to see how the format shapes up.
I will not be in Worcester this weekend for the Open Series, but I will be traveling to Knoxville for a Premier IQ on Saturday and a PTQ on Sunday, so hopefully I can spike one of those. I'm not really sure where I want to be in Standard, but thankfully I have the rest of this week to test some things out and see what tickles my fancy. I can say that it will probably be one of Siege Rhino, Goblin Rabblemaster, or Jeskai Ascendancy though.
Before I go I want to give a huge shout out to Ari Lax for winning the Pro Tour and to Shaun McLaren for almost winning his second Pro Tour in a calendar year. Not to be outdone, congrats to Ross Merriam and Tom Ross for winning their State Championships. I need to step my game up if I'm going to close out Season Four still at the top of the leaderboard.