Look, I know what you might be thinking.
Is Jeskai Ascendancy really that broken? Can't you build a deck that beats it? Is Ascendancy even the real problem?
I couldn't agree more.
Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time seem stronger than Ancestral Visions and Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be in the format. They are busted beyond belief, and the format is quickly going to revolve entirely around them.
People wanted a Modern shake-up? Well, we certainly got it.
Let's start at the beginning. Is Jeskai Ascendancy even a problem?
Yes. It's way too fast, which is not the same thing as unbeatable. It is strong, but not unbeatable. The problem is that it usually wins turn 3 and kills turn 2 a not insignificant percentage of the time. Yes, the same can be said about Infect, but you can actually block against Infect. Besides, Infect is full of Growths, instead of being all cantrips and tutors.
Jeskai Ascendancy is an off the board favorite to get banned in Modern. The real question was whether it would be banned before the world championships. Fortunately (in my opinion), cooler heads prevailed, and Ascendancy will be legal for at least that tournament, Grand Prix Madrid in November, and Grand Prix Milan and Grand Prix Omaha in January. Maybe there will be literally zero Ascendancy, but I doubt it.
I think we are going to go on a little vacation into some crazy alternate reality where Ancestral Recall is just a Modern legal four-of, where the combo decks kill turn 2, and where more people play blue than they do in Legacy, a format with Force of Will and Brainstorm. It won't last long, but it will be a crazy ride.
Is Jeskai Ascendancy too good? The real question is, is Jeskai Ascendancy too good for how fast it is? The answer to that is almost surely yes. However, we will get a chance to live in that world for at least four major events.
There was discussion of a possible emergency ban, but WOTC has now come out and made clear that there will be no such emergency ban. However, it should be noted that WOTC has changed the final four of the World Championships to be Standard; which makes sense, since this is one of the best Standard formats in a long time and one of the most broken Modern formats ever.
What if they had banned Ascendancy though? See, that's the thing. I think Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are even more broken. What if they did an emergency ban and then the format got worse? I think the next four major Modern events are going to be pretty crazy, but they will also help determine if Treasure Cruise and/or Dig Through Time need to be banned. My hope is that at least one of them is still legal when the Modern Pro Tour rolls around. I suspect neither will make it through next year.
But okay. Modern is broken in half, for the time being. How can we exploit it? First, let's see this Ascendancy deck everyone is talking about:
Why does this deck use Treasure Cruise instead of Dig Through Time? First of all, costing only one mana is a big deal here. Besides that, most of our cards really are basically the same. The selection is only really helpful before we go off, which is usually too early to cast Dig. We need raw quantity of cards anyway since we need cards to discard to Ascendancy. If you're trying to decide between Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, a good rule of thumb is that Treasure Cruise works well with lots of cheap, mana-efficient cards, while Dig Through Time works well with powerful cards. In other words, if almost none of your cards cost four or more, you probably want Treasure Cruise. If you have cards that do cost four or more, Dig Through Time starts looking better and better.
While earlier versions of Ascendancy used Noble Hierarch instead of Sylvan Caryatid, you can afford to "slow down" in order to beat removal. Remember, slowing down still means killing turn 3. I'm not 100% on all Arbor Elf over Noble Hierarch, since it does interact poorly with Gemstone Mine, however, the ability to make red mana is a plus.
Scarscale Ritual had me raising an eyebrow, but as David Williams explained to me, it lets you use Glittering Wish to keep going off. Your creatures are going to be so big, the -1/-1 counter is no issue.
Whatever decks I work on, they are going to be built with Ascendancy in mind. When they are killing turn 3, you don't have a lot of time to find hate cards. When half the cards in their deck draw a card, you need a lot of interaction. They will climb out of it fast.
Another deck that has been really popular online is Mono-Red Burn. It has a good Ascendancy matchup; but it should be noted, Mono-Red Burn is always very overrepresented online. It is just so cheap to build. Here's an example:
While I don't think Mono-Red Burn is going to completely define the World Championships, it is an influence. Lifegain is worth more than usual, which will be even more true for the Grand Prix, where Mono-Red will have a very real presence.
Another of the most important decks to consider are the many Birthing Pod variants. Birthing Pod is overpowered, and the deck can be customized to beat almost any couple things it wants to target. This includes Ascendancy, by using more discard, more cheap removal, and more creatures that lock the Ascendancy player out. Here is an example of current Pod:
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Orzhov Pontiff
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Sin Collector
- 1 Spike Feeder
- 2 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
When something busted comes along, people have a tendency to forget about Affinity. Remember, Affinity really is pretty insane (or really Cranial Plating is), and it is only because of an amount of uber-hate rarely seen by anyone that doesn't drive a taxi that it is merely a "good deck."
Ensoul Artifact does add a couple of sweet dimensions to the deck, even if it doesn't actually do much to shore up most of the deck's weaknesses. Ensoul Artifact on Darksteel Citadel is well known, but Ensoul on Vault Skirge is also pretty awesome, giving you a Baneslayer Angel that can attack on turn 2. Ensoul can also serve as a Giant Growth, of sorts, when on the Inkmoth Nexus plan, to end the race a lot faster than they were counting on.
It's a minor point, but I think we're going to see an increase in Wear//Tear, as it's a great card against Affinity that also hits Ascendancy for a single mana. People are going to be looking for how to fit as much hate as possible into their decks, and it is slot efficient.
It's just so hard for me to get excited about the prospect of playing a non-blue deck, as long as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are legal. I suspect many other tournament players will feel the same way. This doesn't mean they're throwing the old Modern decks out the window. After all, plenty of Modern decks were already blue.
What about Jeskai Control?
While Dig Through Time is incredible here, I think we probably still want some Sphinx's Revelation. Being able to Rev for a bunch of cards and life can completely put the game away. Besides, it's basically the best thing to Dig into in a lot of gamestates.
Why the extra Dig and Rev in the sideboard? My first reaction to the format is imagining a lot of cheap one-for-one interactive cards, which makes me want to be able to sideboard in more card draw to win the attrition battles.
Snapcaster Mage has lost some value because of wanting to delve away our graveyard, but it's still nice to have the added versatility of reusing key spells. Besides, the card is really strong in its own right. Even if we don't get full value, it does a lot.
Celestial Purge is another sideboard card that gains some stock with the rise of Jeskai Ascendancy. It was already a versatile answer to Dark Confidant, Blood Moon, Raging Ravine, and Splinter Twin. Now, it gives us another cheap way to get an Ascendancy off the table. Slot efficiency is crucial in Modern!
While Dig Through Time is a great addition to control, it's also a perfect fit in a lot of combo decks. Double Demonic Tutor? If only there was a two-card combo we could play to win the game...
Dig Through Time is perfect for fighting through disruption, giving you a super mana efficient way to pull everything together, even after getting hit over and over with discard, permission, removal, whatever. It can even curve pretty sweet, letting you go turn 5 end of turn Dig. Still end of turn, Deceiver Exarch, then untap and Kiki-Jiki or Twin.
I also love how well Dig Through Time supports things like Blood Moon in small numbers, or having access to a couple of sweepers. Even the one sideboard Batterskull is a lot more valuable when we have Dig Through Time to find it.
Gut Shot is obviously selected with Ascendancy in mind, though it is also a great card against Infect and Affinity. However, if Sylvan Caryatid becomes ubiquitous in Ascendancy, this might be the wrong way to fight them.
Another combo deck that really benefits from Dig Through Time is Scapeshift. Scapeshift is already a one-card combo, so Dig Through Time lets us just get not only the Scapeshift, but a way to protect it (or that land we need, or a back-up copy). Dig Through Time also lets us find answers to hate cards that would try to keep us off our combo, such as Aven Mindcensor. Dig Through Time doesn't count as searching, even though you get basically whatever you want.
I wonder if Dig Through Time is supposed to be supported with a return to Peer Through Depths. It was already a passable way to look for Scapeshifts, so having the ability to find Digs makes the card even more appealing.
One of the implications of all these Dig Through Times and Treasure Cruises is a marked increase in Gitaxian Probes. Gitaxian Probe was already a fine card for combo decks anyway, letting you know what it is you have to play around for as little as zero mana. Now, you can actually get paid to play it, as it is a Lotus Petal for your Dig Through Times, on top of everything else.
Of course, Gitaxian Probe isn't just for the combo decks trying to Dig. Delver decks looking to Treasure Cruise want it even more. It's already awesome with those two, but it also provides a nice buff to Monastery Swiftspear and Young Pyromancer. The opportunity cost is so low, it's basically a gimme.
I expect U/R/x Delver variants to rocket to the top of the format, forming a defining pillar of it. These decks already define Legacy, and the Modern ones look poised to do the same.
Delver of Secrets is no surprise, but a lot of people still underestimate Monastery Swiftspear. In decks like these, it is basically a three-power one-drop that can also hit with haste (albeit not doing three on turn 1, most of the time). Young Pyromancer gives us staying power, and besides, both Snapcaster Mage and Dark Confidant are worse in a world of Treasure Cruises.
This deck is fast, efficient, resilient, full of powerful cards, and can be well set up to fight combo decks. On top of all of that, it makes better use of Treasure Cruise than basically any other deck. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if I end up playing this deck in six weeks at the World Championships.
It's probably a worse Delver deck, but I wonder if Treasure Cruise can slot into Merfolk?
This build is probably trying to squeeze too much into one deck, but I do kind of like Master of Waves + Spreading Seas. Any chance we want Thassa in here? Besides, Spreading Seas + Blood Moon is kind of fun (in an Andrew Cuneo kind of way). My only concern is that this deck is so permanent-rich, it might not abuse Treasure Cruise hard enough.
Treasure Cruise really sits on the black attrition decks, but I imagine they will just have to adopt it themselves. Abzan and Jund each have their appeal, but now that we have Treasure Cruise, why aren't we just Sultai?
Courser of Kruphix is incredible with fetchlands, and Treasure Cruise gives us more reason than ever to play a ton. Besides, the lifegain really helps against the recent popularity of red decks, and the extra cards drawn help make up for the lack of Dark Confidants. Treasure Cruise doesn't mean zero chance it's right to play Dark Confidant, but I'm not sure it's even very well positioned in the first place. There is so much aggression and burn, and people have lots of answers to it.
While I don't use Dark Confidant, I'm still excited about the other two two-drops. Scavenging Ooze, in particular, is well-positioned. Remember, it can exile anything, not just creatures, so it's actually a reasonable weapon against Treasure Cruise. The lifegain is also much appreciated against all these burn decks and U/R Delvers. Besides, the card has a great rate to begin with.
Tarmogoyf has definitely gotten worse, but I think people are kind of overestimating a little just how much all this delving hurts it. Remember, we are talking about one of the best creatures of all-time. It can get worse and still be great. Your opponent can't delve away your cards, so it's not like it will just constantly be a 0/1. Yes, you're going to delve away your cards sometimes, but not in the middle of combat or anything. Besides, Tarmogoyf is great against all these Lightning Bolt decks. It's hard to kill!
Shadow of Doubt maindeck is a little bit of a reaction to just how popular I expect fetchlands to be as a result of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Besides, having extra cantrips helps fuel our Cruising, anyway.
Darkblast is a card I'm pretty excited about. Having one-mana answers to Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer, as well as Noble Hierarch and Arbor Elf is great, not to mention Infect, Affinity, Snapcaster Mage, and Vendilion Clique. However, what makes it really cool is how well it fuels Treasure Cruise.
Turn 1 - Fetchland + Darkblast
That's not even that crazy of a gamestate, but even if you usually can't Cruise until turn 3, that's already insane.
There are so many possible ways to take advantage of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, but we must also remember that everyone else is going to be looking to abuse them too. Modern is the type of format where you can really punish anyone that is too predictable with their strategy. For instance, what about a white weenie deck with a hate-bear feel?
- 4 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 2 Judge's Familiar
- 4 Kor Firewalker
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Spirit of the Labyrinth
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is absolutely awesome in a world full of one-cost cantrips and Treasure Cruises. Similarly, Spirit of Labyrinth makes life a living hell for blue decks while completely locking Ascendancy out until they find a Glittering Wish. Even Dryad Militant has new meaning, making it really hard for anyone to play either of the blue power cards.
Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor might be the wrong type of hate, but there should be more fetchlands than ever. Besides, they hit Scapeshift and Pod pretty hard, and even when the opponent has little to disrupt, they combo with Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile.
Kor Firewalker is absolutely incredible against these red decks and works better than Timely Reinforcements in decks that can reliably cast it and have a lot of creatures. It's not just against burn either. Being able to stop a Monastery Swiftspear is a big deal.
Rest in Peace is another interesting card to consider, because outside of its applications as a graveyard hate card, it also shuts down Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Not all that many decks can actually afford to play it, but it is a potent one if you can.
One card that really has me curious is Siege Rhino. The card is absolutely fantastic, not to mention being an all-star against burn. The tricky part, however, is needing three non-blue colors to cast it. Can we really afford to play four colors? Or, horror of horrors, are we supposed to play it in a non-blue deck?
Crackling Doom is another card that seems kind of sweet, but some collection of Mardu cards is exactly the type of deck that I just can't imagine wanting to play when Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are legal.
No, I'm pretty far into the Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time camp. Any suggestions as to the best Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time deck we didn't discuss today? I'm not sure which blue deck is the best in this broken as hell format, but I'm looking forward to finding out!