I'd been pretty excited about playing the Oakland Standard Open with the deck I've been developing for the past week. After seeing some Jeskai Tokens decks from the Pro Tour and around the web, I realized I could cut some of the “bad” cards from those decks and lower the curve by turning to the same creatures that powered the Soldier deck I'd played in Grand Prix Los Angeles.
This deck's primary weakness was that the tribal nature of the creature base constrained you significantly. The deck could certainly win games without Obelisk of Urd, but not enough to merit playing this base without the payoff of Obelisk's occasional freebie wins.
Jeskai Ascendancy can offer similar gains to the Obelisk--not identical, but similar. It lands on the same turn, generally speaking, and might occasionally enable you to attack. That was rarely true of the Obelisk, which would tap the majority of your creatures in its casting. Lacking a consistent boost definitely matters, but there are additional payoffs. Pseudo-vigilance, the ability to loot through your deck--I think it's safe to say that, on average, any deck with a reasonable density of cantrips (which are integral to R/W heroic) and other spells would prefer to have Ascendancy in play over Obelisk in most games.
Then there's the combo kill. Two creatures (one without summoning sickness) and an Ascendancy turn Springleaf Drum and Retraction Helix into as many +1/+1 triggers and loots as you'd like! Neither card is a brick without the other, either. Both have noteworthy synergy with Ascendancy itself, and even on their own neither card is particularly embarrassing. Drum lets you protect two-drops from removal by casting Gods Willing or Ajani's Presence, while Helix triggers heroic and is still a decent enough card in an aggressive strategy when you can get the unsummon to work.
Of course, it's not a freeroll. One thing Obelisk has over Jeskai Ascendancy is definitely that colorless casting cost… but take a look at the deck above.
The Mana Confluences already make blue, and while Temple of Triumph is certainly better than Wind-Scarred Crag, it's actually the entering the battlefield tapped that matters most here, as we'd be running eight Battlefield Forges in a heartbeat. If that deck could already afford to run eight blue sources by switching in Mystic Monastery and operating on the same curve, then you're clearly not far away from a three-color deck. Add an Island, switch some of the excess Plains for Flooded Strands… suddenly, casting a blue spell on turn 3 starts looking very close to reasonable, especially with Springleaf Drum involved!
I battled, trying out a variety of different configurations, and eventually wound up pretty happily settled. After winning two small Standard events during the week, I registered this list for the Oakland Standard Open:
Amusingly, I was goldfishing my deck while waiting for the player meeting to conclude, and seated immediately to my right was Ivan Jen. We were equally delighted to find someone else playing similar strategies, and briefly discussed some of our choices and matchup approaches before the event start.
Of course, as you now know, the tournament went swimmingly for Ivan while I blanked hard in a few games and found myself hitting the side events and local breweries for an entertaining Saturday afternoon.
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 2 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 2 Seeker of the Way
Ivan's main configuration is actually pretty similar to the kind of deck I build in the post-sideboarded games against non-green decks. Let's run down some of the key differences!
One-Drops vs. Treasure Cruise
I warped my deck to be able to play Treasure Cruise because the first few games I played with the earliest iteration of the deck had proven the card to be incredibly powerful. It could be inconsistent, hence my Taigam's Schemings, but overloading all of these attrition-based black and red decks was comically easy with Ancestral Recall in my main, and I found that worthwhile.
Ivan's one-drops were naturally on my radar, but they were so miserable for me against green decks that I wound up letting them go. Courser of Kruphix bricks every single one of them without two additional spells unless you play Titan's Strength, which I'd never found the room to add in significant numbers. That said, Ivan's mana supports much more red than mine, so Dragon Mantle can get you through the 2/4 a bit more often, which is noteworthy.
Drawing creatures with an Ascendancy out is often terrible, and so I went very creature-light while using Raise the Alarm to help bridge the gap. It filled the bin for delve, triggered Ascendancy and prowess, and kept me at a reasonable creature count. Other than the fact that it's objectively a weak spell, that's a lot to like!
I think Swiftspear is slightly better than Favored Hoplite, but I can't really fathom a reason to play Lagonna-Band Trailblazer at all. I'd be curious to hear his take, because it just seems like an unplayable card to me at the moment. The times where it “shines” (for lack of a better word) are generally going to be games where you're going defensive and turtling, which isn't how this deck is built to fight. There's no way that the third and fourth Seeker of the Ways aren't better; Seeker is just incredible in this deck and I'd never play a version with less than four in the maindeck.
With the benefit of hindsight I'm going to be giving the one-drops another go, but unless I find some room for Titan's Strength, I'm not sure I'll be happy with them.
These spells look pretty similar, but Ivan and I both opted for four of a different one. What gives?
I'm actually pretty sure I'm just “right” on this one. Gods Willing protects you from blockers, Abzan Charm, and Jeskai Charm--those are essentially the only things it has going for it over Presence outside of the scry, which is also important but less so because you mostly need your trick to work. However, both Charms are already pretty mediocre against the deck, and it's rare that your opponent's ability to block is actually making or breaking a game in my experience, as you make so many guys and your tricks guarantee favorable combats.
In fact, I think Presence is even better in Ivan's deck than it was in mine! Here are its primary upsides over Gods Willing:
3) Capable of saving multiple creatures from Anger/Drown in Sorrow.
4) Powerfully protects from End Hostilities both before and after sideboarding.
5) Can unpredictably increase your damage output mid-combat.
Gods Willing certainly has merit, and the likely most correct route is some kind of split. I was 4-1 up until registration and some last-minute changes, but I could see dipping into 3-2 or 2-2 range, though right now isn't the time to favor the Gods over Ajani.
I'm reasonably sure the correct mana count is either eighteen lands with three Springleaf Drums, or nineteen lands with two Springleaf Drums. I played nineteen and three at the Open as a hedge, but I didn't learn very much. I flooded on lands twice, but in those games I'd also boarded out all three Drums (which I wouldn't do on eighteen) so that's not especially relevant experience.
Ivan's list can afford a slightly lower land count than my own due to having additional one-drops for his one-land + Drum keeps, so I'd advise the eighteen and three for a starting point. Four Drums really just isn't necessary, and you can mini-combo to either dig your way into one or kill the opponent outright with something small like Helix + Mantle.
Flooding is the far greater danger than not drawing Drum. I'd only be willing to go to four if I was going deep on some stuff like Tormenting Voices.
Outside of that, Ivan favored many more Temples and painlands than I did, which was startling to me since he trimmed on Seeker of the Way. I liked my configuration, though I'd adapt it to have more consistent red mana early if I were to trim Vanguard of Brimaz. Flooded Strand was handy for Cruising, but it's not a terrible fixer in general, either. Playing an Island is lame, but if you're on nineteen lands you can afford it. If not, I'd steer clear and play something closer to Ivan's. I doubt the one-drop deck can afford a total blank like Island in its opener, but I also don't think he could afford to run less than four Confluences so keep that in mind.
There are tons of options here. I kept alive the possibility of a transformational plan, but Ivan's main meant that was both already afforded to him while also less attractive. Without Treasure Cruise, he wouldn't be able to overload anyone's removal without access to Ascendancy, so I don't see him siding it out very often.
His Chasm Skulkers are a nice idea in theory. I debated trying them out while looking for creatures that would trump removal after sideboarding, but I wound up avoiding them because costing three mana is a real drag and it played right into Drown in Sorrow, Anger, and Doomwake Giant unfavorably. From what I hear, Ivan also didn't like these guys, so beware the deep water.
So I was close, and yet far. Not the best Saturday.
Fortunately, I was able to avenge both myself and Treasure Cruise to some extent with a Top 4 finish in Legacy.
I wish I could say I was playing great, but I mostly think I was playing decently and just getting matched against less powerful strategies. Not enough Treasure Cruising was happening in the Oakland Legacy Open!
I did play a handful of nuanced games against two Stoneforge Mystic blue decks, one mirror, and Joe Lossett on Miracles, but I felt pretty good about all of those matchups in general, especially considering my maindeck and sideboard adjustments. I decided to shift some Pyroblasts main because the hardest and most common matchups were all blue decks. I shifted away from weaker hedge cards like Grim Lavamancer and Spell Pierce, instead moving toward permanent-based hate that would leave the targeted opponent mostly inoperable. This let me shave counters or removal as necessary in sideboarding and be very proactive without having to spend multiple cards constantly interacting with my opponents. As a result, it felt like my Force of Wills were among the best in the event, as they always stopped game-winning plays or defended my game-winning permanents.
I did ultimately lose to Dredge, but I'd made my sideboard slightly worse in the matchup so it wasn't that surprising. I still doubt the deck is worth adjusting for, but you can if you really want to as the second Sulfuric Vortex is likely unnecessary in my current deck and could be literally anything. I actually defeated Top 16 Dredger Alex Shearer in the Swiss, so I'll take the 1-1 over the course of the tournament for my worst matchup among my opponents.
I'm not sure what I'll be playing come Portland's Standard Open, but I feel pretty locked into Delver and Treasure Cruise for what remains of my Legacy career. In the meantime, I've got SoCal in the rearview and Seattle on the horizon, with miles to go before I sleep. I've got a couple more shots at a trophy coming up, and I don't intend to waste them!