Once upon a time in a multiverse far from our own home world here on Earth, there were five colors of mana and planeswalkers were able to use this mana to cast powerful spells.
Each of the colors had unique attributes: Swamp magic attacked a foe's sanity, Mountain magic was fiery and reckless, Forest magic was used to summon mighty beasts, and while nobody quite understood the point of Plains magic, it was a thing people enjoyed.
The worst lands in all the land.
There was also another type of magical land called Island, and the theme of this land was to be clearly and fundamentally better than the other lands in non-Standard Constructed formats.
On an island in the sun, I'll be playing blue spells and having fun.
Blue mages get to do things like:
Stop their enemy's spells before they even happen (for free).
Cast spells that create more spells.
Create an adorable Eldrazi friendship for 2U.
Be the only color in Modern where people describe your lines of play as going off as opposed to grinding value or beating down.
If the colors of Magic were superheroes, Blue would pretty clearly be Galactus wielding the Power Cosmic and the other colors would be Aquaman (which is ironic because our expectation as MTG players is that all things blue are typically amazing and Aquaman is pretty lame).
If Magic were basketball, Blue would be the USA Dream Team and the other colors would be a High School Basketball team.
If Magic were a rock'n'roll band, Blue would be The Beatles and the other colors would be The Monkees.
Get the picture?
I know that Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time didn't light the Modern Grand Prix on fire, but to be honest, I'm pretty curious as to why. The local Modern events that I've been playing in have been very blue-centric and dominated by Delver of Secrets, counterspells, and Treasure Cruise.
One thing I thought was really strange was that more people aren't playing Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks like this one:
There is a weird stigma attached to a deck like this that causes less people to pick it up and play with it. The stigma is that there is a lot of chatter about the deck getting banned in Modern.
Since there is a pretty high risk of the deck not existing in a few months, players don't really want to invest their time and energy into buying and learning how to actually play the deck. I can't fault a person for not wanting to buy into something that has a chance of not existing in the near future.
The other side of the coin is: If the deck is truly that busted, do I really want to miss my opportunity to play it in Constructed?
At first, I was in the former camp where I didn't want to put in any energy into a lame duck Modern format with a possibly lame duck deck. However, I wanted to see if the deck was really as good as people were mumbling about it being.
So, I found a list online and threw it together for a local Tuesday night event. I basically had zero experience playing the deck beforehand but was determined to give it my best shot.
I was really impressed (and disgusted) with the deck. I ended up only losing one round (1-2, due to playing and sideboarding poorly because of inexperience) and easily 2-0ing all of my other opponents. I won on the second turn three times in four rounds…
Let me run that by you one more time: I played nine games of Magic and won three of them on the second turn… In Modern…
The first thing I did when I picked up the deck was to goldfish it a bunch of times to get the hang of how the combo works. In a goldfish situation, it basically goes off on turn 2 or turn 3 every single time. The first ten hands in a row that I played out were all three turns or less.
Seriously, proxy it up. Every-single-time…
If your opponent cannot interact with you, chances are they can't goldfish on the second or third time consistently, which means you win.
Another thing I noticed was that the deck was a lot more resilient than I thought it would be. I was winning games where my opponents would kill a couple of mana accelerants and counter a couple of my spells. My expectation going in was that I would lose games where my opponent could interact with me more than one time.
The deck is full of cantrips and card draw (nearly every spell has draw a card in the text) which makes it pretty easy to keep going. All you need to go off is a mana accelerant in play, a Jeskai Ascendancy, and a cantrip in hand.
If you really think about it:
Is basically the same thing as:
Let's not kid ourselves here: if I have an active mana accelerant and an Ascendancy, the game is over like 99% of the time. The other notable difference is that my infinite combo costs like three mana less to assemble and one of my combo pieces is Birds of Paradise (which makes mana and casts spells) as opposed to Pestermite, which is pretty much a do nothing unless you are comboing off.
So here's how the combo actually works:
With one mana accelerant and one Jeskai Ascendancy in play.
Free to cast, +1 Draw/Discard, Replaces itself.
Free to cast (for delve 7), +1 Draw/Discard, +2 Net Cards.
+1 Net Mana, +1 Draw/Discard, Replaces itself
-2 Net Mana, +1 Draw/Discard, -1 Card, but is the victory condition.
The whole point of Jeskai Ascendancy combo is to put the second copy of Jeskai Ascendancy into play. Once you have the second copy deployed is when things start getting crazy and fizzling basically becomes impossible.
Technically, you don't need a second copy of Jeskai Ascendency in play to win (which is fortunate because if an opponent Slaughter Games' away Jeskai Ascendancy, you can Glittering Wish for the one in the sideboard and still win), but it sure speeds things up to put a second into play and also makes it nearly impossible to fizzle because of the additional triggers for mana and looting.
Once you get the second copy of Ascendancy into play, here is a list of the bonuses all of your spells give you.
Treasure Cruise: +1 Net Mana, +2 Draw/ Discard, +2 Net Cards.
Is it good when all of your spells add mana and draw cards?
There are only a few ways to actually win the game with the Ascendancy deck:
Play twenty spells and attack with a creature or creatures.
Play twenty spells and Glittering Wish for Flesh//Blood and dome your opponent.
It's pretty simple.
I'm playing one Fatestitcher as way to create a haste creature with Ascendancy. I think that having access to this ability is useful, since people will often feel free to tap out when you have no creatures in play thinking that they are safe to cast a fatty and then you can loot away the Fatestitcher, unearth it, and go off.
Fatestitcher also gives you another easy way to start netting mana with only one mana accelerant in play early in the chain.
When you are starting to go off with only one creature you basically need to get to two mana (which turns on Manamorphose as a card to get to three mana). Fatestitcher is also just a castable mana accelerant that many decks need to kill twice and who can also play some defense!
Since I played the tournament last week I've played at least 100 more games with the deck and have been really impressed with it. It's more resilient than I thought it would be. The other thing that I noticed when I was playing the deck in a tournament was how much people seemed to hate playing against it, which makes it a really good candidate for a possible banning.
The Jeskai Ascendancy deck felt very much like playing the Eggs deck that got banned last year. Once you start going off and your opponent has failed to stop you, the experience is very much about playing solitaire.
You simply draw cards (one at a time) and make mana until you have drawn enough cards and made enough mana that your opponent is dead. It's a pretty miserable deck to have to play against, and it takes a pretty long time to go off.
For instance, consider that every time you cast a spell with Jeskai Ascendancy and a Birds of Paradise in play there are two triggers (untap your team + your team gets +1/+1 and possibly draw a card and then discard a card) and also at every point in the game the combo player needs to be keeping track of how many times his/her team has gotten +1/+1 and how much and which colors of mana they have floating.
I may not have been close to 100% proficient playing the deck and finding the best lines of play or sideboard plans, but I'm fast and efficient at looping a combo deck like this over and over again once I know what the general rules are.
Even playing the deck and executing the combo more quickly than I would anticipate, it still took between four and eight minutes to "do my combo," (announce my triggers, draw my cards, untap my stuff, announce what mana I was making, and track how big my creatures were getting), if my opponent's didn't concede--which they shouldn't because it is possible to fizzle out.
I could certainly see players who play more slowly and methodically taking fifteen or twenty minutes to execute their combo, which will equate to a lot of games going to time and taking forever to wrap up.
The only archetype where I didn't feel way ahead of my opponents were Burn and U/R Delver Burn decks where the matchup felt fairly close.
I don't have a ton of expectation that this deck will be allowed in Modern after the next B&R announcement, which makes it a hard sell to tell people they should play it. However, if you are looking for an absolutely busted deck to play until the next set comes out to grind local tournaments or Modern PPTQs, I would highly recommend this deck for the time being.
I tested this deck against the Siege Rhino Birthing Pod deck the other night. What an absolute joke that match up was. I think I'd be kind to say that the Pod deck had a 0% match up…
If people are going to play grindy midrange decks to fight Delver it only makes Ascendancy better.
Enough is Enough
Last weekend, the Legacy Grand Prix in New Jersey pretty clearly illustrated how one little card basically dominated the event and the format:
I did an article a couple of years ago where I asked many of the best Vintage players in the world to rank the best cards in Vintage and Brainstorm was #10. It was ranked higher than "broken" cards like Mishra's Workshop, Yawgmoth's Will, Tinker, and Oath of Druids, which are all banned in Legacy and for good reason.
Nearly every deck in the Top 16 of the Legacy Grand Prix had one thing in common: four copies of Brainstorm. Which means that all of those decks had another thing in common: they were blue decks.
Doesn't it seem like common sense that if nearly every deck that was able to rise to the top of a 4000-player 15-round tournament was a Brainstorm / Ponder / Force of Will deck splashing one or two other colors for creatures and removal that there is a fundamental problem with the format?
Going into GP weekend I was looking at some Open Series decklists, and I noticed that five of the Top 8 decklists had either two or three copies of Pyroblast in the maindeck.
If the drawback is that it is dead against non-blue opponents it has no drawback…
There is no way shape or form that anybody can argue and convince me of the health of a format where it is correct and necessary to be maindecking Red Elemental Blast in multiples. It means one thing: the color blue is too good in Legacy and there isn't room for other decks to realistically compete.
I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago where I speculated about what would happen with the banned list coming up in a couple of months, and I targeted Treasure Cruise in every format as a card that I thought would likely be leaving us.
I have been of the unpopular opinion that Brainstorm is too good and should be banned in Legacy for a long time. However, since the card has been, at least in my view, way too good for such a long time, I've grown to accept that the card is a sacred cow and simply cannot get banned no matter how dominant and format warping it is. Since they won't ban Brainstorm, it seems likely that they will just ban Treasure Cruise.
Legacy has never been so dominated by blue Brainstorm decks (at least that I can remember), though the printings of Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Monastery Swiftspear have certainly exacerbated the problem.
One last Brainstorm related story.
Back in the day when Brainstorm finally got restricted in Vintage, there was a very similar sentiment attached to the card by Vintage players just as there is in Legacy.
"Brainstorming is what makes Vintage Vintage."
"If they restrict Brainstorm, I will sell my cards."
"Restricting Brainstorm will ruin the format."
And so on and so forth.
There was a very public, very vocal faction of players who were very opposed to restricting the card in Vintage.
Then the DCI did the unbelievable and restricted Brainstorm and life moved on, and pretty much everybody admits now that it was the right thing to do. Nobody is clamoring for the unrestriction of Brainstorm in Vintage because everybody knows it deserves its spot on the B&R list and that it had its time in the sun.
I think that it's pretty clear that Legacy isn't just going to "sort itself out" at this point. There is a tremendous imbalance between the various Brainstorm decks (which is nearly every deck in the format) and the other decks that don't play with Islands.
I've enjoyed getting to play Treasure Cruise decks and trying to hate decks in this post-Cruise era, but it is already starting to wear on me after just a few months. I like Legacy just fine, but this current iteration of Legacy is not one that I'd like to continue to explore for any extended period of time because I think it is pretty clear what the outcome is going to continue to be.
I'm done trying to "beat the blue decks" with Abzan hate decks and am throwing in the towel and just joining team Brainstorm + Lightning Bolt. I learned my lesson at GP NJ. I played my Abzan Death and Taxes deck, and I went 4-0 against Delver decks but ended up 0-3 against non-Delver decks (Elves, Metalworker, Infect).
The cost of trying to be good against blue decks is simply too high. Sure, you can grind % against blue, but it makes one's deck fundamentally less powerful. It really felt awkward when I was trying to play Mother of Runes and Chains of Mephistopheles against mono-brown!
My advice, which I am going to also be following through on for the time being, is to play the good Brainstorm decks in Legacy until the B&R announcement. Firstly, Jeskai Stoneblade, U/R Delver, Infect, Sneak and Show, and Deathblade are the best decks in the format by a pretty wide margin. Secondly, it kind of feels like something ought to get banned, so I want to take advantage of getting to play these sick-o decks while I have the chance.
I'm not saying that anything is going to happen to Brainstorm, but if it does I want to take advantage of getting to play with it as much as possible. If it get's banned in Legacy, I will have to someday tell my children:
I can imagine them, looking up at me with their inquisitive and innocent little faces and saying, "That sounds awful."