This week's article will focus on one Throne of Eldraine card that is going to impact Modern in a significant way. If you haven't already, make sure to check out Sam Black's article on Emry, Lurker of the Loch. And while all those sweet artifact-based decks are made better by the presence of Emry, I wanted to put emphasis on huge combo that's gone relatively unnoticed.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch lets you cast an artifact from your graveyard. Jeskai Ascendancy untaps Emry. If that artifact costs zero and puts itself (or another zero) into the graveyard, you effectively get to dump your entire deck into your graveyard thanks to the looting effect of Jeskai Ascendancy. Once you get your entire deck into your graveyard, you can bring back some number of Fatestitchers, tap all your opponent's blockers, and attack for infinite damage. And since the Jeskai Ascendancy "loot" effect is a may ability, you aren't in any real danger of decking yourself mid-combo.
If you can't attack for lethal, you can incorporate one copy of an alternate kill condition or bounce spell. Pyrite Spellbomb is great because it can cycle when you're trying to go off as well as kill certain annoyances like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Eidolon of the Great Revel. It's my pick for an alternate kill condition because it fits seamlessly into the existing strategy. But because it gets shut down by Ensnaring Bridge plus Karn, the Great Creator, I won't blame you for playing something like Grapeshot or Retraction Helix instead.
Now, I've tried out a few variations on this archetype already, but the initial build felt worth continuing. It was the first time in a long time that I built a combo deck and it just worked on the first try. One of my losses was to Burn and multiple Eidolon of the Great Revel, and the other was a pure mistake in sideboarding. Future iterations struggled with either consistency or speed, but this one felt just right, and also has an alternate win condition to boot.
Let's go over each card one by one and explain why I chose it over similar cards, as well as why I've left a few more "obvious" cards out completely.
This is the elephant in the room, but ultimately I found it to be too inconsistent. I do think there's a great build of the deck somewhere that utilizes Mox Opal to power out Jeskai Ascendancy on the second turn with ease. However, all the builds I came up with were lackluster, to say the least. Mox Opal is a clearly busted Magic card, but we're playing far too many nonartifact spells in the deck to make it great.
I think Thoughtcast would fit perfectly into the archetype, if only we were leaning more heavily on artifacts for Mox Opal. Drawing two cards for one mana really ramps up your Jeskai Ascendancy's power level. But again, we're not going super-hard on artifacts in this build, so getting it online isn't exactly easy. I'm also sure it doesn't help that all of our artifacts are getting sacrificed to dig for combo pieces!
I think this one could be awesome, but I haven't had a chance to try it just yet. Four mana to draw two cards is a bit hefty I think, but the scry 2 for one mana while helping fuel artifact synergy is solid. Plus, once you're going off with Fatestitcher, you will occasionally generate a bit of extra mana thanks to the likes of Manamorphose and Mishra's Bauble. I think Witching Well certainly finds a home in Modern, but I don't think this iteration quite wants it.
Any mana creature could potentially see play alongside Jeskai Ascendancy, as it lets you cast virtually every one-mana spell you draw for the rest of the game. At that point, you're only going to whiff on your combo if you fill your hand with all lands, which is pretty tough when you get to loot away extra lands with every spell you cast.
Arcum's Astrolabe might be the one card I need to go back to, if only because it will allow me to play a manabase built around basic lands instead of shocklands. If we go back to an artifact-heavy build, which we'll explore at the end of the article, Arcum's Astrolabe is obviously a sure thing.
I've considered Noxious Revival as a way to find Jeskai Ascendancy if you mill over it with Emry, Lurker of the Loch, but overall the negative card economy really hurts with Jeskai Ascendancy active. Since we don't have something like Ideas Unbound for a burst of extra cards, the easiest way for your deck to falter is if you're going for the soft combo with Fatestitcher and just run out of cards to loot.
With Emry, this becomes the reason to play the deck. If you only have Jeskai Ascendancy active, it's still possible to kill that turn with either Crimson Wisps on Emry, or just old-school with Fatestitcher. Jeskai Ascendancy turns every draw spell into an additional loot, which helps find the rest of the combo. It's obviously powerful, as it's been a fringe combo deck in the format for years, even through multiple bans. I'm not surprised to see it still kicking, as the untap design is degenerate with creatures that generate mana or have useful activated abilities.
This is the newest addition to the archetype, giving the deck a renaissance. The infinite combo generated by Emry, Jeskai Ascendancy, and any zero-mana sacrifice artifact just feels so easy to assemble. And in a pinch, Emry becomes a value engine designed to turn artifacts into extra cards. The initial design for Emry feels like it should go into a value engine deck featuring a bunch of different utility artifacts and something like Goblin Engineer to find them. But with Jeskai Ascendancy, you just turn everything on its head.
While you don't draw your deck immediately with Mishra's Bauble, you do gain the ability to mill your entire deck, but it doesn't have to be Mishra's Bauble. It can be Tormod's Crypt or even Welding Jar if you so choose. Heck, it could even be two copies of Mox Opal or Mox Amber. Mishra's Bauble is just the one that works well with fetchlands while you are digging for combo pieces in the early turns. Being able to cycle for free with Emry when you're not going full combo also means you get to spend your mana on other things.
As I said before, this combo works with any zero-mana artifact that can sacrifice itself, but Mishra's Bauble is the only one that actively helps you dig for other combo pieces in the early turns. The ability to look at the top card of your deck before popping a fetchland is great, and just cycling early means you're effectively playing a smaller deck.
This is the old favorite with Jeskai Ascendancy that ultimately lets you "soft combo" your opponent. Emry lets you "full combo" pretty easily, but you can still win games with Fatestitcher if your opponent kills your Emry. It's a lot easier than you might think.
Fatestitcher is essentially a mana creature in that you get to untap a land every time you cast a spell. And luckily, just about every card in your deck cycles for (effectively) one mana. And if it doesn't, you can just loot it away.
The coolest part about Fatestitcher with Jeskai Ascendancy is that the unearth ability gives it haste, which effectively means you can combo from nothing if you are able to loot a Fatestitcher into the graveyard. I've won multiple games with the deck where I thought I had virtually no chance; a string of Fatestitchers into a Manamorphose or two and you've got some large buddies coming across for the win.
It can be tough to untap with an Emry, Lurker of the Loch, so why not give it haste? In the initial build, we were using both Crimson Wisps and Postmortem Lunge to get the job done. If our opponent killed our Emry, we could bring it back with haste or just use Crimson Wisps to give it haste and kill from there. Postmortem Lunge was a slightly too expensive way to do this, but it more consistently brings the Emry to full throttle. However, when you're mid-combo, you just want every card in your deck to cycle for one mana. That's how you make Fatestitcher go off.
Crimson Wisps was supposed to be a novel idea to fight through spot removal, yet ended up just feeling great every time I cast it.
While it doesn't dig as hard as Serum Visions, Thought Scour is great at helping fill your graveyard for both Emry and Fatestitcher. There's a very real chance that Thought Scour is worse than Serum Visions, but I've had a lot of sweet hits with Thought Scour and the other options just don't feel the same.
This is the best alternate route to victory I've found, as the tokens you generate play both offense and defense very well. I've been overly impressed by Saheeli, Sublime Artificer in the Paradoxical Outcome decks, but that's way more about me being unable to deal with all the Servo tokens than it is about them generating blue mana with Urza, Lord High Artificer. With Jeskai Ascendancy, Saheeli, Sublime Artificer can get really out of control. Plus, you can occasionally turn one of your artifacts into a Fatestitcher and generate a ton of extra mana. In a pinch, you can also turn a Servo into a Mishra's Bauble or Chromatic Star and cycle it.
Back when Jeskai Ascendancy was in Standard, there were basically two different ways to approach it. Some decks went hard with Sylvan Caryatid, and others used it more fairly with the likes of Hordeling Outburst and/or Monastery Mentor. Saheeli definitely fits into the secondary camp here, but it's just "another thing" that fair and interactive decks have to deal with. This is your Sai, Master Thopterist from Ironworks.
This one doesn't make the deck tick or anything, but it is solid at helping you generate extra mana with Fatestitcher at virtually no cost. You also get to fetch lands in such a way that you don't take extra damage.
This one helps you "infinite combo" once you get Emry, Ascendancy, and a Mishra's Bauble all together. The blue mana Mox Amber generates allows you to bring back Fatestitcher, and the second one kills the first. It's possible that Mox Opal is better than Mox Amber in this spot, but Mox Amber allows for some really sweet, speedy turns featuring Emry or Saheeli.
These are subtle but still a major piece of the puzzle. With a Fatestitcher thrown in the Ascendancy and Emry mix, you generate one mana to break even with either Chromatic Sphere or Chromatic Star, which is enough to go infinite. They also just fix your colors in tight spots and are great cyclers when you're just trying to use Emry for value. They help make Emry cheaper, and really just do it all.
The tools available in the sideboard are there to help you fight off certain troublesome matchups, but some cards also have viability within the combo itself. Others might require a bit more explanation.
As I've said before, any zero-mana artifact works with the Emry and Ascendancy combo, including Tormod's Crypt. That makes it super-easy to choose which anti-graveyard card to play. On top of that, triggering Jeskai Ascendancy for free is a pretty big deal, and the speed at which you can find and cast Tormod's Crypt is ludicrous.
All you need to do against Dredge is to slow them down, because some of their draws are slightly faster than yours. Tormod's Crypt can buy you a ton of time. And even if they have something like Leyline of the Void, you can win games without the graveyard thanks to Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
Speaking of them attacking your graveyard, people have mostly moved away from Surgical Extraction, which means Wear // Tear is a perfect card for unlocking your graveyard from some of the more annoying anti-graveyard tools. I think this is the best option at your disposal for protecting yourself from anti-graveyard measures, but I don't bring it in blind like Dredge used to bring in Nature's Claim. This day and age in Modern doesn't have graveyard decks rolling over the format, so graveyard hate is at an all-time low.
Sometimes, you gotta kill come creatures. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are quite annoying, so having some way to kill creatures can be important. Grim Lavamancer is more experimental than anything, but the machine-gun nature of it when combined with Jeskai Ascendancy is astounding against creature-based decks. Abrade is just the go-to for decks that occasionally need to kill Chalice of the Void as well as troublesome creatures.
This one is basically just a safety valve that you can always bring in when you don't know what hate cards your opponent will throw at you. I've never loved Echoing Truth, but it's saved my bacon more than a few times over the years.
Against Burn, you just need to buy yourself some time, and I've found very little outside of Timely Reinforcements that can get the job done as easily or as efficiently. When combined with Jeskai Ascendancy or Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, you can actually just win games naturally instead of relying on the hard combos.
Looking at an Artifact Build
As I said earlier, I believe there is a great artifact-centric build. There are just too many great cards for there not to be. I've tried a few variations, but this new experimental build of a heavier artifact build might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Thoughtcast and Mox Opal are the obvious build-around cards here, as they're incredibly efficient and work well with Jeskai Ascendancy. I think this iteration will put Saheeli, Sublime Artificer to better use, if only because you won't always have the same amount of dig to find Jeskai Ascendancy. But that's okay. You can be faster thanks to Mox Opal, and you can have more burst with Thoughtcast. And both of those aspects make Saheeli, Sublime Artificer significantly better.
This iteration is untested, but puts into practice a lot of thoughts I've had about the archetype over the last few weeks. I know the combo of Emry and Ascendancy are excellent, but figuring out the other fortysomething cards is going to be a bit more difficult. Honestly, this combo feels like the first iteration of something really degenerate, as the combo itself is incredibly easy to assemble. It'll be interesting to see if anyone figures out the best alternate win condition, as well as the right artifact or spell shell for the future.
Insulating yourself from hate or disruption is key. And some of the best decks in Modern's history get to ignore a good bit of that hate, or can easily fight through it. Is Emry Ascendancy the new Ironworks Combo? Probably not, but it's starting to feel close, and that honestly terrifies me. I know there's something here, and I'm right on the cusp, but fleshing out these combo decks has never really been my strong suit. Give me a nice Izzet or Grixis or Temur shell and I'll make sure it has the best possible utility spell suite. Give me a combo deck and I start to feel lost outside of just shoving Wilderness Reclamation together with Expansion // Explosion.
I'll be putting in more work on this archetype in the coming weeks, but I'm going to shelve it for now. I've hit a bit of a wall, and I'm going to need some fresh eyes on the archetype before I can break it through to the next level. It doesn't help that the combo itself is incredibly tedious on Magic Online (my fingers hurt from all the clicking)! Want to know what's next for me? Check out my stream! I'm live just about every day at 3pm Eastern, with a heavy emphasis on Modern at the moment. There are just so many sweet decks popping out of the woodwork!