Ascending Into Standard

Michael Martin throws his hat into the Jeskai craze! Then he shows off a few other brews, both combo and tribal, and previews a few cards that not enough folks are talking about going into #SCGNJ and #SCGINDY!


Today’s the big week, folks! We can finally play in a Standard tournament without having to worry about the threat of an unanswerable Pack Rat, a topdecked
Sphinx’s Revelation, or a turn 2 Domri Rade.

Wait, that last one wasn’t so bad, really.

Tonight’s going to be weird for a lot of folks, as the new cards will be playable but not yet acquirable (especially the fetchlands, as their price
understandably started high). Your esteemed writer falls into this category of people, as I have to figure out how both my son and I are going to play the
new set when we weren’t even able to make it out to a Prerelease last weekend. The kids got to do Chuck E Cheese instead, so I’m sure he doesn’t
mind, but sitting in the middle of a bunch of squealing kids, most of whom didn’t belong to me, was the worst…

Even still, I’ll figure out how to make it work, I’m sure. To make sure I’ve got options, I’ve brewed a number of deck ideas to try out so that when I
start picking Khans of Tarkir cards up, my son and I can tinker around and figure out what we want to play for the next couple of weeks.

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite toy to play with in these opening weeks of the season:

This card screamed “Break Me!” and players everywhere have complied. It’s beencovered by Shaun McClaren for Standard, Sam Black for Modern, and I’m sure somewhere out there,
someone’s thinking of weird Legacy interactions as well. In addition, plenty of you have voiced your brews to various authors on their articles as well,
showing that this is a card that people want to break completely in half.

So, I’ve decided to throw my hat in that ring. My initial idea focused on having access to Ornithopter for a turn 2 kill possibility, like Shaun’s list;
however, I wanted to focus more on a Chief Engineer approach to the list, similar to previous lists I’ve written about.

If you’re not familiar with this combo yet, allow me to explain.

With Jeskai Ascendancy in play, anything that isn’t a creature (or land, obviously) will trigger Ascendancy, causing all of your creatures to untap. If
you’ve just so happened to have targeted that creature with a Retraction Helix, you can then tap that creature again to return something to its owner’s

If you have a spare Astral Cornucopia lying around (this can be done with other cheap artifacts like Tormod’s Crypt as well), you can just bounce that and
replay it for zero, triggering a new round of “untap, tap to bounce”, repeating an arbitrarily large number of times.

The funny thing is: I actually tried to make this combo happen pre-Khans, though I had no way of truly going “infinite”. Blistercoil Weird, in combination
with Retraction Helix, gives some pretty sweet tempo if you can cast a couple of spells. I tried including some number of Setessan Tactics as well, but it
seemed like I was putting in a bunch of work for too little payoff.

Oh well, back to the new hotness.

You’ll need something to take advantage of your infinite loops in order for this to be a win condition (unless your new arbitrarily large creature(s) can
attack freely, obviously; in that case, just attack); there are a number of ways to do this. Shaun used Altar of the Brood in his list, I’ve got
Goblinslide in mine.

A one-of may not seem like the best win condition, but when you consider that you get to loot through your entire deck with the number of repeatable Jeskai
Ascendancy triggers you’ll have, you realize that it’s not that difficult. At that point, you just need a Springleaf Drum and presumably a Chief Engineer
to truly go infinite.

I actually wanted to include Heliod’s Pilgrim for Ensoul Artifact and Chained to the Rocks, but I didn’t like the way it felt in this particular list. I
wanted to be comboing off, not trying to gain incremental advantages, so I shelved that idea (again, for this list only though; I do like the idea).

Truth be told, I wasn’t liking the way that this list required so many specific cards active to go off. It felt fragile. So I tried to reduce the need for
specific cards like Chief Engineer by playing the best actual mana producing creatures in the format.

Now, that’s looking a bit better. With an Ascendancy active and a mana dork or two out, your infinite combo starts netting you mana instead of simply
cycling through the same free plays. This is also beneficial when your only non-creature spell is Springleaf Drum, as you can actually cast it with your
mana creatures every time you cycle through the bounce, replay cycle.

Goblin Rabblemaster gives us a great fall-back plan if we simply don’t have the combo pieces needed to go off. It tends to end games by itself on occasion,
plus there’s a pretty sweet synergy between Goblinslide and Rabblemaster that I’m sure will come up from time to time.

Another direction I started to take this deck was the Chord of Calling route, similar to the Temur Chord decks from last season (or, as some call it,
“yesterday”), however, I realized that, if I’m able to Chord for a bunch and get whatever I want, most of what I’d get wouldn’t be needed because I should
already be winning. Most of the time I was getting a ton of creatures when I was going off with Goblinslide, and there’s really nothing I need to Chord for
at that point.

One idea that did pop in my head was Chording for a Boonweaver Giant at the end of turn, searching up a Burning Anger, then untapping and using three
non-creature spells (with Ascendancy in play) to kill my opponent. In the end, this seemed like a bridge too far, even for me.

I did have a slight issue with how many creatures this Ascendancy-based list ran, as I’d typically want as few creatures as possible in order to make the
best use out of Ascendancy and Goblinslide. So I wanted to explore how far down the creature-less rabbit hole I could stretch this idea.

I know, I know, it says creatureless and there are two Sylvan Caryatids. There just aren’t enough creatureless mana producers out there! I think cutting
the mana dorks down to two is a decent step in the right direction though.

The question here is: can Karametra’s Favor get us past the loss of Elvish Mystic and (the rest of the) Sylvan Caryatids? Springleaf Drum + Favor give us
eight spells that allow us to go off and the rest of the deck triggers Ascendancy, which allows you to loot for the proper spells as well. We’ll have
enough creatures to place the Favor on between Raise the Alarm, Hordeling Outburst, and Xenagos, the Reveler. Additionally, Karametra’s Favor also draws us
a card, which is pretty sweet.

Look at that list though. Notice any trends in creature types?


Goblin Rabblemaster?

Hordeling Outburst?

Why mess around with four colors then? Why not just dedicate ourselves to the angry little red creatures and leave the weird manabases at home?

I’d say we’re still about a good one-drop goblin away from this deck being good, but the things it can do with Obelisk of Urd even now is still impressive.
Hordeling Outburst is one of those cards you forgot about the moment after you saw its spoiler, and truth be told, I forgot all about it as well. However,
for what we’re trying to do here, Outburst synergizes really well with the rest of the deck. It basically acts as a superpowered Dark Ritual for Obelisk of
Urd, a massive pump spell for Foundry Street Denizen, and a way to make Rabblemaster even more ridiculous.

One idea is including Paragon of Fierce Defiance as another lord effect, but I think this effect is covered pretty well by the playset of Obelisks. If we
find that our creatures are really just that underwhelming, I could easily see including a couple of Paragons to shore up that weakness, though.

Other Thoughts/Ideas

Where’s Constellation at? I’m fairly certain that the power level of the core for the Constellation deck is on par with anything that’s being considered
right now for new Standard. Even better is if you’re an Abzan Constellation deck, you gain an improved manabase and some cool new toys–primarily, Abzan
Ascendancy. While Ascendancy isn’t perfectly in sync with the deck’s primary plan, it does give you some staying power later in the game. I’m not sure this
is needed, as Constellation’s issues are more early game, but it’s something to explore.

If we go the Abzan Ascendancy route, a card that we might play is Retribution of the Ancients. While this hasn’t gotten much press, if we can get it in
play after dropping an Abzan Ascendancy, it can be used to “machine gun” down smaller creatures while collecting the power of all of our creature force in
order to take down one big creature. Think of it like a one mana black “Spirit Bomb” enchantment.

Heliod’s Pilgrim should probably start seeing some play in Standard. This card can grab Ensoul Artifact, Chained to the Rocks, one-mana removal
for either enchantments or artifacts, or Spectra Ward. As I mentioned earlier, I even wanted to include
Pilgrim in an earlier deck concept, but the space was limited and it seemed incredibly clunky. I think it has to go in a deck with Elvish Mystic in it to
be playable in Standard, as it does take quite a bit of mana to make work, but there could be something there.

How sweet would it be to have a Zurgo Helmsmasher out when you cast a board clearing effect. I doubt that a deck currently exists that wants to abuse this
interaction, but it is something to keep an eye on.

With the amount of great mana fixing we have available to us in Standard right now, I see no reason why someone hasn’t been trying to make Chromancitore
work up until this point. I’ve thought about a possible five color control list featuring the Chrome Manticore as the primary win condition, but with the
format being untested and unknown, it’s tough creating any kind of control deck. However, with the ability to play whatever we want and so many sweet
options if we have the mana to play them (like the Charms, for instance), I think this is something to re-explore down the line.

Speaking of five color control, can you imagine Narset, Enlightened Master as the win condition in a dedicated control list? Casting Worst Fears for free?
How about flipping over a Duneblast? Even better: In Garruk’s Wake. The only concern I’d have is balancing early interaction with sweet flips for Narset,
but just thinking about it has me somewhat excited already.

So tell me, have you been trying to build around Jeskai Ascendancy and its propensity to be abused? What list have you come up with?

Or do you have some other cool list that’s off the wall that you want to show off?

Let the world know how much your brain has been working overtime this week! I know mine has.