Duel with Ruel -Pyromancer’s Ascension versus Fauna Naya: The Ascension Perspective

Tuesday, August 31st – Last week, Raphael Levy presented the Naya perspective of this matchup. Today, Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel shares his thoughts from the Ascension side of the table.

This week’s matchup will feature two archetypes that earned the most with M11, with Mana Leak and Preordain for the combo deck, and the atrocious Fauna Shaman for Naya (a card that seems to have been printed to help Vengevine becoming even more absurd). Both decks accumulated numerous Top 8s in this year’s Nationals Championship season, as proof of their new strength, with very similar builds across the tournaments.

I knew that some people played Naya splashing the Sovereigns of the Lost Alara/Eldrazi Conscription “combo.” I thought that the differing factors in the various Pyromancer’s Ascension’s decklists would be the choice of creatures in the sideboard as their Plan B (either Echo Mage, Kiln Fiend, or Coralhelm Commander). Then I saw the sideboard masterplan of the Gräfensteiner brothers, who both reached the Top 8 of German Nationals.

I was almost correct in my early assessment, as their Plan B plan was indeed creature-based, but their tech of switching their combo after board, with the help of Spawning Breath, is so exciting that I want to test it this week.

I believe that Naya should be a good matchup overall, and it should be a good sparring partner and guinea-pig to test the Polymorph sideboard, to see exactly how relevant it may be.

I will run Tobias Gräfensteiner’s Pyromancer’s Ascension combo, the runner up at German Nationals:

Raphael Levy will be my partner this week. He’ll play James Cleak’s Fauna Naya list, which cracked the Top 8 at UK Nationals.

Maindeck Games (9 wins, 16 losses, 37.5% games won)

On the play: 6 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 3 wins, 9 losses

… And I was wrong!

I thought that sideboarding the Polymorph combo would be fun, and maybe a bit more powerful than other options in this matchup, but I am afraid that it might actually be a change born of necessity!

Honestly, my draws here were bad, as I had huge troubles drawing my Pyromancer Ascension. Even so, the games progressed along lines that were far from my expected two-pronged game plan:

– Burn the enemy’s creatures and slow him down.
– Combo off around turn 5/6, and win.

The thing is, Naya is really aggressive. I had to spend time killing his creatures and trying to survive by drawing removal, instead of digging for the combo. Getting rid of Raph’s creatures did not really slow him down, as I would not have a turn of “cease fire” on the following turn because Vengevine (which returns to the battlefield a little too easily) and Bloodbraid Elf would put me under constant pressure.

Pyromancer Ascension plus two charge counters is an easy “combo” to achieve, but it can be slow to set up. It does not even kill as soon as it’s assembled. Of course, when I charged the enchantment and untapped, I almost always won. The main goal of the PA deck against aggro will be to play Time Warp and get a copy out of it, then untap, draw a lot of cards, kill everything, and eventually win.

It should be easy to slow Fauna Naya down and win 50% of the games, but this Naya list has two cards that disrupt you just enough to win more games pre-board:

Qasali Pridemage

You do not have the time to cast two copies of the enchantment and charge them both when faced with a good draw from your opponent. Pridemage is an aggressive card, and your opponent might be tempted to cast it on turn 2 to improve his beatdown. If so, you can just burn it and protect your enchantment at the same time. If it shows up once PA is on the board? You are f***ed. Mana Leak does not consistently counter it beyond turns 4 or 5, as the Birds of Paradise and Loxodon Hierarchs will just help pay the extra three mana.

It is possible to play another Ascension on the following turn, but you’ll lose the time you spend charging it, and you cannot afford to keep a second copy floating around your hand and library through Preordain / Ponder / Foresee, as you do not want any potential dead cards should Naya not see a Pridemage.

Bojuka Bog

I doubt that everyone plays this card, but it is really good in the matchup. You can overcome it easily with time, but once it is fetched out by a Knight of the Reliquary, you will have to face a 7/7 burn-proof guy, with a mere two turns in which to do something before it kills you.

As soon as you cast a spell which is already in your graveyard with the Red enchantment on the board, it will trigger, so even a Bojuka Bog in response will not prevent you from adding a counter to the Ascension. You can also charge it in response to the Bog by casting 1 or 2 burn spells in response to its triggered ability, but if your opponent is smart and puts it onto the battlefield at the correct time, you will be in big trouble.

Once your gameplan has failed because of one of the two cards mentioned above, you will probably not be able to claw your way back into the game against a Naya regular draw. These two cards do not kill you, but they disrupt you long enough for the creatures to finish the job. If there is a Fauna Shaman or a Knight of the Reliquary on the battlefield, you can try to play around the disruption, but when they come straight from your opponent’s hand and you take their punishment unopposed, you will probably lose.

Next comes the following tricky question: What creatures do you kill with your burn?

If you decide to kill the Birds of Paradise and Loxodon Hierarch, then you might not be able to kill a Knight of the Reliquary or Fauna Shaman, which both fetch troublesome cards. You absolutely do not want your opponent to reach four mana on turn 3 (or at all if possible) and start casting Haste creatures which are immune to Mana Leak (Vengevine will show up again on the following turn, and you will only counter half of a Bloodbraid Elf). You need to maintain a high life total to eventually tap out and play your draw spells. At some point, your opponent’s board will be impossible to handle, so I would recommend you do anything to slow him down. Birds of Paradise on turn 1? Dead. Fauna Shaman turn 2? Dead. Just kill anything relevant. Holding back a removal spell in hand and losing tempo because of it, just to deal with something that your opponent has not drawn yet, is terrible. Worst yet: Knight of the Reliquary, when showing up late, means your Lightning Bolt will be useless.

Mana Leak is about important as the burn spells. Simply cast it whenever you can, on anything your opponent might need. Use them for tempo, rather than to target something bigger that you might end up missing.

This version of the Pyromancer’s Ascension deck is a touch slower than the usual build. Playing Foresee rather than Treasure Hunt will help when it comes down to card quality, but might handicap your development and curving out. The four-mana draw spell is probably much better when it comes down to sideboarding, especially when you have a Polymorph Plan B.

Using Khalni Garden instead of two Red-producing lands, and replacing the Halimar Depths with lands that enter the battlefield tapped, is almost irrelevant. Cunning Sparkmage can kill the tokens before they can chump block. Before boarding, the plant tokens will just block anything they can, which is okay. It is still easy to access Red mana, and the Halimar Depths are not that good anyway, so it probably doesn’t cost anything to run the Green land.

The matchup should be a little negative main deck in this configuration. The normal Ascension deck should still not have trouble here, and reaching maximum 50% of wins is very doable.

Next, we will see the relevance of the Polymorph tech in the sideboard. The results of Plan B will have to be really good in order to justify the 10 to 13 dedicated slots in the sideboard: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; Progenitus; 4 Spawning Breath; 4 Polymorph ;and 3 Dispel (which would have been Spell Pierce in regular decklists).

Sideboard plan:

-4 Pyromancer Ascension (you want your opponent to have dead cards)
-2 Into the Roil (better than burn spells)
-2 Call to Mind (too slow, not enough impact with no more Ascension)
-3 Time Warp (no need to play five-mana Explores; I expect Progenitus to kill safely in 2 turns)
-1 Mana Leak (the card is okay, but often off-tempo)
+1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (the guy is ANNIHILATOR 6. It’s the best ability a creature can have)
+1 Progenitus
+4 Polymorph
+4 Spawning Breath (when testing Polymorph for French Nationals, I did not consider the spell even once… but it is a very sexy thought.)
+2 Flashfreeze (against Red /Green, obviously)

As Pyromancer’s Ascension Combo did not work out, I switch to the Polymorph/token version of the deck.

I believe that boarding in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as the only creature to reveal with Polymorph would have been enough, as it is the guy I want to put onto the battlefield each and every time. But Progenitus should also win by itself. Drawing the single creature in the deck when I set up a Polymorph for the upcoming turn, or simply not being able to reshuffle it from your hand back into the deck (by discarding it, or with See Beyond) means I might end up losing what should be easy games.

Sideboarded Games (24 wins, 2 losses, 92.3% games won)

On the play: 12 wins, 1 loss
On the draw: 12 wins, 1 loss

What a blowout!

I only lost twice, and I didn’t feel especially lucky in any of the games. Progenitus was less exciting than the Eldrazi, but still won the games in which it entered the battlefield, sometimes helped by burn spells.

With that much card draw, I had easy access to Polymorph and the tokens. As a result, I would just cast the sorcery any time from turn 4 to turn 6, and then win the race with my big monster, with tokens and burn in backup just in case the opponent still had a game plan. The combo was a bit too slow game 1, but it was in perfect timing after sideboard, about a single turn faster, and facing no real disruption.

Naya should only have Cunning Sparkmage to get rid of the token. This might change in the future, but in these games, Sparkmage was not enough. Boarding in 3 Dispel will be good against some removal, but so far, Naya Shaman has no instants at all, which would make Dispel a dead card.

If possible, it is better to cast your Polymorph with a burn spell ready in reserve, in case your opponent casts Cunning Sparkmage and Basilisk Collar on the same turn, attempting to kill Emrakul, the Aeons Torn before it attacks and seals the game.

With 12 burn spells and much card draw, there is no way that a 0/1 card disrupts your combo enough to cost you the game.

I enjoyed seeing Raph play a Bojuka Bog – a Swamp that enters the battlefield tapped in a Naya deck. It’s priceless to see such an annoying card becoming so bad.

Raph kept his Celestial Purge for two games, just enough to cascade into the instant a single time. I’d say that you have a great advantage if your opponent has dead cards, but as long as he has no removal for the tokens in response to the Polymorph in his deck and sideboard, you should win, period.

If it is possible, you should not play your Khalni Gardens in game 1, so that your opponent does not know your sideboard tech. Even if he considers the possibility of Polymorph in the sideboard, he cannot sideboard properly.

I do not know how good the tech in the sideboard is against the rest of the metagame. But it was REALLY impressive here. It should also be good against more than half of the field. Considering that you might beat the other half with the main deck, this would be sick.

With the maindeck changes compared to the normal version, the deck might be a little less consistent, and thus lose a few percentage points in some matchups. We will soon see if the Polymorph version replaces the regular version across the metagame. So far, I like it a lot.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Antoine Ruel