Do yourselves a favor: don’t play the Simic Morph deck from my last article. I’ve taken that bullet for you, my friends, and it was not pleasant. It’s not that the deck was bad, per se; it’s more that it suffered from falling into more than a few traps. Traps most pernicious, into which brewers of all levels of experience will fall. I tried to squeeze both a Devotion and a tempo theme into the deck when either one of those two by themselves would probably have been a better bet. Icefeather Aven and Shorecrasher Elemental are not the best of friends, it seems.
I think the deck was coming from a place that could be good, namely that there is probably a U/G Tempo Morph deck to be built. Bounding Krasis was very good for me, and Icefeather Aven routinely led to blowouts. Flip Den Protector, get back Krasis or Harbinger, tap or bounce your creature is a solid sequence, and the deck can get there without needing the Devotion package. Still, we only learn these things by trying, and sometimes you need to relearn some things the hard way.
Focusing on one goal, not including things you like just because they are in the right colors, thinking about your game plan, making sure you test the deck before you play it… all good ideas that sometimes I overlook. At the FNM level it’s not the end of the world, but someday I might want to actually win something bigger than that and good habits are never a bad thing to form.
With that in mind, this week’s deck idea came from a much better source than my own desire to prove the conventional wisdom wrong. And this time I actually managed to focus on what I wanted to do!
Hangarback To The Future
The second deck I tried after Magic Origins dropped was Jeskai Tokens with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. It was good but not quite great at that point. I was happy with Chandra in the deck, but ultimately there was just something missing that kept it from being successful. I did also have some terrible draws that may have skewed my results.
Then the Pro Tour happened, GP San Diego happened, and Hangarback Walker became omnipresent. I guess we could have seen it coming; after all, it’s an artifact that scales with the investment of either mana or time and is resilient to a lot of popular removal. The idea to play it with Jeskai Ascendancy was in my head in a hurry, but I seemed to be alone in that idea. I didn’t get it. Ascendancy not only allows you to grow the Walker several times in a turn, it also pumps the tokens you produce when it dies. How is this not just great?
My opinion was reinforced on a recent podcast when Patrick Chapin suggested adding Hangarback Walker to Jeskai Tokens. Although I was thinking of adding white to U/R Thopters, maybe this would work better. It had the advantage of not hurting the mana base, something that seems especially important in a deck running at least four lands that don’t make colored mana. I want to look at both, but we’ll start with the easier list to construct.
I’ll start with the unusual inclusions:
Every time I see this card cast or cast it myself, I like it more. In this deck it has just been amazing. The turn you are comboing off, it fuels your Treasure Cruise and draws you gas for a single mana. If you’re flooding, it gives you something to do with the extra land. If you draw a fetchland with all of your basics already out of the deck, suddenly it’s not a completely dead card anymore. It will help you flip Jace in a hurry and then flashes back for minimal investment. That it does not make tokens or deal damage are the only things keeping it to a single copy, but I have been very happy with it so far.
Shrapnel Blast might be a non-starter, but this at least gives us an answer to things like Tasigur and Siege Rhino in the maindeck while also being able to give us a ton of Thopters at the end of turn. Bear in mind that you do need a legal target to cast Conclusion, so you might sometimes have to target the Hangarback you’re sacrificing in order to get your Thopters. Also remember that if you have Ascendancy out, you can pump your Walker before you cast this to get an extra token but you cannot respond to the spell and get another one if you sacrifice the Walker. It’s already dead.
I might want more of these depending on how well they work out, because Abzan Charm is everywhere and it ruins our day. The inability to dome players is frustrating, but I honestly can’t think of a better choice here.
Earlier I said why I wanted the Hangardad in the deck, and so far my testing has shown that it might be better than Seeker of the Way. We already know that every card in this deck is insane with Jeskai Ascendancy, but Walker here just takes that to another level. I kind of wish we could squeeze a Shrapnel Blast in as well, largely to protect against Abzan Charm, but with only four artifacts total in the deck I am kind of nervous about that. I guess I will have to settle for making a huge creature very fast. Oh no. Woe is me.
Playing the single Charm over the fourth Ascendancy is a risk, but the upsides to Charm are too numerous to pass up. Finding it on your “combo turn” basically ends the game, and in the event you cannot kill your opponent in one shot you will easily gain enough life to survive long enough to reload.
I’ve been higher on the flame lady than almost anyone else since Magic Origins was released. Her abilities are all very unexciting, but they do work in a deck like this. Ascendancy turns her into even more of a machine gun, granting you two untap triggers per red spell. With some careful timing you can get six damage out of her on one turn with minimal effort…and a bunch of power/toughness boosts to your team as well. As much as she synergises with the Ascendancy, she doesn’t really match the rest of what the deck wants to do so we’re sticking to two copies.
Any time you make changes to a stock list, the first question to ask yourself is “am I just making the deck worse?” In this case I don’t think we are. There’s an argument to be made that Chandra is not helping the deck at all, but I’m not willing to make that assessment until I’ve tried her. Hangarback Walker is without question a powerful card, and the synergies with the rest of the deck are obvious. The cards we cut to find room for it are largely considered to be flex spots anyway.
This is clearly not a Shrapnel Blast deck, but is Collateral Damage a better choice than Fiery Conclusion? Collateral Damage always has a target, is a mana cheaper, and can go to the dome. One thing it can’t do, however, is kill something like a Siege Rhino or Tasigur. As good as those cards are, they aren’t really the biggest threat to a deck like this. We are far more terrified of Doomwake Giant and Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Neither of those cards is particularly easy to remove, so it’s possible we should be looking at the more versatile sacrifice outlet.
Is our burn suite correct? Having four copies of Stoke the Flames is non-negotiable in the deck, but I could see an increase in Lightning Strikes and perhaps a Fiery Impulse or two. That rather depends on how much we want to hedge our deck towards a creature-policing strategy, to which I think the answer is “not much.” One or two blocking creatures normally don’t do much to stifle this deck, unless we’re already very far behind.
Are we protected enough against Abzan Charm? In game one, probably not. If they see a Hangarback Walker in that game, they likely keep the Charms in for games two and three, but otherwise I can see them being sided out as spot removal is not great against us. If you do play one in game one, consider siding them out for Disdainful Strokes.
The Lowdown On Ascendancy
Jeskai Ascendancy is absurd. So absurd, in fact, that it’s the one card I will never side out. It provides us with as many as four viable victory routes, allowing us to transform the deck in the face of an unfavourable matchup with only a few changes in the sideboard.
It has obvious uses in pumping your team and giving you an unmatched flow of cards. That’s route one. Generally you will win most of your games via token armies (occasionally assisted by a Seeker or two) growing to ridiculous sizes thanks to a flurry of cheap burn and draw spells, probably fueled by at least one Treasure Cruise. Being smart with your chump blocks, crafting yourself a hand capable of casting multiple spells in a turn and preferably having a flipped planeswalker with your tokens will all contribute to this route.
If you slow down and take the more controlling route, you get to hold your instants to untap Dragonlord Ojutai to protect from removal while looting to trigger your Sphinx’s Tutelage. You’ll most often take this route against decks that want to sweep your board a lot and try to grind you out. You can win through milling this way, but more often your opponent will spend so much effort on preventing that ignominy that you beat them with Ojutai. Let’s call that route number two. You’ll often side out almost all of your token makers for this one (I leave in the Raises) to allow you access to more countermagic. One Ojutai is a real slim margin, and we might need a second in the sideboard over the second Revoke Existence. Patience is key here.
Route three is just burning them out, using Ascendancy to keep our hand full of gasoline. This one is hard to do, but if our opponents are nice enough to deal three or five points of self-harm with their manabase and/or Thoughtseizes we can easily make use of our Chandras, Jaces, and burn spells to win without needing much in the way of board presence. This isn’t one I would recommend aiming for unless you see your opponent dropping themselves for you. Once you commit to this gameplan, you’re going to want to do as much as possible with your tokens to keep damage away from you.
I might be cheating a little by including this last strategy as route number four, but it has proven very effective against players prone to tilt. Basically you just untap with Jace and/or Chandra and Jeskai Ascendancy and start going nuts. Tap to loot, cast a spell, untap, tap to loot… as long as no loot resolves with five or more cards in the yard, Jace will keep adding loots to the stack. Your opponent meanwhile is sitting there watching you twiddle away doing a whole bunch of nothing, and growing increasingly frustrated while simultaneously becoming stone cold convinced that they can simply never beat this avalanche of card advantage and Chandra pings. Once you let the stack resolve they might well just scoop them up and go to the next game. It’s happened to me twice already. If you are lucky enough to pull this off, just try not to smirk too much.
Before I stretch too much, I will leave you to ponder the viability of our ubiquitous artifact creature friend in the Jeskai deck. He’s proven good for me so far, albeit in only a limited amount of testing. Give it a shot and of course let me know how you fare.
Until next time… brew on!