Brewing is so fun in a new set! There’s so much to uncover in the early days of a new release, and in a way there’s a bit of a race to see who can uncover
what in the early days of an expansion’s presence in Standard. As we careen towards this Friday, it’s finally time to set our Ravnica shocklands and Gray
Merchant of Asphodel aside (won’t be relevant anymore.) Khans of Tarkir is here!
While I wasn’t able to attend a Prerelease like I thought I would, it was a lot of fun reading people’s stories and how they did with what they opened. As
I surmised, Abzan seemed to be the clan du jour, and that stands to reason; blue is too temporal, and red can get outclassed, so I could see how this wedge
made the most sense to be a successful competitor in a field of awesome clans.
I’ve got my Word document full of goodies, and it was really hard to pick a first choice this time around, but I settled on one, and it’s based firmly in
the clan towards which I initially felt the least attraction: Jeskai.
Okay, so admittedly I’m not brewing around this hilarious combat trick. But that kind of explosive nature isn’t found in the other clans as much, and I
wanted to see what was best.
Naturally, for a fellow like me, the number one Jeskai card on my list was Jeskai Ascendancy.
You know a card’s good when you have to read it a couple times, not because you didn’t understand it, but you can’t believe they put all that on one card.
This little anthem/combo piece/filterer is ideal for a surprising variety of decks. The ability to play powerful spells, untap your creatures, and sift
through your deck is a bit unprecedented; I’d say it has some Modern potential if it weren’t for the fierce color requirement. Regardless, it’s a treat for
Standard. So where can we take this?
I can’t take my brewer’s mind off the artifact plan. Ensoul Artifact offers such a cheap way to bash with a huge creature, and Shrapnel Blast is the most
efficient burn spell we’ve seen in years, despite the additional cost. Thanks to the Ascendancy plan, the deck might be consistent enough to activate
zero-power Ornithopters, and there’s room to convoke, so Chief Engineer might be correct. If you cast a noncreature artifact, you’ll then get to untap and
So the red and blue chunks of the deck are fairly simple. Where does the white come into play?
Ornithopter is a jack of all trades; there’s so many things that become better thanks to the power of the Thopter. Springleaf Drum lets a colorless deck
have a Birds of Paradise, and just one pump makes this a tough-to-penetrate 1/3 flyer. Naturally, the turn 2 Ensoul Artifact play is very exciting, albeit
uncommon. Chief Engineer lets you push through artifacts at an alarming rate. For the purposes of running Jeskai Ascendancy, casting noncreature artifacts
was effectively free, as your creatures would untap as you cast it. On that note, Opaline Unicorn was the ideal, if not pedestrian, candidate for
multi-purpose critter. Opaline Unicorn is a Manalith on pretty flimsy legs, but every Ascendancy trigger made this more and more viable in combat.
Moreover, tapping the Unicorn for a noncreature spell means untapping, and the rainbow mana the Unicorn provides is helpful in a deck that wants to stick a
Jeskai Ascendancy early.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos seems out of place here, and he is. Truth be told though, you just won’t get a better deal for three mana these days. Moreover, as
he attacks, he “makes” mana in the form of vigilant, convoke-able creatures, helping you cast more artifacts and untapping to play more…you get the
picture. While many Chief Engineer decks want to play the large, six-drop artifacts like Scuttling Doom Engine, I opted for just one 6/6. Soul of New
Phyrexia can easily be filtered with the Ascendancy, meaning its five mana activation is easy to get online without the investment into a permanent. I know
I won’t always assemble the good ol’ triple Ornithopter into Chief Engineer into Soul of New Phyrexia, so one copy should be sufficient as a one-time
reactive spell that just so happens to also come down huge and lock a removal deck out of the game.
Four of each “artifact matters” spells are needed in these kinds of decks for consistency; every time I’ve moved down in testing of other decks I’ve
regretted it. If you’re interested in moving down, maybe you should think about a different shell. Jeskai Ascendancy is a full playset here, and that’s
because the Ascendancy is wonderful in pairs or in triplicate. Just one noncreature spell triggers all of the effects, and Ascendancies trigger one
another. If mana is rough or you need a spell that does something, no worries; the Ascendancy and any other mediocre spell or land are easily flushed away.
Springleaf Drum was almost a combo piece here, but it had diminishing returns in a playset, so just three should suffice. Tapping one creature with Chief
Engineer in play was enough to untap your team, including the creature you tapped, giving you a free mana. Jeskai Charm is like a weird hybrid between
Azorius Charm and Boros Charm, and I like it. Every Azorius Charm mode is better (the creature doesn’t need to be in combat for you to Time Ebb it), and
the +1/+1 pump isn’t irrelevant given this deck’s small creature count. Four to the face has finished a lot of games, too. Briber’s Purse is a sweet little
card that you can tap your team to play. Tap out with Jeskai Ascendancy, cast this, and untap, ready to pacify a creature at a moment’s notice. Finally, a
single Treasure Cruise rounds out the spell list. With the filtering and fetching of this deck, plus the spells that put two cards in the graveyard like
Shrapnel Blast, you’ll never pay the full rate.
Okay, first attempt to build with fetchlands in Standard in years…what are the right balances?
Flooded Strand was the clear winner, frequently finding an Island over a Plains. Naturally, a set of the Jeskai cland Mystic Monastery is important, and it
marks the deck’s only tapped land. Because the deck has an artifact base, untapped lands are more important than color in my opinion. There’s a lot of
fixing, too, so I trusted in my art-ies to get the job done. Shivan Reef and Battlefield Forge appear, too; I’m not worried about the pain thanks to Jeskai
Charm’s lifelink mode, if I choose to use it. After a couple basics, I’ve slotted a single Darksteel Citadel in the hopes of nailing the old turn-2
indestructible 5/5. With Selesnya Charm gone, Abzan Charm is the last major concern for the two-for-one!
The sideboard sees the frequently added Phyrexian Revoker. In the new Standard, I’m not sure what they best call for the Revoker is. Some planeswalker?
Polukranos, World Eater? Surely it will show up at some point. Then there’s Oreskos Sun Guide – wait, what? Oreskos Sun Guide? Well, my thought was that
the free life advantage thanks to convoke and Springleaf Drum and Jeskai Ascendancy’s complementary trigger might mean that, on any one turn, I’m gaining
free life regularly. It’s also a fine blocker for a fast X/2. Cranial Archive, the anti-delve, anti-reanimator card can come out for free with Chief
Engineer, and its ability to trigger the Ascendancy and draw a card in response can be relevant, too. There’s a couple extra Soul of New Phyrexia and one
additional Jeskai Charm if I feel the situation calls for it, i.e. against a slower deck where sticking a Soul is more likely or if burn might be the best
way to close the game.
This was my first build and proxy of the season, and I’ve been testing it over the past week to see how it performs in the blank canvas of Khans of Tarkir
The answer? Pretty well!
I had the opportunity to test against a R/G planeswalker build, a Sultai control build, and a mono-black aggro deck, and I was able to handle each
efficiently, losing just one or two games apiece after multiple games per opponent. The deck was fast enough that R/G planeswalker decks without the
perfect hand had to start blocking, and Jeskai Charm had a lot of reach in smashing once their life total got low. The U/B deck packed single-target
removal like Murderous Cut and Sultai Charm. Admittedly, it took him a second to remember the Naturalize mode on the latter spell, but not after getting
smashed with a solid 5/5 ensouled Ornithopter. The mono-black aggro deck was strong, but frequently I was able to stick enough creatures to make it
unprofitable to block. Herald of Torment and Spiteful Returned did make a crippling combo, and I found the lack of removal troubling for a tight list.
However, Brimaz, King of Oreskos held down the fort and attacked admirably, creating tons of advantage. In a surprising number of games, I won on the back
of the King.
What I discovered mainly is that Jeskai Ascendancy was ultimately unnecessary.
My artifacts were frequently the worst cards in my deck; I mean, Opaline Unicorn? What was I thinking? The noncreature ones weren’t so hot, either, with
the gleaming exception of Spear of Heliod, which proved to be one of the stronger cards in the list. Beating down with a 6/6 Spear (yes, with Ensoul
Artifact, it pumps itself), my team was unstoppable. Spear, which can be cast off Chief Engineer, Brimaz, and one Cat Soldier token, was definitely the
breakout star. White’s addition to the Shrapnel Blast/Ensoul Artifact shell wasn’t in adding the Ascendancy. It was the Spear.
We completely moved away from Jeskai Ascendancy, while keeping the strongest artifact parts. Pretty much any creature is an acceptable beater with Spear of
Heliod, and playing the full boat means you can chuck it with Shrapnel Blast or ensoul it at will. Jeskai Charm, with its massive burn potential, comes
center stage. Raise the Alarm helps increase the creature count, and Bident of Thassa can make Brimaz, King of Oreskos a free Divination on attack. This
list needs to go through the same gauntlet, but the list seems tighter.
I felt bad moving away from the card of the day, though, so let me leave you with a combo list.
Shortly after Jeskai Ascendancy got spoiled, the Internet uncovered a Standard infinite combo deck, and the pieces were fairly easy to assemble and could
be done as early as turn 4.
You’ll also need any creature; the plan, basically, is to get a creature, the Ascendancy, and Tormod’s Crypt out (any zero- or X-cost artifact will do,
though.) Cast Retraction Helix on your creature, tap it to return the zero-cost artifact, replay it, untap your creature (which now has +1/+1) and repeat
ad infinitum until you cast it one more time, untap the enormous bruiser, and smash for the win.
The combo has the attractive features of an infinite combo: cheap, efficient shell potential and redundancy in effects (e.g. Pestermite and Exarch
Twin). How can we craft this deck to go off?
The Ornithopter/Springleaf Drum still lets us put the pedal to the metal. Springleaf Drum can also go infinite with the combo, albeit with the help of
another creature (one targeted by Helix and a second creature to tap for the Drum). Battlefield Thaumaturge, another card I’m excited to brew with from
Theros Block, is the cheapest hexproof creature in the format, assuming you’ve got a spell to target it. The spells encompass the combo pieces as well as
some synergetic inclusions. Icy Blast taps down a whole team for U with the Thaumaturge out, and if you’re already racking up Jeskai Ascendancy anthem
triggers, the ferocious part will keep them tapped down an extra turn. This shouldn’t be relevant, but Icy Blast can be used both offensively and
defensively, so casting one extra spell that turn will get them tapped down for two turns pre-combat. Ensoul Artifact also turns ferocious on, and on an
Ornithopter, your infinity/infinity attacker is now much harder to block! Tormented Voice, the new and improved Wild Guess, is an exciting addition to the
deck, helping you sift through duplicates and redundancies. Briber’s Purse and Astral Cornucopia are the zero-cost noncreature artifacts for this deck, as
they do much more than Tormod’s Crypt in most situations. On the land, only Jeskai Ascendancy is white, and only Tormented Voice and the Ascendancy are
red, so a high priority is placed on the blue mana.
Not sure on a sideboard, but then, I’m not sure on this deck. Maybe it has what it needs, and maybe it needs a bit of tweaking? Maybe a Swan Song or two to
protect the combo? Draw might help, as well. This should be at least a starting point. For all the Johnnies out there, they’ve been clamoring for combo in
Standard for years, so this could be their chance!
For those of you who watch Twitch or Magic broadcasts, I will be on State of the Gathering on Twitch, a weekly strategy show hosted by brewers like me. I
hope you’ll join us at twitch.tv/stateofthegathering on Thursday, September 25th at 9:00 PM ET. See you there!
Where’s your mind headed with Jeskai Ascendancy? There’s so much potential in the card; I want to hear what you’ve been crafting!