Modern Deck Breakdown: Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
If you have heard anything about anything in modern recently, it has been about the Jeskai Ascendancy deck, and rightfully so.
This is an evolution of another deck that saw limited to no success a year or two ago that featured Blistercoil Weird and Paradise Mantle and as many one Converted Mana Cost (CMC) cantrips as one could reasonably fit into a deck. But this deck seems to be of a higher pedigree.
It is no wonder why, as the Weird Paradise deck only had access to four copies of its two essential pieces, and neither piece was particularly useful without the other. Where as with this new deck you can have literally as many copies of one half as you like, and seven plus copies of Jeskai Ascendancy with the help of Glittering Wish, and on top of all that the combo pieces are actually useful independent of the other.
Lets Take a look.
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Birds of Paradise
Noncreature Spells (32)
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Glittering Wish
3 Cerulean Wisps
2 Crimson Wisps
3 Jeskai Ascendancy
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Windswept Heath
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple Garden
1 Stomping Ground
2 Breeding Pool
4 Mana Confluence
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Swan Song
1 Treasured Find
1 Fiery Justice
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Guttural Response
1 Flesh // Blood
1 Scarscale Ritual
1 Wear // Tear
1 Aurelia’s Fury
1 Abrupt Decay
This is the newest pure combo deck in Modern following a long line including Storm and Ad Nauseam. The idea here is simple, play mana dorks, play Jeskai Ascendancy, cast every other spell in the deck then wish for a kill card or attack. While the combo is not active it can play a passable defense with Sylvan Caryatid, but the whole deck is built to combo as early and often as possible that playing defense seldom passes my mind.
If you have ever played an iteration of Storm in any format and think that this deck is about the same to pilot, you are mistaken. I used to play Storm before, and after the Seething Song ban happened, and let me say that this deck seems similar on the surface, but is much more complex. Before the resolution of every spell you cast while going off you will have some triggers that you will likely want to resolve in a particular order and respond to, plus needing to keep track of how big each creature you have has gotten. On top of that, the amount and color of mana that each “ritual” adds changes from game to game and sometimes several times inside the game, and you need to keep track of it all.
On top of the stack goes the two Ascendancy triggers in any order you like. You then have to tap all mana producers you want before the resolution of the untap effect to get the mana off them, then you get to decide if you want to use the loot ability, and you need to do all this before the resolution of your Wisps or else you have missed your trigger.
Then you have the opportunity to resolve your Wisps, but you probably want to respond yet again by tapping the targeted Bird for mana so you get more out of the spell. Then it is a good idea to mark how big each creature has gotten. In many situations you will be able to make shortcuts, but knowing exactly how it works is essential. Time to break it down and examine all of the little nuances that make this deck tick.
Card by Card Breakdown
Here we have the all powerful engine that powers this whole deck. Without this card, the deck is merely a collection of mana dorks, and cards to draw more mana dorks (particularly unexciting to say the least). But with just one of these on the battlefield, it makes each mana dork tap for a near limitless amount of mana as long as you have more spells to cast. Just to help make sure you do not run out of spells, the Ascendancy lets you loot away unwanted lands and excess mana dorks! This card is so good at what it does that you can start the combo with a bunch of lands and a single spell, say Manamorphos, and you have a decent chance of winning.
Wishes have played a major role in Legacy for quite sometime now, and people had to know that this wish would show up sometime. This card is right at home in this deck and I am very happy to include it as the full four of. This can act as Jeskai Ascendancy numbers four through seven when we need it, and that is why this deck is proving itself so consistent. There are other options like Idyllic Tutor that would let you run all four of the Ascendency in the main board, but it wouldn’t be as useful as this wish is because of the whole host of other options the deck can have when we don’t need an Ascendancy. More on this card when we talk about the sideboard.
Mana ramp creatures are an important part of Magic’s history with Birds of Paradise even being in the first ever Magic expansion. It sure has stood the test of time! In this deck, however, these creatures are all a part of the combo. The more of these you have around, the more mana you can produce. My experience is that you only ever need one or two to win, more are just unneeded. Always remember that with this deck attacking is sometimes how you win, so do not forget that in addition to making mana, you can turn most of these guys sideways to attack too.
4 Gitaxian Probe, 4 Manamorphos, 3 Cerulean Wisps
Cantrips are what make this work, and they are what make up the rest of the spells in the deck, but these are special because they are free to cast, and usually they actually net you mana when they resolve. Gitaxian Probe requires you to pay some life for it to be free and that is hardly a downside. Manamorphos requires you to pay two mana to get it out there but it repays you with two mana of any color you would like and that is sometimes relevant, especially while Noble Hierarch is the only mana creature you have. Then in the same vein as Jeskai Ascendancy, Cerulean Wisps is free by making the mana dork used to cast it blue and untapping it. The Wisps is the least powerful of these effects and is usually the card you will sideboard out. The others are so good they should always be a four of.
Every combo deck uses effects like these when they are legal. Unfortunately Ponder and Preordain are banned for making combo too consistent, but these are very reasonable replacements. You will never be sad to see one of these at any point of the game because they will help you find whatever part of the combo you need in the early game, and they are one CMC cantrips when you are comboing off. These are nothing special, but all four of each are needed for the deck to work.
There are some points in the game where having just one more mana dork would make things go so much more smoothly. It is important to remember that there will be games that you go from no mana creature and being dead the next turn, to having a mana dork, giving it haste, and winning that turn! That situation is where this card will shine the brightest. It also draws a card when you do not need the haste aspect of it so at worst it is just another cantrip. I believe two is the correct number since any more would inevitably only be as good as a cantrip.
I couldn’t believe they reprinted..
I will admit, I dismissed this card when it was first spoiled. I figured it was as much an Ancestral Recall as Logic Knot is a Counterspell, boy was I wrong. Wizards has made it clear that this kind of power level is unacceptable by making clear guidelines for how much card draw should cost. Drawing one card costs one to two mana, and drawing additional cards costs about two more mana per card drawn. This progression is clearly seen by looking at Cerulean Wisps, Divination, and Jace’s Ingenuity.
Now compare Jace’s Ingenuity to Treasure Cruise. There is no comparison! Treasure Cruise is better in almost any situation you may find yourself in, consistently costing four or even three mana in decks that are not even designed to take advantage of it! In this deck you will only ever pay more than one mana for it when you want to. You will always have the ability to delve away seven measly cards (Including the last Treasure Cruise) making this card no worse than actually having Ancestral Recall as a four of in Modern. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but until something changes I will be happy to play it!.
The mana is pretty easy to understand. Mana Confluence is an untapped land that will cast all of our spells for a single life payment. Misty Rainforest and Windswept Heath can find any shock land in the deck, the most important of which is Breeding Pool. The other lands are there when you may need another color for some reason, but usually you will not be looking for the other lands.
An important thing to note is this list does not have any basic lands. That means that Blood Moon will be especially potent if you haven’t gotten a mana dork out yet, but usually that case won’t come up. I would suggest mostly keeping the mana the way it is because a basic forest or island is actually a liability because of how intensive the mana is! You cannot go Turn one Forest mana dork, turn two Jeskai Ascendancy, and that is a very real possibility that you will want to avoid every time.
Most of the side board is designed to work with Glittering Wish. As such, you will never have a need to bring any of these multicolored cards in.
1 Jeskai Ascendancy: With the help of Glittering Wish this is almost a seven of in this deck and is the main reason to run the wish in the first place.
1 Flesh // Blood: This is one of the win conditions of the deck. once your Sylvan Caryatid has 20+ power you can wish for this little spell and kill your opponent instantly. We are only interested in the Blood half of this spell as the Flesh half seems relatively useless in every circumstance I can think of. This is the deck’s main win condition.
1 Aurelia’s Fury: Like Flesh and Blood, this card can be a win condition as well given enough mana, but it has other applications as well. It can cause the player who is dealt damage to not cast more non-creature spells acting as a Silence when you need it that effect. Because the damage can be divided as you chose and can tap creatures down, I’m sure there will be some corner case scenarios where you need to wish for this to tap down or kill a few creatures so that you can attack for the win, but usually this will just be a Fireball to the face.
1 Scarscale Ritual: This card may seem lackluster, but it is probably one of the most wished for spells in here. Putting a -1/-1 counter on a creature is of little consequence while going off, and this spell will draw two cards when you are running low, not to mention between the wish and this card will trigger all of the Ascendancy’s loot abilities twice. You will find while using this deck that there are two major commodities; mana, and cards. Run out of either and you will fail to combo. This card plays an excellent roll of being able to draw cards for a low mana investment.
1 Abrupt Decay, 1 Fiery Justice, 1 Wear // Tear: Removal has always been a part of magic, and these are the best multicolored removal spells I and many others can find. I cannot think of a situation in Modern where one of these cards will not cure what ails ya. Remember the way Fiery Justice works with Spellskite is you can target it with only one point of damage to be able to takeout the more threatening Eidolon of Rhetoric. In this situation since the Spellskite is already being targeted, and the rules on Fiery Justice prevents you from targeting the same creature or player twice, the skite’s redirect ability will fail to do anything upon resolution. Although, in that particular instance Wear and Tear would likely be the more logical card to use.
1 Treasured Find: I’m pleased with the performance of this card. It is not something you will want every game, but it works well as something of a fail safe. This could also be replaced with Reborn Hope since usually you will only need to grab a multicolor card, but Treasured Find does have a little more play to it. Being able to bring back other important monocolor things can be potentially game winning, so I prefer the Find even if it is slightly harder to cast. (Do I get flavor points if I Treasured Find a Treasure Cruise?)
1 Guttural Response: The reason for this card’s inclusion is understandable, even if I do not agree with it. I believe it is too narrow as it can only counter blue instants. It’s cost is good at only one mana, but I believe its narrowness is too detrimental to it’s success in this deck. Sure, Cryptic Command doesn’t stand a chance in the face of Guttural Response but what about other instants? In some cases Path to Exile will have the same effect. What if you need the card to do more? It is for these reasons that I propose Bant Charm, Render Silent, or Simic Charm.
I like Render Silent for those who do not want to play Aurelia’s Furry since they can have a similar effect in most circumstances where Silence is needed. The other two cards both have their ups and downs, but Bant Charm is likely my pick as it does everything that Guttural Response does and so much more. Destroying an artifact is a little redundant with Wear and Tear also there, as is the ability to remove a creature, but sometimes that is what you will need to use this on. The big reason Bant Charm is better is that it will counter literally anything your opponent can use to disrupt you short of an uncounterable spell.
In a completely different vein, because of how resilient this deck seems to be to counter spells I wonder how effective a counter to a counter really is? Enter Simic Charm. This will “counter” every removal spell that an opponent can use on your pieces, especially Abrupt Decay. It will also stop a lot of other cards like Path to Exile and whatnot. Just like Bant Charm it also has a remove a creature clause, although this one is less potent than it’s older brother. It also has a useless Giant Growth ability that will never get used. So all these things considered, I will be testing Bant Charm for the foreseeable future in this slot.
4 Leyline of Sanctity: This card is exclusively bonkers and is right at home in this list. As is the nature of combo, It can be disrupted. Granted this deck is much harder to disrupt than it’s predecessors for various reasons, but it is still possible. Usually the kind of disruption that will hurt the hardest is hand disruption such as Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. Leyline stops all of that from the beginning of the game. This card is the number one reason this deck is not only able to win game two against Birthing Pod and Jund, but is actually favored to win that game. I would only consider running less than four if the metagame shifts to where the B/G decks are no longer a major part of it, which may happen sooner than you think. In that case I would still only consider cutting one.
2 Swan Song: This is a very reasonable piece of disruption to have on hand, and the 2/2 flyer is likely to never be an issue. I bring this in against control and the mirror since it can counter the Ascendancy as well. You could probably do worse than to bring this in against other decks too, like Storm and Twin. All around I like this card well enough to think it deserves the two sideboard slots it gets.
The total cost of the deck is around $960, but with a little bit of creative deck building we can pull the cost down. the first swap is Mana Confluence for City of Brass, this will save a chunk of cash at no detriment to the deck. Another cash cow is Misty Rainforest at $200 for the full four. The way I would fix this is by moving up to four Windswept Heath, and playing three Wooded Foothills (or any other green fetch), this does make it harder to fetch for Hallowed Fountain, but other than that it is a very reasonable substitution. I do want to stress that good mana is an absolute must for this deck, so skimping on lands is a bad idea, this is the most you can reasonably reduce the cost of the mana and still play the deck.
Noble Hierarch is an expensive magic card. I do not like that fact, but it is a fact. I believe this will be reprinted in a Modern Masters II whenever that happens, but until then we will have to deal with $60+ Hierarchs. Because he is one of the best creatures for this deck I would highly recommend investing in them, however if you must wait until an eventual reprint, he can be substituted for in this deck. The number one replacement I can suggest is Arbor Elf. He can be just as good as the Hierarch, but you have to work at it. Aggressively fetching for different green duals, and maybe changing the mana base to have more shock lands may both be key to making him work, but for some this is a small price to pay for substituting a card that has such a high price to begin with.
The last little annoyances are the price of Leyline of Sanctity and Glittering Wish. These used to be fairly cheep, but now are somewhere around $15-$20 apiece. The best advice I can give is to cut a Leyline from the sideboard for another wish target or Swan Song until you can get the full four and just bite the bullet on the rest. Glittering Wish is essential for the current configuration of this deck, so that cannot go.
With all the cut corners and edges sanded down, we have reduced the cost to $461, nearly cut the cost in half! That is very, very good for a budged build, especially one that will likely play a huge role in shaping the landscape of the new Modern format. Lets hope the prices of most of the cards stay low so that players will have the opportunity to build this deck.
How to Beat it
As I mentioned earlier, this deck is hard to disrupt. Traditional hand disruption and one use answers like Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay may not be useful enough. So here are the best proactive answers that that seem viable. The Delver of Secrets deck seems very well positioned against this deck as does the Splinter Twin deck, both for similar reasons. They both have a fast clock and a lot of disruption. That means that both of these decks will likely be the natural predator of this fancy deck.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is particularly good at halting the progress of this deck. It will cost four life and a Glittering Wish to deal with this card, and by then the Burn player may have won. Mono Red Burn is shaping up to be a major tier 1 deck and every game that this creature resolves will be an easy win for Burn. Notice how all the strategies that seem to be good against this deck are proactive threats? Reactive cards seem to not be good enough to stop this deck.
Speaking of Eidolons, Eidolon of Rhetoric and his older sister Ethersworn Canonist seem to be great ways for putting the breaks on this deck. Neither one seems better on any consideration other than the Canonist has one more power so it can beat down twice as fast. Obviously Affinity has the corner market on Ethersworn Canonists, but I can imagine a new Hate Bears build that features some number of Canonists, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Spirit of the Labyrinth being a force to be reckoned with because of all the Treasure Cruises running around.
The last way I would suggest trying to beat this deck is with Birthing Pod, but you have to play a very tight game to win with this strategy. In order to beat Jeskai Combo with Pod, you need to know exactly the right lines of play at exactly the right time. This includes knowing when to search for Orzhov Pontif, Exactly which cantrip to exile with Sin Collector in what situation, and even knowing when to attack or hold up creatures for a Chord of Calling. All of this adds an extra level of complexity onto an already complex deck. My suggestion for those of you who want to beat this deck with Pod is to shelve your Pod deck for a few weeks, build this deck and learn it inside and out to so you know the lines of play to a T, then with that knowledge, pick up Pod again and you will have a lot more success.
That’s a Wrap
Thank you for reading this long article.
It takes me a while to write this much but I believe it is worth it so you can learn as much about a deck as I can convey over text. I am enjoying writing these and I hope that you like it too!
With that said, I do want to hear your feedback. If you think there was an area that I did not explain something as well as you needed it explained, or if you think I missed something important I need to know.
I will be talking about top decks for the next few weeks, but after that I am unsure where my articles will be going exactly, so you can suggest ideas to me too.
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