MTG Reporter - Jeskai Ascendancy Combo at Grand Prix Houston [Ty Thomason - Archmage, Level 46]
I didn't do much preparation for Grand Prix Houston. For local GPs in the past, I’ve brewed dozens of decks and tried many more I found online until I got the list I wanted to play. This time, real life time commitments got in the way. If you remember my New Year’s Resolution article, you may wonder why I stopped writing after resolving to put out one article a week. My wife and I have been in the process of buying a house, so that has taken up a lot of my free time. I don’t feel like I’ve failed at my resolution since I have been progressing on sorting my collection (an unwritten resolution I had) in preparation for moving.
With little time to prepare in my usual manner, I put my trust in my friends for this event. Will Lowry and I have assembled a group of players we know and trust in an online Slack group to help all involved build and tune decks for upcoming events. Will and I have worked together for just about every event either of us has played for about five years now, so I know he understands what I want from a deck. With him and others to do some of the more time consuming work, I was able to manage the discussion and have my issues addressed when I had the time.
Collin Rountree showed me the first version of the deck we ended up playing (I somehow have several friends who want to play Jeskai Ascendancy Combo in every format, and he's in that group.). With the printing of Slip through Space and Expedite in Oath of the Gatewatch, there's finally enough critical mass of cantrips to enable a combo style of play. Also manlands and Elemental Uprising along with the Awaken mechanic create more ways to generate mana while the chain is going.
The first goal was to tune the deck to have the fastest goldfish (playing solitaire without an opponent) kill possible. After that, we played it against a variety of decks in the format to see if it was fast enough and how easy it was to disrupt. It turned out you could fairly reliably kill on turn 5, and the deck was more resilient to disruption that we thought. Also, much of the metagame including the deck-to-beat, Rally, didn’t have any good way to interact at all in game one!
When it was all said and done, we ended up playing this:
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo - Ty Thomason
Non-Creature Spells (30)
1 Prairie Stream
1 Cinder Glade
1 Canopy Vista
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Frontier Bivouac
4 Flooded Strand
4 Windswept Heath
Step 1: Get Jeskai Ascendancy in play.
Step 2: Have an active Rattleclaw Mystic or cast Elemental Uprising.
Step 3: Cast cards like Slip through Space and Expedite to grow your creatures and untapping them at the same time, making the cards “free”.
Step 4: Use the loot ability of Ascendancy to keep the chain going, and use Treasure Cruise to keep your hand full.
Step 5: Repeat this process until your creatures are big enough to kill your opponent. Then attack with unblockable 20/20s!
Getting two creatures that add mana is important, especially if you aren’t comboing with Bivouac or Rattleclaw as you’ll probably need a red and a blue source. Eventually you can net mana, and add even more creatures to the board if needed. Expedite can turn on Jace to flashback key spells as you are comboing. Briber's Purse can add mana when you need it, or it can help clear the way if you don’t find Slip.
You can build a three color only version with Awaken spells and Wall of Resurgence, but it isn’t nearly as fast as adding green. Rattleclaw lets you go off on turn three sometimes (not very often and usually not necessary). Elemental Uprising is both a creature and a way to trigger Ascendancy. Both are the cheapest options, especially compared with manlands. And you only need eight total in the deck. The mana is good, but not great. It might still need a second Cinder Glade instead of a Mountain. Frontier Bivouac is your best land, and the best target for Elemental Uprising.
The main deck Radiant Flames buys you a bunch of time, especially against decks like Bant Collected Company and Four Color Rally. They also can be used when comboing to clear the way for your attackers.
Dig Through Time proved to be worse than Treasure Cruise, and you can only have so many Delve spells. With Jace in the deck, you can cast more than four Cruises while going off if you really need to. Dig is only better in the situations when you're looking for Ascendancy, and it's still difficult to cast. You could maybe replace the Tormenting Voice with one Dig.
The sideboard has more interaction for when Radiant Flames and Briber's Purse aren’t needed. Monastery Mentor isn't as good as it looks, but still earns a spot because of the surprise factor.
In total, seven of us played the deck at GP Houston. Six of us made the second day, though most did at just 6-3. Robert Berni got to show it off in a few feature matches. A few who made day two at 6-3 declined on playing the second day, but three of us continued on. In the end, only Tony Ho and I stuck it out to the end, finishing right next to each other in the standings at 9-6.
I played against Abzan variants way more often than expected, including five out of six on day two. Abzan has historically been good against these kinds of combo decks by being able to play efficient green and white beaters while disrupting you with discard and removal. I think four of my losses were to Abzan, but two of them was more because my deck failed me. It’s probably not a favorable matchup.
Perhaps we misjudged the metagame, expecting more Rally than I ran into. Perhaps I should've just played Rally instead; it worked out for Haibing Hu despite his lack of preparation. But given the lack of time I had, I don’t feel too disappointed in my finish. I still made day two (at 6-3), but it's only the second time I’ve made day two without winning money. I think it was a good first run for our group process, and I look forward to working with the guys in the future.
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A Little Bit about Ty
He's been playing Magic since Ice Age; competitively since Onslaught. Ty's a veteran of 6 Pro Tours and has over a dozen money finishes at Grand Prix tournaments. His favorite formats are Sealed Deck and Legacy, but he'll play anything as long as it’s Magic!