Captain’s Log #15 – Noah’s Ascendancy

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If you aren’t playing Twin, Jund or Ascendancy, you’re playing Modern wrong.
– Noah Long

Because I qualified for Pro Tour Dewey in February, I have been making sure to keep an eye on the developments of Modern. This past weekend, I chose to do coverage for the Mana Deprived Super Series event in Toronto. It was a 6K event, making it our biggest Modern event ever. I was especially excited to cover the event because Ontario has quite the Modern following. The Southern Ontario Magic Society has been hosting Modern tournaments for the last couple of months and they had been getting over 100 players at each of these, which in my opinion is quite high for a non-PTQ event.

Jeskai Ascendancy

Khans of Tarkir is a very exciting set. Outside of the return of the Onslaught fetchlands, it includes a few cards that should be seen as viable in Modern. There’s Treasure Cruise. There’s Dig Through Time. Heck, Deflecting Palm is making its way in Burn decks. But just a few days prior to the MDSS event, Sam Black had written up an article about the possibility of a new turn 2 kill in Modern thanks to the new card Jeskai Ascendancy.

At first glance, it might be hard to see how this deck wins. If you have a mana dork and Jeskai Ascendancy in play, you can choose to use all these cheap cycle spells to go through your deck. Your mana dork keeps untapping, so you never run out of mana and the loot effect makes it likely that you will draw into more cycle spells. Once you have cycled enough, your mana dork can just kill your opponent by attacking or you can draw into your Grapeshot and kill them that way. It’s actually very consistent at killing an opponent once it starts flowing through cards.

Knowing the Cards

In Modern and even in Legacy, many players preach that knowing your deck is more important than the deck choice itself. Doing coverage allowed me to see players make mistakes due to the unfamiliarity of certain cards and sometimes people don’t even understand the combo that they are playing.

I was witnessing a match in round 1 where a Jeskai Ascendancy player was up against the wall versus an Affinity deck. It was going into extra turns and the Ascendancy player tried to go off. Ultimately, he could only Grapeshot for 9 and he chose to point all the copies at his opponent, bringing him from 18 to 9. The Affinity player was able to untap, play a Cranial Plating and kill the Ascendancy player. The Grapeshots could have been used to clean the Affinity player’s board.

In a tight match between Affinity and Jund, the Affinity player went all-in with Arcbound Ravager’s ability before casting Galvanic Blast because his mind just forgot that Metalcraft was printed on the red burn spell.

In the top 8 of the event, the RG Scapeshift player who had only picked up the deck for the tournament lost both games to Hate Bears because he sacrificed too many Mountains when resolving Scapeshift.

I’ve made similar mistakes myself. At Grand Prix Boston this year, I just completely forgot that Master of Etherium was an artifact creature lord. Golgari Charm on a board with Master of Etherium is not an effective play. Make sure to get your reps in if you want to do well at a tournament!

Tuning Ascendancy Combo

Back to the Ascendancy Combo deck, a lot of people already think it’s going to be a flash in the pan while others are scared that a tuned version might well be the best deck in Modern. Tyler Longo ended up taking a slightly tweaked list from Sam Black’s all the way to the finals of MDSS Toronto 2014. He added a Dryad Arbor to the deck. He cut the Grapeshot in favour of the full set of Manamorphose.

During the finals, he kept stating that his major objections with his list were the Arbor Elves and the Wheel of Sun and Moon. The Arbor Elves can prove to be awkward if you only have Mana Confluences and they don’t help casting a Jeskai Ascendancy easier. He also could not imagine any scenario he would ever Wish for a Wheel of Sun and Moon.

Despite losing to Kaspar So in the finals, everyone watching came away impressed with the Ascendancy Combo deck. Noah Long, noted Canadian player who is a master at Magic/Yugioh/Kaijudo/Ballet/Having Good Looks, decided he was going to pilot the deck at the SOMS Invitational tournament the very next day and he was able to win that event with the following list:

Jund is considered the single worst matchup for the deck so as Eggs has done itself in the past, Noah added Leyline of Sanctity to shore up the deck’s weakness against lists packing discard spells. Noah attributes his win to the deck’s sheer power, but I think his looks had something to do with the win.

Look at my beautiful face!
Look at my beautiful face!

A Conversation with Noah Long

I sat down with Noah to pick his brain on the Ascendancy Combo archetype. We are still inching our way towards an optimal list.

KYT: Noah, most of your recent Magic success has come piloting combo decks. You won a PTQ with Storm and you even cashed Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with Eggs. Stanislav Cifka won the Pro Tour but in retrospect, you were probably on the right Constructed deck for that tournament. How does Ascendancy Combo compare to your past loves in Eggs and Storm?

Noah: This deck is Eggs and Storm but much MUCH better… R&D messsed up.

KYT: Is it ban worthy?

Noah: Just the fact that it takes forever to win like Eggs (even at a moderate pace) is enough to ban it. Let alone winning on turn 3 70% of my games, and the odd few on turn 2… 1st goldfish with the deck was turn 2… I was in love and extremely horny for more. Jund is the only very bad matchup, but the Leylines help a ton.

KYT: I noticed you are in agreement with Tyler Longo in taking out the Grapeshot.

Noah: Yes. The Grapeshot plan is not necessary when you have Flesh // Blood in the sideboard. Just Wish for it when you need that win condition. The problem with Grapeshot was that it was sometimes a dead draw.

KYT: I hear you are not a fan of Dryad Arbor?

Noah: Dryad Arbor was very bad for me. I never needed to combo with green mana as I mainly created blue unless I was casting Wish to end the game or to find Scarscale Ritual for more digging. Having Arbor in my opening hand was a mulligan as well and forced me to either mulligan or just skip a full turn.

KYT: Anything you want to talk about regarding sideboarding with the deck?

Noah: The worst cantrips are the Cerulean Wisps, so those usually came out the most.

KYT: What are some the changes you recommend for the deck moving forward?

Noah: I’d love to see some amount of Path to Exile because while Swan Song is basically the best sideboard card for this type of deck, it does not deal with Linvala. Swan Song also fails to deal with Abrupt Decay and I think that’s where a card like Silence can shine. It’s cheap and it’s also useful in other situations. I think I’d play some number of them in the future.

KYT: How do you beat Jeskai’s Ascendacy? A lot of people just auto-lose games against combo when they don’t know what’s going on.

Noah: I got a checklist of thoughts for you KYT.

– Play creature removal (Anger being the best card) backed by hand disruption and/or counter magic.

– Play Linvala and other hate bears like Canonist. You can also play very focused cards like Rule of Law and the like which completely cripple the deck if they do not have the answer.

– Safely tapping out may occur when they have zero mana dorks and not enough mana to cast Ascendancy + dork + Crimson Wisp. Crimson Wisp is currently not a staple in the archetype though.

– Key cards to keep off the table are mana dorks and the enchantment itself. Everything else is irrelevant. Treasure Cruise will always be their back up card for refueling, so Scavenging Ooze and other graveyard disruption (such as Rest in Peace) can put a damper on this back-up plan.

KYT: What’s the list you would recommend moving forward?

Noah: This beauty right here. I expect it to run as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Play it before it gets banned!

KYT: Thanks Noah!

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KYT

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