The new path to the Pro Tour has begun with the start of Preliminary PTQs. A large percentage of these PPTQs being Standard means that it’s time for me to start focusing on that format again. While I didn’t play in any PPTQs this past weekend, I did get to play in two very sweet local tournaments.
Saturday, I played in a 55-player, Legacy “Win-a-Black-Lotus” tournament. It was my first time playing BBD’s Jeskai Pyromancer list that won GP New Jersey. I started the tournament 3-0 and ended at a disappointing 3-3. The only consolation was a top-four finish by my car-mate, which made the trip worthwhile. This particular tournament was stacked full of excellent Legacy players, and I definitely felt outclassed in my minimal experience with the format. Legacy isn’t a PPTQ format, but this was still an awesome tournament to get to play in.
Sunday, I played a Standard 1K Super IQ, the first local IQ in quite some time. Fifty-eight players showed up, and I registered Yuuya’s Jeskai Tokens deck from the World Championship. While I wasn’t in need of an invite, I treated this tournament as a simulated PPTQ and valuable Standard practice.
I went 5-1 in the Swiss rounds and won my quarterfinal match before splitting prizes in the top four. Yuuya’s deck was, far and away, the best Jeskai deck I’ve played in this Standard format.
But before I talk about Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens, let’s rewind a bit.
I have a preference for blue-white-red decks, but previous Jeskai lists with Mantis Rider felt a bit lacking to me. It’s difficult to rely on being a burn strategy when so much of the format is gaining life with Whip of Erebos; Sorin, Solemn Visitor; Butcher of the Horde; or Ordeal of Heliod. As a result, I had turned to other colors-most of my recent Standard testing had been with UW Heroic and Esper Control.
Tom Ross’s Heroic deck felt great against all non-Mardu decks and especially favored against green decks with little interaction (Sidisi and Devotion decks). I was slowly adding more Treasure Cruises into the deck, and a quick comparison made me realize that Jeskai Tokens is far better at casting Treasure Cruise. While this isn’t necessarily a worthwhile way of comparing these two different strategies-one trying to attack with a single, large creature, and one going wide by making a bunch of tokens-casting so many Treasure Cruises made me realize that most other decks in Standard could not compete with the raw card advantage provided by “U: Draw 3 cards.” I also found that the UW Heroic deck’s lack of removal left it vulnerable to Goblin Rabblemaster and Mantis Rider.
I think UW Heroic is a decent choice, but you might have to get lucky and dodge Crackling Doom to win a tournament with it.
Shaheen Soorani’s build of Esper interested me enough to give it a shot. While the deck’s colored mana requirements were high and difficult to meet some of the time, it ran smoothly enough. The first change I wanted to make was to cut Sorin, Solemn Visitor. It felt terrible to tap out for a 2/2 flier that would usually just chump block and leave Sorin dead on the next turn. The +1 ability did nothing unless you already had an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
Here was where I left off:
I might revisit this archetype eventually, but for now, I feel like control is underpowered. I’m hopeful for the future of UB Control with the addition of Crux of Fate once Fate Reforged is released.
On to the deck that I ultimately decided to play-Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens. I played the list just about card-for-card as Yuuya built it, and I feel like the deck is perfect as is. Chandra, Pyromaster, was the card that surprised me the most with how good it was in this deck. Obviously, clearing the way for your tokens to attack is valuable, but Chandra also upgrades all your burn spells. With Chandra’s pinging ability, Stoke the Flames suddenly kills Siege Rhino, and Lightning Strike kills Courser of Kruphix. I also won multiple games with Chandra’s ultimate ability, which, it turns out, is insane with Jeskai Ascendancy.
The more interesting aspect, however, is actually playing the deck. Yuuya did not get a lot of time on camera with his Standard deck at the World Championship, and I had yet to watch him play his Sunday semifinal match versus Shahar. I tend to play conservatively, so my general gameplan is to get Ascendancy in play as soon as possible to start gaining advantage off of the looting ability. If I don’t need the blockers immediately, I’m fine to delay casting Hordeling Outburst for a turn to improve the quality of my hand and start filling the graveyard for Treasure Cruise. I’ll cast either Outburst or Ascendancy over Goblin Rabblemaster if my opponent is representing Hero’s Downfall or Lightning Strike; otherwise, it’s better to play Rabblemaster and start generating tokens. The deck presents many options starting from turn two, which allows you to adjust your sequencing based on what your opponent is doing.
Looting with Jeskai Ascendancy brings up a lot of decisions. Even though it’s a “may” trigger, I think it’s always correct to loot, even if you have no cards in hand or know that you can’t improve your hand. As long as you haven’t cast all four Treasure Cruises yet, it’s useful to functionally mill yourself to help set up the next Cruise. I’m not sure what point of the game it’s correct to hold on to lands rather than playing them, but once you start Cruising, it’s easy to have excess lands in hand. I don’t like purposely missing your land drop if it has any chance of preventing you from casting spells on the next turn.
There are a lot of decisions to make between looting, scrying, and knowing when to start suicidally attacking to force through damage. This is the type of deck that has an extremely high skill cap, and I don’t think the ceiling will be reached by anyone anytime soon. Sideboarding into End Hostilities is also an interesting aspect of the deck, and now that people know about it, there may be more value in cutting the card when opponents might assume that you have it and play differently as a result.
Lastly, a deck that I’ve been theorizing over, but haven’t tried yet-Abzan beatdown. I miss the GW Aggro glory days of attacking with Fleecemane Lion backed by cheap protection spells. Gather Courage is a free counter to the most commonly played two-mana removal spells: Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, and Bile Blight. I also really like the idea of having Anafenza, the Foremost, in a format filled with graveyard-based Whip of Erebos decks.
My rough outline looks like this:
4 Fleecemane Lion
4 Heir of the Wilds
2 Rakshasa Deathdealer
3 Anafenza, the Foremost
3 Boon Satyr
4 Siege Rhino
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
3 Gather Courage
3 Gods Willing
4 Abzan Charm
2 Hunt the Hunter 4 Thoughtseize 2 Glare of Heresy 2 Festergloom 3 Reclamation Sage 1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes 1 Murderous Cut
This assortment of green creatures, chosen with Hunt the Hunter and Gather Courage’s alternate cost in mind, looks impressive. Fleecemane Lion, Rakshasa Deathdealer, and bestowing Boon Satyr all provide resiliency against removal. Abzan Charm fills in as the new Selesnya Charm. The manabase for this deck is going to be painful, but Siege Rhino and Sorin, Solemn Visitor, help with racing your opponent and recouping some of the lifeloss.
The loss of Experiment One really hurts. As far as one-drops go, Bloodsoaked Champion and Soldier of the Pantheon are the most efficient, but I’m not excited to play one-toughness creatures into Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst. I would prefer Sunblade Elf, if only having a Plains in play early weren’t so difficult. Sunblade Elf also has the upside of being green. Here is the best I could come up with for a Sunblade Elf manabase:
That’s 18 green sources, 18 white sources, 14 black sources, and a virtual 10 Plains. Not bad. Perhaps it’s not worth having a worse manabase to accommodate Sunblade Elf, so that’s the first thing I’ll focus on in testing.
Whatever you decide to bring to your Standard PPTQs, make sure that it’s either a midrange deck or one that is looking to exploit midrange decks. Yuuya’s Jeskai creation is sure to shake up the PPTQ season, so midrange decks will have to adapt accordingly. Legacy and Modern decks are finding ways to fight Treasure Cruise, but the tools for doing so in Standard are limited. Me? I’ll be Cruising…