Well that was a great couple of weeks away from Magic. I played a few real life and MTGO Cube sessions, and no Constructed formats for two weeks. This past week I played a few games of Standard and was going to just go back to Hearthstone. I’d just jam Jeskai Tokens with anti-Whip cards and go on with my life until Fate Reforged hit shelves. Then I had a chat with Sam Pardee that changed my… day.

Long before I ever got big into Standard, let alone any other format, I played Vintage primarily. Sometimes I long for those days where everything but Fish could pretend to be combo and the combo decks were more like math equations mixed with on-board puzzles. Every so often a Standard deck comes along that gives you that same feeling.

Jeskai Tokens was close to what I wanted, but ultimately still on the fair side of things. Having to care about stuff like Whip of Erebos or Hornet Queen, especially in games where I didn’t have Jeskai Ascendancy, was beginning to wear on me. Where was the brutal unfairness that happened back in the day?

Matt Nass did me a favor and solved that issue for me by making a playable version of Jeskai Ascendancy combo. At first I wasn’t convinced, I mean having to play a Rollicker wasn’t exactly my idea of a rollicking time.

A Rollicking Band of Pirates We!

Once Sam persuaded me to give it a shot, though, I was hooked. In fact, I’d probably be playing it right now if Magic Online didn’t continue to give me headaches or lag when going through the roughly 400 steps when going “infinite” to win. At least you usually don’t have to draw your deck to win like the old builds.

For those who haven’t seen the Sam Pardee video series, I highly recommend it!

To summarize, the mix of cantrips, Meletis Astronomer, and Jeskai Ascendancy allow you unparalleled digging abilities. While your creatures are still vulnerable, you can play in such a way to get immediate value and can go off with just tokens if necessary. You also don’t need to combo off fully to win, much like the first iterations of Jeskai Heroic you can just jam some tokens off Akroan Crusader, make them into 5/5s, and swing for the win. In fact one of the best ways to beat other Heroic decks is with some light token interaction to buy time and then killing them by chaining through Ascendancy.

You can either combo via Ascendancy and cycling through until you generate enough pumps to kill them, or you can go off the old fashioned way with Retraction Helix and Springleaf Drum or multiple mana guys, Helix, and any cantrip enchantment. Again you’ll rarely have to actually fully combo this off so going off without being infinite is worth practicing. A lot of times you’ll start to go off and hit the missing piece and win, but knowing when you can just jam in for 20+ damage is important.

Unlike the old iteration of the deck, you aren’t leaning so heavily on Sylvan Caryatid as your mana base can actually cast spells on time. Having a triland is amazing and something I highly recommend drawing. Outside of those, you will take a fair bit of damage from your lands, which makes it nice that a lot of the Stoke the Flames decks have left the building. I’m never too worried about keeping double painland in the current format even if it’ll cost you a game here or there. Most combinations of two lands can make all your colors so the deck mulligans and draws pretty well.

I fully admit I’ve only played 34 games with the deck via jamming 2-mans and two Daily Events. As a result, I can only offer my first impressions based on feel.

Mulligans

Key cards to keep:

Akroan Crusader is also acceptable with enough cantrips, but only when you know what deck the opponent is playing.

Cards that aren’t great, but acceptable to see:

Cards you don’t want to see until later in the game:

Hands to keep: Nearly anything with workable mana and Jeskai Ascendancy is a snap-keep. While six lands plus Ascendancy isn’t quite a sneep, I’ve kept worse against the slow Whip decks  game one. I can’t express how easy it is to fix your hand and filter for your business once Ascendancy hits the table. This card is a mistake and I wouldn’t be shocked if it needs to be banned* in every non-Eternal format at some point. Any hand with lands, Ascendancy, and spells is a keep in every match.

*Calm down! I’m not saying we’re there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual end-game of Standard is to find the best Ascendancy plan and play it. Thankfully it wouldn’t take a ton of work to keep it in line if Fate Reforged or the 3rd set kicks control up a notch. Just getting Ugin could make UB Control viable and that’s going to put a serious damper on this deck.

Meletis Astronomer is not great on his own and requires time to properly set up. This means hands heavily based around using her to dig require a number of enchantments and, in some matches, a Gods Willing. Thankfully the amount of removal played by half the metagame can be counted on one hand. You’ll also always get at least one dig when you play it properly and possibly two or more depending on how fast you need to get going.

Sylvan Caryatid isn’t a requirement, but it’s very nice to have against aggressive decks and allows for some loose keeps. Don’t be afraid to keep Caryatid-heavy enchantment cantrip hands and just jam one or two on the Caryatid to cycle. I’ve definitely used a Dragon Mantle-infused Caryatid Chosen by Heliod to hold off a small aggro horde.

Akroan Crusader is nowhere near as powerful here as it is in the actual Jeskai Heroic deck. You really need Jeskai Ascendancy to win with Crusader unless you sideboard into some Ordeal nonsense. Having it is nice and can buy time against other red decks, so keep in mind the value of it there, and otherwise ignore it.

Most of my games are won by simply playing draft unplayables, landing a Jeskai Ascendancy and killing the opponent the next turn. In games where I don’t immediately kill them, I can typically cycle 6-12 cards deep and jam a few tokens onto the table. Sometimes you’ll also be able to hold up a Retraction Helix to bounce away a key threat.

Matches

To quote Sam, “Forest decks are a bye.”

Abzan Midrange, Sidisi Whip, Abzan Whip, and Temur Midrange pilots may all consider themselves to be playing fairly powerful and interactive decks. Of the four, only Temur with Stubborn Denials interacts in game one. Getting pelted with a Thoughtseize is a joke unless your hand was air plus Jeskai Ascendancy and you simply drew badly for the rest of the game.

A good goldfish for them is turn seven. For Astro Boy turn four is a typical goldfish. I usually kill on turn six because I don’t need to risk losing any significant resources to Hero’s Downfall or Murderous Cut on a makeshift mana creature. Or, I can hold Jeskai Ascendancy until my combo turn to duck Banishing Light or Utter End from Abzan Midrange.

Post-board they gain some ways to interact and get to cut some dead cards. You can put in even more ways to win attrition wars with Dig Through Time and Swan Song. Most of the decks are just too slow to pressure you effectively outside of turn three Rhino, turn four Rhino holding up Erase. Temur with a set of Denial and Negate can do a reasonable job since Knuckleblade at three comes out fast enough to threaten you. Akroan Crusader actually shines here since it can brick wall for days and if they go too answer-heavy they simply don’t pressure you until you overwhelm them with filtering and delve cards.

Jeskai Tokens is the hardest deck I’ve found since they can clock you, kill out of nowhere with burn and Ascendancy, and have the best board options. While their place in the metagame may have taken a beating recently, they do a great job of playing the fun slayer.

I’ve personally only played against Heroic once online and Sam tells me the match is pretty easy. Considering both of you just want to goldfish as quickly as possible I’m not really surprised by this assessment. You even have some light interaction with Akroan Crusader making blockers so you can stymie some early damage and live an extra turn against their better draws.

Once I get more games in with the deck I’ll consider doing a followup with more in-depth plans and sideboarding. However your plan and sequencing are largely the same every match, it’s just a matter of how fast you need to go off and knowing when to blast off with Jeskai Ascendancy. Sideboarding is pretty simple, sheep come in against anything with early pressure and Swan Song comes in against the decks trying to jam counters or enchantment removal against you.

Dig Through Time has been fine in the slow matches and made me want delve cards in the main deck. Actually the only change I made to the deck was to cut a single Chosen by Heliod for a Treasure Cruise and slot a second as the 15th sideboard card. While cutting a single cantrip was a little awkward, hitting the Cruise when going off with Ascendancy typically meant a victory. I wouldn’t be shocked if you could get away with shaving some combo pieces and just jam Cruise to make up for it.

While I do like this deck and could see doing more on it, I see preview season is starting and Ugin by himself is likely to shake things up. So if you guys want to hear more on the deck, I’m happy to write about it, but if the response is like last year then I’ll be joining everyone for preview discussion soon.

Have a happy New Year everyone!

Josh Silvestri