Treasure Cruise is the Real Problem

Khans of Tarkir has already made an enormous splash in Modern. A new set may have some impact on the eternal formats—usually a new sideboard card, more rarely enabling an entire new strategy—but the changes caused by Khans in Modern are unprecedented.

There have been numerous articles and fierce discussion across concerning the extremely high power level of three new cards: Jeskai Ascendancy, Dig Through Time, and the subject of this article, Treasure Cruise. I have been playing Treasure Cruise non-stop since it was first spoiled and while my win rate has never been higher in competitive Constructed, I am so uncomfortable with the power level of the card that I would prefer for it to be banned for the good of the format.

It is one thing for a card to be a little too strong. Modern is filled with strong cards that given a slightly different approach to banning could be gone—but at the heart of competitive Magic we are happier and enjoy ourselves more when both players get to do really powerful things. The problem is that compared to casting a sorcery-speed Ancestral Recall, what other Modern decks are doing is simply not very powerful.

What is worse is when a card is so strong that it stops Magic from being fun and the challenge of the match is gone. Treasure Cruise crosses this line. In the several events I have played so far, there have been numerous points of tension in the game where victory could go either way, only for me to draw three cards for one mana while my opponent looked on in horror. I won those games because I was playing a card in Modern that many have argued is too strong for Legacy.

This Card is Already Banned in Modern:

And this card is much worse than Treasure Cruise.

Ancestral Vision is banned in Modern for, in my opinion, the best reason that a card should be banned—power level. While some cards are banned for making unfair strategies too consistent, rather than banning the actual enabler (Ponder and Preordain), and others for creating uninteresting or slow game play (Sensei’s Divining Top and Second Sunrise), Wizards pre-emptively banned Ancestral Vision before Modern was even a format, citing that it was simply too powerful for the competitive environment they wanted to create.

Undoubtedly, Ancestral Vision would see a large amount of play in Modern. Some have hypothesised that Ancestral Vision is exactly what Modern needs to make dedicated control decks playable again—they have all the best removal and win conditions, but there is not an efficient enough draw engine for a format this fast (Thirst for Knowledge comes close but warps deck construction too much and Sphinx’s Revelation is embarrassing against Remand).

After playing with the card for three weeks, it is obvious to me and everyone I have played against and spoken with that Treasure Cruise is much stronger than Ancestral Vision.

In your opening hand, the cards play similarly. An Ancestral Vision suspended on turn one is cast on turn five which is typically when you are casting a Treasure Cruise for a single mana (though I cast it frequently on turn four too). There is nothing appealing about topdecking an Ancestral Vision in the midgame when the format is fast—outside of a control mirror it feels horrible and you will often be down a card. The suspend on Ancestral Vision naturally limits which decks would play it, as well. UWR Control and Splinter Twin would still be interested, but it is very likely too slow for any of the blue-based combo decks, seeing as it could be a blank card after turn one.

On the other hand, drawing a Treasure Cruise at any point in the game is excellent, especially when both players are running low on resources. There is no delay. At that point you are simply casting Ancestral Recall, a card known for its incredible fairness.

There should be no misunderstanding either—the card is incredibly easy to consistently cast for a single mana in any deck that is remotely interested in doing so. The card appealed to me when first spoiled because I was already aware of how quickly my UR Delver deck filled the graveyard. I knew I would be casting some very soon. It has not been uncommon in testing to cast two or three Treasure Cruise in a single game. Getting cards into your graveyard is simply too easy for a blue deck in Modern and the requirement to delve away a large number of cards has not limited Treasure Cruise’s power in the slightest—you can largely play around this drawback anyway.

Sometimes the drawback is even an upside. I have used the exile effect to my advantage to help kill Tarmogoyfs several times already.

The Unfair Use of Treasure Cruise in an Unfair Deck

Jeskai Ascendancy might not even be the most degenerate card in its own deck.

Sam Pardee recently posted a video series here on ChannelFireball to showcase the best new combo deck in Modern—Jeskai Ascendancy. A key piece in the combo is Treasure Cruise, which allows the deck to make use of its otherwise useless graveyard to refill its hand and overpower disruption easily, while also ensuring that once started, the deck will almost never fail to combo.

What good is removal, discard, or counterspells when Treasure Cruise allows the deck to constantly restock its resources? The usual way to beat a combo deck is to run them out of resources during their first attempt to win the game, or to interact with them before they can go off, robbing them of the key pieces needed to assemble a victory. Because of Treasure Cruise, it is not difficult for Jeskai Ascendancy to attempt to combo multiple times in a single game, and the ability to draw so many cards so efficiently reduces the chance of the deck fizzling mid-combo to almost zero.

It is worth noting that as strong as Dig Through Time is, because it can never cost a single mana, its effectiveness in this archetype is substantially lower because you cannot break even on mana when casting it, or generate mana without a much more developed board.

If cards like Ponder and Preordain can find their way on to the ban list for making Splinter Twin and Storm too consistent and resilient to interaction, then I cannot fathom how Treasure Cruise can exist in Modern. It is simply expecting too much of the fair decks of the format for them to need to apply pressure while also having the capacity to prevent the combo when the combo deck can easily refuel and go off again for a single mana.

Without Treasure Cruise, Jeskai Ascendancy loses its most powerful draw piece and its main way to fight through interaction.

The Unfair Use of Treasure Cruise in Fair Decks

Treasure Cruise put new wind in Delver’s sails.

As mentioned, I have been playing non-stop UR Delver since Treasure Cruise was spoiled—I had previously averaged a merely decent win rate with the deck but am now running at around 80% with Treasure Cruise, which is a Caw-Blade level of dominance. Before Khans, UR Delver was not quite a tier 1 deck, held back by winnable but unfavorable matchups against the better fair decks in the format—UWR Control and Jund variants. While UR Delver had the quick clock and interaction to beat up on the format’s combo decks (and coincidentally, UR Delver is a natural foil to Jeskai Ascendancy too, if you are worried about that deck getting out of hand) it could struggle to overcome the mix of efficient removal backed up by resilient threats.

That all changed when UR Delver got upgraded with Treasure Cruise. Now an approach of exhausting your resources and attempting to force you into a topdeck battle—where their higher quality cards would naturally carry them to victory—no longer works because at any moment you can refill your hand with efficient answers and threats.

In practice, these matchups suddenly feel uncomfortably easy. I have not lost a match to either and not even a game against UWR. A good friend that always plays Jund, with whom I have enjoyed many tense and interesting matches, is jumping ship to UR Delver because playing against me “doesn’t feel fun anymore.”

Treasure Cruise unfairly fixes a tempo deck’s biggest weakness. Tempo strategies derive their strength through playing the most efficient threats and answers possible in an attempt to leverage this efficiency against their opponent’s more powerful but less efficient cards. In games that do not go long, tempo has a huge edge because it can actually make use of all of its cards within that time frame—but in a game that goes long, the lack of power in its cards becomes an enormous liability.

Treasure Cruises fixes this by giving you so much more gas for the games that do go long—while also ensuring that most games are over very quickly anyway.

Even against the unfair decks which do not strictly worry about card advantage (e.g. Tron) because they are not fighting you on that axis, the ability to draw three cards so efficiently allows UR Delver to find the required mix of threats and interaction to win much more easily.

Hate Cards Are Ineffective

My final issue with Treasure Cruise is that there is currently no easy means to limit its power. The obvious first try would be to sideboard in graveyard interaction to manage the size of the graveyard. But that simply is not effective.

Cards that really disrupt the graveyard, like Relic of Progenitus or Leyline of the Void, do not otherwise meaningfully interact with either Treasure Cruise deck. Treasure Cruise is the only card affected by Jeskai Ascendancy combo and they can just loot it away anyway and uninteractive sideboard cards always look silly against a turn one Delver of Secrets.

With Deathrite Shaman gone now (not that I want it back), the only proactive graveyard interaction comes from Scavenging Ooze which is a strong card, but very mana-intensive. Again, Jeskai Ascendancy can just loot away their Treasure Cruise in this instance and UR Delver can easily answer Ooze with a counter or removal.

The main reason these solutions fail is that Treasure Cruise is not either strategy’s “Plan A”, and any sideboarding strategy that does not directly address either deck’s primary strategy is doomed to fail – neither deck relies on Treasure Cruise. The problem arises when the best methods of combatting those primary plans – removal, discard and counters – play right into Treasure Cruise, giving these decks an unfair advantage against the rest of the field.

I Predict There Will be Bannings

Treasure Cruise: 6 months

I could easily be wrong of course—perhaps the metagame will be able to adjust to Jeskai Ascendancy and it will just be a strong deck, or perhaps Wizards will ban Glittering Wish, which would also have the desired impact of substantially reducing the combo’s reliable goldfish. I do not think that Jeskai Ascendancy itself will go, not when Wizards has made it clear that it would rather ban cards than enable problems than the combo piece itself.

Ancestral Vision, Ponder, and Preordain are all banned in Modern, and Treasure Cruise is better than any of these.

The heart of the problem is that Treasure Cruise is just so much more powerful than what other decks can do in Modern that the card needs to go. From all the strong players I have spoken to about the format, I am left with the impression that Modern is likely to devolve into Jeskai Ascendancy, UR Delver, and Burn, and while I have an unhealthy love of flipping Delvers, I do not want to see that happen to my favorite format.

Of course, until things change I will continue winning with Treasure Cruise—I just will not feel that good about it.

So readers, what do you think? Is Treasure Cruise too good for Modern? Is Treasure Cruise the real problem in these decks? Can the format adjust?

Until next time.

Zemanjaski
No one can fight the tide forever.

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