As many of you may know, I have a special place in my heart for the card Birds of Paradise. Fair creature decks are one of my favorite things to play in Modern, and Birds of Paradise is often fantastic in this style of deck. It doesn't always have to be a fair card though. Modern is a fast and brutal format, so being able to go fast yourself is often a good strategy for keeping up with the various things that are going on in the format.
Today, I would like to take a look at a combo deck as fast and brutal as the rest of the format; one that looks to use Birds of Paradise in a very different way than traditional creature combo decks that we usually see in Modern:
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo -- Modern | Jeff Hoogland
- Lands (16)
- 1 Island
- 1 Botanical Sanctum
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Flooded Strand
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Temple Garden
- 4 Gemstone Mine
- 4 Misty Rainforest
Those with a long format memory will note that this is an updated take on a deck that was a potent force when Treasure Cruise and Gitaxian Probe were still legal. Even without these cards, though, the deck is still powerful and explosive -- capable of winning the game as early as turn two. For those who haven't seen this deck before, let's break down how it does what it does.
Of course, the most important card in this deck is the one it's named after:
At a glance, it may seem odd that there are only three copies of our most important card in the main deck, but that's where one of my favorite toolbox cards in Modern comes in:
So, this begs the question -- how do we actually win the game with our namesake card? With mana creatures of course:
The actual combo portion of the Jeskai Ascendancy deck is somewhat convoluted. Because Jeskai Ascendancy untaps our creatures, with one-mana creature in play, every spell we cast gets us one-mana back. In conjunction with a bunch of one-mana cantrips, this allows us to cycle through our deck, increasing the power of all creatures we have in play in the process. With multiple creatures in play, we start netting mana off of each one cost card we play.
With only have a single mana creature in play, we can still net mana from a few of the cards in our deck:
Noxious Revival is really powerful in this deck. Not only can it re-buy our discarded / destroyed combo pieces, but it also enables our most explosive starts. Because we can pay Phyrexian mana for Revival, it allows us to start comboing when we have no mana left over. This means if we have Birds of Paradise on turn one and Jeskai Ascendancy on turn two we can potentially use Noxious Revival to untap our Birds and start comboing.
Cerulean Wisps lets us turn one mana into two with Ascendancy out, because we get an untap from Ascendancy and then another untap from the Wisps. Just remember to float mana between the Ascendancy trigger resolving and the Wisps resolving! Manamorphose allows us to jump from two mana to three mana since it generates two mana when it resolves, and we get to untap our mana creature we use to cast it.
In addition to playing cards that allow us to generate additional mana, something that's often useful while comboing is cards that generate card advantage. We have two such cards that allow us to get ahead on the cards we have in hand mid-combo:
Nagging Thoughts having Madness allows us to discard it to the looting trigger on Ascendancy and then cast it, netting one extra card. Having a copy of Scarscale Ritual in our sideboard allows us to turn Glittering Wishes mid-combo into two new cards.
A majority of the other cards we're playing provide card selection to not only make our combo execution more consistent, but also help us find our missing combo pieces while still setting up:
Lastly we round out our main deck with a couple of extra utility cards:
Abundant Growth provides us with some fixing in our effectively five color deck, while also providing a means to not lose our Gemstone Mines in a longer game. It also draws a card which makes it fine to draw mid combo.
Silence is our source of main deck interaction. It acts as combo protection against interactive decks playing removal and counterspells, while also providing disruption against other fast combo decks. Against decks like Storm, Titan Shift, and Ad Nauseam, Silence is often the same as casting Time Walk. Past all of this, because Silence does not require a target to cast, we can simply play it out to trigger Ascendancy mid-combo in case we are out of other spells to cast.
While I like every card in the main deck of this list, I am still working on finding the optimal configuration for the sideboard. At the very least, I am certain I want the following cards in my sideboard:
- 3 Abrupt Decay
- 1 Flesh // Blood
- 1 Jeskai Ascendancy
- 1 Scarscale Ritual
- 1 Silence
- 1 Wear // Tear
- 1 Fiery Justice
Abrupt Decay is a fantastic catch-all answer for problem permanents. While we don't have that many Black sources at a glance, between our mana creatures, Abundant Growths, and Manamorphose I have always been able to cast it early enough that it mattered. The three copies of it are there because this is a card we want to sideboard in when Silence isn't good. It's a clean swap against decks like Humans and Eldrazi Tron that are playing permanent based disruption such as Meddling Mage and Chalice of the Void that we need to remove.
Speaking of Silence, when Silence is good it's great, so there's a fourth copy in our sideboard for when we are playing against counterspells or other combo decks. Flesh // Blood is probably the oddest looking inclusion in the sideboard, but this is here to allow us to combo kill them without attacking. While we can often just use Fatestitchers to tap down blockers and attack for lethal, there are games where our opponent has enough spot removal to kill all our non-Sylvan Caryatid creatures which means Flesh // Blood is needed to deal lethal damage.
Wear // Tear and Fiery Justice are just good catch-all answers to tutor with Glittering Wish. Wear // Tear stays in our sideboard to be able to kill problem permanents after we board in our Abrupt Decays. Fiery Justice is good against everything from Death's Shadow to swarm decks like humans.
For those counting, this leaves six slots that I am currently still working on. Currently in these slots I have the following:
The idea with these creatures is that against heavily disruptive decks, we don't need to fully combo out to kill our opponent. Both of these creatures pair well with Jeskai Ascendancy to generate a lethal board very quickly, while also being must-answer threats on their own. Against decks such as Death's Shadow or Mardu Pyromancer, our board plan with this configuration would be:
This configuration allows us to still have some combo draws but also have a backup plan of just going wide and beating down. If you're not a fan of this creature backup plan, then you will likely want to play some copies of Leyline of Sanctity instead to give yourself some game against discard based decks.
I've been having a lot of fun playing this Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck. Not only does it feel powerful, but unlike a lot of the other combo decks in Modern the way it combos off every game is different. It makes the game a puzzle to be solved, as opposed to just following a set of linear instructions that get dry to execute after a while.
If you are interested in seeing this deck in action, check out this archive of my first time playing it on Twitch. You'll notice there's a lot of fumbling around as I learn my way around the deck for the first time and get a feel for all the interactions I need to keep an eye out for.
Have a question or comment about the deck that I didn't address above? Let me know in a comment below.