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Ascending Goblins

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Khans of Tarkir is finally Standard-legal, and it’s the perfect time to start brewing and try out some interesting decks. More than anything else in the set, it’s the cycle of Ascendancy enchantments that most piqued my interest. Each of them has a unique and powerful ability that demands to be built around. Today, I’ll be looking at Jeskai Ascendancy and how it fits into a token deck that can be built even on a tight budget.

The Token Makers

Raise the Alarm
Raise the Alarm is the gold standard for 2-mana token makers. Despite over a decade of cards to choose from, it remains the primary choice for W/B tokens decks in Modern. Now it’s back in Standard, but so far, few people are taking advantage. Generating two 1/1 creatures for 2 mana is quite efficient, and the fact that it’s an instant is just the icing on the cake, allowing you to instantly recover from a board wipe, like End Hostilities, or take out attackers with a deadly surprise.

Hordeling Outburst calls up comparisons with Spectral Procession, one of the most powerful token-making cards ever printed. It does suffer a few disadvantages, namely the fact that the tokens don’t fly and that red usually has less support for token decks than white does. However, making three tokens for 3 mana is definitely above the curve, and the fact that these tokens are Goblins could be very relevant, largely due to the power of our next card.

Goblin Rabblemaster proved its power almost instantly upon being printed, putting mono-red back on the map and seeing play in a number of multicolored decks as well. Making a free creature every turn will always be powerful, even if those creatures sometimes attack suicidally into an opposing blocker. The Rabblemaster itself often stays out of the fight to preserve its token-making capabilities, but when it does decide to enter the fray, it can wreak havoc on an opponent’s life total. With an extra +1/+0 for each other attacking Goblin, it can easily triple its power.

Goblinslide
Goblinslide is not a card that looks very good on paper. It costs 3 mana to essentially do nothing, and after that, it only gives you a 1/1 for 1 mana occasionally. In fact, it might seem to be just worse than Spirit Bonds, which gives you flying tokens for a lower mana investment. However, the key difference is what spells the two trigger from. Goblinslide triggers from noncreature spells, which allows it to fit into the frame of a token deck better suited to take advantage of those free threats. It allows a late-game Raise the Alarm to become Hordeling Outburst, and it gives you a 2/2 to go with your Spear of Heliod. While it’s never spectacularly effective, it can be the key to victory when grinding out a long game against a control deck.

Launch the Fleet doesn’t give you creatures unless you already have creatures, but in a deck like this, that will rarely be a problem. With the number of tokens this deck can put out, this card’s only limitation will often be how much mana you can produce. Making five tokens tapped and attacking for 5 mana is crazy, and that’s what this card will be doing much of the time.

The Support

Jeskai Ascendancy
Jeskai Ascendancy is the keystone of the deck. Whenever you cast a noncreature spell—in other words, anything but Goblin Rabblemaster—you give all your creatures +1/+1. Not only that, but you draw a card and discard a card as well, making sure you never become flooded with lands you don’t need. Since this deck is probably going to be casting a noncreature spell each turn anyway, this is almost like a Spear of Heliod that also filters your draws. Although it has the downside of not working if you run out of gas or want to hold something back, it also has the upside of being able to give your creatures 2 or 3 extra power instead of just 1.

Spear of Heliod is in the deck as well—when it comes to tokens, two Anthems are better than one. Having a base of 2/2 to boost even further with Jeskai Ascendancy makes your creatures much more effective in combat.

For that final, game-ending trick, it doesn't get much better than Trumpet Blast. With Jeskai Ascendancy on the battlefield, it gives your creatures +3/+1 at instant speed for just 3 mana, making just five tokens instantly lethal and giving you the ability to trade with larger creatures while still pushing some damage through.

Stoke the Flames
Jeskai Ascendancy does one more thing when you cast a noncreature spell, and that’s untap your creatures. If you have an instant you can cast before combat damage is dealt, this effectively gives all your tokens vigilance. It also turns Stoke the Flames into the most powerful burn spell of all time. Lightning Bolt is notorious for its efficiency, dealing 3 damage for just a single mana. However, as long as Jeskai Ascendancy is on the battlefield along with at least four creatures, Stoke the Flames does 4 damage for free. Simply tap the creatures for convoke to pay for the spell, and the enchantment will untap them right away in addition to giving them +1/+1, leaving them ready and waiting to attack.

Banishing Light is a catch-all removal spell that can get rid of troublesome Planeswalkers such as Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Although there are only two copies in the deck, Jeskai Ascendancy makes it much easier to find one when you need it.

Jeskai Charm does a lot for this deck. It can serve as a miniature Trumpet Blast that gives your creatures lifelink, helping you race with other aggressive decks. Combined with Stoke the Flames, it gives the deck a powerful suite of burn that can finish off your opponent even from a seemingly safe life total. The most important ability is the first one, which allows you to get rid of a blocker or an evasive creature for a turn while also depriving your opponent of his next draw step. It’s a temporary advantage to be sure, but it’s one that could easily buy you enough time to win the game.

Playtesting

Abzan Midrange — Game 1

Goblin Rabblemaster
I won the roll, and the game started off with lands on both sides until my opponent cast Sylvan Caryatid on turn two.

I responded with Goblin Rabblemaster, making a token that attacked futilely into the 0/3. My opponent played Courser of Kruphix and followed it up with a land.

I cast Jeskai Ascendancy, made a token at the beginning of combat, and tapped my three creatures plus a land to cast Stoke the Flames, killing the Courser. I untapped my creatures, which all got +1/+1, and I drew and discarded a card. I attacked for 9, dropping my opponent to 12. My opponent cast Fleecemane Lion and passed the turn.

I cast a second copy of Jeskai Ascendancy and pulled the Stoke the Flames trick again, this time giving my creatures +2/+2. Sylvan Caryatid was forced to block Goblin Rabblemaster, and my opponent dropped to 3. He drew his card and conceded,

Game 2

Brimaz, King of Oreskos
The opening turns followed the same formula again, with my opponent taking 1 damage from Llanowar Wastes to cast a Caryatid on the second turn. He followed up with Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and I cast Raise the Alarm during his end step. On my turn, I tapped the two tokens to kill Brimaz with Stoke the Flames.

My opponent cast a second copy of Brimaz and passed the turn. I cast Hordeling Outburst and passed back.

With my token army threatening to take down the King of Cats, my opponent ended his turn after just playing a land.

I cast Jeskai Ascendancy, and my opponent cast Elspeth, Sun's Champion, making three tokens. I attacked Elspeth with everything and cast Jeskai Charm to put Brimaz back on top of his library, leaving my opponent with too few blockers to save his Planeswalker.

My opponent attacked with a single Soldier, and I took the damage. He then cast Wingmate Roc, making a Bird token to go with it. I cast another copy of Jeskai Ascendancy, drawing and discarding a card and giving my creatures +1/+1. I tapped four tokens to cast Stoke the Flames on Wingmate Roc, immediately untapping them and giving them all another 2 power. I attacked with my quintet of 4/4s, and my opponent blocked with two Soldiers and a Caryatid, taking 8.

He cast Brimaz again and passed the turn. I cast Banishing Light on Brimaz, drawing and discarding a card twice and giving my army +2/+2. I followed up with Launch the Fleet on two tokens to make my five creatures into 5/5s, attacking for just enough damage to win the game despite my opponent’s Hero's Downfall.

Wrap-Up

I can’t be certain of how well this deck will perform when you don’t draw Jeskai Ascendancy, but with it, the deck is an absolute powerhouse. I underestimated how often you can pump your creatures multiple times in one turn with the Ascendancy digging for whatever spells or lands you need. That kind of card selection is incredibly powerful in an aggressive deck, especially when it comes at no cost to you. Early indications suggest the format is leaning toward midrange decks with a lot of removal. If this continues to be the case, this deck could be in a great position to shine, given how many creatures it puts into the battlefield. If you like the idea of a tokens deck that’s a bit different than the usual fare, give this one a try.


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