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Atraxa Ascendancy

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Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze Cove and Jordon Hill by John Constable.

Legion Guildmage by Zack Stella.

For this week's column I'm going to take a crack at building a deck designed to win with Simic Ascendancy. This enchantment is one of the new Ravnica Allegiance cards that seems particularly good in a format where you can build your deck with cards from the entire history of Magic: The Gathering. While our goal will be to assemble a fast and resilient strategy for winning this way, I don't expect this to be a "cEDH" deck. It's probably too slow for cEDH, and this first draft will probably have too much silly combo shenanigans and not enough counterspells and removal. That doesn't mean it won't be fun to build and fun to play in the right meta.

Simic Ascendancy

Our wincon of choice for this deck costs a meager gu. Simic Ascendancy will allow you to pay 1gu to put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control. Whenever you put one or more +1/+1 counters on a creature you control, Simic Ascendancy gets that many growth counters. At the beginning of our upkeep if Simic Ascendancy has 20 or more growth counters, we win the game.

The fact that that Simic Ascendancy has to build growth counters over time means that we generally won't want to flash it in on the end step before we try to win. We could build for that plan, but we'll have more options if we simply accept that our wincon will need to spend a few turns on the battlefield. We won't be flashing in Simic Ascendancy like some decks want to flash in Mortal Combat or Mayael's Aria on the end step before our turn.

Simic Ascendancy gains growth counters based upon how many +1/+1 counters you put on a creature. That means all of the spells we typically play to add extra or even twice as many counters do indeed help to increase the rate at which we push for the win. Doubling Season, Hardened Scales and Pir, Imaginative Rascal could go into this build.

We're going to try to do is assemble a combo that can be run on the end step before our turn. While we are working on that, we will also be working on building a board of creatures that all have +1/+1 counters so that only a few uses of Proliferate can put us over the top. With 7 creatures on the field we could play an spell that puts a +1/+1 counter on each of them and then proliferate twice to win the game.

Let's meet our commander.

Here Comes the General

The moment you've been waiting for...

I was originally going to go with the reliable choice of Ramos, Dragon Engine but at a certain point in time you have to admit to yourself that you have a problem. I've been writing up a new Ramos list for this column with disturbing regularity and while I think Ramos is the most flexible and interesting five color commander I've ever built around, I've decided to go a different route for this week's challenge.

Atraxa, Praetors' Voice

We have to be in White because our stated plan of putting +1/+1 counters on our whole team pretty much requires that color to be involved. Choosing Atraxa puts the proliferate keyword right in our command zone. That doesn't mean we need it to win, but having it there will both be convenient and may help act as a distraction from any combos we might be trying to land.

Proliferate is an ability that allows you to choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them and give them another counter of a kind they already have. That means you can give a player another experience counter or poison counter. You cannot add time counters to suspended cards, as those are not yet permanents. You also cannot put add multiple counters of different types on the same permanent.

Atraxa's ability to be a pretty great blocker will also serve us well. I've seen many, many games in which an Atraxa player got to hang out for a long time and not get attacked because nobody wanted to lose their best attacker to her deathtouch ability.

Protecting "The Precious"

Any deck that's trying to go after a particular wincon needs to protect that wincon like it's the most valuable card in the deck. We will covet Simic Ascendancy and protect it as if we were Frodo carrying it to Mount Doom. When we eventually land a Simic Ascendancy win, we'll decide whether to throw it into the fire or not. It's OK to build a goofy deck and once it has fulfilled its purpose (to win with Simic Ascendancy), to tear it apart and build something different. It's also OK to go over to the dark side and just keep winning with it until your playgroup finds ways to stop you.

One might argue that a better build would have a more diverse strategy and that putting so many of our eggs in one basket is not great. They'd be right, but I have made a hobby out of building decks with goofy wincons with the goal of checking them off of my own personal "bucket list". I've been jamming a Sidisi deck lately in the hopes of landing the elusive and janky Mortal Combat win. This is one of those types of builds. With any luck it will be better at executing its plan than my Sidisi deck.

So how will we protect our wincon? Let's start with some enchantments.

Privileged Position
Greater Auramancy
Sterling Grove

Privileged Position is an enchantment that gives all of our other permanents hexproof. Greater Auramancy will give our other enchantments and our enchanted creatures shroud. Since we don't ever have to target Simic Ascendancy, both hexproof and shroud are fine. The former ability prevents our opponents from targeting a permanent and the latter prevents anyone including ourselves from targeting that permanent. Hexproof is the newer version of shroud, but I think Sterling Grove predates both of these keywords because it just states that all other enchantments we control can't be the targets of spells or abilities. It has an extra ability that will come in handy. For one mana we can sacrifice Sterling Grove to tutor for an enchantment, reveal it and put it on top of our library.

Fountain Watch
Heroic Intervention

Fountain Watch is a 2/4 Guardian creature who will protect our artifacts and enchantments but nothing I've shown so far will make Simic Ascendancy indestructible. Heroic Intervention will help with that problem. Teferi's Protection will also help us seal a win if we can get 20 or more growth counters on Simic Ascendancy.

Cancel
Cyclonic Rift
Armageddon

I'm also going to run a few counterspells. Cyclonic Rift will be included because I'm in Blue and we're playing Commander. The most interesting addition to my suite of protective spells is mass land destruction. If we can get 20 growth counters, resolve Armageddon and pass the turn we're very likely to still have our wincon on the field by the time our turn comes around again. I was tempted to add in Cataclysm because I've always loved the art on that card, but it costs 2 mana more and just didn't make the cut.

A notable omission from this section is Avacyn, Angel of Hope. While she is fantastic at protecting permanents and works well with Armageddon, she costs eight mana and three of that has to be White. Over the years I've become less and less inclined to add huge casting cost cards to my decks. That's probably a good thing, but it is also a result of playing with good players and against faster decks. I don't think adding Avacyn would be a mistake, but I'm keeping this list as lean as possible.

Our Creatures

While we are unlikely to develop a truly wide board with this deck, that doesn't mean we aren't running many creatures.

Birds of Paradise
Sylvan Caryatid
Master Biomancer

We are in four colors, so making the right mana is pretty important. Birds of Paradise and Sylvan Caryatid will both tap for any color of mana and will will be happy to have +1/+1 counters put on them. Master Biomancer will put +1/+1 counters on our creatures as they enter the battlefield, helping with Simic Ascendancy and also giving us a way to present a threat on the battlefield.

Eternal Witness
Greenwarden of Murasa
Sun Titan

Eternal Witness and Greenwarden of Murasa can both help us bring permanents back from the graveyard. Simic Ascendancy costs a meager two mana, so Sun Titan will put it right back onto the battlefield. I'm also running Replenish, Nature's Spiral, Regrowth, and Reclaim, though I have to wonder if that is an excessive amount of recursion for a deck that isn't really about graveyard shenanigans. Most of our other creatures are going to show up in other categories, so let's move on to the fun stuff.

Counter Anthems

A key part of our plan is to put +1/+1 counters on all of our creatures. Once we've done that we can get around to proliferating them, but first things first...

Ajani Goldmane
Ajani Steadfast
Abzan Ascendancy

Ajani Goldmane and Ajani Steadfast both allow you to put +1/+1 counters on each of your creatures. Your proliferate effects will let you put additional loyalty counters on them, making them a great fit for this deck. Abzan Ascendancy is an enchantment that does the same thing but also gives us a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying when one of our nontoken creatures dies.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Tempt with Glory
Cathars' Crusade

Shalai, Voice of Plenty will protect us and our creatures and will also let us put +1/+1 counters on our creatures for the hefty price of 4gg. Ridgescale Tusker is in the list and does the same thing but the effect is stapled to a 5/5 Beast. Loyal Guardian is also in our list and will give us +1/+1 counters on our upkeep if we control our commander.

Tempt with Glory will let us put counters on our creatures and if any of our opponents are tempted to do the same, we get to do it again. Cathars' Crusade is just silly in +1/+1 counters decks and will put counters on each of our creatures each time a creature enters the battlefield under our control. It can also get really out of hand with some of the other cards in this list.

Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Pemmin's Aura
Freed From the Real

Mikaeus, the Lunarch is universally seen as the weaker of the two Mikaeus cards in our format. I generally find that when you add Mikaeus, the Unhallowed to a deck the next thing you know you're adding Triskelion and Walking Ballista, a slot of persist creatures and the deck becomes just another "Black Mike" deck. I find trying to use "White Mike" far more interesting. He can tap to remove a +1/+1 counter from himself and put a +1/+1 counter on each other creature you control. With Pemmin's Aura or Freed From the Real enchanting him, you can pay a Blue mana to untap him so you can do it multiple times in one turn.

Avenger of Zendikar
Fertilid

Avenger of Zendikar works pretty well with Cathars' Crusade, but I'm not including "AoZ" solely because of that powerful enchantment. When it enters the battlefield Avenger will give us a 0/1 Plant creature token for each land we control. Every time a land enters the battlefield under our control we will put a +1/+1 counter on each Plant creature we control. Fertilid enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters and will hopefully accrue a few more before the time comes to play Avenger of Zendikar. Because Fertilid doesn't tap to activate his ability we could theoretically play Avenger of Zendikar and on the next turn remove three or four counters if we have the mana to do so. With six Plant tokens on the field, we'd soon find ourselves with a Simic Ascendancy at or near 20 growth counters.

Proliferate

One could make a solid argument that these cards are redundant and I should drop them all and run a suite of removal. It's a good argument and if you're inclined to go that route, you should do it. You' might even wind up with a stronger deck as a result. I've never built around Atraxa before and I'm hoping the extra proliferate triggers will be worth including

Inexorable Tide
Thrummingbird
Viral Drake

Inexorable Tide is an enchantment that will let us proliferate whenever we cast a spell. If this sticks around for very long we won't need many creatures with +1/+1 counters on them to get Simic Ascendancy up to 20. Thrummingbird will let us proliferate each time it deals combat damage to a player. It flies, but we might be able to make a deal with an opponent to let us get it through unblocked in exchange for proliferating some of their creatures or planeswalkers. Viral Drake might send up red flags with our tablemates because it has infect, but we're including it for its ability to let us pay 3U to proliferate.

Contagion Clasp
Contagion Engine

These two artifacts give us another source of recurrable proliferation. They both can act as removal, and a well-timed Contagion Engine can wipe out an opponent's army of 1/1 creature tokens. If all these proliferate cards prove to be redundant, we can tweak the list and add in more responsible choices later on.

I chose not to run any instants or sorceries with proliferate, as I lean away from one-and-done spells in Commander. Our games can go long, so in most decks I favor permanents that give you an effect over non-permanents. My Ridgescale Tusker is better than a Titania's Boon, as it will stick around and can have counters put on it.

C-C-C-Combo!!!

Just putting +1/+1 counters on our creatures and proliferating is a little boring. It should work just fine and it's a viable and maybe even a clever way to try to win with Simic Ascendancy, but there are dirtier, nastier, more effective ways to get there.

Spike Feeder
Sunbond
Archangel of Thune

Spike Feeder comes into play with two +1/+1 counters on it. For two mana you can remove a +1/+1 counter and put one on target creature. While that target creature could be itself, that's not the ability we care about. We can also remove a +1/+1 counter from Spike Feeder to gain 2 life. If we enchant Spike with Sunbond, it will gain two +1/+1 counters when we gain 2 life, allowing us to make an infinitely large Spike Feeder and gain infinite life. We can do this on the end step before our turn and win by putting an arbitrarily large number of growth counters on Simic Ascendancy.

Archangel of Thune will put a +1/+1 counter on each creature we control whenever we gain life. Atraxa has lifelink so gaining life with this deck should be easy. With Spike Feeder it will work the same way that it would work with Sunbond, allowing us to go infinite and get the Simic Ascendancy win.

Ghave, Guru of Spores
Ashnod's Altar

Ghave, Guru of Spores does infinite with a few cards on this list, but this deck won't have the usual advantage of being able to cast him again out of our command zone. That doesn't mean he won't do work if we can get him out and get the right stuff onto the field. With Ashnod's Altar, we can sacrifice a creature to make two mana. If Cathars' Crusade had just put another +1/+1 counter on Ghave we can use that mana to do it again. While that doesn't create an infinitely large board of Saprolings it will give us a loop that can give Simic Ascendancy a ridiculous number of growth counters. It would also give us infinite colorless mana, which isn't the worst thing ever.

If we wanted to pursue Ghave combos more seriously in this build, we would might add Doubling Season, Hardened Scales, Pir, Imaginative Rascal, Anointed Procession, Parallel Lives, and maybe even Primal Vigor. That's a fine plan, but that's not this deck.

Demonic Tutor
Enlightened Tutor
Idyllic Tutor

Demonic and Diabolic Tutor will let us search for any card we want. Enlightened Tutor and Idyllic Tutor will both let us search for an enchantment, which is probably what we'll be digging for first. Any deck built around trying to nail a specific wincon is going to want to run tutors to try to get that card or or other cards it needs to combo off.

The Decklist

I think this first draft is pretty solid, but actual play will reveal whether it needs more removal, more draw, more ramp, or more of all three. These things are often dependent upon the meta you play in, so if you build this deck you will know better than I whether there are key directions you need to take this in for it to be viable in your playgroup.

Atraxa Ascendancy | Commander | Stephen Johnson


The mana base is loaded up with some pretty decent lands, but you could easily drop a bunch of nonbasics and drop the deck's price tag. The colors of your spells in this list are weighted more heavily toward Green and White, so keep that in mind if you wind up making changes.

Hardened Scales
Pir, Imaginative Rascal
Toothy, Imaginary Friend

If you wanted to push this more toward a competitive build you would want to add in those counter doublers I mentioned earlier. Hardened Scales is a no-brainer, and Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Toothy, Imaginary Friend are both fine additions. To be honest, my first version of this piece was based upon a misreading of the card. I was under the impression that Simic Ascendancy would only gain one growth counter but with counter doublers you'll just win that much faster

Final Thoughts

As of this writing I do not currently own a copy of Atraxa, so there is a non-zero chance that I will tear apart my Ramos Hybrid Mana deck and build up a Simic Ascendancy list using my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Ramos, Dragon Engine. Putting counters on Ramos every time you cast a spell is a pretty decent way to load up Simic Ascendancy with growth counters, but I'm well aware that most of the community hasn't caught the Ramos bug.

Atraxa, is the most popular commander of all time by a long shot, according to EDHRec.com. While I might be obsessed with my shiny metal five color dragon, the rest of the world has been just as obsessed with Atraxa. If you're new to Atraxa or you have an old Atraxa deck that you'd like to try taking in a new direction, I hope I've given you something to think about.

I fully expect that more experienced Atraxa pilots will have cards they know are proven powerhouses with her. If you rework your list to go after a Simic Ascendancy wincon you should absolutely keep what really works with Atraxa and adopt the parts of this list that make sense for our wincon du jour.

When I build these odd goofy alternate wincon decks, I tend to play them until they've won a few times and then I move on to something else. I figure my friends don't mind a few annoying out-of-nowhere combo wins but they probably don't want to constantly have to deal with that kind of headache. If I jam the same decks or strategies too often it will also give them something to latch onto and strategize against. I have trouble enough winning games, so I prefer not to make it even easier for them to beat me.

That's all I've got for now. If you've been building a deck around Simic Ascendancy I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you think I'm onto something good here, or are there lines of play or combos I've somehow missed? Let me know in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!