The State of: Four-Color Ascendancy Combo
Ascendancy Combo is a deck that has existed in some form or another in Pioneer throughout the existence of the format. Built around the namesake card, Jeskai Ascendency, the deck is arguably one of the fastest, most consistent combo-win decks in Pioneer.
Untap, Upkeep, Draw, Untap, Untap, Untap
Ascendancy Combo is a deck that has existed in some form or another in Pioneer throughout the existence of the format. Built around the namesake card, Jeskai Ascendency, which is a three-mana enchantment that benefits from casting non-creature spells. Every time you cast a non-creature spell, creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn and you untap them, as well as every time you cast a non creature spell you may draw a card then discard a card. As the namesake card suggests, the deck is base Jeskai while playing into green for Sylvan Caryatid. Sylvan Caryatid helps to ensure that the deck can comfortably cast its spells, while also serving as a great engine piece for the combo itself.
The key part of the combo is Sylvan Awakening, which allows you animate all of your lands to become 2/2 Elementals with reach, indestructible, and haste. With your lands still being creatures, they will now untap after every spell cast with Ascendency out. This combined with all of your cheap spells creates a near deterministic combo. Ascendency essentially pulls double duty in the combo as it allows you to filter through your deck at a much faster rate while continuously growing your Awakened lands as you approach your end game. To get a better understanding, let’s take a look at a current build and see how it’s arrived at its current state.
The deck has gone through plenty of changes over time in terms of the card filtering spells it has run as well as its utility/support slots in the deck. Prior to Consider’s printing, the deck ran Omnath, Locus of Creation as a way to generate massive value with its mana (that can freely cast an Ascendency), as well as serve as a great way to stabilize versus aggressive decks via Omnath’s life gain as well as serving as a daunting blocker – or massive beat stick for that matter.
Though, ever since the printing of Consider with Midnight Hunt, the deck has gone into a slightly more linear strategy in running a full playset of Opt, Consider, and Expressive Iteration – fully committing to the combo kill rather than trying to have the Omnath act as a bridge between your early game and combo kill. Shifting away from Omnath has also allowed the deck to leave behind the Fabled Passage/Basic Land package, giving it a much smoother mana-base for its color-hungry game plan. The removal package has also been improved relatively recently with the printing of Portable Hole more cheap one-mana removal in addition to Chained to the Rocks. Portable Hole’s versatility in being able to hit any non land permanent CMC two or less makes it much more viable and less of a dead card in the hand when compared to Chain or the occasionally player Mizzium Mortars.
Even better is that most of the common sideboard hater players tend to bring in against Ascendancy tend to fall within that two-CMC target value I.e.: Deafening Silence, Damping Sphere, Cinder Vines, Curse of Shaken Faith, etc. On top of which, Portable Hole being one mana plays extremely well into the turns in which you’re attempting your combo kill. Recently in Neon Dynasty, the deck has been testing on and off with March of Otherworldly Lights. March has been showing up in the main deck in those flex/utility slots and it has had its moments of being impressive. Having the option to pitch a portable hole or chained to the rocks that are dead in hand vs non creature decks to snipe an Enchantment or Artifact, or being able to respond at instant speed to creatures like Greasefang where normally you’re at the mercy of Sorcery speed with your removal is where the card shines most. But as the meta ebbs and flows, so do the deck’s flex slots. Which is why current iterations of the deck have gone back to sticking with Chained and Portable Hole, no need to play a card when its best matchups are far less common now. Though, with the Fires of Invention decks seemingly popping up a bit more, it would be wise to have these in your binder at the ready. Regardless of what you personally decide on, you need to maintain some level of interaction in your game plan. No matter how good your combo is, there has to be the acknowledgement that you cannot always achieve that insanely fast turn 4 or 5 kill with this deck. Though, speaking of which…
The ideal line of play that results in a turn four kill would be this:
Note: as long as either of your first two lands is a green source, this works out.
- Turn 1: Any Triome
- Turn 2: Untapped Land, Cast Sylvan Caryatid
- Turn 3: Any land, Cast Jeskai Ascendency
- Turn 4: Cast Sylvan Awakening, have access to any one-mana cantrip spell.
From there, with the cantripping as well as the looting effect of Ascendency, it’s going to be hard to fizzle from there.
Now, this is the dream scenario where your opponent isn’t doing too much interaction from their end or stumbles. But if I’m being honest, you’ll have a ton of games that play like this. Turn five is also pretty easy as well, just push the above turns three and four to turns four and five, while making your turn three focused on casting Expressive Iteration to help find your pieces.
Versus the Meta
So we know the deck, we know a little bit of its history, but how does it fare in the current meta? Well, if you take a look at the meta tier page here, you’ll notice that as of the time of this article being written, Ascendency is listed as “off-meta”. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the deck is a bad deck or anything like that. It simply means that the deck currently has some struggles against other decks in Pioneer that are high enough in play percentage to hurt the deck’s representation and success. You’ll notice that there is a theme when it comes to sideboarding in this deck since it is an engine based combo. You’re looking to trim copies of certain cards more often than others. The usual suspects in this case are Treasure Cruise vs blue decks or incredibly fast decks, Opt/Iteration, and Portable Hole/Chained. But let’s start with the positives, what decks are Ascendancy well positioned against?
This could be a surprise for a lot of people, but it’s true. Phoenix is a well favored matchup for Ascendancy for some pretty simple reasons. First, you yourself have access to Mystical Dispute out of the board which can both protect your own ascendancy from counter spells and removal, while also prohibiting the Phoenix player from getting ahead in terms of card advantage. The typical cards that would be extremely powerful vs the combo aspect of Ascendency are either not available to Izzet’s colors or simply counter their own game plan as well. So the matchup devolves into this race while fighting over card advantage. So while Phoenix brings in cards like Dispute, Aether Gust, Narset, and Stern Dismissal; You’re bringing in Fry, Fiery Impulse, Silence, Disputes of your own, and even Monastery Mentor. As far as adequately answering each other’s threats, Ascendancy is slightly favored in this regard. This gives the deck the edge in the racing aspect after Sideboarding. While game one, the deck is incredibly favored because it can practically goldfish and not face any interaction from Phoenix. The exception to this is Otawara, Soaring City, but even Ascendancy is running this now as well.
For mostly the same reasons as to why the deck is well positioned against Phoenix, the same goes for Lotus Field. Both decks are looking to goldfish the other, and Ascendancy just has access to more tools to give it the edge in this race. A card that shows up in Sideboards for Ascendancy often depending on the meta is Alpine Moon. Having access to cards that shut down an opposing Combo deck without hurting yourself in the process is profoundly valuable. Otherwise, even without Alpine in the board Ascendancy still brings in Dispute and Silence which are insane vs Lotus. You truly don’t know pleasure until you’ve cast Silence in response to your opponent casting Emergent Ultimatum. Pure ecstasy.
Mono Green Variants/Non Black Midrange decks
I know this seems like a weird inclusion since I’m being fairly broad. However these decks are all the same when it comes to Ascendency. Even with Boseiju being a thing these matchups feel almost free. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve sat across from a green player while playing Ascendancy and happily goldfished my way to a 2-0 finish. Everything they do is just too slow to stop what you’re doing. Karn comes down on turn 3-4 for the Walkers variant, but can’t get down its silver bullet in time to stop what you’re doing. The aggro variants can’t kill you in time before you go off. It’s just this weird aspect of being barely too slow to compete. The same is true for any non black midrange decks in general. They just durdle too much to present a fast enough clock to kill you in time, while the interaction they can bring in just doesn’t get it done. Even with green having access to enchantment removal, it’s either too narrow or too slow to have in the board for the majority of the matchups they’ll play against. Then if they aren’t in green you default back to the previous points, minus any real interaction. Yes, white has access to March of Otherworldly Light. That card is by far the most threatening card in Pioneer for Ascendency, but outside of UW control it isn’t played in many other decks you’ll run into often.
This matchup is extremely play/draw dependent. Who can race the fastest? If it was only that simple, Ascendency would probably be favored. But when it comes to who has the better disruption and interaction, Winota comes out on top. Sure, the Ascendency player can Portable Hole or Chained to the Rocks the early dorks to slow them down, but Winota has access to far more pieces of interaction that can swing the race back into their favor. Skyclave Apparition can exile your Jeskai Ascendancy itself, Elite Spellbinder can tax a card from your hand, and Archon of Emeriaacts as a Rule of Law on a stick. The matchup is rough, but not impossible. Bringing in cards like Fry for Winota herself or Archon of Emeria as well as Fiery Impulse to take care of early game dorks and potentially Archon as you get more spells in the yard; help to make the matchup closer to even.
This is probably the worst matchup in Pioneer for the deck. Thoughtseize, a plethora of threats (like Graveyard Trespasser eating cards out of your yard every turn to keep Treasure Cruise at bay), and cards like Go Blank coming out of the board just makes this matchup miserable. To even further highlight the lopsidedness of the matchup, Neon Dynasty graced the deck with Fable of The Mirror Breaker. This card is insane, creating two 2/2 bodies over the course of three turns as well as drawing up to two cards and filling the yard. Oh and between the two 2/2 bodies, one creates a treasure token upon every attack while the other can copy a non legendary creature and give it haste. This card does so much for the archetype to improve its gameplan. As with most midrange decks, (especially in black) there comes a point where the deck becomes perpetually stuck in top deck mode. Fable allows the deck to churn through its deck earlier, while also making use of potentially top decked threats in the mid to late game with its copying potential. Then with the stock of Necromentia rising thanks to Lotus Field seeing more play again, you have a recipe for disaster as an Ascendency player. It doesn’t even matter that the colors offer little to no options in Enchantment removal. Sure there’s Feed The Swarm, but when you can Thoughtseize, Duress, Go Blank, and Necromentia your opponent, you’re not too worried about the Enchantment removal. From Ascendency’s perspective, you just hope to interact as much as you can with their threats and draw into your combo. Odds are they are mulliganing aggressively into their discard spells so if you see a hand with redundancy, i.e. multiple copies of Ascendency, Sylvan Awakening, etc. you’ll want to keep that rather than trying to mulligan into a traditionally fast hand with all pieces available at once.
Did I say Rakdos is the worst matchup in Pioneer? Well I lied. Or at least, tried my hardest to forget that UW even existed in its current form. Alas, I am cursed with memory and as such, cursed by the existence of this deck. Similarly to how Rakdos got a boost with Fable of the Mirror Breaker, UW got a boost 10 times in quality in March of Otherworldly Light. This card is absurd, absolutely, positively, incredibly absurd. Being able to snipe creatures, artifacts, or especially relevant in this case, enchantments. It’s also incredibly easy to climb the ladder of cost by pitching spells that are dead in the matchup. Extra copies of Teferi, Supreme Verdict, or Absorb if you’re too far behind to cast it anyway. In addition to March, the deck also gained The Wandering Emperor, another absurd magic card. Having access to a flashing 4 drop planeswalker that can create bodies to continually grow and present itself as a threat is incredible for the deck. Don’t forget that she can also exile tapped creatures, which makes her great at ambushing opponents swinging in on the attack. Early renditions of UW played cards like Opt and for a brief period of time; Consider.
The plan was to utilize the early turns to draw cards and set up for mid game counter spells and later game Teferis. Then, with all your cards in the yard you’re able to cast Dig Through Time to further set yourself up. Now, rather than set up with draw spells the deck is looking to cast removal spells instead. Between March of Otherworldly Light, Dovin’s Veto, Censor, and Azorius Charmthere is just so much to be doing in terms of early game interaction. As such, the deck has dropped DTT in favor of Memory Deluge, which fits far more in the current rendition of the build. Thanks to all the early interaction, you can imagine why the matchup is difficult. Especially thanks to March being able to have a game one option in removing your Ascendency, something most decks don’t have access to. Sideboarding is quite annoying as well, since early on the typical plan would be to bring in four Mystical Dispute and mostly call it a day. The problem occurs when the cards that are most threatening vs Ascendancy are either white in March and The Wandering Emperor, or simply uncounterable in Dovins Veto. So now Dispute feels incredibly lackluster in the matchup, to the point where I almost don’t even want it in the board. Unfortunately, with Phoenix, Lotus, and other Ascendancy decks in the format, that simply won’t happen any time soon. So you still bring some number in, after all, stopping a Teferi on turn five is still incredible. Though most UW players won’t throw out their best card unprotected against another blue deck, but, a man can dream. This leaves you to bring in other threats like Monastery Mentor.
The likelihood that UW cuts their verdicts is pretty high considering what the Ascendancy game plan is. Yes they can kill it with March, but any card eating removal to give your Ascendancy a chance to see the light of day (and hopefully not the Light of the Otherworldly) will be welcomed with open arms. In addition cards like Fry are nice to have versus all the planeswalkers UW has to give yourself a chance to crawl back in terms of card advantage.Then, Silence coming in allows you to potentially protect yourself from counter spells and go off. All in all, this matchup is tough, so your best bet is to hope to dodge it completely.
Cards For Consideration
Given where the meta currently stands, I’ve been considering other cards to test somewhere in the 75 of the deck.
March of Otherworldly Light
As I said at the beginning of the article, decks have been toying with this card quite a bit. In the event of Ascendency and Greasefang decks (or any decks of similar play patterns) coming back into the forefront of the meta, you’ll want this card handy. In the meantime, the focus of of your own gameplan should be the priority
March of Swirling Mist
I tested this card at great length and found it either really good or really bad. No in between whatsoever. Being able to fog your opponent while clearing the way for your Awakened lands to close the game is great, as is protecting your caryatid from sac effects. The problem is the card is dead in far too many matchups or just doesn’t do enough. Though in creature-heavy formats where combo and control are less present, it’s worth the consideration.
With UW control so prevalent, maybe a way to get underneath them is to simply make it so our Ascendency can’t be countered. The problem with this is still that March of Otherworldly Light can still hit Ascendency. Though, if we get down a Destiny Spinner early, we may be able to hold up interactions such as Dovin’s Veto to counter March. Maybe this is the one-two punch the deck needs to combat UW. Or maybe it’s too cute and not efficient enough.
Rather than try to work out ways to make it sure our Ascendency can’t be countered with Destiny Spinner, maybe we simply use a counter spell on a stick. You can typically sneak Hermit under UW early-game and can act as a solution to my issue of Dispute being bad versus March and The Wandering Emperor. Still doesn’t get around Veto though.
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
Okay, so my last card for consideration as far as the UW matchup goes is an interesting one. This protects your Ascendancy from March of Otherworldly Light but that’s pretty much all it’s good for. Though, March is a really backbreaking card in the matchup so maybe something as simple as this one-drop is enough to make a difference. That, or I could just play Dispel as my one-drop answer.
An extra mana dork to act as copies 5-8 of Caryatid. Playing a similar role to Growth Spiral in this slot, this would be worth playing if the format sees far more combo or linear decks that pose little to no interaction.
Omnath, Locus of Creation
This is more for the side than the main, though I really enjoyed the version of the deck that ran four Omnath in the main deck. I just don’t think that was an optimal version of the deck and Omnath was played more so as a “why not”, rather than thinking beyond how he fit into the deck. Though, a 4/4 blocker that draws a card and can potentially gain four life every turn is backbreaking for aggro.
The consideration here is to have additional threats besides Ascendancy. The upside here is that it slots nicely into the deck and even can help with the Ascendancy game plan as well. A 4/4 vigilance threat is great as an attacker and blocker for many matchups, as well as being able to tap for four mana every turn or even continuously while you’re going off with Ascendency out.
Ascendency certainly has its struggles in the meta currently, but it is – without a doubt – still an incredibly powerful combo deck. It has legs and steals more game ones than any other deck I’ve ever played, regardless of format. Even as it currently stands, players should still be aware of its existence and be prepared for the deck. With additional card considerations and creativity in overall construction of the deck could lead to it arising in the meta once again.