At this point I would expect most people who have played the current Standard format to be familiar with the traditional Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck. This is not the primary deck I am going to be talking about, but it does provide a good way to compare and reference the Jeskai Heroic deck which won this past weekend's SCG Open in Oakland. Here is a traditional version of Jeskai Ascendancy Combo played by Marc-Antony Byrd to a top eight at the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship:
This deck is still putting up very solid results, though it is not seeing play in large numbers. There was a contingent of players who ran the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, but the deck can be quite difficult to play. The gameplan here is simply to have a mana creature in play, preferably Sylvan Caryatid so that your opponent has less interaction with your creatures. With a Jeskai Ascendancy in play, cast Retraction Helix targeting your mana creature, at this point any zero mana artifact like Briber's Purse will allow you to loot through the entire deck, to find a win condition, like Altar of the Brood. The deck has other options for winning too, such as making infinite mana and casting Twinflame, or drawing your deck with Dragon Mantle.
This type of deck is quite powerful, but at the same time is relying on a fragile combo to win games. By this I mean that it needs to draw all of the combo pieces, and get them into play without the opponent having some form of interaction. What this means is that the deck can be very matchup dependent. For instance, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo versus Jeskai Tempoe is a difficult matchup because they can put pressure on you, while also having burn spells for the small number of creatures in the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck and Counterspells. Cards like Anger of the Gods and Crackling Doom are great against this deck, as spells which deal with either Jeskai Ascendancy or Sylvan Caryatid are the best way to combat the deck. Remember that Abzan Midrange can still beat Jeskai Ascendancy Combo; one interaction that is important here is being able to Bile Blight your own Sylvan Caryatid to stop the combo from happening.
Alright enough about how Jeskai Ascendancy has been being used in Standard, I will be talking about how it may start to be used moving forward. That is of course in the Jeskai Heroic Combo deck. This deck takes some ideas and concepts from both the traditional Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck and a Heroic Aggro deck. Alright here is the list which Ivan Jen won the SCG Open with this past weekend:
I had the pleasure of watching Ivan play some of his matches and let me say that this deck is going to be a legitimate contender in Standard. Whenever a rogue deck like this wins such a large tournament, where this was almost certainly the only copy of Jeskai Heroic Combo in the event, you know something special is happening. The idea behind the deck is clever yet simple, and this may just be a straight up upgrade to the regular Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck. Personally, I think this deck winning the SCG Open this past weekend is the most interesting development in Standard since the Pro Tour.
Alright let's start to get into some more specifics about what the deck is actually trying to do in order to win the game. One way that the deck can legitimately win is by attacking, which means you are no longer all-in on the combo plan. Aggressive creatures and pump spells can still win games, especially when you get Akroan Crusader going. Akroan Crusader is certainly the best creature in the deck, as it allows the deck to make an army of creatures all while using cantrips to target the Akroan Crusader, so you aren't actually losing any cards. Sometimes it will be right to go ahead and aggressively target this guy early in the game with a Retraction Helix just to bounce a Dragon Mantle, to recast on the Akroan Crusader. Of course having a bunch of tokens in play makes the Glorious Anthem effect on Jeskai Ascendancy much more important.
The deck is called a heroic deck for a reason, as there are a total of ten one-drops which have heroic. To go alongside the aforementioned Akroan Crusader there are four copies of Favored Hoplite, which is to be expected, but there are also two Lagonna-Band Trailblazer. To be honest I haven't played enough with the deck to know whether or not I like the Lagonna-Band Trailblazers in general, but they do seem like a great way of stopping and aggressive deck like Monored Aggro, in order to buy enough time in order to go off. Yes, Lagonna-Band Trailblazer isn't the most aggressive heroic creature, but that's okay, and it can still pack a punch with a Dragon Mantle.
While the heroic creatures are the most important creatures in the deck, the prowess guys are also great. The key to the prowess creatures is they are threatening even when not being targeted, whereas in order to make the heroic creatures exceptional, you want to target them with cantrips. For this reason I agree with not playing more than ten heroic creatures, as normally you don't want too many. The Monastery Swiftspears can deal a ton of damage, as this is still a Jeskai deck, which has a ton of spells, the majority of which cost one mana. Being able to have a bunch of one mana cards is part of the reason the deck can win so quickly, by playing a number of spells each turn.
Unlike Jeskai Tempo, Monastery Swiftspear is usually going to be better here than Seeker of the Way. This deck wants to be the aggressor, but at the same time having cards which provide lifelink is certainly important. This is why Ivan opted to run two Seeker of the Way in the main and the rest are in the sideboard for the more aggressive matchups, and when the deck wants to board into additional threats. This deck is capable of producing a ton of prowess triggers in one turn, and this is without actually comboing off.
The creatures in the deck are extremely important, because they make the spells in the deck work. One of the most important and unique cards in the deck is Springleaf Drum. This card can provide explosive starts when used as a mana accelerator, and it is also an extremely important part of the combo. Unlike the previous Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck, this deck has zero mana creatures. This means that in order to go off the deck needs a Springleaf Drum to be able to generate the extra mana. This also means that the deck is less reliant on any one creature, like a Sylvan Caryatid. Even a token can allow you to go off.
This deck goes off by targeting a creature with Retraction Helix, with a Jeskai Ascendancy and Springleaf Drum in play. From here you can use another creature to a make a mana with Springleaf Drum and then you can bounce the Springleaf Drum with the creature targeted with the Retraction Helix. This allows you to go ahead and loot through the deck, by continuously recasting the Springleaf Drum, and win by making your creatures huge. The deck doesn't need to play a card like Altar of the Brood to win. Even when not comboing off with Springleaf Drum, having access to a mana accelerator which also triggers prowess and Jeskai Ascendancy is nice. Springleaf Drum is one of the reasons the deck can run creatures like Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, as when it's not attacking it can still produce mana.
It should be pretty obvious why Jeskai Ascendancy is extremely powerful in the deck, and it's not just because of the combo. Jeskai Ascendancy provides a re-usable Glorious Anthem effect and being able to loot is extremely important. Even if this deck couldn't combo off, Jeskai Ascendancy would still be amazing here. There are even two Jeskai Charms which a lot of the time will be used to pump your creatures, though here the lifelink is important too. Like Jeskai Ascendancy, Retraction Helix is a card which can be good on its own but a lot of the time it is correct to hold onto a copy in order to combo. Still Retraction Helix is a heroic enabler and a one mana bounce spell, which seems perfectly reasonable in a Heroic Aggro deck.
The cantrips in the deck which almost seem like filler cards are actually the reason why this deck works so well. I'm talking specifically about Defiant Strike and Dragon Mantle. The first piece here is that cantrips are just very good in this type of deck. Being able to trigger prowess, heroic, and Jeskai Ascendancy is a big game. In addition the pump effect and card replacement make these cantrips such a good investment for only one mana. Gods Willing isn't a cantrip but it is another one mana spell. The key is that it protects your creatures. Being able to save a creature while comboing is super important, as it means you can go off through a removal spell. Also, the deck really wants at least one creature in play and Gods Willing is able to make that happen.
Alright let's move onto the sideboard. Remember here that Jeskai Heroic Combo is basically a brand new deck. While the idea of the deck may have come from Japan, as far as I know this is the first major tournament the deck has done well at. I am saying this because Ivan may not have been able to fully flesh out the sideboard the way he wanted to. However this is good because it means there is some room for innovation, and the deck isn't a finished product. I'm not saying that the sideboard in its current configuration doesn't have any merit to it, but perhaps it could be changed somewhat.
I don't think the deck wants three copies of Erase, though with Constellation decks on the rise I understand the thought behind it. I like the idea of Chasm Skulker plus cantrips to make it huge, along with loots off Jeskai Ascendancy. I can't help wondering what matchups Ivan wanted the Chasm Skulkers for, they seem great when matched up against removal spells that don't exile creatures. Magma Jet may be here as cheap removal against cards like Goblin Rabblemaster, though I wonder if it's necessary. I can't say exactly what changes I would make to the sideboard, though I actually like how Ivan configured the maindeck, so I wouldn't change too much there.
Jeskai Heroic Combo is not only a strong deck choice right now, it is quite fun to play with. There is a lot to the gameplay as the deck attacks from multiple angles. When playing against this type of deck the opponent is forced to respect both the combo kill, and just losing the game to the aggressive creatures. It will certainly be interesting to watch and see how popular this deck becomes.
Thanks for reading,