Humble Defector is an incredibly potent Magic card with staggeringly high potential, but standing on its own it is quite volatile. The result of simply activating a Humble Defector will yield two cards for a price: it gives the opponent the option of a free 2/1 creature or drawing two cards and giving the Humble Defector back to its owner.
Turning Humble Defector into two cards nets one card, but it gives this card back to the opponent in the form of an immediately useful 2/1 creature that can attack or block. This is a tempo boost for the opponent and a tempo loss for Humble Defector's owner. The opponent can alternatively give back Humble Defector to draw two cards, which they can use immediately to disrupt Humbler Defector's owner or to win the game outright.
Overall this exchange is symmetric in a card advantage sense, but it's not a great Bargain in a strategic sense because it allows the opponent to choose the better of two options. To take full advantage of Humble Defector, its power must be unlocked.
The simplest way to break Humble Defector is with untap abilities. An untap ability can be used in response to the initial Humble Defector activation, which allows Humble Defector to be re-activated to place an additional copy of the Humble Defector ability on the stack before the creature falls under the opponent's control.
The process is as such:
1. First Humble Defector activates, putting its ability on the stack.2. With the ability on the stack, Humble Defector is targeted by an untap ability, which is allowed to resolve.3. Then Humble Defector is activated again, putting an additional copy of its ability on the stack.4. Wash, rinse, repeat.5. At this point, the first Humble Defector ability on the stack will resolve, drawing two cards and giving the opponent control of Humble Defector. The "Draw two cards" clause of any subsequent copies on the stack will resolve as normal, even with the creature already defected.
Using the described method, Humble Defector can be used to convert each available untap ability into two extra cards, and there are a variety of quality untap abilities available in Standard. Jeskai Ascendancy is an obvious example of an untap ability, and as a repeatable effect it's capable of combining with Humble Defector to create a power card drawing engine.Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo is well-suited to unlock the power of Humble Defector. Abusing Humble Defector with Jeskai Ascendancy requires the use of instant spells, which allows for the activation, untapping, and re-activation of Humble Defector before it exchanges control. Jeskai Ascendancy and a deck of instants can't be used to truly "go off" with Humble Defector, because after the first two cards are drawn the opponent will have control of Humble Defector. It requires the use of cards initially in hand before the first Humble Defector ability resolves or of those drawn by cantrip spells when stacking abilities, but combined with a few instant spells, this combination can easily generate a handful of cards.
There is a particularly potent new untap effect available from Fate Reforged: Refocus. Paired with Humble Defector, Refocus is effectively a 1U Ancestral Recall, which is a hugely powerful effect at an efficient rate matched only by Treasure Cruise. Refocus will also boost the instant count of a deck, which means it makes Humble Defector better with Jeskai Ascendancy.
As a blue card Refocus fits within the Jeskai-core parameter dictated by the Jeskai Ascendancy shell and its untap effect generates synergies with other cards in the archetype, which lends itself to significant playability. Refocus is excellent with a key part of all Standard Jeskai Ascendancy Combo builds: Retraction Helix. In situations when it's used without any sort of synergy, Retraction Helix is just a situational Disperse, which is a mostly unexciting piece of utility. Refocus allows the bounce effect to be used twice or more, which gives it significantly more value in the deck as a source of disruption and as a way to generate tempo. Refocus / Retraction Helix is a very real plan and an effective way to slow down opposing development. Most importantly, this sort of tempo gain will disrupt the pressure of aggro decks, which affords the combo deck extra turns to set up board position and ultimately assemble its combo.
Also consider that Retraction Helix has synergy with Humble Defector. Under normal circumstances Humble Defector will ultimately end up under opposing control, so if drawing cards doesn't immediately convert into a win that turn, the opponent will get the option to draw two cards for their own immediate use. There are many scenarios where this could go sour because it provides the opponent with crucial disruption or outright game-winning cards, but Retraction Helix can be used to prevent this. A Retraction Helix bounce effect can be stacked on top of any number of Humble Defector triggers, which will result in Humble Defector being bounced to its owner's hand, which prevents the opponent from ever gaining control of it, but the "draw two" clause will still resolve as normal. Assuming the opponent doesn't have any untap effects, protection spells, or other tricks of their own, it's just as safe to bounce Humble Defector after any draw abilities resolve but before the opponent's turn.
At this point in its story, Humble Defector is a very reasonable card for any Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck.Jeskai Heroic Combo
The Jeskai Heroic Combo deck that was successful the first weekend in November could very well see a comeback by employing the Humble Defector / Refocus combo. As an instant-speed cantrip Refocus is a fine Heroic enabler, and that alone makes it a consideration into the archetype, so it's no stretch to include Humble Defector for additional synergy. This deck also gets access to Defiant Strike which, as an instant, enables the Humble Defector / Jeskai Ascendancy interaction.
This archetype can also make great use of Triton Tactics. The card is normally used to trigger Heroic on two creatures at once, but it's also excellent for untapping Humble Defector and generating extra cards, all the while triggering Heroic on another creature. In a perfect world it can target two Humble Defectors at once, but it's perfectly capable of being cast with the only target being Humble Defector as a way to draw two extra cards.
Here's a decklist based on the original:
DECKID=1227008Four-Color Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
I'm also optimistic for the prospects of Humble Defector in the four-color Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck. This archetype was played by multiple teams at PT: KTK. Lee Shi Tian, who finished in the Top 8 of that Pro Tour, also played the deck on the World Championship stage against the best in the world, and he even played the deck to the Top 4 of Grand Prix: Manila two weeks ago. It's a very real option heading into Fate Reforged, and it's poised to get even better.
This archetype already plays an excellent way to take advantage of Humble Defector in Kiora's Follower. Kiora's Follower is a strong core component of this deck because it's a mana-producer that can be paired with lands to create various colors of mana, which is crucial for operating the Jeskai Ascendancy combo engine, but compared to card like Voyaging Satyr, it offers additional utility as an untap effect. Previously it was just an excellent way to get another activation from Retraction Helix, but now it can be used on Humble Defector to draw two extra cards. Kiora's Follower is effectively a re-usable Refocus.
Refocus also has an additional bit of synergy in the four-color version because it combines well with any mana producer. Refocus plus Sylvan Caryatid allows it to cycle for just a colorless mana, and hexproof even eliminates the risk of disruption. It can also be used with Sylvan Caryatid to filter a blue mana into any other color, which has some real value in a deck with four colors.
Another component in the four-color Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck that has synergy with Humble Defector is Twinflame. Copies of Humble Defector generated by Twinflame have haste and can be activated immediately to draw two cards. The opponent will receive the token tapped, and most opponents will simply be unable to take advantage of this fact, so in practical terms Humble Defector turns Twinflame into a "draw two cards" spell. It can be used to double the power of Humble Defector under an active Jeskai Ascendancy. Additionally, the Strive option on Twinflame can be used to generate four cards from two copies of Humble Defector, or it can be used to make plays like targeting a Humble Defector and a mana source to facilitate a combo draw.
When you consider just how much synergy Humble Defector has in four-color Jeskai Ascendancy combo, it seems like a sure fit, especially considering that the archetype is so strapped for card draw that it utilizes options like Taigam's Scheming and Tormenting Voice. Humble Defector is even great with Commune with the Gods. If Humble Defector replaces card drawing Sorceries then it increases the creature density of the deck, meaning Commune with the Gods will fizzle less often, and it also adds more options to potentially select. Humble Defector is a great way to parlay Commune with the Gods into a redraw when it doesn't offer up any relevant combo pieces. Commune with the Gods is also a great way to dig for a Humble Defector when its synergies are waiting, or it can find Kiora's Follower when one already has access to Humble Defector.
I built the Humble Defector / Refocus package into Lee Shi Tian's build:
I cut Tormenting Voice for Humble Defector. This makes the deck a bit less consistent in the early game and more vulnerable to removal, but it makes the deck significantly more powerful, as described in the article. I have cut Dragon Mantle for Refocus because of the significant synergy with Humble Defector and furthermore, its value as an instant when combining Humble Defector with Jeskai Ascendancy. It's theoretically more expensive than Dragon Mantle, but when cast on a mana creature it actually breaks even. The deck does lose the Firebreathing ability, and while this may be useful at times, it's not a critical part of the combo.
In the sideboard I maintained Lee Shi Tian's transformational sideboard plan of bringing in a playset of creatures, but rather than the unimpressive Bassara Tower Archer, which is also worse without Dragon Mantle, I added a set of Monastery Mentor, which is extremely powerful with the spell suite. It's resistant to targeted removal in its own way because it can leave an army behind.Refocusing on the Future of Standard
I hope you enjoyed my take on Humble Defector. How else can these Jeskai Ascendancy decks be built? What other interactions are there with Humble Defector in Standard? What about other cards that synergize with Refocus? What other decks could Humble Defector or Refocus be played in? I am particularly interested in using Humble Defector in a highly aggressive shell with Collateral Damage, Butcher of the Horde, and Tymaret, the Murder King. What about Refocus on a mana creature like Karametra's Acolyte to create a pseudo- Dark Ritual? Please share your own ideas in the comments!
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