A couple of months ago, I felt the need to find a new Modern deck. I put together this Affinity-Ascendency deck that I named Rise of the Robots. I recorded a couple of videos that were featured on this very site and left it to you if you wanted to improve the deck. Turns out, I did find the time to work on it when I was supposed to work on Standard. You know, you always find something better to do when you have something important to finish…
The list changed a bit compared to last time, and I fixed a lot of its problems. With no further introduction, here's the new list:
The deck is a four-card combo deck that we've seen in other formats: Jeskai Ascendency + Retraction Helix + a creature + a free non-creature artifact.
The redundancy of creatures and of "free" artifacts makes it more like a 2-card combo.
The concept is to play Jeskai Ascendency, then play Retraction Helix on one of your creatures, use it to bounce one of your "free" non-creature artifacts, play the artifact again, pump and untap your team with Jeskai Ascendency triggers, and repeat with your newly untapped creature that still has the ability to bounce.
4 Inkmoth Nexus
The eight free artifact creatures are part of the engine of the deck. They provide the body you need to generate mana with Springleaf Drum and Paradise Mantle, as well as help you with metalcraft for Mox Opal and affinity for Thoughtcast. They are your mana generators, your combo enablers and the creatures you're going to kill with.
I used to run Frogmite as extra free artifact creatures, but sometimes they aren't free. Costing one already is a problem as you'd prefer to deploy your whole hand on turn one.
Spellskite is the ninth creature of the bunch. While I'm not 100% sure it's necessary in the maindeck, it has quite a good synergy with the strategy. First of all, it's an artifact creature (I kid you not), meaning it does everything the other guys do (attack when it's huge, help a little with affinity). It's also the only way you can interact with your opponent's removal.
I categorized Inkmoth Nexus as a creature because it serves as such in this deck. It has a built-in mana ability and therefore, every time you play a non-creature spell (with Jeskai Ascendency in play, given that it doesn't have summoning sickness), you can generate a colorless mana, which is not as important as a colored mana, but can help you get it by casting a Springleaf Drum or moving a Paradise Mantle around. They are great to play around sorcery speed removal. Your creatures don't have haste, so they have to be in play before your start your turn to be able to combo off. Unfortunately, when your opponent knows what you're doing, Ornithopters and Memnites have the bad habit to die. With Inkmoth Nexus, you can always threaten to kill them if they tap out.
They are a good way to start putting some pressure when you don't have anything else, and it's much easier to kill with poison than damage. It's unlikely to go all the way, but against a heavy control deck, they will have to kill it at some point.
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Paradise Mantle
When I started building this deck, I wanted to see if there was a way to build a zero-land deck. Unfortunately, this is as good as it gets when it comes to cheap artifact mana in this format; Chrome Mox is banned in Modern.
With 20 zero-mana artifacts and four Darksteel Citadel, it's unlikely that Mox Opal isn't operational on turn one. When you start going off, just like Paradise Mantle, Springleaf Drum and Mishra's Bauble, you can bounce it back to your hand to play it again and again to make your team unstoppable.
The combo works with Springleaf Drum if you have another creature in play, as you can tap your other creature (the one that's not targeted by Retraction Helix) for mana with the Springleaf Drum, bounce Springleaf Drum, play it again with the mana you generated, untap your creatures, tap one for mana, repeat.
Paradise Mantle is a little different from the other two. It doesn't see play in regular Affinity decks because it doesn't generate mana as easily. You need a creature that's been there for a turn already and you need to spend a mana to equip. In our deck, it does a lot of useful things. Besides the fact that it costs 0, metalcraft, affinity, blah blah blah, it fixes your mana. You need U, W, and R to cast Jeskai Ascendency, and in a 14-land manabase, including eight colorless lands, you need a trick to cast the enchantment. When you have enough creatures in play, you can turn your colorless mana into colored mana by simply moving the equipment around with colorless mana, and tapping your creatures for colored mana.
Another thing that Paradise Mantle does is allow you to generate infinite mana. Not that you need infinite mana, but in a lot of situations, you need to be able to generate some mana when you go off, just to cast a Thoughtcast to give you extra cards to pitch and play your answer to a potential hindrance. Sometimes just one mana is enough, but there aren't a lot of ways to do that if you don't have Paradise Mantle.
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
1 Gemstone Mine
That's right. 14 lands, and that's all you need. We talked extensively about the artifact mana and Inkmoth Nexus. You don't want the game to last long, and you won't benefit having a lot of lands in play. Actually, you really don't want to draw them when you're digging through your deck looking for a Retraction Helix. You want to chain-cast free spells and not brick on a land draw.
When I considered the land slots, I had to figure out what was more important: having artifact lands, or colored lands. While we do need some lands giving you all colors, Glimmervoid being the obvious choice here, I don't think we need that many colored lands. Sure, in some games, Jeskai Ascendency is a little tricky to cast, but casting Thoughtcast or having an active Mox Opal on turn one is way more important and that's why we need the Darksteel Citadels. They're also great with the Ghirapur Aether Grids in the sideboard.
The one Island is necessary so you have something to fetch on a Path to Exile or Ghost Quarter.
4 Retraction Helix
4 Jeskai Ascendency
There are a few things we haven't said about these cards yet. Together, they allow a game-winning combo, but they do a few things on their own.
It's very possible to win without Retraction Helix. While it's by far the easiest way out, you can definitely pump your team to lethal proportions by simply playing spell after spell. Inkmoth Nexus, especially drawn in multiples, provide a very threating presence when Jeskai Ascendency is in play.
I was suggested to play a mix of Retraction Helix and Banishing Knack (virtually the same card) to get around Meddling Mages and extraction effects. First of all, I prefer to play alternate win conditions but also, I want to have as many copies of the combo pieces to find with Spoils of the Vault.
4 Mishra's Bauble
4 Gitaxian Probe
1 Spoils of the Vault
4 Day's Undoing
Before we get to talk about the cards I'm running, I'd like to address the cards I'm not playing: Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions. The deck very heavily relies on Jeskai Ascendency to win and not drawing it is quite dramatic. However, these spells' cost are simply too high. In this deck, Thoughtcast is strictly superior to both, and it provides something you actually need: an extra card. When you're looking for a Helix, you loot for every non-creature spell that you play. While it doesn't cost you a mana to do it, it costs a card. When you have one card left in hand, you can't loot anymore (or you'll just discard the drawn card). Thoughtcast solves that problem and gives you more opportunities to loot. I considered Think Twice to fill your hand a bit when you don't have any card left, but it just costs too much.
You want your turn one to be explosive, and replacing a draw spell (that you paid for) for just one card isn't worth the deal.
Gitaxian Probe is a key card in the deck. Its drawing ability helps you go a little deeper into your deck, but its free cost lets you untap right away after you cast Jeskai Ascendency, meaning that if you have equipped one of your creatures with a Paradise Mantle, it actually provides mana.
Checking your opponent's hand is crucial as well. Without any real disruption (you really don't have any room for that), you need to know what to play around and when the coast is clear.
Mishra's Bauble also gives you some information about your opponent's draws and having perfect information is important. It does the same thing as any other free spell, and it draws you a card on the next turn. Sure, you'd prefer to draw it right away, but that would just be too good. It's also an extra card you can store and draw after you play Day's Undoing.
I'm still not 100% sold on Spoils of the Vault, but when you're looking for an extra way to find one of your combo pieces, you don't have a lot of options. I tried a version with Glittering Wish, but it was too mana intensive. In that version, I tried Manamorphose, but the card was just too expensive to cast, and it was a soft target for Spell Snare. You couldn't keep it in hand to play Jeskai Ascendency as you needed to play it to cycle as soon as you could. Plunge into Darkness is also an option.
I LOVE Day's Undoing and this one of the reasons I love this deck so much. The deck is built to empty your hand on turn one. And you can have three mana on turn one. How good is having all your artifacts on the table and draw a whole new hand of seven cards, when your opponent hasn't even played a land? Does it sound unfair? Well, it does, and that's why I love it.
Well, that's the dream; you're more likely to play it on turn two. Either way, there are very few decks that take as much advantage of the card. Day's Undoing is a great way to fight discard. Jund and other decks with a lot of disruption will target your resources one by one. When you draw Day's Undoing, they have to do it all over again.
2 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Ghirapur Aether Grid
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Ray of Revelation
3 Blood Moon
1 Sprout Swarm
The sideboard is still a work in progress. It will change as the format evolves but I'm quite happy with what I have right now.
This deck is already very tight and you can't really take out too many artifacts or key spells from the main deck to replace them with sideboard cards. Therefore, what you bring in needs to be high-impact.
Blood Moon, Relic of the Progenitus and Ethersworn Canonist are targeted hate cards. Relic of the Progenitus is an artifact that draws you a card, so it fits in the deck nicely and can replace a Mishra's Bauble when you need to bring it in. Ethersworn Canonist against Storm, Elves and Living End isn't as intuitive, but it still works fine (and they never expect it coming from you), but it doesn't really affect you so much. Remember that most of your spells are artifacts anyway, so except for Retraction Helix, you won't need to cast any other non-artifact spell. In the worst case, you can bounce it back to your hand before you go off.
Blood Moon is a silver bullet against all the 3-color control decks that rely heavily on non-basic lands. On the play, playing it on turn 1 or 2 usually makes it very hard for them to do anything, and it gives you time to get wherever you want to get (and make up for the slot you lost to bring in Blood Moon).
Even though it makes your Inkmoth Nexus into Mountains, it doesn't hurt you that much. You get your colored mana from artifacts anyway.
Ghirapur Aether Grid and Sprout Swarm are alternative win conditions. I especially like Ghirapur Aether Grid, as it can just win on its own. Against Infect or Elves, or any deck relying on one- or two-toughness creatures, you can shoot everything and slowly kill their controller. The synergy with Jeskai Ascendency is great as well and I like to bring one in every time.
Sprout Swarm has a different use that I haven't tried hard enough yet. In theory, it's a way to "go infinite" at instant speed to play around spot removal. When you know Retraction Helix is not going to resolve and you have enough creatures in play, you can tap them all and cast Sprout Swarm with buyback. With four creatures in play, you can spawn infinite Saprolings and make the team that's already in play huge.
The rest of the sideboard is to fight the hate. Ray of Revelation is necessary to deal with Stony Silence that shuts down your combo and you can't even bounce it with Retraction Helix, as it gives the ability to your artifact creatures. You can still win with a Stony Silence in play using Ghirapur Aether Grid, as it's the enchantment that has the ability.
Ancient Grudge is there to take care of Chalice of the Void, Pithing Needle and other annoying artifacts. It also gives you some time against Affinity.
Note that the two flashback spells are extremely useful as you get extra Ascendency triggers when you play them from the graveyard (you can target your Darksteel Citadel just to get a free trigger).
The deck can have unfair draws that allow turn-two kills and when you draw things in the right order, it is hard to stop. The previous version I posted had a big consistency problem as you were drawing way too many hands that didn't do anything without Jeskai Ascendency and not enough cards to look for it.
Any opening hand with mana and either Jeskai Ascendency, Thoughtcast or Day's Undoing is a hand that has the potential to win by turn four.
The deck is a lot of fun and can be incredibly powerful. This may not be the best version yet, but we're getting close to it. Give it a try!