For much of Pioneer’s existence, there’s no denying that the format has been dominated by combo decks. Many of these combo decks throughout Pioneer’s history, such as Dimir Inverter and more recently, Discover combo, have resulted in bans taking place. Yet, even after bans galore, combo still remains an immense pillar within the format.
Obviously, Abzan Amalia Benavides Aguirre combo is exceptionally strong. From there, Quintorius Kand and Lotus Field combo round out the other top tier combo decks. However, there are tons of other powerful combo decks beyond just those at the top echelon. For instance, we recently highlighted a new Land-focused combo deck based around the power of Beseech the Mirror.
Well, today we are going to showcase yet another underrated combo deck that has seen a bit of a surge as of late, making top eight of a Magic Online Pioneer Challenge. This deck is four-color Ascendancy. This archetype has existed in the past and fell out of favor a bit over the last year. That being said, a lot of interesting inclusions from 2023 have helped revolutionize the deck’s identity, perhaps helping it see a resurgence moving forward. Before we get into the unique ways this deck is built, it’s worthwhile going over exactly what makes this a combo deck at heart.
Built Around Jeskai Ascendancy
The ability to combo kill your opponent revolves around once specific card: Jeskai Ascendancy. Jeskai Ascendancy has two extremely important abilities that help make sure you can win the game.
First, each time you cast any non-Creature spell, your squad grows, and you get to untap all of your Creatures in the process. The goal in maximizing this ability is to have at least one Creature in play that is capable of both attacking and producing mana.
That’s where Wrenn and Realmbreaker and Brave the Wilds come into play. These cards let you turn one of your Lands into a Creature and, in the case of Wrenn and Realmbreaker, that Creature has Hexproof, making it difficult to deal with. Once you have a one of these Creature Lands assembled, the goal is to chain a ton of non-Creature spells together.
Thanks to Ascendancy’s second ability and a deck filled with cheap spells, this is often rather trivial. Once you turn one of your Lands into a Creature, you can tap the Land to cast a one-mana spell. This will allow you to Loot, untap and grow your Land. Assuming you can keep chaining cheap spells together, your Creature Lands will become massive.
In addition to Wrenn and Realmbreaker and Brave the Wilds, you can also chain spells with Sylvan Caryatid in play in a similar fashion. If you have multiple mana producing Creatures, you can start floating and netting mana in the process. Of course, because Caryatid has Defender, you can’t win the game by attacking with it, but while you are churning through your library, you are bound to find copies of Brave the Wilds to cast for one mana. Eventually, you will end up with multiple massive attackers to end the game with.
Cantrips and Card Advantage
The key to making this whole deck work is finding Ascendancy and being able to cast a bunch of spells with low mana costs. The printing of Sleight of Hand to go along with Opt and Consider helped a lot with this regard. Cantrips are super important for a number of reasons. First, they help dig for Ascendancy, which is essential to winning most games.
Second, once you have Ascendancy and a mana-producing Creature in play, they allow you to begin the looting process. Importantly, because cantrips naturally replace themselves, you are not going down on cards in hand while chaining spells together. In this sense, as your cantrips find more cantrips, you won’t run the risk of running out of spells in hand to cast.
Third, all of these cheap spells fill your graveyard, which allow you to make great use of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. We know how potent these cards were in formats with Fetchlands, but if you put in the work, they can be elite additions even in Pioneer.
What’s perhaps the most interesting aspect of this deck compared to Ascendancy lists in the past is that this deck is much more centered around generating value rather than trying to win as quickly as possible. This is made apparent by the fact that Yorion, the Sky Nomad is used as the Companion.
In some matchups, such as against Rakdos midrange, it’s quite reasonable to lean on card advantage more than anything. Interaction like Chained to the Rocks and Leyline Binding can keep you alive, while Up the Beanstalk in conjunction with Yorion and your Delve spells can keep your hand full of cards.
Enchantments like Up the Beanstalk and Nylea’s Presence also play an important role in allowing you to reliably set up Bargain for Brave the Wilds. Brave the Wilds and Wrenn and Realmbreaker fill similar roles that Sylvan Awakening used to when it comes winning the game and, while Brave is more efficient and has usage earlier in the game at simply letting you hit your Land drops, you will need something to sacrifice later to set it up.
Strengths and Weaknesses
With access to Cruise, Up the Beanstalk, and Yorion, this deck does an excellent job out-grinding the opponent. On the flip side, though, thanks to the combo finish, this deck is capable of winning the game rather quickly if unimpeded. This gives you a much better shot against opposing combo decks, like Abzan Amalia.
Against aggressive decks, your removal package comes in handy, and Sylvan Caryatid is an excellent roadblock. As such, this archetype does a nice job covering its bases, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t have weaknesses. Against Lotus Field combo, for instance, your card advantage and Creature-based interaction is pretty weak and opposing pieces of interaction like Boseiju, Who Endures can make it tough to reliably race them with a quick combo kill.
Decks with a good mix of pressure and disruption, like Spirits, can also prove to be problematic. Sticking Ascendancy is tough against Geistlight Snare and the like, and the quick clock Spirits provides gives you less time to maximize your cantrips. Similarly, a good Humans draw with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is certainly capable of winning before you can get your feet set.
Luckily, Spirits and Humans have been on the decline over the past few months, making this deck relatively well positioned in the metagame. A good mix of interaction, card advantage, and a potential combo kill out of nowhere gives this deck game against anything. This innovative build of Ascendancy combo has the potential to rise in the ranks in the coming weeks, so definitely keep the deck on your radar.