Fate Reforged has come and gone. Ugin Claus brought a sack of gifts to reshape Standard. A number of cards have already made their presence felt, not the least of which is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon himself. Unfortunately for me, this meant that the deck I had been running, four color whip, was essentially dead in the water. I liked the deck because of its ability to grind out wins against essentially any deck. Ugin, however, ensures opponents can reset all of that carefully sculpted value. With Whip of Erebos decks getting pushed to the back burner, I began to hunt for another archetype.
Luckily, Ugin Claus had another present in his bag: Monastery Mentor. Anyone who knows me will understand what draws me to this card. I played Young Pyromancer in Standard for as long as it was legal and with pretty impressive results. As I began brewing and scouring the lists from the SCG Open in Washington D.C., it became readily apparent that the two most inviting archetypes for Monastery Mentor were R/W aggro and Jeskai Ascendancy tokens. Initial testing showed that R/W aggro was obviously powerful, but it was not the best mentor deck. I began testing tokens as well, even trying some crazy Humble Defector shenanigans via Patrick Chapin. While it was clear that Humble Defector was a bit too cute (though drawing six cards with it was fun), Monastery Mentor had potential.
There were tokens lists available from the D.C. Open, but they seemed to be in the same boat that I was in; they were trying a lot of singleton cards, and in short, they were nowhere near tuned. For example, here is Tom Ross’s Jeskai tokens list from that tournament.
Tom Ross played this list to a 13th place finish; however, I do not think that is a vote for how good this deck is. Ross is a great player who could pilot average lists to great finishes. Also, much like tournament winner Gerard Fabiano, he had the element of surprise on his side. Most players would not expect cards like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or End Hostilities once they have identified the deck as tokens. The sideboard also compliments the singletons, allowing Ross to double up on any card that felt strong game one. That being said, this deck has a ton of clunky draws, and really seemed to deemphasize the power of Jeskai Ascendancy. I liked the idea of reducing the overall amount of actual creatures present in the deck, but rather than go bigger, I wanted to go smaller.
I knew immediately that I didn’t want to play 24 lands. If you have ever played the tokens deck, you know that flooding out can be an actual killer. Spells are incredibly important, so I looked to up the spell count and lower the overall average CMC in the deck. The one thing that looked great in Ross’s list was the copies of Wild Slash. While four felt like a bit too many, one mana spells seemed like the perfect place to be with Jeskai Ascendancy. Enter Defiant Strike. Defiant Strike was the perfect spell to compliment a smaller strategy. Additionally, Defiant Strike teamed well with Seeker of the Way (kill a Courser? Don’t mind if I do…) and Monastery Mentor. It also plays very well with Jeskai Ascendancy. As powerful as ascendancy is, you can definitely run out of cards if you are unable to hit a Treasure Cruise. Defiant Strike’s role as a cantrip can’t be overstated. There is a reason that Wizards of the Coast hasn’t printed a Ponder variant in this format, and this is it.
Alright, enough talk. Here is the list I have played to a 7-2 finish at SCG Regionals in Columbus, Ohio.
This deck has been pretty impressive so far. My two losses at Regionals were to home brews featuring some unusual cards (which is the point of course). My matches went like this:
R1: Temur – W(2-1)
R2: Manifest Soul – (Brew) L (1-2)
R3: Sultai Control – (Fabiano List) W (2-1)
R4: Naya Good Stuff (Brew) L (1-2)
R5: U/B Control W (2-1)
R6: Mardu Midrange – W (2-0)
R7: Abzan Aggro – W (2-1)
R8: Abzan Aggro – W (2-1)
R9: Abzan Aggro – W (2-0)
This was good enough to finish in 23rd place. Overall, the deck felt great, and I thought that the board allowed me to take good lines in most matchups. Obviously when you are metagaming, certain outlier lists and brews can hurt as they did here, but power level of the deck is undeniable.
I want to go ahead and just quickly bullet some ideas and instructions with the list.
• This list manages to go down to 22 lands increasing the spell density. I tried it with four Defiant Strikes and 21 lands which was powerful, but made for risky keeps.
• Seeker of the Way is consistently better than Soulfire Grand Master. The ability to present a threat that beats Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix has outweighed the expensive buyback option on Soulfire Grand Master.
• It is almost always better to wait until turn four to play Monastery Mentor. This way you can keep up a one mana spell to get value out of it. With a Jeskai Ascendancy in play, those one mana spells mean that a mentor can survive a Lightning Strike and a Bile Blight, so make sure you recognize when to play around removal. Additionally, Sequence your Hordeling Outbursts first with mentor. This way, you can keep up (or bluff) a Stoke the Flames the next turn.
• It is generally correct to play your Hordeling Outburst before Jeskai Ascendancy; however, this can be reversed in control matchups. This is especially true against U/B control where cycling dead cards and lands are critical to keep pressure on them.
• The land in the sideboard is there for more than just when you bring in End Hostilities. You should bring it in against control variants, and board out the Defiant Strikes. Under the Frank Karsten mana theory cantrips represent .5 lands, so a land should replace the 1.5 overall mana loss.
• It is important to remember that there are more copies of Flooded Strand than available targets. This means that two things must happen while piloting the deck. 1. Fetch early so you don’t leave yourself with extra targets. 2. They are the first lands to discard to Jeskai Ascendancy.
• On the turns where you are going to go off, make sure to plan ahead for your draws. The deck has more white spells to cast than any others, and blue sources are in the deck for Jeskai Ascendancy and Treasure Cruise only. This deck’s greatest strength is being able to cast three or more spells in a turn with an active ascendancy, and you do not want to punt because you tapped incorrectly.
It’s hard to argue with the obscene power level that Jeskai Ascendancy offers, but much like any combo deck, it has to play some number of weaker enablers. By increasing the spell density, this list is able to capitalize on Jeskai Ascendancy. Essentially you trade the power level or specific cards for selection. While playing this list, I have consistently cycled through a much larger portion of my deck than with other tokens decks. The downside here is making tough discard decisions throughout games, so I suggest testing a large number of games with the deck. I strongly support sleeving up Jeskai Tokens at your next event, and feeling the power of cards banned in Modern while you still can!
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