Sideboarding With Pyromancer Ascension

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The current Standard environment appears very defined, indeed almost boring. Yet there are still places for archetypes to slip through the cracks. One of the main things that the current metagame is lacking is a Combo deck - something to balance out the Control-Midrange-Aggro competition. While R&D has done their best to make it difficult for Combo to prosper in Standard, it is by no means impossible to break out with it. In today’s article I want to look at a well known and well loved archetype that fell out of favor after the last rotation: Pyromancer Ascension. Let’s take a look at my current list.

The deck should be pretty easy to understand. Power up the Ascension with cheap card draw and fling copied Bolts at the opponent’s head, using copied Call to Minds to buy back as many burn spells as you need to finish the job. I feel that the deck has a place in the current metagame because of its amazing matchup against Control, as well as the more Midrange RUG decks running around. While UB control does have Memoricide, and a few builds of other control decks have Into the Roil or Ratchet Bomb, because they all have so few ways to deal with an Ascension, you’ll almost always have enough countermagic to deal with them.

A popular sideboarding strategy last season was to bring in a Polymorph package, which unfortunately isn’t available any more. While some have suggested other creatures, like Kiln Fiend or Echo Mage, I feel removal is too prevalent right now due especially to the rise of Vampires as a legitimate Aggro deck. If I was to board in creatures, it would probably be some kind of Titan, most likely Frost, though Wurmcoil Engine could be pretty good. But let’s move on and look at some common matchups.

U/W Control
+3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +1 Jace Beleren, +2 Spell Pierce
-2 Burst Lightning, -2 Foresee, -1 Lightning Bolt, -1 Into the Roil

Here you want to maximize your ability to play the long game by boarding in your Planeswalkers. While Foresee is an amazing source of card advantage, you end up with too many expensive spells in your deck, so it needs to get cut. Problem cards in this matchup are pretty varied, ranging from fairly standard Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb, to some stranger stuff like Luminarch Ascension (which is actually pretty bad against us). All in all, an excellent matchup, as they put almost no pressure on you and have few ways to deal with turn 2 Ascension, especially on the draw.

U/B Control
Same boarding as U/W

A similar archetype to U/W but a significantly worse matchup. Because U/B has access to Duresses and Memoricides, I’ve often had to depend on trying to win with Jace, but it's not too effective when they have a Creeping Tar Pit. It is critical you DO NOT tap out on turn 4 for Jace, even if they are tapped out, if you suspect they have a Memoricide. It is almost impossible to win without an Ascension. I’ve only managed it once, milling out an MBC player twice with Jace Beleren.

Valakut Ramp
+3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +4 Flashfreeze
-2 Burst Lightning, -2 Foresee, -3 Into the Roil

An even to slightly favorable matchup, the die roll is critical here. The question really is if you can power up an Ascension before they can resolve a Primeval Titan or Avenger of Zendikar. We do unfortunately have to board out Foresee, because tapping out on turn 4 against the threat of a Primeval Titan kind of sucks, so we need to board into a cheaper, more streamlined build. Into the Roil is also quite bad against Valakut. Unless they’re one of the stranger builds running a Swamp in the sideboard for Memoricide, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about other than Primeval Titan or Avenger of Zendikar. Gaea's Revenge and Oracle of Mul Daya aren’t typically problems unless you have no action, and Wurmcoil Engine is almost a joke.

+3 Pyroclasm, +1 Burst Lightning
-2 Foresee, -2 Spell Pierce
(if it’s B/r Vampires, add +1 Flashfreeze, -1 Into the Roil)

Terrible, terrible matchup. Traditional Aggro decks are fine, but Vampires is a very difficult matchup. Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn, and Bloodthrone Vampire all team up to make your life a nightmare, and you often need to both win the die roll and get quite fortunate to win this one. Good luck!

Quest WW
+3 Pyroclasm, +1 Burst Lightning
-2 Spell Pierce, -2 Foresee

A pretty good matchup, but it’s very dependent on whether they have the Stoneforge Mystic or the Quest for the Holy Relic draw. If they have Quest, it’s not too hard as you can answer Argentum Armor with Into the Roil and then Pyroclasm their army, but facing down Squadron Hawks with Sword of Body and Mind can be quite difficult. Just play cautiously and don’t spend mana unnecessarily.

Those are all the matchups I’m covering for now, as the rest are just variations on this, and they can easily be figured out if you choose to play the deck. While this deck doesn’t have the same pedigree or resume that RUG or U/B control do, it is a possible contender in today’s environment. So if you’re looking to play an innovative, fun, and fast deck that can still win, Pyromancer Ascension is probably your best bet. Best of luck to all of you who choose to play it, and even those that don’t, and I wish you well at your upcoming PTQs or SCG Invitationals.

--Noah Whinston
nwhinston on Twitter
Arcadefire on MTGO

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