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October 19, 2017

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Brewing With Ixalan – Jeskai Approach

Both Canadian and US Nationals have come and gone, and they left us with something not at all surprising – the revelation that Temur Energy is still really strong. Shocker. It’s equally unsurprising that UB Control made a very strong showing, and that Abzan Tokens proved itself once again as a legitimate contender in Ixalan Standard. Same old, same old, I know.

BUT – Did you know that in the US Nationals there was not one, but two Approach of the Second Sun lists that made Top 16? And did you know that one of those lists was actually a Boros Approach of the Second Sun deck? How’s that for a change of pace?

Piloted by Adam Bialkowski, the same mad genius who brought Gruul Dragons to the Top 8 at the SCG Open in Richmond back in 2015, Boros Approach made Top 16 at US Nationals. I love everything about that sentence. ‘Gruul Dragons’, ‘Boros Approach’, ‘back in’. Mmm. Just a great bunch of words.

In all seriousness, Adam’s list featured a whole list of things you wouldn’t expect to see at Nationals. Chief among them, as far as I’m concerned, is Sunbird’s Invocation. If you aren’t familiar with this six Mana Enchantment, it’s definitely worth a second glance; while Sunbird’s Invocation is on the field, each time you cast a spell from your hand, you get to reveal the top X cards of your library (Where X is the Converted Mana Cost of the spell being cast), choose a spell that has an equal or lower Converted Mana Cost, then cast it for for free. Finally, you tuck the cards not selected to be cast to the bottom of your Library.

Two words: Value. Town.

Interestingly enough, I played a very similar Boros Approach list on MTGO and at FNM during the weeks leading up to Canadian Nationals, so I can attest firmly to the insanity that is Sunbird’s Invocation. Besides the obvious game winning combo of casting an Approach of the Second Sun and digging for a second copy of Approach of the Second Sun to win the game on the spot, Sunbird’s Invocation enables some incredibly silly things in a game of Magic while it’s active.

What kind of silly things you ask? Well, some of my personal favourites include playing Cast Out and digging my way into a free Instant-speed Gideon of the Trials at my opponent’s end phase, casting Huatli, Warrior Poet and getting to Fumigate the board for free, and the highly redundant but very satisfying casting a second Sunbird’s Invocation and netting a third Sunbird’s Invocation for free.

I wasn’t kidding. Value town. While my list differed slightly from Bialkowski’s, the core 75 is almost entirely the same. That means I can confidently say things like, “Expect to be able to flip a copy of Vance’s Blasting Cannons off of Sunbird’s Invocation“, “Chandra, Torch of Defiance makes a great closer”, and “Huatli, Warrior Poet isn’t really worth playing”.

There’s something else this list doesn’t say directly, but that its final standings does: A deck running Approach of the Second Sun needs more draw power and card filtering than anything RW currently has to offer in Standard.

In playtesting, in practice, ultimately the reason I didn’t bring Boros Approach to Canadian Nationals is that the deck just runs itself out of gas too fast if it doesn’t win on curve. The lack of blue spells as a whole means ways to restock your hand are essentially off the table entirely. While there are a few red spells in Standard that offer pseudo-draw power, such as Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Vance’s Blasting Cannons, the problem that both face is they exile an additional card and allow you to be able to cast it as opposed to drawing it.

On the surface this is still a form of card advantage, but the seemingly minor difference can actually lead to some major issues in an Approach of the Second Sun deck.

First, and most obvious, is the risk of exiling Approach of the Second Sun too soon. With most Approach decks only running three copies, and no way to recover the card from Exile, this can really set you back if it happens. Second, while it will still tuck itself and gain you seven life if cast from Exile, the ‘you win the game’ clause will not trigger as its condition of being cast from your hand as not been met.

Another problem worth mentioning is that if you cast anything from Exile, you won’t trigger Sunbird’s Invocation. It’s almost as if Wizards R&D could Foresee these cards being problematic together.

While I’ve retired the list affectionately dubbed ‘Red Sun’, the idea of using red in an Approach list struck a chord with me. After all, it wasn’t as though the list was ineffective, it just had some kinks that needed to be smoothed out. The kind of smoothing out only a blue Mage can offer.

So enough with the gab, let’s cut to a Jeskai Suns brew:

Approach of the Jeskai Sun

Spells (31)
Approach of the Second Sun
Fumigate
Glimmer of Genius
Settle the Wreckage
Cast Out
Disallow
Supreme Will
Harnessed Lightning
Abrade
Search for Azcanta
Essence Scatter
Magma Spray
Opt

Planeswalkers (4)
Gideon of the Trials
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh

Lands (25)
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Evolving Wilds
Field of Ruin
Glacial Fortress
Fetid Pool
Island
Plains
Mountain
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Spell Pierce
Regal Caracal
Sweltering Suns
 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
The Locust God
Fumigate

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in an Approach of the Second Sun list? That’s called a flavour win, and if you play one into the other, I don’t care what your opponent, the people around you, or a Judge has to say about it – you’ve just won as far as I’m concerned. I mean, you haven’t, but in a way you have.

This brew covers all the angles you should expect from Ixalan Standard. Early removal spells in the form of Magma Spray, Harnessed Lightning, and Abrade help keep the field clear of pesky threats like Kitesail Freebooter, Gifted Aetherborn, Ahn-Crop Crasher, and so on. Essence Scatter deals with The Scarab God, Glorybringer, and Hazoret the Fervent before they hit the battlefield, while Cast Out and Settle the Wreckage can deal with ones that have resolved.

For our blue spells, we have Supreme Will pulling triple duty as a counterspell, a way to dig for four cards deep for an Approach of the Second Sun, or to restock on removal as necessary. For that all-important card draw and quality assurance we have Opt, Glimmer of Genius, and Search for Azcanta. A pair of Disallows lets you, well, choose to not allow something.

These cards are omnipresent for a reason: It turns out that being able to draw more cards when you need to is really good, and being able to dig for the specific answer is even better. Oh, and super Cancel is better than regular Cancel.

Finally, the Planeswalkers. Three copies of Gideon of the Trials. While he may never live up to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, there’s no reason to underestimate this Platinum Angel that is sometimes a 4/4 attacker and sometimes a more functional Guard Dogs. In the mirror, that Emblem is a must. In most other match ups, being able to bubble threats like Hazoret the Fervent while you dig for answers can be essential to winning.

A solitary copy of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is in here for two reasons: First, it has been my experience that you need another big finisher in an Approach list for games when you inevitably run into Lost Legacy and the like. Second… Okay, maybe the only other reason I have is the flavour win.

In the sideboard, Negate and Spell Pierce let us fit in just enough counterspells to be able to protect the Approach of the Second Sun our opponent knows we need to cast to win and will probably hold up a counterspell or two to try to shut down. Sweltering Suns and Fumigate help us take back the board from opponents that might be playing Abzan Tokens, Temur, or Ramunap Red, while Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Regal Caracal wait in the wings for the ideal matchup.

And a pet card I’ve been playing with in Jeskai Approach is The Locust God. While its siblings The Scorpion God and The Scarab God have found respective homes in Rakdos Midrange and Every-other-deck-in-Standard, the Izzet-coloured God has yet to find a deck that suits it. That is, perhaps, until now. Because Vraska’s Contempt is a thing, this flying, looting, bug-spawning beatdown machine could easily be replaced with Sunbird’s Invocation if your meta is UB heavy.

Is there room in Ixalan Standard for Jeskai Approach? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and stay tuned for next week’s edition of Brewing with Ixalan!