Deck Guide: Sapphire/Diamond Turbo Ascension
(Part Two of Attacking the Cosmic Crown Showdown Meta-Game)
In part one of this article, we went through the process that my testing team (Prismatic Conclave) and I (ThufirHawat) used to arrive at our deck for the Cosmic Crown Showdown. Sapphire/Diamond Turbo Pyschic Ascension, henceforth “Turbo PA”, carried me to consecutive 6-1 finishes in the CCS and the following Bash. It is powerful, consistent, is slightly favored against Mono-Blood, heavily favored against Ruby/Wild Ramp, heavily favored against traditional S/D Control, and pushes many opponents over the brink of insanity. Sample quote from an anonymous team-mate: “DS candles can die in a [redacted] fire. I want to reach through the monitor and punch everyone playing it in the [redacted], before shoving a particularly spiky cactus up their nostrils.” Does winning a lot of matches and inspiring that level of vitriol appeal to you? Read on!
Champion: Cassia Goldenlight
2x Psychic Ascension
4x Weave into Nothing
4x Light the Votives
2x Winter’s Grasp
4x Consult the Talon
4x Cosmic Calling
2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings
4x Heart’s Whisper
4x Into the Unknown
4x Diamond Ice
2x Sapphire Shard
2x Nameless Draught
4x Wax Sacrament
4x Sapphire Ice
4x Well of Purpose
4x Warpsteel Shardsworn – Gems: 4x Minor Diamond of Fate
Wait, Why Aren’t You Playing ________?
While most of this article will discuss the cards that are in deck, I’d like to start by talking about a few that are not (or are in the reserves rather than the main deck). This is a Sapphire/Diamond deck that runs neither Dark Heart of Nulzann nor Silver Talon Adjudicator main, and is thus the grossest heresy. Even Runebind and Clash of Steel have been banished to the reserves. These cards are awesome. They are why SD Control generates the sweet, sweet “pls nerf” tears of aggro players. Why the heck aren’t they here? I’ll give the long answer and the short answer. First, the short answer: Main deck, this isn’t a Control deck at all. It is a combo deck, where the combo is “38 actions that aren’t Psychic Ascension [Wax Sacrament counts here] and 2 actions that are Psychic Ascension”.
Now for the long answer. Traditional Sapphire/Diamond Control aims to answer everything the opponent does, relying heavily on Dark Heart of Nulzann as the engine that drives the rest of the deck. Dark Heart turns Runebind into a hard counter on an empty board, generally turns Clash of Steel into a one-sided total battlefield wipe, shuts down most aggro decks by itself, and is all around one of the most powerful Hex cards in existence. The rest of the deck mostly consists of ways to to stall, gain card advantage, and eventually maybe go over the top with PA (Psychic Ascension) in mirror matches or against other Control decks. This is a good plan. It has a long history of working well. I went 6-1 with this plan in the Bash preceding the CCS. It does, however, have some weaknesses. The biggest is that decks right now durdle so hard, so powerfully, that genuinely establishing control is nearly impossible. YungDingo’s SW Ramp, Turbo PA, and Mono-Blood are all extremely strong and attack on very different axes. I don’t believe there is a way to tune traditional Sapphire/Diamond Dark Heart Control to be good against all of them.
But that isn’t the only problem. Dark Heart does not play well with the other troops that SD Control traditionally runs, Eldurathan’s Glory and Silver Talon Adjudicator. Every one of these are individually awesome and well placed in the meta-game. But Dark Heart kills both of the others and Glory kills your Adjudicators – which isn’t a very kind way to reward your Silver Talon allies. Additionally, these are all fairly expensive cards, costing four or five resources to play. Letting the interrupt shields down against a number of decks can result in very bad things happening, such as Mono-Blood playing Bride of the Damned + Herofall or Strangle, Wild Ramp decks playing Brosi, Turbo PA interrupting your play then drawing entirely too many cards on their turn, or SW Ramp going completely bonkers. It’s easy to suggest just waiting until you can both represent an interrupt and play out your troops, but in practice that often doesn’t work so well in a deck built around playing these extremely powerful cards on curve.
For the CCS, I ran the same 75 cards, but had 4x Runebind, 4x Dark Heart of Nulzann, and 2x Clash of Steel in the main deck, while 2x Winter’s Grasp, 2x Verdict of the Ancient Kings, 2x Dreamcall, and 4x Into the Unknown were in reserves. The key innovation our team had in testing for the CCS was that it was possible to build Turbo PA as two decks in one – a slightly weaker, though still good, traditional Dark Heart Control deck, and a rather linear, largely quick speed Turbo PA deck, which the latter being much better against Mono-Blood. The more recent build, where the Turbo PA plan has been promoted to main deck while the Dark Heart Control package is relegated to reserves, is a reaction to the Durdle Nirvana meta-game that flowered after Aggro decks were largely nerfed into irrelevance. The option to play a bunch of quick speed disruption has never been more valuable. This does weaken our match-up against Aggro decks, but we’re largely counting on those doing poorly in the opening rounds of competitive events and dodging them entirely. Silver Talon Adjudicator is awesome, but being able to play at quick speed while advancing the primary game plan of ticking down Psychic Ascension is even better.
After this extremely long explanation of why some cards either aren’t there at all or are in reserves, let’s get down to talking about the cards we do play! This deck basically aims to stall and disrupt long enough to get to Psychic Ascension or to build up a critical mass of Candlekin with Light the Votives and pump them with our charge power or with Wax Sacrament. The second plan actually ends up winning roughly as many games as the first, which is one of the big reasons I like the deck. The other thing our deck does very, very well is draw cards and filter our draw steps. Main deck, we have 24 different cards that Fateweave and 16 cards that draw one or more other cards. This means that even with a 20 shard deck, we can reliably hit our shard drops each turn and are very, very good at finding whatever cards are important in the match-up, or in the unique situation we may be facing within a game.
A useful heuristic for playing this deck is that at all times you want either four copies of Dark Heart of Nulzann or four copies of Into the Unknown. These are your universal answers. Dark Heart is more independently powerful, but Into the Unknown works much better with the “delay until PA” plan. Mono-Blood can struggle immensely if their few, powerful threats are stripped from their deck, even if Into the Unknown is in the short term card disadvantage (that is, you spend a whole card to transform one of theirs into something else that may still be useful). Similarly, Wild decks become a lot easier to deal with once you no longer need to worry about Pathfinder (or to a lesser extent, Merry Caravan, Mightsinger, or Eternal Seeker). I personally view Into the Unknown as a basically poor card that fills an essential role in this specific deck. If we can get there, Psychic Ascension will overpower almost anything in the late game, so it is critical that we have extremely versatile ways to disrupt our opponent’s game plan in the interim.
This is public enemy #1, and is the primary target I have tuned our main deck to beat. Mono-Blood is capable of applying early pressure with Vampire Prince and Bride of the Damned, but the real threat is their resource efficient accumulation of card advantage. Bride of the Damned and Vampire Prince both represent ongoing sources of card advantage as well as battlefield presence if they are not answered promptly. Beyond that, Zeddek’s Judgment, Demented Whispers, Primordial Cockatwice, Withering Gaze, Dark Heart of Nulzann, Corners of the World, Vampire Queen, and Journey into Nightmare are all powerful and work together to strip your hand of resources and bury you in card advantage. The capstone to the Mono-Blood game plan is Bardak the Butcher’s charge power. They aim to run you out of stuff while they still have stuff. So how do we fight back?
We draw a whole bunch of cards, make sure they can’t keep any Brides or more than one Prince in play, and get to Psychic Ascension. It really is that simple, and that difficult. Wax Sacrament and Nameless Draught, along with Dreamcall, substantially blunt the impact of mass discard threats such as Primordial Cockatwice and Demented Whispers. Verdict of the Ancient Kings can disrupt the Zeddek’s Judgment value train. Into the Unknown is the best, most permanent answer in Sapphire or Diamond to the long term threat of Bride of the Damned. The main deck is already fairly well positioned to execute this game plan, but there is room for further improvement in the reserves. The extra copy of Psychic Ascension in reserves allows us to keep opening hands that contain one copy of PA without worrying that we’ll be in deep trouble if they have turn one Withering Gaze.
In: Psychic Ascension x1, Verdict of the Ancient Kings x1
Out: Warpsteel Shardsworn x2.
Warpsteel is a good and important card in our deck, and we will often have to hold our Consult the Talon in post reserve games with only two copies of Warpsteel left, but the sad truth is that it’s terribad against Bride of the Damned.
In: Psychic Ascension x1, Verdict of the Ancient Kings x2, Runebind x3
Out: Dreamcall x2, Into the Unknown x1, Winter’s Grasp x2, Warpsteel Shardsworn x1
This match-up is heavily favored. We just need to keep them off of Dark Heart of Nulzann, get to Ascension first, and win.
In: Dark Heart of Nulzann x4, Runebind x4, Clash of Steel x2-4
Out: Verdict of the Ancient Kings x2, Dreamcall x2, Psychic Ascension x2, Heart’s Whisper x2, Weave Into Nothing x2, Into the Unknown x0-2 (depends on how many Clash of Steel we are bringing in).
An exception to this general reserve plan is that Verdict of the Ancient Kings is quite good against Ruby/Diamond Candles. But in general, we just want to transition from a Turbo Psychic Ascension deck to a Dark Heart Control deck. Cosmic Calling is often our best friend if we are not fortunate enough to have a Dark Heart in our opening hand. These match-ups are winnable, but generally we’ll be slightly on the back foot against well played, well tuned Aggro decks due to our Control or Ramp focused main deck configuration.
We just lose, basically. This is the one match-up I haven’t been able to figure out, so if you can beat it, please let me know how!
In: Verdict of the Ancient Kings x2
Out: Dreamcall x2
Our standard Turbo PA plan works pretty well here. Interrupts are very, very good against Ruby/Wild Ramp, and generally the big thing we have to keep in mind is not to get blown out by Brosi-Buk or Wildlife.
Tips and Tricks
1. Learn to Mulligan well.
This deck can easily come back from six or even five card hands, but can’t generally win if it fails to curve out on turns 1-3. Any hand with two shards and a source of sapphire threshold is generally a keep. One shard hands with a playable Guidance or an Ice to find the second shard are generally keeps (exceptions are Blue Sparrow or Yarna of Lost Voices opponents, as they will often have turn one Nameless Draught to mess up our Fateweave). Beyond that, this just takes a bit of practice and judgment, as it’s fairly match-up and play/draw dependent. For instance, Heart’s Whisper and Weave into Nothing tend to be much better on the play, while Winter’s Grasp and Verdict of the Ancient Kings tend to be good on the draw.
2. Be Ready to Switch to Candlekin Beat-Down
We do not need to play Psychic Ascension to win. In a lot of games, going wide with candles, pumping them, and turning them sideways is more than enough to get the job done. These games play out more like an Aggro-Control or Tempo strategy, where we have an early battlefield presence that we protect with interrupts or tempo effects such as Into the Unknown or Runebind. This deck can durdle with anything other than SW Ramp (which can go over the top of even Psychic Ascension), but that doesn’t mean we should get locked in on that game plan when quicker, surer ways of winning present themselves.
3. Cosmic Calling First, Ice Second
If you use your turn’s shard drop on a slow shard, your compensation is the Fateweave. You basically lose that if you then Cosmic Calling on your opponent’s turn. Generally it’s correct to wait and Cosmic Calling at the end of their turn, or in response to their play if you need to dig for an immediate answer, but this is an exception. The exception to the exception is that if there is a specific non-resource card that you desperately need, weaving for a non-resource before playing Cosmic Calling does slightly increase your chances of finding it.
4. Save Your Charge Power
An on demand illuminate one tends to be much more valuable than a random 1/1 that can be removed, sometimes for free (Dark Heart, Eldurathan’s Glory, Eternal Seeker, Bride of the Damned, etc). If we draw a couple of Light the Votives, that charge power could let us pump a bunch of 1/1s into a threatening force of 2/2s. Or if we draw Consult the Talon or Cosmic Calling, we can use the charge power to guarantee that we can mobilize when we play it. It’s often right to just make a Candlekin on turn 4, but don’t do so thoughtlessly.
5. Value your Candlekin
This goes along with Tip #4. I think a lot of players are entirely too ready the throw away their Candlekin with chump blocks when they are still at fairly comfortable life totals. I view mine as precious resources and won’t sacrifice them unless absolutely necessary. They let me cheat on resources with Consult the Talon and can be pumped into significant threats in their own right if they survive long enough. These little guys will win a lot of games for you if you treat them right.
6. Practice Makes Perfect
Turbo PA can be a challenging deck to play, so if you try it and your initial results are not as you had hoped, please don’t give up prematurely! Wait until you have played 10 matches with it and see whether you start to develop a feel for how to pilot the deck.
7. Come Talk to Me on the Battleshopper Discord if You Have Questions!
I love this deck, and would be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’d also appreciate any suggestions you have to improve either my deck or my writing.
A sincere thank you to all of you who took the time to read this!