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Winning with Simic Ascendancy in Standard


"You win the game" cards are some of my favorite cards in all of Magic. While it's rare that they manage to sneak into the top tiers of tournament play (although it does happen on occasion, with Approach of the Second Sun and Door to Nothingness being two prime examples), they are almost always among the most popular semi-competitive cards to build around in a set. It seems like Wizards has caught onto this recently because it seems like most sets these days comes with a new, unique way to win the game. Right now in Standard, we have both Revel in Riches and Liliana's Contract, and with Ravnica Allegiance, we will get a brand new "you win the game" option in Simic Ascendancy!

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At first glance, Simic Ascendancy seems slow and not all that playable. Every time you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control, Simic Ascendancy gets a growth counter. Then, at the beginning of your upkeep, you simply win the game if you have Simic Ascendancy all the way up to 20 growth counters. As such, the enchantment is basically a race to put 20 +1/+1 counters on creatures, barring something like Doubling Season or proliferate to speed up the mechanic. 

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The biggest upside of Simic Ascendancy is that it's cheap. Unlike many "you win the game" cards, which require a bunch of mana (which makes finding the time to invest mana into casting them a big challenge), it should be pretty easy to slip the two-mana Simic Ascendancy onto the battlefield without losing too much tempo. Being an enchantment is also nice, as enchantments are often the hardest permanent type for our opponent to remove from the battlefield, although in our current Standard format, there are a handful of potentially maindeckable answers, including Assassin's Trophy, Knight of Autumn, and Mortify. Still, if your plan is to have a permanent sit out on the battlefield for several turns in an effort to win the game, an enchantment is your best best. 

On the other hand, Simic Ascendancy comes with three meaningful drawbacks. First, if it's not winning you the game, it doesn't really do a whole lot other than sit on the battlefield and get growth counters. While being able to pay three mana to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature (and also a growth counter on Simic Ascendancy) is something, that's a painfully slow way to grow your creatures. While it does offer a nice mana sink if you happen to run out of cards, if you're playing Simic Ascendancy, it's not because it's a good way to grow your team. The second challenge of Simic Ascendancy is that it requires us to wait until our next turn to win the game, even if we have 20 growth counters. This means there's a risk that we put a bunch of cards and mana into adding growth counters simply to have our opponent win while we are waiting to get to our upkeep. Finally, the last drawback of Simic Ascendancy is that it might be "win more" in some decks. The question here is how often your deck will add 20 +1/+1 counters to creatures and still need Simic Ascendancy to win the game. With that many counters on creatures, we might find that our deck simply kills the opponent by attacking a turn or two before Simic Ascendancy would pick up the win.

Still, despite the drawbacks, Simic Ascendancy has potential. A two-mana enchantment that works with the theme of your deck and eventually threatens to win the game in a hard-to-interact-with way offers a nice form of protection from removal and sweepers in a creature deck, and this doesn't even consider the possibility of sort of comboing off and adding all 20 counters in a single turn. So, what are some of the best plans for winning with Simic Ascendancy in Standard? Let's discuss.

Simic Ascendancy in Standard

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While this could change as we see the rest of Ravnica Allegiance in Standard, right now, we don't have very many Standard-legal options for putting +1/+1 counters on our entire team at once. The best best is Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, which requires a Merfolk tribal build to really be effective, while Shalai, Voice of Plenty does offer a repeatable way to put counters on everything, but it costs a lot of mana for each activation, making the Simic Ascendancy win more of a late-game plan. Meanwhile, Song of Freyalise is cheap and potentially powerful, but getting the timing of the third lore counter right can be a challenge. As such, when you combine the power of Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca with the +1/+1 counter theme of Merfolk, the tribe offers one of the best ways to try to achieve the Simic Ascendancy win, even without additional Simic cards from Ravnica Allegiance.

If you look at the playable Merfolk in Standard, a huge percentage of them work with the +1/+1 counter theme. While it might not seem like much, if the goal is to get 20 growth counters on Simic Ascendancy, even getting an additional counter or two here and there from cards like Jade Bearer, Merfolk Branchwalker, and friends is pretty meaningful. The main plan of the deck is to get down a Simic Ascendancy on Turn 2 and then start playing and adding counters to our Merfolk. Ideally, this will naturally give us a handful of growth counters on Simic Ascendancy. Then, we have our big finishers to close out the game. Kumena, Speaker of Orazca can come down and immediately put a +1/+1 counter on our entire team (as long as we have at least five Merfolk), which is especially scary with Deeproot Waters giving all of our Merfolk spell a kicker of an additional 1/1 hexproof Merfolk token, allowing us to flood the board with cheap Merfolk to buff with counters. If that's not enough to close out the game, Zegana, Utopian Speaker can add four counters to itself for six mana, which is a pretty reasonable deal. 

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In theory, the abundance of synergies makes Merfolk one of the easiest ways to pick up the Simic Ascendancy win in Standard, and apart from Simic Ascendancy itself, we're playing pretty much all cards we'd want to play in Merfolk anyway. The biggest question is whether we'd just be better off trying to win with something like Herald of Secret Streams or Hadana's Climb after growing our Merfolk into massive threats. This being said, Simic Ascendancy does offer a strange form of protection that none of the other payoffs offer: it sticks around through sweepers and board wipes, so even if our opponent manages to deal with our Merfolk, we're likely just a few good draws away from picking up the growth counter win with the help of Simic Ascendancy

Rather than going wide like Merfolk, the +1/+1 counter deck is looking to overload on creatures that can get a bunch of counters all at once. Maybe the sweetest combo in the deck is Chamber Sentry with Chromatic Lantern. With Chromatic Lantern on the battlefield, we can cast Chamber Sentry with all five colors of mana, having it enter with five +5/+5 counters. Then, if it happens to die, we can return it from the graveyard and repeat the process (we can also kill it ourselves by removing the counters to kill one of our opponent's creatures or just throw damage at our opponent's face). In theory, if we do this four times, we will have amassed 20 growth counters on Simic Ascendancy, but this is far from the only trick in our deck.

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Hungering Hydra and Worldsoul Colossus can easily enter the battlefield with five or more counters. Once we get up to five or six mana, we have a massive 10 creatures that can add five (or more) growth counters to Simic Ascendancy all by themselves, which means we really only need to cast four-ish spells to win the game. This doesn't even consider Pelt Collector, Jadelight Ranger, and Merfolk Branchwalker slowly upping our counter count, or Shalai, Voice of Plenty giving all of our creatures a counter, which further speeds up the growth counter process. 

Other Options

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If you want to go even deeper on Simic Ascendancy, Elenda, the Dusk Rose and Runaway Steam-Kin offer interesting off-color options. Thankfully, we're entering a world with near-perfect mana, thanks to the rest of the shock lands showing up in Ravnica Allegiance, which means casting Simic Ascendancy on Turn 2 and something like Elenda, the Dusk Rose on Turn 4 should be quite possible. 

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Runaway Steam-Kin offers some hilarious potential with Experimental Frenzy and Simic Ascendancy. I've certainly had turns involving two copies of Runaway Steam-Kin and an Experimental Frenzy that involved putting more than 20 +1/+1 counters on Steam-Kins in a single turn. While those turns do often kill the opponent, there are also games where you play a ton of cards with Runaway Steam-Kin mana, fizzle, and pass the turn and the opponent simply wraths, ruining all of our hard work. With a Simic Ascendancy out, a wrath is no longer an answer. The downside is that since Simic Ascendancy isn't a red card itself, it's sort of clunky if we hit it mid-Experimental Frenzy, and it might fizzle the Frenzy altogether if we're not careful with our mana.

As for Elenda, the Dusk Rose, we probably are missing one or two pieces to make an Aristocrats-style build of Simic Ascendancy really work, but in theory, if you can sacrifice 10 afterlife creatures (along with the tokens they make), Elenda, the Dusk Rose itself would end up with 20 +1/+1 counters. It becomes even easier if you can throw something like Shalai, Voice of Plenty into the mix to add counters to the afterlife tokens before sacrificing them. While we'll need a free sacrifice outlet for this idea to have any chance at all, and an easier way to add counters to a bunch of random 1/1s would be nice, no one will expect the Elenda, the Dusk Rose / Simic Ascendancy kill.

Extra Turns

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Earlier, we talked about how one of the main drawbacks of Simic Ascendancy is that we have to wait until our next turn to win the game, even after we get 20 growth counters on the enchantment. Thankfully, we have several options in our current Standard to speed up the process by taking an extra turn. Both Nexus of Fate and Chance for Glory offer a lot of potential because we can cast them during our opponent's end step and take two turns in a row. They give us one turn with all of our mana to make sure we get Simic Ascendancy up to 20 counters, and then after we hit the 20 growth counter mark, we can simply go to our extra turn and win the game on our upkeep. 

The main challenge is figuring our how to make either of these cards fit in a Simic Ascendancy deck. Nexus of Fate is pretty expensive. Perhaps some sort of +1/+1 counter ramp deck could work, where instead of playing several small creatures, we're just looking to play a couple of Hungering Hydras with 10 or more +1/+1 counters each to win the game that way. Throw in some Star of Extinctions and other sweepers, and Hungering Hydra probably isn't that much worse than finishing the game with a random Dinosaur. It's also worth mentioning that with Hungering Hydra specifically, damage-based burn spells turn into pump spells that add +1/+1 counters to Hungering Hydra, so in theory, we can play a Hungering Hydra for 11 mana, play a Banefire with X = 10 for 11 mana, and then next turn end up with 20 growth counters on Simic Ascendancy, while sweepers like Deafening Clarion also help speed up the process. Another fun possibility is to make Hungering Hydra indestructible...

The main plan of Hydra Ascendancy Combo is to ramp as much as possible until we have enough mana to cast Star of Extinction and either Assure // Assemble or preferably Chance for Glory in the same turn. Assuming we have a Hungering Hydra on the battlefield, Star of Extinction will not only sweep away our opponent's board but will also add 20 +1/+1 counters to our indestructible Hungering Hydra and also 20 growth counters to Simic Ascendancy. Assuming our indestructible spell is Chance for Glory, we can then just pass the turn and win on our extra turn's upkeep with Simic Ascendancy

Otherwise, the deck is a fairly straightforward ramp build, with some spice in the form of Zacama, Primal Calamity and Guild Summit. Zacama, Primal Calamity is not only a potentially game-winning threat but a pretty good way to add counters to Hungering Hydra by shooting it repeatedly for three damage, giving us a backup way to get 20 +1/+1 counters. Meanwhile, Guild Summit is our main source of card advantage, although I'm not 100% sure it's better than playing something like Chemister's Insight. The upside of Guild Summit is that, along with our eight Guildgates, it makes Circuitous Route much better, not only tutoring out two lands (which would enter tapped anyway) but drawing us two cards along the way. Then, in the late game, Guild Summit can turn into a weird sort of Overflowing Insight, since we can cast it and tap whatever Gates we have on the battlefield to draw a new hand. 

As for Chance for Glory, it has the upside of being by far the cheapest extra turn spell in Standard (and also being an important part of our Hungering Hydra / Star of Extinction combo), but it's worth mentioning there will probably be some nightmare games where we get 20 counters on Simic Ascendancy and then our opponent kills it with Assassin's Trophy and we die to our own Chance for Glory

Conclusion

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So far, these are my favorite ideas for winning with Simic Ascendancy in Standard, but hopefully there will be some more sweet possibilities as we get the rest of the Simic cards from Ravnica Allegiance. While it's probably possible to win with Simic Ascendancy as well, the main problem I've come across is that most of the combos (like Hardened Scales and Arcbound Ravager) win the game immediately with less than 20 counters going on creatures, although there might be some other options that make Simic Ascendancy more practical and less win-more in the format. 

As such, if you have some sweet ideas to make use of Simic Ascendancy in either Standard or Modern, make sure to let me know in the comments! Putting +1/+1 counters on things is a fun theme, and a ton of mechanics and cards throughout Magic's history have taken advantage of the mechanic, so there are endless possibilities!

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SafronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com. Happy holidays!


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