Mardu Ascendancy is a very interesting card from Khans of Tarkir that never really had its day in Standard. While it would pop up occasionally in Mardu Aggro decks with the likes of Bloodsoaked Champion, Butcher of the Horde, and Mardu Shadowspear, this Ascendancy didn’t make much of an impact in competitive play. Most surprisingly, Its apparent synergy with the Standard powerhouse Goblin Rabblemaster was never realized in Standard.
You would think being three colors made it difficult for many decks to cast, but three-color decks were common in those days. Other Ascendancy enchantments such as Jeskai Ascendancy saw plenty of play. Honestly, this enchantment is fairly powerful, so why did it never see more play in Standard?
Making a 1/1 Goblin for each non-token creature you control that attacks is pretty strong. Its second effect, giving your team a +0/+3 boost until the end of turn by sacrificing the Ascendancy seems pretty good, too. Swinging with the team without having to worry about losing anyone to blockers could easily swing a game in an aggressive deck’s favor. It could also be an effective way to survive removal like Bile Blight or Anger of the Gods.
The primary reason that this Ascendancy didn’t see more play in Standard was that it was competing for deck slots with another three-drop from Khans of Tarkir, Hordeling Outburst. The Outburst creates three 1/1 Goblin tokens straightaway for 3 mana. For tempo reasons, the immediate 3-for-1 proved more efficient. Yes, Mardu Ascendancy can produce some grindy mid-range value over a number of turns. But, it can be a pretty lousy top-deck in an aggressive deck. Three bodies on demand has its appeal, whereas you have to work a lot harder with the Ascendancy to pay off.
The good news for Mardu Ascendancy is that its power was realized by a few popular Commanders in EDH. This Enchantment has become an all-star in Alesha, Who Smiles at Death decks. It also became a key contributor to many Zurgo Helmsmasher and Queen Marchesa decks. Unfortunately, being a three-color card in EDH really limits the number of homes this card can have.
Still, if you’re ever playing a deck in all three Mardu colors (red/black/white) that features a whole bunch of little guys, this is definitely worth considering. In five-color decks, there are simply better, more efficient cards to work with, so you’re looking primarily at strictly three-color Mardu decks. Unfortunately, not many Mardu Commanders have been printed, the most recent being Extus, Oriq Overlord, which is a White/Black Legendary Creature which has a Red/Black backside. Extus doesn’t really call for lots of little creatures, but there is potentially a way for this Ascendancy to work in an alternate build of the deck.
However, there are two other Mardu Commanders who have never given Mardu Ascendancy a second thought. The most popular Mardu commander is Edgar Markov, a Vampire Tribal Commander who would probably benefit from some extra bodies. There’s also the Knight Tribal Commander Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, who could benefit from a few extra Goblins to make blocks more difficult. Yes, the Goblins don’t fit on theme in either of these decks, but the secondary ability to give creatures a +0/+3 boost can counteract some board wipes and make an alpha strike more palatable.
The best thing for Mardu Ascendancy would be for a Goblin Legendary Creature to be printed in Mardu colors. While that’s probably not likely, it isn’t impossible. We have had Goblin cards in Red and White such as Goblin Trenches and creatures in all three Mardu colors in Ankle Shanker. If we do get such a Goblin creature at Legendary, then Mardu Ascendancy suddenly will become a staple in such a deck.
How else do you see Mardu Ascendancy being a playable card?