A Combo Player’s Guide To M12

Ari Lax reviews M12 from the perspective of the combo player; he covers their uses in Standard, Legacy, and even Overextended! Which cards are good enough, and which don’t make the cut?

None of these are sure shots. Don’t force combo when it doesn’t exist or is mediocre at best; you’ll lose miserably. Actually test your deck
extensively pre- and post-board before taking it to an event that matters. Finally, remember Memoricide is a card in Standard that will see a lot of
play due to Primeval Titan and that randoms with Mono-Black will play Surgical Extraction and will win more than usual because of Lashwrithe and
Phyrexian Obliterator.

This isn’t actually a combo card, so I’ll get it out of the way fast and early.

Turns out that Caw-Blade is still a contender for the best deck in Standard. You get to play all the powerful white creatures Jace was previously
excluding like Blade Splicer, while Sword of Feast and Famine is still good with blue cards when you pay the full sorcery price for it. I’m interested
in a build of the deck closer to Shintaro Ishimura’s list from Paris with Mirran Crusaders and Student of Warfare. In that list, Angelic Destiny is a
very reasonable secondary “Equipment” to Sword, not only making a double striker almost certainly lethal but also leaping Hero of Bladehold
over people who try to answer it via combat. Mirran Crusader also seems very well positioned now in the metagame of mostly black removal and green
blockers, with Kor Firewalker mopping up the rest. Speaking of Firewalker, Angelic Destiny puts him out of Dismember range against the red decks.

So, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

This guy is not too exciting in fair decks, as most of the cards that traditionally beat the W/x Hate Bears deck are powerful sorceries and creatures
as opposed to counters and combat tricks. It might be a mediocre board card against something like Faeries, but actual Faeries will just kill it and
not care.

Where this guy seems extremely promising is any combo deck with Aether Vial. His mana cost basically excludes him from most other combo decks,
especially when compared to options like City of Solitude or Defense Grid that aren’t vulnerable to Swords of Plowshares. Aluren also comes to mind,
but getting it into play to defend the namesake card is going to be difficult, and after Aluren resolves you should not need this guy to win.

Currently, the only combo deck based on Aether Vial is Cephalid Breakfast, and Grand Abolisher seems amazing there. On turn three, you can easily just
activate Vial, drop Abolisher into play, and win through not only a grip full of counters and removal but also other traditionally obnoxious cards like
Tormod’s Crypt.

I haven’t looked too deep into other decks that could play him, but one option I would start with is Chord of Calling Elves. Wirewood Hivemaster is an
awesome backup plan in a world of Mental Missteps, and you already had access to white mana to cast Mirror Entity. Being able to Chord up an Orim’s
Chant would be a huge step forward in fighting Mental Misstep. Something along the lines of the old Standard Project X deck could also be borderline
reasonable, where your deck is 90% good value G/W/B creatures and 10% the ability to just combo over the top of fair decks. Again, Chord of Calling
would be your tutor engine, which dodges the awkward cost of this card.

In lower power formats, combo decks are in danger of being raced by RDW variants. This card will gain at least twelve life against them while being
more reasonable to cast than Kor Firewalker, as well as not being vulnerable to Dismember. Both of these things will be very relevant in a
Splinter-Blade shell, especially as the red decks in Extended will be faster and less likely to let you live to cast a tutored Batterskull. It also
doesn’t hurt that this card is much better against random other things like Tempered Steel than Firewalker is. This will be solid sideboard card,
though I can’t see it cracking Legacy due to the fact combo almost always is non-white and outraces red decks anyways.

For those of you interested in doing fair things, this card will probably be similarly good if not better in the same scenarios. It even stabilizes
your life total and your planeswalker’s loyalty counts at the same time.

I didn’t really consider this card at first, but Mike Flores brought up that it provides a cheap threat that control decks have to answer. I’m not sure
if it is better than Jace Beleren in current Standard, but if it is, it will probably be because it can attack down their Jaces (possibly so you can
stick your own). It probably at the least is a very good board card for Splinter Twin, as it pulls removal from other control decks that would
otherwise hit your combo. It probably is good against Valakut if your deck is reasonably counter heavy, letting you actually get somewhere midgame
while you sit with a bunch of mana up each turn in order to not die.

People are going to build mill decks because this card exists. They will not be good. If you are one of those people, listen up and learn why:

Mill is essentially the same thing as Burn. Until they start printing creatures that mill people efficiently or something similar, you are devoting
full cards to attacking your opponent’s “life total” without interacting with the board. Past Millstones gave you conversion rates similar
to a Granite Shard kill. The problem is non-creature Burn is only viable when you have a critical mass of it. Sure, Mill has Tome Scour as a Lava Spike
and Archive Trap as a Fireblast, but you can’t build a Burn deck off eight cards. You still need around 30 more. Jace represents a mill
“creature,” but he can just do that on his own without the help of other mill spells. In fact, you are probably better off just being a
real control deck and using the slots on things that help Jace live. In fact, a Jace control deck will probably be awesome, as the combination of card
advantage and gaining loyalty puts them into an awkward situation, where answering him translates into a lot of time or cards to stabilize. Once you
do, if he is still in play, then he just starts milling them.

Short version: Don’t play straight up mill, and especially don’t do so because of Jace.

I don’t know what this card is going to do, but the effect is really powerful. I have visions of untapping this card and “dredging” through
multiple Windfalls a turn. It is cute that Deceiver Exarch untaps this, letting you dig extra hard for a Splinter Twin. Like Azure Mage, this card also
pulls removal very well.

This card is worse than Preordain. By a lot. The synergy with fetchlands just turns it into a Preordain. There is a reason Ponder never saw play
outside of combo decks and Legacy tempo, and Preordain is a multi-format staple that has only not eclipsed Ponder in Legacy because people are slow to
change. The complaint I’ve heard multiple times is that you keep both cards with Preordain too often. Must be nice. Notice how the
“nightmare” scenario on Preordain is that your cards are all good, while the bad scenario on Ponder is you have to keep a blank draw step
or two, as you need the one card you see—aka your cards are bad.

That said, you probably want both in a combo deck. Eight digging cantrips is definitely not the maximum.

This is not a Dredge card. Dredge already could Brainstorm or Breakthrough for the same number of cards, and both of those actually do something as the
first draw spell other than draw one. If this ever sees play in Dredge, it is going to be heavily dependent on the Overextended or Modern banned list.

This is not a Pyromancer Ascension card, in multiple ways. First off, it’s almost entirely win more. If you have 20 cards in the graveyard, that
probably means you have an active Ascension. Maybe if you decide Archive Trap is the best kill, but I don’t see that being true.

Second, even if you are just looking for marginal cantrips, is this better than Gitaxian Probe or do you need more than twelve cantrips (Ponder and
Preordain being auto includes)?

Finally, Pyromancer Ascension isn’t actually a realistic deck in Standard. The problem is that you can’t reliably just have the card early enough to
matter, and drawing it late isn’t enough. With Time Warp, you could still hit an Ascension late and get to lethal in a relevant time frame, usually one
turn if not immediately. Without Time Warp, you are looking at a turn to get it going and probably at least another two to actually kill them, assuming
you didn’t have to burn most of your draw power to find the card, making it awkward to activate. At that point, your Ascension is probably better off
as any other control win condition, as those don’t ask nearly as much of the way you build your deck. That’s not to say the deck is completely
unplayable, but it is not anywhere close to what it was last year, and it wasn’t even that good back then.

I feel like this card does something for the Dream Halls deck in Legacy, but I’m not actually sure what that deck does any more to win, and I’m not
actually sure why it would be better than Hive Mind, as it has a bunch of actual blanks in it like Conflux. It makes Show and Tell a backup tutor and
might reduce the number of garbage cards you need in your deck to go off or possibly infinite, which might be relevant.

I want to cast Entomb for this guy. It probably isn’t actually worth it compared to just using Entomb the way “it was meant to be used” and
getting Iona or Jin-Gitaxias, but it might be a reasonable option for a Reanimator mirror.

If Modern becomes a format, this will help a more consistent Friggorid-style Dredge deck to exist should the now Standard builds be too
inconsistent/banned to see play. Not that it makes it much better; you just die on turn 4-5 to some 3/1s and 2/2s while having no hand instead of on
turn 2-3 to a bunch of hasted 3/3s while having no hand.

In some future Extended format where Faeries doesn’t exist, the ability to pre-pay on multiple Forks is going to make some Runeflare Trap player very
happy. In fact, given Jace’s Archivist, that time might be current Standard.

Non-interaction isn’t just for Constructed any more. Miss a three-drop on the draw? Dead. Color light? Dead. Get into a board stall after stabilizing
on life? Super dead. This format is going to be aggressive, and this card is going to effortlessly win a lot of games.

Yeah, it’s very possible that the time for Runeflare Trap could be now. This will also be interesting in some future Turboland-Time Warp shell in again
a non-Faeries Extended (assuming M10 is linked to Alara block for rotations and the format still exists in six months).

Even with this card, your Primeval Titans are better off getting Valakuts than Eye of Ugin. The best-case scenario is a turn-five Eldrazi attack, which
probably isn’t even as lethal as a turn-five Titan attack.

I’m not sold on the Final Fortune bandwagon with this card. It’s a three-card combo where one card is a blank unless you have Sundial that also relies
on having two artifacts in play. If anything, I foresee this card pulling Smokestack-, Tabernacle-, and Tangle Wire-related shenanigans, but I can
assure you I’m missing at least five awesome things this card can do. Just browsing one forum thread brought up the lock with Glacial Chasm.

Legacy Combo Update: Part Two

Week Three: Painted Stone

As the only combo deck to currently make The Source’s “Decks to Beat” forum, I couldn’t skip this deck.

I figured the best, or possibly easiest, place to start was the list that Top 8’ed Providence, even if it wasn’t one made by Caleb Durward. Plus, how
often do you get to play with awesome cards like Transmute Artifact?

I didn’t even get to the start of the event with this one. After about fifteen games, I was done.

First of all, the deck didn’t do enough per card. Basic interactive cards like Hymn to Tourach were a lot more obnoxious than they should have been.
Force of Will didn’t help, as you didn’t usually have cards to throw away, and neither did Misstep. Too often you would flood out on those cards (or
extra Moxes) and not have anything that actually helped you combo out.

Of course, you could in theory avoid a lot of this. The cards could be sacrificed, as you only need three mana in play to combo. Force got a lot better
when you could pitch lands or extra Mox Opals to it. The only problem is that none of this was remotely realistic because your combo pieces are so
fragile. I don’t want to play a combo deck that makes my opponent’s Swords to Plowshares or in-hand Qasali Pridemages live. Even something like
Umezawa’s Jitte, usually mediocre at best against combo, could shut you down. I played against Caleb’s B/W deck, otherwise known as the Do Nothing
Special, and could not beat a Phyrexian Revoker to save my life, even without a Mother of Runes to back it up.

Don’t even get me started on the mana. There is no way this deck ever interacts profitably with Wasteland.

If I was going to give this deck another try, I would start by cutting the Force of Wills and most if not all of the Mental Missteps. Instead, I would
run a few more Red Elemental Blasts, which cover most of the spells you actually care about, and some copies of Trinket Mage and Imperial Recruiter to
help assemble the combo. I would probably also add Auriok Salvagers, a couple more Lion’s Eye Diamonds, and a Nihil and Pyrite Spellbomb to let you
beat an Emrakul more reasonably as well as dodge certain hate cards like the aforementioned Phyrexian Revoker. For those who haven’t played the deck,
if your opponent has Emrakul, they just get to reshuffle their graveyard in after Grindstone resolves, and two Progenitus results in an infinite loop
and draw as they reshuffle mid-trigger while the last card in their deck ends up being Progenitus, as it eventually will be the last card, and it can’t
match the color of nothing.

The one awesome thing about this deck is the fact that it gets to use Intuition as a multi-card tutor with Goblin Welder. If you have an active Welder,
three mana for Intuition, and two artifacts, an end-of-turn Intuition wins the game as you get Lion’s Eye Diamond, Grindstone, and Painter’s Servant.
Regardless of which card they give you, all of them end up in play with you having mana to activate Grindstone. This might be better suited for another
artifact combo that I will probably end up playing in the future, but the fact Welder pulls Swords that would otherwise take down Painter’s Servants is
definitely a plus.

Week Three Redux: Dredge

With little time left before the event, I audibled to a pre-built copy of Max Brown’s Dredge deck that top 32’ed the Grand Prix.

Yes, the sideboard is a pile I built in five minutes. No, I did not have Firestorms; otherwise I would play five color lands to support them and board
three. Yes, there was a reason for every card in it. I wanted to see which Dread Return targets were actually relevant. I knew I didn’t want counter
hate for their hate, as it is completely unreliable and makes the deck very fragile, leaving just random cards like that to fill in the blanks as
upgrades. And finally, no, I did not find a Flame-Kin Zealot and had to play Urabrask instead.

In terms of what makes this list different from other lists, it is definitely configured to want to draw first as a discard outlet. Gitaxian Probe is
very good against blue decks where a Probe on turn two on the draw after dredging has four possible outcomes. Either they counter it and you still have
seven cards in hand to easily get back into draw-discard-dredge mode; they counter it and you just start running out better card draw as they are down
a counter; it resolves and you see a slow but stacked hand and you just discard for the turn and win that way; or it resolves and you shred their hand
with Cabal Therapy while still having extra dredges with no actual card investment. This more conservative game plan balances out the all-in nature of
Lion’s Eye Diamond, giving you a long game against blue decks while being explosive against other decks.

The deck ended up performing poorly, losing to Enchantress and Hive Mind. While the deck is definitely stacked against tempo and control, there aren’t
enough multiple draw effects to really out-power the other broken decks. There also needs to be a third Dread Return, if not in the main, in the board
so that you can access the effect when you need to, and Sun Titan was miserable and needed to be Sphinx of Lost Truths or something similar that
straight up draws cards as opposed to needing more setup. The number of lands and Dredge cards seemed correct however. I would start by cutting two
Gitaxian Probes and the Hapless Researcher for Careful Studies. Lion’s Eye Diamond was a lot better than I previously gave it credit for, mostly
because the unreliability is a lot less prominent once you move towards drawing first.

As for the sideboard monsters, Elesh Norn was awesome, as it not only would clean sweep your opponent but put them at dead on board in at most two due
to 4/4 Zombies. Blazing Archon and Platinum Angel were worse against most things, as you die if they are removed, but I would probably want one against
Merfolk because Elesh Norn is never killing their team, and Bridge is not reliable due to Cursecatcher. Realm Razer and Hypnotist did a good job of
ending the broken decks, and a Flame-Kin Zealot is just nice to have. Sheoldred and Empyrial Archangel were very narrow targets for Reanimator and Burn
respectively and can probably be cut. Aura Thief is considerable, but like the above is very narrow. The sideboard I would start with if I played the
deck again is:

4 Leyline of the Void
3 Firestorm
1 Dread Return
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Sadistic Hypnotist
1 Realm Razer
1 Blazing Archon
1 Aura Thief
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One

That said, I probably will not play this deck again. Even with the updates, the deck still feels too fair. You are relying too much on Ichorid grinds
and Cabal Therapies for it to feel like a true combo deck, not to mention the fact that it is extremely rare to go from zero to them dead or even
almost entirely dead in a single turn. Dredge almost feels more in the line of Affinity, where you present some linearly powerful spread of threats
that interacts awkwardly against the best fair answers in the format. I also hate the random dredge variance that occurs. Sometimes your target is in
your bottom five cards, or you don’t have Narcomoebas in your top 18 cards, or you don’t find a Dread Return, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
It’s even worse here than in other decks, as there are so many specific components required to actually kill them, and only one has to fall through for
you to brick. Dredge is definitely a good deck, but I still don’t feel comfortable piloting it against the field.

Week Four: Reanimator

Why sideboard all these random monsters when you can legitimately just maindeck all of them? This list was based off of the recent lists from
StarCityGames.com Opens piloted by Kyle Kloster and Eli Kassis.

My last experience with the deck was a few months ago, before New Phyrexia, and I had found the deck to be too inconsistent to win. Just making an Iona
often wasn’t enough, so you needed to Entomb the perfect guy and have the Reanimate that matched up with your mana or life total, which was near
impossible in a relevant timeframe without Mystical Tutor.

Things have changed a lot since then. First of all, Mental Misstep drastically extends the relevant timeframe, both by doing its job for you and
driving the decks that could force you to need it out of the metagame. Your life total stays in Reanimate range longer, and you get to bring back
non-perfect guys on more reasonable boards, as well as deflect Swords aimed at an Iona on another color.

Second, Jin-Gitaxias is just always the perfect guy, meaning you can run enough of one target that you reliably have it to discard when you can’t
Entomb. Even if he isn’t 100% ideal, he gets you what you want by next turn. Finally, going to eleven reanimation spells means you always have one,
probably even two to fight counters, whereas before it was just favorable that you had it without much effort.

The maindeck I played seemed solid. Terastodon might not be better than Angel of Despair, but that didn’t come up, and I felt the ability to just have
18 power or ‘Geddon them would be very relevant. Blazing Archon versus Platinum Angel or Emperion is easily debatable and could go in any direction.

I lost multiple games due to not drawing enough land, but those were mostly variance where I had 3-4 draws to hit any second land to win and just
couldn’t find it. If there were a way to add “half a land,” it would be nice, but I’m not sure how to manage that while still remaining
Wasteland resistant. Three Underground Seas were too many, and one should have been another fetch or basic. This deck really cannot afford to draw the
Sea and be Wastelanded, as unlike Storm you can’t just win off one land in play most of the time.

I also finally liked Force in a combo deck. Not only is the deck too fast and too tight on mana to fit in a Duress most of the time, you only need a
small window for Jin-Gitaxias to do his job, as opposed to full information about their answers. Just ending your turn is more than enough to lock up
most games with him in play.

As for the board, I wasn’t a huge fan of Pithing Needle. It falls too much into the “answers to answers” category, and I would prefer a
more versatile card like Stifle to back up Show and Tell as an answer to activated graveyard hate. The deck also felt a little short on lands to
support Show and Tell, and I would definitely want another land in the board. Echoing Truth was fine, and Elesh Norn was awesome again, but the other
two monsters are very negotiable. I really have no idea why Eli had Hymn to Tourach in his board and don’t think the card belongs in a combo deck over
something that actually hits what you want it to every time, like Spell Pierce or Thoughtseize. As for that card in the deck, I’m not sure if the
ability of Thoughtseize to be a discard outlet is more important than Spell Pierce eating their turn, but I would lean towards the latter due to the
speed of this deck making the Time Walk that much more relevant.

The end verdict? I would play this deck again immediately if I wasn’t locking myself into playing something new next week.

My current queue of decks to play is Aluren, Elves, Hypergenesis, and Four Horsemen, but I’m open to other reasonable suggestions. Let me know of ideas
in the forums or @armlx on Twitter.