Down And Dirty – The Perfect Two-Card Combo

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Extended decks come in all shapes and sizes – that’s what makes the current metagame so great. There’s aggro for you beatdown fans, control in the all-powerful Counterbalance / Top, and a myriad of combo decks that pile out a win in the first few turns. Today’s Down And Dirty sees Kyle take us through a combo deck with a difference: It needs two spells, and you only need to cast one! Intrigued? Then read on…

Extended blows my mind in a way that no other substances that I’ve encountered up to this point can do. Deckbuilding has never been so open and free, and everyone seems to be churning out new and exciting deck lists. There’s something so rewarding about going in the tank for a couple of hours and coming out of MWS, Apprentice, MTGO, or The Gatherer with a tight new package that few people have ever thought about. I’m not trying to build up the illustrious lifestyle of a deckbuilder, but you really do feel like you’ve actually accomplished something when you have a 75 that you are excited enough about to sleeve up and take to further playtesting levels.

And personally I don’t get all that excited much now-a-days, but Extended Magic never fails to keep me interested. It’s the purest form of competition. And there’s nothing more fulfilling than watching your opponent mulligan to four while you proceed to take a sledgehammer and crush his skull like a pancake.

Combo decks are extremely tricky, both to design and to adjust to fit the perceived metagame. In a format as open as the current Extended, it is also very easy to get side tracked with all of the flashy goings on of Tarmogoyfs, Counterbalances, Confidants, and Storm based strategies. The real problem with the format is that there are too many options. You can form a very consistent manabase around whatever 34-40 spells you want to cast, which forces many people to splash a 3rd, 4th, and 5th color to your basic UW control deck, to keep up in power with all the other decks splashing for power.

I’ve been trying to work out the kinks in a deck using the two-card combo of Greater Gargadon and Balancing Act for the past week and a half. The best thing about this combo is that you only need to resolve one spell to win the game, since Gargadon can be suspended with very few ways to disrupt it.

The most important part about building and tuning a combo deck is not to lose focus. The goal of this deck is to get Greater Gargadon and Balancing Act together. To do this it uses Eladamri’s Call, Burning Wish, Magma Jet, and Sensei’s Divining Top with shuffle effects to obtain both pieces. Winning from there often isn’t too hard since the opponent’s hand and permanents will often be too demolished to weather the force of repeated Gargadon hits.

The Journey

I’ve gone through many different versions of this deck in a frustrating mess because of all the options available. It started out as a RWg deck with Lightning Helix and Mogg War Marshal, with no Black. After playing a few games it became increasingly obvious that this deck isn’t going to be able to hang in the format if it doesn’t have some way to combat all the one-mana disruption spells floating around. Pithing Needle, Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Thoughtseize were all causing big problems. So I added Duress and Thoughtseize of my own.

Mogg War Marshal was testing wonderfully in this deck until I started talking to Adam Yurchick, who made fun of me for playing the little Goblin that could. Honestly, it’s a perfect fit. It stalls Goyfs n’ Dorans. It stops any of those pesky Dark Confidant nibbles. It removes three counters from Gargadon in a pinch. He really did fill all the roles that I was looking for in the deck.

Then, after talking more with dear Adam, Pernicious Deed hopped on the table and I haven’t regretted cutting War Marshal since. While Mogg does cover all the creature-based problems for the deck, he doesn’t have near the destructive capability that Deed has right now. Not only does it completely nullify anything Chase Rare Control can cough up, but it also deals with those annoying artifacts and enchantments that can ruin the combo, like Astral Slide, Pithing Needle, and Counterbalance.

It really is absurd how good Deed is right now. In every matchup it causes significant problems for the opponent, whether Goblins are having trouble keeping a decent amount of creatures down or Enduring Ideal is short mana because you blew up Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism during their upkeep, Pernicious Deed really does it all to buy you enough time to set up the combo.

Then I started losing more games, so I went back to the Mogg War Marshal build and started winning again. I didn’t get it, but while Deed seems to out-perform War Marshal in every aspect, the fact was that I didn’t have that early-game creature to remove spare counters from Gargs and save me some damage. Deed is a better card, but by playing it I would take much more collateral damage that would end up costing me against any of the Goyf decks. Deed also interferes with the curve since it will usually take a turn to play it, and a turn to activate it, and this deck just doesn’t have that kind of time to spare.

Its usefulness is still overwhelming though, so I cut the previously main deck Castigates and singleton Mystic Enforcer to make room. The Enforcer was in there as an alternate kill condition if they somehow negate Big Gargs. It never came up in well over 50 games, so he got the boot.

The idea was cute, since Eladamri’s Call is in the mix you can really play any creature in Extended to form some kind of tool box choice for whatever you need. Wispmare and Ingot Chewer also used to be in the starting lineup, but their effectiveness was diminished with the addition of Deed. Wispmare remains a very good sideboard option though, since its three casting cost will usually be able to get around Counterbalance. Another option I’ve been toying with is to cut a Mogg for a single Tarmogoyf, with the logic being that they are both efficient blockers with the exception that I can set up a post-Balancing Act Goyf via Eladamri’s Call to win the occasional game or two. Eternal Witness is another dooder that I’d like as a one-of, but the situations where he’d be applicable are few and far between, and he remains another one of those cute ideas that will never pan out.

The Sideboard

1 Balancing Act
1 Morningtide
1 Overmaster
1 Wrath of God
1 Hull Breach
1 Pyroclasm
1 Kodama’s Reach
1 Deathmark
1 Ingot Chewer / Wispmare
3 Moment’s Peace
3 Castigate

Most of these are pretty standard and I don’t really have anything creative to offer other than Kodama’s Reach. The slot was Life from the Loam before, but Kodama’s Reach does everything Loam does, but better (for this deck). Not only can you actually find lands to prevent Magus of the Moon from hurting you, but it’s also a shuffle effect that can be Wished for if nothing is happening. Much like Fact or Fiction in most Cunning Wish sideboards.

I excluded Vindicate from the sideboard because I never found an opportune time to get it. Hull Breach or Deathmark almost always covered the situations where I would want a Vindicate, both at a fraction of Vindicate’s cost. Deathmark in particular has been especially handy for when the opponent had a quick Tarmo draw and I didn’t draw Mogg War Marshal for the trump.

Moment’s Peace is the best card against creature decks that intend to deal you twenty, and it’s especially worthwhile in combo decks like this one, where the goal is to buy enough time to set them up. Castigate is there to bring in when the Moggs aren’t doing anything, and are key pieces to clearing a path versus other combo/control decks in post board games.

I’m not sure which Elemental I want more in my sideboard. Ingot Chewer takes care of Needle while double downing versus Affinity and mana artifacts. Wispmare can squeeze you out of a Counterbalance and Dovescape lock. I’d like to run both, but I’m not sure what to cut. I suppose Morningtide would be an easy cut. If I am paired against Ichorid I will probably be too late casting a Morningtide on turn 3 or 4 to do any damage, assuming I get that far. If they have a spare Cabal Therapy, my plan is foiled. Against Loam decks I can’t see myself wanting to Burning Wish for Morningtide either, since they will also have access to Therapy/Duress/Thoughtseize, and will still have Loam to play with if they know what they’re doing.

Random Game #1

Opening hand:

Thoughtseize, Swamp, Flagstones of Trokair, Magma Jet, Greater Gargadon, Eladamri’s Call, Eladamri’s Call


Eladamri’s Call, Flagstones of Trokair, Sensei’s Divining Top, Mogg War Marshal, Wooded Foothills, Bloodstained Mire

A pretty good hand considering the Mulligan.

Turn 1 I lead out with Flagstones and Top. This way I can use Top during my upkeep to control all my draws for the rest of the game. I also already have half the combo with Eladamri’s Call, so I want to see as many cards as possible to find either Burning Wish or Balancing Act.

My opponent plays Stomping Ground, Kird Ape.

Turn 2 I use Top during my upkeep, moving Greater Gargadon to the top with only lands in sight, and draw Gargs. I play and sacrifice Wooded Foothills for Mountain and suspend Gargadon. I’m not too worried about the clock my opponent has, since I have Mogg War Marshal and another fresh Top coming up next turn.

His turn 2 he leads out with Tarmogoyf and bashes me for two with Kird Ape, putting me to 17.

On my turn I draw Flagstones and play it, after tapping my previous and sac’ing it to Gargadon, getting a Temple Garden. Then I send Mogg War Marshal out to defend against his dudes.

Next turn he swings in with Ape n’ Goyf and I block both with my Mogg and token and choose not to sacrifice them to Gargs. One of the ways you can get “caught” in this deck is by sacrificing too many permanents early on, not having enough Time Counters left on Gargs to sacrifice all the permanents and still have one left for next upkeep. This has caused a huge problem for me on MWS since most people just assume I’m some idiot who is forgetting plays. It also doesn’t help that the majority of people who test on that program are *ssholes with no respect or courtesy for the people they are playing.

I actually just finished a game where I mulliganed to five against someone named tomjoad under my MWS alias Tito Nash. He was playing Chapin’s Blue deck with Goyf, and he got an insane draw with three Goyfs out by turn 5. In the meantime I had been using Moggs to protect my throat, and was only one turn away from assembling the combo. I had been purposely missing Garg sacs to set up an Act down the line the entire game, which gave the impression that I had no business playing this game. I emptied his hand with Duress and Thoughtseize before using my Top to draw into the game winning Balancing Act. He has a land in hand with only a Top out, with the same cards on top that he had been looking at the whole game. I cast Act and sac all my permanents, he has the Counterspell as the third card in his library, and draws it with Top.

I offer up a “gg, g2 w sb?” and he insults me with “no, you’re not worth it.”

This kind of thing happens frequently on MWS, and I’m pretty sick of it. Everyone needs a hard reality check to the nuts. Just because you are sitting comfortably behind you computer and can say anything you want doesn’t mean that you should or have the right to do so. Now, tomjoad isn’t the worst offender I’ve met, but being that he is a frequent poster on these boards I thought I’d single him out.

He plays a Tarfire on my Token and suspends a Rift Bolt before passing. On his end step I used Top, only to see two Tops and a Magma Burst. I sac the 2nd Flagstones to Gargadon to shuffle away that crap and get a Godless Shrine.

My turn 4 I use Top during my upkeep and see a very nice Balancing Act, Plains, and another Mogg War Marshal, and draw the Mogg for my turn and play it to clog the ground for another turn.

His upkeep he kills my token with Rift Bolt and attacks with Ape n’ Goyf again. I take two, putting me to 15, and he attempts a Molten Rain on my Sacred Foundry. I let it resolve, and on my next turn I draw Balancing Act, tap Top to draw the Plains, play Plains, sac Bloodstained Mire to get another Sacred Foundry, and cast Balancing Act, sacrificing all my permanents.

He draws for his turn then scoops.

Although everything in this game seemed to go “perfectly,” a lot of it was due to my aggressive use of Sensei’s Divining Top, which is a huge factor when playing this deck. Often you will be met with the decision to either take damage or see more cards, and knowing when to see more cards and when to take damage is key to walking away with a winning record.

Another neat trick that I didn’t mention is that you can activate Top, tap Top to draw a card, sacrifice Top to Gargadon, let the draw ability resolve, then let the look at the top three resolve to see the fourth card of your library. Tricks like this don’t come up very often, but when you do actually win a game because of such a obscure play it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling that Grannie’s chunky chocolate chip cookies could only previously produce.

Random Game #2

Opening hand:

Eladamri’s Call, Eladamri’s Call, Magma Jet, Mogg War Marshal, Flagstones of Trokair, Bloodstained Mire, Stomping Ground

This hand isn’t too spectacular, but it has enough defense to get me far into the late game against a lot of the decks out right now, and will go crazy if I manage to draw a Top.

I was on he draw this game and my opponent led out with turn 1 Mountain, suspend Gargadon.

Knowing that this was the mirror, and seeing all of my anti-mirror cards in my hand like Flagstones and Mogg War Marshal, I knew all I’d have to do this game is sit back and wait for him to mess up. Stomping Ground, pass.

He plays a Windswept Heath into Plains for a Top of his own, and looked at the top three before passing it back to me.

I draw another Eladamri’s Call and play the Flagstones and pass the turn.

He makes a Sacred Foundry and Tops before passing the turn. On his end step I used Magma Jet to skim some lands off the top. I could have Called for Greater Gargadon here, but like I said earlier, it’s all about seeing the most cards as soon as possible. I drew into another land and Called for Gargadon and suspended him.

My opponent floated all his mana and brought his Gargadon down to two counters before casting Balancing Act, leaving each of us with three cards in hand and me with a Sacred Foundry in play thanks to Flagstones. My hand is Eladamri’s Call, Mogg War Marshal, Plains at this point, and the game is pretty much over. He has no way to deal with one Mogg War Marshal, and I have two thanks to Eladamri’s Call.

On my turn I send Mogg out there. He plays land and suspends another Gargadon, then sac’s the land to bring his first Garg in. I block it with my War Marshal and remove another counter from my Garg, bringing it to six.

I draw, play Forest, then pass. He attacks in again and I block, then cast Eladamri’s Call EOT, to which he disconnects.

This was actually my first mirrorish match that I’ve played with the deck, and I’m extremely confident in my version versus that of Kyle Millers from the NYC PTQ Top 8. Not only do I have discard spells to screw up his game plan, but Mogg War Marshal might be the best card for the mirror, acting as a superior Moment’s Peace to the opposing Gargs.

Random Game #3

Opening hand:

Greater Gargadon, Sensei’s Divining Top, Magma Jet, Thoughtseize, Flagstones of Trokair, Mountain, Swamp

Awesome starting hand. Enough land, half the combo, good disruption, plenty of deck manipulation. The next part is deciding how to play these cards. I’m on the play this game so I don’t want to lead out with Thoughtseize. Gargadon can wait til turn 3 if necessary. That gives me turn 1 Top, turn 2 Thoughtseize and Top, turn 3 Gargadon and Jet/Top/Flagstones. All depending on what my opponent does, of course.

So I send Top out there on turn 1.

He plays Flooded Strand.

Upkeep Top into Burning Wish, Temple Garden, Bloodstained Mire, draw Wish. Thoughtseize him, revealing Counterspell, Condescend, Mirari’s Wake, Compulsion, 3 lands. Taking Counterspell is the clear play here since its the only card that can for sure shut the combo down. He searches for Hallowed Fountain EOT, plays land and passes for his turn.

On my next turn I draw Bloodstained Mire, play it, then play Burning Wish, which fetches Balancing Act from my sideboard. This puts him back on his heels and will make him leave Condescend mana up the entire time, so my goal is to find another Wish, or one-mana disruption spell, to get my Act to resolve.

My next few turns were spent using a pair of Magma Jet and Top interactions with Flagstones and Fetchlands to find another Thoughtseize on turn 5. In the meantime my opponent used Krosan Verge to get some lands, still with a million cards in hand and no non-land permanents in play. I didn’t want to rush the Thoughtseize, so I decided to wait until I could play both Seize and Act in one turn. Instead I used Eladamri’s Call to fetch out another Gargadon, and another Eladamri’s Call on the next turn to get Mogg War Marshal to apply “some” pressure.

He lands a Compulsion with four untapped and ships the turn. Now that I have more than enough lands, double Garg, and Act in hand, I used Thoughtseize to strip his Condescend out and brought out my Gargadon using Flagstones and Mogg. I attacked, he discarded Moment’s Peace from his hand to Compulsion, then took 9, putting him at 5. No clue why he didn’t use Moment’s Peace, probably just wants to dig more… so I cast Act, sacking all my stuff to my second Gargadon. The card he drew off Compulsion was Remand, and since he had Moment’s Peace in yard and Wrath of God on top, I really couldn’t see myself winning this game.

I waited to see if I could draw into something, but once Garg came off suspension he had the Peace and Wrath to seal the deal.

I made a huge mistake that cost me the game? Do you see it? Give it a re-read, then check the answer in the footnotes.*

One of the major downsides to this combo is the “all-in” nature of it. You have to sacrifice all your permanents before Balancing Act resolves, which can sometimes prove fatal if they have some kind of permission or answer sitting on top of their deck. It’s funny, but the best card in this deck is Sensei’s Divining Top… but at the same time Top is this deck’s worst enemy, since they can hid answers to the combo from the discard spells.

Despite that, this deck is still a two-card combo where you only need to cast one spell to win, and yields a tremendous amount of explosive power. It’s also quite surprising the number of games you win without Balancing Act being involved. Sometimes all it takes is some Mogg beats, a Magma Jet singe, and a massive Gargadon hit to finish the opponents due to the low starting life totals of everyone.

This is also one of the easier-to-play combo decks of this Extended season. You don’t have to go through 200 steps to kill the opponent like in Cephalid Breakfast, or need then to deal themselves 4 damage to kill them with a Draco Explosion. You just sit back and wait for the draw to line up, and use your life total as a resource to buy you time.

Thanks for reading,


Top Head In Rainbows

1) Last Flowers
2) Videotape
3) Reckoner
4) Jigsaw Falling Into Place
5) Bangers & Mash
6) Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
7) Up On The Ladder
8) Faust Arp
9) 15 Step
10) Bodysnatchers

* On turn 3 I cast Burning Wish for Balancing Act. If I had Wished for Overmaster instead I could have ridden my Top and numerous shuffle effects to one of the maindeck Balancing Acts. My big problem this game was that I didn’t adjust from the fast-paced games that I was playing earlier, where you want to go off as fast as possible. Sometimes you just got to sit back and finagle the bagel.