Feature Article – Austin Extended #3: Combo

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Friday, September 11th – With Zendikar promising much to prospective Extended, Quentin Martin rounds out his thought-provoking series looking at the building blocks that will underpin the new format. He looks at the Combo options available, and touches on other archetypes in light of recent spoiler information…

Until we know any better, there’s a new combo kid on the block. With Elves looking severely weakened and Desire dead, Hypergenesis looks to be holding the new combo crown. So you can follow me later, let me introduce what will almost certainly be the best combo deck:

There’s a lot of talk and rumour surrounding the deck, most of it the result of hearsay and fear, so let’s sift through that and find the truth. The most important fact is that we are dealing with, effectively, a one card combo, for the first time in history. Sure, you need to fill the deck with ‘big stuff’ to actually put into play, and you’re limited to running only cards that cost three or more, but at the end of the day, Hypergenesis kills with one card, of which you can play up to twelve copies(!), and on turn 3!

Let’s fuel that fear for a second, because if you do not have a healthy respect/fear for the deck, it will kill you and leave you looking very stupid in its wake. Thanks to the best card in the deck – Simian Spirit Guide – turn 2 kills happen fairly often. With two Spirit Guides in hand, there’s no reason you cannot kill on the first turn! To scare you further, there’s almost no reason not to run Gemstone Caverns which can, although incredibly unlikely, also lead to a turn one kill if going second!

That’s the scary news. The rest is, for the most part, much better. The deck is incredibly easy to hate and crumbles to several cards: Chalice of the Void, Silence, Ethersworn Canonist, Meddling Mage, Trinisphere, Trickbind, Remand, Spellstutter Sprite, or any counterspell; to name but a few. So it would seem that we have nothing to fear… not.

Life is seldom that simple. First, you have to draw, and cast, your (often sideboarded) out before they kill you. This means you have to have your answer in the first nine cards you draw or, more relevantly, in your opening hand. Game 1, this means you have to both have answers in your deck, and then have it in you hand, and then know that you’re playing against Hypergenesis so that you keep it. In subsequent games, you have to have it in your opening grip, or mulligan to it; and then you have to hope they don’t have their out!

As it turns out, most of the cards that are good against Hypergenesis can be grouped into two categories: artifacts or counterspells. This makes things for the Hypergenesis player a little easier. Not really being able to play cards that cost less than three is a crutch, but one that is not crippling. Ingot Chewer is a cheap and efficient answer to artifacts, and Vexing Shusher, in the matchups where it’s needed, can leave the combo unstoppable. Toils of Night and Day is the modern era’s sad replacement of Mana Short, but will almost always win the game for you on turn 3 on the play. I’m experimenting with a Qasali Ambusher for when you’re not entirely sure what your opponent is bringing in. Great Sable Stags might be an option too, though I am far from convinced, as they can be easily raced.

Maindeck, you have two Wipe Away to deal with every non-counterspell threat. They might even get you through a counterspell if they tap light on mana and you bounce a land in their end step. I’m playing two Shriekmaw main to deal with Canonist, but also to keep you alive a little longer if need be against a beatdown rush. They also double as additional cards you can put into play with Hypergenesis if you’ve not drawn spectacularly well, as you seldom actually need to win the turn you play it. They might just be better off as additional Wipe Aways.

After goldfishing the version Patrick Chapin suggested in a previous article, several things became apparent. First, Serum Powder is pants. It often makes you mulligan the hand because it isn’t another spell! It does nothing when you draw it at any other time, and if you play enough cascade spells, you don’t even need to mulligan too many hands. Second, twenty land is far too few; you cannot really afford to miss drops as most of your strength lies in your speed. I’m also not certain what the correct ‘big guys’ package is. There might be better options out there but, for now, they matter little.

I found that the two Wound Reflections were, for the most part, excellent. They were a straight two-card kill with Magister Sphinx, and they massively amplified almost all of your kills. However, I found that they fell into the overkill category. You don’t actually need to kill most of your opponents immediately, as just dumping a bunch of fatties is normally good enough. Also, sometimes you mulliganed into hands that went off and could only drop the Reflection, or one creature and Reflection; these hands would then get beaten by a single Path to Exile. There were also times where you’d go off ‘weakly’ on turn 3 and then again on turn 4/5 when you drew another boom-boom and the Reflection was again better off as another guy.

What this entailed was me cutting the Serum Powders and adding two land. I definitely wanted at least one additional Demonic Dread, as you can’t really have too many copies of a one-card combo. The games you manage to pick up against Fae maindeck are where you cast back to back cascade spells and they’ve only drawn one counter; often casting a Violent Outburst in their end step and then another in you turn for the kill (Fae, and other, decks are adapting now by playing some copies of Remand). You only lost against beatdown decks that hadn’t resolved a Canonist by not having a cascade spell or by not hitting you third land. This left me with one last slot.

I heavily considered the last Hypergenesis as it’s good to fight counters with (so you’re not dead when they counter the first three, and so you can suspend it and then force them to commit to at least two counterspells when it resolves), but found that you tended to lose game 1 against counters, and that Vexing Shusher is your ace after boarding anyway.

The realistic options were an extra fatty, land, Demonic Dread, Wipe Away, or Shriekmaw. I’ve yet to discover exactly what the critical mass is for big guys but, for now, I’m happy with sixteen with two Shriekmaws as back up. In all honesty, these last few slots will be completely determined by the metagame. If lots of people start playing Canonist, then the slot should be a Shriekmaw. If people start playing the artifacts, then play Wipe Away. I’ll be looking into what to do in the mirror later. So for now, I’m sorely tempted to play the third Demonic Dread; however, it is the only one of the cascade that is limiting as you have to have a creature in play to cast it. We will experiment with the possibly too safe third Wipe Away, although if I find that the two extra land is still too shy, I will immediately switch to a twenty-third land.

In short, Hypergenesis is much faster than every other combo deck, which will probably force the others to play Remand or some similar spell to keep up, though the matchup will still be negative. It is faster than every beatdown deck, so they will either need Canonist or discard main, but will still lose; after boarding, they will gain against you but will be too reliant on their hate and almost certainly lose one of the two. Counterspell decks look horrible main but I feel that a good sideboard plan, the awesome Shushers and bad/difficult play on their behalf, should mean that it might not be the brick wall it first seems. This leaves us with the mirror.

I’ve seldom seen a more random mirror. I’m still trying to work out what the hell happens. Normally when two combo decks race, it’s a matter of who goldfishes faster. However, here you will both go off from a Hypergenesis! Meaning that whoever has more or better fatties will win. This leads to some possibly very paradoxical conclusions. For instance, going second will be better as it gives you an additional card. If you have enough slots, it might be correct to board all but one of your Hypergenesis out for more big guys, so that you combo off theirs. This is what the Malfegors are for.

Maybe, rather than killing as soon as possible, the game will stall out as both players try to sculpt the best hand they can. If this happens, then cards like Persecute and Head Games will suddenly be the best plan. Alternatively, you could bring in a suit of your own Canonists to cascade into, thereby frustrating your opponent from going off and giving you a weak, but winning, beatdown plan! However the mirror craziness works out, the first game will be a total crapshoot, even if one of you plays whatever the best mirror fatty there is maindeck (Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, for example) for a slight edge.

Now it’s time to look at what else is left in the format. Scourge took every Storm spell with it when it rotated out… except for the Timeshifted Dragonstorm. This is a deck we are all very familiar with. Pretty much the only real decisions are what to do with the last couple of slots maindeck, the land and the sideboard.


4 Dragonstorm
4 Bogardan Hellkite
4 Seething Song
4 Rite of Flame
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Remand
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Ponder
1 Magma Jet
1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

4 Steam Vents
4 Shivan Reef
4 Dreadship Reef
4 Unstable Geyser
3 Island
2 Cascade Bluffs
1 Mountain

4 Gigadrowse
3 Trickbind
3 Pyroclasm
2 Pact of Negation
2 Akroma, Angel of Fury
1 Magma Jet

It might be the case that getting to nine mana in time is just not feasible given the speed of the format. It might be the case, much like Mind’s Desire in Pro Tour: Berlin last year, that Dragonstorm is both inferior to the format’s best combo deck and dies to exactly the same hate that people will already be packing for Hypergenesis.

Initially, I built the deck to kill as quickly as possible, running the full set of Sleight of Hands and a Manamorphose. However, this would have left it cold against a maindeck Canonist and an auto-loss to Hypergenesis, so I added the Remands and Magma Jet. I’ve no clue exactly what to do with the last few sideboard slots, so I’ve just plonked Akroma, Angel of Fury in there for good measure.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heat for Tooth and Nail. It was the first deck that taught us that stupidly expensive spells deserved a look. It hasn’t gained much, but it’s not lost anything either. It now has a solid game against Fae thanks to Great Sable Stag and, thanks to running maindeck Kitchen Finks, isn’t as bad as it used to be without Moment’s Peace against beatdown. I’m not saying this is the deck of decks, but I like to keep it in mind, even though the Hypergenesis matchup looks a bit icky.

Tooth n’ Nail

4 Golgari Signet
4 Wall of Roots
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Reap and Sow
4 Tooth and Nail
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Chrome Mox
2 Eternal Witness
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sundering Titan
1 Triskelion
1 Grim Poppet
1 Platinum Angel

5 Forest
4 Verdant Marsh
4 Urza’s Tower
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant

4 Great Sable Stag
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Trinisphere
1 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Viridian Shaman
1 Triskelion
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

I’ve kept this list as streamlined as possible, even running all the Chrome Mox to maximise your speed and the efficiency of Chalice of the Void. It is easy to switch some Forests for Overgrown Tombs and some of the new sac-lands to give you access to Cranial Extraction or Thoughtseize in the board. It is just as easy to replace them, and the Signets, with White sources for Path to Exile and Ethersworn Canonist. Another option would be to play UG Tron, the last deck left around to abuse Life From The Loam.

UG Tron

4 Simic Signet
4 Wall of Roots
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Remand
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Chrome Mox
3 Sylvan Scrying
1 Eternal Witness
1 Tooth and Nail
1 Life From The Loam
1 Triskelion
1 Sundering Titan
1 Platinum Angel
1 Mindslaver

1 Tolaria West
1 Academy Ruins
1 Forest
4 Breeding Pool
2 Yavimaya Coast
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Urza’s Tower
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant

4 Great Sable Stag
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Flashfreeze
1 Naturalise
1 Oxidise
1 Viridian Shaman
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

UG Tron has been a favorite deck of mine. I played it in Pro Tour: Valencia to a solid money finish. It took a huge hit when Moment’s Peace left the format and hasn’t really been the same since. The goods are still here though. It has durability and a certain kind of inevitability, thanks to the Life From The Loam engine, which will always make it a contender. It has a good matchup against Hypergenesis and is solid against Fae.

I’d like to squeeze a Grim Poppet or another Triskelion (whichever proves better now we live in an M10 world) into the sideboard. If the mirror proves popular, then a Ghost Quarter is a deal breaker. I’ve not tested running three Sylvan Scryings — I used to run just one. They help speed up the deck against beatdown. I consider the extra two to be slots. It’s also definitely an option to have an extra Tooth and Nail in the sideboard for those matchups. Condescend is an option for the slot, as is bringing the Tarmogoyfs in from the board; there’s also a petty good chance that they’re fine as they are, heh.

I find that this deck, if played tightly and well, has even to just good matchups against almost everything, with all its negative ones being only just poor. Feel free to switch the Tarmogoyfs and Remands around depending on test results and metagame. A definite contender.

ALERT: It’s just been revealed that enemy sac-lands are in Zendikar. My first reaction is one of sadness, as I was actually looking forward to honest manabases in Extended. They’ll be fine in Standard with the M10 land but, until the Ravnica dual lands rotate out, we’ll have glorious manabases for several years in Extended.

This doesn’t have too powerful an effect on the series I’ve written so far, but it does mean that Sundering Titan is still good, and that decks can now splash every color of the rainbow. It also means that Zoo will likely be the beatdown deck of choice again, and that there is little profit to trying to stay mono-colored. Vedalkan Shackles is also now available again to every Blue deck.

I’ve added in the sac-lands to the decks already featured in this article. Now to look at what I estimate to be a weak version of Elves.

Elves doesn’t really look like it has the power compete with Hypergenesis now, as it feels like it’s lost some of its speed and a lot of its power. Wirewood Symbiote was the main reason you almost never fizzled whilst going off, it also protected your guys, let you block indefinitely against beatdown and, most importantly, let you draw endless cards with Elvish Visionary.

Birchlore Rangers was also a huge loss as it took away one of the best one-mana guys, one of the mana accelerators, and the ability to access any color of mana whilst going off. It might well be necessary to fill his void with Manamorphose if colored mana is needed. For now though, I’m trying an Essence Warden and a Hurricane as the kill, although there is probably a colorless one available to us that I just can’t think off.

I think Weird Harvest might well be the better engine to build around as Chord of Calling seems to have lost a fair bit, thanks to the absence of Wirewood Hivemaster. Cloudstone Curio deserves a mention as one possible direction to go too. I feel that not only has the deck lost a reasonable amount, but that it falls prey to some of the hate that people are bringing to the fore against Hypergenesis. Mindbreak Trap also looks nifty here. However, Elves has a lot of durability. It might turn out that beating people down with the threat of going off always looming becomes the angle; or that something akin to the t2 version with Ranger of Eos and Primal Command will be the way to go.


4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Heritage Druid
4 Glimpse of Nature
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Boreal Druid
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Summoner’s Pact
3 Weird Harvest
2 Regal Force
2 Viridian Shaman
2 Essence Warden
1 Eternal Witness
1 Hurricane

1 Pendelhaven
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Marsh
8 Forest

There were a couple of combo decks around last season that I’m going to mention briefly now, just so they’re there in the back of everyone’s mind. First, here’s a spicy Gifts deck that managed to win a PTQ. I’ve never played it and have only really re-jigged the manabase. I’m not entirely certain that the deck should be playing Spellstutter Sprites, but I’ll leave it as is for now.

Kiki Gifts

1 Chalice Of The Void
1 Chrome Mox
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Body Double
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Pestermite
2 Reveillark
3 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Trinket Mage
3 Gifts Ungiven
2 Lightning Helix
4 Mana Leak
3 Kiki-jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
2 Firespout
1 Resurrection
1 Wrath Of God

1 Ancient Den
1 Great Furnace
2 Island
1 Snow-covered Island
1 Snow-covered Plains
1 Cascade Bluffs
4 Unstable Geyser
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Reflecting Pool
3 Rugged Prairie
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Minamo, School At Water’s Edge

Another deck with affair amount of success was the re-think of Dredge. Using Magus of the Bazaar, Ideas Unbound and Glimpse the Unthinkable to fuel the graveyard, the classic Dredge engine did the rest. Bloodghast might well get a look in a new version which could adapt to be a little bit more reanimator-ish thanks to the awesome power of Iona, Shield of Emeria. However, my brain is about fried re-inventing and re-visiting ideas that work in the new format, so I’ll leave most non-land Zendikar cards for another time!


4 Misty Rainforest
2 Island
3 Unstable Geyser
2 Steam Vents
4 Watery Grave
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 Fatestitcher
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
1 Golgari Thug
4 Magus of the Bazaar
2 Mulldrifter
4 Narcomoeba
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Bridge from Below
4 Chrome Mox
1 Darkblast
3 Dread Return
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
2 Goblin Lore
4 Ideas Unbound

1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Blazing Archon
2 Firespout
3 Echoing Truth
2 Gemstone Caverns
4 Chalice of the Void
2 Thoughtseize

I’ve been trying to work on a control WRU deck abusing Isochron Scepter, but it will probably be a bit reactive and might well run Mystical Teachings to find a singleton Silence (not to mention Mindbreak Trap). Sadly though, I’ve yet to piece together a good enough version, so I will close this series with it left as a fledgling idea.

I wanted to restate that the printing of the new sac-lands means the format isn’t as new as it was originally looking. However, most of this article is still useful, although a lot of the decks now require a little tinkering with before the decks can be translated directly into your gauntlet. The ideas, for the most part, still hold true. I’ll be back in a little while, looking into the decks I think are tier 1, with a bit more experience playing them!

Until then…