Food for Thought: Unforgivable Sin

As I look across the strange, malleable place that Type Two is in, I said to myself “Why are there no good combo decks?” I mean, sure, there’s a goofy little reanimator my friend loves tossing around, but it’s just not consistent enough. There’s Snakes, but… I mean, seriously. It’s snakes. Where can you take it from there? Instead of the boring stuff you’ve already seen, I’m going to give you something completely different today that is not only interesting but also moderately competitive as well.

Hello there. As I look across the strange, malleable place that Type Two is in, I said to myself “Why are there no good combo decks?” I mean, sure, there’s a goofy little reanimator my friend loves tossing around, but it’s just not consistent enough. There’s Snakes, but… I mean, seriously. It’s snakes. Where can you take it from there?


In the beginning I set up a few combo fundamentals for the deck:

1) It has to be resilient. Even though maindeck Cranial Extractions aren’t exactly commonplace, you do run the risk of getting your favorite enabler removed. You need a backup plan or amazing resiliency (this deck features both).

2) It has to win with one big spell. It’s Brain Freeze. It’s High Tide. It’s Tooth and Nail. These are the combo decks of Standard past, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. They showed the rough and tumble world of Magic that there are decks and ideas that reach further than “Swing in for two.”

3) It has to do all of this by turn 4, consistently. That’s consistently. That’s not turn 10. The problem with such incredible yet unpredictable decks like the recent Elemental Bidding in Extended is that it just had no consistency. In my mind, if you don’t have your combo, you better be searching for it.

This is where the blue beauty herself, Gifts Ungiven, enters the picture.

When I first built this deck, I tried a “toolbox” approach. You know, when you can play any Instant or Sorcery for free, why not throw the book at em? I had such ridiculousness as Plague Wind, Hour of Reckoning and Bioryhthm in there (forgive me, I was in Deck Theory mode). As time went on, I found out a few things:

a) You’re going to win using the other player’s deck. This is wicked fun in the same line as the “Stop hitting yourself” game bullies are so apt to play.

b) The only spell you need to resolve is Sins and the only target you need is Eternal Dominion

It was said that Dominion kept rising in mana cost because it was too dangerous. Then, of course, Wizards gave us Dredge (the most brokingly-broken mechanic since Affinity) and Sins of the Past. Six mana for a ten mana spell? Sounds like a bargain.

Allow me to present Unforgivable Sin v1.0:

It is pretty ridiculous when you see decks doing all they can, between fighting a Jitte war or throwing down a dozen guys and turning them sideways to try and stop you, but it is almost always game over when Sins of the Past resolves targeting Dominion. It’s as simple as that.

Why? Win conditions, for one. While this deck could, potentially, swing with Stinkweed For The Win 20+ times, it relies on the opponent for a win condition. And they have plenty, let me tell you. Meloku? How ya doing. Keiga? You’re awful popular. Yosei is also a good, often-seen choice. These guys have no place in your deck, but opponent’s decks are full of em.

Better yet, “little” creatures that you can sink mana into (I’m talking to you, Nezumi Graverobber) simply propel this deck into the stratosphere. You really want something you can throw mana into if possible, such as the aforementioned Graverobber or a regenerating Ink-Eyes. Something an innocent as Trophy Hunter against a deck sporting a gamut of fliers is as good as it gets.

The rest of the deck is either me searching for Sins of the Past (Sensei’s Divining Top, Compulsive Research, Ideas Unbound, Gifts Ungiven), or me getting Eternal Dominion in the graveyard (Compulsive Research, Ideas Unbound, Gifts Ungiven, Darkblast, Nightmare Void, Stinkweed Imp, Life from the Loam). As you may have noticed, some of these methods overlap, and that’s never a bad thing.

As for what’s against the deck at this point, I believe it’s the mana base. While I almost always have a Green source for that second-turn Elder or first-turn Bird, that’s not always the case. Currently I’m trying to find the right mix of pain, shock, and basic lands. I feel the list above is a good start but could be improved.

I would like to take this time to bemoan the fact we don’t have fetchlands in Standard. Oh how nice those would be. 4 Polluted Delta alone would smooth this deck’s sloppy mana base unlike anything I could do currently. But no matter! The reason for this deck’s existence is to explode as soon as possible. Turn 4 wins are possible and are reproducible. Here’s what you’ll normally see:

One of my favorite parts of an article that includes Gifts is the “Ideal Gifts Targets Section”, so here’s mine:

Standard Gifts Package When You…

Lack both Dominion and Sins of the Past = Stinkweed Imp, Sins of the Past, Recollect, Reclaim

I’m guessing at this point they’ll have a creature out and you’ll be looking for the win. This means they’ll probably not give you the Stinkweed. This we will dredge until we can hit Eternal Dominion as well as giving us a fantastic blocker. They’ll probably saddle you with Stinkweed/Recollect at worst, making you pay another three mana to combo off. Just play Stinkweed and wait for it to die, leaving Sins in the yard until you need it.

Have Dominion In Hand = Compulsive Research, Ideas Unbound, Sins of the Past, Reclaim

They’re pretty much screwed here, particularly if they have no counter mana (or counterspells period). At worst you’ll get Reclaim and Sins of the Past, setting you back a turn but giving you the ability to pay 1 mana and get whichever draw spell fits best. Then you just combo out a turn or two later, depending on your mana accelerants.

(Most Common) Dominion in Graveyard = Sins of the Past, Reclaim, Recollect, (something… usually Putrefy)

At this point they’re going to give you the win, at worst providing you with Recollect to make you pay 9 mana to win or set you back another turn.

Sins of the Past in Hand = Eternal Dominion, Compulsive Research, Ideas Unbound, (something)

At this point you want Eternal Dominion in the graveyard and, like it or not, they’re going to give you the ability to combo out next turn or the one after it.

Some Things To Keep In Mind

1) Don’t combo out just because you can

Pay attention to the game state. Unlike Tooth and Nail, you can’t just go off because you can (but usually you’ll win anyway). If they have two huge creatures, you need to be able to handle at least one of them bashing in if you don’t control a creature (as playing Eternal Dominion should net you one of theirs, or a copy of one of their legends, etc). If you can’t handle that you need to work on dropping the Elder in your hand and playing Putrefy.

2) Gifts is the most important card in the deck

As with any deck that features the Big Blue Wonder, Gifts is really incredible and is essential to winning. It basically says 3U, Instant, Go Search Your Library For The Win and Put It Into Your Hand. There is no situation that you shouldn’t be able to Gifts out of. I don’t know if my examples are perfect, but I do know that they win me the games in which those situations arise.

Deck Matchups and Sideboarding

Boros / Heavy Aggro (Mono Green, etc)

Weenie decks are a funny and finicky creatures that can push through some amazing damage… but rarely enough. The problem, however, isthat you need to be able to use Eternal Dominion to destroy their creatures while you must also destroy their Jitte. This push/pull can lead to a lost game rather quickly. This is where smart play and using Putrefy before you Sins of the Past into Eternal Dominion helps. Sideboarding also swings this matchup quite a bit, because Boros simply can’t beat Darkblast.

-1 Nightmare Void

-1 Tidings

-3 Ideas Unbound

+1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror

+3 Darkblast

+1 Kokusho, the Evening Star

In this matchup you bring in the Clouded Mirror of Victory, to either stop an early assault or finish off a long game. They almost always side out their Fetters (if they’re running them) when they think you’re creatureless except for Stinkweed and Elders, leaving you with a huge game-ender. Darkblast in your opening hand is pretty much game over for Boros. You dredge away their Isamaru, you dredge away their Legionnaires, you wait for them to do something significant.


Been playing a lot of this lately, and I think it’s a neat deck. The environment with Glare and Yosei so prevalent is letting things relax a little, and when it comes to slow… ain’t nothing slower than Gifts. This slow grind of a deck is like using a nail file to cut off a limb – just slow enough to get the job done, but it hurts like hell and when you’re done you’ve almost killed yourself. I’ve seen the poor folks who run 10 rounds of Gifts, their eyes bloodshot and their speech muffled.

Anyway, you’re off to the races here. Just explode as fast as possible. You’re running nothing to rid them of Gifts, and if they don’t know what you’re playing they won’t Gifts correctly. You begin playing Birds, Elders and Overgrown Tombs they have you on the Rock and settle in with Wear Away and all of those other silly spells you don’t care about. You’ll want something juicy like Meloku when you combo, followed up by Ink Eyes. When you pull out Kokusho or Kagemaro, they should be scooping.

Sideboarding is basically the Cranial War. He who wins it (usually the Gifts guy because he goes first) wins the game. “Cranial Extraction your Cranial Extraction.” Daaamnit. And just when I thought it was safe to win. And don’t think you have time to win, either. They have built-in ways to get that Cranial back, and you’re just trying to goldfish at that point. That ain’t going to happen.

So if you can get your Cranial off first, of course take out their Cranial Extractions for them. Then take out Gifts. After that, you can take out a variety of answers, anything from Sickening Shoal to Putrefy. Then combo out, grab a 5/5 Flying Legendary Dragon Spirit or your favorite flying Wizard and have at it.

-3 Ideas Unbound

-2 Putrefy

+4 Cranial Extraction

+1 Pithing Needle

Just hope you can get your Cranial off before they do and you’ll be fine.

Glare of Subdual / G/W Beats

These decks are just plain ole beatdown decks with a great little enchantment. Unfortunately, Eternal Dominion proves it has a hard time with the mirror and, depending on the decklist, you may even find a G/W build running Kami of Ancient Law so you can grab one and rid yourself of his Glare before you go get one for yourself next turn (Remember: Eternal can grab artifacts, lands, creatures, and enchantments).

So before you know it you have a Guildmage or two, some Fists of Ironwood, and your own Glare of Subdual. Just watch your life total and go all out.

-3 Ideas Unbound

-1 Nightmare Void

-1 Tidings

-1 Sins of the Past

+3 Darkblast

+3 Pithing Needle

After boards you Needle down the appropriate targets and hope they don’t get Seed Sparked while you combo out on them. Darkblast should take care of any other pesky problems (read: Selesnya Guildmage).

Control (Mono U, U/B, etc)

Control decks rely on the fact they can answer threats, get ahead in cards and tempo, and then win. Which is great… as long as I can’t disrupt you with Putrefy or card draw spells to fuel my combo (Compulsive Research, Ideas Unbound), and if I get a Nightmare Void going… it’s elementary. In fact, it’s interesting to see how they all react the same way when I finally get the last counter from them via ‘Void. Each and every one will lay down a big creature, defiantly, as if they can’t believe I would ever be able to stop Meloku. Yeah, I can do that. Particularly now I can go off safely. Wait for them to run out of counters, destroy anything else that poses a problem. Wash, Rinse, Fill Out Match Slip.

-3 Ideas Unbound

-1 Svothgos, the Restless Tomb

-1 Forest

-1 Sins from the Past

-1 Tidings

+3 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

+4 Cranial Extraction

You may notice at this point that I’ve been siding out Ideas Unbound for every matchup. That’s because it fills that “Goldfish Principle” of the deck, i.e. the deck just goldfishes better with Ideas Unbound in there, and because of that fact I can then take them out as necessary, seeing them as the least important parts of the puzzle.

Otherwise, get rid of those extractions first thing if you think they’re running them, just like the Gifts matchup, he who can out-Cranial usually wins. Otherwise, get those spells in using Boseiju and try to win as quickly as possible. Control decks have a lot of answers in the form of Instant and Sorcery, a card type Eternal Dominion is not comfortable with.

Greater Good

You’re off the races! These decks face off and the first to the combo wins. Usually that’s you, but sometimes it isn’t. Even when you do go off, you face the problem of 4 Wrath of God and the potential of them playing the another Legend of the same name.

Sideboarding massages this matchup very well, giving you the outs necessary to win:

-3 Ideas Unbound (there it is again…)

-3 Putrefy

-1 Life from the Loam

+3 Pithing Needle

+4 Cranial Extraction

If they’re running Kokushos and Kagemaros, feel free to take out a Tidings and a Sins from the Past for Meloku and your own Kokusho from the sideboard. Just be sure to Cranial Extract their Wrath of Gods before you Eternal Dominion on them.

Where To Go From Here

At this point I’m still playing around with the manabase, and currently I threw in Svogthos to help me with an alternate win condition. Sometimes you may play a Heartbeat of Spring deck where they’re just aching to Maga or Blaze you to death and their only creatures are Sakura Freakin Tribe Elder. This is also the reason for Meloku and Kokusho in the sideboard: Sometimes you can run two threats that are better than any threats you could Eternal Dominion for. Simple as that.

I thought about using Transmute in this deck. For example, swapping out Tidings and Ideas Unbound to simply go fetch what I needed by using Ethereal Usher as a six-mana tutor for Sins of the Past and Dimir House Guard as another copy of Gifts or Cranial. These could help the deck but also Hinder it in that I’m trading card draw for tutoring, and sometimes it’s nice to grab a Putrefy with your Compulsive Research in addition to finally getting Gifts in your hand. Your mileage on this one may vary.

This deck began as an experiment in breaking Sins of the Past. And, shy of Sway the Stars, the biggest and baddest Sorcery in Standard takes center stage on this one. It’s not always a guaranteed win, but with the variety of targets and the inevitability this deck provides, I think you’ll find it a solid and powerful choice to try out.

Good luck, thanks for reading my words.

– Evan “misterorange” Erwin