Innovations – All Your Decks Are Belong To Us: Combo In Standard

Read Patrick Chapin every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, May 5th – Pro Tour: Hollywood is approaching, and people looking for a little meat in the current Standard environment. While most folk currently dine on Aggro faire, swinging for two again and again, there is more to the metagame than attacking. Today, Patrick Chapin explores two combo decks. Will these builds make a splash in Hollywood?

This week, we are going to take a look at two exciting combo decks made possible by Shadowmoor. One is based on a model from a previous deck that I talked about a while ago. The other is a brand new deck that features a few elements that many people have been talking about since Shadowmoor’s release. The major breakthrough there is that I have not heard of anyone combining the elements that I strive to marry in today’s second list.

Not too long ago, I was testing with National Team member, Michael Jacob (a.k.a. the MichaelJ who builds good decks…). Many people remember MJ for his Mono-Green aggro deck that demolished player after player last year. However, he has often championed unfair combo decks in every collectible card game from Vs to WoW to Magic. As such, I regularly return to Mike for advice on whatever crazy concoction I have been working on.

The day in question, MJ was piloting my five-color Seismic Swan deck that has apparently been beaten like the dead horse that it is. He remarked that the combo had tremendous appeal to him, but that he did not like the bizarre manabase, strange collection of one-ofs, and lack of focus.

We brainstormed on various alternatives, discussing things such as what he was really trying to accomplish with each card. Beseech the Queen was performing beautifully, but Glittering Wish, Sylvan Scrying, and Idyllic Tutor all only fetched a singular combo piece. What if we could use a tutor selection more in line with classic Dragonstorm?

Mike qualified for Nationals last year with Dragonstorm and was eager to try incorporating as much of it as he could. Telling Time is still legal, and Ponder makes a fine Sleight of Hand replacement. Rite of Flame was eventually dismissed, but not before it was tried a few games and shown to be inferior to just playing more land (plus it is not a combo with Beseech the Queen).

Once we had established that this build would be able to cut Green and White, the mana was obviously going to become a lot easier. I put together a sketch of the shell. The combo is Swans of Bryn Argoll, Seismic Assault, and Dakmor Salvage, so we started with four of each (go read the article here for a rundown on the combo).

Here is the shell we are working with:

Since we were replacing Glittering Wish with Telling Time, and Idyllic Tutor and Sylvan Scrying with Ponder, and were definitely keeping the four Beseech, we had twelve more slots marked for alteration.

Like Dragonstorm, we knew that it would be important to be able to reliably play our spells early and consistently, so we opted for a full set of Lotus Blooms and Manamorphose. Our rough draft also had Rite of Flame, but a couple of games was all it took to see that they should simply be extra land.

Lotus Bloom is an incredibly powerful card that helps enable the turn 4 kills that make this deck so deadly. It is also obviously nice to be able to fix our mana completely with a single card.

Manamorphose has almost no cost, as it replaces itself with regards to both mana and the card, and it provides very useful fixing. The primary cost is merely the opportunity cost of holding it in your hand until you play it. Every turn it is in your hand is another turn you don’t have whatever you are going to draw off it. As we are cutting the awkward bullets, we need to replace them with something, and Manamorphose is a fine addition (which probably should have been in the original build too).

Finally, rounding out the deck we determined that 2 Dreads would replace the 2 Gaea’s Blessings necessary to ensure that our combo doesn’t fizzle or deck us. The single Vexing Shusher is our lone bullet, a Beseech target that can help us fight our biggest weakness in game 1: permission. In addition, it saves us sideboarding space as we are going to want to max up to four for games 2 and 3. We ended up adding a Mishra’s Bauble, which is sort of a strange bullet, but we didn’t quite want 25 land and it has added utility when combined with shufflers and Tolaria West.

If we count the Dakmor Salvages as combo pieces rather than land, why are we playing 24 land? This is a tricky question, as there are no hard fast rules about building manabases. It is a skill based largely on experience, though math is at its core. In this case we are using my five-color build as the model, which had 26… however, with 4 Manamorphose and a Mishra’s Bauble we have opted to cut two, since on the average five cantrips will draw a little more than two land in a deck with almost half land.

If you are unsure of how many lands to put into your new deck, the best thing you can do is look online at an existing deck that has a relatively similar mana curve to yours. Perhaps I will write an article dedicated to building manabases. It is definitely both an art and a science.

Interestingly, though this deck was built by essentially just swapping cards from the five-color Swan build for similar cards, it is so much more elegant. Aside from cleaner mana, it is almost entirely four-ofs, which is a nice feature for quick and consistent combo decks.

It is much easier to understand the numbers chosen for this build, as everything is a four-of save two bullets and two Dreads (which requires a two-slot in case you draw one). The entire deck is mana fixing, tutoring, and combo pieces. This very likely will not turn out to be the final build, but there is something to be said about such logical construction.

With that Seismic Swan deck, we had a starting point to model our deck after. What about when we are building a new deck from scratch? It is obviously much easier with an aggro deck, as you can usually just stick to the mana curve, or 20-17-23, or whatever.

Control decks are a bit trickier, but as they aren’t particularly relevant in this format I will skip straight to a combo deck. A combo deck from scratch is a tricky thing. It is here that true genius is slowly uncovered. I assure you, even Zvi, Lauer, Comer, Schneider, and Cuneo all build bad first drafts (and second, third, often even tenth) of new concept decks.

For this next deck, I knew that I wanted to start with the card Glittering Wish. There are two combos in particular that are made possible by Shadowmoor and have overlap because of Glittering Wish.

The first is the Enchanted Evening/Patrician’s Scorn combo. As it is easy to see, this is combo is sort of a Black Lotus plus Obliterate combo, as blowing up the world for five mana is a great deal, especially with Persist creatures and suspend. Spring Cleaning is also interesting, but it works better with Harbingers, whereas Scorn works with Suspend and Persist, as I said, which play into my next combo.

Greater Gargadon, Juniper Order Ranger, and Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap.

Once you have a Gargadon suspended with a Juniper Order Ranger in play and one of those Persist creatures (it needs to be free of -1/-1 counters), you can sacrifice the Persist creature to Gargadon. Persist will trigger and you will get the creature back before the Gargadon loses its counter (though there will be a trigger waiting to resolve).

When the Persist creature comes into play, you will gain 2 life or deal 2 damage to something and the creature will have a -1/-1 counter from Persist and a +1/+1 counter from Ranger (which will negate each other). At this point, you sacrifice the creature again, repeating the loop.

Each time you do this, you will get the Persist creature’s ability plus the Ranger will grow. When you have repeated this an arbitrary number of times, you will have either dealt lethal with a Redcap or gained enough with Finks, not to mention you will have a 9/7 hasty guy and a really big Juniper Order Ranger.

This combo kill is a fine way to dispatch people if you can assemble it, and the persist creatures are great on their own for slowing creature assaults.

The beauty of this marriage of strategies is that with the quantity of Persist creatures you can easily set up whichever combo is appropriate. The Persist creatures and Greater Gargadon work together to set up a three-card combo with the Ranger, as I said… however, they are also fantastic creatures when combined with an Obliterate on turn 5.

In addition to the Glittering Wish, which sets up both combos as well as fueling a silver bullet sideboard, there are a couple of Primal Commands which can solve hard problems, fetch the important Gargadon, and provide added consistency.

The Twilight Shepherd may be out of place, but I just think she is so amazing and I want to keep putting her places until she sticks. She is obviously bananas with Enchanted Evening plus Patrician’s Scorn, and she can be sick with Juniper Order Ranger or Greater Gargadon. Besides, this deck can certainly play a legitimate “B Game” (C Game?).

The sideboard is rough, but most of the bullets are fine at what they are there to do. The anti-Faerie plan could use some work, but when is that not true?

I hope that, if nothing else, these decks help provide inspiration to those deckbuilders out there that are not content to simply roll the dice with some Tribal theme deck. There is so much more to this format than merely attacking for two.

Whatever you play in Standard, it’d better be able to beat Faeries, Red Aggro, and Elves. Faeries is obviously good, though it struggles greatly versus Red Aggro (which actually is real, once people figure out they should be playing cards like Fulminator Mage instead of garbage like Countryside Crusher, let alone Mons’s Goblin Clangers).

Red Aggro needs to be regarded as real. Why are people trying to make it Red Deck Wins? Why not use cards like Bitterblossom, Tarmogoyf, and Fulminator Mage?

Elves is the baseline “solid against everything” style of deck. Consider Sudden Death to deal with Mistbind Clique, Fulminator Mage, Swans of Bryn Argoll, and Juniper Order Ranger. I am telling you, Sudden Death’s time is here again.

See you guys next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”