Khambo Decks

Enough with the midrange and aggro! Shaun McLaren examines the most neglected traditional archetype in Standard today and suggests ways that combo could break out at #SCGNJ and #SCGINDY!

Khans of Tarkir has arrived! Packs have been cracked, morphs unmorphed, minds swiped, mantises rode, and bears punched. While the Prerelease is all well
and good for having some fun, if you’re like me you want to get down to some serious business and start figuring out what the heck Standard is going to
look like.

One of the first things I look at when examining a new format is if there’s room from any khambo decks and what the key khambo cards might be. Aggro and
midrange are sure to show up and do well in Standard, but khambo rarely makes an appearance at all.

So where are the good khambo decks at, or to rephrase that in a Boston accent, “You see any of those wicked good khambo decks yet?”

Khambo in Standard

Pop Quiz: Name a recent khambo deck that has been successful (either a tier 1 or 2 deck) in Standard?

Anything coming to mind? If you’re thinking like I am, the first deck you thought of was Splinter Twin,

which wasn’t even an intentional addition to the metagame


Ramp decks with Primeval Titan also fit the bill (with or without Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.)

Dipping down in power level, there has also been Pyromancer’s Ascension, Maze’s End, and all sorts of graveyard strategies, with Unburial Rites decks being
the most noteworthy. Maybe you remembered the fairly recent gem that was Humanimator that abused Angel of Glory’s Rise.

Khambo decks have usually hovered around the fringes of playability, only occasionally dipping their toes into the waters of competitive Standard. It seems
like they have been nerfed to near extinction, and when they do show up they are usually based around creature khambos. There are many good reasons for
this, ranging from a desire to make the game interactive, to khambo decks easily becoming frustratingly oppressive if the wrong (or right, depending on
your point of view) card comes along.

Why Choose Khambo?

Naturally, as Magic players, our job is to try and break the game with a ridiculously powerful deck that crushes the opposition with little effort. By
definition, khambo decks try to assemble a combination of cards (or one expensive card) that wins (or nearly wins) the game outright. Finding the right
khambo deck will usually involve discovering a hole in the metagame that can be exploited.

So what will Khans Standard look like? Aggro and midrange seem powerful. I would expect Mono-Red, Mono-Green and G/R Ramp, and Abzan Midrange to be the
most popular strategies out of the gate. Beyond that I would expect Mono-Black Aggro, Mardu Aggro (featuring Butcher of the Horde,) other midrange
variants, a smattering of control decks, and Reanimator Khambo decks to round out the metagame.

Usually focused aggression and focused control have built-in decent matchups against khambo decks. Standard khambo decks take a while to get going and
don’t fare well against a barrage of counters. Khambo is traditionally good against midrange strategies that focus on a split between pressure and
disruption, since they have extra time to set up their khambo and hopefully leave a midrange opponent with a glut of ineffective creature removal. Khans
Standard might end up (or start out) being very midrangey, so khambo decks might get a chance to shine.

So our criteria for a good Khambo Deck includes some or all of the following:

1. Good against midrange. (Possibly by making their removal ineffective).

2. Fast enough to compete with Mono-Red.

3. Powerful enough to compete with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx strategies (AKA Green Ramp).

Does Khans of Tarkir have the necessary tools? Let’s take a look at some starter lists and see.

This list tries to control the early game with removal and find gas via Sultai Ascendancy and Dig Through Time. Eventually you’ll have enough mana to cast
a decent-sized Villainous Wealth or two (ideally after an Aetherspouts) and beat your opponent at their own game.

Instead of subjecting you to the “Pros and Khans” of this list I’ll just look at some upsides and downsides this list has going for it.


– This list plays the “blank all your removal” game.

Villainous Wealth hits all non-lands. Even hitting a bunch of removal spells isn’t so bad if it ends up clearing your opponents’ board.

Villainous Wealth can potentially hit ramp cards that allow for a bigger Villainous Wealth the next turn.

– An opponent’s Courser of Kruphix gives you a little peek at the first card you’ll hit with Villainous Wealth.

– The sweet spot is casting Villainous Wealth for at least enough to hit almost every card in your opponents deck, which might be as low as three but
should realistically range from five to seven unless delve cards are involved.

– Charms are nice to hit since there’s almost guaranteed to be a mode relevant to your current interests.

– “Aetherspouts your dudes. You put those on top? Untap, Villainous Wealth you. Your precious creatures, gratefully accepted! We will need them.”

Aetherspouts is a great card if you’re trying to do something big and looking to buy time. It is kind of a fog/wrath hybrid.

– It’s not hard to imagine a deck that leans heavily on a one-card win condition thanks to Dig Through Time, Sultai Ascendancy, and a potential lack of
counterspells and extraction effects from opponents.

– Dig Through time finding Aetherspouts and another Dig Through Time? Delightful!


– Whiffs. Not only the cards above, but lands. It’s not that hard to hit very weak piles, and there is going to be an element of risk to your finisher
which is never a good thing.

– The manabase is a little strained.

– Your stall and survive gameplan won’t be the same as theirs, so after casting a gigantic Villainous Wealth, you might find these aren’t the cards you’re
looking for. Getting a bunch of 2/1s that can’t block is not ideal.

– Planeswalkers are hard to deal with and play well against the Aetherspouts plan.

– Drawing a bunch of Villainous Wealths does nothing in the early game.

– Stumble and you’re dead twice over to a bunch of goblins or a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx-fueled explosion of creatures. Even with a good draw you might end
up being too slow against Mono-Red, and Mono-Green is going to out goldfish you any day of the week; our disruption might not be enough.

– It’s possible a focused ramp style deck is the best direction to go with this deck.

Step 1. Cast Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

Step 2. Cast Prophet of Kruphix

Step 3. ???

Step 4. PROFIT!


Kiora’s Follower can untap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, and Dakra Mystic.

Dakra Mystic is almost an ideal one-drop target for Yisan, the Wanderer Bard and is ridiculous with Prophet of Kruphix.

– Searching up Hornet Nest (likely postboard) with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard as your opponent is attacking.

Genesis Hydra into Prophet of Kruphix.

– Difficult deck to play against since all your cards have flash and you can search up all sorts of bullets instant speed.


– Probably doesn’t need quite so many different cards in the maindeck and might be better off adding in more copies of the powerful cards instead of
focusing on versatility. Is it better than the Mono-Green or G/R Ramp?

– A bunch of removal can disrupt your engine pieces before they come online and leave you with do nothing mana accelerants.

– The blue splash is annoying since you really don’t want many comes into play tapped lands.

Wait a minute and hear me out. This deck is actually ridiculously powerful and consistently khambos off on turn 2… okay, that is nowhere near the truth.
This deck is very inconsistent and easily disrupted, but is still capable of getting some free wins.

Getting a turn 2 win requires casting a turn 1 Ornithopther and 2 Springleaf Drums. On turn 2 you cast Jeskai Ascendancy, using the Drum, and then untap
your Ornithopter by playing a Astral Cornucopia or Briber’s Purse for zero. Then you use the second Drum to cast Retraction Helix on the Ornithopter and
bounce the Purse or Cornucopia. Then you recast the Purse or Cornucopia for zero, loot off of Jeskai Ascendancy, and repeat until you find Altar of the
Brood to mill your opponent out with. The khambo also works casting Retraction Helix on Midnight Guard and bouncing and replaying Ornithopter with Altar of
the Brood in play.


– The deck can YOLO out an Ensoul Artifact on turn 2 and beat down.

Daring Thief can swap Ornithopter for real creatures or Ensoul Artifact for Courser of Kruphix.

Briber’s Purse can tap Daring Thief and helps Ensoul Artifact get through blockers, talk about a multipurpose card.


– Inconsistent, fragile, and too many moving parts.

This deck is probably technically midrange but Worst Fears is so stylish and game winning I’m gonna call it midrange/khambo. I’m also affectionately
dubbing it “Worst Planeswalkers.”


Worst Fears is a great way to go over the top in a midrange battle. There are many different creative ways to mess with your opponent using their own
cards, from Thoughtseizing themselves, to minusing their planeswalkers and pointing all their removal at their own creatures, or the classic scrying a bad
card to the top of their library.

Liliana Vess searching up Worst Fears is exactly everything I’ve wanted to do in a game of Magic. Taking extra turns with a planeswalker in play is
busted even ignoring the part where you control your opponent.

Xenagos, the Reveler is quite the efficient ramper and many decks might be looking to find the best way to abuse his super ramp ability. Worst Fears is a
great way to abuse him.

– Whats the only thing better than a Pegasus? A GOLD Pegasus. I love Giiiild.


– Certain decks don’t implode on themselves very well after you cast Worst Fears, for example Mono-Green Devotion (since Polukranos, World Eater can’t
fight your own creatures).

– If you want the mass removal of Drown in Sorrow or Anger the Gods, you’re gonna disrupt your own mana acceleration.

– There is a downside to Gild. Have you read the flavor text?

Merchants of the Underworld trade in coins of clay. Gold serves another purpose.”

Methinks they might run into a counterfeiting problem using clay as their currency. They couldn’t find anything better than clay? Maybe clay is a rare
commodity on Theros, and they hunt Primal Clay for profit. Maybe they build pots made out of gold to protect their clay from pot smashing thieves.

And just what is this “other purpose” gold serves? Killing horses? I suppose the Dothraki would approve.

Have you got the skills to win with mills? There are a surprising number of directions you can take Reanimator decks, from a lighter graveyard theme like
my list here, to a Abzan version with Siege Rhino, or all out focused self-mill with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant as seen in a VS Video earlier this week.

Reanimator is the most likely khambo deck to show up in Standard and it has the tools to succeed.


Whip of Erebos provides inevitability and lifegain to help on both ends of the metagame spectrum.

Hornet Queen is great at stabilizing and gumming up the board.

Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder enable delve and fill up your graveyard with fatties while still providing value. They are solid enablers.


– Might not be focused enough on reanimating and versions that go all in on reanimating might be too inconsistent. Possibly too slow against aggro and yet
still able to lose the lategame against midrange strategies.

Anafenza, the Foremost is already quite good and just so happens to hose reanimation strategies.

Closing Thoughts

Most of these lists aren’t traditional control decks. Decent khambo decks nowadays are usually hybrids or creature centric, and we might have to wait until
Zendikar freezes over for that to change.

Are any of these strategies good enough? In my opinion Yisan and Reanimator probably have the best shot. What khambo cards or strategies do you think will
breakout in the upcoming Standard format?

As always, don’t be afraid to constantly tune lists and try new cards. Until we meet again, may your wealth be villainous and your bees have lifelink.