Long Live Teshar Combo in Core Set 2020 Standard!

A stopped clock is right at least twice a day, and after a year of predicting Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle would break Standard it may finally be Bryan Gottlieb’s day to prove he was right. With more decklists than you can shake a stick at, surely one of them’s gotta work, right?

I try to my best to maintain impartiality and rely on raw empirical data when it comes to card evaluation, but Magic isn’t a game solely about numbers. It has soul and personality, and as such it creates things that we root for. It can be a guild or an archetype or a player, but we all carry some amount of bias into this content-creation game.

The very worst reason to carry bias around with you is a desire to be right. We all take larks, but when the evidence presents you with a counter to your argument you’ll only make yourself look foolish by doubling down. It is for this reason that I felt compelled to write an article today apologizing for statements I made all the way back during the preview season for Dominaria and how they shaped my opinions going forward.

For over a year now, each new historic card caused me to return to Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle. Every set, I proposed that maybe now was the time this card could finally shine. But in reality, I just wanted to be proven right. I wanted to get the credit for spotting something no one else believed in. Today, I just want to say once and for all, I was wr—

What’s that?

New Teshar loops in Core Set 2020?

With the printing of Salvager of Ruin, Teshar Combo is clearly destined to sit atop the Standard metagame post-Core Set 2020. It is only a matter of time until Salvager of Ruin, Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, and Chamber Sentry make their way to the banned list. Behold and rejoice, our combo overloards are here!

Maybe that’s a bit much. But Teshar Combo is already a deck in Standard, even if it’s very clearly a step below some of the best strategies. With the printing of Salvager of Ruin, we have our cleanest Teshar loop yet. It goes as follows:

You’re not doing anything with it, but the existing Teshar decks have already pointed to just the tool for the job.

With Diligent Excavator on the battlefield, you can place your opponent’s deck into their graveyard. Obviously there are some hurdles to overcome against Nexus of Fate decks, but we’ve got tools for that. The first place I’d start is with an update of the existing builds, where Salvager of Ruin is more than happy to replace the support cards that weren’t combo focused.

If you’re not familiar with the old non-Salvager of Ruin based loops, Ari Lax touched on this combo earlier this week (more on that in a moment) and did a fine job describing the other main kill as follows:

“The kill is Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle; Diligent Excavator; two Rona, Disciple of Gix; and two free artifacts that die. You only really need to start with the first two on the battlefield. If a Teshar trigger returns Rona, which exiles a Chamber Sentry, you can cast the Chamber Sentry for zero to recur another Rona, which exiles another zero because the first Sentry is on the stack, then the first Rona dies, then you get to cast the now-exiled zero and loop it all back while Diligent Excavator mills them.”

This is the cleanest this deck has ever looked, and Salvager of Ruin when it’s not comboing off gets to play an almost Giver of Runes-type role, ready to just eat the first removal spell. The one-of Jace remains so you can win against Nexus of Fate without having to pass the turn back to them and hope they don’t kill you. This may be unnecessary though, as Salvager of Ruin is starting to make turn-four kills look much more plausible and you may just be able to deprive your opponent of all non-Nexus cards in their deck while they are still lacking the mana to cast a Nexus.

A deckbuilding approach I’ve always been fond of is a focus on redundant effects. In the past this has often manifested when there were multiple mana elves in the format. This Huey Jensen list (I believe it was designed by Zvi Moshowitz) is one of my favorite examples of this style of deckbuilding:

Cards in this deck do unbelievably similar things, and it’s not a coincidence that this G/W Elves deck also existed at a time when Standard was at its absolute largest. Teshar Combo is now approaching similar levels of redundancy. In addition, Core Set 2020 is providing additional tools that could potentially fuel this archetype.

In Ari’s deep dive about Scheming Symmetry earlier in the week, Salvager of Ruin had not yet been previewed. I’ve presented a list that looks very similar to Ari’s but replaces Militia Bugler with Scheming Symmetry; the cheaper tutor being played alongside a cleaner kill is sure to increase your average combo turn. While Teshar had to previously play the role of grindy combo deck that would eventually overwhelm your defenses, it’s now going to get to do a fair amount of turn-four comboing. Better get used to killing those Diligent Excavators on sight.

I can feel the excitement reaching a fever pitch among my fellow Teshar fans, but I do have to report that Core Set 2020 is also bringing with it a bit of bad news for graveyard-based combo.

Hmmm… perhaps two of the best three pieces of graveyard hate ever printed. In the same set…

Look, if Teshar devotees gave up every time things looked bad for their deck we would never get anywhere. You think people who play combos based on assembling between four and 142 (depending on which loop you use) super-fragile pieces are deterred by a little bit of graveyard hate?

Diligent Excavator isn’t the only kill condition in town, and Core Set 2020 has also granted us a redundant version of a Blood Artist-style effect.

Corpse Knight and Cruel Celebrant are both kill conditions when Teshar is looping, and while this deck lacks the pure redundancy of the Esper builds it makes up for it with a little more “oomph” to its anemic beatdown plan. I don’t want to make it seem like performing your combo is an impossibility though. Between Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and the currently criminally-underrated Blood for Bones, this deck has plenty of options to rebuy from the graveyard. It’s incredible that Blood for Bones both puts a Teshar on the battlefield and a Chamber Sentry in your hand if your graveyard is appropriately stocked. It can help with that side of things too if you happen to sacrifice a Stitcher’s Supplier to the powerful black reanimation spell.

Due to the leaner combo package, this deck will be able to effectively transition to a more beatdown-focused plan after sideboard should opponents come appropriately prepared. If you’re looking to get right into the beatdown side of things from the outset, though, I’ve got a list for that as well.

This deck is rarely going to combo off, but sometimes the threat of the combo is worth just as much as the combo itself. There are some truly wacky synergies available here. Unclaimed Territory can potentially let your Chamber Sentries become 3/3s. Salvager of Ruin might give up its life to rebuy a History of Benalia. Cavalier of Dawn can get back both combo and beatdown pieces while still carrying the Knight creature type and disrupting your opponent’s plans. Finally, Corpse Knight bridges the gap between both plans, functioning as the death knell for opponents on the receiving end of both combo and beatdown kills.

The presence of Salvager of Ruin has opened a bevy of options for Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle. Smaller combo packages, new color pairings, and more diverse gameplans all contribute to a real chance of Teshar casting off its “meme deck” label. Incredible graveyard hate is apt to be the biggest impediment to the deck’s advancement, but perhaps there’s a window in the beginning of the format for Teshar to crash through.

Maybe that was a poor choice of phrase when talking about a bird…