Magic 2015 Review, Part 3: Crazy Combo Decks!

It’s been quite a while since a Core Set has allowed so much room for innovating. Who better to ask than The Innovator? In this decklist-loaded chronicle, Patrick shows you sides of M15 you haven’t dreamed of!

There’s a lot going on in M15.

Like… a lot.

Monday, we covered the base black and base red decks; Wednesday, the blue, white, and green decks. Where does that leave us, today?

The crazy combo decks!

If you just like the outside the box stuff, the catch-people-by-surprise stuff, the rogue stuff, there’s no shortage of that possible with M15. It’s not just for the rogue deckbuilder though. One or two crazy decks always turn out to be important. Mono Blue Delver with Runechanter’s Pike was originally just a crazy deck, as was Mono Blue Devotion, and U/G Polymorph.

Speaking of U/G Polymorph

Jalira is definitely no Polymorph, and Worldspine Wurm is no Emrakul or Iona, but it does have a few things going for it. First of all, it dodges legends, meaning we are not resigned solely to token-makers to power our combo. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is the most notable, particularly since we can sacrifice his tokens if he gets a chance to attack. If we wanted to play other legends though, it does give us options Polymorph decks never had.

Master Polymorphist is also repeatable. This is overall not what we want to pay for, but since we’re already here, it does have the advantage of finding a Worldspine Wurm every turn, and even when you have two, it is profitable because of the three smaller Wurms you get each time you sacrifice and shuffle back in a big one.

Master Polymorphist is disruptable by removal, but remember, so was Polymorph. And if they killed your token in response, you lost both cards. If they kill Jalira, you’ve only lost the one card.

Trying to set up combos these days is much harder without Preordain and Ponder, however, we do have the advantage of quite a few opponents without much removal. Mono Blue has just a handful, and many G/W and Naya decks have almost none. Even U/W control isn’t set up that well against it (particularly if they are on Planar Cleansing).

I am not optimistic of this approach given presence of black devotion, red aggro, and Esper, but the format is really not expecting an over the top combo deck at the moment. We’ll win some games on the back of being at least a passable U/W Control deck, but will we win more than an actual U/W Control deck would?

I do like the idea of experimenting with other takes on the U/W shell. For instance, U/W Control cards are a natural fit with Planeswalker-centric strategies. “Super Friends” decks are nothing new, but there’s an oddball mythic in M15 that has super friends written all over it:

So, here’s the thing about The Chain Veil, you (generally) gotta have two or more planeswalkers in play to make it pull its weight. Jayemdae Tome is already four and tap to draw a card, and we aren’t really close to wanting to play it. Planeswalker activations are great, but they are generally not worth more than a card, and when they are, you are often getting so much advantage that additional activations are kind of “win-more.”

The Chain Veil is this Jayemdae Tome that gets a little better when you’re already activating two planeswalkers, but actually hurts you when you don’t have one. That is not a great distribution of power as it hurts us when we need help and helps us when we are already winning. It truly is a curse.

However, once you are affected by The Chain Veil’s curse, you aren’t super concerned with what makes sense. You start telling yourself that you can get more utility out of extra planeswalker activations than a card is worth by racing to their ultimates…

What a strange time to print Ajani Steadfast.

First of all, there are two other Ajanis in the format, but even worse, it seems like he should combo with them. More confusingly, his ability to boost other Walkers is a bit less special in the same set as The Chain Veil. Of course, that said, they do multiply each other. If you have The Chain Veil and Ajani, you can actually ultimate Jace, the Living Guildpact the turn you cast it!

I do think The Chain Veil is really bad, but whatever. We’ll probably win a lot of games from having tons of Walkers and great Azorius cards. In all seriousness, Bant Walkers could be real good, I just think The Chain Veil is as dubious as it is fun.

Wait a minute.

In the story, Liliana and Garruk are the walkers involved in all this Chain Veil business. Why aren’t we using them?

Getting better. This build actually resists the urge to play medium Walkers like Ajani 5.0 and Jace 5.0, although admittedly Ashiok and Garruk, Apex Predator are not in the same league as Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Really, we probably just take the Chain Veil out of this beast and run it as a BUG Walkers deck. We might as well try The Chain Veil. You never know I guess (although we do).

Garruk, Apex Predator is a badass, but is he good? Well, he’s certainly easy to use wrong. If you just throw him in a devotion to green deck, you could do so much better. You are paying a premium for him not being a creature, so you probably want him somewhere that isn’t as creature-centric.

Where Garruk really shines is the world where people play lots of planeswalkers because the +1 to kill a Walker ability is actually filthy. He’s not exactly Karn, but he does make an impact when there’s bigger game to hunt. The minus ability to kill fatties is also important as it gives him consistent versatility and help when you need it. The plus ability giving you tokens is obviously always good, it’s just too bad it’s ticking up to an ultimate that doesn’t seem particularly helpful except when you’re winning anyway.

Long story short, I don’t have the highest hopes for Garruk as he costs seven in a world with a lot of really good sixes. His biggest strengths aren’t even that novel. I mean, in many ways, he’s just a slower Vraska the Unseen. While I think the Chain Veil mostly sucks in high level constructed (though potentially sweet in more casual formats), I think Garruk is at least interesting enough to give some chances. Hero’s Downfall kind of owns him, but if the format moves towards these three, four, five, and six Planeswalker decks…

Sometimes, when building decks, I’ll be working with a concept that isn’t even close to playable, but rather than just completely dismiss it, I will sketch out the fragments, the parts I’m thinking about. For instance, Chief Engineer suggests being built around, but I haven’t figured out yet what to do to support him. Sketching a list produces something that would get toasted by real decks but can be a way of visualizing some of the interactions. Some of the ideas.

Take this list for instance. It’s got tons of weak cards that if they partner with the exact right one other card in the deck, are actually fine. This is a classic road to bad decks as you won’t get the combinations as often as you want, and other people’s cards are good on their own. When you do get the combos, they aren’t winning the game or doing other unfair things. They are merely “good enough.”

Daring Thief is such an oddball here, but more than anything, I just think this guy is one of the cards that stands to gain the most from convoke. Really, what you want to be doing with Daring Thief is putting him in a Chord of Calling deck. Now that is a combo.

What we really need to do with these combo cards is put them in clusters.

Ensoul Artifact works incredibly well with Darksteel Citadel, of course, and in a different deck it would be great with Darksteel Ingot. It’s even passable with Ornithopter. None of that has anything to do with the Chief Engineer into Scuttling Doom Engine/Soul of New Phyrexia aspect of the deck.

To make a real Chief Engineer deck, we really need to fill it out with a better mix of guys to tap to cast the big robots, regardless of what they are. With regards to the two 6/6s, I think it’s pretty clear they are the best artifact creatures to ramp into at the moment, but that is probably not good enough to justify bending over backwards. Maybe Scutting Doom Engine is just a sweet card against Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I know Soul of New Phyrexia doesn’t do anything for me at the moment.

Sliver Hivelord – Now that’s an indestructible lord…

Venom Sliver + Thorncaster Sliver?

Manaweft Sliver + Hivelord Sliver?

Diffusion Sliver + This Metagame?

Seriously, Slivers may only be real for a couple months, but how long does it take to win a tournament with them…

Let’s go back to the Trading Post deck from a minute ago. I mean, we aren’t even really doing anything with it. What if we tried a little more to actually take advantage of it? Remember, it is an activated ability, so if we copy it, we get double the bonus, without having to pay the cost twice.

Alright, not an A+ body for four, but it’s not horrible. If he lives, he can actually generate a fair number of extra cards pretty quickly.

  1. Double whatever you Trading Posted for
  2. Extra land from Burnish Hart or Traveler’s Amulet
  3. Even weird stuff like double charging Ratchet Bomb


Sometimes, I wonder about Strionic Resonator + Kurkesh. Get both together and you can copy activated or triggered abilities as many times as you can pay for (since both copy the other’s ability, which is recursive, albeit mana-inefficient). I’m going to keep my eyes open for an activated ability that effectively generates lots of mana (albeit not directly), such as Voyaging Satyr + Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. That one is too inefficient to make me want to do it, but that’s the general idea.

Realistically, we probably need to be able to defend ourselves better, but Trading Post is a powerful card when it gets going, and it dodges Hero’s Downfall.

Hoarding Dragon is pretty sweet against a deck full of Hero’s Downfalls!

You know Hoarding Dragon is the right spot on the curve for this little guy…

Generator Servant is a funny kind of Pentad Prism, adding haste and the ability to function as a 2/1 but being vulnerable to creature kill and not providing colored mana. I’m not sure the best way to use it by any means, but there are basically two paths:

  1. Cast a fatty two turns early and give it haste. This is great on Soul of Shandalar for instance but would be much better on a creature that really profited from surprising people with its attack (like Inferno Titan).
  2. Serve as a 2/1 for two that happens to occasionally make some crazy turn 3s. Remember, if you use the Servant Generator mana on two different creatures, they both gain haste!


What we would need to ask ourselves is if we’re really getting enough out of the Servant Generator to be worth only getting one devotion instead of two from something like Burning-Tree Emissary (which might be better than Ash Zealot, or whatever, but the point is it’s a CC, rather than a 1C).

Hoarding Dragon is unlikely to be the best we can possibly do since Stormbreath Dragon and Soul of Shandalar mean we are already full of expensive cards. Still, it is sweet against Hero’s Downfall, so that’s something…

Soul of Shandalar, however, now that’s a card.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Soul of Shandalar becomes an auto-four-of in red devotion decks and helps push them up to the top tier. The card is super good in its own right, being an unstoppable body that completely takes over the game when it lives. It also provides something we actually want when it gets killed, countered, or discarded. Nightveil Specter? Mutavault? Jace, Architect of Thought? It kills them all as a bonus without costing you another card.

On top of all this, Soul of Shandalar is also an awesome mana sink. Sometimes red devotion just gets these ridiculous Nykthos situations where it can make twelve or more mana. Soul of Shandalar gives us something to do with it!

One last try at Generator Servant for today: what about using it with Kalonian Hydra? That’s the best thing I could think of to play on turn 3 with haste. Hell, those two cards and three mana is a turn 4 kill!

Trying to jam the Generator Servant into an Exava deck is tough, but this build is even more ambitious by trying to get Genesis Hydra in there too. Genesis Hydra is pretty good with Generator Servant, but it’s also kind of just a little underrated in general. You get the bonus card even if the spell is countered, which is fun, and it is a Bloodbraid Elf of sorts, albeit at a much more modest rate.

I think the Generator Servant + Kalonian Hydra combo would be better suited to a R/G beatdown deck that is not trying to be so fancy (though maybe Exava is still worth the splash). As for Genesis Hydra, maybe the best home for her is in a deck looking to spend oodles of Nykthos mana.

You want to Hydra for at least four, but it still has lots of fine hits even if you are stuck doing it for three or even two. It also adds three-and-a-half devotion on the average which can really launch you into the big numbers pretty quickly. Finally, if you untap with Nissa, you can Hydra for at least seven which is a lot of looks at Garruk.

Nylea, God of the Hunt is always a reasonable consideration for green devotion, but it gains a lot of utility when you are playing Genesis Hydras. Sometimes you’ll Nykthos for tons, make a 15/15 Hydra, and then you can dig through a ton of your deck looking for Nylea to make sure you can trample over.

While this list is mono-green, if you wanted to splash black or blue, it would be comically easy as long as you don’t mind impacting Nissa, Worldwaker. It’s something to lose her though, as she launches you from five to basically infinite if you untap with her. You can often follow her up with Garruk and every card Garruk draws that turn!

Another possible direction to go with the green devotion shell is Life’s Legacy. Aspect of Hydra and Strength from the Fallen are both very cheap and efficient ways to end up with a twelve-power creature pretty easily. Sacrifice it to Life’s Legacy and you are really doing it.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Ghor-Clan Rampager + Life’s Legacy is appealing, but there’s such a conflict of styles there. Maybe if you’re playing some Monsters deck with four maindeck Harness by Forces, but if you just want to draw as many cards as possible, it’s hard to imagine bigger pumps for as cheap as Aspect of Hydra and Strength from the Fallen provide.

I mean, we could play something silly like this:

How often are we ever really going to want to sacrifice our guy though? I mean, maybe that’s just the plan B vs reactive decks, but it sounds questionable.

Another card draw engine that I’ve been thinking about recently is Necromancer’s Stockpile:

It’s not good enough as a bad Compulsion, but if you’re playing Zombies, it gets good pretty fast.

Maybe this is too much Zombie action, but it’s not like we’re actually playing any “bad” cards. I particularly like the ability to cycle Soul of Innistrad early, then get back three Zombies and get big late…

Particularly when those Zombies are Gray Merchants.

Tymaret, the Murder King is a sweet combo with Necromancer’s Stockpile since it lets you build a Treasure Trove by sacrificing the Zombie you made to get back Tymaret, though red doesn’t really offer much else that is explicitly zombies.

Here’s a radically different take on B/G, focusing on Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, instead of Necromancer’s Stockpile.

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is a pretty solid card just to effectively draw one extra card a turn with it. This build has a boat load of one-ofs to try, but realistically, we don’t need to have anything close to this many. Seriously, making just a couple tweaks to support the “toolbox” package is probably the most we would need to do. How often are you Yisan-ing for six and having it matter that you don’t have three different options? What we really want are the cheaper, good utility guys anyway, like Reclamation Sage, that are fine if you draw them, but very powerful options in the right circumstances.

On the topic of black creature decks, enough people asked about Xathrid Slyblade that we should try putting him into a black creature deck.

It’s kind of funny to fuse hexproof and suicide black, but here we are. Maybe we don’t even need to be mono black at all. I mean, why not just play a B/G Hexproof deck that also uses the bestow creatures but has access to the dozen hexproof options green brings to the table?

I considered Eternal Thirst, but I think Gift of Orzhova is just better. The +1/+1 now is worth more than the promise of growing (I think), and the flying is exactly what you want on your lifelinker. That said, costing less is great, and maybe we can get enough flying from our Herald of Torments. Eternal Thirst is also obviously the type of card that gets way better depending on what opponents play. As a result, I think the card could be a great sideboard option to bring in against aggressive red, green, or white decks.

On the mono-color aggro deck front, it’s not too crazy, but I think the soldier tribe is well worth experimenting with. The only pay-off that seems worth it is Obelisk of Urd, but you don’t exactly have to work very hard for it.

If there was just an awesome Soldier that costs five or more, Preeminent Captain could be sweet, but for now, I like sticking to a pretty pure white weenie deck.

This next list is another brainstorming session with Chord of Calling, albeit with a combo that probably won’t flesh out.

Spite of Mogis + Boros Reckoner has been a pet combo of mine for a while, and Chord of Calling can help set it up nicely. We might just need more self-mill, but it’s hard to fit everything we want in. It is kind of funny, but Chandra’s Phoenix + Commune with Nature is actually pretty good synergy.

Hornet Nest serves as a backup Boros Reckoner, and with Spite of Mogis can produce tons of creatures. Mainly though, I just love being able to Chord for the Hornet Nest to really punish people that attacked on the ground. What we really need though, is another way to do a ton of damage to our Hornet Nest, like Shivan Meteor, or something along those lines.

There’s actually a lot of options for weird Naya combo decks, as green and red just have more tutors and card draw than usual. For example, one of the most compelling build-arounds in M15 is Aggressive Mining:

That is an incredible conversation rate, but that drawback is a pretty serious constraint. How can we cheat it?

Burnished Hart, Nissa’s Expedition, and Karametra are all reasonable ways to play lands despite our mining. We also have the ability to Reclamation Sage our Aggressive Mining, to turn it off for a few turns, to replay a land supply and build back up.

Getting the mana to fuel the mining isn’t the biggest problem though. The real trick is doing this in a deck that can actually take advantage of those extra cards in a meaningful way. For instance, U/W Control has Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, and Elspeth. If it draws six extra cards, it can totally take over the game. If you draw six extra cards and they are just more mana, 2/2s, and copies of Aggressive Mining, are you even winning?

Aggressive Mining is a powerful card, but it’s going to take some time to figure out how to properly channel this power. Some of the “guest designer” cards are bizarre, questionable designs, but this one is an A+. It and Spirit Bonds are two of my favorite cards in the set, not just in terms of power or anything, but in terms of quality of design.

There are lots of unanswered questions in m15, lots of designs that are not immediately obvious in application, or hint at combos that are not yet supported. For instance, Midnight Guard could end up in an infinite combo deck pretty easily if the right card is printed (which I bet will happen within the next year). Boonweaver Giant screams out that a giant aura will be printed in the next year, something worthy of building around.

There are also plenty of cards that have an obvious application, but that don’t just slot into existing decks. For instance, First Response + painlands/Mana Confluence is a totally reasonable token-maker. I could easily imagine a deck with four Battlefield Forges and four Mana Confluences turning this into a double Bitterblossom, particularly if they have a good means of gaining life.

This depth to explore, this confusion over what will be good, is why I am super excited about M15. On the surface, I think cards like the Souls and Spirit Bonds will help fight the good fight against black devotion, but under the surface, there is so much to explore, so much to try. If the anti-black cards get more people to play proactive decks instead of attrition and removal, the crazy stuff has such better chances of working.

My prediction: The first couple weeks of the format look a lot like the old format with just a few cards fitting into existing archetypes, but the PT will reveal a very different face of Standard.

What’s your prediction for biggest deck to emerge at Pro Tour Magic 2015? It’ll be fun to come back here in a month and see who was first…