Modern Misfits: Combo

Start preparing for the Modern Grand Prix in Richmond, Virginia at the beginning of March with the next part of Anthony’s Modern Misfits series!

To those that checked out the first part of the Modern Misfits series, I welcome you back!

Combo decks in Modern have arguably been through the most out of any macro-archetype. Right from the very first Modern Pro Tour in Philadelphia, we’ve had one-turn clocks with Inkmoth Nexus into Blazing Shoal, Cloudpost into a ridiculously fast Eldrazi (or worse, Tooth and Nail), and Splinter Twin trying (and succeeding at) keeping all of it in check. Almost every time something got the ban hammer, a combo deck was negatively affected in some way. Regardless, most of them persevere to this day. Splinter Twin is still around and is very good; Storm continues to endure despite losing Ponder, Preordain, Rite of Flame, and Seething Song; and the dynamic duo of Emrakul and Griselbrand still exists!

That said, it’s rather difficult to put the combo label on many decks. In the aggro portion of this series, there was a bit of debate over Affinity being an aggro or combo deck. I personally think it’s both, or just aggro-combo, but that’s still up in the air. For the sake of cleanliness, in this article we’re going to talk about the decks that are more focused on getting the pieces of their combo together rather than decks that simply have combos in them. This means that decks like Birthing Pod will be discussed in another article but Burn will be covered here.

Here’s a look at some of the choices available:

Splinter Twin
Summer Bloom
Storm (Pyromancer Ascension)
Ad Nauseam
Reanimator (Goryo’s Vengeance)
Living End

While the list is comparable to the “short” list of noted aggro decks, the individual power of each of them is higher in a vacuum. This doesn’t mean that combo decks are necessarily better than aggro decks, but it does mean that you need to have a plan that impedes their progress as you develop your plan since most of these decks maximize their ability to operate in a vacuum to begin with.

Decks like Splinter Twin, Scapeshift, and Tron do a very good job of keeping themselves alive as long as possible until they can assemble the pieces needed to take over and outright win the game, while others take a more all-in approach or have built-in protection in their combo pieces. How each combo deck goes about their approach to their goal differs quite a bit, but the amount of variations and flexibility within each combo build can be surprisingly vast.

Let’s begin with arguably the most popular combo deck in the format:

Splinter Twin probably has the most amount of customization out of all the well-known combo decks. This is primarily because the amount of pieces required to kill your opponent is much smaller than others. From there we can tailor our build to be more of a tempo deck with Vendilion Cliques, Remands, and more cheap setback spells; a full on control build with some sweepers, hard counters, and maybe even a strong alternate win condition; or an all-in build that maxes out on the combo pieces and jams ways to find them.

With all of these builds, going into another color can be beneficial. White gives you Village Bell-Ringer and Restoration Angel, adding further defense and combo potential. Green bolsters your sideboard with Ancient Grudge and Nature’s Claim while providing an alternate win condition that some control players may be attracted to in Tarmogoyf. Finally, black gives you the beloved Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, Liliana of the Veil, a ton of assorted removal spells, and Rakdos Charm, a sideboard all-star.

If you really want to go deep, Gifts Ungiven doesn’t seem too outlandish of a route to take:

While Twin decks boast a large amount of diversity, Tron decks are very linear in terms of their game plan. While you can choose to play more control elements, the redundancy needs to somewhat remain intact in order for it to reliably achieve Tron in the fastest and most efficient way possible. This doesn’t mean there isn’t any room to work with however.

As you can see, the G/R version maximizes its redundancy in Expedition Map, Sylvan Scrying, and to a lesser extent Ancient Stirrings while having a ton of ways to get through the deck at an efficient rate with still enough colored sources to splash red for Pyroclasm and some sideboard cards. Mono-Blue Tron, while not boasting nearly as much redundancy or strength against creatures, makes up for it by being more fit to take down other combo decks.

Condescend is a slightly better Stymied Hopes at times (which is acceptable) but is basically a hard counter with Tron assembled, and Repeal has a similar story to a bounce spell. Platinum Angel can win the game by itself if your opponent isn’t prepared for it and could also buy you some valuable time if needed. Both versions have the best inevitability in the format with Eye of Ugin and Emrakul, and Karn Liberated is one of the best—if not the best—turn 3s possible in the format.

So how do we take so many essential pieces and do something different with them?

The first build takes the mid and endgame from U/W Control’s book and attempts to put it into overdrive. Between Wrath of God, Sphinx’s Revelation, and already established Tron finisher Wurmcoil Engine, there’s no shortage of major high-end power when things get going.

RUG Tron keeps the same amount of speed and reliability that G/R Tron has but adds blue for some of Mono-Blue Tron’s tricks in Repeal and Condescend along with a very versatile cross-applicable sideboard option in Swan Song. Swan Song in particular is attractive because it counters Sowing Salt; Splinter Twin; things that destroy Karn (Maelstrom Pulse, Hero’s Downfall, etc.); and over-the-top but somewhat niche spells like Through the Breach, Ad Nauseam, and Hive Mind. On top of all of this, Swan Song also helps you push through that major threat against opposing blue decks.

Another approach to Tron is sort of a throwback to the Cloudpost days of Modern when Tooth and Nail would show up much earlier than expected:

Primeval Titan has made a career out of quickly spiraling things out of control, and it looks to do the same in this build. This is a much more all-in version of the deck, but when you get going, things can end much quicker than with traditional versions of Tron. A touch of red for Through the Breach can really turn things up if and when the need for a backup plan arises, and it’s also a great way of turning a hand that stumbles out of the gates into a game-winning blowout.

The diversity of Modern allows for a lot of previously considered niche strategies to have a stern place in the format. Burn has always had a bad reputation for being mindless and easy to play and just for budget players that can’t afford more expensive decks. Well, if Modern burn decks don’t cause those players to seriously reconsider their mindset, then I don’t know what will. Burn decks are very real and dangerous and can light you up as quickly as turn 3 and very reliably on turn 4.

It’s a difficult deck to inherently defend against because it has so many ways of naturally shutting off the things that impede its progress. It has Skullcrack and Flames of the Blood Hand for life gain, a huge variety of one- and two-mana burn spells that can get under most countermagic (nice Cryptic Command), and efficient creatures that double in utility. Because of these strengths, you put up a very good fight against many combo decks and Thoughtseize decks and can easily punish decks that stumble out of the gate.

The big attraction to splashing is obviously Boros Charm, Bump in the Night, and Deathrite Shaman. But green gives you Tarmogoyf if you’re looking for a more robust and cheap threat, and blue can provide Psionic Blast if you’re already invested in Char (which is a very effective way of dealing with opposing Goyfs and other high-toughness creatures without spending multiple cards).

Last but certainly not least, we have Mono-Green Devotion. Primeval Titan once again rears its head in the newer deck previously talked about by Glenn Jones, and it can really pile on the absurdity when left unchecked. While the creatures aren’t particularly impressive by themselves, they serve a similar role to rituals in Storm, collectively creating a critical mass of resources needed to reach your goal.

Genesis Wave and the aforementioned Primeval Titan are the keys to taking over a game with this deck, with Nykthos being a major catalyst. You get some resiliency with Strangleroot Geist, but you’re still pretty soft to Pyroclasm and other major sweepers (Anger of the Gods being the most effective). The other big issue is its inability to handle heavy attrition. Jund can eat decks like this alive, and having a plan against them when things begin to break down is a must.

One way of going about it is by going as all in as you possibly can:

We’re doing our best attempt at mimicking some of the qualities of Legacy Elves here. We don’t have any Glimpse of Nature effects or tricksy bounce shenanigans, so finding a reliable source of cards and board presence isn’t going to happen as often (Beck // Call is too high maintenance and overall not very good in this particular build). As a result, we need to make up for it with more fluid effects. Elvish Visionary and Wistful Selkie are good starts, but Harmonize could work, as could Garruk, Primal Hunter. I prefer to lean more toward permanents that directly translate, so most of the Garruks look good and so does Regal Force. Of course, having the ability to slam an 8/8 that gives eight devotion on turn 2 doesn’t hurt much either!

Whew! That’s a lot of decklists for you guys to go and mess with. I hope you guys are enjoying this series so far. Next week I’ll be taking a look at the many flavors of Delver and attempting to give some of them a nice makeover. We might even see some mashups of Delver and other known strategies. If you love turning those Insects out of their sleeves (you don’t use checklist cards, do you?), then you certainly don’t want to miss it!