Once More With Vigor

Glenn gets back to Modern this week with his favorite deck in the history of the format: Amulet Combo!

I tweeted earlier this week that I was back to playing my favorite deck in the history of Modern. To those not in the know, that deck is Amulet of Vigor. I first spotted the deck during one of our Open Series events in Las Vegas, falling in love on the spot while Osyp derisively scoffed. But truthfully, what’s not to love?

The best part about this deck—beyond its potential for turn 2 kills—is the puzzle-solving aspect. I love mathing out all the sequences, ordering each and every land drop perfectly—it’s brain candy! Of course, all the minutiae makes the deck a lot harder on Magic Online, and I wouldn’t recommend double queuing with it. There are a lot of clicks per game, and one misstep will usually doom you.

Nonbasic Concepts

Before we go any further, I’ll start with a basic explanation of the interactions that make up the core of the deck. First off, this is a combo deck that doesn’t usually kill in one turn and generally uses the combat step (the photo above notwithstanding). You have to be prepared for breaking through the opponent’s board and playing around their interaction.

Amulet of Vigor allows Ravnica block’s "bounce lands" to combine with effects like Summer Bloom and Azusa, Lost but Seeking in order to generate a "ritual" effect, creating a ton of mana very quickly. Two Amulets double the mana and also offer some interesting tricks with lands that possess activated abilities. Playing a bunch of bounce lands is necessary, as an Amulet without one is mediocre at best.

What do we do with the mana? Well, Hive Mind is (clearly) an option, but it’s actually not the primary win condition. Most of the lines involve casting Primeval Titan because he is the easiest combo piece to find thanks to Tolaria West plus Summoner’s Pact and he doesn’t need an additional card to generate value. The most common wins come from casting Primeval Titan on turn 2 or 3 and cascading the advantage it generates into a victory assuming the 6/6 doesn’t just kill them on the spot. With an Amulet of Vigor already in play, Primeval Titan should nearly always be searching up Slayers’ Stronghold and Boros Garrison, using Amulet’s trigger to make the Titan into an 8/6 and attacking, generating another trigger.

From here, you have options. If you somehow have two additional mana available, fetching up Vesuva to copy the Garrison and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion will give you sixteen points of Primeval fury flying at the opponent, which kills the vast majority of vulnerable opponents in a world laden with fetch lands and shock lands. Of course, you won’t have two mana available especially often, and that means it will take at least two attacks to close out the game due to blockers and removal—I’ll cover some other searches later on.

One of the massive benefits of this particular form of "ritual combo" is that your rituals don’t just rot in your hand. If you can’t "go off" with an Amulet followed by Bloom or Azusa, you can simply continue to make land drops while using your Explore effects to accelerate you, not unlike a traditional ramp deck. An unassisted Primeval Titan is nothing to sneeze at and not very difficult to achieve—a single Summer Bloom and the necessary lands can set up a Titan or Hive Mind on turn 3.

You’re basically freerolling the potential to be a weird Scapeshift deck while aiming for a full-on degenerate combo!

Decklists For Days

History lesson! The earliest list I could find is from yamayo, who 3-1ed a Daily Event in February.

This list suffered from having a few too many cards that don’t combo. I can respect the desire for Inquisition and the thrill of catching someone with an Apostle’s Blessing, but these are mulligans more often than they’re advantages. For example, the silver-bullet creatures are adjustments you should want available via the sideboard, not in the maindeck. Bringing in Pridemage to beat Torpor Orbs makes sense—having it in your maindeck does not.

Explore is a decent card, but it negatively affects your mulligan decisions and lacks impact. However, I despise Sakura-Tribe Scout, and you should too. If a combo deck is going to play a creature that dies to Lightning Bolt, it had better either threaten to kill them when you untap or generate value on the spot—see Goblin Electromancer and Pestermite.

Interestingly, the Hive Mind kill first appeared here but has been dismissed and reclaimed since then. Spoils of the Vault followed the same track, but Spoils leaves you very vulnerable after casting it and can’t effectively cycle. It’s a sweet card for combo decks that frequently finish the job in one turn, but that’s not us.

The deck first broke news when Gerry Thompson and John Penick both cashed the same Daily Event with the same list, distilling the deck down to its core elements and slicing away yamayo’s inconsistencies.

Adding Ancient Stirrings to help find Amulet is a page out of Tron’s book, and the card tends to at least cycle thanks to the high land count.

The major addition was Wargate, one of Gerry’s pet cards. Wargate puts an Amulet into play for four mana and usually lets you follow one Primeval Titan with a second on the following turn, helping to fend off removal spells. Plus it’s a nonbasic Rampant Growth for three mana! Wargate’s not exactly efficient—guaranteeing a turn 5 Primeval Titan really isn’t very impressive—but it does give the deck some focus and increase the power of bullet lands like Cavern of Souls.

Sakura-Tribe Scout does make Wargate better, giving you lines to Wargate on turn 2 or 3 as circumstances require, but like I said, I hate Scout. Spanky_kc has done some work on the deck in recent months, and here’s one of his lists uniting those two cards.

I’ve been playing a list I derived from bobjackson’s, which you can find below.

By and large, I like a lot of this deck. The one oddity I’ll point out is the 4/1 split on Selesnya Sanctuary and Gruul Turf—that doesn’t make any sense, and it makes even less sense when you consider the sideboarded Pyroclasms.

Adding Oracle of Mul Daya gives you some room to grind when you can’t combo, and I’ve played "Scapeshift lite" successfully in more than a few matches myself. Trinket Mage is also decent, coming in against slower decks to make you more consistent and give you a threat that slides under Cryptic Command. I’m interested in exploring more Trinkets and Mages, and I like the Oracles. My record with this build is very good on Magic Online right now, so I can recommend it if you’re looking to dive in (once you add more Gruul Turf).

One more: a walk on the wild side from Silversin.

This deck obviously gets a little more peanut butter in that chocolate and has several elements we’ve seen in dedicated Hive Mind builds. The most notable is Pentad Prism, but Telling Time is a fine cantrip as well. Both Sleight of Hand and See Beyond are worth looking at for similar reasons, but I’m inclined to give Sleight the nod. It’s more efficient, and unlike See Beyond it won’t shuffle scryed cards off the bottom. See Beyond can shuffle back Stronghold or other specific lands, which is useful, but other than that it’s pretty lame.

Real Estate

The deck can (and should) run a variety of utility lands. Allow me to cover some basic lines.

When the opponent has removal or Tectonic Edge to let them stop your Stronghold or when you expect the game to continue on even after you’ve attacked, you’ll usually just want a backup plan. Fetching up Tolaria West and any bounce land—usually Simic Growth Chamber—will give you access to Summoner’s Pact in order to ensure that you have another Primeval Titan ready to go should the opponent be able to answer this one.

Of course, Tolaria West also transmutes for Slaughter Pact to remove opposing creatures, Pact of Negation to protect your position, or any land in the deck—most frequently Cavern of Souls. Keep in mind that you will need an extra blue mana available after resolving Titan in order to search with Tolaria West, as the Growth Chamber will be untapped when you leave combat while the mana generated from Tolaria West often goes unused. You absolutely must run a Tolaria West, and I prefer to run three.

Against opponents with Liliana of the Veil, Khalni Garden can provide a warm body that leaps into Liliana’s path, protecting your Primeval Titan. Keep in mind that it too can become a Slayer . . .

An additional form of protection can be Inkmoth Nexus, which lists often run in conjunction with Kessig Wolf Run as an alternate kill. Inkmoth Nexus is especially useful as a weapon for ticking down Karns and active Lilianas. It’s not mandatory, but I like the option personally, especially in sideboarded games where you can often see multiple Titans answered. Any creature plus Wolf Run can be very, very lethal.

You can play a pair of Glimmerposts or Kabira Crossroads, but Modern has taken such a bend toward combo and midrange decks that these lands are no longer worth their slots. If your metagame has more Burn or other aggro decks, then by all means play them.

Ghost Quarter is mostly a weapon against Tron, but you can use it to block Tectonic Edge as well. I’m not that interested; Tron is a fine matchup, mostly because Slayers’ Stronghold matches up very favorably against Karn when you also have Azusa to make them only one-for-one you before losing the planeswalker. Oblivion Stone can be troublesome, but that’s about it. If you want to run Ghost Quarter, sideboard it.

Some people run Vault of the Archangel—I’m just not sure why.

Those are pretty much all of the interesting lands that people play. As I noted above, the ones you actually want will vary, but you’ve got some room to play. You’re going to run 25-29 lands, so once you’ve jammed in the mandatory lands you can finesse the rest. When you run into a bad matchup for one or two of them, just board them out!

Sideboarding Ideas

Don’t destroy your deck in sideboarding. It’s tempting, as there are a lot of options and opportunities, but Amulet Combo is a hyper-proactive deck. You’re not trying to play Magic—you’re trying to impose your strategy upon the opponent. The only decks you want reactive cards against are the ones that can race you!

I don’t mind running Pyroclasms or Creeping Corrosions, as Affinity is a tough nut in my experience. Pyroclasm had the additional perk of roasting the Mono-Green Nykthos deck alive, so that’s nice. The full amount of both, however, seems excessive—I recommend shaving down from bobjackson’s starting suite.

Graveyard hate is incredibly important in the sideboard. Living End can put enough creatures on the field to soak Titan hits, and recurring Fulminator Mage is disastrous. You want one Tormod’s Crypt minimum, but Relic of Progenitus may be better by and large. This matchup is going to be tough without serious dedicated hate.

If you go the Trinket Mage route, then Chalice of the Void is also good against Living End. Engineered Explosives is a good anti-measure for Torpor Orb and Spellskite and can be good enough against Affinity that it may be worth a slot even without the Trinket Mages. The cost of a single slot after sideboarding is relatively low when you can gain a lot of percentage. Qasali Pridemage is a bit worse but makes sense the same way.

Beast Within is a solid catchall, but it’s a bad card. I’d rather be inventive and stay proactive than run this particular solution. Emphasizing Hive Mind’s alternate kill after sideboarding is one idea, as it dodges a lot of the Titan-specific hate. The downside is that some cards are good against both ends, specifically counters and Fulminator Mage.

Can’t win ’em all!

My move to California has been waylaid by some especially poor service from U-Haul, so I’m still out of commission on streaming. I’ll be at the SCG Open Series in Oakland and the SCG Open Series featuring the Invitational in Las Vegas over the next two weekends, so at least I have some fully furnished sleeping arrangements to look forward to!