Peebles Primers – Sharuum Combo in Standard

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Returns to Richmond!
Tuesday, October 7th – When a new base set rotates into Standard, crafty deckbuilders retreat to their workshops to find fun and forceful strategies able to hobble the emerging metagame. Benjamin Peebles-Mundy has taken quite a shine to a certain 5/5 multicolor artifact, and today’s Peebles Primers investigates the fruits of his experimentation. Do we have a new contender on our hands?

This past weekend, my roommates and I focused mostly on the Limited PTQ in Columbus Ohio. While no one managed to take down the invitation, we had a great time overall. The high point, for me at least, was when I was conscripted into a 4v4 cube draft with the following stakes: the losing team buys the winning team a chocolate cake. Never before has drafting been so fun.

I managed to put together some sort of concoction involving only three maindeck creatures (Blinding Angel, Oona, and Sundering Titan) alongside The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. I had Tinker for the Titan and Isochron Scepter to go with Counterspell, Fire/Ice, Jilt, Brainstorm, and other targets.

We managed to win the cake in just a few short rounds, and devoured it before heading out to dinner at a local Mongolian Barbeque restaurant. While waiting for our food to cook, GerryT ambushed me from behind. We managed to convince the restaurant to move our tables so that we could chat while eating, and naturally the conversation turned towards Constructed Magic.

Gerry mentioned that he was still looking at Five-Color Control as his deck of choice, but I was obviously stuck on Reveillark, as well as an idea I’ve been knocking around in my head for a few days. I’m not sure if it’s ready for the primetime yet, but given how young the format is, there’s nothing much you can do but come up with ideas and hope that a few of them manage to give way to a real deck.

The brew I’ve been pondering is based around Sharuum the Hegemon. While playing some Standard with Reveillark on the MTGO Beta, I noticed that Sharuum essentially couldn’t die to the Legend Rule; if you managed to put a second one into play, they would both die, and then the comes into play trigger could return one of them, and then you’d get another trigger. Of course, this means that two Sharuums can infinitely loop each other, as long as neither gets bounced to your hand or removed from the game.

This left me with two questions. First, what do I do with this loop? Second, how can I make this loop beat the existing decks?

Combo Pieces

Deathgreeter, Soul Warden, Angelic Chorus – These all allow you to gain infinite life when you loop your Sharuums. Deathgreeter versus Soul Warden probably leans towards the Warden, as you’d rather gain life off your opponent’s Bitterblossom than hope that creatures tend to die while your Greeter lives. The Chorus is five times as expensive as the other two, and doesn’t interact with your opponent’s plans, but it’s certainly harder to kill an Enchantment than a 1/1. Of course, people are worried about Bitterblossom, so even Enchantments aren’t too safe.

Glaze Fiend, Nantuko HuskGlaze Fiend just cares about the fact that the artifacts are coming into play, so the loop gives you an infinitely-large Flying creature. Nantuko Husk requires you to stack the trigger targeting the second Sharuum and then sacrifice the first, giving you just a regular old infinitely-large creature. The Husk is worse than the Fiend in most ways, but it’s not nearly as embarrassing on its own.

Hissing Iguanar, Where Ancients Tread – These each give you infinite damage. Much like the choice between Soul Warden and Angelic Chorus, here you’re choosing between an x/1 and an Enchantment. Where Ancients Tread is probably “better” than the Iguanar when you aren’t comboing, but both are fairly miserable when standing alone, and both require a commitment to a fourth color, unless we find a way to cheat Sharuum into play.

Grave Pact – Wipes out your opponent’s side of the board, regardless of Shroud or any other tricks. This card also has decent synergy with Nantuko Husk, if we decide to go down that path.

Dire Undercurrents – This does two things. First, it lets you draw your whole deck, and even lets you put cards from your hand into your graveyard, if you have the desire to. This means that if there were some Sharuum target that you wanted to use to actually win the game, you would always be able to find it and reanimate it. It also gives you a sort of win condition on its own, as you can Mind Twist your opponent and then start stacking the triggers so that they draw one card and immediately discard it. This means that they will deck on their next turn, unless they happen to have an instant-speed answer to the combo and the mana to cast it. This is probably a risk proposition in a world involving Esper Charm, but it’s still an option that’s good to have.

Of course, Sharuum’s ability doesn’t need to target only Sharuum herself. If you were so inclined, reanimating something like a Razormane Masticore that your opponent managed to kill seems pretty good to me. By the same token, you don’t need to use Sharuum alone to regrow artifacts. Both Makeshift Mannequin and (cough) Scarecrone can let you do some pretty dumb things. Scarecrone is probably just awful, but the idea of a guy that can repeatedly reanimate actual bomb creatures like Masticore, Sharuum, and Platinum Angel is pretty appealing. However, you’d probably rather just die if your third turn is going to be Scarecrone when your opponent opened with Figure of Destiny and really anything else.

Surviving the Format

This, I suppose, brings me to the part of the brainstorming where I have to figure out how to not simply lose to whatever it is my opponent is planning to do. I think that you can reasonably expect Five-Color Control, Faeries, White Weenie, and Red(/Green) Aggro to show up. This means that planning to do nothing for three or four turns is not going to work out any way you slice it. It also means you need to be able to beat counterspells and Bitterblossoms, and ideally have a way to beat the 4/4 Mana Short.

My current favorite way to beat aggressive decks with something ponderous like this theoretical deck is Runed Halo into Wrath of God. The Halo gives you a two-drop removal spell, essentially, that has the upside of continuing to protect you post-Wrath, while the Wrath makes sure that the swarm around your Halo can be contained. Oblivion Ring is probably the best bet if we want another spot removal spell, as it gets basically everything, with the high points being Demigod of Revenge and Bitterblossom.

As for beating Five-Color Control, good disruption seems to be the name of the game. Tidehollow Sculler is a card that’s stood out to me (and pretty much everyone else) since being spoiled, and this seems like a great spot to put it to work. It’ll slip under Cryptic Command and lurk in the graveyard as a possible annoyance alongside Sharuum. It’s worth noting that, assuming we go down the Nantuko Husk path, you can stack the trigger and sacrifice the Sculler to remove the card permanently. You’re essentially building a Castigate for the times that’s better than a Mesmeric Fiend. The Sculler can even grab the all-important Bitterblossom if you’re on the play. You can also use something like Ethersworn Canonist to limit their ability to interact with you on your own turn; if you have two must-counter spells, then they’ll either lose to the second or need to have an answer to the Canonist and both threats. Lastly, Esper Charm gives you a nice spell to harass Faeries and Five-Color Control on their end-step as well as a reasonable way to dig for your pieces.

There’s also little to no chance that I’ll be running this without Mind Stone. It’s just too dangerous to try to play one of these big top-end decks without some form of mana acceleration, and I think that a third-turn Wrath of God is better than an Obelisk.

Unfortunately, there are just so many different ways you can be attacked in the current Standard that it’s basically impossible to plan for them all. So far I’ve run into every flavor of Five-Color Control you can imagine, whether based in Blue/White/Green to take advantage of Rafiq of the Many, based in Blue/Black/Red to take advantage of Cruel Ultimatum, or just the Block-style Blue/Green decks that grind out wins with Mulldrifter and Oona’s Grace. Runed Halo stops the Ultimatum but is pretty below-average against Rafiq decks, as even a Mulldrifter is good for six points a turn. Oblivion Ring is strong against Rafiq but nearly a blank versus the Block-style decks, and so on.

Keeping these various factors in mind, the decklist I’ve settled on as my starting point is as follows.

First, a couple of notes. Sculpting Steel snuck into the deck, even though I didn’t mention it above. It’s not the greatest card in the world, and there’s a reasonable chance that it will wind up failing to make the eventual cut, but it’s also quite good at times. Its primary purpose is to give you more Sharuums without actually playing too many six-drops. If you use the Steel as part of the loop, you won’t be able to use something like Nantuko Husk to win, but Soul Warden and the Undercurrents work just fine.

A single Scourglass also managed to work its way into the decklist. There are plenty of options out there for Wrath #5, but I think that this is the best of them because it’s the cheapest one that also deals with Bitterblossom. Hallowed Burial actually wipes the board a turn earlier, but the Scourglass leaves most of your side behind, can be copied with Sculpting Steel, and can be regrown with Sharuum. I think that those add up to tilt the scales in the Glass’s favor, though I could be convinced otherwise.

Starting up the sideboard thought process, I usually begin by looking at what I don’t want to see against an aggressive deck. The Dire Undercurrents are just way too slow against people playing Wild Nacatls and Boggart Ram-Gangs, and Esper Charms are similarly poor there. To fill those slots, I think that four Kitchen Finks and the last Runed Halo are a good start. The Finks aren’t a complete catch-all, though, since there are plenty of men with Wither running around, but they are still quite strong. Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender remains a great fighter in the world of Red decks, especially now that Blood Knight has rotated out. If you want more anti-Red cards, I think that the Forge-Tender is the place to go. Of course, it might be that you want another removal spell, in which case I believe that the one for you is Infest. If you want to stretch the mana, you can use Firespout instead, but Infest will kill Maniacs, Fanatics, Nacatls, Rip-Clan Crashers, and so on. Unfortunately, it will not hit Countryside Crusher or Boggart Ram-Gang, but it’s unclear to me whether missing the x/3s is worse than adding Red to the manabase.

The deck is, um, not so hot against Faeries, which is unfortunate but not unexpected. After all, this plays somewhat like Reveillark, in that you are relying on your late-game power to pull out wins, but don’t have a great way to defend yourself from Cryptic Command or Mistbind Clique. The Tidehollows have played remarkably well, especially given the fact that they’re Terror-proof. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great idea for how to fight them post-board. In the old days I would have looked to Wispmare to make sure that Bitterblossoms don’t stick, but simply playing to beat Bitterblossom leaves you exposed to the actual Faeries in the Faeries deck. Festercreep was always a nice way to handle swarms of x/1s, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of knocking off your Soul Wardens while it’s at it. In the end, I think that the best way to approach this matchup is to bring in the Finks you have for Red to apply pressure alongside your Scullers and Canonists, and to use Thoughtseize, Sculler, and Esper Charm to hit their hand as hard as possible.

The Five-Color plan is similar in nature, though you don’t have to worry about being killed as quickly. Of course, there are the Rafiq decks that might hit you with a 4/5 Double Strike War Monk on the fourth turn, so it’s not like you’re completely out of the woods, but hopefully you can manage to at least see it coming with Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler.

My rough-draft sideboard, then, is:

4 Kitchen Finks
4 Thoughtseize
1 Esper Charm
1 Runed Halo
2 Mind Shatter
1 Oona’s Grace
2 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

Versus Mono-Red or Red/Green Aggro:

-2 Dire Undercurrents, -3 Esper Charm, -2 Sculpting Steel
+4 Kitchen Finks, +1 Runed Halo, +2 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

The Undercurrents are too slow, and the Sculpting Steels are made much less powerful by the fact that you’re often looking to trade your two-drop for theirs, if possible. You also don’t want to set yourself up for too many late-game dead draws, especially if they can pick off your straggling Canonist to stop the Steel from doing anything. The cards you bring in are all defensive cards looking to buy you enough time to seal the deal with Sharuum. It’s hard to actually combo unless you can slowroll a Soul Warden and make sure they don’t have burn to interrupt you, so you’re usually just trying to kill with your 5/5s. This means that if the deck catches on and people start packing Shatters, you need a way to outlast that. I’m not sure what it is, but right now that’s a problem that I don’t believe needs an answer.

If these decks become truly popular, it might be time to leave Forge-Tender behind and start packing Story Circle.

Versus Five-Color Control:

-4 Wrath of God, -1 Scourglass, -3 Runed Halo
+4 Thoughtseize, +1 Esper Charm, +2 Mind Shatter, +1 Oona’s Grace

After sideboarding against the control decks, you are on the Grizzly Bears plus discard plan. The hope is that they can’t get their feet on the ground before you can start hitting them with hand disruption over and over again. If you actually manage to resolve a Mind Shatter, things are going to be looking good.

Getting a Dire Undercurrents into play is pretty difficult, but extremely powerful if you can manage it. Due to the difficulty of this plan, the sideboard Oona’s Grace is there to make sure that you can deck them. If you plan on just gaining infinite life, then they will use their own Graces to deck you out. I’m not happy about getting in a Grace decking fight, but I’d rather have the ability to participate in that fight than simply roll over and die. It’s possible that the actual correct way to win that is to leave in a Runed Halo or two to make sure that you can’t be targeted by that card. Other than that, though, the Halo is not very good here.

Versus Five-Color Rafiq:

-1 Scourglass, -3 Runed Halo, -1 Wrath of God
+2 Mind Shatter, +3 Thoughtseize

This deck is still young, so planning too much for it is probably not a good idea. Regardless, you need ways to get Rafiq off the board, and relying on just two Razormanes is probably not a good way to accomplish this goal. You have to remember, though, that they’re still a control deck that just happens to be packing a (super-powered) four-mana beatstick, and so you need to be working on disrupting them and getting your own game accomplished.

Luckily, the Grace fight isn’t something you need to worry about here. If you manage to gain infinite life, that should be enough to take down the game. As always, though, you’re better off using the Undercurrents and being safe than you are being sorry.

Versus Faeries:

-4 Wrath of God, -3 Runed Halo, -2 Dire Undercurrents, -1 Scourglass, -1 Sculpting Steel
+4 Kitchen Finks, +4 Thoughtseize, +1 Esper Charm, +2 Mind Shatter

Faeries is going to beat you if you’re playing a slow game, so the idea is to really hit the gas (as much as any combo deck built around a six-drop can) and then starting knocking cards out of their hand. The Esper Charms are amazing here as instant-speed two-for-ones that also answer Bitterblossom, but really you’re going to need some quick pressure to make that count. Thoughtseize is looking to hit Bitterblossom and Mistbind Clique, and Mind Shatter is there to clean up the stragglers.

In General

Sharuum the Hegemon is just an extremely powerful card. Many of the matches involve early-game trades with your 2/2s and your spells, and then end with a Sharuum that regrows a Sculler to knock out your opponent’s big finish. A play that comes up a lot, once you have a Sharuum, is that a second Sharuum in your hand is essentially any artifact in your graveyard plus a free untap on your Sharuum in play. For instance, in my last match, I swung for five in the air and then played Sharuum number two post-combat. They died to the Legend Rule, the second Sharuum brought back the first, and then the first brought back a Scourglass that I used on my next upkeep.

It may turn out that the best way to play a deck like this is to ignore the looping aspect of Sharuum and just focus on the fact that you’re getting a Dragon and a free artifact for six mana. However, with everyone looking for a new direction to take, I think it’s more helpful to throw out an idea that is possibly over-ambitious and needs to be toned down than to stick to safe bets. As is, the deck has been performing reasonably well for me on Magic Online, and I have high hopes for it. If you have any suggestions, I implore you to speak up in the forums. Hopefully we’ve got a new contender on our hands.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM