Even before we had any preview cards, Wizards had been hinting that Fifth Dawn was a combo set. Some people are happy – like the Knut and I – and some people are sad, because they like to get a chance to play their own deck rather than just watch me masturbate with mine for twenty minutes before I kill them. However, I feel justified in playing a”selfish” deck: it’s not like in a sudden flash of brilliance you gain both the deckbuilding expertise and the skill required to play combo. It takes tons of practice, there are difficult decisions to be made at every step of the way, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you are more likely to win games for your opponents than they are to win for themselves (insert Tim Aten joke about ridiculous syntax here). If you want to blindly smash face, grab Gobbos or Affinity. But, if you like the challenge of playing a complex deck, read on…
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you ought to know by now that one of my strong suits is my lack of… what’s that thing when, like, you’re sorry? [Remoras. – Knut] Don’t answer that, I don’t care anyway. Therefore, this article may include, but is not limited to, the following:
1. Repeatedly referencing past articles and/or tournament glories
2. Shamelessly building suspense
3. Ripping off other people’s material or inside jokes about women and cheesecake in a manner that shows my complete and utter lack of understanding of the aforementioned inside jokes
4. Bad puns – wait a second, I’m just ripping off Geordie Tait
5. Cheap shots (see above).
I’d like to start by going number two (I hope you can stand the smell), and talk about combo in general before I get to the new deck. Combo will never die as long as there are jerk-offs like me around; since the full set has become known to the MTG population, a lot of people have gone all out in attempts to make broken combo decks, and I salute them. What I don’t like, though, are the results so far. Of course Skullclamp is a broken card-drawing engine, but why build a combo deck around a card that anyone with two brain cells to rub together knew was going to be banned? Skullclamp did more than make Standard a one-sided format – it destroyed the creativity that we need to make a solid combo deck out of Fifth Dawn.
I mean, the only deck I’ve heard much about so far is basically a remake of the old Tangleroot / Skullclamp / Auriok Steelshaper deck, which sucked pretty bad in the first place. The new deck, while it’s consistent in goldfishing, is fairly vulnerable to a host of different sorts of removal. I haven’t really tested it much since Clamp was getting the boot, but I look at the decklist and shudder. The deck irks me because it bears so little resemblance to what I generally consider a combo deck to be; it’s full of creatures, for Christ’s sake. I can’t reconcile myself to it.
So, I went back to my roots and created an old-school combo deck. A real combo deck. One that laughs at and scorns the fallen idol that once was named Skullclamp. Now that you’re a page deep you’re getting really curious, I can tell. But patience is a virtue – so here’s a quick rehash of what a combo deck is and how it works and to add a little Floresian touch (#3), I’ll even throw in some old-school anecdotal analogies. As far as I can tell, there are three main parts to a combo deck:
1. Mana Acceleration.
If you are going to do lots of stuff in a turn, you need lots of mana. This is the most important aspect of the deck since after Urza’s Saga, Wizards deliberately costs good combo cards higher than they used to. Examples of this in my favorite combo deck of times past (the savage, savage ProsBloom) are multiple. Squandered Resources, Natural Balance, and Cadaverous Bloom all help ramp up your mana.
2. Card Drawing and Facilitators.
You can’t do lots of stuff without lots of cards, and things that help you do what you want to do. The card drawing part has obvious examples (Prosperity, Meditate, and Infernal Contract) but the facilitators are more difficult to spot. Cadaverous Bloom was one since it allowed you to exchange cards in hand for mana. Squandered Resources facilitates Natural Balance to refill your land count. Abeyance kept your opponent from disrupting your combo.
3. Kill Condition.
This is what you use to win, a. k. a. Drain Life.
The final part of combo decks isn’t necessarily a component, but an attitude. Everything in the deck must be work towards the singular goal of the deck, and that’s dealing whichever manner of death stroke you choose as quickly as it can be dealt. That means that most of the time you don’t worry about what your opponent is doing and focus solely on what you’re doing. That also means that no card in your deck can ever be useless at any given time. If it doesn’t work towards your ultimate goal, it should be discarded for something that does.
One of the things that has made decks like ProsBloom good combo instead of just combo is the manner in which the cards interact. They focus solely on the task at hand, but many of the cards serve multiple functions – for example, cards that are both mana producers and facilitators. Cadaverous Bloom gives you fast mana for a large Prosperity, but it also lets you discard the stuff that is no longer useful to continue comboing out.
When I looked at the spoilers, the first thing that I saw was the most bestest combo ever. And to think it was only two cards! I thought Wizards didn’t make two-card combos because they were too easy to assemble. The two cards I saw were Grinding Station and Summoning Station, which read:
Grinding Station – 2 – Artifact
Tap, sacrifice an artifact: Target player puts the top three cards of his or her library into their graveyard. Whenever an artifact comes into play, untap Grinding Station.
Summoning Station – 7 – Artifact
Tap: Put a 2/2 Pincher artifact creature token into play. When an artifact is put into a graveyard from play, untap Summoning Station.
Wowie zowie! This is great. What you do is play both, and tap the second to put your artifact critter into play. Then sack it to the Grinding Station to mill your opponent; this untaps Summoning Station. Rinse, lather, repeat, until you mill them out of cards. This all happens at instant speed so it’s impossible to stop. I built a deck right away and started playtesting, and was getting turn 3 and 4 kills pretty easily. It even had the slim possibility of winning on the second turn, albeit this would almost never happen. The stats if you drew first were even better. I was tweaking and Goldfishing and getting much better at it, making the correct decisions and shaving off the turns required to combo out. Until I realized one small problem.
The spoiler I was using was wrong. Oh so wrong. Here is the real text of Summoning Station:
Tap: Put a 2/2 colorless Pincher creature token into play. Not an artifact creature token, you stupid noob.
This basically destroyed my combo. I wept, then I got mad, then I wept again. I’d already put about ten hours into the stupid thing and I just couldn’t let it go. In order to make the combo work, I had to add in Mycosynth Lattice. This made the deck clunky and terrible; my win condition had gone from two cards to three, and two of them cost six or more mana. It was a nightmare. On the other hand, I have a very high respect for Mycosynth Lattice and tested it extensively in the build I have below before eschewing it favor of Artificer’s Intuition, which proved to be much more synergistic. In the right deck (and I’m not talking about March of the Indestructibles) this card is the bomb from New York to Milan. Wait a second, this requires a digression (a la #3, and possibly even #5).
Top One Song List:
1. Missy Elliot – Cop that Sh*t (hoody hoo!)
You know, after reading one of Knut’s recent articles, I realized that almost all the feature writers know each other and talk to each other online. And they have actually played each other and playtest and do all kinds of things – together. What do I have to do to get the other kids to like me? [Get online? Definitely listen to more Missy E. – Knut]
Justin Timberlake – Cry Me a River
What’s up with all these lists? Anyway, I’m sure you’ve had enough suspense. I’m going to unveil the deck now. Hopefully there are enough Douglas Adams fans in the house to understand the reference here, and if you’re not a fan, you’re missing out.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe*
4 Krark-Clan Ironworks
4 Chrome Mox
3 Talisman of Progress
3 Pentad Prism
2 Artificer’s Intuition
4 Serum Visions
4 Roar of Reclamation
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Read the Runes
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Ancient Den
4 Great Furnace
2 Vault of Whispers
You can probably understand the basic idea of the deck from just looking at it, but for me to really explain the difficult decisions you will have to make I need to do the card-by-card first. Here it is:
Like I said above, this is the mana engine and the heart and soul of your deck. You have to get one to win.
Talismans / Chrome Mox / Pentad Prism
These help you speed everything up as well as becoming raw ore for the Ironworks later. Talismans are generally better overall than Prisms since a lot of the time you need colored mana both before and after a Roar, and the Prisms come back into play with no counters. Also, after you use them up they are worthless until you have an Ironworks. They do provide a nice speed boost when you’re searching through the library to find the various conditions, which put them at even numbers with the Talismans. Don’t be nervous about playing unimprinted Chrome Moxen because you’re going to be doing it all the time. It’s a mini Dark Ritual when you have an Ironworks.
This card will mana fix for you, pitching useless artifact lands for the colors that you need. This is an invaluable Facilitator; there are lots of sources of colored mana in the deck, but making sure you have the correct color combination by turn 4 or 5 is sometimes your most difficult problem. Artificer’s Intuition also helps you to get lots of mana in the graveyard, so when you finally cast Roar you’ll have a mana investment already waiting to be withdrawn. It’s also nice in that you can sacrifice it to Read the Runes to keep a better card after it’s outlived its usefulness.
Serum Visions / Thoughtcast
Serum Visions is quickly becoming one of my favorite cards in the new set, while simultaneously reminding me of my lost childhood. Oh Impulse, where are thou when I need you? Can I get a reprint? It helps you search and provides a way to get out of mana screw quickly. Remember to cast these guys first so you can use Scry, then cast Thoughtcasts second to get whatever you left behind. There is a ton of drawing in the deck and it moves along quite well.
I know it’s slow, but you absolutely have to have an Ironworks. End of story. It can also be helpful by tutoring up whatever color of mana you need if you’re in a pinch, or becoming imprint-food for a Mox.
Read the Runes / Thirst for Knowledge
These are great enablers of the combo, utilizing the”drawbacks” as something helpful. You want to pitch artifact lands, talismans, and whatever other artifacts you may have into the graveyard so that you can Roar them back out. Be careful when you cast Read the Runes; remember that you must discard a card or sacrifice a permanent for each card drawn, and it is often a smarter play to leave a couple of artifacts on the board when you start to combo out so that you can keep some of the goodies that you draw. This card is one of the best, and most difficult to use in the deck; only practice will ensure that you don’t make mistakes.
Roar of Reclamation
Another piece of the combo. People have been saying that it sucks since the effect is symmetrical, that it’s overcosted, etc., but I looked at it and saw a bomb. Sure it’s costed high, it’s ba-roken!
Boom. That’s pretty much it, except there are going to be cases where you want to use one early to kill an opposing Disciple of the Vault.
I had twenty in there at first, but I was getting the all-mana draws a lot more than I wanted, so I cut two of them and added in the Fabricates. I may cut one more to add in an extra Thoughtcast or Talisman; in testing, I’ve been looking for consistency first, then tweaking for speed.
Dangerous Enemy Tactics / Possible Sideboard Cards
This is a difficult one. You can’t take out too much stuff without ruining the combo, but you have to guard yourself against people wrecking you as well. There are a lot of ways people can ruin you in Standard so let me talk about that for a second before I get to the sideboard.
Public Enemy #1: Disciple of the Vault.
Man oh man was I hoping he’d get the boot with Skullclamp, but I never expected him to. He forces you to either combo out with incredible care, or to burn a Fireball on him early so you don’t die from his ability. Also, if they have this guy and an Arcbound Ravager, you’re not going to do anything until you get rid of the Disciple. Imagine casting Roar of Reclamation only to have the Affinity player sacrifice all their artifacts to Arcbound Ravager, then have them all returned for the kill (not to mention a beefy Ravager).
This card can wreck you, and is included in many W/x maindecks. Ironically, it can also save a combo player from Public Enemy #1.
Pulse of the Fields
If you go for the quick combo, beware.
Counters of all shapes and varieties
Playing around Mana Leak is uncomfortable but unavoidable. Hard counters, however, are very, very bad for you.
Rule of Law
You’d best believe that when a combo deck comes out that’s good enough, these will show up in sideboards.
Circle of Protection: Red
If they can negate your win condition with one mana, you’re in trouble.
What can we do to stop these cards from wrecking us? First I’d side Purge. Only Affinity plays Disciples anyway, and it splashes against any kind of Black Clerics deck you might face. [It might be somewhat more painful in terms of color issues, but Lose Hope looks sexy here as well because of the Scry aspect. – Knut] Second, I would side Gilded Light against other combo decks, Affinity, and possibly even Gobbos if they go for Sharpshooter shenanigans (unlikely since they can probably just attack you to death much faster). You can side enchantment removal against the COPs and Rule of Law, or you could go with Mycosynth Lattice, which makes your Fireball a colorless source of damage. I want to put in Welding Jars to protect my Ironworks, but so far there’s no room for them.
The final card I’m thinking of for the sideboard is Second Sunrise. This is a combo card that was printed in the wrong set and it works well here. The question is whether it would be better in the maindeck as a mini-but-much-cheaper-Roar of Reclamation. I’m all tested out for the moment, so I’ll let you try it out.
Another card I’m thinking of experimenting with in the maindeck is Mind’s Desire, but it doesn’t exactly work well with Fireball as a kill condition. And if anyone suggests Blinkmoth Infusion, I will come to your house and beat you violently about the head and neck with a rusted iron bar.
Here is the skinny on how to play it. I’m going to break this down into sections: first, general theory and second, situational dilemmas. Make sure that you give this deck the testing time that it requires before you discard it as a promising but ultimately unworkable idea; it has an incredibly high learning curve and will not perform until you know what you’re doing. This deck will likely only see tournament victories from the best players. To give an example, I’ve Goldfished over three hundred games so far and I still occasionally make mistakes.
Start by accelerating your mana as fast as you can. This is pretty easily accomplished with Chrome Moxen, Talismans, and Pentad Prisms, which can give a surprising speed boost when you need it most. Next, search your library with draw spells until you can play Krark-Clan Ironworks. This is your mana engine and I’d say it’s virtually impossible to win without it unless you manage to discard it and cast Roar of Reclamation, which is no easy task without the mana acceleration Ironworks provides.
Once you have Ironworks in play, tap all your mana, then sacrifice all or most of your artifacts for colorless mana. At this point you need one Blue and two White mana in your pool in addition to the colorless. Cast Read the Runes, leaving enough mana to cast Roar of Reclamation. When you get your draw, discard all the artifacts you get, and sacrifice any Glimmervoids you may have on the board to keep important spells in your hand like card drawers or your kill. Cast Roar of Reclamation, returning all your artifacts to play untapped. Tap, sacrifice, get tons of mana, and aim Fireball at the dome.
That’s it in a nutshell, sounds easy doesn’t it? There are basically three different ways you can take the deck based on your opening hand. If you have an Artificer’s Intuition, you can start cycling Artifact Lands into the ‘yard to thin the library and make for a bigger Roar. If you have no combo pieces but a good mana distribution and lots of card drawing, tear through your library until you have everything ready. If you have most of the combo, try to set up the quick kill. Here is the harder stuff, or things you might not realize right away:
Situation Number One:
You have the combo in place on the table and only Roar of Reclamation (RoR) and Read the Runes (RtR) in hand. When I first started playing the deck, I would float all my mana, and cast RtR first to put extra artifacts in the yard for my RoR. This is a mistake. You should float all of the mana – it will usually be about fifteen including the colorless if you go off on turn 4-6, and cast the Roar first. Return everything (untapped) and cast as big a RtR as you can; remember, you have to float 7WW so that you can cast RoR. Remember that you need to save some permanents on the board to sacrifice to RtR or you’re going to have to discard all the good stuff you just drew.
Situation Number Two: Mox imprints
The first rule is never imprint a Mox until you need it. For example, if you don’t need an extra mana to cast a card-drawing spell, then cast the spell first, then see if it’s still necessary. Remember that almost half the time you will be playing them unimprinted. The most difficult situation is when your only imprint choice is a RoR, which I almost never do unless I desperately need two White mana, which means I already have a second RoR in hand.
Situation Number Three: Lots of mana and a RtR.
Sometimes, you will want to go ahead and burn a RtR just to search through your deck for combo pieces. RtR is really important as the only X drawing spell you have, but there are four copies, so that you don’t have to be afraid to burn one by digging for three or four cards. The only time it gets frustrating is when you draw three of them at once.
There are a lot more difficult decisions to be made over and above these three, but you’ll discover them all as you playtest. As far as how fast it goes off, you will almost always combo out by turn 6. That’s not impressive, but it’s more or less the worst case scenario. The only time this happens is when you can’t get an Ironworks or you get all mana and no business. The fastest you can go off is turn 2, but you have to be on the draw. Granted, this is hardly ever going to happen – kind of like me going to the Pro Tour (#1).
Well, that’s as far as I go. I hope you like the deck, and feel free to test it out and/or change it. May you win on the second turn.
John Matthew Upton
I like back, feed me!
jmumoo AT yahoo DOT com
*This is the title of a Douglas Adams book. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe rocks back and forth on a sort of time anomaly and during the course of your meal, you get to watch the coincidental cataclysms that spark the destruction of the entire known universe in a sort of cascading Big Bang. Then it rocks back and everything’s peachy again. That’s kind of what the deck does – all your permanent go away, then reappear.