The return of combo – real combo, mind you, not Mirari’s Wakian hybrid combo with it’s insufferable lack of an engine and a one card combo – is Fifth Dawn’s promise for the format. Krark-Clan Ironworks is the first of the accepted combo decks.
I don’t think KCI is going to destroy the format, though.
The general kill works something like this: You use mana acceleration to bring out a quick Ironworks, then eat up the mana acceleration to slam down a Myr Incubator. Once the Incubator is out and about, you have access to twenty or so Myr tokens. For some decks, that’s enough to seal the deal right there by activating the Incubator in the opponent’s end step and then attacking for fatal damage. Should that plan fail, there is always Goblin Cannon, Grinding Station or Blasting Station or Goblin Charbelcher.
In case you’re wondering on Charbelcher, you remove all your lands from your deck and have at least twenty cards left. You then activate the Belcher and Belch forth damage equal to cards in your library. Since all your lands are artifact lands, well, it works rather nicely.
So this is the brutal killing machine that’s going to destroy the format? Well now, how many holes can we fill to stop it? Destroying the Ironworks before they’re ready to go is simple, and probably will work sometimes. You can Stifle the Incubator, which means they’ve chewed up an awful lot of mana to make a big pile of nothing. You can drop Ivory Mask to keep the targeted stuff from killing you, Thunderstaff keeps that naughty Myr from biting you, Damping Matrix turns off just about all the kill conditions, Akroma’s Vengeance cleanses their board, and Mindslaver will eat their whole pile of stuff in one massive Ironworks fueled frenzy of nothing. Goblin Sharpshooter annoys them greatly, and so does Disciple of the Vault.
Now, how many of these are great solutions? None of them put the deck out of commission in a single blow or come down so fast every time that the deck will lose every game. But on the other hand, there’s an awful lot of solid answers to Krark Clan Ironworks.
Me, I’m not really here to write about KCI decks today, just to briefly dispel some of the hype surrounding them. My real purpose today is to talk about another combo deck that you can choose to play.
Sometime before Regionals a friend of mine got very excited about a mono-Blue combo deck that worked post-Darksteel. He referred to as”Teen Titans.” I’m told the deck is well known, and was considered to be a pretty good deck locally, although I don’t know exactly who came up with it or where the deck’s exact origins are. I could probably say something like”The Japanese came up with it” and that would satisfy everyone. The better name for the deck is probably simply”Retract-storm combo.”
Here’s how it works:
You play a Vedalken Archmage through acceleration. Usually, once you have the Archmage, you can go off that turn with a little luck. You play zero-mana artifacts and using the Archmage, push yourself ahead by drawing cards. Once you’ve got enough zero-mana artifacts chilling on the table, you simply cast Retract, bounce them all back to your hand and then repeat the process. Each time you draw a colored card, you give yourself more fuel for your Retracted Chrome Moxen. In this way, Retract itself costs no mana, and can produce a draw of ten or so cards. Not so bad, is it?
Here’s the current version of the deck I’ve been fiddling with:
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Chrome Mox
4 Night’s Whisper
3 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Talisman of Dominance
4 Serum Visions
3 Brain Freeze
4 Vedalken Archmage
4 Pentad Prism
4 Engineered Explosives
4 Welding Jar
Once you’ve produced a high enough storm count, you simply drop a Brain Freeze, which ends the game. Mathematically speaking, you have to cast twenty spells to eat an entire library. However, as most people don’t mulligan to zero, you usually have to eat about fifty cards to win on turn three. That is (of course) seventeen spells, which, if you cast the Archmage, the Retract, and the Brain Freeze all in the same turn, means you need to cast quite a few artifacts both before and after the Retract.
Serum Visions is the hardest card in this deck to use effectively. Often, you will discover that you actually want that card you placed on the bottom of your library. And sometimes, of course, you will find you did! The general rule of this deck is to find the Archmage, and then to find the cheap artifacts. Once you have an Archmage, you can rely on the Archmage to find the rest of your pieces, as long as you have more trinkets to feed his desire for knowledge.
Night’s Whisper is better than Thoughtcast simply because you rarely want to drop your cheap artifacts before you play out the Archmage you’re digging for. After you have him, you generally want to draw more cheap artifacts to feed to him once you comes down. In both cases, keeping those Ornithopters in your hand will do you well. The life loss does hurt, of course. It also allows you to produce Black mana with your moxen, which let’s you use Pentad Prism more effectively.
Pentad Prism isn’t the greatest card ever, but it does allow you a lot of additional mana on turn 3 or 4. Having access to five or six mana on turn 3 makes it a lot easier to go off. Also, if you have a Black and a Blue floating, Pentad Prisms are”free” and can be chain cast by adding mana from one Prism of two different colors, then playing another one all charged up. This can greatly accelerate your ability to go off, since the more free artifacts you have, the better. If you casting the Archmage on the turn you go off, you will generally want at least five mana.
Engineered Explosives can be replaced with any other zero-mana artifact if you’d like. Occasionally you may find yourself wanting to buy a turn or two by blowing up Goblin Piledrivers or other annoying cards, and Explosives gives you access to that. I’ve only used the card once to kill a pair of Piledrivers in testing, otherwise it’s just another cute zero-mana artifact.
I really wanted to run Trade Secrets in this deck, but I’ve seen this card kill the person who cast it too many times in testing, so it sits on the bench, staring longingly at me.
You have two game plans, based on the type of deck you’re playing against.
Against aggro decks, you want to go off as fast as possible. This is always risky and many times the deck simply whiffs without enough artifacts drawn. Generally speaking, you want to attempt to go off for your turn 4. Fortunately, if your opponent is struggling to kill you rapidly, he probably won’t leave mana up to kill your Archmage, so the only issue will be whether the deck craps out or not.
Goblins is very problematic if they have Sparksmith or Goblin Sharpshooter on the table. It is exceedingly difficult to go off without access to the Archmage. On the flip side, Ravager Affinity these days seems to be less interested in running Pyrite Spellbombs, so for the most part, the only removal they will possess is Shrapnel Blast, and that is usually targeted at one’s head.
Both Aggro decks are problematic. The deck can be assisted in beating aggro by shifting more towards the following build.
4 Chrome Mox
3 Night’s Whisper
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Talisman of Dominance
4 Serum Visions
3 Brain Freeze
4 Vedalken Archmage
4 Pentad Prism
4 Scale of Chiss-Goria
4 Welding Jar
It’s generally the same deck, but relying on the Scale can help keep your poor Archmage alive a little bit longer. On top of that, it cuts out more of the fetchlands and a Night’s Whisper to keep you from killing yourself quite as much.
There are two basic types of control decks you can face. The first are decks like MWC or Tooth and Nail. You beat these decks pretty easily, as they usually won’t be able to do much to stop you going off and they can’t kill you by turn 5. The second is U/W Control and I suppose Broodstar Affinity, if it ever rolls back into town. You have a lot of trouble against the decks, since they can Stifle your Brain Freeze or have counterspells for your Archmages.
Control decks, however, give you an awful lot of time to set up your board position before trying to go off. Since you aren’t running a bunch of artifact lands in the main version, you aren’t all that vulnerable to Akroma’s Vengeance. Losing your Archmage to Wrath of God can be troublesome, but since you don’t actually have to play the Archmage until the turn you want to win, you’re not in a lot of trouble thereabouts. Against these decks you can try to set up the perfect hand, and go off with mana to spare, so you don’t hinge on drawing the moxen to pay for Brain Freeze.
Sideboardwise there are not a big pile of cards you are going to want to bring in. The main one that comes to mind is Early Frost. Against UWC or even MWC, you can tap down all their Blue sources – rarely do they have all that many – and lock them out of being able to Stifle, counter, or Gilded Light during the turn you go off. This makes things a lot harder on them. Shattered Dreams could be added against KCI to buy yourself a turn or two – and a turn or two is all you actually need to win. Damping Matrix would keep the meddlesome Sparksmith off your back, but of course, after you Retract he’d be all set to pop the poor Archmage. For Goblins, I suppose the best thing would be my friend’s plan of bringing in Plains and some Circles of Protection: Red, but that may not altogether the greatest plan either. Thunderstaff might be a touch more reliable for that.
I’d probably construct my Sideboard to look something like this :
The deck wins on turn 4 and 5 fairly consistently. Occasionally you will be completely unable to find a Vedalken Archmage. I’ve had games where I go turn 1 Serum Visions, turn 2 Night’s Whisper and turn 3 Thirst for Knowledge only to come up empty handed. It’s pretty surreal when you go through that much of your deck can’t seem to find what you’re looking for. The only other type of whiffs are drawing way too many lands (which is rather hard to do, since after two fetchlands you’ve probably only got about ten land in your deck), or drawing too many card drawing spells once you’ve started to go off. That one occurs a little more often.
All in all, this is an amusing tier two decklist that can be quite a blast to play. It does have it’s vulnerabilities, but consistently going off turn 4 with the possibility of going off turn 2 does make for a very interesting deck to play. I say possibility, as it should be pretty simple – going Mox, Island, Prism and then turn 2ing out an Archmage should work fine. The odd thing is, I’ve been completely unable to ever get the deck to go off on turn 2 in all my test games or goldfishing, even though I’m certain it really can be done.
You shouldn’t rush it, though. Going off on turn 3 can be very appealing, but unless you’re certain you will die on the next turn if you don’t try to go off, the next turn could draw you that one extra card you need to win.
I rather enjoy this deck. It’s a lot of fun when playing against control formats, but against Aggro, it can feel very one-track. Either you combo out fast enough, or you’re dead. There is almost no middle ground.
But after all, that’s what combo is, isn’t it?