I just don’t know anymore.
Look, I don’t know how they ended up printing Felidar Guardian in the same block as Saheeli Rai. It’s so much just the Splinter Twin plus Deceiver Exarch experience, it’s not even funny. Saheeli just keeps copying Felidar Guardian, which just keeps blinking Saheeli. You’re even attacking with a million 1/4s, just like Deceiver Exarch!
The idea that it could have been missed is actually disturbing, but the idea that it could have been intentional is even more so. Either way, this combo is so fast, so efficient, so deadly, it is surely going to be a defining force in the format to come.
It’s not that this combo is unbeatable. There’s lots of stuff that interacts with it. Rather, it is going to define the sorts of interaction people have to play with. You can’t really plan on racing it without any interaction. The combo is faster and more consistent than Aetherworks Marvel, plus it doesn’t require any bad cards.
It’s not just the possibility of playing Saheeli Rai on turn 3 followed by a turn 4 Felidar Guardian that is so scary. At least that line of play involves a “shields down” moment. Where things get really obnoxious is the prospect of a turn 6 Felidar Guardian, blink a land, and then using the three mana to cast Saheeli Rai and combo off.
And that’s only the beginning.
This combo is so easy and takes so little space in a deck, there are countless potential homes for it. For instance, here’s a build that just wants to hang out, play a passable control game, and combo off whenever we’re ready.
This combo is so stupid.
Without even trying, the above list is able to defend us, set up the combo, and force it through. Despite the potential turn 4 and turn 6 kills, we’ve got room for so much of everything.
We’ve got eight removal spells:
We’ve got eight library manipulation spells:
Anticipate and Glimmer of Genius are already excellent and give us a lot of ability to overpower opponents that sit around, trying to keep removal up. What’s more, Saheeli Rai’s +1 ability lets us scry every turn, which can help us find a Felidar Guardian.
We’ve got eight permission spells:
Despite all of this interaction and selection, we’ve even got room for a backup plan (which is pretty important, since the combo is so obvious and so capable of being attacked from a hundred angles).
A lot of people have been talking about combining the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian package with Crackdown Construct plus Wandering Fumarole. After all, Wandering Fumarole isn’t exactly the biggest ask, so you’re already halfway there.
Once you power up Wandering Fumarole, you can activate the zero ability as many times as you like, making your Crackdown Construct arbitrarily large. While interesting and potentially powerful, this is a much, much weaker combo. It doesn’t have “haste” the same way the Saheeli combo does, not to mention requiring the Construct to actually get through. Even if your opponent needs to chump block every turn, there are lots of ways to keep up, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Plus, you’re spending four mana a turn!
Here’s an attempt at marrying these two combos:
I’m definitely a bigger fan of the previous approach, but if it turns out that there’s a powerful way to convert a 40/40 creature into a win that you’d want to play anyway, we might want to revisit this path. I could also imagine making a deck much more focused on the Crackdown Construct combo that happens to splash white for Felidar Guardian.
It’s not just how many cards the above deck has in common with W/U Flash, that makes this approach appealing.
Selfless Spirit is an excellent way to protect Felidar Guardian from any untimely Fatal Pushes and the like. Besides, W/U Flash makes for an excellent backup plan and has a lot of natural strength against opponents that just play into you. If they slowplay their hand, however, that just gives you more time to set up.
One weakness to this sort of approach is the increased vulnerability to problematic permanents. For instance:
Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a fine card in its own right. However, its ability to shut down the Saheeli combo by making all of the Felidar Guardians enter tapped gives her new purpose. Shock and Harnessed Lightning are efficient ways to get rid of her, but the W/U Flash version is going to have a lot more trouble (and might actually just want to maindeck some cheap burn, too).
There are so many amazing tools for Jeskai decks that want to stretch the game out. For instance:
Reflector Mage is an incredibly powerful card that can buy tons of time against aggressive strategies. It’s also obnoxious when combined with Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian. Just imagine playing against a “normal” deck and opening with the following:
Turn 3: Reflector Mage your creature.
You don’t actually need to do anything funky to make Reflector Mage great here, but if you wanted to, you could push it even more with cards like Essence Flux or Eldrazi Displacer. Basically, everything sweet to blink with them will work well with Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian.
You know what else you can do with a Reflector Mage?
Sacrifice a Reflector Mage to cast an Elder Deep-Fiend and you can frequently tap your opponent out so they can’t disrupt your combo! It sounds funny, but sometimes you’re going to sacrifice a Felidar Guardian and it’ll be great. Maybe you have another, maybe you’re just winning with Elder Deep-Fiend beatdown. After all, using Saheeli on the Elder Deep-Fiend may not copy the tap ability, but it does add up to ten damage…
See, that’s what’s so messed up about this Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian business. Both of those cards are useful on their own and many of the best ways to support them involve using extremely powerful cards (which is generally a really good approach, on those few occasions where a combo deck makes this possible).
While you obviously don’t need a Panharmonicon to go off, it does open up alternative combos such as two Felidar Guardians blinking each other countless times, with Panharmonicon making it so that you get two triggers each time and can use the other one to blink land to make unlimited mana or Prophetic Prism to draw as many cards as you want.
Even when you don’t have a loop, Felidar Guardian works excellently with Panharmonicon. Playing it gives you two triggers, and if you’ve got a couple creatures like Glint-Nest Crane, Pilgrim’s Eye, or Trophy Mage, you can blink them both, getting two of each of their triggers when they return, making Felidar Guardian into a five-for-one.
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 2 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 2 Glint-Nest Crane
- 4 Metalwork Colossus
- 1 Foundry Inspector
- 2 Trophy Mage
- 4 Felidar Guardian
It might be pretty obvious, but it cannot be overstated just how strong Spire of Industry is in an artifact deck.
There are so many insane things to try in Metalwork Colossus decks, it’s hard to even know where to begin. This one has a light Trophy Mage package, in large part because of how powerful Inspiring Statuary is.
This is one of the most dangerous cards in the set, and kind of surprising to see actually printed. It’s scary enough that it lets you quickly make some really big mana turns. However, it’s not like the card has a low floor. Since you can tap it for mana, it’s kind of like a three-cost artifact mana source, which is really not that far off.
Turn 2: Prophetic Prism or Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot
Turn 3: Inspiring Statuary
Turn 4: Felidar Guardian into Saheeli (!)
Kind of makes you wonder, why bother with the Trophy Mage package?
Now you can draw an extra card a turn for effectively one mana, since the Key takes two but “produces” a mana when tapped for Improvise. In addition to being used with Inspiring Statuary, we can also tap it to help cast spells that have Improvise naturally, like Metallic Rebuke and Reverse Enginer.
A turn 1 Terrarion (or Thraben Inspector, if we went another way) gives us turn 2 Mana Leak potential. What’s more, when we actually go for the kill, we can often use Metallic Rebuke as a one-mana Counterspell.
Reverse Engineer is sort of an amped-up Thoughtcast. Tapping just two artifacts gives us a three-mana draw-three, which is already absurd, but it can get even closer to Treasure Cruise when you cast it for two. This isn’t even speaking to the possibility of tapping a Key to the City with it, either!
Inspiring Statuary is absurd with Paradoxical Outcome, letting you tap all of your random zeros and cantrip artifacts to cast it for almost nothing. Then, after drawing a bunch of cards, you can replay them all and use them for mana, again. If you’ve got Sram, Senior Edificer, you can even draw more cards on the way back in!
Sram has lots of potential applications, largely because you really don’t have to draw that many extra cards to have made your two-mana investment pay off.
Baral’s Expertise can serve as a sort of backup Crush of Tentacles, bouncing opposing threats or our own cantrip artifacts. We can also use it as a backup plan for casting Saheeli Rai when we don’t draw any red mana.
In addition to the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo, this list has tons of ways to assemble three cards that loop. Whirler Virtuoso plus three Aetherstorm Rocs / Decoction Modules / Panharmonicons gives you unlimited Thopters.
Aethergeode Miner plus two of the above energy producers gives you as many blinks as you want. If you have a third, you can make as much energy as you want. Pious Evangel means as much life as you want.
Of course, if we want to go even further off the deep end, we could splash black and green for Winding Constrictor…
Winding Constrictor has many potential applications, such as being a living Hardened Scales. However, if we use it with energy, it doubles our Aetherstorm Roc, doubles our Decoction Module, and potentially even doubles our Panharmonicon (when it’s doubling an energy card).
- 2 Pious Evangel
- 4 Aetherstorm Roc
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 1 Ninth Bridge Patrol
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 4 Aethergeode Miner
- 4 Felidar Guardian
Refocusing on Saheeli, we’ve mainly been discussing Jeskai decks. After all, the combo sort of implies at least Jeskai colors. However, what about playing green as well?
Green has some quality library manipulation that can help set up the combo, not to mention possibly pulling the manabase together. Going this path also makes it easier to play an Emrakul, the Promised End, which can really punish someone sitting around with a hand full of removal and counterspells.
There are all kinds of weird stuff going on here. One thing that shouldn’t be that weird is Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
Ishkanah is very interesting with Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian, combining with either to make an enormous army of Spiders. I could imagine leaning into this strategy even harder. There are so many fixers, you might even be able to just splash Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian into a B/G Delirium deck!
Bring to Light was all the rage when it first came out but has largely been forgotten. While it can search up Felidar Guardian without any trouble, it can’t actually go get Saheeli Rai… at least not directly.
A single copy of Call the Gatewatch makes Bring to Light a tutor for either half of the combo. It’s not super-efficient at finding Saheeli, but it does curve right for setting up the turn 6 one-shot kill.
Eldritch Evolution is probably the wrong way to go about searching up Felidar Guardian, but it is one to keep in mind, particularly if you’re trying to abuse Ishkanah, Grafwidows. It’s also cute in that it lets you combo off in one turn with just five lands instead of six. Going for it ahead of schedule might be effective at unbalancing opponents with strategies used to a particular pacing.
It is kind of convenient that Vessel of Nascency sets up either combo…
- 3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 3 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Felidar Guardian
I am not at all sure about the Servant of the Conduit into Rogue Refiner route; however, I am generally interested in looking for possible homes for the Refiner, as it looks like a pretty strong card.
A 3/2 that draws a card would already be pretty interesting, and it even nets two mana in the process. What’s more, it’s another blinkable target for comboing with either Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian.
There’s still much more to figure out about how Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian fit into this new world that will surely be built around them. I’d like to leave you with a few cards of note that have particularly interesting meaning because of the Saheeli combo.
Authority of the Consuls is likely to be a popular sideboard card and is not actually out of the question for maindecks. This means we’re going to need backup plans, and we’re generally going to be interested in enchantment removal we can sideboard in.
A much, much worse Authority of the Consuls. That said, someone could be in the market for it, and it does stop the combo.
Lost Legacy is a pretty potent answer to all-in builds of the combo, not to mention being popular against Emrakul anyway. I would guess it’s a common sideboard card and a great argument for moving towards a build of Saheeli with a diverse mix of backup plans.
Distended Mindbender is another powerful card that doesn’t always have a home. It’s also an extremely effective weapon against someone sitting around, trying to build up to a turn 6 combo kill. The Mindbender actually takes both halves of the combo, puts them on a short clock, and can’t be stopped by most counterspells.
Conveniently, Transgress the Mind can take either half of the combo, as well as giving you an idea of how to play the next couple of turns without dying out of nowhere.
While Fatal Push doesn’t always disrupt the combo, it can be made more reliable in a deck with Evolving Wilds, Thraben Inspector, Terrarion, Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot, Selfless Spirit, Voldaren Pariah, or Elder Deep-Fiend.
This is going to be a strange brewing season. Whatever strategies we work on are going to have to be informed by the very frequent possibility of turn 4 two-card combo kills. Perhaps even more importantly, we’re going to want to figure out how the rest of the world is planning on fighting back against Saheeli Rai. Whatever cards we can find that are good against those cards? Well, that’s where the technology’s at…