The Long and Winding Road – Legacy Combo: It’s What’s for Dinner!

Monday, November 29th – Yes, it’s true, the flavor explosion caused by nacho cheese and pretzels is just too much for a mere green enchantment, to say nothing of the pizza flavor, and… Oh, combo decks? Well, this is awkward.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I remember when I was young, most kids wanted to be a policeman, or a firefighter, or a baseball player. Then there was always that special kid in each class. You know, the one that wanted to be a dinosaur?

And then, well, there was me. See, I always wanted to grow up to be someone who stared at an hourglass on a computer screen, due to “improvements” the IT department made to my company’s proprietary database system.

Click, wait, click, wait, click, wait. Wait. Wait.

And today, I’m proud to say: I’m living that dream!

So that’s just a story I wanted to share from my daily drudgery, before discussing topics more Magical in nature.

There’s a green enchantment that is causing quite a stir in Legacy. I pledged on The Source not to utter its name in this article, and I will abide by that promise, but I will

you to the card in case you’re not an avid Legacy player and aren’t sure which card it is.

So how do we beat this card, this combination of fast-growing vines and an oft-criticized reworking of Darwin’s phrase, “natural selection?”



Yes, it’s true, the flavor explosion caused by nacho cheese and pretzels is just too much for a mere green enchantment, to say nothing of the pizza flavor, and…

combo decks?

Well, this is awkward.

Or is it? Lately, when we talk about combo in Legacy, we’ve mostly talked about Tendrils decks, and most frequently still after the banning of Mystical Tutor, we’ve talked about The Epic Storm, or TES. Yet, as I’ve said before, Legacy is the deepest format Magic has ever seen, with a total card pool almost equal in size to Vintage, but with a much larger pool of legitimately playable cards and strategies. As it would be tragic to live life thinking Combos came only in Cheddar Cheese Cracker flavor, so, too, is it a waste to live your Magical life thinking that TES is the only flavor of Legacy combo.

Today, I will endeavor to expand your taste horizons. We’ll start out with the traditional Tendrils strategies and branch out from there.

The Gold Standard, Or: Tendrils Combo (TES, ANT, Helm-line)

This deck is an amalgamation of a few different versions of TES. I have come to agree with the idea of playing a second Ad Nauseam, as Empty the Warrens has come up short too often in my testing; additionally I’ve had to jump through unnecessary hoops in, or even lost, games where I’ve had my only Ad Nauseam stuck in my hand with no Brainstorm in sight. I also find Xantid Swarm to be a must-play somewhere in your seventy-five with the format existing as it is currently.

I’ve talked about TES recently, as has Max McCall, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. I did want to show you a build slightly more in the Ari Lax school of Tendrils combo, which just won the 207-player Dutch Legacy Championships:

The key difference between TES and the deck Ari played at Grand Prix Columbus is the use of red for Burning Wish, Empty the Warrens, and Rite of Flame. Red allows you to increase your threat density, at the expense of a more fragile mana base. Bryant Cook pushed that to its farthest extreme, playing all five colors in his

build for access to Xantid Swarm and
Orim’s Chant. As a contrast, Ari played straight U/B Tendrils, which is often still called

using Cabal Ritual and cantrip density in place of Burning Wish.

The hybrid build above does a lot of interesting things. It bypasses normal Storm hate in post-board games by switching over to a Doomsday kill, with Shelldock Isle into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It also has access to a sideboard Tropical Island to support Xantid Swarm. Again, I show this just as an example of how much depth there is in the various Tendrils strategies. Personally, I think this build has a lot of potential.

In fact, let’s look at one more that pushes this deck further towards new innovation:

This is an example of the type of combo deck you might come up with when you’re trying to beat a graveyard-based enchantment deck that probably won’t kill you dead until turn 4 if left unopposed. In fact, this sort of build is tailor-made to target a metagame where the control decks are more of the aggro-control or tempo variety.

Those of you who have played Legacy for some time may remember Iggy Pop, an Ill-Gotten Gains combo deck. That deck used the kill loop of Infernal Tutor, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Ill-Gotten Gains to build lethal storm counts. Leyline of the Void was played maindeck as a way to make sure a control opponent couldn’t return any counterspells to their hand when you played IGG, as well as a hoser for certain graveyard strategies. It also allowed for the ability to exile an opponent’s entire hand before they got a turn, which is almost sadistic in its evil and awesome cruelty.

Matt’s deck is quite clever in its design. The mana base is stable and has access to both Xantid Swarm and plenty of discard effects (although probably not as many as I’d be likely to play). Leyline of the Void is a good way to shut down Vengevines, as well as having splash damage against Dredge, Thopters, and Bomberman. Because life total is less important to this deck than a deck using Ad Nauseam, it can support a draw engine like Dark Confidant or even Sylvan Library, as Ill-Gotten Gains doesn’t require you to leverage your life total. The use of multiple copies of Tendrils of Agony lets the deck use the much easier double-Tendrils kill; you can use Infernal Tutor without breaking Lion’s Eye Diamond to double up on Tendrils itself or on Rituals to fuel them, giving you an easy alternate kill not often seen in the format.

While this deck is engineered to attack specific matchups, its overall matchup against the random riff-raff and hangers-on in the format is not as good as the Tendrils decks with blue, as it lacks the filter and draw effects that blue provides. Still, I think it’s critically important that you consider the deck design theory on display here and try to apply it when you attempt to figure out how to attack the current format.

Venting Gas Prevents Explosion, or: Goblin Charbelcher

The core of the Belcher shell is relatively constant, but there are a few key differences between builds. With the printing of Pyretic Ritual, it is possibly to create a one-land version that’s much less likely to fizzle on a Charbelcher activation. This build seems to be more popular in Europe.

The main advantage of this build is that it has a fully functioning mana base that only requires you to play one land, and it counts as a Mountain for Charbelcher activations; this means that your Belcher activations are significantly more likely to result in instant death for your opponent.

Belcher was briefly popular before Merfolk and Countertop both became popular at various points earlier this year, as it’s exceptionally good at beating decks like Zoo and Goblins. Recently, it hasn’t seen as much play in StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens, which actually puzzles me. In a combo-on-combo race, nothing is as fast as Belcher. It’s consistent and relatively easy to play; certainly, it’s straightforward compared to a deck like TES.

As a side note, I’m not a fan of playing Tendrils of Agony in the sideboard of Belcher. A lot of players better than me always include it, but in the hundreds of games I’ve played with Belcher – and yes, I used to play this deck a lot, because I’m weird in the head and find it enjoyable – I almost never, ever found it relevant. Diminishing Returns is slightly more relevant in my opinion, but only barely, so consider those interchangeable.

While the one-land version has its strengths, this build lacks the threat density you get out of the version with black, as well as a much more limited set of sideboard tools. I’ve always been a fan of the two-land version, because Dark Ritual and Infernal Tutor do add a lot to the deck in terms of power and consistency. However, that does push the deck a bit more down the Empty the Warrens path, which was better when I played the deck than it is currently.

Note that some other hate-defeating options exist, including spot removal like Death Mark, or sweepers like Virtue’s Ruin or Cave-In.

Another great aspect of Belcher: outside of the Lion’s Eye Diamonds, this is a relatively cheap deck.

Decks for the Keebler Sandwich Cookie Lover, or: Elves

Elves has always been a fringe strategy that seems just outside of the top-tier of decks in Legacy. Unlike in Extended, Elves has never been the fastest combo deck, and its secondary beatdown plan is not as effective, since it can get out-muscled by the other creature decks. It also lacks a backup draw engine to Glimpse of Nature, as Skullclamp is banned and cards like Weird Harvest or Cloudstone Curio don’t really cut it in Legacy.

Here’s an Elves deck that just barely missed the Top 8 at the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Denver this past August:

The combo aspect of Elves is typically supported by Natural Order, such as in this deck from MTGO:

I’m pretty sure that neither of these decks is actually optimized, but Elves keeps popping up in random places, including a recent Top 8 of a 245-player tournament in Japan; that build was literally a small handful of cards off from LSV’s Pro Tour Berlin deck. Elves has a stable mana base, it’s faster than the enchantment whose name we shall not mention, and you can hybridize it with a Natural Order backup plan.

My love of Elves is well-known; I’d love for someone to find the right balance in a Legacy version.

Decks for People Stuck in the Way Back Machine, or: High Tide Combo

My distaste for this deck is also somewhat known, but don’t let that stop you; it just won an almost 300-player tournament! So if you want to rock like its 2004, or your name is Steve Nowakowski, take a look at this:

Despite my general lack of faith in this strategy, there are some legitimate reasons why it might be playable. I guess.

Again, super stable mana base. Perhaps more interesting and relevant to the idea of combo-breaking the current metagame, this is a great combo deck to play against other combo decks, which may also explain why it’s successful in Europe more so than in the United States. This deck plays Force of Will, Brainstorm, Cunning Wish for tricky sideboard cards to break other combo decks (although I’d probably have a Mindbreak Trap in there, because that would be the trap of all traps) and also has the option to move to an Emrakul kill post-board.

I think there’s also a certain appeal to combo decks that can sideboard Null Rod, because that card does a number on other combo decks as well as shutting off Top. If Counter/Top and Merfolk aren’t popular, this is a deck that might actually be poised for a comeback.

You know, to the extent that it was ever here in the first place…

Decks for Fancy People with Fancy Cards, or: Painter’s Servant and Aluren

If you own, or have access to, Imperial Recruiters, this is the section for you.

Painter’s Servant

While most people think of Painter’s Servant decks as Imperial Painter-style Legacy decks (see:

), Ken Adams showed us that it is also rather reasonable to consider Painter’s Servant as a full-on combo deck:

Ken’s deck is an explosive version of Painter’s Servant combo, with loads of tutoring, and a backup Bomberman combo that’s normally seen in Vintage, not Legacy. Ken took this deck all the way to a StarCityGames.com Open win earlier this year, and while no one has been able to replicate his success yet with a Top 8 finish, I think this is yet another example of how deep the Legacy format really is.

While slightly off-topic, I’ve recently wondered if a Painter’s / Control hybrid might be viable again. A more control-oriented version of such a

deck made the Top 16 of the Baltimore Legacy Open. This deck looks similar to the deck that Tom Martell used to make the finals of Grand Prix Columbus last summer. The builds that I played early in 2009, such as the one in

article, might actually have the right tools to attack this metagame. That deck’s worst matchups were Zoo and Canadian Thresh. Here’s a quick update, standard warning about zero testing applies, etc.:

I really enjoy playing Painter’s Servant decks, regardless of what else is accompanying that combo. In a low-removal format, Painter decks have some inherent advantages that you can exploit, and not all Painters decks require you to own Imperial Recruiter.


Aluren had some buzz heading into Grand Prix Columbus, a lot of which came from MTGO Legacy, where even non-fancy folks can afford Imperial Recruiter. This is an interesting deck, in that it’s slower than most combo decks but also highly resilient against aggro decks and traditional anti-combo sideboarding strategies. Aluren has a single Top 16 at a StarCityGames.com Legacy Open, but also had a few decent finishes at the Grand Prix, including a Top 64 by one Gerry Thompson:

This Gerry Thompson guy is all over the place lately. What is he, like, good or something? (Hint: he is.)

My major concern with Aluren is that it may be out-classed by our chief opponent on account of speed; the very decks Aluren is resilient against are no longer the problem, and our focus here is on fast combo as a way to push back against the metagame.

Still, I wanted this to be a reasonably complete list, thus, we have Aluren for your viewing pleasure.

The Meal of Champions, or: Cephalid Breakfast

If you never saw the top decks from the Legacy portion of Worlds 2007, you should

them out. Both Belcher and Breakfast did very well, despite being decks that both almost immediately disappeared from the Legacy landscape. In modern Legacy, Breakfast is sort of a forgotten deck, perhaps supplanted by Dredge. Yet, despite being another graveyard combo deck that is vulnerable to many of the same sideboard cards, Breakfast decks have some key differences.

Let’s take a look at what Breakfast looked like in 2007:

So what does this deck do, exactly? The goal is actually pretty simple: get Cephalid Illusionist into play, target it with a Nomad, and move your library into your graveyard. This will trigger Narcomoebas, letting you clear the way with Cabal Therapy if necessary (although the deck also plays Force of Will). You then use either Dread Return or Dragon’s Breath to bring Sutured Ghoul into play. The Ghoul eats all of the Tarmogoyfs in your yard; remember that the Goyfs there have the same power and toughness as they would if in play, so the Ghoul should be lethal in size. The backup plan is to just beat down with the Goyfs and other dorks in the deck; while not particularly effective, the deck is definitely better at doing this than, say, Dredge, as it at least has Goyfs and countermagic to protect them.

Obviously I don’t advocate taking a deck from three years prior and playing it card for card. This deck has some issues today, such as the fact that opponents may actually be playing graveyard hate due to Vengevines and Dredge, and the mana base is extremely fragile, packing not a single basic land.

There is a cleaner, alternate kill that you could use today if you were to look at Breakfast, which is the combination of Karmic Guide, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and Pestermite. In this build, you would Dread Return for Karmic Guide, then return Kiki-Jiki to play. Use Kiki-Jiki to make another Karmic Guide, returning Pestermite to play. Use the Pestermite’s ability to untap Kiki-Jiki, and then make infinite Pestermites. This version takes up only three slots in your deck plus one Dread Return; compare this to the 2007 version, which has Sutured Ghoul, Dragon’s Breath, Dread Return, and four Tarmogoyfs.

Patrick Chapin built an updated version of this deck recently, using this combo in place of the old one. He made some other change as well, with the free slots added to the deck by changing the combo kill; he removed the green completely to stabilize the mana base, replacing the green tutors with
Lim-Dul’s Vault, and moved Abeyance main and added Daze for additional resistance. Check it out,

I love the idea of updating this deck, but the loss of Goyf could be an issue in actual play, as your backup plan of smashing face gets much harder. I’d be interested in seeing a version that still played green but had an updated sideboard. Stifle is an interesting sideboard choice in Patrick’s list; what about Dark Confidant or Sylvan Library to win resource battles, or Xantid Swarm?  

This deck might be an interesting foil in current Legacy, as it has a much better matchup against other combo decks than Dredge does (playing Force of Will and Abeyance), as well as much better resistance to graveyard hate.

The Walking Dead, or: Dredge

Perhaps the most vocal advocate of Legacy Dredge is Max McCall, who recently suggested this list:

One thing I like about Max’s Dredge lists is that they are geared for consistency. On the face of things, Dredge should be a monster deck in Legacy, but I’ve always found the deck to be lacking… something. Certainly, the results the deck has put up in large events have been disappointing to say the least, but it has had some flashes, including a win in Legacy Champs 2009.

Probably the biggest issue for Dredge is the same one facing Aluren: lack of a target. Dredge wants to grind out against aggro and control decks, not race other combo decks. It also takes splash damage from the yard hate being leveled at Vengevine and can’t fight back against it as well as something like Breakfast.

New Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon Egg and Cheese Combos, or: How to Recycle Old Jokes and Cause Early-Onset Heart Disease

Combos 2

So, there you have it.


Now get out there and push this metagame forward, people!

Matt Elias

[email protected]

Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source