Untap, Upkeep, Twenty You

When Matt was made aware of a cool three-card combo in Standard, he immediately started working on a deck with it. Take a look at what he came up with!

I wasn’t made for winter. Single-digit temperatures; freezing my nose, ears, and extremities off; and trudging through snow to get to work and school . . . I’d rather not have to wade through parking lots of frozen water to attend to my daily activities. How do Canadians northerners do it?

Anyway, I was so excited to see such a strong response to last week’s Untapped Challenge! Dozens of you responded to the tribal horn. More than just the number of responses, I was elated to see the variety present in your submissions. For those who missed last week’s article, I challenged you all as readers to bring your best casual Door of Destinies decks to the table even if they weren’t Standard. Tribes I’d never considered were brought to my attention, and some tried-and-true favorite niche tribal types were exploited too. I picked two that I liked best to share with the group.

The first list is from Fernandokkw, who leverages a one-card combo to bust the Door wide open: Grinning Ignus.

This storm enabler also has the ability to add a Door counter for just R. Combined with an impressive suite of Lorwyn Elementals and another Lorwyn block enabler, this list is sure to make any casual tribal junkie’s passion ignite.

Our crafter today packed the list full to the brim with accelerators, tutors, utility creatures, and all kinds of high-powered plays. Adding a Brighthearth Banneret to the Grinning Ignus mix gives you infinite Door activations, and the Ouphe Gilder Bairn does a great job of doubling up counters on the Door too (maybe there’s an Ouphe deck . . . ). Elemental Mastery on a huge target can provide a billion infinitely enormous Elementals. Living Inferno when pumped to immeasurable levels can also decimate everything on the board and live to tell the tale (assuming your opponent’s creatures do not also have infinite power). This list is the definition of "casual," and I’d like to applaud and thank Fernandokkw for his decklist!

Up second is a deck that like the Thanksgiving buffet you recently enjoyed picked a bit of everything because it couldn’t decide. Well, perhaps that’s not fair; maybe "everything" is a legitimate choice!

Tony was definitely on the "everything" plan. Door of Destinies, as you probably realized while building your own lists, triggers with tribal spells even if they’re not creatures. Tony’s mirror deck is filled with flavor; nothing is stable, and everything is malleable. I also like that you can theoretically name any creature type for your Door. Goat, Rigger, or Wombat—take your pick! That being said, naming Blinkmoth makes your Inkmoth Nexus pretty gigantic after enough triggers, and Elemental helps your Celestial Colonnade colonnade very celestially. Still, if there isn’t a Nexus in sight, I’d name some small woodland fauna or bizarre sea critter in a jiffy.

Every submission was great, and I saw all sorts of creature types represented, with Viashino, Skeletons, Myr, Horrors, Elephants, and Constructs to choose from. Thank you for your submissions, and I’ll get another Untapped Challenge your way soon!

Now for this week’s new deck.

First, let me start by saying that as a social-media consumer I am a pretty poor one; Facebook is a glorified address book for me, I’ve tweeted three times in my life, and I’ve still not quite gotten into the "Instagram your food" thing. However, I am a big fan of the microblogging site Tumblr. My wife introduced me to it years ago, and it’s about the only one I’ve stuck with over time.

I was flipping through my dashboard the other day, which is filled with all manner of pop culture, funny GIFs, hard-hitting journalism, and cat pictures, when I stumbled upon a combo another Tumblr user, facetofacegames, had discovered in today’s Standard. This three-card combo, which they described as "extremely fragile," involves these three cards:

Oh. OH.

Using Elite Arcanist’s enters-the-battlefield ability, slide a Triton Tactics underneath the Wizard, untap next turn, and active the X ability using Zhur-Taa Druid’s mana. Your opponent takes one, you have a green mana, and both creatures untap for you to do it again. And again. And again.

These three cards seal a game up regardless of the board state. All those Sphinx’s Revelations, Whip of Erebos life gains, and Obzedat triggers mean nothing. And you can get there on turn four!

Now let’s pump the brakes for a sec; as any Johnny will tell you, a combo has to reach a critical mass to be a viable combo in competitive or semi-competitive play. It has to seriously impact the game, it has to do it reliably, and it has to be fast enough that your opponent can’t mess with the plan very well. I firmly believe that this combo not only has the potential to meet these criteria but that the cards available to complement this "fragile" combo make it viable in today’s environment even in the presence of combo killers like Thoughtseize.

The moment I saw it I started finding and constructing the foundation of the deck, and I was overjoyed to find such a strong set of efficient spells that can help you get off the ground. RUG currently has eight scry lands available, and its colors have often been associated with combo/tricky decks. One of my favorite wedges was calling my name, and I slapped it together as fast as a poorly wrapped Christmas present.

Each card, even the auto-playsets, was carefully chosen to protect you and your combo, so let’s look at each one.


Besides the damage-dealing Druid, these two mana makers help keep the deck fast and smooth even with a land-light hand. The deck needs to make sure it has a full seven at the start of every game, and making those awkward one- and two-land hands a bit more keepable greatly increases your chance of winning. If Preordain were legal, it’d be in Elvish Mystic’s place, but this is how I’ve chosen to keep things neat. Sylvan Caryatid helps to keep mana fixing clean too, as three-color combo decks have to reliably hit their colors to make them viable. It also blocks reasonably well.

Combo Pieces

All of these cards independently prove their worth as legitimate combo pieces. Zhur-Taa Druid at the worst is a Goblin Fireslinger that ramps you into cool stuff, and Elite Arcanist still gives you a free instant every turn if you want it. Triton Tactics, originally a key player in my Esper Heroic Theros Block deck, not only provides the untapping I need but the protection of three more toughness and the necessary stopping power to prevent an aggro deck from disintegrating you before you can go off. This is in many cases a mini Sleep at instant speed for one mana. The extra three points of toughness protects everything in the deck from Lightning Strike, Anger of the Gods, and Shock, and it allows you to profitably block Mutavault, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Ash Zealot.

Protection Spells

Cheap counters have always been mainstays of blue-based combo decks. Although undercosted blue counters frequently come at a price, the 2/2 Bird is negligible against this deck’s game plan. When you gotta counter it, you gotta counter it. This mini Negate stops everything it needs to, including counterspells, Doom Blade, Mizzium Mortars, Detention Sphere, and that blasted Thoughtseize. Simic Charm provides either on-board protection from removal spells or the evacuation plan to save one of your pieces from a Supreme Verdict. It can even let one of your flimsy mana dorks beat up a 3/3. It fits really nicely in the plan, and it’s great as proactive protection or as a defensive staller.

Digging Spells

Magma Jet was awesome when it was printed ten years ago in Darksteel, and the years have been kind to it. It takes out most shrimpy attackers and lets you filter through your next draws at the same time, providing precious library manipulation in an era where we don’t even have a strictly worse Ponder in Standard. We used to live so large. Izzet Charm is flexible enough to kill anything from a Boon Satyr to an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and can also be used for its Faithless Looting mode. True combo decks don’t care if they sacrifice non-essential cards and even card advantage itself just to look at more cards that could potentially help them win.

Hammer of Purphoros

Hammer of Purphoros is a sleeper slam dunk for this deck. If you have enough mana, it lets you resolve your entire combo and win in one turn, preferably after your control opponent taps out for their Aetherling. With just six mana and the Hammer, you can cast your Arcanist, attach Triton Tactics, and cast your Druid to go infinite right then and there. If something goes wrong with your combo (i.e. they Slaughter Games your Druid or Pithing Needle your Arcanist), this provides a reasonable way to continuously apply pressure on your opponent. Because you’re often overloaded with mana dorks, breaking Forests and Steam Vents for 3/3s is often pretty painless.


There’s not a lick of space for a colorless lands here. There are very few spells and abilities in this deck that generic mana can power, so any copies of Mutavault or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx copies would be spells more than lands. A full set of scry lands is essential; not only does the presence of twelve mana dorks make the "tapped" part less impactful, but that free peek and tuck can help a seasoned player get the cards they need a turn faster.


Burning-Tree Emissary? Wait, isn’t this a combo deck? Yes, but Burning-Tree Emissary provides two essential services even for an off-the-wall deck like this. First, against an aggro deck, a Burning-Tree Emissary is still a free 2/2 blocker. Second, she provides a bit of fixing when needed. I can cast her off two Steam Vents and get a Sylvan Caryatid in there too. Because of the structured combo nature of this deck, this Shaman can trade in one-for-one for counterspells against aggro decks.

Izzet Staticaster is a great choice against a variety of creature-based decks too. Alongside a Tactical Elite Arcanist, you can deal one damage to a creature for every untapped land you have using one mana per Triton Tactics activation. With five mana, you can kill an Obzedat, three mana smashes all Nightveil Specters, and just one activation kills most mana dorks and many Boros Soldiers. The synergy was too awesome to ignore.

The other two spells come in for slower matches. Divination is a bit of a strange one, but in a matchup where Magma Jet can only really aim at the opponent’s face, I think you’d rather just draw the two cards instead of simply looking at them. Naturalize, a spell more easily cast than the situation-irrelevant Destructive Revelry, allows you to undo a Pithing Needle, Detention Sphere, or errant legendary artifact. This tried-and-true spell finds more targets as Standard evolves, I’ll tell you what.


I fiddled around with this one online a bit and was very excited to report that barring an insane start from some of the format’s best decks that it held its own against Mono-X Devotion, R/G Aggro (post-board) and B/X Midrange strategies. I found that heavy aggro decks put me on the defensive until I could resolve enough creatures to stop an attack for one round. Magma Jet was incredible in setting up my draws and dealing with these aggro decks. I found that control decks were able to favorably interact with the deck; Supreme Verdict made life very difficult, as did Aetherling.

The sideboard proved to be well tuned, though, and Hammer of Purphoros haste ability allowed me to pluck two matches out of my opponents’ open palms. The 3/3s weren’t actually too relevant most of the time, but I still like having the option. Izzet Staticaster plus Elite Arcanist also proved to be exceptional from the board, shutting down any creature based deck even if they utilized more powerful creatures up the ladder like Polukranos and Obzedat. In retrospect, though, I’d probably get rid of Burning-Tree Emissary for something more universally helpful like Gainsay or Mizzium Mortars.

For a combo deck, I really enjoyed playing this. Although most infinite combo decks are one dimensional, this one didn’t feel like it. You can’t just run the pieces out and pray; you have to slow down, think, plan, and counter the right spells. It’s a very calculating experience, and I’d endorse it any day to someone looking for a thoughtful combo deck like this in Standard; Johnnies don’t get many these days, so grab what you can! I’m looking forward to Born of the Gods and beyond. The more sets in Standard, the more possibility of neat interactions like this one.

Thanks again to facetofacegames for the great idea! Feel free to follow me on Tumblr; my blog name is CaptainShapiro (creative, I know). Though I don’t usually post tons of Magic-related content, I follow a lot of great artists and contributors to the community.

Stay warm out there, and don’t forget to untap!

– Matt

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