I'm past the midway point of this project and we're running out of Blue combinations to write about! I hope I have you sufficiently hooked by the premise so you'll finish it out for me. If you don't know what the premise is because this is your first sojourn into this series, welcome. I am currently in the midst of writing about the best Commander combos in the wedges and shards. I wanted to call them by their New Capenna names, but that got "Vito'd" so I am stuck calling this "Esper" instead of the more mysterious "Obscura." I got my revenge, though, check the first letter of the first word in every paragraph - I secretly buried the New Capenna names in this article.
Now, before I launch headlong into combosplanation, I want to talk briefly about where I did my research. Commander Spellbook is a community-driven archive of Magic card combos. What started as a project on Discord now has its own website. I used Commander Spellbook to look at the hundreds of Esper combos in their database to see if I could group any into classes. It seemed daunting at first, but the website is easy to use and has lots of filters so you can or-der the combos based on how many cards they take to work, how many steps - you can even sort by price to find budget-friendly combos.
Exuding confidence last week, I talked about how Grixis ruled the world of extra turns combos, and I was basing that on sheer number of combos. What I should have looked at, though, was the diversity of combo pieces. Surely we all foresaw that Esper, the color of colored Artifacts, would have an easier time going off with Time Sieve than did Grixis. However, what I didn't expect was all of the cards that aren't Time Sieve that Esper can use to take infinite turns. Grixis had practically 0 combos that involved Second Chance, for example, but Esper decks have commanders like Zur to fetch Second Chance every turn if you can get it back into your deck, it has cards like Treasury Thrull which is a single card that can do the work of two. There are 5 two-card combos in Esper and only one card appears more than once (Time Sieve, twice).
Various commanders Esper has access to, like Medomai the Ageless, Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign and Aminatou, the Fate Shifter, are begging to be used to take infinite turns. I know Grixis had cards like Final Fortune, but I have to give this one to Esper, the colors that taught me to try to have fun with Time Sieve in the first place.
Easily my favorite Esper commander from the past 12 months, on its own, Marneus Calgar weighs in at a whopping 20 combos all by himself. There is a rather large diversity of cards within those combos - a list of all of them reads like a decklist. Marneus has two different abilities that are both abusable, meaning you can either draw cards because you found another way to make tokens, or you can make a bunch of tokens because you found a way to cough up 6 mana a bunch of times (or reduce the activation cost with cards like Training Grounds). With so many axes to get value, it's no wonder Marneus is such an attractive commander for combo players.
Rather unsurprisingly, Marneus is also a superlative Thoracle (Thassa's Oracle as a win condition) deck because Marneus has a way to make tokens and also draw cards when he makes tokens. Any ability that triggers as many times as something happens is exploitable, and Marneus' card draw trigger paired with cards like Tormod the Desecrator to trigger the card draw ability when you exile something and give you a token is no exception. If you can exile cards you discard with something like Bag of Holding, any discard trigger creates a loop that decks you, allowing you to win with Jace, Wielder of Mysteries.
Sharuum the Hegemon
Going out on a limb, you probably could have guessed that Sharuum would feature heavily in Esper combos. Sharuum is a combo piece, which is very convenient because that card stays in a special zone and you can cast it whenever you want. I still think Marneus gets the edge in terms of pure value, however, because a lot of the Sharuum combos result only in infinite enters and leaves the battlefield triggers. That's a good combo engine, but you need a third card to turn that loop into a victory. Many of those are two-card combos, and if one of them is your commander, you only need to draw a card like Gigantoplasm to get the engine going. After that, lots of cards can win you the game.
Of course, we can also just win the game on the spot with Sharuum. You can mill them into Bolivian with Technomancer and Altar of Dementia, or you can cast the spell Mysterious Limousine and scream OBSCURA as you make infinite mana to blast their face off with Rocket Launcher. There are quite a few possibilities and all of them are pretty wacky.
Now, the undisputed king of the Hot Potato deck style is probably Blim, Comedic Genius solely because of the number of nasty Enchantments you can make them have. However, despite it being far harder to trigger, I delight in giving them cards like Nine Lives with Inniaz, as well. If you decide to make neither of them your commander, though, you get all of the ease of giving everyone something nasty with Fractured Identity with the nastiness of cards like Immortal Coil. Building an Esper Hot Potato deck (I honestly don't know good shorthand for decks like this, I assume hot potato scans as an idiom) allows us to bring back the first Hot Potato of all time - Illusions of Grandeur. Now, Illusions of Grandeur can't always kill someone in Azorius decks, but it will when you play cards like Aether Snap, Warlock Class and Wound Reflection!
Naturally, Esper excels at using risky creatures like Archfiend of the Dross to make life risky for opponents, and combining them with cards like Solemnity to make sure they die on impact. With Blue for card draw, cards like Donate and Fractured Identity and the occasional tutor, Esper decks are very well positioned to have all of the nasty Lich effects from Blim, all of the nasty spells like Transcendence from Inniaz and none of the drawbacks of either. When was the last time you cast Juxtapose for the win? Wouldn't you like to?
They Lose The Game
A lot of the combos we have covered, especially when Blue and Black are involved, have us win the game. We deck ourselves with Thassa's Oracle, draw Approach of the Second Sun again or use Anointed Procession to make winning with Mechanized Production a breeze. However, Esper excels at something we have covered far less - they lose the game.
Given that those are sometimes the same thing in practice, I will give some examples so you can see how them losing is easier to pull off than you winning sometimes. For example, a bunch of commons like Cavern Harpy and Vizkopa Guildmage can't likely win you the game on the spot, but combined with a card like Oketra's Last Mercy, you can whittle your own life total to one and then deal them all 39 damage. Pair Harpy with Axis of Immortality and Phyrexian Unlife and you can kill an opponent per turn, picking the strongest off and forcing the other two to team up to stop the doomsday device you have assembled.
I personally love the Esper combos with Lethal Vapors. Similar to the way oldschool Glacial Chasm decks skipped all of their turns with Chronatog and couldn't be killed with Chasm out, players can cast Teferi's Protection after activating Lethal Vapors or Chronatog a bajillion times forcing the opponents to battle each other while you watch and cackle from the ethereal realm.
Very briefly, I did find one combo that makes the game end in a draw with Jon Irenicus and Tethered Griffin, but I dug some more and Esper can also do it with March of the Machines, Essence of Orthodoxy, and Conspiracy and with Ratadrabrik, Leyline of Singularity, and Phyrexian Dreadnought. Too funny.
Everyone expects Green decks to be the best at making infinite mana, and while Green is surely the champ, one of Esper's specialties is making infinite mana. Krark-Clan Ironworks and Ashnod's Altar abuse loops like the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo. It's trivial to be able to untap a big mana rock like Dreamstone Hedron for less than it produces. Sydri, Galvanic Genius can make your artifacts into creatures, suddenly making them eligible for cards like Intruder Alarm and Freed from the Real. Even new cards like Cryptic Trilobite get in on the action.
You will be glad to know that Esper makes more than just colorless mana, though. Cards like Gilded Lotus have been making tons of mana of every color since before Coveted Jewel and Chromatic Orrery were even printed. Now that we have those cards, though, it's even easier to make all of the mana of any color you will ever need. That's not exactly a way to win the game, but it's almost hard to lose the game when you can cast and activate anything you want. If you can't use the mana all at once, use a creature like Undercity Scrounger to make Treasure tokens that you can use when it's convenient, or just use for a huge spell like Torment of Hailfire or Exsanguinate if you haven't drawn it yet.
Obviously Tapping rocks and sacking creatures to altars gives us a lot of mana, but the third way that Esper excels in this department is with ETB effects. Cards like Cloud of Fairies and Palinchron have been making lots of mana forever, but with Cauldron Haze and Solemnity, it can happen a lot faster, and you don't need the creature to be Palinchron specifically to loop it. Esper has a lot of tools for making mana different ways, which isn't bad for a shard with 0 Green in it.
Usually, I end with a few combos I thought were particularly fun or nifty.
Pardon the deviation from my routine, but I wanted to use the last little bit of my word budget to talk about combos I wouldn't play, necessarily. Esper excels at stopping the opponent from playing Magic, and is the color combo with basically all of the tutors. I would be remiss if I didn't mention them even if I am cautioning you that these combos will not win the game and will not make the game fun for them. I'm referring to combos like Godhead of Awe plus Night of Soul's Betrayal to keep their creatures from living. You could use Merieke Ri Berit to gain control of a creature, then untap and take another one until the board is clear. You could use Solemnity and Decree of Silence to keep all of their spells from resolving. If you want to learn these unsavory tactics, or, even better, if you play with a pod that deserves it, the Commander Spellbook website has a field where you can search for the outcome of the combo you want. You don't HAVE to explore the interaction between Lavinia, Azorius Renegade and Omen Machine, but it's there if you want it.
Thanks for reading as always. I'll be back next week with another exciting combo article. Until next time!