One of the best things about Magic is how wild things can get when so many different cards end up working together in weird ways. We don't see this as often in smaller formats like Standard, but when card pools get very large tons of weird things can start to happen.
Legacy, one of the largest formats in Magic, is often where these oddball decks live, but you also see them in formats like Modern and Pauper. Decks with no lands, almost all lands, or crazy makeups like mostly zero-mana spells. If you're a longtime Magic player, some of these may sound familiar to you, if not I encourage you to take a peek back into Magic's history.
However, today we're not here to talk about those ancient formats, we are here to talk about one of Magic's newest formats - Historic. With an ever-increasing card pool that will never rotate and a power level that is rising with each new set that is printed, Historic is starting to enter the realm where crazy things can happen.
That being said, let's make them happen!
Presenting... Mad Cow Storm!
Mad Cow Storm | Historic | Jim Davis
- Sorceries (18)
- 2 Refurbish
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 4 Shatterskull Smashing
- 4 Thrilling Discovery
- 4 Trash for Treasure
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 The Birth of Meletis
Oh my, what do we have here?
Like most crazy outlier decklists, at first glance Mad Cow Storm looks like an almost random pile of cards.
An uncastable triple black artifact?
Oddball draft rejects like Bartered Cow and Thrilling Discovery?
Chromatic Sphere in a two color deck?
What in the world is going on here?
At its core, Mad Cow Storm is a Bolas's Citadel deck.
The goal is to get Bolas's Citadel onto the battlefield as soon as possible at a reasonable life total, and from that point you should be able to play most of your deck and combo off to win. This is done by continually casting spells and winning the game with Aetherflux Reservoir, but first let's talk about the more straightforward goal of getting it into play.
Step One: Get Bolas's Citadel Into Play
While Bolas's Citadel is an extremely powerful card, it is balanced by three things:
- A large and difficult mana cost
- The limiting factor of your life total as a resource
- The limiting factor of only being allowed one land per turn
Let's tackle the first issue of simply getting the card onto the battlefield.
While Dark Ritual is on MTG Arena as part of the Strixhaven Mystical Archives, it is banned, and without any other fast mana effects in the format we are probably better off trying to find another route than casting it. Luckily for us, the most recent Historic Anthology 5 has just the trick!
Dumping a big creature into the graveyard and then bringing it back for cheap is a strategy almost as old as the game itself, and this is the path we will be taking thanks to the introduction of Trash for Treasure to the format. With Trash for Treasure, we can put Bolas's Citadel onto the battlefield as early as turn three, but we need to accomplish the task of both having an artifact on the battlefield as well as the Bolas's Citadel in the graveyard. No problem!
The duo of Faithless Looting and Thrilling Discovery do a number of important things for us, first of which is of course to get Bolas's Citadel into the graveyard. That's job number one, but both cards also provide the velocity and card filtering we need to make sure we can put together both the Citadel alongside the way to bring it back. But that's not all!
Yes, Bartered Cow!
If you saw Bartered Cow on the Throne of Eldraine spoiler and said to yourself "that's going to be broken at some point in some format in the next decade," you may have what it takes to be a very good Magic designer. Much in the same vein of Ovalchase Daredevil (currently hitting its stride in Modern) or Narcomoeba (the card that truly breaks Dredge and self-mill decks), Bartered Cow offers you a resource for almost nothing in return, in this case a free artifact to sacrifice to Trash for Treasure. A Faithless Looting or Thrilling Discovery that discards a Bartered Cow and a Bolas's Citadel is already all the way there for Trash for Treasure on turn three.
As a backup plan, you also have Thraben Inspector and The Birth of Meletis to provide an artifact alongside playing defense, as well as Chromatic Sphere in a pinch. Refurbish also accomplishes the goal of Trash for Treasure without the hoops, but four mana is a lot more than three and you'd really like to put Bolas's Citadel onto the battlefield without making your land drop whenever possible.
Okay, so we've got Bolas's Citadel in play, now what?
Step Two: Build Your Deck In A Way Where You Can Completely Combo Kill
This is perhaps the more challenging part, as while actually getting the Citadel onto the battlefield is more of a gameplay challenge, making sure you can actually do good things with it is primarily done in the deck-building portion.
As we have already stated, Bolas's Citadel has these limiting factors once in play:
- Your life total
- Your land drops
These are the two things that can stop you from just playing every spell in your deck. Without enough life, you will eventually need to stop casting spells, and if you've already played a land for turn and have a land on top, that can also stop you.
Let's start with the life problem, as it also leads to our win condition.
Solving The Limiting Factors: Your Life Total
When I originally brewed the deck, the win condition was four copies of Tendrils of Agony (making it a "true" storm deck). However, this quickly became awkward as the card was both uncastable unless you were going off as well as unobtainable from the graveyard once used. You really had to hit it at the right point of your combo chain to use it properly. Twitch chat, like a blind squirrel finding a nut or a broken clock at just the right time of day, suggested Aetherflux Reservoir instead which had numerous advantages.
Like Tendrils of Agony, Aetherflux Reservoir is a four mana spell that you win the game with that helps buffer your life total as you're casting more spells, but it is not only castable but also an actively good card to place in the graveyard in the early game as it turns all your extra Trash for Treasure and Refurbishes into live combo pieces. Aetherflux Reservoir was a revelation and is the perfect win condition; if you get one into play with a Bolas's Citadel you will win the game a large majority of the time.
There is also a lot of incidental lifegain in the deck, which provides both defensive measures as you are setting up, while also allowing you to keep going with Bolas's Citadel. Lightning Helix, Skyclave Cleric, and Thrilling Discovery are all either life-neutral or life positive when casting with Bolas's Citadel, which goes a long way towards finding that first copy of Aetherflux Reservior.
With the life issue under control, we come to perhaps the most difficult issue of all.
Solving The Limiting Factors: One Land Per Turn
As anyone who has played Experimental Frenzy before will attest to, the worst feeling in the world was revealing two lands in a row on top and having to stop the fun and just say go. And that was just for an aggressive deck looking to cast a few more spells! We are looking to cast at least ten (but probably more) spells and win the game in one big turn, so we can't afford any double land clumps to fizzle us.
So, what's the solution?
The kindergartener level response is "well then just don't play any lands" and frankly that's not far from the truth. Our goal is to play the lowest land count we can get away with, and with the Zendikar Rising spell-lands, that's very achievable!
Unlike a Plains or Mountain, if we reveal a Skyclave Cleric or Shatterskull Smashing to Bolas's Citadel, we can just cast it and keep going! This of course works extra well with Skyclave Cleric which will net life, but paying two life for Shatterskull Smashing (x=0) or three life for Valakut Awakening is also very reasonable. Add this to some thinning of your Plains with The Birth of Meletis and it's not hard to go six or seven cards without seeing a land.
And when we do finally hit that dreaded second land? Hopefully we have a land drop the turn we're going off, which we can use to either filter a mana through Chromatic Sphere or just cast Faithless Looting to clear the top card and keep going. And in the absolute worst-case scenario of hitting the fail rate, ideally, you'll have cast enough spells to kill a thing or two and make some blockers so you can survive and try again the following turn.
Step Three: Have A Plan B
Of course, our opponents aren't just going to allow us to do whatever we want.
Aside from the usual Thoughtseizes or Memory Lapses, there are numerous hate cards that will get in the way of us going off. We do have some good options like Rip Apart which can help fight on that axis, but usually the best course will be to give them the ole juke.
As your opponent boards out all of their creature removal for things like Negate or Relic of Progenitus, you just run the ole switcharoo and bring in a self-contained threat in Legion Warboss, which can win the game very quickly by itself. Gideon Blackblade serves a similar purpose, but the real exciting one is Chandra, Awakened Inferno, which doesn't care at all about how many counterspells your opponent has. To sideboard like this you can shave down on some of the redundant combo pieces and give yourself the ability to combo, but also give yourself a great plan B.
Milking The Legen-dairy Cow Deck
Is this deck going to win the next Pro Tour? Probably not, but it's also the most fun I've had playing Historic pretty much ever.
As someone who works with Magic all day as my full-time gig, I don't often play that much in my downtime. However, I've been sneaking in games and matches with the deck whenever I can in the last week or two as it's just such a riot to play.
Shh don't tell anyone but I've been working on Mad Cow Storm a bit off stream between hockey periods and on bathroom breaks ? https://t.co/YidZTWxBey— Jim Davis (@JimDavisMTG) June 25, 2021
Being able to storm off is not something usually seen in Historic, and being able to do so with a flurry of bizarre draft commons is just too much fun!