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Let's Make a Combo Deck

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It surprises some people to learn that I'm a combo guy. I have in fact always almost always been a combo guy.

The first National Championship I qualified for [the one I finished ninth on breakers] I used the following to brave the Ohio Valley's infinite Swiss rounds:

bschneid.dec | Top 4 Ohio Valley Regionals, 1999


Sure, it was a Mono-Black beatdown deck that could kill with Cursed Scroll (and often did)... But it was also a combo deck that could win on turn two!

See? Combo deck.

The most famous combo deck I'm associated with is of course this one:


So... You're welcome, eventual Modern banned list.

When I made ur Splinter Twin the hot deck was uw Caw-Blade. Twin was one of the few decks that legitimately had an advantage over it. Or at least I personally did that particular day.

Like the Mono-Black bschneid from 1999, you could play the Twin deck two different ways. Obviously there were the games where you just hit your first three land drops, cast a Deceiver Exarch on their end step (tapping their Blue source); play your fourth land, and kill them with infinite 1/4 attackers.

But most of the day I played land, land, land... More of a Draw-Go style. I built my deck to win Jace wars, playing more Jace Planeswalkers than the opponents would, getting under their four-mana Jaces with my three-mana Jace. Or just grind for many turns using Tectonic Edge and hitting land drops until the opponent missed, or even started to discard.

This deck obviously had multiple ways to do it. Notice those two Inferno Titans in the main deck? They absolutely did work... Especially against folks who thought they could outsmart infinite 1 power creatures with some kind of Soul Warden.

I used this deck to win a fancy $5k in its debut tournament. My last three matches were Dave Shiels, Reid Duke, and - somehow the most famous of the three at that point - Edgar Flores. Edgar, my opposite number in the Flores Finals Mirror Match, was a savant of uw Caw-Blade. Got him with the sideboarded Consecrated Sphinx. The Finals match entire took only seven minutes!

One thing that people miss when they look at these decks is how open-ended they were.

Hatred was a creature deck first, a combo deck incidentally. But the way we had it set up, this version was also a Ponza deck. Unlike the single-minded Culling of the Weak builds that tried to maximize Hatred, or the Erg Raiders / Unholy Strength versions that tried to maximize the creature beatdown plan, the build I used had a meaningful mana denial side game. Wasteland in the main deck was highly unusual for the time; and Winter Orb out of the sideboard a previously unknown Brian Schneider innovation. Where most small creature decks could be suffocated by the overwhelming card advantage of a Survival of the Fittest deck, this one could keep them off their colors or demolish their operating mana while getting in for two or four at a time.

The Splinter Twin deck sure had a lot of powerful card draw! It packed both Preordain and Jace, the Mind Sculptor... Two cards that would grace Banned and Restricted across multiple formats before too long. But it also played Sea Gate Oracle and Pilgrim's Eye! Sea Gate Oracle - wearing Splinter Twin - was like a poor man's Jace, the Mind Sculptor... Complete with defense (via chump blocking). But I liked Pilgrim's Eye with Splinter Twin the most. All you really wanted to do with this deck was hit your first six land drops... and then keep hitting them. If you pants-ed up a Pilgrim's Eye, you could search up basic after basic while fending off any and all Squadron Hawks, no matter what color Swords they were carrying. I secured Top 8 with Manic Vandal + Splinter Twin (locking out Batterskull and company), while Trinket Mage + Splinter Twin was g-d unbeatable in a ton of matchups that mattered in 2011 but don't even make the footnotes list in 2021.

Even decks like this one:


... Are essentially combo decks. People can understand if you cast a bunch of Dark Rituals into each other how that can be a combo deck (one mana for three mana, over and over) but they somehow miss how one mana for three damage over and over is closer to a combo deck than a beatdown deck, even if, like Hatred, it has a few to soften the opponent up.

So, did I mention I'm a combo deck guy?

This is the combo I'm interested in with Strixhaven:

Body of Research

Don't see it yet?

Body of Research makes a creature of well over 20 power for six mana. In a fair deck, that's pretty big. Like some of the old favorites I outlined above, we can build a deck that has many fair elements (creatures, maybe some removal or permission) and can combo kill the opponent as well.

In the Mono-Black deck from 1999 we played some cards like Dark Ritual and City of Traitors to accelerate out our five mana one-card combo Hatred. We became more open ended by avoiding cards like Culling the Weak and adding flexible elements like Cursed Scroll and Wasteland. We replaced the narrow (if explosive) Priest of Gix with Skittering Skirge to up the evasion... Meaning we might be a little less wide, but we'd have a higher likelihood of an unblocked attacker on that critical turn. Technically, especially with only three copies of Hatred, we were not the most consistent Hatred combo deck, but our fastest draws were equally as fast! And we could do other things.

The Twin deck was an outlier two-card combo deck. Often a two-card combo will look like this:

Cephalid Illusionist
Shuko

The cards will win the game if you put them together... But the cards themselves stink.

Deceiver Exarch at least had some text. You could tap the Squadron Hawk that was just pants-ed up before its Sword could ruin you. You could tap their Blue or ping their Jace for one. Splinter Twin was the other half of an infinite damage combo, but as we've already listed, it could dig with Sea Gate Oracle, defend with Pilgrim's Eye, or dominate with Manic Vandals.

What about the 2021 version?

Body of Research

This card has some text. I am really shocked at how down on it many people I respect are. They will all go gaga over a 6/6 for six with a dense block of text, but give them a 40/40 and they are somehow not impressed.

What if we add this?

Fling

Body of Research + Fling is only eight mana. I say "only" but remember that Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin at seven mana was a mere one mana less... And got banned in bigger formats than Standard. Anyway, Body of Research is Green.

Kazuul's Fury

I'm torn on this card. Should we play it to increase the redundancy of our finish? I am not hot on this card. It's excellent and has a high floor due to being a Modal Double-Faced land. The problem is that Body of Research has an extremely restrictive casting cost. I honestly think I want one Mountain for Red. If you ever have to play non-Blue or non-Green prior to call-it-turn six, you essentially missed a land drop for purposes of casting Body of Research.

So, I think important play patterns will include saving Fabled Passage for your finishing turn (immediately get the Mountain + kill them) and how to play Cultivate on turn three. Basically, get whatever you need (probably an Island) and the Mountain, but hold the Mountain and Ramp in the Island. The Mountain does next to nothing for you prior to the kill turn.

Here is my first draft of the mana base:

This is a deep discipline first pass. OF COURSE I would want a Triome, or a Temple, or a Kazul's Cliffs! I actually had to cut some Castle Vantress from my actual first pass! Here I'm trying to emphasize 1) lands that enter the battlefield untapped, and 2) lots of basics. I actually think that at 10 basics, this deck might be thin between 4 Cultivate and 4 Fabled Passage... Especially with in-mana base dependencies like Vineglimmer Snarl and the Castle.

The one land that always comes into play tapped is a special case; because either we play it on turn one, or we are using it to accelerate into some lovely four mana action, like Eureka Moment or Behold the Multiverse.

Here is about where I want to start:

Charge Through

One of the bonuses on Tangled Florahedron is that it gives you an early body to cycle your Charge Through on. I have a feeling Charge Through is going to be great! It's a one-mana draw spell in Green that also completes the play with Body of Research in a pinch. Nobody is chump blocking this 20/20 in 2021.

So that's just the first pass. I feel like it will have some play patterns in common with the Simic Ramp deck I used to make Mythic the first time over the summer. Hydroid Krasis to Thassa's Intervention is going to be a weird x-spell transition, though. Before we had a powerful flash point at five for Nissa, Who Shakes the World AND the big Dragon at eight. We lose Ugin in 2021, but you have to figure any spot where you would previously have been able to land Ugin, the Spirit Dragon you can now just kill the opponent instead of eking out small but powerful advantages unti the opponent gets sick of playing back.

I do think there is something waiting to be discovered here. There are other ways to approach the same problem. What about a more Giants-focused build, with Beanstalk Giant as a compliment to Cultivate at three, Glimpse the Multiverse for some Giants synergy, and a Bonecrusher or two in the sideboard?

We could also try to emphasize more speed, with Wolfwillow Haven into Migration Path. One thing I don't like about my main deck is that it doesn't curve to six very naturally. It can go two to four with Tangled Florahedron into Eureka Moment but that's about it. Cultivate gets you to five but not six. I tried to respect that a little with the sideboard fives, Battle of Frost and Fire and Elder Gargaroth.

The beginning.

LOVE

MIKE

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