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The Best and Dumbest Two-Card Combo in Standard

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Origin of the Combo

Like a lot of you, I have been playing MTG Arena.

It has been a refreshing experience! I haven’t had to worry about having the cards I needed for my deck - paper or digital - in years. But on Arena? My decks at this stage are largely built on compromise. In Arena, I often find myself excited to draw a Charging Monstrosaur or willing to tap four for a Gravedigger as I grind and build my collection.

That said, one card that I have long had four copies of is this:

Blanchwood Armor

Do you have any idea how unstoppable this card can be in a Mono-Green deck?

I decided to push the envelope on Blanchwood Armor. What limits this card’s effectiveness? There are really only two things:

  1. You kind of have to be playing not only a Mono-Green deck, but a Mono-Forests deck. No one games with Mono-Forests. “No one.”
  2. You need Blanchwood Armor to be carried by a creature that is going to take it over the finish line. While, given the right circumstances, almost any creature can wear the Armor; in the abstract, you will be looking for qualities like hexproof and evasion.

Carnage Tyrant

“Hexproof” and “evasion” you say? Oh, really?

I won’t mince a lot of words at this point. Not very many people come back against a Carnage Tyrant wearing Blanchwood Armor. It’s good against almost every deck. As long as you come out fast enough, it goes over the top of most of the strategies in Standard. One Carnage Tyrant implies having [at least] six Forests in play. One Blanchwood Armor on top of that therefore implies a 13/12 creature with Hexproof and Trample. That is a two-turn clock even when the opponent has blockers sometimes. Crazy-sounding (but not crazy-in-practice) plays like double Blanchwood Armor, especially after playing a land or Ramping, can threaten to one-shot most enemies.

The Deck… err The Strategy

For purposes of this article, let’s assume this is the deck we’re working from:


I consider this more a technological discovery than a specific deck. Maybe there is a better Mono-Green deck we can use to house the combo. This one has been quite good to me. I tried playing Steel Leaf Champion in what is now the Druid of the Cowl slot… And like never won. Once I got to Druid of the Cowl, I started winning a lot. But there are certainly some details we can work against to optimize over time.

For example, I’ve been tending to side out a Forest in games where I side in the basic Mountain. Will it dilute my deck that much to just play one basic Mountain? Just one? I’m not sure, either.

Two-Card Combos

First off, this combination isn’t quite Splinter Twin + Deceiver Exarch.

That said, this combination breaks one of the general rules of Two-Card Combinations. Usually you end up playing one if not both cards that you never would usually.

Illusions of Grandeur
Donate

Look at the icon. This is one of the most important and emblematic two-card combinations in the history of Magic: The Gathering. But…

If you don’t draw Donate, Illusions of Grandeur is pretty bad. Not completely dead (as you can use it to buy some time), but not very good. Donate on the other hand is pretty much useless without Illusions to give away. Together they won countless PTQs. But individually?

Blanchwood Armor can go on anyone. It’s best on a creature that is going to actually get through the opposing defenses; but you can technically put it anywhere. In some games we split up the power; for example even when we have a 7/6 on the battlefield already, we can choose to buff a Llanowar Elves in the hopes of making it difficult for the defense. Less common, but in the range available… Because Blanchwood Armor has more than one possible playmate (unlike Donate).

This is to say nothing of Carnage Tyrant. Carnage Tyrant is just a good card. People not only just want to play it, it is the best card or the top end of other strategies. It isn’t just more singularly efficient than most combination pieces, it’s what most people think about when they imagine the big beater they want to topdeck.

These two cards exist here in a Ramp shell. Four copies of Circuitous Route; four copies of Grow from the Ashes. These cards have double efficacy themselves. Obviously Circuitous Route in this deck takes you from 4 mana to [at least] six (meaning you can cast Carnage Tyrant)... The Ramp cards that find more Forests all make Blanchwood Armor bigger and better.

Details: The Enemy List

There are two cards that I wanted to think about when I made this deck:

Tocatli Honor Guard
The Eldest Reborn

Tocatli Honor Guard has waxed and waned in importance in Standard over the past several weeks. We can’t sleep on it. Other Green decks that rely on Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger can be paralyzed by the White 2-drop.

This isn’t something we can accept in Mono-Green. Unlike Golgari, we can’t remove a Tocatli Honor Guard before playing one of our Explore creatures. Ergo, I elected to simply not play any Explore creatures!

Of course Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger are “good” cards. The problem is that we have a limited number of physical lands… But huge casting costs. We can’t rely on those kinds of cards, because they fail 100% of the time if the opponent has a Tocatli Honor Guard. Honestly… Sometimes they fail by themselves. Anyone who has played Green in this Standard has had the experience of keeping a two land hand with multiple Explore guys… Then losing a few turns later because they didn’t hit the land drops that were predicted during opening hand evaluation. But hey! 4/3 Jadelight Ranger, am I right?

I’ve probably already telegraphed the play, but give a look at this board state:

It’s turn four.

We’ve already landed a Circuitous Route against Grixis.

The enemy has mercilessly murdered our Llanowar Elves, but we have six lands in play, free and clear.

It’s reminiscent of the old line… What do you give the man who has everything?

We literally can cast any of our goodies.

I think that it is tempting to play Carnage Tyrant here. The expectation is to hit twice and then kill the opponent to death with an inexorable Banefire 1) we already have using the 2) Mountain we’ve already gotten with Circuitous Route.

Here’s what I did:

I thought about it a lot before deploying The Immortal Sun. There was a chance I’d get Counterspelled, of course; but in that case I figured we both played a card and used a turn, and I was already up thanks to Circuitous Route. If I was successful, I imagined I’d have a very good chance of winning.

“How can I lose this game” was what I had in the forefront of my mind, rather than focusing on my offensive game plan.

I figured that either the opponent had The Eldest Reborn or he was going to lose; so I wanted to put him in a situation where The Eldest Reborn would not easily get my Carnage Tyrant. If he set me up with Thought Erasure and only cashed in on Chapter Three (“only” lol), so be it.

… But he played The Eldest Reborn with no good hit on Chapter One!

The game actually ended up very close.

He had multiple Dream Eaters, and chopped me up good with Disinformation Campaigns. I even eventually lost The Immortal Sun! But we eventually got it, in part because we never put him in a position where he could re-buy our Carnage Tyrant with The Eldest Reborn Chapter Three.

Tocatli Honor Guard and The Eldest Reborn represent the opposite ends of the [interactive] metagame from our perspective. One of them informed our choice not to Explore; the other represents one of the few ways that a Control deck can interact with our top end.

This second point is subtle: It’s somewhat why we play cards like Druid of the Cowl. Thunderherd Migration is theoretically available; it’s in-line with Grow from the Ashes, feeds Banefire, and can exploit the many Dinosaurs in our sideboard in addition to Carnage Tyrant. But having a random body to protect Carnage Tyrant from The Eldest Reborn is an actual component to the success of this deck.

Further, it’s nice to have a 1/3 for two mana, just on defense. Druid of the Cowl is a nice drop against a 2/1 attacker early… Might save you two or four points while you’re setting up against White Weenie.

The Other Enemy :(

Kraul Harpooner

Kraul Harpooner has my vote for most underplayed card in Standard.

This card is awesome!

Forget about the freebie games where the opponent plays a Healer's Hawk on turn one and you just 187 it for free. I mean, don’t actually forget that; that’s an essential part of why you might play Kraul Harpooner… I mean its efficacy is much greater.

You can straight 1-for-1 an Enigma Drake (or its big brother) a lot of mid-games. If the opponent so much as Shocks a Llanowar Elves, you have enough fuel to take out any x/4 Drake… Though it may cost you your Harpooner.

But sometimes it doesn’t! 0/4 or 1/4 Drakes are fair game! Teaming up is also fair game! Try sending one of your early game guys into the Drake to soften it up; finish off with even a normal three-power Harpooner.

Big flyers are an x-factor for Standard.

Lyra Dawnbringer

I’ve played dozens of matches with this Mono-Green deck at this point; I haven’t gone up against a Lyra Dawnbringer yet… But that’s largely just luck. I assume a big enough Carnage Tyrant + Blanchwood Armor will overmatch a Lyra Dawnbringer, but it’s probably not that simple. Lyra is often accompanied by the few cards in Standard that can remove a bigger-than-7/6 Hexproof. Even aggro decks will sometimes have Settle the Wreckage, remember!

Remember when I said I’m more interested in the technology of the deck than the deck itself? It’s possible we should consider some sideboard modifications to accommodate for Lyra.

Niv-Mizzet, Parun

There is another 5/5 flyer that probably deserves a mention.

One of the reasons you might want to play the Mono-Green Two-Card Combo deck is that it has a very reliable Izzet Drakes matchup. Nothing super strategic here: You just race them. Your Harpooners slow them down long enough to kill them with a Vine Mare or Carnage Tyrant with Blanchwood Armor. Ho hum; they don’t play a lot of permission, so your big spells tend to resolve.

Historically, this kind of deck, with the above proposed sideboard, makes for academic Magic against Control. I mean, four Carnage Tyrants main deck? How many answers do most Control decks even play? Four Banefires in the sideboard? Academic, right?

Adrian’s recent Grand Prix win changes all that somewhat.

It’s not that his Jeskai deck lines up so much better card-for-card than other Control decks… It’s just he might just kill you. The deck as I’ve laid it out preliminarily doesn’t deal with large threat creatures very well. You can answer a Niv-Mizzet with a Carnage Tyrant; or if you have a Carnage Tyrant, Blanchwood Armor (or The Immortal Sun) doesn’t / don’t trigger Niv-Mizzet. The problem is that your only play is to race.

That’s fine against Izzet, which might or might not have Star of Extinction somewhere. But a deck that has Star, Cleansing Nova, and Settle the Wreckage?

I’m not saying they crush you; you’re actually much better set up to beat those cards purely on card power and consistency than, say, Golgari… I’m saying they have awesome tools that make life difficult in the context of a deck that also has four copies of Niv-Mizzet. Who beats an unanswered Niv-Mizzet for two turns? Come on.

So what are we supposed to do?

Updates and Modifications

None of these changes have actually been tested… They’re more speculation about how to improve the initial proposed shell than anything else. Any of them could just be worse.

Main deck:

  • -1 Forest
  • +1 Mountain

The essential identity of this deck is not just Mono-Green, but Mono-Forests. And it’s not even that Mono-Green is so great. Many of the things this deck does well are done well by other decks we’ve talked about in recent weeks. It’s the Mono-FORESTS aspect that is unique.

In the same way that Affinity could get exploit an undercosted Thoughtcast or Galvanic Blast, this deck can exploit Blanchwood Armor by paying the deck-building price of not having March of the Multitudes; Find // Finality; or Zacama, Primal Calamity.

Can you be “mono” Forests with one Mountain? Honestly… Probably. The question is whether the minor disruption to the main deck (and similarly minor impact to the ceiling of a main deck Blanchwood Armor) is worth the freed up sideboard slot.

Probably?

Sideboard:

Thrashing Brontodon is great! It’s particularly great in a Llanowar Elves deck, and it gives you some subtly nice resistance to a deck like Mono-Red.

But Thrashing Brontodon doesn’t kill Lyra Dawnbringer or Niv-Mizzet.

Crushing Canopy is a ridiculously overpriced card. It in fact triggers Niv-Mizzet on the way to killing Niv-Mizzet. Keep in mind it just killed Niv-Mizzet.

What about Vivien Reid?

I’d snap slam up to three copies of that card in many Green decks. Four even? Except we are already a The Immortal Sun deck. There is an argument that if you have Reid going you’re probably going to end up burying the Jeskai deck in card advantage anyway. But that said, this is a matchup where you normally side in the third copy of The Immortal Sun! Turning off their Teferi is super sweet, you know?

If we go Reid, I assume we’re going to trim the third The Immortal Sun.

Fight with Fire is a good card that has multiple points of relevance. The main knock against it is that it triggers Niv-Mizzet; but the fact that we’d get that much more firepower against Lyra Dawnbringer is attractive.

Speculative new list:


Again, no idea if this is so much better than what I’ve been testing; but managed to cram in some new toys for aggro [given I have literally never sided in Gaea's Blessing]. Might have too much Red for the, you know, one Mountain only.

LOVE

MIKE