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Recurring Nightmares – Rest in Pieces

Last week, in my set review of Return to Ravnica, I briefly discussed the idea of creating a deck based on [card]Helm of Obedience[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. This isn’t a particularly new concept—the combo with [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] and Helm already exists as a known entity, even showing up occasionally in Vintage, where the combination of Leyline working overtime against the largely grave-centric format and Helm being tutorable via [card]Tinker[/card] pair to make it an actually reliable strategy to pursue. Despite it sometimes being a thing in Vintage, the combo hasn’t made much of a splash in Legacy. Many factors play into why this would be the case, but I believe it has to do with two specific problems:

1. 9 total mana to assemble and activate the combo, working from the assumption that you don’t begin the game with [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] in play. This kind of mana means you’ll be hard-pressed to play it all out in a single turn, which makes it slow and clunky. This point is essentially the same thing as “[card painter’s servant]Painter[/card]/[card]Grindstone[/card] is better,” because it’s largely due to mana cost rather than inherent strength of the combo—the Helm/Line combo is actually a better win condition against the field.

2. Neither combo piece is very good on its own. While [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] certainly has applications against some portion of the field, it’s also completely dead against a statistically significant part of it, as well. [card]Helm of Obedience[/card] hasn’t been an actual card in ages, if it ever really was, and so it’s no surprise that the card can go largely ignored until it enters play.

To many, these obstacles seem very difficult to overcome. I’m not one to give up so easily, and so the printing of a card like [card]Rest in Peace[/card], that provides redundancy to half of the combo pieces, makes me interested in putting together some kind of testing list.

The way I see it, there are a number of ways to approach the deck, but they mostly boil down to two shells: combo and control.

The control version of the deck is an attempt to slowly stabilize the board until the deck is able to drop the combo over the course of a turn or two with protection, and then win on the spot. There’s a long line of combo control decks out there to pluck ideas from, and control happens to be getting a nice boost from Return to Ravnica as well. A sample list of a control shell would be something like:

[deck]4 Helm of Obedience
4 Rest in Peace
4 Force of Will
3 Spell Pierce
4 Brainstorm
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Counterbalance
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Terminus
1 Detention Sphere
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Tundra
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
1 Marsh Flats
1 Karakas
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Island
2 Plains[/deck]

This list doesn’t take advantage of the redundancy of combo pieces (at least not in the main deck, although it could reasonably run the Leylines in the sideboard), but it does have a contingent of control elements to allow you to survive to the point when you’d be able to play the combo naturally. This method of combo/control construction, effectively sticking the combination into a shell that’s already a known and proven, tends to make the control aspects of the deck slightly weaker, but provide a more expedient win condition.

[card]Rest in Peace[/card] has some synergy with this style, as well, since a deck with heavy reliance on the graveyard tends to be troublesome for UW control. Dredge, which circumvents a large portion spells from UW control by playing without casting spells, and which shrugs removal and Wrath effects at will, can be a difficult matchup for the slow, plodding control decks. With the addition of maindeck [card]Rest in Peace[/card], you have a game-changing bomb that can’t really be played around by Dredge (or Reanimator, or [card Life from the Loam]Loam[/card]), because many of these decks aren’t prepared for that kind of hate during game one. In this type of match, the fact that most decks are similarly unprepared for them in game one is a large part of why they’re capable of performing well—a prepared field makes for a horrific day for a Dredge player.

Another control shell:

[deck]2 Thoughtseize
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Enlightened Tutor
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Helm of Obedience
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Rest in Peace
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Terminus
1 Cursed Totem
1 Humility
4 Ancient Tomb
2 City of Traitors
4 Scrubland
1 Karakas
4 Marsh Flats
3 Swamp
2 Plains
4 Chrome Mox[/deck]

Unlike the first take, this deck embraces the full 8 Leyline effects, and has a set of [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card]s to find the Helm quickly. Instead of running a reactive blue base to protect the combo, this deck relies on proactive disruption in the form of black discard spells to stop the opponent prior to “going off.” It also features a set of [card]Chrome Mox[/card]en, [card]Ancient Tomb[/card]s, and a pair of [card]City of Traitors[/card] to try and speed up the powerful but expensive combo pieces. As your combo only requires one of either Leyline or RIP, pitching the extras you may draw to generate mana with [card]Chrome Mox[/card] seems like a safe and fair trade.

I’d have loved to be able to throw a set of [card]Lingering Souls[/card] into the deck, but the fact that your combo engine makes Souls half as good means you can’t really afford to rely on both. It’s an actual bummer, because it would be a great way to buy time to set up for the combo.

The other option, rather than a slow and steady approach, would be to race toward comboing off with all the fervor you can muster. This dedicated combo approach is one that’s already been seen with the Helm-Line combo, although the strategy hasn’t had much success. Here’s a list pulled from the mtgSalvation.com thread on the deck:

[deck]3 Ancient Tomb
3 Flooded Strand
5 Island
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Underground Sea
3 Lotus Petal
4 Progenitus
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Lim-Dul’s Vault
4 Ponder
4 Show and Tell
3 Thoughtseize
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Helm of Obedience
4 Preordain[/deck]

Now I love me some [card]Lim-Dul’s Vault[/card] more than the next guy, but this list has some glaring issues that can’t be ignored. First, [card]Show and Tell[/card] is becoming a riskier and riskier play as the prevalence of [card]Omniscience[/card] continues to spread. If you aren’t winning the game on the spot (and with a deck like this, there’s no guarantee you are), you can’t afford to cast a spell like S&T and pass the turn. Oddly enough, this deck has a fairly good answer to opposing Show and Tells, in that either half of the combo in play and a mana up means they can’t afford to risk you putting the other half into play. No matter what version of their own combo they put in with S&T, you just win in response to whatever they do next.

Second issue with this list—[card]Progenitus[/card] seems like a worse card to use than [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card], which is probably worse than [card]Griselbrand[/card]. In fact, the reality of the situation is that using Progenitus, Helm, and Leyline doesn’t actually make your deck better than the OmniTell deck in any way. You’re a worse combo deck and a worse Show and Tell deck, so you’re probably better off just playing that deck. When you resolve Show and Tell, you win either way, so you may as well do the most powerful thing you can do. If I were to try and incorporate the combo into this shell, given that we’re trying to use all 12 combo pieces, it would look something like this:

[deck]3 Ancient Tomb
4 Flooded Strand
2 Island
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
3 Tundra
3 Lotus Petal
4 Brainstorm
4 Preordain
4 Ponder
4 Force of Will
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Enlightened Tutor
3 Lim-Dul’s Vault
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
3 Show and Tell
3 Rest in Peace
3 Leyline of the Void
4 Helm of Obedience[/deck]

Note: I still don’t think this is the correct way to approach this.

[deck]3 Ancient Tomb
4 Flooded Strand
2 Island
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
3 Tundra
3 Chrome Mox
4 Brainstorm
4 Preordain
4 Ponder
4 Force of Will
4 Thoughtseize
3 Enlightened Tutor
3 Lim-Dul’s Vault
4 Rest in Peace
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Helm of Obedience[/deck]

I think this direction—probably with some kind of transformational sideboard into a creature-focused aggro/control deck—is the better way to approach the combo. Instead of relying on the [card]Show and Tell[/card] plan to shave a mana off the combo, just assemble it, ensure the coast is clear, and run it out there. This was the strategy we employed with [card]Painter’s Servant[/card]/[card]Grindstone[/card] combo that was relatively successful for a period of time, but the disparity in cost between the combo pieces in each of the decks will likely mean this strategy is too slow.

A second combo direction you could move in to address the issue of speed, would be to put it into a Belcher-style shell.

[deck]4 Leyline of the Void
2 Rest in Peace
4 Helm of Obedience
4 Lotus Petal
4 Chrome Mox
4 Rite of Flame
4 Manamorphose
4 Elvish Spirit Guide
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Tinder Wall
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Seething Song
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Street Wraith
4 Land Grant
1 Taiga
1 Savannah[/deck]

What’s interesting to me about a list like this is that it hasn’t really been done before with other combo wins. It’s true that Belcher is essentially a one-card combo when your deck runs between zero and two lands, but the strategy of sacrificing a bunch of stability in order to power out a game-ending spell in short succession seems like one worth considering. I imagine this deck would probably be one of the least consistent you could ever hope to play, but it makes an effort to exchange consistency with speed and power. If you manage to assemble both the Helm and the RIP, the combo is the same 7 mana as playing and activating Belcher, and it’s cheaper if you hit the Leyline in your opener.

[deck]4 Chalice of the Void
4 Grim Monolith
4 Serum Powder
4 Helm of Obedience
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Lightning Greaves
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Spine of Ish Sah
3 Voltaic Key
4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
4 Metalworker
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Mox Opal
3 Ancient Den
3 Vault of Whispers
4 Ancient Tomb
3 City of Traitors
3 Scrubland[/deck]

This final list is an aberration of a MUD shell, which tries to use [card]Kuldotha Forgemaster[/card] as a set of [card]Tinker[/card]s to tutor up the Helm like Vintage decks are able to. It runs the full set of Leyline effects as well as a set of [card]Serum Powder[/card] to try to maximize the number of shots you have at finding the combo pieces early. As a Stax deck, you have the ability to cast any drawn Serum Powders with relative ease, so they aren’t entirely dead past turn 1. The most difficult part of putting together a list like this one is balancing the mana base—it’s tough to build even a one-color brown deck, let alone a deck that could potentially try to play spells of two colors. The other issue you run into with a deck like this one is the lack of [card]Goblin Welder[/card]—one of the stronger tools the MUD deck can utilize—because of the loss of your own graveyard with [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. This seems to be a recurring theme, which we should note.

Each of these lists are rough drafts, meant to bring some ideas to light on why or why not to experiment with Helm/Line/RIP. There are a number of approaches you could take to try out the deck, but after doing some brainstorming, it’s apparent that there are even more obstacles to surmount than we initially outlined.

• Despite being in the color of [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card], [card]Rest in Peace[/card] requires you to play a spell that’s counter to the natural mana base of combo decks. Unless you’re willing to commit to a five-color mana base, you’re going to struggle with the color commitments to play both RIP and Leyline in the same deck, unless you’re willing to accept the fact that Leyline is totally uncastable.

• Many of the natural shells to fit the combo into are strengthened by the ability to access the graveyard. Unfortunately, [card]Rest in Peace[/card] is symmetrical, unlike [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], so when you’re anchoring your strategy on the enchantment, you have to be willing to forgo the use of your own ‘yard for advantage. That means you’re willing to eschew an entire facet of the game’s strategy, and something that this format excels at more than most. This severely reduces your options and cuts you off strong avenues.

• Four mana is still a ton, no matter how you slice it. Getting a Helm into play is a giant obstacle in a format where your opponents are very likely playing spells like [card]Daze[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card]. This is a problem Belcher players have been dealing with forever, and one of the best reasons to play [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] in that deck. [card]Show and Tell[/card] is still a very risky strategy, and ultimately only reduces the cost of the combo by one mana. The benefits don’t outweigh the risks with that plan, which is better utilized by dedicated Show and Tell decks.

So, although I’m not willing to give up on the combo entirely, it would appear that it’s not as simple as slamming 12 cards into an existing strategy, nor is it an insignificant task to find a new shell to put the combo into. Of all the lists I put up today, I see the UW control list as the one with the most promise, mostly due to the strong control elements and natural weakness shored up by the RIP—which means there’s only half the number of dead cards in the deck than the norm. Perhaps this is a way to move forward with the deck. The alternative I see as next-most-impressive is the Stax shell, but that has much more to do with the strength of [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] against the format, rather than the strength of Leyline or Helm.

In the immediate future, I don’t believe we’ll see much of a wave from the Helm/Line combo, although if the dynamic of the format changes to favor graveyard decks again, we could see an uptick of the combo as players try to find a way to make their graveyard hate work for them, as well as against the opponent.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Prerelease!

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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