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Common Missteps Against Modern Combo

Last week I went over what I would consider to be the five most popular decks in Modern. It’s crucial to have a plan against each one when you consider what to play in a Modern tournament, because you should expect to face them fairly often. These next decks I don’t consider nearly as important to consider in the deck construction phase of a tournament, but I think players lose a huge amount of equity to them during gameplay and sideboarding.

When looking for sideboard cards that are particularly effective against these strategies, I recommend only playing cards that have applications across other matchups unless you have a particular read that a certain deck will be very popular. I actually don’t think this correlates too strongly with their recent results, except in the case of Pro Tours. I’ve found that people typically play whatever deck they like in Modern and switch around their sideboard or optional slots rather than change decks entirely.

Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam is a pure combo deck (in contrast to a deck like Splinter Twin, which can win by attacking) that wins by resolving either an Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife and then an Ad Nauseam. From there, they draw their library, exile three Simian Spirit Guides and cast a really big Lightning Storm. One thing you’ll note is that all of those cards are instants, meaning that the deck is capable of operating entirely at instant speed. They also have 4 Spirit Guides in their list when they only need 3 to go off, so even when they only have 5 mana “showing” they can win. You should also be aware that they can often fog for several turns by using Angel’s Grace or letting themselves go to a negative life total with Unlife.

Ad Nauseam uses both Pentad Prism and Lotus Bloom to ramp its mana, meaning that artifact hate is surprisingly effective (particularly if it can also hit Unlife). Other effective hate cards include counterspells (particularly Dispel), hand disruption, and Rule-of-Law-style effects.

A common class of cards I’ve seen boarded in against Ad Nauseam that doesn’t work at all are cards that interact with the Lightning Storm kill condition. Not only do they have an alternate win condition in the sideboard with Laboratory Maniac, but they will draw their entire deck meaning they’ll have Echoing Truth and/or Slaughter Pact to just remove whatever interaction you have in play.

Amulet Bloom

Amulet Bloom is one of the least fair decks in Modern, capable of winning as early as turn 1 with the most busted draws. It’s basically a ramp deck that uses Summer Bloom and Azusa to hit additional land drops with the goal of casting Primeval Titan. The deck gets supercharged when it has Amulet of Vigor in play, suddenly being able to give its Titans haste the turn they come into play thanks to Slayers’ Stronghold, or generate 6 mana with Summer Bloom and a single bounceland. They also have a back-up plan with Hive Mind plus any Pact to kill instantly.

Amulet also has a surprisingly strong long game thanks to Tolaria West and Summoner’s Pact to find a Primeval Titan, which in turn can find another Tolaria West and bounce it with Simic Growth Chamber. This means that you basically have to take a proactive stance to win unless you have a good enough plan that you can grind through all 4 Primeval Titans (and often more fatties after board).

The most common mistake I see people make against Amulet is playing scared. They plan for the worst possible scenario and ultimately end up losing to a slightly slower hand because they weren’t aggressive enough earlier in the game.

Be careful about over-boarding on anti-artifact cards. People assume that because the deck has Amulet in the name that they can’t win without Amulet, but they’re still very capable of just casting a turn-3 Titan off of a Summer Bloom without Amulet. A few artifact destruction spells are fine, but as a general rule, you don’t want to be paying more than 2 mana for that effect, and you probably don’t want more than 2 copies in your deck total.

Effective sideboard cards against Amulet tend to be ones that hate on lands, like Fulminator Mage or Blood Moon, and effects that stop them from searching their library, such as Aven Mindcensor and Shadow of Doubt. Hand disruption is also strong, and countermagic is decent (watch out for Cavern of Souls though!). Removal is fine as well, but just as with artifact destruction, you want to be careful about over-boarding and getting ground out by Tolaria West loops.

Melira Company

This is the least “combo-y” of these combo decks, typically winning with random creature beatdown rather than going off, but understanding all of their possible combos is still very important. The Melira combo involves assembling a sacrifice outlet, either Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, and a persist creature. From there, they can generate whatever ETB effect their persist guy has infinite times and scry through their entire library to essentially Vampiric Tutor.

The main mistake I see people make against this deck is to save their removal for too long hoping to snipe a combo that the opponent never puts together while they die to random creature beatdown. I’ve also seen people fail to respect the power of Chord of Calling at grabbing either the missing pieces or grinding out games out with Eternal Witness loops. It’s also important to keep in mind that Wall of Roots can functionally generate 2 mana when doing Chord math!

Effective sideboard cards against Company are sweeper effects such as Anger of the Gods or Damnation, or resilient threats such as Thrun, the Last Troll and Keranos, God of Storms. Land destruction also has a small role to play if you’re planning on winning grindy games because of the long-game power of Gavony Township. Hand disruption is on the weaker side because of how good they are at living off the top, and counterspells tend to be bad thanks to Voice of Resurgence.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Hopefully this can help you avoid some troublesome pitfalls at your next Modern event!

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