Last weekend, I was in the booth at Grand Prix Strasbourg to eventually see Tamás Nagy take the trophy with a Sultai draft deck. To succeed in Khans of Tarkir Limited format, two of the things you need to understand are how to strike a balance between card power and mana consistency and how to navigate the mind games and bluffs that arise naturally in a morph format. Something that can also contribute to success is knowledge of cute combos, powerful synergies, and bizarre uses of cards.
In Strasbourg, for example, I saw a player cast Trumpet Blast during their opponent’s combat step, which is typically not what you want to do because it pumps your opponent’s attackers, but it was the correct play in that situation because it triggered the prowess on his Jeskai Elder, allowing him to take down an imposing attacker. I saw another player cast Arrow Storm on his own creature, just to gain some life with Sultai Flayer in the hope of winning the damage race that way. And how about Become Immense on an opponent’s creature to turn on Smite the Monstrous, Suspension Field, or Deflecting Palm?
I love these unusual plays, but the strongest interactions are the ones that use cards in the way they are intended. In this article (largely based on one of my between-the-round-features in Strasbourg) I’ll go over each two-color combination and each clan and provide a sweet interaction for each of them. Some are obvious, some are not, but all of them can decide a game.
The black/white Warrior deck is arguably the archetype with the most synergy potential in Khans of Tarkir Limited, so it feels natural to start with it. There are a lot of Warriors (and even some cards that produce multiple Warriors, like Mardu Hordechief and Take up Arms) and there are a lot of cards that boost them. Raiders’ Spoils may be the best of them, but Chief of the Edge is very powerful too, and Rush of Battle can swing a damage race around completely.
It’s more difficult to assemble these synergies in Sealed than in Draft, so Raiders’ Spoils will often remain in the sideboard of your Sealed Deck, but it shoots up in value when you are on black/white Warriors in draft.
Temur is good at fighting: besides Temur Charm, it also has access to Savage Punch and (if you’re low on playables) Swift Kick. The standard use is to let one of your creatures fight one of your opponent’s, but my favorite trick is to let two of my opponent’s creatures fight.
Suppose your opponent is beating you down with an Abzan Guide and a Snowhorn Rider. (That’s a lot of colors, but certainly not impossible.) Then you can Act of Treason the Abzan Guide, attack with it, and finally cast Temur Charm to make it to fight Snowhorn Rider. Voila: You have killed two opposing creatures, and gained 9 life in the process.
Act of Treason also works beautifully against Meandering Towershell. Because the Turtle says “your control,” it comes back on your side of the board, and it will remain yours for the duration of the game.
This is the first two-color allied combination we encounter, and that’s not where you want to be in Khans of Tarkir Limited if you can help it. Not only do you limit yourself to one clan, but you also lose out on the powerful two-color gold cards that the enemy color combinations have access to.
The best “combo” that I could think of for black-red was deathtouch plus first strike. Now, Dragon Grip is a mediocre card, and I wouldn’t be happy to maindeck it even if I had Ruthless Ripper. However, if I would be facing a deck with lots of big ground creatures, pump spells, and hardly any removal or bounce spells, then I would seriously consider boarding in Dragon Grip. When placed on a Ruthless Ripper, it will do an admirable job of holding multiple Woolly Loxodons at bay. Always look at your sideboard in Limited!
Suppose that your opponent is at 12 life and has two 4/4s holding off your Pearl Lake Ancient. You are at 3 life and he’s attacking you with two Mystics of the Hidden Way. At the beginning of you turn, you have 9 lands in play and one land in hand. Doesn’t look good for you.
And then you draw Master the Way. You float five mana (or maybe all nine to play around Temur Charm) and then activate the ability on Pearl Lake Ancient three times. Afterwards, you have 12 cards in hand, cast Master the Way, and win a seemingly unwinnable game.
Duneblast is one of the best cards in the format. You’ll win almost every game you cast it, so any combo involving the sweeper is the essence of “win-more.” Nevertheless, it is always nice to go for a stylish overkill or to get some additional value if the game is close.
Well, if you’re looking to make the most out of your Duneblast, then how about choosing Swarm of Bloodflies as the creature to stay in play? It’s easy to end up with a 10/10 flyer after the sandstorm settles. Other combos with Duneblast include Grim Haruspex (draw a bunch of cards for your troubles), Meandering Towershell (attack first to slide it out for a turn, and then sweep the board), Kin-Tree Warden (value!), or Zurgo Helmsmasher (indestructible).
If you ever want to go deep, by the way, then combine Swarm of the Bloodflies with Retribution of the Ancients. This will create a machine gun reminiscent of Goblin Sharpshooter. If you add another Swarm of the Bloodflies or a Hardened Scales, things can get really filthy. The enchantments are usually unplayable, but sometimes you can get the deck that makes them tick.
Jeskai Elder can range from mediocre to great. In a deck with, say, 4 spells, it’s worse than a Wetland Sambar because it has trouble trading with even a lowly morph. In a deck with 8 or more spells, however, Jeskai Elder turns into an impactful two-drop.
In Strasbourg, Christian Seibold assembled a beautiful deck with two Jeskai Elder alongside a bunch of other prowess creatures and cheap spells. His opponent could never profitably block the Jeskai Elders, which allowed Christian to improve his hand turn after turn. He even got a turn-five kill!
My favorite spell to play in a Jeskai Elder deck is Feat of Resistance. Not only does it protect the Elder when the opponent lines up a double-block, but the permanent +1/+1 counter allows the looter to attack fearlessly into morphs on subsequent turns.
Is there anything better you can do on turn two in this format than making a 4/4? The resulting token is hard to kill, allows you to take an early lead in the damage race, and puts your opponent on a five-turn clock.
When you have drafted Kin-Tree Invocation, high-toughness cards like Disowned Ancestor, Archers’ Parapet, and Rotting Mastodon go up in value considerably. And just because Kin-Tree Invocation is in the format, a card like Disowned Ancestor becomes a slightly higher pick in black/green decks than in black decks without green.
I’m a sucker for 11-mana combos, but replaying Warden of the Eye every single turn sounds like a sweet thing to do in the late game. You could contain your opponent’s assault by blocking a big ground creature with Warden of the Eye and then bouncing an attacking flyer as well as your own Warden. Then, on your turn, you replay the Warden, recur the Waterwhirl, and repeat the same process all over again. If you are attacking with a Mystic of the Hidden Way in the meantime, then you can easily win the game this way.
Alternatively, you could bounce Warden of the Eye and your own Mardu Heart-Piercer for an endless stream of 2 damage for every 11 mana invested. It’s not a great deal, but if you’re in the late-game and out of gas, then it could be a good path to victory. And if you have three Jeskai Ascendancy and four Rattleclaw Mystic to go with it, then you can go infinite! (I may be going a little too deep here…)
The synergy between outlast creatures and +1/+1 counters is obvious, but it’s an important one to keep in mind when venturing into Khans of Tarkir Limited. There are several cards that dish out +1/+1 counters, including Dragonscale Boon and Feat of Resistance, but Incremental Growth takes the crown.
It’s not hard to maneuver yourself to a game state in which you can pump three of your own creatures, thereby giving all of them flying with Abzan Falconer, and then soaring in for the kill while your opponent is stuck with a number of ground blockers.
This one will rarely come up, but it’s good to know about it when it does. Suppose that your opponent is attacking you with a 5/4 Mystic of the Hidden Way equipped with a Ghostfire Blade. You have Bring Low in hand, but that doesn’t kill it yet. Here, High Sentinels of Arashin can come to the rescue.
In contrast to Feat of Resistance, High Sentinels can target opposing creatures, so by putting a +1/+1 counter on that Mystic of the Hidden Way, you can suddenly kill it with Bring Low.
This combo is fairly obvious. While every color combination can make use of the delve cards and the graveyard enablers, Sultai excels at this because it has an excellent enabler in Sultai Soothsayers, it is the color combination with the most delve spells, and it has the payoff of sometimes ending up with an unnecessarily large Rakshasa Vizier.
Have you ever faced an attacking Dragon-Style Twins and wondered “what’s the worst that could happen?” Well, this is it. If you don’t block, then Dragon-Style Twins can grow to a 10/10 double strike and finish you off in a single blow. I’m not saying that you should always block in this situation, but certainly keep in mind how immense Dragon-Style Twins can become.
In a deck with six or fewer morphs, I wouldn’t be happy to run Secret Plans. In a deck with seven or eight morphs, it is a reasonable playable. And in a deck with nine or more morphs, it can be one of the better things to do on turn two. Fortunately, green/blue has the most morphs of any color combination in Khans of Tarkir, so it is often possible to get a lot of value out of Secret Plans.
Secret Plans (just like Trail of Mystery) gets much better with morphs that are cheap or free to unmorph, such as Dragon’s Eye Savants, Temur Charger, or Monastery Floch. Take them more highly when you have one of the two morph-enhancing enchantments.
This interaction comes up quite frequently because it involves two commons. If your Mardu opponent has five mana up and only a single morph in play, then you still have to be aware of the possibility that they may attack for 13 on the next turn. Take up Arms plus Trumpet Blast would threaten it as well.
When testing Team Sealed against the Belgians for the World Magic Cup, we had one match that started with Alexandre Darras playing turn-two Taigam’s Scheming against us. We figured that he was probably running another horrendous Goblinslide concoction and that he included Taigam’s Scheming because he needed another spell to trigger it, but even then we were puzzled when he chose to put all five cards into his graveyard, both lands and spells.
We learned what was up when he played Necropolis Fiend on turn three. Unsurprisingly, it was very hard to beat this early in the game. Taigam’s Scheming is card disadvantage, but in a deck with multiple high-cost delve spells it can produce enough mana to make it worthwhile.
The possibilities in Khans of Tarkir are practically endless, so feel free to chime in with your ideas. What are your favorite draft synergies and what is the most unexpected way you’ve won a game in this format? And a bonus puzzle: How could you attack with an Archers’ Parapet in this format?