I love a good combo deck. There is something special about the particular kind of delight that comes from seeing a helpless and demoralized opponent watch you do some completely ridiculous thing from behind their irrelevant turn-2 Tarmogoyf.
The problem with combo decks is, and always has been, they tend to be kind of fragile. Sure, when you assemble the perfect combination of cards the magic happens, but every combo deck faces the issue of not drawing the correct cards in the right order.
That instability is something you can never completely escape when it comes to combo decks. It goes with the territory. “Combo” is short for “combination,” meaning that a combination of multiple individual cards creates some game-altering interaction. It’s pretty obvious when you stop and think about it. Words mean stuff.
Yet, when I think about “combo,” I don’t think about the word “combination.” I think about the Killer Instinct game from the ’90s. It was the first PvP fighting game I remember that had “combos.”
As a youngster, I spent many a summer afternoon with my friends at the arcade, our pockets full of quarters, prepared to take on all comers with Jago or Orchid at the Killer Instinct machine. These were the characters with the best combos. When an opponent missed a block or put themselves in a vulnerable position? WHAM! My character would fly into a frenzied barrage of spins, kicks, flips, and saber blows and end the game. “75 HIT ULTRA COMBO!”
Killer Instinct was my introduction to playing combo long before I ever Channeled my first Fireball. Go big or go home, kid.
Modern Instant Reanimator
Okay, enough nostalgia for today. Let’s talk about a sick new combo deck that has been lighting up Modern:
Keenan Davidson, 3rd place at Indianapolis Open
Basically, this is a version of Goryo’s Vengeance that has been updated to include an exciting new card from Aether Revolt:
Kari Zev knows about the monkey business of comboing off.
A little Grand Theft MTGO? Stealing some Kars? Stealing creatures isn’t really the point in there. The point is that Kari Zev’s Expertise allows you to cast both halves of your split card Breaking // Entering for free.
Before I get too specific about the different cards in the deck and what they facilitate, let’s go over why this deck is a good choice in the first place. First of all, Goryo’s Vengeance was already good, and adding another layer to the critical mass only makes it better.
Expertise plus Breaking // Entering is one of the most busted plays possible in Modern and we are adding that to a deck that is already well suited for facilitating these kinds of 1-2 punches.
In combination with Breaking // Entering, Kari Zev’s Expertise is a ritual effect that essentially costs 1RR and makes 4UBBR.
One problem that a player might run into with Kari Zev’s Expertise is that an opponent might not have a creature on the battlefield to target. Enter Forbidden Orchard, stage left.
With Orchard you can give your opponent a 1/1 Spirit that you can target with Expertise. A very cool interaction and innovation for this strategy.
Another advantage of the Breaking // Entering combo is that it dodges a lot of commonly played sideboard hate.
Breaking // Entering creates some weird interactions that work out favorably for the combo player. When you fuse Breaking // Entering, it becomes one spell that is resolved without the opponent ever being passed priority. The top 8 cards of your library are put into your graveyard, and then you are allowed to select from among those cards (or any cards that were already in the bin) a creature and put it onto the battlefield.
If your opponent has a Surgical Extraction or Tormod’s Crypt type of effect in play there is never a point where those cards can disrupt an Emrakul or Griselbrand from Entering play. Also, it is worth noting that unlike Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach, an Entered creature is not sacrificed at the end of the turn. You get to keep that Emrakul until the game ends, which it will—with a win.
A lot of the ways players typically interact with a Reanimator deck are now completely ignored by 2 of your 3 modes of cheating a creature into play. Obviously, Rest in Peace is the most effective answer because it does stop the Kari Zev combo, but Through the Breach still goes around it.
Aside from counter spells or discard spells, there aren’t commonly played sideboard cards that interact with every one of your combos. The deck does feature Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard to put an end to those pesky Inquisitions and Thoughtseizes, which is nice. But I would consider is the inclusion of a good way to defend against permission decks, which would appear to be a weakness.
“Mana Leak is threatening
My very game today
Gimmie, gimmie shelter”
The downside is that if you Kari Zev’s Expertise with Boseiju mana, the actual Breaking // Entering will not be uncounterable (since you didn’t technically use Boseiju mana to cast it when you cast it for free). A lot of people might even miss that in a tournament. Still, an uncounterable Through the Breach and Goryo’s Vengeance seems obnoxious for a Jeskai control deck to deal with.
Start things off with a Leyline of Sanctity in play and then Boseiju out a turn-4 Through the Breach-Emrakul against a Grixis player? The largest Killer Instinct combo I was able to find online was 2,603. I imagine the Grixis player in this scenario feels a lot like the person who had the 2,603 hit combo done to them. I wouldn’t be too happy about it, but at the same time you’ve got to appreciate that a draw like that is an uncommonly beautiful thing. On some level, you’ve got to appreciate a great 2,603-hit ultra combo for what it is. Awesome.