Hello, wonderful readers and welcome to another edition of me telling you things about Constructed. Based on the feedback I got last week in the comments and e-mails, this week will be a split article on a few interesting Extended combo decks and my Standard Warp World deck. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s begin.
Currently in the Extended format there are roughly 700 combo decks that have a turn four goldfish. Most of these decks are quite awful, and just worse than the standard de-jour of Hypergenesis, Dredge, Elves and Storm. However with the introduction of Zendikar to the mix, we now have a new combo in Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths, producing a 20/20 Indestructible Flying creature to crush the opponent with. Since it only costs BB and a land drop, it reminds me a lot of classic Entomb + Reanimate shenanigans or even Time Vault + Voltaic Key in Vintage, considering that it needs no other support to function so it can fit in any shell while quickly ending the game.
Dark Depths as a card is rather do-nothing, but you can get some use out of even that with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Vampire Hexmage on the other hand has a couple of other uses people might not have immediately noticed outside of the combo. One great example is his usage against Affinity, where you can render Arcbound Ravager and friends rather impotent. Obviously he beats up on Planeswalkers if anyone is brave enough to bring those to Extended. That said, both of these cards’ main uses are with each other and that’s where almost all of their value lies.
Yes, Dark Depths is quite fragile as a combo, but it all revolves around just how much people want to sell out to stop it. Assembling the combo is really easy and even trying it a 2nd time isn’t too difficult. However there’s a host of answers that can make the combo awkward, starting with boarding in Dark Depths of your own and continuing with Path to Exile, Repeal and Celestial Purge as dirt-cheap answers to the Marit Lage token. The deck asks the same question people have already been asking when playing decks like All-In Red and Dredge in past Extended seasons.
Since the combo itself is a two card set and requires a minimal mana investment, this means the shell can be as all-in or as controlling and protective as the creator deems necessary. Here are some example lists of both philosophies.
Next Level Depths
Both decks have the same basic plan A & B: Get Dark Depths combo online while protecting it or, failing that, playing a few large threats backed by Umezawa’s Jitte and winning the old fashioned way. The first build has eight Duress effects to peel a counter or Path to Exile out of the way and can quickly tutor for and play its combo by turn three. Even if the Marit Lage is dealt with via bounce or Path to Exile, the deck can still attack for the win with other men, or even try to combo out again since Grim Discovery conveniently gets back both Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths for 1B.
As for search options, even though Spoils from the Vault and Beseech the Queen aren’t as efficient as the Cascade cards in Hypergenesis, they can fetch anything in the deck for a very low investment. Spoils does carry the risk of outright dying, a risk that is exacerbated by the use of fetches, shocklands and Dark Confidant, but this combo version is so all-in that the risk doesn’t outweigh the rewards of having a one mana tutor. Obviously you can’t keep them around against decks like Zoo and Burn for game two, but against a good chunk of the field you can safely drop to 1-3 life and still win the game.
For most of you though, the bigger concern will be the second version, which can sit back and play control for multiple turns and then ‘combo off’ into a 20/20 finisher on the cheap. Is it potentially unnecessary? Sure. NLU can play a very controlling game and just win with Tarmogoyf and Vendilion Clique beatdown and that’s exactly what one of the plans is here. However in a number of matches, without the inevitability of the Riptide Laboratory soft lock, I’ve felt something to be lacking in the late-game of blue decks. This combo is rather compartmentalized and it isn’t hard to draw into over the course of a game. Once you do have it, the NLU shell can protect it very well via its complement of Faeries and Mana Leaks.
However, the idea of just drawing into the combo is a bit of optimism on my part, as you only have Ancestral Visions to really get ahead card-wise. What if we changed that though? Here’s one last build taken a step further than the last one.
BUG Dark Depths
Now you have a Gifts Ungiven package that nets you the combo no matter what they give you. Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage + Grim Discovery + Nature’s Spiral means that no matter what you can get back whatever piece of the combo they dump into the river. Casting Gifts on someone’s end-step almost guarantees that you’ll have a Marit Lage in play by the end of their next turn. Maybe this is a good enough package to justify running Gifts Ungiven again, when combined with its more mundane uses. Enough about Dark Depths combo though, let’s move onto Hypergenesis.
(I’m not sure which of Nihilith or Greater Gargadon is better, but pick one)
The basic game plan should need little explanation; you cast a Cascade spell, hit Hypergenesis, and dump a bunch of fat into play. This maindeck isn’t remarkable for the archetype, but I bring this combo up because it had such an interesting sideboarding situation. If you run anything cheaper than three mana as an answer post-board, then the Hypergenesis combo is effectively shut down since you can no longer guarantee consistency. So what happens is you need answers to decks like Faeries and specific cards like Chalice of the Void and Ethersworn Canonist at a low mana cost, without actually having a low converted mana cost. Such a paradox!
However, there are a number of ways around this little restriction, the most obvious being Suspend and Evoke cards. The best of the suspend guys are Riftwing Cloudskate, Greater Gargadon and Nihilith; Cloudskate being the most useful in answering combo hate and the other two giving you the ability to beat around it. Greater Gargadon is a little too slow as a general anti-hate card, but has been fine in the Blue matches where you can sit around for six or seven turns exchanging witty banter instead of doing anything on the board. A 9/7 not only adds a quick clock to the field, but makes him nearly impossible to kill outside of a splashed Path to Exile or a tag-team of Tarmogoyfs. Nihilith is the smaller cousin of GG, but can’t be blocked easily and also triggers around three or four turns after being played. Of course this monster is far easier to answer from a Blue and Red perspective so that’s a bit awkward.
As a result the Blue match isn’t quite the one-sided beating people tend to make it out to be. The Faeries player always has to respect the possibility of you hitting a Hypergenesis and still has to deal with a couple of creature threats like Great Sable Stag, Vendilion Clique and some of the Suspend creatures. At some point the Hypergenesis deck simply has the capability of overwhelming the counter wall, putting the onus back on the Faeries player to win quickly.
So that’s my piece on the combo decks I’m most interested in for Extended; as for the rest, here’s some thoughts on the field. Zoo decks are most likely going to be the most popular deck at the Pro Tour, and for good reason – they win a lot. Zoo has the capability of beating anything with the right draw and the right sideboard; what matters is what decks the Zoo player focuses on beating. Even decks like Hypergenesis can get stomped on by a quick draw backed by Canonist and possibly a Duress effect or two. I wouldn’t want to play Zoo since I can’t imagine it not being #1 or #2 on most players’ hit-list for testing, but I can’t fault people for bringing stupid quick aggro. Oddly enough, I think the deck with the most consistent Zoo match is the 12 Lightning Bolt deck.
Yes, Burn is back and better than ever, gaining Lightning Bolt and Goblin Guide from the most recent sets. Sure it’ll still fold to bad draws, mana clumps and people just playing ultra-conservatively with their life totals, but this is the best iteration of the deck to date. Burn is only about a turn slower than most combo decks, has a naturally decent Zoo match, Faeries / NLU got easier because they can’t Spellstutter lock, and it destroys midrange decks that don’t draw multiple Kitchen Finks. The one major hit Burn took was losing Sulfuric Vortex, which means anyone devoting the slots to beat you will win on command.
Blue decks are reasonable, but all of them require a huge amount of tuning and careful game planning in each match. The Blue decks lack the late-game inevitability they could fall back on last season; instead they have to get ahead and win before the opponent can catch up. Considering the average power level of decks in this format, this is no easy feat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people moved more toward the Legacy-style Threshold decks of old as a result.
Affinity, Dredge and Elves are all legit combo decks that are varying levels of awesome. All of them fall to hate and the latter two are slower than one would expect, but they still have very powerful linear strategies. This is the classic problem of having too many viable combo decks and not one or two dominant ones. Sideboard answers are all completely different against these decks, and even though they fold like a cheap suit in the face of significant hate, people will bring them anyway expecting the field to be underprepared.
Personally if I had to pick a deck tomorrow, I’d flip a coin between some form of Hypergenesis or a Gifts Ungiven control deck.
Bonus Standard Section
You’ll have to indulge me, as I’m only going to talk about one deck for Standard and that deck is Warp World. I’ll give you a minute so you can click the Back button on your browser.
For those you still here, let me say that this deck is very strong in a field with the bare minimum of Counterspell effects flying around. I certainly thought people were crazy for running it in a field of Faeries and 5cc decks, but in a field of aggro, board control and midrange decks? Ding. Here’s my current list:
This version isn’t quite the norm, but I’ll give a brief explanation. River Boa and Knight of the Reliquary are both absurdly good defenders in the deck while being able to provide pressure against control decks as a secondary plan. Knight also combos with Lotus Cobra, which in turn combos with playing land; while Lotus Cobra was overrated for general use, the card is incredible in Warp World. Not only does it ramp into Warp World on turn five, but the card let’s you do sick things with Siege-Gang Commander after a Warp World.
Really the biggest change other than playing more defensive creatures is the removal of Bogardan Hellkite. I find Ob Nixilis, the Fallen, Siege-Gang Commander and Knight of the Reliquary to be sufficient enough threats almost every time I Warp World. Sure, it slightly reduces the chances of winning the following turn, but the extra turn or two you give the opponent almost never matters. Against Red I might consider some sort of life-gain spell just in case I don’t kill them immediately off a Warp World, but outside of that I’ve had no problems with my threat selection after comboing off.
I’d gladly recommend this deck (although maybe not the sideboard) to anyone since right now the good versions of control decks simply don’t exist and this deck stomps standard aggro strategies. See you next week when I break down the Philly 5k results.
Email me at joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom