Yawgmoth Combo… Without Yawgmoth!? MTG Budget Modern Deck Guide

The battle for Middle-earth has finally arrived, and as expected the general consensus of the set’s impact on Modern is that there’s One Ring to rule them all. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to enfranchised Modern participants, considering that most decks are big fans of drawing nine cards with no downside.

Outside of the small handful of big chase cards however, there aren’t a ton of cards from the new set that are having an easy time slotting into the current swath of Modern decks. Tangentially, something that was very big in everyone’s minds during spoiler season was the wide swath of new combos that this set brought about. What the set might be lacking in raw power outside of a small selection of cards, it makes up for in a big way with synergy and card advantage engines. While a lot of Modern is currently dominated by many goodstuff piles and decks with strong individual cards, there’s one synergy-driven deck that’s stood above the rest for a long while. Let’s check out what it looks like when you slot some of these new combos into that shell, all on a budget. It’s time to brew up some Yawg-less Yawgmoth.

 

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Budget Modern Yawg-less Yawgmoth by Darren Magnotti

 

The Deck

Some behind-the-scenes, this whole article is going to be a little uncomfortable because I’m riffing off of a deck that’s named after a card and I took that card out of the deck, so sorry in advance. I tried writing it where I referred to the deck as “Abzan Toolbox Combo” but that felt way too corporate, so I’m just going to call it Yawg even though there’s no Yawgmoth. “Yawg” will be the creature toolbox archetype on the whole, and Yawg-less will be specifically the budget list. It’s not great, but this is what we get for not naming decks after breakfast cereals anymore.

Yawg is a deck that follows a well-beaten path in terms of Modern deck construction. It’s a creature toolbox deck that aims to net some incremental value over the course of the game, while also using creature tutors to search combo pieces out of the deck and finish things off with some arbitrarily large repetitive loop. Ever since the original Birthing Pod decks back in 2013, players have been in love with the concept of searching their deck to assemble a three-card creature combo. Kitchen Finks, Viscera Seer and Merila, Sylvok Outcast was the longest standing combo, though it’s changed over the years as metagames have shifted and the particular demands on a deck list have morphed and bent.

In current iterations, the creature combo toolbox deck takes the form of a deck that doesn’t rely wholly on one engine piece. Unlike previous versions that demanded their pilots resolve a Birthing Pod or Collected Company, Yawgmoth decks of today heavily feature Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution as their tutor effects, and bank on using those as haymakers rather than value generators over time. The main combo that they’re trying to assemble features Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, and two creatures with the undying mechanic like Young Wolf or Strangleroot Geist. These three cards can form a loop where Yawgmoth sacrifices one undying creature to remove the +1/+1 counter from the second while also drawing a card.

The rest of the deck varies in number from pilot to pilot, but the main pillars of the deck are mana ramping creatures such as Birds of Paradise, utility creatures like Endurance to help fight through those grindy games, and cards that allow you to go “fully infinite” like Blood Artist. All of these work together to advance the combo game plan while also offering the capacity to net unexpected value over time and answer any particularly egregious strategy that the opponent might be packing.

Looking back to today’s deck list, we can see that a good number of these pillars are well represented. While the reliance on Yawgmoth proper has shifted to suit the more Food-based theme of this deck, a lot of the cards and plans of the full deck are still present and translate well to the budget tools that we have available. The deck does play vastly different cards though, so I’m not going to try to claim that playing Yawg-less is a reasonable means to learn the ins and outs of the full deck in the same way that a budget Burn deck will more or less give you the same feeling for less money.

Explaining The Combos

Yawg-less features two different combos, made newly possible by each half of the Gamgee family. The first was the one that players immediately gravitated to, which is the combination of Rosie Cotton of South Lane and Scurry Oak, which when in play together, allow you to put any number of 1/1 Squirrel tokens into play. Simple and straightforward, it isn’t a stretch to imagine yourself winning the game when you’ve got infinite 1/1 creatures.

The second combo is only slightly more convoluted, and involves Samwise Gamgee, Cauldron Familiar and a sacrifice outlet – here we’re using Viscera Seer. With a Samwise in play, you can put the Cauldron Familiar into play and make a Food token, while also draining the opponent for one. You can then use the sacrifice outlet to move the Familiar to the graveyard, which will then allow you to sacrifice your food token and bring it back. When it comes back, it triggers Samwise to make another Food, and the cycle repeats until the opponent is out of life.

These combos each function on their own axes and reward different types of play and set up, but their pieces can also function in tandem to achieve that value generation that makes this type of deck really work. Toolbox decks work at their best when the opponent is put into the position where they need to guess what’s coming next. Having access to two different combos means that we will be putting the opponent’s hand to the test, as realistically a win could come out of any direction.

Outside of ending the game with these rather obvious lines though, the real power of a deck like this comes from the cards surrounding the combo. Yawgmoth proper ends many games via Strangleroot Geist beatdown like its 2012 Standard. Birthing Pod used to search up Siege Rhinos to attack in and finish things. Let’s check out the auxiliary pieces that really make this deck shine.

The Supporting Cast

Yawg-less is a deck that’s all about token generation. As such, Peregrin Took takes the stage as our main source of value generation over time. While one extra Food per token isn’t a huge boon at surface level, it begins to really add up when considering how many incidental tokens there are in this deck. 25 cards in the deck make a token in some capacity, which means the Food will be flying in short order. Using that Food to draw cards is very similar to Yawgmoth’s ability to dig through the deck as well, so the cards will just keep coming as Pippen here fuels you through those grindy matchups.

The Rosie combo is particularly interesting in this deck because it doesn’t automatically win the game. Sure, you’ve got six million Squirrel tokens, but if you’re at three life and your opponent has a Lightning Bolt in hand, you’re still out of luck. Cue Prosperous Innkeeper. The Innkeeper will net you tremendous bursts of life when the deck is in grind mode, and outright make it impossible to lose the game when you’re going Squirrel mode. Also acting as a form of mana ramp by banking part of its cost into a Treasure token that you can use for later, Innkeeper is a mainstay even in the full Yawgmoth decks. Blood Artist, similarly, can do great work to keep you afloat in a huge number of matchups, or end the game on the spot when combined with your Squirrel tidal wave and a Viscera Seer.

Something I’ve stressed a few times throughout so far has been the fact that comboing isn’t always the first option. In fact, sometimes it isn’t on the table at all, and you will need to fight for your right to party by playing Magic the way that Garfield intended. Grist, the Hunger Tide makes this a reality, with their ability to snipe away opposing threats, build up a board state of Insect tokens slowly over time, and blast away any opponent who’s gotten too overzealous with their removal spells. On top of the fact that you can tutor for Grist with Chord or Evolution (since they’re an Insect creature when they’re not on the battlefield), they’re really the ultimate option for a deck like this when it comes to generating value and playing for the long game.

Lastly are the must-plays, those remaining pillars that were mentioned before. The tutor spells, Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution, will allow you to find any missing piece that you might need at any time. They’re really the backbone of the toolbox strategy, and the glue that holds the rest of the deck together. From assembling combos to grabbing that sideboard card at the perfect time, it can’t be understated how important these cards are to the overall strategy. They of course couldn’t get that job done though without the mana to make it happen, which is where the final remaining ramp cards come in. Arboreal Grazer is a new addition in the Yawgmoth repertoire, offering up a Fury-proof blocker that advances your mana in a way that the opponent won’t be able to interact with. Wall of Roots functions similarly, providing a huge backside to hide behind and staving off aggressive decks. One neat trick that you can do with the Wall, and the first thing that Yawgmoth players will excitedly tell you, is that you can use the Wall to add two mana to any convoke spell by using its ability and then tapping it as a creature.

How Does It Play?

Toolbox decks like Yawg are some of the best at rewarding player skill, deck familiarity and format knowledge. There is a huge decision tree behind every match played, with only a couple of branches leading to victory states. That said, the deck can either be very simple or extremely complicated depending on how in-line the opponent wants to play with the games and board states that you’ve previously experienced. Against a deck like Rhinos or Burn, a lot of the games end up looking pretty similar so it doesn’t take much to work your way out of whatever situation they’ve put you into. With a deck that offers a bit more variety to its play like Murktide, Scam or Omnath, it can be a little more of a hassle because the opponent’s choices will matter just as much as yours over the course of the game.

The toolbox deck’s position in the overall metagame certainly fluctuates, but it has more or less held a top five position for the last handful of years. In a Horizons dominated field, switching between the ability to grind it out turn over turn and ending the game immediately against an underprepared opposition has proven a highly successful strategy. That strength exists almost entirely in the deck’s flexibility and adaptability, as none of the cards are or ever have been individually impressive. This archetype really just goes to show that putting your focus on mastering one strategy is a great way to succeed over time, as you’ll learn to find those narrow lines that inexperienced pilots will struggle with. Most people on the Yawgmoth deck have been at it forever, and you can see their successes as their names continue to pop up in tournament reports again and again.

With Yawg-less in particular, since there are multiple combo lines and ways to get to them, focusing on identifying a turn to initiate either of the combos is at the forefront of every turn’s decision making. While you can reasonably get away with setting up one of the combos and crossing your fingers, it’s much more worthwhile to look at the deck on the whole as a tool with a lot of moving parts than to look at those parts individually. There are certainly some weaknesses to this list, but none so egregious that the deck isn’t worth the time investment for anyone interested in pursuing this path for their Modern career.

Upgrades

Modern Abzan Yawgmoth by Cris Smith

 

There is a lot of room to improve on this list as you move upwards with it. While the infinite plan of Rosie and the Squirrels (new album dropping soon) is alright, the sheer flexibility provided by the Thran Physician himself can’t really be replicated. On top of the added resiliency of the undying creatures, the “real” Yawgmoth combo is worth the time to learn and the cash spent on it. Aside from that and the usual mana base quips, there are a lot of tools for the toolbox that don’t fit the budget and should absolutely be included for their capacity to steal games.

Endurance is a must-play for its ability to block and disrupt some of the deck’s worst matchups, and the new Orcish Bowmasters – while still in testing phases – has already shown that it can blow a hole in the format, even if it just ends up being a mirror breaker. There are a million different configurations though for the Yawg deck, and any number of combos that can be slotted in. It’s the most customizable deck in Modern, and you can really make it your own with ease.

That’s all for this one. Hopefully I did the archetype justice and the Yawgmoth Cabal doesn’t come after me, but even if they do, I think that it’s important to make popular decks like this accessible while still trying to establish that core familiarity with the type of thinking required to play the deck successfully. Yawgmoth is a fun archetype, and one I hope to see stick around for years to come. Until next time, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading.

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