Tuesday, 10 June 2014
My good friend is on a roll at present, not just in kicking my arse but also in making cool new-to-cube decks. This is one he adapted from a modern idea by Travis Woo. The principle is simple, make something resembling a Kiln Fiend, cast some spells, bypass any blocking and kill them in one hit. I mocked the idea, I thought too few threats, too easy to disrupt and not actually all that quick compared to what you can do with combo in the cube. Obviously, if you mock something in Magic you eat your words soon after as I did on this occasion. Below is his list:
Delver of Secrets
Fire / Ice
Force of Will
Temple of Triumph
Temple of Epiphany
Travis Woo went for a grixis list which makes sense in modern where you have a bit more redundancy in things. Tainted Strike is a better "doublestrike" card than Boros Charm in many ways should your kill always come from the combo. To work best with what the cube offers my mate's list is a lot burn heavier than Woo's modern list and as such getting half the job done with the combo is fine as you can finish them off with burn. This is not the case if you combo with poison. Being able to protect your few threats is more important in the cube version and so the indestructible portion of the Boros Charm is very significant. I should note that he had no Azorius dual lands when building this which might have changed his mana base somewhat although it is hard if you want to reliably play the free portions of Fireblast and Lava Dart.
I soon learned that you could not fool around with this deck and you had to play it more than just safe. Leaving them a Nivix Cyclops or Kiln Fiend in play usually meant you were going to die in their turn regardless of your board. This high restriction on how you could afford to play while being safe gave the deck a lot of wiggle room and time in which to assemble a safe combo and kill you with it. The random ongoing damage effects coupled with the threat of burn also forced you into playing it a little less safe against the combo side of the deck and resulted in losses as well. While I don't intuitively like Goblin Guide, Delver of Secrets or even the Guttersnipe (as he is so poo with the doublestrike effects) in this list they may well be the best way to go about winning with it. My preference for decks is trying to do the one this it is doing to the best of its ability and so with that in mind here is the list I then built to test the idea out with.
Fire / Ice
I was greedier with my land count but less greedy in terms of spell lands. I figured a big part of the spells was the trigger on things like the Kiln Fiend so the value you get out of smouldering spires is minimal compared to laving an untapped land and playing an Artful Dodge or any other pertinent spell. I used a similar sort of logic with the scry lands and cut them in favour of a Serum Visions to go really all out deep in cantripping blue one drops. 14 land really should be plenty in a deck with so very many one drop card draw and filter effects. Both of our lists have a much heavier bias towards red mana despite the split being more even with blue. The main reason is to increase reliability on Fireblast and Lava dart but also it is because you will be using a large number of the blue filter cards prior to going off simply to assemble what you need. As such when you do go off you will be using a greater portion of red mana than blue. The various cards like Ponder are at their very best in this deck as they not only set up your combo but act as part of the combo when you go off as well.
I cut all the dorks that don't have synergy with instants and sorceries as well as all of those that are not abusive with double strike. I wanted to be more pure combo and less red deck wins. This meant I would be less vulnerable to spot removal, discard and other targeted disruption on my key dorks but also that I would have a lower power level of cards. Cutting Goblin Guide and Delver of Secrets for Spellheart Chimera and Wee Dragonauts is a painful thing to do. The burn portion of the deck is also a bit less exciting as the combo is more potent and reliable, you either go off and win or you fail with this list, while my mates was more resilient but not as extreme at going off. This list was easily able to set up hits for over thirty assuming it wasn't too heavily disrupted.
Although I greatly like the protection it offers I found Force of Will a bit too cumbersome and unreliable in this deck and favour Spellskite or something like Mizzium Skin to keep my threats alive. Mother of Runes is also a consideration, especially as she also helps negate blocking. The unblockable spell combined with the double strike effect are the two most important things to do when going for the kill and as such I wanted to increase the redundancy of those effects in the deck given that I had removed the backup threats and some burn. Tainted Strike was an option in my less burn heavy deck but I think I would prefer Berserk and going green to doing that. The trample from Berserk is a huge added bonus as it means you don't need to worry so much about parts of your combo, just having enough spells. Green also has some nice protective effects you could run. Given that the deck is already three colours unless I wanted to lose the versatile Boros Charm and have to make up for that as well it seemed wise to go with a red white or blue option. Double Cleave isn't great but it seems to be the next best thing available and on colour.
As for a backup to Artful Dodge there are many more options, the obvious one being Shadow Rift, a card predating my good friends time playing magic and so one he missed while rifling through the dregs of the cube archives. Shadow is basically unblockable in the cube, you would be unlucky to lose to them having the single Looter il-Kor in play. Having it draw a card over the +1 power of Distortion Strike seems vastly better, especially given the deck seemed to be overkilling more often than not. Other options exist such as Veil of Secrecy but that is a bit eggs in one basket and rather too easy to play around to be worth the cost, even if it is getting two things done at once.
The Wee Dragonaughts are perfectly fine, the evasion is helpful and the deck has enough gas to power out a kill with them even with the weaker proc. Even with loads of protection three threats simply isn't enough. I did not want to go with Gelectrode, Young Pyromancer or Guttersnipe because of their only partial synergy, made worse by my extra redundancy in double strike and unblockable effects. I also felt Blistercoil Weird was going to be too underpowered and so I settled on Spellheart Chimera. He is very easy to have be fairly huge and in combination with the small amount of pump and the double strike cards it should be similarly easy to kill with them as the Dragonauts. Indeed with all the evasion and cantrip there is a good chance that the Nivix Cyclops is the hardest threat to win with.
Although I think my list gives a better demonstration of the combo and is a more pure design I am fairly sure it is just worse than my mates attempt. I think the best version of the deck is most alike to my mates deck but with 14 lands and the inclusion of Dragonaughts and Shadow Rift. As with most cube combo decks, this list will crush you if you don't have a way to disrupt or interact, just making some blockers is not going to get it done. You need to take out their ability to cast many spells, kill their guys consistently and ideally at instant speed, destroy their hand or counter every threat to be able to win and a lot of decks can't do those things well enough. The latter is the most likely against this archetype however the threats are cheap so you can play the long game and force through something just by casting so much. Force of Will was also nice in that regard but I think I would prefer to run black discard or white Abeyance style things to combat countermagic than my own countermagic. All in all a great fun and different deck that has a lot of ways to build and a fairly different set of strengths and weaknesses to the meta.