I’ve already done an article on a Paradoxical Outcome deck, but it was more of a Scepter Dramatic Reversal deck. It was also just messing around with new cards, rather than modelling a tried and tested competitive constructed deck. It even feels a bit like cheats, as it is running cards that are a bit cheats! Cards that probably should be viewed as power. That deck can be seen here;
The list I have for you today is a focused Outcome deck, and it draws a lot of inspiration from the many different constructed decks using the card across multiple formats. I assumed that it was going to be fairly low tier and just a bit of fun. I even intentionally built it that way, electing not to run a misers backup Brain Freeze as that would be dull and cheesy! Absolutely, if you are playing to win, this deck should have a win condition with storm in it in addition to the Reservoir. What you cut for it is a harder task! Despite my best efforts to downplay the deck and my expectation of it being mediocre, it felt top tier. It felt pretty unfair all told. It killed quickly and consistently, it handled difficult situations really well and it had immense recovery potential. I was dead in the water, just going through the motions waiting to die, and then I won. I had a turn where I didn't really know what to do, I thought I was still "setting up" but then I won. It was obvious that I had no clue what I was doing, as you should always know how you are winning, when you are winning and how likely it is when playing a combo deck. If you don't know those things, you haven't done enough testing! Despite how poorly I understood the deck it just kept winning in spite of me. A sign of a very potent brew.
Lion's Eye Diamond
Sai, Master Thopterist
Thirst for Knowledge
Commit // Memory
Seat of the Synod
So the plan is pretty simple - You use 0 mana artifacts to power up Aetherflux Reservoir, which is your win condition. The Paradoxical Outcome obviously works wonders in this plan, acting as a massive storm generator as well as a huge card draw tool. Inspiring Statuary is a component used in the standard versions, to turn all your artifacts into colourless Mox. Once in play, most of your non-artifact spells effectively cost just U to play. While not a crucial component, I was very impressed with the power it afforded, especially in combination with Frantic Search. While great, Statuary doesn't produce any physical mana and so you can't use it with cards like Prophetic Prism to generate additional blue and so Frantic Search got the nod.
Sai, Master Thopterist is the new card that has propelled this archetype in standard and I cannot speak highly enough of him in the cube version. He simply does everything. He is an alternate win condition, he is card draw, he is defense, and he is a way of doubling up your artifacts when going off. Sai is the man. Normally, I shirk running a one off luxury dork if I am otherwise dorkless, as it is just giving them action for otherwise dead cards, but it turns out Sai is so potent that just doesn't matter. They kind of have to kill him and so he buys you time and value. It is pretty easy to make a turn two Sai and follow him with three 0 mana artifacts, which is not at all far off an Ishkanah! On turn two! Just killing a 1/4 is hard work at that stage, let alone not dying to the Spectral Procession that came free with it. I can very much see why the deck had a standard resurgence post M19. With just the one copy of Sai and many more 0 mana artifacts to chose from, I didn't run Mox Amber. That one extra mana when you already have Sai is a little win more and too infrequently relevant to be that big of a pull. I felt all twelve of the 0 drops I was running offered me more utility than Amber would. If for some reason you wound up running a card like Baral (don't) as well as Sai. then Amber would jump up in value.
Paradoxical Outcome is so much what you want to be casting that I ran a lot of dig and tutor effects for it. I even ran Conjurer's Bauble, to make multiple casts of Outcome that much easier. While Conjurer's Bauble isn't 0 mana, it is worth it for that utility. A big part of what it, and indeed the other two cheaper Baubles do, is give you an option on a cheap cycler early in the game when you are setting up. They can effectively thin your deck and draw you into action or just lands. You do quite want to make your early land drops, and with only 13 of them that isn't the easiest of tasks. The mutipurpose Baubles are a big help with that. Either they empower your combo, or they get you to a place you can start to combo fast. I would have liked more of such things, but made up for a lack of good artifact options with a random-looking singleton Preordain. While the deck might have a very low curve, it is pretty sparse on things to do with one and two mana in the early turns and that is inefficient. If you consistently have spare mana on a turn you expect to have to pass through, then the deck is not optimally built. Chalice was also great for helping with this, in a mana rather than cards way. I would frequently make it for one and use it to kick start going off, and then once going off it would be an extra free artifact. Pentad Prism can also be used in that kind of way. If you can reliably make it with two counters, it would be a worthwhile inclusion in a multicoloured build. I would consider Astral Cornucopia for this mono list instead, if I did it again based on how useful Chalice was. It is quite possibly better than Jeweled Amulet - that kind of effect might well be good enough to play all three (or four with Pentad Prism).
Retract was one of the weaker cards. It did nothing prior to going off and it only does useful things when your going off would fall short. It still feels like you need a backup Outcome, but I am starting to think that it would be better to run a card with some actual utility to it, such as an Upheaval, in its place. I didn't run Upheaval initially, for the same reason I didn't run a Brain Freeze. I have won plenty in the past with Upheaval and it isn't fun, I wanted to test this deck and in doing that, I learned than Retract is weak! Leave // Chance has a little more utility, and is a little less naughty than Upheaval, but obviously it is a whole lot more colours. I am sure there are a number of other alternatives you could look to. Alternatively you could use cards like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain or Vedalken Archamge to empower your Retract and perhaps, then, also Hurkyl's Recall. I like the sound of this option mostly because Mox Amber starts to appeal, with Jhoira in the deck, and drawing cards is just so much fun!
Mostly the 0 mana artifacts draw cards or make mana, but we also have Zuran Orb for a mild bit of defense and a chance at nudging you over 50 life when not quite making it there. There is the Welding Jar, which lets you play a little more aggressively with your setup of the larger artifacts and protects you against things like Abrade. Lastly in this small utility group, we have Engineered Explosives, which felt the weakest of the three utility 0 drops. This list made it very hard to get to three or higher, and two isn't easy. Zero is usually pretty bad for your things and so this is mostly just a bad way to kill one drops. You can't even Tinker it up and have it do that job, so absolutely Explosives would be the first zero mana artifact to cut or replace. Twelve zero mana artifacts felt about right, given that I was often cycling earlier Baubles. Eleven or even thirteen might be correct, but we are certainly pretty close. The pickings drop off rather after those discussed, but even cutting Explosives leaves us with at least thirteen decent options, due to Cornucopia and Mox Amber. Things such as Fountain of Youth, Lodestone Bauble, and Spell Book don't offer nothing, but they certainly don't add much, either. Gustha's Scepter is the most interesting, as it can protect against hand disruption and can allow you to do Time Twister effects while holding back juice. Although you shouldn't need any of these Darksteel Relics, it does make this archetype much safer to go into in something like a rotisserie. Cards like the Mox will get taken, and while very good, are not as critical as you might think. There is sufficient redundancy in 0 mana artifacts that you can pick up the key cards you might miss out on first and risk the Mox, Lotus Petal and LED.
Commit // Memory is a perfect fit for this deck, as it is easy enough to cast. Many combo decks run things like Chain of Vapor to clear out problems for speed reasons, but this list can easily afford the broader Commit. Having a bit of protection against spells and permanents is nice, but the real allure is the reserve Time Twister it comes with. You want at least two draw seven spells in the list (on top of the Outcome), and this is a concise way of doing so. Memory Jar had some appeal for the Tinkerable aspect, but failing to reshuffle or be reduced by Statuary put me off. Time Spiral also has some appeal for how broken it is, but it is probably a bit win more in this kind of setting. Most people tend to ban out Time Twister with the rest of the power, despite how much less good it is, and that makes it a bit harder to run in an unpowered combo deck! A friend did the original build of this deck in Grixis colours, using Ad Nauseam and Wheel of Fortune as the main draw engines. I like both these cards but I also like keeping my colours to a minimum and having access to reshuffle effects. The reshuffle lets you be a little more relaxed on win conditions in construction and your general use of resources in game play.
An alternate way to go with this that allows you to avoid the storm card cheese, is to run a backup plan of Emrakul and Krark-Clan Ironworks. Not amazing but some reasonable overlap with support cards and fulfilling some needed roles. You can improvise out Emrakul pretty quickly too!
I liked the inclusion of the blue draw effects of Thirst and Thoughtcast. They could have been cheaper things like Ponder, but several factors lead to me running these instead. Firstly, your deck wants to have a critical mass of stuff, so having more raw cards is more useful, relative to the card quality priority of most other combo decks. Secondly, you have some "spare" time around turn two, in which you can afford to spend a bit more mana on some card draw with your dig. Non-critical blue cards also empower Chrome Mox. Gush would be a good include in the mono list as well, given you can reduce it with the Statuary fairly effectively when you don't want to bounce your Islands. They are also a good way to add some utility to the Tutor effects.
The mana base took me quite a long time to do, mostly because I was unsure how much I was going to need of both lands and blue sources. While it performed well at 13, I would rather it caused me some issue as that would have me in a better position to appraise my choices. When things go wrong, you learn from that and can adjust accordingly. When they go right there is only a chance things are perfect, but there is a bigger chance you just got lucky! I wanted City of Traitors as well as the Ancient Tomb, but I was scared of not having enough blue sources and enough lands I could play in the early game. I suspect I would have gotten away with it, but I would have to swap it for another colourless land. Academy Ruins is rather overkill, when you have two Time Twister effects and a Conjurer's Bauble, but I just kind of default to running it when I have a combo deck with an artifact combo piece. The same is becoming true of Inventor's Fair now, too, assuming I have the metalcraft consistently which, of course, this deck has zero trouble with. The Fair is nice for that extra land, but five mana and a land to tutor up a card is savagely slow. Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor for Tinker is pretty limp and still loads quicker! Zhalfirin Void is probably a more effective use of a colourless land in this deck, even if it doesn't feel as on theme or powerful! For that little of a bonus, I would likely just run Islands and maximize consistency. The Skerry was great, coming in tapped is slow but it is a good way to spend one of your setup turns, where you have fewer plays.
Functionally, this is just like the artifact-fuelled storm decks, but it feels way cooler and less cheesy. This list has more interesting cards and more directions it can go in. Much of this is because it is newer and less solved. It is also nice to have an engine based combo deck that plays differently. It is a new challenge to dig your mental teeth into, with a whole new range of plays, calculations and nuances. That the deck was great fun came as no surprise. The real shock, sufficiently such that I am reiterating, is that the deck was really, really good even with everything against it. It is potentially the level of good that makes me look a little deeper at things and perhaps consider whether Mox Opal is a little overly powered for the cube now, too. It certainly feels like it should go for modern, although I suspect the $100 price tag ensures there is too much butthurt to risk banning it in reality. Unban of Chrome would be the best way of leveling the playing field in relation to the Opal decks, without the community butthurt.